The Zeitgeist Politics

Global Politics with a focus on The Middle East

Dissecting the Goldstone Report: Phosphorus shells and a license to kill

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A Palestinian man places a green Islamic flag used by the militant group Hamas on the rubble of a destroyed mosque after an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on December 31, 2008 (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

A Palestinian man places a green Islamic flag used by the militant group Hamas on the rubble of a destroyed mosque after an Israeli air strike in Gaza City on December 31, 2008 (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

The Karachi Electric Supply Company has played havoc with my plan to read the Goldstone report in one night. In any case, I’m halfway through and while Alex has already posted some of the major analysis and findings, here go some of the key things I’ve read so far:

As Alex has posted, the report is quite strongly worded. Even if you discount the fact that the UN has lost its influence on global politics and preventing war, the report is a damning one for the State of Israel. It not only finds the country guilty of violating almost every rule in the book – including treaties it has ratified – but also provides an insight into the tactics the IDF employed during the Gaza invasion. Chickens, flour mills, water treatment plants, hospitals, mosques, a UN building, houses and most importantly: innocent human beings. All slaughtered, lobbed missiles and phosphorus shells at, fired at and discriminated against, and for what, you may ask. Those of us who followed the invasion of Gaza through hourly reports know most of the incidents mentioned and investigated in the Goldstone report, but as is the case with any heinous crime, one wonders how exactly this happened in the first place, and how the Israel government went scot-free for the destruction and devastation of an innocent community.

(Apologies for the length of the extracts, but the Mission’s language – as cold and detached as it often is – describes it with a far stronger impact than any analysis)

Chicken Farms:

“The chicken farms of Mr. Sameh Sawafeary in the Zeitoun neighbourhood south of Gaza City reportedly supplied over 10 per cent of the Gaza egg market. Armoured bulldozers of theIsraeli forces systematically flattened the chicken coops, killing all 31,000 chickens inside, and destroyed the plant and material necessary for the business. The Mission concludes that this was a deliberate act of wanton destruction not justified by any military necessity.”

Not just chickens and human beings: cutting off industrial development as well

The attacks on industrial facilities, food production and water infrastructure investigated by the Mission are part of a broader pattern of destruction, which includes the destruction of the only cement packaging plant in Gaza (the Atta Abu Jubbah plant), the Abu Eida factories for ready-mix concrete, further chicken farms and the Al Wadia Group’s foods and drinks factories. The facts ascertained by the Mission indicate that there was a deliberate and systematic policy on the part of the Israeli armed forces to target industrial sites and water installations.”

If you can’t break their spirits and their lives, breaking any signs of hope for the area to even develop fits the bill.

..and kill Hamas off, while IDF’s at it

The deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Dan Harel, reportedly told a meeting with heads of local authorities in southern Israel that “….After this operation there will not be one Hamas building left standing in Gaza, and
we plan to change the rules of the game..”

The use of Palestinian civilians as human shields

The Mission investigated four incidents in which Israeli forces coerced Palestinian civilian men at gun point to take part in house searches during the military operations. The Palestinian men were blindfolded and handcuffed as they were forced to enter houses ahead of the Israeli soldiers. In one of the incidents, Israeli forces repeatedly forced a man to enter a house in which Palestinian combatants were hiding. Published testimonies of Israeli soldiers who took part in the military operations confirm the continued use of this practice, in spite of clear orders from Israel’s High Court to the armed forces to put an end to it and repeated public assurances from the armed forces that the practice had been discontinued. The Mission  concludes that this practice amounts to the use of Palestinian civilians as human shields and is therefore prohibited by international humanitarian law. It puts the right to life of the civilians at risk in an arbitrary and unlawful manner and constitutes cruel and inhuman treatment. The use of human shields also is a war crime. The Palestinian men used as human shields were questioned under threat of death or injury to extract information about Hamas, Palestinian combatants and tunnels. This constitutes a further violation of international humanitarian law.

Human pits

In the Al Atatra area in north-western Gaza Israeli troops had dug out sand pits in which Palestinian men, women and children were detained. Israeli tanks and artillery positions were located inside the sand pits and around them and fired from next to the detainees.

This has been described early on in the report, and I felt this was one of the most horrendous incidents, until I read ahead to the Mission’s investigations into specific families targeted and killed.  It reminded me of the CIA torture report, and the example of the mock-killing that was carried out outside one of the cells to intimidate a detainee into talking.

Hamas v/s Fatah:

The Mission gathered first-hand information on five cases of Fatah affiliates detained, killed or subject to physical abuse by members of security forces or armed groups in Gaza. In most cases those abducted from their homes or otherwise detained were reportedly not accused of offences related to specific incidents, but rather targeted because of their political affiliation.

The Mission finds that such actions constitute serious violations of human rights and are not consistent with either the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the Palestinian Basic Law.

Hamas hasn’t been entirely absolved of blame in the Goldstone report – but Israel’s crimes are so many, varied and clearcut that they overshadow any actions taken by Hamas.

Meanwhile, the Goldstone report also describes the incidents of the treatment by Palestinian Authority members to Hamas during the Gaza war.

The Mission has received allegations of violations relevant to its mandate committed by the Palestinian Authority in the period under inquiry. These include violations related to the treatment of (suspected) Hamas affiliates by the security services, including unlawful arrest and detention. Several Palestinian human rights organizations have reported that practices used by the Palestinian Authority security forces in the West Bank amount to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment. There have been a number of cases of death in detention where it is suspected that torture and other ill treatment may have contributed to, or caused, the death of the detainee.

The West Bank wasn’t free either

With reference to sniper fire on Palestinians in the West Bank:

Several witnesses told the Mission that during the operation in Gaza, the sense in the West Bank was one of a “free for all”, where anything was permitted.

Burnt alive: the use of white phosphorus shells

The Goldstone report investigates innocent killings of scores of family members. Houses shelled, allegations of being Hamas members, denying family members the right to assist each other and to medical facilities. One incident is cited below:

In the afternoon, after hearing that a shell had hit the adjacent house of Sabah Abu Halima’s brother-in-law, most of the family moved from the bedroom into a hallway in the middle of the upper floor, where they thought they would be better protected. At around 4.30 p.m., a white phosphorous shell came through the ceiling into the room where they were sheltering.

According to family members who survived, there was intense fire and white smoke in the room, the walls of which were glowing red. Five members of the family died immediately or within a short period: Muhammad Sa’ad Abu Halima (aged 45) and four of his children, sons Abd al-Rahim Sa’ad (aged 14), Zaid (aged 12) and Hamza (aged 8), and daughter Shahid (aged 18 months). Muhammad Sa’ad and Abd al-Rahim Sa’ad were decapitated, the others burnt to death. Five members of the family escaped and suffered various degrees of burns: Sabah Abu Halima, her sons Youssef (aged 16) and Ali (aged 4), daughter-in-law Ghada (aged 21), and Ghada’s daughter Farah (aged 2).

Family members tried to call an ambulance, but the Israeli armed forces had declared the area a closed military zone and ambulances were not permitted to enter. Two cousins put Sabah Abu Halima in the back of a tractor trailer and drove her to Kamal Idwan hospital in Beit Lahia. The driver reported that he reached the hospital despite coming under fire from Israeli soldiers posted inside the Omar Bin Khattab school for girls on the road to al-Atatra.  One cousin remained with Sabah Abu Halima, while the other returned to help the rest of the family.

The remaining survivors and the injured were placed on a second tractor trailer to take them to Kamal Idwan hospital. The remains of Shahid Abu Halima were also taken. The tractor was driven by a cousin, Muhammad Hekmat Abu Halima (aged 16). Another cousin, Matar Abu Halima (aged 17), his brother Ali (aged 11) and his mother, Nabila, accompanied them.

When they reached the crossroads next to the Omar Bin Khattab school in al-Atatra, Israeli soldiers positioned on the roof of a nearby house, some ten metres away, ordered them to stop. Muhammad Hekmat, Matar, Ali, Nabila and Matar got down and stood beside the tractor. One or more soldiers opened fire, hitting Muhammad Hekmat Abu Halima in the chest and Matar Abu Halima in the abdomen. Both died as a result of their injuries. Ali, Omar and Nabila Abu Halima fled. Omar was shot in the arm, but they eventually reached Kamal Idwan hospital.

The remaining family members were ordered to abandon the tractors and walk. They were not permitted to take the bodies of the two dead boys, or the remains of Shahid Abu Halima, which were recovered four days later, on 8 January. Ghada Abu Halima, who had burns on 45 per cent of her body, had great difficulty walking. After some 500 metres, a vehicle picked up several members of the family, including Ghada and Farah, and took them to al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City.

Dr. Nafiz Abu Shaban, Chief of Plastic Surgery at al-Shifa hospital, confirmed that Sabah, Ghada and Farah Abu Halima were admitted there with serious burns and were transferred to Egypt for treatment. The doctor believed that the burns were caused by contact with white phosphorous.

“Better hit an innocent than hesitate to target the enemy”

The Goldstone report is replete with these incidents, and the Mission corroborates the reports with testimony given by Israeli soldiers.

The Mission found in the above (investigated) incidents that the Israeli armed forces repeatedly opened fire on civilians who were not taking part in the hostilities and who posed no threat to them. These incidents indicate that the instructions given to the Israeli armed forces moving into Gaza provided for a low threshold for the use of lethal fire against the civilian population

The first policy could be summarized, in the words of one of the soldiers: “if we see something suspect and shoot, better hit an innocent than hesitate to target an enemy.”

Another soldier attributed the following instructions to his battalion commander: “If you are not sure – shoot. If there is doubt then there is no doubt.”

The first soldier summarized the briefing from the battalion commander as follows “the enemy was hiding behind civilian population. […] if we suspect someone, we should not give him the benefit of the doubt. Eventually, this could be an enemy, even if it’s some old woman approaching the house. It could be an old woman carrying an explosive charge.”

A third soldier explained “you don’t only shoot when threatened. The assumption is that you constantly feel threatened, so anything there threatens you, and you shoot. No one actually said ‘shoot regardless’ or ‘shoot anything that moves.’ But we were not ordered to open fire only if there was a real threat.”

Free Gilad, or Gaza gets it

The Mission is concerned by declarations made by various Israeli officials, who have indicated the intention of maintaining the blockade of the Gaza Strip until the release of Gilad Shalit. The Mission is of the opinion that this would constitute collective punishment of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip.

This has been one of the most debated facts of the Gaza invasion as well as the stalemate in negotiations. I agree that Shalit’s imprisonment is wrong. But punishing the population because of one prisoner? It makes no rational sense, unless one can somehow prove that the entire Gazan population was involved in his capture, which is also as irrational a thought.

Five hundred and seventy five pages of evidence, tests, reports, fact finding missions on the ground, interviews, phone logs, testimony: every page of the Goldstone report leaves one reeling. Had this report been issued about any army, anywhere in the world, it would have called for multiple invasions of that country and boycotts.

And while that will never happen to Israel, one hopes that the governments of countries that are involved in Israel-Palestine peace negotiations read this report in its entirety, before they look at the impact of rockets being fired into Israeli territory v/s death and destruction on this scale. This ‘broader pattern of destruction’ is not something the world should tolerate, yet it remains to be shocking (even to someone as cynical as I am) how it not only continues to tolerate it, but also sympathizes with Israel.

Previous posts by Alex on the Goldstone report

The attacks on industrial facilities, food production and water infrastructure investigated by
the Mission are part of a broader pattern of destruction, which includes the destruction of the
only cement packaging plant in Gaza (the Atta Abu Jubbah plant), the Abu Eida factories for
ready-mix concrete, further chicken farms and the Al Wadia Group’s foods and drinks factories.
The facts ascertained by the Mission indicate that there was a deliberate and systematic policy on
the part of the Israeli armed forces to target industrial sites and water installations.

Written by Saba Imtiaz

September 19, 2009 at 6:47 am

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