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Monday, August 25, 2014

Seeking Accountability For Gaza

Seeking Accountability For Gaza

Israel and the Obama administration insist that Israel’s recent
slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza was justified by indiscriminate
rocket fire from the blockaded area, but some international law
advocates think the disproportionate response justifies prosecution
of Israeli and U.S. officials for war crimes, says Marjorie Cohn.

By Marjorie Cohn
Consortiumnews.com
August 25, 2014

The National Lawyers Guild (NLG), Center for Constitutional Rights,
International Association of Democratic Lawyers, Arab Lawyers
Union, and American Association of Jurists (Asociacion Americana
de Juristas) sent a letter on Friday to Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor
of the International Criminal Court (ICC), urging her to initiate an
investigation of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity
committed by Israeli leaders and aided and abetted by U.S. officials
in Gaza.

Under the Rome Statute, the ICC has the power to hold individuals
criminally accountable for the most serious of crimes.

“In light of the extreme gravity of the situation in the occupied
Gaza Strip, in particular the large number of civilian casualties and
large scale destruction of civilian property, including schools,
mosques and hospitals, and the ongoing incitement to genocide
perpetrated by Israeli political figures and leaders, the [NLG] and
endorsing organizations strongly urge the Office of the Prosecutor
to use its power under Article 15 of the Rome Statute to initiate a
preliminary investigation” of crimes within the ICC’s jurisdiction.

The Israeli government has cited rocket fire from Gaza as
justification for its bombardment and assault on the narrow
strip of land holding some 1.8 million Palestinians.

“[Under the Rome Statute, an] individual can be convicted of a
war crime, genocide or a crime against humanity . . . if he or she
‘aids, abets or otherwise assists’ in the commission or attempted
commission of the crime, ‘including providing the means for its
commission’,” the letter reads.

“By transferring financial assistance, weapons and other military
aid to Israel, members of the U.S. Congress, President Barack
Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel have aided and
abetted the commission of war crimes, genocide and crimes
against humanity by Israeli officials and commanders in Gaza.”

The letter states that on July 20, in the midst of criminal behavior,
Israel requested, and the U.S. Defense Department then
authorized, the transfer to Israel of ammunition from the War
Reserve Stockpile Ammunition.

And in August 2014, Congress overwhelmingly approved, and Obama
signed, a $225 million payment for Israel’s Iron Dome missile
defense system.

“Israel’s clearly disproportionate use of force against the 1.8
million residents of Gaza appears to have little to do with any
claim of security,” the organizations wrote, “but seems to be
calculated to exact revenge against Palestinian civilians.”

The letter quotes statements of Israeli officials advocating
vengeance against “the entire Palestinian people “and “calling for
the internment of Palestinians in concentration camps in Sinai and
the destruction of the civilian infrastructure in Gaza.”

Allegations of War Crimes

The letter lists the following war crimes, and cites supporting
factual allegations for each crime:

-willful killing (over 2,000 Palestinians, 80 percent civilians)

-willfully causing great suffering or serious injury (wounding
nearly 10,000 Palestinians, 2,200 children)

-unlawful, wanton and unjustified extensive destruction and
appropriation of property (tens of thousands of Palestinians
lost homes, severe damage to infrastructure)

-willful deprivation of fair trial rights (450 Palestinians held without
charge or trial); -intentional attacks against civilians or civilian
objects or humanitarian vehicles, installations and personnel
(bombing of numerous schools, UN places of refuge, hospitals,
ambulances, mosques)

-intentionally launching unjustified attacks, knowing they will kill
or injure civilians, damage civilian objects, or cause long-term and
severe damage to the natural environment (use of ‘Dahiya Doctrine’
to apply “disproportionate force” and cause “great damage and
destruction to civilian property and infrastructure, and suffering to
civilian populations,” as defined in UN Human Rights Council
[Goldstone] Report). Israel virtually flattened town of Khuza’a.

Allegations of Genocide

Article 6 of the Rome Statute defines “genocide” as the commission
of any of the following acts with the intent to destroy, in whole or
in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group: (a) killing
members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily harm to members
of the group; or (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions
of life calculated to bring about its destruction in whole or in part.

The letter says, “In light of the fact that Palestinians in Gaza had
no ability to flee for safety, it must be assumed the responsible
Israeli officials knew that huge casualties and destruction of civilian
property and infrastructure were certain during the massive
bombardment by land, air and sea of the occupied Gaza Strip.”

The letter also lists “the repeatedly inciting public statements
made by Israeli officials before and during the course of Operation
Protective Edge and the history of Israel’s repeated bombardment
of Palestinian refugee camps and populations in Lebanon and in
Gaza” as evidence that “Israeli officials may be implementing a
plan to destroy the Palestinian population, at least in part.”

Allegations of Crimes against Humanity

Article 7 of the Rome Statute defines “crimes against humanity” as
the commission of any of the following, when part of a widespread
or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with
knowledge of the attack: (a) Murder; (b) Persecution against a
group or collectivity based on its political, racial, national, ethnic
or religious character; or (c) The crime of apartheid (inhumane acts
committed in the context of an institutional regime of systematic
oppression and domination by one racial group over another racial
group, with the intent to maintain that regime).

The letter states, “Israeli forces have killed, wounded, summarily
executed and administratively detained Palestinians, Hamas forces
and civilians alike. Israeli forces intentionally destroyed the
infrastructure in Gaza.” It also says Israel keeps Palestinians
caged in “the world’s largest open air prison,” and “controls all
ingress and egress to Gaza, and limits … access to medicine and
other essentials.”

Finally, the letter cites arbitrary arrest and administrative
detention; expropriation of property; destruction of homes, crops
and trees; separate areas and roads; segregated housing, legal and
educational systems for Palestinians and Jews; the illegal barrier
wall encroaching on Palestinian territory; hundreds of illegal Jewish
settlements on Palestinian land; and denying the right of
Palestinians to return to their homeland because they are not Jews.

The signatories to the letter conclude that “[t]he initiation of an
investigation would send a clear message to all involved either in
committing or in aiding and abetting of the aforementioned crimes
that they stand to be held personally accountable for their actions.”

It remains to be seen whether the ICC will exercise jurisdiction in
such a case since neither Israel nor the United States is a party to
the Rome Statute.

But if the ICC determines that Palestine can accede to the Rome
Statute, the ICC could take jurisdiction over crimes committed by
Israelis and Americans in Palestinian territory.



Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law
and former president of the National Lawyers Guild. She is also
deputy secretary general of the International Association of
Democratic Lawyers and the U.S. representative to the American
Association of Jurists (Asociacion Americana de Juristas).

http://consortiumnews.com/2014/08/23/seeking-accountability-
for-gaza

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