Recent massacre of Palestinians in Gaza and ground invasion violates international law
NEW YORK–The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) expresses its outrage about Israel’s ongoing indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against Palestinian civilians and civilian objects in the Gaza Strip. Following a barrage of recent airstrikes, the Israeli military on July 17 began a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip.
Power has been cut to the entire Gaza Strip, as close to two million Palestinian civilians huddle in the dark reporting explosions, flares and Israeli airstrikes hitting in the north and eastern parts of the Gaza Strip. As of July 15, Palestinian human rights organizations had documented the killing of 194 Palestinians, including 37 children and 28 women in Gaza. 72.7% of those killed are considered civilians. At least 1,218 Palestinians have been injured. 1,489 houses have been destroyed or damaged in addition to 23 schools, 34 mosques, an ambulance center, 13 NGO offices, 38 fishing boats and 5 hospitals. According to the UN Office for Humanitarian Assistance, over 17,000 Palestinians have taken shelter in UNRWA schools and another 6,500 have found shelter with families or friends. While rockets have been fired into Israel by militants in Gaza, they have resulted in one death and little damage.
The population of the Gaza Strip has been living under an Israeli imposed closure for the past seven years, itself constituting a form of collective punishment. As a result of the siege, 70 percent of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are dependent on humanitarian assistance and have not yet even recovered from the damage and destruction caused during previous Israeli offensives in 2008-9 and 2012.
Once again, Israel’s military attack against the occupied Gaza Strip is being portrayed by the US government as an ongoing military conflict, one in which Israel has the right to defend itself from rocket fire from Gaza. President Obama recently wrote in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that “our commitment to Israel’s security remains ironclad. The US is committed to providing more than $3 billion each year to help finance Israel’s security through 2028.” Meanwhile, both House (HR 657) and Senate (SR 498) have passed resolutions supporting Israel.
“All this is indicative of the US policy of double standards. No matter how many innocent Palestinian civilians are killed and injured, how many civilian homes, hospitals, mosques, and schools Israel destroys through its bombs, the US sees Israel as the victim and continues to fund Israeli massacres,” said NLG President Azadeh Shahshahani.
‘Operation Protective Edge’ is taking place in the context of Israel’s belligerent occupation. “Israel controls Gaza from the air, land, and sea, and is therefore obligated under international law to protect civilians there – as in the West Bank,” said Audrey Bomse, Co-Chair of the NLG Palestine Subcommittee. “As the Occupier, Israel cannot rely on the argument of self-defense and must act in accordance with the laws regulating the conduct of hostilities and occupation.”
Furthermore, in light of Israel’s widescale punitive military campaign across the West Bank following the disappearance, and death of three young Israeli settlers, blamed – without a shred of evidence to-date – on Hamas, the Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip is indicative of a larger political agenda: to destroy any chance of the Palestinian unity government succeeding, to destroy Gaza’s infrastructure, and to “mow the grass” – a term Israel uses to justify periodic assaults on the Gazan people’s will to resist occupation.
The NLG believes that international humanitarian law must be adhered to. The principle of distinction requires all parties to distinguish between civilians and combatants, as well as between civilian objects and military objectives. The principle of proportionality prohibits launching an attack, which may be expected to cause loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, or damage to civilian objects, which would be excessive compared to the concrete military advantage anticipated. In addition, Palestinian civilians are protected under the Fourth Geneva Convention, which obliges Israel, as the Occupying Power, to ensure the well-being and safety of the occupied population and respect Palestinians’ right to life and dignity.
Israel has admitted intentionally targeting Palestinian civilians and homes. On July 8, the Israeli military announced that it had deliberately bombed the homes of four persons it called senior Hamas activists. According to international customary law, a permissible military objective is “limited to those objects which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action […or] or offers a definite military advantage.” The punitive targeting of the homes of people who may have links with armed groups, but are not taking active part in hostilities, is impermissible.
Israel’s framing of its military actions in Gaza as “self-defense” is part of a long-standing effort to weaken and change international law. The US must end its complicity in this effort.
The NLG calls upon the US government to immediately and unequivocally condemn Israel’s indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against Palestinian civilians and civilian objects. The NLG further calls upon the US government to cease the $3 billion annual military aid to Israel, which enables it to continually violate international law and human rights, including the Palestinian right to self-determination.
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Photo: Smoke rises from buildings in Gaza City following Israeli airstrikes. (Credit: Adel Hana/AP)