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16 January 2009
Responsibility to Protect-Engaging Civil Society
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In this issue:

I. The Crisis in Gaza

A. R2P Referenced in Gaza Crisis

B. Are war crimes being committed?

C. Civil Society: Reports and Calls for Action

I. The Crisis in Gaza

The recent escalation of violence in Gaza has raised serious questions about the use of the Responsibility to Protect to urge international action to protect civilians in the conflict. The Responsibility to Protect has been referred to, notably by Richard Falk, UN Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories, but also others who claim that crimes committed in Gaza by Israeli forces have reached the threshold of R2P crimes. Indiscriminate killings of civilians and the use of civilians as human shields have led several governments and civil society organizations to accuse both Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes. There remain questions as to the extent to which these crimes are widespread and systematic, arguably a determining factor for whether the R2P threshold for an international response has been met.

As Paragraphs 138-139 of the World Summit Outcome Document outline, States have the responsibility to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Israel, as an occupying power, does carry this responsibility to protect. Most important, however, is to note that both parties have clear obligations to protect civilians under international humanitarian law, notably the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit many acts currently being committed. Israel, as an occupying power, has additional obligations to protect its populations under Geneva Convention IV.

Questions remain as to whether invoking R2P will bring the desired changed to protect civilians in this deeply politicized situation. The following articles, statements and reports from civil society analyze and report on these questions.

Deputy Secretary General on Gaza, 15 January 2009:

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Statement to the Security Council, 6 January 2009:

OHCHR High Commissioner Navi Pillays Statement on Gaza, 9 January 2009:

A. R2P Referenced in Gaza Crisis

1. Entry Denied, Detention and Expulsion
Todays Zaman
Richard Falk
26 December 2008

Richard Falk is the UN Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University. Israel had strongly opposed his appointment as Special Rapporteur based on his previous writings on crimes against humanity occurring in Palestine. On 14 December 2008, he was denied entry into Gaza and the West Bank when he arrived to prepare a report within his UN capacity and mandate.

() The Israeli blockade has kept supplies of food, fuel and medicines entering Gaza at bare survival levels. Recent studies report 46 percent of Gazan children suffer from acute anemia and 80 percent live in abject poverty, with less than $1 a day of purchasing power. With the borders closed, Gaza is a prison, but in some respects worse. At least a normal prison includes an administrative apparatus that accepts responsibility for feeding the prisoners and providing for their health care. The situation is worse in other respects, as well. Israel feels itself free to use military force via air and helicopter attacks at times and places of its choosing within Gaza, keeping the entire population on edge and at risk, day and night. ()

The blockade serves no legitimate Israeli function. It is allegedly imposed in retaliation for Hamas and Islamic Jihad rockets that have been fired across the border aimed mainly at the town of Sderot, and occasionally at the bigger city of Ashkelon. These rockets are primitive and have done little damage, but they do target civilians and cause understandable fear for Israelis potentially subject to these attacks. The launching of these rockets on the Palestinian side of the Gaza border is unlawful and immoral as they are used as weapons of terror. Yet this in no way justifies Israeli indiscriminate and disproportionate measures being taken against the entire civilian society of Gaza. It also seems that the Israeli leadership feels that since the citizenry of Gaza voted for Hamas in free elections back in January 2006, it has been a reasonable reaction to blame and punish the whole population of Gaza to the extent of imposing this life-threatening and health-denying regime of occupation in the form of a siege. ()

The truce period has now expired and there are strong rumors that Israel is considering a major military incursion in Gaza, which could intensify greatly an already unfolding humanitarian catastrophe resulting from the blockade. Such a sequence of events if it causes major death and destruction will immediately challenge the new Barack Obama presidency to take a stand by demonstrating that it is prepared to stand up to Israel to protect the vulnerable civilian population of Gaza. At this point, there is little reason to be hopeful that the more basic United States policy toward the Israel/Palestine conflict will change considering that all of the major Obama appointments in the foreign policy area are strong Israeli supporters, but there is some chance that Washington will use its leverage, at least behind the scenes, to discourage any major escalation of violence in Gaza.

The United Nations, as well as the United States, is challenged by these deteriorating conditions to exhibit greater concern and responsibility for the protection of civilians in Gaza. Its own role as the major provider of food for the people of Gaza has been severely constrained by the stiffening of the blockade in recent weeks. Beyond this, the Palestinian territories as part of historic Palestine were from the earliest days of the United Nations seen as a special responsibility of the world community. It was the UN that split the British controlled Palestinian mandate into two parts back in 1947, a "solution" tragically rejected at the time by the Arab world. In the last several years, the UN Security Council has endorsed the idea of humanitarian intervention under the rubric of "a responsibility to protect" (also known as R2P), and no world circumstance combines the misery and vulnerability of the people more urgently than does the situation of the people of Gaza living under occupation since 1967. Surely the present emergency circumstances present a compelling case for the application of this protective response under UN auspices. If this does not happen, it will again demonstrate to the people of the world, especially those in the Middle East, that geopolitics trumps international law and humanitarian concerns and leaves those victimized with few options. Under these conditions, it should not surprise us that extremist methods and reliance on violence wins many adherents.


2. Dj vu in Gaza
Open Democracy
Vera Gowlland-Debbas
5 January 2009

Vera Gowlland-Debbas is Professor of Public International Law at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. She served as the Counsel to the Arab League in the egal Consequences of a Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (Advisory Opinion) in which the International Court of Justice ruled that Israels construction of a wall separating the West Bank from Israel violated international law.

() Today, partly as a result of the shocked reactions to the crimes perpetrated during World War II, fundamental and intransgressible rules and principles of international law, including of human rights and humanitarian law directed to the protection of the essential values and interests of the international community as a whole, now provide the foundations of contemporary international society.

The obligation of each and every State to prevent their flagrant violation was reiterated in the recent September 2005 General Assembly World Summit Outcome document, in which all States members of the United Nations pledged that: he international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful meansto help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, and that e are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case-by case basisshould peaceful means be inadequate." ()

The UN Secretary-Generals "mea culpa" in the cases of Rwanda and Srebrenica had underlined that the international community as a whole had to accept its share of responsibility for failing to take action to prevent the tragic course of events. In a recent case involving Bosnia against Serbia, the International Court of Justice underlined a duty of prevention, the failure of which entails guilt and complicity. And in a Human Rights Council statement, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories has this to say: "The Israeli airstrikes today, and the catastrophic human toll that they caused, challenge those countries that have been and remain complicit, either directly or indirectly, in Israel's violations of international law. That complicity includes those countries knowingly providing the military equipment including warplanes and missiles used in these illegal attacks, as well as those countries who have supported and participated in the siege of Gaza that itself has caused a humanitarian catastrophe."

Will the inaction of the permanent members of the Security Council, the parties to the Geneva Conventions, who undertake to "respect and to ensure" international humanitarian law, in particular Switzerland as the depositary, the European Union, the pillars of which are said to be based on the rule of law and democracy, and the international community as a whole, mean that this "responsibility to protect is nothing but a mere pious buzz word, conveniently used only as a cover for furthering interests?

Reactions to such blatant violations of international law would normally take the form of UN and regional sanctions, civil boycotts and criminal pursuit of individuals. Precedents in the region (remember the reactions to Iraq's invasion and occupation of Kuwait and the $26 billion compensation it was forced to pay?) and elsewhere abound. It is ironic therefore that far from measures to ensure Israeli compliance with UN resolutions and international law, the Palestinians themselves over the past few years have been condemned, sanctioned and strangled. Such double standards are totally incompatible with the key principle of the rule of law in international affairs which states that the rules apply equally to all, and can only pave the way for more frustration, incomprehension, anger and violence on the part of the victims.


B. Are war crimes being committed?

1. The Surge Against Hamas
Page One
Dore Gold
5 January 2009

Dore Gold is the former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations.

Israeli population centers in southern Israel have been the target of over 4,000 rockets, as well as thousands of mortar shells, fired by Hamas and other organizations since 2001. Rocket attacks increased by 500 percent after Israel withdrew completely from the Gaza Strip in August 2005. During an informal six-month lull, some 215 rockets were launched at Israel.
The charge that Israel uses disproportionate force keeps resurfacing whenever it has to defend its citizens from non-state terrorist organizations and the rocket attacks they perpetrate. From a purely legal perspective, Israel's current military actions in Gaza are on solid ground. According to international law, Israel is not required to calibrate its use of force precisely according to the size and range of the weaponry used against it. ()
Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, explained that international humanitarian law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court "permit belligerents to carry out proportionate attacks against military objectives, even when it is known that some civilian deaths or injuries will occur." The attack becomes a war crime when it is directed against civilians (which is precisely what Hamas does). ()
Israeli Population Centers Under Rocket Attack
There are good reasons why initial criticism of Israel has been muted. After all, Israeli population centers in southern Israel have been the target of over 4,000 rockets, as well as thousands of mortar shells, fired by Hamas and other organizations since 2001.The majority of those attacks were launched after Israel withdrew completely from the Gaza Strip in August 2005. ()
Moreover, lately Hamas has been extending the range of its striking capability even further with new rockets supplied by Iran. () There had been no formal cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, but only an informal six-month tahadiya (lull), during which 215 rockets were launched at Israel. On December 21, Hamas unilaterally announced that the tahadiya had ended.
Critical Voices
On December 27, 2008, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesmen issued a statement saying that while the Secretary-General recognized "Israel's security concerns regarding the continued firing of rockets from Gaza," he reiterated "Israel's obligation to uphold international humanitarian and human rights law." The statement specifically noted that he "condemns excessive use of force leading to the killing and injuring of civilians."
A day later, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights "strongly condemned Israel's disproportionate use of force." French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, also condemned Israel's "disproportionate use of force," while demanding an end to rocket attacks on Israel. Brazil also joined this chorus, criticizing Israel's "disproportionate response." ()
Proportionality and International Law: The Protection of Innocent Civilians
The charge that Israel uses disproportionate force keeps resurfacing whenever it has to defend its citizens from non-state terrorist organizations and the rocket attacks they perpetrate. From a purely legal perspective, Israel's current military actions in Gaza are on solid ground. According to international law, Israel is not required to calibrate its use of force precisely according to the size and range of the weaponry used against it (Israel is not expected to make Kassam rockets and lob them back into Gaza).
When international legal experts use the term "disproportionate use of force," they have a very precise meaning in mind. As the President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Rosalyn Higgins, has noted, proportionality "cannot be in relation to any specific prior injury; it has to be in relation to the overall legitimate objective of ending the aggression." In other words, if a state like Israel is facing aggression, then proportionality addresses whether force was specifically used by Israel to bring an end to the armed attack against it. By implication, force becomes excessive if it is employed for another purpose, like causing unnecessary harm to civilians. ()


2. UN human rights chief accuses Israel of war crimes
The Guardian
Rory McCarthy
10 January 2009

The United Nations' most senior human rights official said last night that the Israeli military may have committed war crimes in Gaza. The warning came as Israeli troops pressed on with the deadly offensive in defiance of a UN security council resolution calling for a ceasefire.

Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, has called for "credible, independent and transparent" investigations into possible violations of humanitarian law, and singled out an incident this week in Zeitoun, south-east of Gaza City, where up to 30 Palestinians in one house were killed by Israeli shelling. Pillay, a former international criminal court judge from South Africa, told the BBC the incident "appears to have all the elements of war crimes". ()

With the Palestinian casualty toll rising to around 800 dead, including 265 children, and more than 3,000 injured, fresh evidence emerged yesterday of the killings in Zeitoun. It was "one of the gravest incidents" since Israel's offensive began two weeks ago, the UN office for the co-ordination of humanitarian affairs said yesterday.

"There is an international obligation on the part of soldiers in their position to protect civilians, not to kill civilians indiscriminately in the first place, and when they do, to make sure that they help the wounded," Pillay told Reuters. "In this particular case these children were helpless and the soldiers were close by," she added. ()

"The whole idea that Israel will unilaterally stop protecting our people when Hamas is sending rockets into our cities to kill our people is not a reasonable request of Israel," said Mark Regev, spokesman for prime minister Ehud Olmert. Israel wanted security for its people in southern Israel, he said, and dismissed suggestions his military might seek to topple Hamas, saying they were "not in the regime-change business".

Israeli public opinion still strongly favours the war. One poll of Jewish Israelis yesterday, by the War and Peace Index, said 90% of the population supported continuing the operation until Israel achieved all its goals. Olmert held a meeting of his security cabinet, and on the agenda was discussion about whether to intensify the offensive by launching a fresh stage of attacks in which Israeli troops would invade the major urban areas of Gaza as more reservists were called up. There was no word on the outcome. ()

More than 20,000 Gazans have fled their homes in the north of the strip and thousands more in the south. In some cases Israeli troops have told them to leave, or dropped leaflets warning them to evacuate their homes. Some are even dividing their families between different addresses for fear of losing them all in a single air strike. ()


3. What You Dont Know About Gaza
The New York Times
Rashid Khalidi
7 January 2009

Rashid Khalidi is a professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University and the author of Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Dominance in the Middle East.

NEARLY everything youve been led to believe about Gaza is wrong. Below are a few essential points that seem to be missing from the conversation, much of which has taken place in the press, about Israels attack on the Gaza Strip. ()

THE OCCUPATION The Gazans have lived under Israeli occupation since the Six-Day War in 1967. Israel is still widely considered to be an occupying power, even though it removed its troops and settlers from the strip in 2005. Israel still controls access to the area, imports and exports, and the movement of people in and out. Israel has control over Gazas air space and sea coast, and its forces enter the area at will. As the occupying power, Israel has the responsibility under the Fourth Geneva Convention to see to the welfare of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip.

THE BLOCKADE Israels blockade of the strip, with the support of the United States and the European Union, has grown increasingly stringent since Hamas won the Palestinian Legislative Council elections in January 2006. Fuel, electricity, imports, exports and the movement of people in and out of the Strip have been slowly choked off, leading to life-threatening problems of sanitation, health, water supply and transportation. The blockade has subjected many to unemployment, penury and malnutrition. This amounts to the collective punishment with the tacit support of the United States of a civilian population for exercising its democratic rights.

THE CEASE-FIRE Lifting the blockade, along with a cessation of rocket fire, was one of the key terms of the June cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. This accord led to a reduction in rockets fired from Gaza from hundreds in May and June to a total of less than 20 in the subsequent four months (according to Israeli government figures). The cease-fire broke down when Israeli forces launched major air and ground attacks in early November; six Hamas operatives were reported killed.

WAR CRIMES The targeting of civilians, whether by Hamas or by Israel, is potentially a war crime. Every human life is precious. But the numbers speak for themselves: Nearly 700 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed since the conflict broke out at the end of last year. In contrast, there have been around a dozen Israelis killed, many of them soldiers. Negotiation is a much more effective way to deal with rockets and other forms of violence. ()

This war on the people of Gaza isnt really about rockets. Nor is it about estoring Israels deterrence, as the Israeli press might have you believe. Far more revealing are the words of Moshe Yaalon, then the Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff, in 2002: he Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.r

4. Gaza and the laws of law ut is it a crime?
The Economist
15 January 2009

The weeping of Ahmad Samouni was heart-rending. From a hospital bed in Gaza, the 16-year-old broke into tears as he told a television interviewer how several members of his family had been killed in an Israeli strike. ()
The plight of the Samouni clan stands out even amid the profligate bloodshed of Israels war in the Gaza Strip. According to survivors, about 100 members of the clan had been gathered by Israeli soldiers in a building in the Zeitun district on January 4th. The next day, it was struck by Israeli shells or missiles, killing about 30. Worse, Israeli forces are accused of preventing Palestinian paramedics from helping the survivors for two days.
his is a shocking incident. The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded, said the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), not usually given to emotive language or public complaints about violations of humanitarian law. Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, went further. The killings show lements of what would constitute war crimes, she said. ()
Another contentious incident in this war was the killing of more than 40 bystanders on January 6th near a UN school that was temporarily housing refugees. Here the Israeli army says that its soldiers were attacked by mortars fired rom within the school and responded with mortar fire. But the UN strenuously denies that Hamas fighters were in the school. There is also the alleged use of white phosphorous shells: permitted as a smokescreen, but not over civilian areas. ()
Short of arguing that Israel is deliberately massacring Palestinians (if so, many more would probably have been killed and Israels warning leaflets would be superfluous), judging war crimes depends on the facts of specific incidents and subjective legal concepts. Is Israel discriminating between civilians and combatants? Are its actions proportionate to the military gain? And is it taking proper care to spare civilians in the crowded Strip?
A British government manual on the laws of war admits that, for example, the principle of proportionality s not always straightforward, not least because attempting to reduce the danger to civilians may increase the risk to ones own forces. Moreover, if the enemy puts civilians at risk by deliberately placing military targets near them, his is a factor to be taken into account in favour of the attackers.
Israel makes precisely such arguments. Its aggressive tactics, it says, are justified by the need to protect Israeli forces, and Hamas is to blame for civilian deaths by hiding rockets and other weapons in mosques. According to Israeli officials, Hamass top leaders are hiding in a bunker under the overstretched Shifa hospital (which, however, has not been attacked). ()
In other ways, military technology has raised the bar for what is considered acceptable. The skies above Gaza are buzzing with surveillance drones. Israeli command-and-control systems are doubtless as sophisticated as American ones, which give commanders vast digital maps in which structures are individually numbered and clearly identified if they are not to be attacked; they even have plat graphics to estimate the area that will be affected by a blast. Mishaps do happen; on January 5th three Israeli soldiers were killed by one of their own tanks. But without more facts, it is hard to believe the Israelis did not know about the presence of civilians at Zeitun and at the UN school.
5. Israels Bombardment of Gaza is not Self-Defencets a war Crime
The Sunday Times
11 January 2009

The following letter is signed by many notable professors and international law experts.

ISRAEL has sought to justify its military attacks on Gaza by stating that it amounts to an act of elf-defence as recognised by Article 51, United Nations Charter. We categorically reject this contention.
The rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas deplorable as they are, do not, in terms of scale and effect amount to an armed attack entitling Israel to rely on self-defence. Under international law self-defence is an act of last resort and is subject to the customary rules of proportionality and necessity.

The killing of almost 800 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and more than 3,000 injuries, accompanied by the destruction of schools, mosques, houses, UN compounds and government buildings, which Israel has a responsibility to protect under the Fourth Geneva Convention, is not commensurate to the deaths caused by Hamas rocket fire.

For 18 months Israel had imposed an unlawful blockade on the coastal strip that brought Gazan society to the brink of collapse. In the three years after Israels redeployment from Gaza, 11 Israelis were killed by rocket fire. And yet in 2005-8, according to the UN, the Israeli army killed about 1,250 Palestinians in Gaza, including 222 children. Throughout this time the Gaza Strip remained occupied territory under international law because Israel maintained effective control over it.

Israels actions amount to aggression, not self-defence, not least because its assault on Gaza was unnecessary. Israel could have agreed to renew the truce with Hamas. Instead it killed 225 Palestinians on the first day of its attack. As things stand, its invasion and bombardment of Gaza amounts to collective punishment of Gazas 1.5m inhabitants contrary to international humanitarian and human rights law. In addition, the blockade of humanitarian relief, the destruction of civilian infrastructure, and preventing access to basic necessities such as food and fuel, are prima facie war crimes.

We condemn the firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel and suicide bombings which are also contrary to international humanitarian law and are war crimes. Israel has a right to take reasonable and proportionate means to protect its civilian population from such attacks. However, the manner and scale of its operations in Gaza amount to an act of aggression and is contrary to international law, notwithstanding the rocket attacks by Hamas.

Ian Brownlie QC, Blackstone Chambers
Mark Muller QC, Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales
Michael Mansfield QC and Joel Bennathan QC, Tooks Chambers
Sir Geoffrey Bindman, University College, London
Professor Richard Falk, Princeton University
Professor M Cherif Bassiouni, DePaul University, Chicago
Professor Christine Chinkin, LSE
Professor John B Quigley, Ohio State University
Professor Iain Scobbie and Victor Kattan, School of Oriental and African Studies
Professor Vera Gowlland-Debbas, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva
Professor Said Mahmoudi, Stockholm University
Professor Max du Plessis, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban
Professor Bill Bowring, Birkbeck College
Professor Joshua Castellino, Middlesex University
Professor Thomas Skouteris and Professor Michael Kagan, American University of Cairo
Professor Javaid Rehman, Brunel University
Daniel Machover, Chairman, Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights
Dr Phoebe Okawa, Queen Mary University
John Strawson, University of East London
Dr Nisrine Abiad, British Institute of International and Comparative Law
Dr Michael Kearney, University of York
Dr Shane Darcy, National University of Ireland, Galway
Dr Michelle Burgis, University of St Andrews
Dr Niaz Shah, University of Hull
Liz Davies, Chair, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyer
Prof Michael Lynk, The University of Western Ontario
Steve Kamlish QC and Michael Topolski QC, Tooks Chamber


C. Civil Society: Reports and Calls for Action

1. Arms embargo vital as Gaza civilian toll mounts
Amnesty International
15 January 2009

As the civilian casualty mounts amid continuing Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip, Amnesty International is calling for an immediate arms embargo to prevent more foreign weaponry and other military equipment being used to fuel the fighting.

At least 900 Palestinians have so far been killed, more than a third of them civilians, including some 200 Palestinian children as more US munitions are en route to the region.

"We know that the Wehr Elbe, a German-owned cargo ship left the USA on 20 December 2008 with a large consignment 989 containers - of high explosives and other munitions destined for Israel," said Malcolm Smart, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme. ()

Tender documents show that these shipments contain white phosphorus, known for its potential to cause severe burns and an indiscriminate weapon when used as an airburst in densely-populated civilian areas as now alleged in Gaza.

The US Department of Defence says it is now looking at other means to deliver the munitions to a US stockpile in Israel. A US-Israel agreement has allowed US munitions stockpiled in Israel to be transferred to the Israeli Defence Force in "an emergency".

"The US government should not proceed with these or any other arms shipments to Israel, and the Greek and other governments should not allow their ports or other facilities to be used to ferry arms to Israel or the other parties to this conflict," said Malcolm Smart.

In the light of its research, Amnesty International has called on the UN Security Council to impose an immediate, comprehensive arms embargo on all parties to the conflict in Gaza. The call comes amid news of mounting civilian casualties and evidence of war crimes.

The organization says that an embargo could help ensure full accountability for war crimes and other serious violations of international law committed by the parties to the conflict.

It could also send a powerful signal to Israel and Hamas about the Council's determination to ensure peace and security and to uphold international law.()

Amnesty International has been gathering information from people living in Gaza. They report that nowhere is safe for civilians. Most people have fled their homes and are staying with relatives who live in areas considered less at risk or are sheltering in schools run by the UN relief agency, UNWRA.

Many have had no electricity and little or no access to clean water since the beginning of the crisis. There is little food available and people are living mostly on bread. Going out looking for food can be dangerous. ()

"Nothing less than an immediate, full arms embargo is now needed to help bring an end to the civilian suffering caused by this conflict, and the flagrantly abusive attacks mounted from each side," said Malcolm Smart.

"The Security Council must declare and maintain an embargo, until effective mechanisms are in place to ensure that weapons, munitions and other military equipment are not used to attack civilians or commit other serious violations of international law."


2. Deprived and Endangered: Humanitarian Crisis in the Gaza Strip
Human Rights Watch
13 January 2009

Gaza's 1.5 million people are enduring a serious humanitarian crisis brought on by more than two weeks of major military operations that have magnified the impact of 19 months of a highly restrictive Israeli blockade, reinforced by Egypt.

The Israeli government has repeatedly denied that a humanitarian crisis exists. Information from international humanitarian organizations, United Nations agencies and Gaza's residents themselves starkly refute that claim. Hundreds of civilians have been killed in the fighting, a large percentage of them children. Many wounded and sick have been trapped in their homes, unable to get medical care. Corpses have been left among rubble and in destroyed homes because Israeli forces have at times denied access to medical crews. Increasing numbers are displaced or are trapped in their homes. They have nowhere to flee, caught in a warzone where no place is truly safe. ()

Humanitarian law provides that Israel as an occupying power must ensure the safety and well-being of the civilian population. The blockade is a form of collective punishment in violation of international law. Prior to the current military operation, about 80 percent of the Gaza Strip's population - 1.2 million people - relied on food aid, a significant proportion was malnourished, and more than half was food-insecure, or living on less than 2.6 US dollars per day. But security concerns caused by the current fighting have severely hampered UN agencies' food distribution operations. ()

The water, sewage and electricity infrastructure - already severely debilitated by the blockade - is now stretched to a breaking point. The World Bank and the World Health Organization have warned of the dire consequences of epidemics from the discontinuation of vaccinations, lack of garbage collection and contaminated water. ()

Humanitarian law places obligations on states and non-state armed groups like Hamas to facilitate humanitarian assistance and the movement of humanitarian workers. Among other incidents in which Israel reportedly interfered unlawfully with aid or medical delivery, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reportedly blocked the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) from accessing badly wounded and dead civilians for several days. On January 8, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which 750,000 Gazans have long depended on for food aid, decided to suspend aid deliveries in Gaza after Israeli strikes killed two of its drivers.()

Obtaining some relief for the suffering of the people of Gaza will require urgent measures to protect their security and the aid that is required to keep them alive. The delivery of humanitarian supplies needs to be dramatically escalated - prioritizing wheat flour, fuel, cooking gas, and medical supplies, as well as spare parts for repairs to the essential infrastructure. The distribution of these supplies must be facilitated by the creation of humanitarian corridors and access and freedom of movement for humanitarian agencies. Both Israel and Hamas should respect safe areas created to protect civilians both by not attacking them and by not conducting military operations in the vicinity - even though these and other measures to facilitate aid are grossly inadequate to meet needs at present and need to be expanded. Israel and Egypt should open their borders to permit humanitarian aid to reach Gaza and to allow civilians to seek safety from the fighting.


3. FIDH urges the UN Security Council to refer the situation to the ICC Prosecutor
13 January 2009

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) reiterates its gravest concern and its horror at the worsening situation in the Gaza Strip. ()

FIDH welcomed UN Security Council Resolution 1860 (2009) adopted on January 8, 2009, expressing rave concern at the escalation of violence and the deterioration of the situation, in particular the resulting heavy civilian casualties and condemn[ing] all violence and hostilities directed against civilians.

Unfortunately, the resolution failed to include any operational aspect, in particular the deployment of an international commission of investigation. The situation nevertheless requires action, not just words.

In view of the increasing number of civilian victims, especially children and women, and the widespread and systematic attacks that the civilian population is suffering from the Israeli army in the Gaza strip, these attacks constitute grave breaches of international humanitarian law, and shall be qualified as war crimes, if not crimes against humanity under international criminal law.

As the only international organ in charge of maintaining international peace and security, the UN Security Council has the responsibility to decide on concrete actions aiming at preventing the repetition of these crimes, in particular through the deployment of independent judicial proceedings, prosecution and condemnation, at least of those who bear the highest responsibility in the crimes.

Considering that the crimes perpetrated by the Israeli army in the Gaza strip obviously fall within the material jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC), noting that Israel has not ratified the Statute of the ICC, activating the ICC jurisdiction for these crimes implies for the UN Security Council to refer the situation to the ICC.

Accordingly, the FIDH urges the UN Security Council to refer the situation to the ICC Prosecutor in compliance with Article 13(b) of the ICC Statute in order for the Prosecutor to initiate an investigation into crimes within its jurisdiction and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

To see the FIDH letter sent to the Security Council prior to Resolution 1860, see

4. Overview of the 9th Special Session on 'Grave Human Rights Violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including the Recent Aggression of the Gaza Strip'
International Service for Human Rights
9 and 12 January

he Human Rights Council (the Council) convened its 9th special session on 9 and 12 January 2009 in Geneva. The meeting was called for by Egypt, on behalf of the Arab and African Groups, by Pakistan, on behalf of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and by Cuba, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), to discuss he grave violations of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including the recent aggression of the occupied Gaza Strip. (...)

The interest in the special session was reflected in the high level of attendance by States, United Nations (UN) agencies, and civil society. The long list of speakers, moreover, led to the extension of the session by half a day. The large majority of speakers spoke emotively of the need for urgent action to address the grave humanitarian crisis in the region. While many sought to assign responsibility for the violence to a particular party to the conflict, all were unanimous in their call for a ceasefire as a necessary precursor to a durable solution. The resolution that was adopted by a majority vote reflects many of the points raised during the session.r
*Note: According to the report, a perambulatory paragraph ecalling the responsibility to protect against genocide and crimes against humanity was deleted from the resolution.

Full Report:
UN Overview of Human Rights Council Session:

5. ICRC demands urgent access to wounded as Israeli army fails to assist wounded Palestinians
International Red Cross
8 January 2009

On the afternoon of 7 January, four Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS) ambulances and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) managed to obtain access for the first time to several houses in the Zaytun neighbourhood of Gaza City that had been affected by Israeli shelling.

The ICRC had requested safe passage for ambulances to access this neighbourhood since 3 January but it only received permission to do so from the Israel Defense Forces during the afternoon of 7 January.

The ICRC/PRCS team found four small children next to their dead mothers in one of the houses. They were too weak to stand up on their own. One man was also found alive, too weak to stand up. In all there were at least 12 corpses lying on mattresses.

In another house, the ICRC/PRCS rescue team found 15 other survivors of this attack including several wounded. In yet another house, they found an additional three corpses. Israeli soldiers posted at a military position some 80 meters away from this house ordered the rescue team to leave the area which they refused to do. There were several other positions of the Israel Defense Forces nearby as well as two tanks.

"This is a shocking incident," said Pierre Wettach, the ICRC's head of delegation for Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. "The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded. Neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestine Red Crescent to assist the wounded."

Large earth walls erected by the Israeli army had made it impossible to bring ambulances into the neighbourhood. Therefore, the children and the wounded had to be taken to the ambulances on a donkey cart. In total, the ICRC/PRCS rescue team evacuated 18 wounded and 12 others who were extremely exhausted. Two corpses were also evacuated. The ICRC/PRCS will recover the remaining corpses on Thursday. ()

The ICRC believes that in this instance the Israeli military failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuate the wounded. It considers the delay in allowing rescue services access unacceptable.


6. Ending the War in Gaza
International Crisis Group
5 January 2009

A war neither Israel nor Hamas truly wanted turned into a war both are willing to wage. The six-month ceasefire that expired on 19 December was far from ideal. Israel suffered through periodic rocket fire and the knowledge that its foe was amassing lethal firepower. Hamas endured a punishing economic blockade, undermining its hopes of ruling Gaza. A sensible compromise, entailing an end to rocket launches and an opening of the crossings should have been available. But without bilateral engagement, effective third party mediation or mutual trust, it inexorably came to this: a brutal military operation in which both feel they have something to gain. ()

To be sustainable, cessation of hostilities must be directly followed by steps addressing both sides core concerns:
an indefinite ceasefire pursuant to which:
Hamas would halt all rocket launches, keep armed militants at 500 metres from Israels border and make other armed organisations comply; and
Israel would halt all military attacks on and withdraw all troops from Gaza;
real efforts to end arms smuggling into Gaza, led by Egypt in coordination with regional and international actors;
dispatch of a multinational monitoring presence to verify adherence to the ceasefire, serve as liaison between the two sides and defuse potential crises; countries like France, Turkey and Qatar, as well as organisations such as the UN, could play an important part in this; and
opening of Gazas crossings with Israel and Egypt, together with:
return of an EU presence at the Rafah crossing and its extension to Gazas crossings with Israel; and
coordination between Hamas authorities and the (Ramallah-based) PA at the crossings.

That last point Hamass role is, of course, the rub, the unresolved dilemma that largely explains why the tragedy unfolded as it did. Gazas two-year story has been one of collective failure: by Hamas, which missed the opportunity to act as a responsible political actor; of Israel, which stuck to a shortsighted policy of isolating Gaza and seeking to undermine Hamas that neither helped it nor hurt them; of the PA leadership, which refused to accept the consequences of the Islamists electoral victory, sought to undo it and ended up looking like the leader of one segment of the Palestinian community against the other; and of the international community, many regional actors included, which demanded Hamas turn from militant to political organisation without giving it sufficient incentives to do so and only recognised the utility of Palestinian unity after spending years obstructing it.

This should change. Sustainable calm can be achieved neither by ignoring Hamas and its constituents nor by harbouring the illusion that, pummelled into submission, it will accept what it heretofore has rejected. Palestinian reconciliation is a priority, more urgent but also harder than ever before; so, too, is the Islamists acceptance of basic international obligations. In the meantime, Hamas if Israel does not take the perilous step of toppling it will have to play a political and security role in Gaza and at the crossings. This might mean a ictory for Hamas, but that is the inevitable cost for a wrongheaded embargo, and by helping end rocket fire and producing a more stable border regime, it would just as importantly be a victory for Israel and, crucially, both peoples as well.


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