The latest Human Rights Watch (HRW) report titled “Israel: Apparent War Crimes in Gaza” commences with a sentence that mars the rest of its investigation and analysis. “Israeli forces’ repeated use of lethal force in the Gaza Strip since March 30 2018, against Palestinian demonstrators who posed no imminent threat to life may amount to war crimes.”
Juxtaposing “International Law and Israeli Claims” in one of the report’s sections, HRW clearly shows that “when there is doubt as to a person’s civilian status, they must be presumed to be a civilian and may not be targeted”.
Article 8(2) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court gives eight acts that are considered as war crimes, among which are “wilful killing” and “wilfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body and health” and “intentional directing attacks against civilian objects, that is, objects which are not military objectives”.
The absence of a judiciary power’s ruling leaves room for debate from a legal framework as regards accountability for war crimes. Yet the repetitive reports detailing Israeli atrocities while adorning the colonial power with the benefit of the doubt, knowing that holding Israel accountable so far has amounted to an empty slogan that is not even taken up by international diplomacy, harms Palestinian prospects severely.
HRW’s report details, from witness accounts, that the Israeli army’s snipers targeted civilians and personnel when clearly posing no threat. Palestinians were shot when moving away from the fence, unarmed. Civil defence worker Mohammad Meqdad stated: “The last people I evacuated before I was shot were three women, all in their late 20s, who were shot in the neck or in the head.” In mentioning Israel’s targeting of civil defence workers and medics, there is a reference to Razan Al-Najjar, also murdered by Israeli snipers and which the Israeli army has attempted to shield itself from accountability by stating that “no shots were deliberately or directly aimed towards her”. This latter statement purportedly renders Israeli snipers as incompetent when it is well-known the opposite is true. Yet the same rhetoric was also applied during Operation Protective Edge in 2014, when Israel attempted – and failed – to convince the world that precision targeting was not the cause of civilian deaths in Gaza.
The report also refers to Defence for Children International – Palestine documenting the killing of seven Palestinian children on 14 May.
Another witness, Samer Nasser, described how he had attempted to evacuate a wounded man when Israeli forces again targeted the injured with a shot to his head and killed him.
Despite all the detailed atrocities, the recommendations offered by HRW are for the UN General Assembly to “support a resolution that calls for exploring measures to guarantee the protection of Palestinians in Gaza”, as well as a UN inquiry to identify the Israeli officials responsible for the killings. Both suggestions are not feasible for Palestinians.
According the resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly, the UN Secretary General has 60 days in which he has to presnent “proposals on ways and means for ensuring the safety, protection and well-being of the Palestinian civilian population under Israeli occupation, including recommendations regarding an international protection mechanism”.
It must be remembered that when the international community was strongly in favour of an interventionist agenda there was no delay between resolution and implementation – the result being additional “collateral damage” sponsored by the international community.
In this case, the delay allows Israel to increase the number of victims while giving the UN enough time to mellow the resolution into another purportedly neutral stance that gives Israel additional advantage. Is there any recognition of the fact that resolutions to ostensibly protect Palestinians can be rendered obsolete not by the usual UN inaction, but a unified effort to dismantle Israel’s colonial project?
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.