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Amnesty International says Israel cannot explain away murdering so many children, civilians in Gaza

By Richard Walker

Israel has enough clout in Washington to silence criticism. It is also adept at making its critics think twice about speaking out because they risk a withering condemnation from sections of the media and are likely to be branded as an anti-Semites. As a consequence, critics of Israel, even within universities, are increasingly reluctant to voice their opinions when Israel’s foreign policies threaten peace in the Middle East or promote military strategies that display a total disregard for civilian life.

But now an Amnesty International report has emerged accusing the Israeli government and its military chain of command of lacking a moral compass by showing a total disregard for international law and human life in Gaza.

Amnesty, like other groups that have looked at the Gaza death toll, reached the conclusion that you cannot, as Israel has tried to do, explain away the deaths of so many children by claiming they died in crossfire or were used as human shields. Amnesty said if civilians were used as human shields it was by the Israeli army, who put them in harm’s way and, in some cases, made them go into buildings they suspected were booby-trapped.

During the Gaza invasion—codenamed “Cast Lead”— Israel deployed weapons that Amnesty says should never have been used in civilian areas, including Hellfire missiles, phosphorus bombs, 120 mm mortar rounds and tank shells filled with thousands of metal darts that acted like shrapnel.

Hospitals were attacked and ambulance staff were killed and prevented from tending civilian wounded for days. Families were directed to homes that were then shelled and over 200 policemen were killed in a sustained bombardment of their facilities. Some civilian victims, including women and children, were clearly shot at close range. Others were terribly maimed when phosphorus bombs were used indiscriminately.


Amnesty drew attention to two families. The first was the Sammouni extended family that lost 31 of its members in southeast Gaza City on Jan. 5, 2009. The day before, Israeli soldiers moved dozens of the family’s members from one of their homes to another and then shelled the second home. Not everyone died immediately.

Some took days to die from their injuries. Ambulance personnel were not allowed to get to them. A few children who survived were found clinging to their dead mothers.

In other instances, Amnesty confirmed that bodies were left decomposing for days in parts of Gaza. A second example of a family tragedy occurred on Jan. 12, 2009 when a grandmother, mother and three children were sitting outside their home at 9 a.m.. They were killed by a Hellfire missile fired from a drone. The missile and drone were supplied to the Israeli military by the U.S.

Amnesty concluded that the largest numbers of civilian fatalities and injuries resulted from long-range, high-precision weapons fired from helicopters, drones, tanks and mortars. The victims were not caught in crossfire, as Israel alleged, and were not used as human shields by
Hamas militants.

“Many were killed when their homes were bombed or as they slept. Others were going about their daily activities, sitting in their yard, handling the laundry on the roof when they were targeted in airstrikes or tank shelling.

Children were studying or playing in their bedrooms, or on the roof, or outside their homes when they were struck by missiles or tank shells. Paramedics and ambulances were repeatedly attacked while rescuing the wounded or recovering the dead,” said the report, adding it believed Israel failed to take steps required under international law to protect civilians. Amnesty also unequivocally dismissed Israel’s argument that the deaths of 300 children reflected “collateral damage” and the “panicked reactions of lone soldiers.”

Amnesty quoted an Israeli commander, who gave his men the following advice during a security briefing: “I want aggressiveness. If there is someone suspicious on the upper floor of a house, we’ll shell it. If we have suspicions about a house, we’ll take it down. There will be no hesitation. Nobody will deliberate. Let mistakes be over their lives, not ours.”

That strategy has led to tanks firing shells from a distance of five miles, with the result that they often collapsed more than one house. In the targeting of a mosque, the house next to it was hit and five girls ranging in age from 4 to 17 years were killed. When shells filled with 5,000 tiny metal darts were fired into Gaza, people in a 300 x 100 yard radius of an exploding shell were at risk of death or serious injury. Since the end of the Gaza operation Israel has refused to explain how high-precision weapons, whose operators could see the smallest details of a target, could kill so many women and children.

The indiscriminate use of phosphorus rated special condemnation by Amnesty, yet Gaza was not the first time Israel used the weapon against civilian targets. It fired phosphorus shells into Lebanon and, just as it had done during the Lebanon conflict, it reacted with public outrage when reporters accused it of using the weapon in Gaza. We now know the outrage was feigned as the evidence from Gaza is clear. The Israeli military repeatedly fired phosphorus shells over densely populated areas.

“Phosphorus was often launched from artillery shells in air-burst mode, which aggravated the already devastating consequences of the attacks. Each shell ejected over 100 felt wedges with highly incendiary white phosphorus, which rained down over houses and streets, igniting on exposure to oxygen and setting fire to people and property,” said Amnesty, which further accused the Israel military of preventing people from being properly treated for horrific phosphorous burns.

The very fact the Israeli Defense Forces did not come clean about using phosphorus meant many lives were not saved because surgeons did not know what had caused, and how to treat certain types of wounds. The Amnesty report added that white phosphorus and artillery shells were used in attacks that were indiscriminate and violated international law.

“The Israeli military could not have been unaware of the presence of civilians in locations, which were repeatedly attacked. . . . Israeli forces continued to employ the same tactics for the entire duration of the 22-day offensive. . . . Much of the destruction was wanton and deliberate. It was often the result of reckless and indiscriminate attacks which were seemingly tolerated or even directly sanctioned up the chain of command, and which at times appeared intended to collectively punish local residents for the actions of armed groups. . . . Children, women and elderly people were among those trapped and denied access to medical care,” were just some of the report’s conclusions.

Throughout operation “Cast Lead,” the Israeli military denied the international media and independent observers access to Gaza, and, since then, it has refused to speak to investigators. It has made no effort to launch an internal inquiry, and that testifies to a mindset that places scant value on the lives of Palestinians. At the very least, Congress should ask Israel to explain why it killed, injured and maimed so many civilians and particularly why it slaughtered 300 children.

On the other hand, if Congress and the American mainstream media are not prepared to address the issue, why should Israel? It is made to feel confident that its closest ally will stand by it no matter what crimes it commits.

In a very real sense, the American people, who constantly are told how great, humane and generous they are, and who finance Israel’s murder machine with their tax dollars, are guilty of these appalling atrocities.

Unlike the U.S., Britain has taken punitive action against Israel for its Gaza operation. The Israeli embassy in London was informed that Israel had violated current British and European laws that forbade the use of weapons for “internal repression.”

An all-party group of British parliamentarians welcomed the move and also a government promise to review all military export licenses to Israel. Meanwhile, Israeli promoters, such as the “Rev.” John Hagee, make millions of dollars with the support of the Israeli-controlled American media, holding rallies to support Israel and its murderous policies.

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(Issue # 31, August 3, 2009)

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