Genocide and War Crimes: Israel’s War Project

But peace or no peace, the charges against Israel, including genocide, war crimes, starvation as a weapon of war, and the destruction of homes, hospitals, schools, universities, mosques, and churches, will continue to linger.

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People grieve over victims killed in an Israeli airstrike in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah, on April 16, 2024. (Photo by Khaled Omar/Xinhua)

The Biden administration, which is frantically attempting to finalize a shaky peace agreement between Israel and Hamas, is being stymied by at least two far right-wing politicians in Netanyahu’s cabinet—Foreign Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir—and also by the Israeli Prime Minister himself who wants to totally eradicate Hamas before he agrees to a cease-fire.

But peace or no peace, the charges against Israel, including genocide, war crimes, starvation as a weapon of war, and the destruction of homes, hospitals, schools, universities, mosques, and churches, will continue to linger.

Last week, the United Nations clarified that the overall number of fatalities, tallied by the Ministry of Health in Gaza, is estimated at more than 35,000 Palestinians, overwhelmingly civilians, since the attack by Hamas, which killed 1,200 inside Israel on October 7—reflecting the totally disproportionate killings by the Israelis.

The Ministry of Health provided a breakdown for 24,686 “fully identified deaths out of the total 34,622 fatalities recorded in Gaza, as of April 30”. The death toll includes 7,797 children, 4,959 women, 1,924 elderly, and 10,006 men.

Since these killings were mostly with American weapons, the question that remains unanswered: Is the US, the primary arms supplier to Israel, as complicit in war crimes and genocide—as is Israel?

According to a May 31 report in Cable News Network (CNN), researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and the Johns Hopkins Center for Humanitarian Health have projected that if the war continues to escalate, the total number of deaths would surpass 72,000 by August. And if the impact of epidemics sparked by the conflict is included, the toll could be close to 86,000 by then.

Israel’s diplomatic isolation could grow if the war drags on, CNN said. The government has become the target of increased censure on the world stage, drawing sharp criticism from some of its closest allies in Europe for its conduct.

Dr. Simon Adams, President and CEO of the Center for Victims of Torture, the largest international organization that treats survivors and advocates for an end to torture worldwide, told IPS that Hamas’ attacks on Israeli civilians on October 7 were truly horrific and generated global sympathy.

“But that has been squandered by this extremist Israeli government. They have pursued a policy of collective punishment against the entire Palestinian population in Gaza, and by doing so, have made themselves global pariahs. Several have also become indicted war criminals.”

“What’s happening in Gaza is an unnatural disaster. It is a result of man-made decisions by the Israeli government to systematically bomb Palestinian civilians and violate the laws of war. There is no such thing as a safe zone or a so-called precision strike if you are bombing an area where displaced children are sleeping nearby in tents,” he pointed out.

The Israeli government is outraged that it has been accused of atrocities at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and by the International Criminal Court (ICC). But the rest of the world is outraged by a culture of impunity that has led to so many civilian deaths and so much wanton destruction.

That’s why Israel has become an international pariah, Dr Adams declared.

Romy Hawatt, Founder & CEO of the Dubai-based Riana Group, told IPS the international community’s growing scrutiny of Israel’s policies and practices marks a significant shift, emphasising the urgent need for accountability and reform.

“As the world increasingly condemns actions reminiscent of apartheid-era South Africa, it is crucial to foster empathy and a balanced perspective to administer justice and address past wrongs while working towards a sustainable long-term solution”.

Recognising the legitimate security concerns of all parties involved is essential for achieving a lasting peace that benefits everyone, he said.

“To achieve an equitable and just solution, it is evident that addressing the root causes of the ongoing conflict is imperative”.

This involves unequivocally condemning actions that violate human rights and international law, said Hawatt, whose group has made significant contributions, directly and through reputable NGOs, to support refugees, orphanages, children’s health and education, water projects, homelessness, and poverty alleviation.

As calls for compensation and restitution for Palestinians grow, it is essential for Israel to embrace principles of equality, freedom, and justice for all, he argued.

“Under the sponsorship and authority of the United Nations, a concerted effort by all parties is required to bridge divides, foster dialogue, and ensure security. Only through a comprehensive, just, and balanced approach can we hope to achieve lasting peace, dignity, and equality for all residents of the region, whether in two states living side by side or a democratic single state where Jews, Arabs, and others can coexist peacefully,” he declared.

Ramzy Baroud, a journalist and editor of The Palestine Chronicle, told IPS Israel’s attack on Rafah continued despite the US’ ‘red line’ warnings and appeals made by all parties involved, including Israel’s Western allies.

The incursions, including the Tents Massacre and subsequent massacres, all took place after the International Court of Justice’s decision that Israel must halt its Rafah operation immediately.

Technically, this should mean that Israel is not only a pariah within the context of international law but it ought to be a pariah from the viewpoint of its own allies, he said.

“And this is where the hypocrisy of the West becomes even more glaring as their support for Israel continued even after the escalation of the Israeli genocide, throughout the Gaza Strip but most specifically in Rafah”.

The war on Gaza has helped us understand the limits of Israeli-Western military power and intelligence, but also allowed us to see the limits of the often-touted international law, he noted.

Recent experiences have taught us that international law seems to be designed to apply against enemies of the United States, for example Russia, North Korean, Iraq and Iran.

Even though Washington is not a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC), through its network of Western allies, pressures, threats and sanctions, it is able to wield the needed power to subvert the equal application of international law.

“The very legitimacy of international law is now at stake, due to the unrelenting Israeli genocide in Gaza and the failure of the international community to take a single step that could push back against Israel’s criminal war,” said Baroud, who is also a non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA).

Meanwhile, in a statement released on June 4, UN Human Rights Chief Volker Türk issued a renewed call for an end to the sharp rise in deadly violence in the occupied West Bank since October 7 and urged accountability for the killing of over 500 Palestinians last week by Israeli Security Forces (ISF) and settlers.

“As if the tragic events in Israel and then Gaza over the past eight months were not enough, the people of the occupied West Bank are also being subjected to day-after-day of unprecedented bloodshed. It is unfathomable that so many lives have been taken in such a wanton fashion,” the High Commissioner said.

“The killing, destruction and widespread human rights violations are unacceptable, and must cease immediately. Israel must not only adopt but enforce rules of engagement that are fully in line with applicable human rights norms and standards. Any allegation of unlawful killings must be thoroughly and independently investigated and those responsible held to account.

“Pervasive impunity for such crimes has been commonplace for far too long in the occupied West Bank. Such impunity has created an enabling environment for more and more unlawful killings by the ISF. International law must be respected and enforced, and accountability must be ensured.”

The Israeli Defense Force (ISF) has often used lethal force as a first resort against Palestinian protesters throwing stones, incendiary bottles, and firecrackers at ISF armoured vehicles, in cases where those shot clearly did not represent an imminent threat to life.

The prevalence of Palestinians who died after being shot in the upper part of the body, along with a pattern of the denial of medical assistance to those injured, suggests intent to kill in violation of the right to life, rather than a graduated application of force and an attempt to de-escalate tense situations.

In a statement released May 29, a group of UN experts said Israeli air strikes on a camp sheltering displaced civilians in Tal al-Sultan in Rafah, that have reportedly claimed at least 46 lives including 23 women, children and older persons on Sunday night. “are an outrage.”

“Harrowing images of destruction, displacement and death have emerged from Rafah, including infants torn apart and people burnt alive,” the experts said.

“Reports emerging from the ground indicate that the strikes were indiscriminate and disproportionate, with people trapped inside burning plastic tents, leading to a horrific casualty toll.”

“These barbaric attacks are a flagrant violation of international law. They are also an attack on human decency and our collective humanity,” the experts said.

At least 46 Palestinians were reportedly killed in an Israeli air strike in Rafah’s Tal al-Sultan on the night of Sunday 26 May 2024, with hundreds more treated for severe burns. On Tuesday, another attack in al-Mawasi in Western Rafah reportedly killed 21 Palestinians, of whom 13 were women.

“Recklessly targeting sites known to shelter displaced Palestinians, including women, children, persons with disabilities, and older persons seeking refuge, constitutes a grave breach of the laws of war and a grim reminder of the urgent need for international action and accountability,” they said.

“Even if Israeli leaders claim now that the strikes were a ‘mistake’, they bear international legal responsibility. Calling it a mistake will not make the strikes legal, bring back those killed in Rafah or give comfort to grieving survivors,” the UN experts said.

IPS UN Bureau Report

Thalif Deen

Thalif Deen, IPS United Nations bureau chief and regional director North America, has been covering the UN since the late 1970s. A former deputy news editor of the Sri Lanka Daily News, he was also a senior editorial writer on the Hongkong daily, The Standard. He has been runner-up and cited twice for “excellence in UN reporting” at the annual awards presentation of the UN Correspondents Association (UNCA).

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