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Issue #1597      June 12, 2013

Unremitting injustice in Palestine

“The Israeli claim that the attack on the Dalou home was justified is unsupported by the facts. The onus is on Israel to explain why it bombed a home full of civilians killing 12 people.” Fred Abrahams, special advisor at Human Rights Watch.

Fahami sitting in the debris, in what used to be his room in the house next to Al-Dalou´s family building in Gaza City.

In April 2013, Israeli military authorities announced that there would be no criminal inquiry into a missile strike that killed twelve Palestinian civilians in Gaza City during the eight days of war in November 2012. More than 160 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed and over 1,400 Palestinians were injured in the brief conflict. Most of the Palestinians killed were civilians, many of them women and children according to United Nations statistics.

During these attacks, the Israeli Airforce dropped a large bomb on the home of the Al-Dalou family on November 18, 2012, leaving ten members of the family and two neighbours dead. This dreadful incident resulted in the largest single loss of civilian deaths in the November war in Gaza. Among those killed was Mohamed Dalou, a police officer and nine other members of his family, including four children, aged between one and seven and five women. The two neighbours killed were a young man and an elderly woman. Nine other civilians in the area were wounded. One boy aged 16 years old survived the attack. The house was completely destroyed and there was extensive damage to surrounding homes.

After the bombing the Israeli military changed its stories several times about why the appalling attack happened. Initially, the Israeli Defence Force stated the strike was an attempt to target a senior militant, Yahia Abayah, described as the head of a Hamas rocket unit. Israel said he was supposed to be in the home, but in fact was not present. Yahia Abayah is a man that the surviving Dalou family members and others interviewed do not know of.

Then later, Israel shifted its account again, saying they had mistakenly bombed the wrong house. An Israeli spokeswoman later said that Israel had targeted a Hamas militant, but refused to say who the target was. Then later, the IDF said the target had been Mohamed Al-Dalou, the dead policeman, describing him as a Hamas “terror operative”. No information supporting this claim was given by Israel. Members of the Dalou family and neighbours said Mohamed Al-Dalou was just a civilian policeman in the Interior Ministry and not a member of any armed group.

Further research by Human Rights Watch could find no evidence of his alleged connection to any Palestinian militant groups. Human Rights Watch said of the contradictory Israeli claims, “Israel’s belated effort, once it could scour the list of victims, to defend the attack by naming a civilian police officer found among the dead suggests an after-the-fact attempt to justify the unjustifiable”.

Human rights groups described the incident as a war crime and called for criminal prosecutions. The attack was according to them unlawful and disproportionate. Human Rights Watch said that even if an ordinary policeman was a legitimate military target, an attack on a house that killed a large number of civilians made it an unlawfully disproportionate act. The human rights organisations challenged Israel’s assertions that its air strikes were only surgical strikes on clear enemy targets.

After a detailed investigation Human Rights Watch released an important report into the Dalou bombing in December 2012, stating the attack on innocent civilians was a clear violation of the laws of war and was therefore a war crime. After the HRW Report, the Israeli military stated they would investigate the incident.

Repeated violations

“Israel’s legal system is used as a smokescreen, to provide an illusion of investigative rigour, while in fact providing systematic cover for widespread violations of international law.” Statement by Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.

In their April announcement, Israel’s Military Advocate General (MAG) stated it “Did not find a basis for opening a criminal investigation,” and decided therefore to take no further action in the case saying, “The result, while regrettable, does not indicate a violation of the Laws of Armed Conflict.” Further the MAG in an internal report claimed that an initial investigation found that unspecified precautions had been taken to reduce the risk of “collateral damage to innocents during the execution of the military objective.” Surviving members of the Dalou family insisted there were no fighters in their home and didn’t know why they were targeted by Israel.

In response to the MAG Report, Human Rights Watch said that even if the attack was a mistake, this still did not mean it was lawful. HRW’s Bill Van Esveld stated, “In fact, ‘unintended damage’ and ‘mistakes’ that kill civilians can indeed be violations of the laws of war, if the attackers failed to...ensure their attacks would not cause disproportionate civilian harm.” The Gaza based organisation, Palestinian Centre for Human Rights also condemned the MAG’s decision to close the Dalou case. The UN Human Rights Council also said in its annual report that Israeli’s actions “were not in line with the law.”

“AI has previously raised concerns that Israel’s military investigations fail to meet international standards and result in near-total impunity for those responsible for unlawful killings.” Amnesty International, April 5, 2013.

The MAG examined 80 incidents stemming from that November 2012 Gaza conflict, which led to the deaths of many “uninvolved civilians”. In 65 of these cases the MAG “did not find a basis for opening a criminal investigation.” It did order further inspection of the remaining cases, but such criminal prosecutions are rare and findings adverse towards Israeli soldiers are even rarer. Past experience doesn’t leave much hope for any genuine investigation or justice for Palestinian victims and their grieving families.

In a September 2010 Report entitled, “Void of Responsibility: Israel Military Policy not to investigate Killings of Palestinians by Soldiers”, Israeli human rights group, B’Tselem said that the Israeli military failed to investigate the killings of hundreds of Palestinian civilians in the occupied territories between 2006 and 2009. During those four years, not a single Israeli soldier was indicted for killing Palestinian civilians. The report further added that this meant that Israeli soldiers who killed Palestinian civilians are almost never held accountable for these actions.

B’Tselem said, during that period, Israeli troops killed at least 617 Palestinian civilians in the occupied territories. This figure did not include more than 1,400 Palestinians killed in the December 2008 to January 2009 war in Gaza. The human rights group filed 288 complaints, but only 23 cases were deemed justified for investigation. In none of the cases were charges brought against the soldiers involved. So despite killing and wounding thousands of Palestinian civilians during the course of the occupation Israel has only convicted three soldiers in that time.

And only one received a sentence. He got seven months for stealing a credit card. B’Tselem’s analysis shows that the Israeli military authority’s version of events is most often solely based on the statements of Israeli soldiers, while neglecting the contradictory evidence or eyewitness testimony of others. The human rights group’s spokesperson, Sarit Michaeli stated, “This policy permits soldiers and officers to act in violation of the law, creates a culture of impunity and shows a flagrant disregard for human life.”

Under International Humanitarian Law and the Laws of War, which includes the conflict in Gaza and the Israeli occupation in the West Bank, civilians are not to be the targets of attacks. Disproportionate attacks causing harm to civilians are serious violations of these laws, under which Israel has a duty to properly investigate and punish offenders. And anyone responsible for deliberately or recklessly committing a serious violation of these international laws should be persecuted for war crimes, as in the case of the slaughter of the Dalou family.

“Israel needs to explain why it bombed this house full of civilians. Anyone who has violated the law should be appropriately punished.” Fred Abrahams of Human Rights Watch said. The sad fact is that Israeli forces kill Palestinians indiscriminately and with complete impunity. And Israel is able to ignore International Humanitarian Law and other international laws because the USA and other dominant powers in the international community continue to allow Israel to neglect these laws and systematically abuse Palestinians.

It is blatant hypocrisy to enforce international laws on other countries and yet except Israel. This is morally wrong and the UN and rest of world community have a responsibility to compel Israel to uphold the principles of International Law and must act to stop war crimes committed by the Israeli military.  

Next article – Kerry’s plan – Palestinians to be cast as fall guys … again

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