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Israel Attempts to Justify Its Attack on Gaza
The obligations of Israel as an occupying power under the UN Charter
Ronda Hauben (netizen2)     Print Article 
Published 2009-01-12 22:21 (KST)   
In a letter submitted to Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations, and to the President of the Security Council for the month of January (S/2009/6, Jan. 6, 2009), Israel informs them that it has expanded its military operations in the Gaza Strip. Israel claims this is its right under Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations. Israel states that this is a "defensive military operation" and that it has begun this military operation only "after exhausting all other means."

The letter states "Israel is not at war with the Palestinian people." It states that Israel is doing its "utmost to avoid and minimize civilian casualties and to take the necessary precautionary measures in accordance with Israel's obligations under international humanitarian law." Also Israel claims that it "makes -- and will continue to make every effort to allow humanitarian relief into the Gaza Strip."

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Describing the nature of Israel's attack on the political infrastructure of Gaza, Sarah Leah Whitson, the Executive Director of the Middle East and North American Division of Human Rights Watch, in a press conference at the United Nations, presented a different view of what Israel is doing. She explained that under international law only combatants who are actively engaged in fighting are legitimate subjects of attack. (Press Conference, Jan. 7, 2009, Note 1)

In its bombardment, Israel has targeted the political and civilian infrastructure such as police stations. It is Israel's burden of proof to show that the police were indeed Hamas militants. Instead, Whitson noted, Israel targeted police stations "on a blanket basis."

Similarly, she pointed out, Israel targeted a Hamas Official at the Ministry of Health, and the Hamas media broadcasting station.

Whitson maintained that under international law, the closure of the crossing points into Gaza, the blockade that Israel and Egypt have participated in imposing on the people of Gaza, is the imposition of collective punishment on a civilian population. The people suffering from the effects of the blockade are civilians, rather than the effects being restricted to the combatants Israel claimed it was fighting. Moreover, Israel, as the occupying power over Gaza, has the primary responsibility to provide food and medicine for the people of Gaza, but instead has prevented the people from having access to the goods and services necessary for life.

The rationale presented by Israel in its letter to the United Nations is quite different from the facts. The claim that its military bombardment of Gaza is defensive in nature is contrary to its announcement that it has attacked the political infrastructure of Gaza, a political infrastructure that was the result of the Palestinian people voting in January 2006 for Hamas as its political representatives.

In an interview by UN radio with Richard Falk, the UN Human Rights Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian territories, about the crisis in Gaza (Interview on Gaza, Jan. 2, 2009, Note 2), Falk maintains that the "maintenance of a blockade on a society is treated as an act of war." Imposing such a blockade and then militarily attacking the people of Gaza, as Israel has done since Dec. 27, is "a massive and severe violation of the prohibition on collective punishment which is contained in Article 33 of the Geneva convention." Falk also explains that Israel's failure to provide adequate food and medicine for a population that is under its occupation, is a continuing violation of Article 55 of the same international treaty.

Falk describes how Hamas adhered to the ceasefire agreed to in June 2008 by not launching rocket attacks on Israel, but that Israel broke the ceasefire agreement by failing to restore humanitarian supplies as they had agreed to do. (UN radio, Interview with Richard Falk, Jan. 9, 2009, Note 3) Israel is not defending its own territory from an invasion, but attacking another political community, one that it has a responsibility to maintain under humanitarian law. According to Falk, Israel, by controlling land, sea and air access to Gaza, is the occupying power in Gaza.

It was not only that Israel failed to allow food, fuel, and medical supplies into Gaza as it was obliged to do under its agreement with Hamas, but on Nov. 4, when much of the world was distracted with the US election, Israel launched an attack on Gaza, resulting in at least six deaths. This act of Israel broke the ceasefire. Hence Israel's attack on Gaza is not defensive as its actions were the cause of the escalation of hostilities. Then when Hamas offered to agree to a continuation of the ceasefire for 10 years if the blockade was lifted, Israel ignored the offer. Falk says Israel's action in ignoring the offer by Hamas to negotiate how to continue the ceasefire "is a violation of international law which requires a government to use every diplomatic option before they have recourse to war."

An article by Jimmy Carter similarly details how Hamas did not break the ceasefire, just as it was Hamas that offered to negotiate with Israel to extend the ceasefire. (Jimmy Carter, "Gaza: an unnecessary war," 1/8/09, Mercury News, Note 4) Carter notes that the people of Gaza "were being starved" by Israel's actions enforcing the blockade. Carter describes his efforts in mid-December to extend the soon-to-expire six-month ceasefire deadline. The issue for Hamas was the opening of the crossing points into Gaza to restore access to needed supplies for the people of Gaza. Carter reports that Israeli officials "informally proposed that 15 percent of normal supplies might be possible." Carter relates how this was "unacceptable to Hamas and hostilities erupted."

While Israel has presented its rationale for its attack on Gaza to the United Nations, claiming that it is acting in a just manner, the Security Council has passed a binding resolution calling for a ceasefire and withdrawal from Gaza. Israel is ignoring the resolution, though as a member state of the United Nations, it has an obligation to abide by the decisions of the Security Council.

Under Article 33 of the Charter of the United Nations, the Security Council has the authority to call upon the parties to settle their dispute by peaceful means. More civilians are being killed and wounded every day that Israel continues its military attack and blockade of Gaza, yet Israel continues to ignore its obligations to cease its attacks.

The crisis in Gaza is a test of the United Nations and the international community. Can a means be found to require Israel to live up to its obligations as an occupying power to the Palestinian people in their struggle for self determination? This is a critical challenge facing the United Nations and the international community.

Many protests and demonstrations are taking place around the world in support of the Palestinian people and against the attack by Israel on Gaza. These demonstrations are an indication that there is public opinion and grassroots pressure for the United Nations and member nations to let Israel know the need to fulfill its obligations under the UN charter and international law. The struggle of the Palestinian people for self-determination and against occupation, as covered under article 73 and 74 of the Charter of the UN, is a struggle that deserves the support of the member nations and of people around the world.

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Should Israel implement a cease-fire in Gaza?  (2009-01-02 ~ 2009-01-26)
Yes
No
I don't know
Notes:

1. UN Press Conference: Yazdan Al Amawi, team leader, Care셲 West Bank and Gaza program, Allyn Dhynes, communications manager, World Vision International, Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director, Human Rights Watch, to brief on the humanitarian situation in Gaza. January 7, 2009. [Webcast: Archived Video - English: 50 minutes ]
http://webcast.un.org/ramgen/ondemand/pressconference/2009/pc090107am1.rm

2. UN radio's Samir Aldarabi spoke to Richard Falk, the UN Human Rights Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian territories about the situation in Gaza. January 2, 2009
http://www.unmultimedia.org/radio/english/detail/67184.html

3. UN Radio's Samir Imtair Aldarabi spoke to Richard Falk, the UN Human Rights Council's Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories about the human rights violations in Gaza. January 9, 2009
http://downloads.unmultimedia.org/radio/en/real/2009/090109-falk2.rm?save

4. Jimmy Carter, "Gaza: An Unnecessary War", The Mercury News, January 8, 2009. http://www.mercurynews.com/livechats/ci_11408309?source=email

A version of this article appears on my blog.
©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Ronda Hauben

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