March 29, 2009
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) contest figures presented by the Israeli Coordination and Liaison Authority for the Gaza Strip which claim that 1,370 Palestinians were killed in the course of Israel’s 23 day military offensive on the Gaza Strip. The Israeli Coordination Authority claim that 600 of the dead were combatants, and that 309 civilians were killed in the attack. They have yet to classify 320 Palestinians.
PCHR regards this as a deliberately manipulative attempt to distort the reality of the offensive, and to disguise Israel’s illegal actions. Following extensive investigation and cross-checking, PCHR have determined that a total of 1,417 Palestinians died in the offensive. 926 were civilians, including 313 children and 116 women. 255 were non-combatant police officers. 236 combatants were killed, representing 16.7% of the total deaths.
PCHR consider the IOF’s classification of police officers as combatants illegal: this classification constitutes a wilful violation of the principle of distinction, a key component of customary international law. Hamas is a multi-faceted organisation, exercising de facto governmental control of the Gaza Strip. As an organisation, it cannot be considered an armed group. Rather, a distinction must be made between Hamas’ armed and political/civil components. The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades are the military wing of the Hamas organisation, they are an armed group, and are considered as combatants according to IHL. However, Hamas’ political and civil wings are comprised of civilians, who are legally entitled to the protections associated with this status, provided they do not take an active part in hostilities. Civil police, and governmental officials cannot be considered combatants. Attacks intentionally directed against these individuals constitute wilful killing, a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, and a violation of customary international law.
The excessively disproportionate civilian death toll, and Israel’s conduct of hostilities – including, inter alia, indiscriminate attacks, wilful killing, the extensive destruction of property, target selection, the lack of precautions taken in attack, the excessive use of force, and the use of weapons such as white phosphorous in civilian areas – demand effective judicial redress. Many of the cases documented by PCHR constitute grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, and war crimes. The widespread and apparently systematic violations of customary IHL witnessed in the Gaza Strip may also amount to a crime against humanity.
PCHR call on all States to fulfil their legal obligations, as codified in Article 146 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to prosecute any persons suspected of committing grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions. All States must enact appropriate legislation to ensure that such persons may be tried in national courts, in accordance with the principle of universal jurisdiction.
While strongly condemning the actions of the IOF during their offensive on the Gaza Strip, PCHR: