March 29, 2009
By Clancy Chassay and Julian Borger
The Guardian has compiled detailed evidence of alleged war crimes committed by Israel during the 23-day offensive in the Gaza Strip earlier this year, involving the use of Palestinian children as human shields and the targeting of medics and hospitals.
A month-long investigation also obtained evidence of civilians being hit by fire from unmanned drone aircraft said to be so accurate that their operators can tell the colour of the clothes worn by a target.
The testimonies form the basis of three Guardian films which add weight to calls this week for a full inquiry into the events surrounding Operation Cast Lead, which was aimed at Hamas but left about 1,400 Palestinians dead, including more than 300 children.
The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) refused to respond directly to the allegations made against its troops, but issued statements denying the charges and insisted international law had been observed.
The latest disclosures follow soldiers’ evidence published in the Israeli press about the killing of Palestinian civilians and complaints by soldiers involved in the military operation that the rules of engagement were too lax.
Amnesty International has said Hamas should be investigated for executing at least two dozen Palestinian men in an apparent bout of score-settling with rivals and alleged collaborators while Operation Cast Lead was under way.
Human rights groups say the vast majority of offences were committed by Israel, and that the Gaza offensive was a disproportionate response to Hamas rocket attacks. Since 2002, there have been 21 Israeli deaths by Hamas rockets fired from Gaza, and during Operation Cast Lead there were three Israeli civilian deaths, six Israeli soldiers killed by Palestinian fire and four killed by friendly fire.
“Only an investigation mandated by the UN security council can ensure Israel’s co-operation, and it’s the only body that can secure some kind of prosecution,” said Amnesty’s Donatella Rovera, who spent two weeks in Gaza investigating war crime allegations. “Without a proper investigation there is no deterrent. The message remains the same: ‘It’s OK to do these things, there won’t be any real consequences’.”
Some of the most dramatic testimony gathered by the Guardian came from three teenage brothers in the al-Attar family. They describe how they were taken from home at gunpoint, made to kneel in front of Israeli tanks to deter Hamas fighters from firing, and sent by Israeli soldiers into Palestinian houses to clear them. “They would make us go first so if any fighters shot at them the bullets would hit us, not them,” 14-year-old Al’a al-Attar said.
Medics and ambulance drivers said they were targeted when they tried to tend to the wounded; sixteen were killed. According to the World Health Organisation, more than half of Gaza’s 27 hospitals and 44 clinics were damaged by Israeli bombs.