By Majorie Cohn. Zmag.org
Since Israel began its war on Gaza 11 days ago, more than 560 Palestinians - about a quarter of them civilians - have been killed. Some two thousand Gazans, including hundreds of children, have been wounded. Israel's "Operation Cast Lead" marks an escalation of Israel's two-year blockade of the Gaza Strip which has deprived 1.5 million Palestinians of necessary food, medicine, fuel and other necessities.
Israel is using white phosphorous gas, an illegal chemical weapon that burns to the bone. Dr. Mads Gilbert, a member of a Norwegian triage medical team working in Gaza, has documented Israel's use of Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME), which cuts its victims to pieces and reportedly causes cancer in survivors. Gilbert, who has worked in several conflict zones, said the situation in Gaza is the worst he has ever seen. Two United Nations schools have been hit by airstrikes, killing at least 30 people. The New York Times reported on Monday that Gazan hospitals are full of civilians, not Hamas fighters.
The targeting of civilians violates the Fourth Geneva Convention. Since the rockets fired from Gaza into Israel cannot distinguish between civilians and military targets, they are illegal. But Israel's air and ground attack in Gaza violates Geneva in four ways. First, it constitutes collective punishment of the entire population in Gaza for the acts of a few militants. Second, it targets civilians, as evidenced by the large numbers of civilian casualties. Third, it is a disproportionate response to the rockets fired into Israel. Fourth, an occupying power has an obligation to ensure food and medical supplies to the occupied population; Israel's blockade has created a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.