Thursday, April 2, 2009

Witness to Israel's War Crimes - Interview with James Leas

Socialist, March 27, 2009 - James Leas is a lawyer and longtime activist in Burlington, Vt. He works with Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine-Israel, and he recently traveled to Gaza with a National Lawyers Guild (NLG) delegation to investigate the impact of Israel's 22-day offensive against Gaza. He spoke with Leah Linder Siegel about what he witnessed there.

Did observations and experiences on the ground in Gaza confirm that Israel committed war crimes during its attack?

WE SAW an enormous amount--with our own eyes. We saw the aftermath of the war, but there were a few bombs that went off during the time we were there, because Israel was bombing the tunnels. When we were crossing into Gaza from Egypt, we heard an explosion.

Most of what we actually saw was the destruction of buildings and rubble--in residential areas as well as government buildings and humanitarian supplies. We also saw the aftermath of the bombing of the UN compound, where we saw residue of white phosphorous [weapons] on the floor. These buildings had been gutted--they had been destroyed by fire.

We saw the rubble of schools and medical facilities that had been attacked. We saw a number of ambulances and United Nations vehicles that had been destroyed.

We also interviewed people who had been victims or whose families had been victims of attacks. In one neighborhood, where many of the houses included people from the same extended family, we interviewed a woman whose two daughters had been killed and whose two sons and husband were wounded severely.

The sons and husband are now receiving medical care in Saudi Arabia. She told us how the Israelis fired tank shells at her house after telling people in all the neighboring houses to come to her house. There were over 100 people in her house, and they stayed there all night.

Then, in the morning, the Israelis fired tank shells at the house. They must have known there were civilians in there because they weren't getting any resistance; they had control of the neighborhood. And then, when people tried to escape from the house, after the tank started shelling, the Israelis shot at the people running away. Many of them did get away.

There were some left in the house who were too wounded to escape. The Israelis didn't allow humanitarian aid workers or ambulances to come get them for days. One of her sons was left with the dead and wounded for four days until the Israelis finally allowed aid workers to come get him.

The Israelis didn't even allow the ambulance to come close; the aid workers had to actually walk a couple of kilometers and remove the wounded on donkey carts. And they couldn't use the donkeys; they had to actually pull the carts themselves. So it was humiliation on top of interference with humanitarian aid. It was just one violation of international law after another....

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