Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Gaza: The World Looks Away - Clare Short

The Guardian, February 10, 2009 - On top of the dreadful casualties from Israel's 22-day war in Gaza, we should add a further serious injury. It is longer-lasting and threatens the lives and wellbeing of very many people in the future. In the Israel/Palestine conflict, we are seeing a terrible undermining of international law and the principle that armies should adhere to minimum standards of humane behaviour, even during the heat of battle.

If they fall below this minimum, they should, according to the laws of war, be held responsible for their war crimes – first, by their own superiors or courts, but, if necessary, by other nations or international courts. This principle – of accountability, even in war – is now in a critical condition as the standards are being ignored by Gaza's warring parties. Then, it's being assailed afresh by pugnacious and irresponsible remarks from leaders in the region.

Both sides endangered civilian lives during the conflict, but obviously the behaviour of Israel was massively more destructive. There were reports from Amnesty International of Israeli Defence Forces units commandeering Palestinian homes, forcing families to remain in a ground-floor room while then using the property as a military operations point. In other words, Palestinian families were used as human shields or, at the very least, were exposed to quite unacceptable risk.

Hamas is also accused of using local civilians as human shields, but since this excuse was used for every Israeli attack on civilian targets, we must await objective reports on whether this allegation is true. Even more shockingly, evidence has been growing of the IDF's use of white phosphorous shells in residential areas – a clear war crime in exposing civilians to horrendous deep-burn injuries that have shocked and bewildered burns unit doctors in Gaza's overrun hospital wards. Moreover, as the new BBC Panorama programme on Gaza asks, was the colossal destruction of roads, houses, factories, farms and ordinary civilian infrastructure right across the Gaza Strip (creating what an Amnesty researcher called "total devastation") an act of "wanton destruction" and therefore itself a war crime....

Clare Short has been a British Member of Parliament since 1983. From 1997 to 2003, she was secretary of state for international development. She was a member of the Labour party's national executive committee (NEC) from 1988 to 1997. In 2003, Clare resigned from the government over the Iraq war, and, in 2006, she resigned the Labour whip. She now sits as an independent.

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