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Ear to the Ground

Former U.N. Specialist for Palestinian Rights Suspects War Crimes

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Posted on Aug 15, 2014

    Masked Palestinian militants from Islamic Jihad place homemade rockets before later firing them into Israel on the outskirts of Gaza City in 2009. Photo by Amir Farshad Ebrahimi (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Richard Falk, who for six years served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, argues in a recent interview that there is no evidence that Israel’s air campaign has decreased rocket fire from Gaza. Likewise the claim that Hamas uses human shields is unfounded and Israel’s siege of Gaza is missing from media accounts of the cause of the current conflict, he contends.

Falk made the remarks in an interview Wednesday with journalist Ken Klippenstein in CounterPunch.

On the illegality of the siege, he says:

The siege of Gaza is clearly a form of collective punishment that is prohibited by Article 33 of the 4th Geneva Convention that unconditionally prohibits any recourse to collective punishment. A blockade that has been maintained since the middle of 2007 is directed at the entire civilian population of Gaza. It includes many items that are needed for health, subsistence, and minimum requirements of a decent life. So in my view, Israel as the occupying power under international law of Gaza, is supposed to protect the civilian population rather than to subject it to a punitive blockade of the sort that’s been existing these past 7 years.

On the omission of the siege from media accounts:

The timeline for these justifications that are made by Israel is very self-serving and not very convincing. Of course you have a complex pattern of interaction. On the other hand, Israel is the occupying power, has the international responsibilities to protect the civilian population. And in the case of the kidnapping on Jun 12, they had the opportunity to limit the response to an enforcement action that was done in a reasonable way. Instead they used it as a pretext for seeking to destroy Hamas as a political actor present in the west bank and then extending that anti-Hamas policy to the attack on Gaza. So it was clearly a way of using this initial criminal act as a means to pursue a much wider political agenda that focuses on Israel’s national ambition to control the West Bank—at least most of the west bank, where the settlements are—and to eliminate from that reality the only viable Palestinian opposition force because the Palestinian Authority that is nominally in control on behalf of the Palestinians of the West Bank, is in a semi-collaborationist relationship with Israel. So the incentive to get rid of Hamas as a political influence on the West Bank particularly and to punish it severely in Gaza where it’s in control of the governing process is a crime.

On the claim that Israel is defending itself from attacks by a foreign state:

Yes, definitely. From everything I’ve been saying, there’s no legal, political or moral argument that would uphold the claim that Israel is acting in legitimate self-defense. There’s been no armed attack by Hamas or Gaza; in any event, Gaza from an international law point of view, is not a foreign state but an occupied territory. It’s not clear that you can exercise self-defense in relation to a territory that you are responsible for administer in accordance with international humanitarian law.

And on allegations of Israeli war crimes:

I think certainly there’s the basis for alleging war crimes. It requires a formal legal judgment to reach the conclusion that there have been war crimes committed. There is a presumption of innocence until proven guilty—that’s important to maintain. But certainly the evidence that I’m aware of suggests the commission of serious crimes against humanity and war crimes in the course of this operation.

Read more here.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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