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Fwd: [lphr] FW: Gaza

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  • Richard Kuper
    From Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights: ... In Gaza. I was in Gaza earlier this week as a member of a human rights mission focussed on gathering evidence of
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 31, 2009
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      From Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights:

      Begin forwarded message:

      > From: Hannah Rought-Brooks <hannahroughtbrooks@...>
      > Date: 31 January 2009 08:14:56 GMT
      > To: <lphr@yahoogroups.com>
      > Subject: [lphr] FW: Gaza
      > Reply-To: lphr@yahoogroups.com
      >
      >
      >
      > Dear all,
      >
      > This is a note by Steve Kamlish QC who is just back from the FIDH [
      > International Federation for Human Rights ] mission to Gaza, it makes
      > for shocking reading despite everything we know about what happened in
      > Gaza.� He is happy for the document to be circulated.
      > �
      > Hannah
      >

      In Gaza.

      I was in Gaza earlier this week as a member of a human rights mission
      focussed on gathering evidence of war crimes followed by preparing
      cases for court in a number of jurisdictions. This involved our
      delegation visiting several sites of massacre and mass destruction in
      company with a military expert and listening to the eye witness
      accounts of the carnage wreaked upon the Palestinian people by the
      Israeli Defence Forces.

      Several of you will clearly know a good deal about what has been going
      on in Gaza both recently and prior to the latest attack by Israel.
      Forgive me if some of what I say seems obvious or trite but there are
      certain things that merit repetition.

      --------------------

      Firstly, the current onslaught must be understood in the context of the
      wider history of the Palestinian Territory. As many of you know, over
      75 % of the over 1.5 million people living in Gaza are refugees from
      1948 and 1967, many of them refugees twice over. A huge number have now
      been internally displaced once again. Gaza has been occupied since
      1967, and has remained so despite the withdrawal of Israeli troops and
      settlers in 2005. Since that withdrawal, Gaza has effectively been
      blockaded to varying degrees, amounting to a strangulation of the
      territory since Hamas came into power in 2007. The citizens of Gaza
      have been living in a de facto prison in which they have been deprived
      of basic amenities, of access to clean water, food aid, work and of any
      hope. They cannot get out, and for months before their long-planned
      onslaught, few were allowed in to help them.

      Here are just some aspects of the way the blockade impacted on the
      people of Gaza, even before the current attacks.

      1. Palestinians were and remain trapped in Gaza. Scores of chronically
      ill Palestinians have died, due to Israel�s refusal to allow them to
      travel to Israel, the West Bank or Egypt for treatment. Students with
      scholarships to study abroad have been denied exit permits. Families
      were separated, those on the outside unable to get in and those in Gaza
      unable to leave.

      2. 90 percent of Gazan industry had collapsed as a direct result of the
      blockade, from the construction industry to the fishing industry to the
      export and agricultural industry. Prior to the bombing, 70 percent of
      Gazans were unemployed:

      � No construction materials have been allowed into Gaza for several
      years. Thousands of building projects were unfinished and
      uninhabitable, including the half-finished wing of a hospital in Gaza
      City and many large apartment blocks intended as housing for the worst
      off. The two remaining cement factories in Gaza were attacked and
      destroyed 3 weeks ago.
      � The blockade has devastated agriculture in the territory. The export
      industry on which a significant proportion of the population was
      dependent is now non-existent. Israel has also put a stop to imports of
      farming tools, equipment and fertilisers etc, crippling in the process
      Gaza�s ability to produce food even for its own citizens. Instead Gaza
      is now forced to buy surplus (and often low grade) meat, chicken and
      fruit from Israel�s own producers as a consequence of preventing people
      from producing their own.
      � Israel also imposes tight restrictions on fishing, illegal under
      signed agreements and international law, effectively decimating the
      industry and depriving 40,000 people of their livelihoods and depriving
      the population of access to food not-dependent on border openings.
      Even when permitted, fishing is limited to 300 meters from the coast in
      waters grossly contaminated by the untreated sewage being pumped into
      the sea, due to lack of electricity and Israel�s refusal to allow vital
      spare parts for the sewerage system into Gaza. Fishermen are regularly
      shot and wounded or killed, and their boats damaged beyond repair, even
      when within the 300 meter line.
      � Israel controls all the water, gas, electricity and fuel coming into
      Gaza. Even prior to bombing and destroying water mains across the
      strip, it had deliberately run down the infrastructure and reduced the
      supply to well below the needs of the population. Damaged water mains
      and insufficient electricity for the waste treatment plants mean that
      the mains water is undrinkable. The sewers are breeding grounds for
      death and disease.
      � The Gaza economy has been further decimated by appropriation by
      Israel all the customs duty on imported goods. To this day the Israelis
      take for themselves the hundreds of millions of dollars of import tax
      due to the Palestinian Authority.

      This is the background against which rockets have been launched into
      Israel from Gaza. It is important to note, however, that in the five
      month ceasefire that preceded the December 27 onslaught, Hamas did not
      fire a single rocket from Gaza into the West Bank, as acknowledged by
      the Israeli administration. However, rather than ameliorating the
      blockade during that time, as agreed under the ceasefire provisions,
      the restrictions on the strip intensified.

      In the context of the above, has the Israeli response to the renewed
      rocket attacks that followed the killing of six Hamas members by the
      Israeli Army been lawful, necessary or proportionate?

      1. The Israeli Army has destroyed with mortar, artillery and tank
      shelling much of what remained of Gaza�s already devastated
      agricultural production and food industry. They specifically targeted
      chicken, cattle and sheep farms. In one large area two of my colleagues
      on the human rights mission saw hundreds of dead cows with their heads
      and limbs blown off lying in fields. All the farmhouses in the
      surrounding area had been bombed and then bulldozed. The families are
      now forced to live in the open with the stench of death permanently in
      their nostrils. Some said that relatives of theirs are still buried
      beneath the rubble because there is no way currently of getting the
      bodies out. I saw a chicken factory that had been razed to the ground,
      leaving the buildings flattened and the dead animals in piles in their
      cages or strewn on the ground. I also saw orchards of orange and lemon
      trees and seas of poly-tunnels that had been shelled out of existence.
      This level of destruction and the use of the untargeted weaponry that
      caused it, some in built up areas, undoubtedly amounts to a war crime,
      as confirmed by the military expert in our delegation.

      2. The Israeli Army has systematically used inaccurate and highly
      destructive weapons in Gaza City, one of the most densely populated
      areas in the world. They have deliberately targeted blocks of flats and
      multi-occupation houses, killing over 1,000 civilians and wounded
      thousands of others. One man told us his story. He went to the mosque
      for morning prayers leaving his wife and four children in bed in the
      fourth floor of their apartment block. His two brothers and their
      families lived on the same block. On his way back from the mosque
      mortars and bombs began to fall. He ran home to find the entire block
      had become a pile of rubble. Of his family only one child and one of
      his brothers survived. 22 others were killed. I climbed to a high point
      of the rubble and watched the man standing and staring silently into
      the crater that had destroyed his entire existence.

      3. Despite its denials, it is now clear that the Israeli Army has used
      white phosphorous in contravention of the laws of war. The use of
      phosphorus is only lawful under international rules of engagement when
      used as a smokescreen cover in open areas for combatants who are caught
      in the open and are under fire. However, the evidence on the ground
      makes clear that the Israeli Army systematically and unlawfully fired
      phosphorus shells directly over and into populated urban areas. We
      visited the site of a family devastated by the illegal use of
      phosphorous. The man we spoke to told us how his wife and three
      children were asleep in a bedroom of their house. A phosphorous shell
      came through the roof of the house exploding in the room where the
      family was sleeping. On impact the mother and children were engulfed
      in toxic flames smoke and fumes. They died an unimaginable death in
      that room. I stood in it and saw the traces of white phosphorus on the
      walls in the otherwise completely blackened room. A woman came into the
      room and held up a piece of child�s clothing covered in phosphorus
      burns. The man next to me then showed us a picture of the body of a
      10-month old child who had been in the room during the attack. The heat
      had been so intense that it had burned the baby�s legs off. The child�s
      uncle just stared at the ground for a while before he went on to tell
      us what happened next.
      As in many sites of death and injury, the Israelis were not allowing
      ambulances or doctors into the area even when there were many injured
      people in need of urgent medical attention. In this case a man who had
      a tractor offered to take some of the injured to hospital in his
      trailer. As men, women and children were being placed on the trailer
      IDF troops came up the street and first shot the tractor driver dead.
      They then shot and killed two people who were tending to the wounded in
      the trailer. The remaining wounded were left there to die.

      4. Zaytoun. The district of Zaytoun covers a large area on the edge of
      Gaza City. Yesterday the Times reported that Israeli soldiers were
      being quoted as saying they had been ordered to �fire on everything
      that moves� in Zaytoun. That is all too evident from the situation on
      the ground. The Israeli Army clearly did indeed attempt to kill
      everyone and everything in the area. There can be no other explanation
      for what we all saw. From the border with Israel to the sea, not a
      single house has escaped unscathed. There are flattened buildings as
      far as the eye can see.
      This is the story of the Al Samouni family told by several eye
      witnesses. The Al Samouni family area contained about 15 houses, each
      surrounded by a plot of land which was used as a smallholding for
      subsistence farming chickens, goats and small industry. On 5th January
      a brigade of tanks surrounded the area. A large number of soldiers
      ordered people out of one house in particular, shouting at them from
      outside. The woman who told us this story said that her husband had
      been the first one out, and was holding their baby as he went. The
      soldiers told him to put his hands in the air and he protested that he
      was holding his baby. They screamed at him to obey them. His hands went
      up and the baby fell to the ground. Within seconds the soldiers had
      fired at least 30 bullets into his head and body. They stepped over him
      and entered the house. A soldier than fired automatic rounds into the
      walls above the heads of several people who were sitting or lying on
      the floor. They were not hit but were told to leave and go into a
      neighbouring building. They then ordered other people in other houses
      to leave and go into the same neighbouring building. Over sixty people,
      including a large number of children, were gathered in the house
      without food or water.. After two days, a number of men decided to
      leave the building to try to get food and water, but quickly retreated
      on seeing the Israeli soldiers still in close proximity. Some five
      minutes later, the building was shelled, killing a large number of the
      family members gathered in the house, including women and children, and
      wounding many others. Approximately 20 of the survivors left, raising
      white flags and carrying the bodies of four of the dead. Despite being
      shot at, they continued to walk and to try to contact medical services
      to come and save them and those remaining in the house. The Red
      Crescent was only permitted access to the house a number of days later,
      where they found starving children next to the bodies of their dead
      parents. When they returned a short while later to collect further
      casualties, the building into which the people had been herded was now
      a pile of rubble. In total, 29 members of the Al Samouni family were
      slaughtered, including over 10 children and seven women, many of whom
      lay dead beneath the rubble. This time the Red Crescent were refused
      access to the site when they tried to enter. Our military expert was
      present when many of the bodies were eventually pulled out of the
      rubble. He confirmed that none of them were in any kind of combat
      uniform and that none appeared to be militants.
      Prior to the massacre the IDF took over the first house as a command
      post. I went inside and saw that it was a highly strategic location
      from which a large area could be monitored and operations controlled.
      They had blasted holes for their machine guns in each of the upstairs
      rooms. The military expert told us that it looked as if most of the
      buildings had been destroyed by anti-tank mines and then finished off
      by bulldozers. People have set up small tents on the rubble of their
      houses, but aid has yet to reach them. A child told us that every child
      in the settlement is now either an orphan or has lost at least one
      parent. The woman whose husband was shot at near point blank range also
      lost both her mother and father.
      Inside their command post the Israelis have scrawled graffiti on some
      walls which says things like �1 Arab down, 999,999 to go�, alongside
      Stars of David, slogans such as �make war not peace� and a chilling
      drawing of a tombstone on which it is written Arabs 1948-2008. When
      they exited the house they started fires in the remaining rooms and
      left human shit in many of the rooms.

      5. The use of flechette missiles. These are projectiles the size of
      4-inch nails with four tail fins. They work by being jettisoned
      sideways from a missile before it hits a target. Each missile contains
      80,000 flechettes. On impact these lethal items tend to bend rather
      than go straight into their target so when they hit people the wound is
      over a wider area. On the 6th January a family were holding a wake for
      an ambulance worker killed as he tried to access the victims of an
      Israeli attack. Traditional mourning tents had been erected and a large
      number of people were milling around in a wide residential street with
      a couple of shops in it and houses on both sides. As the local
      population were paying their respects to the mourning family a missile
      was launched at low level from the Israeli border about 800 meters
      away. It was aimed directly at the crowded street. Its forward
      trajectory ejected its flechettes over its range of about 100m and 150m
      either side. A large number of people in the crowd were hit. Many were
      injured, including the teenager who gave us this account, who was hit
      by three flechettes, one of which was still embedded in his leg. Given
      the extent and nature of injuries in Gaza, he is still not considered a
      high enough priority for it to be removed. He showed us his brother�s
      X-rays, which showed a flechette embedded in his right lung. He is
      still ill in hospital. A number of others were killed, including a
      pregnant mother and two young members of this young man�s family. I saw
      several flechettes still buried in the walls of the houses. Photographs
      of the deceased victims show dozens of flechettes deeply embedded in
      their faces and bodies.

      The objective of the 22-day attack seems to have been to kill, destroy
      and disable as much of the population and infrastructure of Gaza as was
      possible. The Israeli Army targeted the essential services and
      institutions with astonishing accuracy, leaving the buildings on either
      side untouched in most cases. Over 60 mosques in Gaza were hit. Some
      are still standing, some reduced to rubble. Nearly every Palestinian
      Authority ministry was destroyed, including the Ministry of Justice and
      the Ministry of the Interior. This means that all records in Gaza have
      been destroyed, all records of births and deaths, all records of
      entitlements and finances. The territory has been reduced to chaos. All
      13 police stations in Gaza City were destroyed in one 3-minute strike.
      The policy cadet school was struck during a graduation parade. Some 40
      teenage cadets were killed. We saw their hats and boots, riddled with
      shrapnel and bullet holes, lying strewn over the parade ground. Shell
      after shell rained down on those participating in and watching the
      parade, as they attempted to flee, as demonstrated by the craters in
      the ground, the last one striking just by the gate.

      Every aspect of Gazan society was hit, including money changers,
      ambulance stations, hospitals, schools. I saw a number of the 40+
      schools that had been attacked by missiles, including two schools -
      one of them the American school, whose students were some of the elite
      of the youth of Gaza � which had been razed to the ground. Over 50 UN
      installations were also hit, including two schools where children were
      beheaded by the force of the blasts, and of course, the UNWRA compound
      warehouse which had contained a significant quantity of medical
      supplies for those injured in the attacks.

      These are only a fraction of the atrocities the Palestinian population
      has endured at the hands of the Israelis.

      Nowhere in Gaza was safe during the bombings. There was nowhere to go.
      Every adult in Gaza contemplated not only their own death but that of
      their children, and made the decision about where and when they should
      die. Many uprooted their families from one area to another in a vain
      attempt to find safe haven. Others remained at home as the bombs rained
      down, preferring to die where they lived, rather than face the prospect
      of being shot as they fled. Although children were some of the greatest
      casualties of the war, adults have had to face up to their total and
      utter impotence and their inability to protect their children and those
      they love. The long term impact will be huge. As a start, Gaza needs an
      army of psychiatrists.

      There is a dire need for aid in Gaza. Unfortunately and despite claims
      by Israel and its friends the aid is coming in far too slowly at all
      crossing points. The Israeli Army, again despite the claims to the
      contrary, is actually attacking authorised supply lines. On Tuesday
      night, still during the ceasefire, missiles whistled over the flat I
      was staying in followed by dull thuds in the distance. The next morning
      the TV news media reported missile attacks on supply lines. Shelling is
      also continuing from gunboats off the Gazan shore, unreported in the
      media. Egypt is refusing to allow food in. Many of the areas of Gaza
      most affected by the attacks have yet to be accessed by humanitarian
      aid.


      Please forgive the roughness of this diatribe, I am writing on the
      plane on the way back from Cairo. Please give generously to Interpal,
      UNWRA and any other relevant aid providers. If you have time the
      Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights welcome all who are willing or
      able to assist in whatever way they can. Membership forms can be
      downloaded from www.lphr.org.uk. .


      SK



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