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Testimonies of atrocities in Gaza from the Russell Tribunal

Watch these testimonies

The Russell Tribunal on Palestine convened an emergency session in Brussels last month to examine whether Israel committed war crimes in the besieged Gaza Strip during “Operation Protective Edge,” the summertime military assault that killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, including more than 500 children, injured more than 11,000 and left Gaza in ruins.

Israeli soldiers were ordered to execute any Palestinian witness who could understand the criminal orders of the officers?

After hearing testimony from journalists, eyewitnesses, legal scholars and physicians present during the onslaught, the twelve-member jury, made up of world-renowned intellectuals and international law experts, found Israel guilty of “war crimes, crimes against humanity, crimes of murder, extermination and persecution and also incitement to genocide.”

Though it was virtually ignored by both mainstream and progressive media outlets, the tribunal was significant in that it did what the so-called international community has time and again refused to do.

The Russell Tribunal put Israel on trial for its crimes against Palestinians.

Incitement to Genocide

Journalist David Sheen delivered a horrifying presentation on incitement to genocide within Israeli society, which was consumed by genocidal rhetoric from top Israeli government officials to the lynch mobs barreling down the streets of Jerusalem shouting “death to Arabs.”

Sheen’s testimony stunned the jury, concluding that absent outside intervention and accountability, the potential for genocide is likely.

“In light of the clear escalation in the physical and rhetorical violence deployed in respect of Gaza in the summer of 2014, the tribunal emphasizes the obligation of all states parties to the 1948 Genocide Conventionto take such action under the Charter of the United Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide,” the judges implore in their final ruling.

“It is recognized that in a situation where patterns of crimes against humanity are perpetrated with impunity, and where direct and public incitement to genocide is manifest throughout society, it is very conceivable that individuals or the state may choose to exploit the conditions in order to perpetrate the crime of genocide,” they warn.

And  adding, “We [sic] have a genuine fear that in an environment of impunity and an absence of sanction for serious and repeated criminality, the lessons from Rwanda and other mass atrocities may once again go unheeded.”

Grisly executions

Journalist Max Blumenthal delivered powerful testimony on evidence of war crimes he gathered while in Gaza following a five-day ceasefire in mid-August.

Blumenthal described in vivid detail the grisly executions he documented of civilians, paramedics and fighters carried out by invading Israeli soldiers.

He also highlighted several instances of Israeli soldiers summarily executing older men in Gaza after learning they spoke Hebrew, leading to speculation that soldiers were ordered to eliminate anyone capable of understanding their commands. (The soldiers were to execute witnesses who could understand the criminal orders of the officers?)

Blumenthal posted a transcript of his testimony here.

Kidnappings and human shields

Gaza-based journalist Mohammed Omer described to the jury the crimes he witnessed and reported on in Gaza as well as the hardships of daily life under siege (see video of his testimony at the top of this post).

He cited summary executions, kidnappings of Palestinian men at gunpoint and the use of Palestinian civilians as human shields by invading Israeli soldiers in the now obliterated farming community of Khuzaa.

Omer was the only Palestinian eyewitness that made it out of Gaza to attend the session.

Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, and filmmaker Ashraf Mashharawi were scheduled to testify but the Egyptian military regime prevented them from leaving through the Rafah crossing.

Deliberate and systematic

Renowned Norwegian doctor Mads Gilbert presented the jury with descriptions and photos of the gruesome injuries he witnessed while working at the overwhelmed al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City at the peak of Israel’s latest bombing campaign, which marked the fourth time since 2006 that Gilbert has operated in Gaza during an Israeli military attack.

Outlining the devastation inflicted on Gaza’s health sector, Gilbert emphasized his admiration for the medical workers who risk their lives repairing the bodily damage caused by Israel’s “deliberate, systematic attack on the Palestinian civilian society.”

Taken together, the testimonies presented at the Russell Tribunal (all of which can be viewed here) demonstrate a clear pattern of intentional destruction of Gaza and its people by an increasingly extreme settler-colonial state “primed for genocide,” as Max Blumenthal put it.

Genocide does not happen overnight or in a vacuum.

There are warning signs, many of which were raised at the Russell Tribunal.

Israel has been destroying and erasing Palestine for more than six decades in an effort to consolidate and maintain a demographically engineered Jewish majority in an area that is historically Palestinian.

As long as countries including the United States continue to unconditionally shower Israel with weapons while shielding its leaders from accountability on the international stage, Israel’s destruction of Palestine will not only continue, it will intensify.

So the question becomes, how bad do the atrocities need to get before the world puts a stop this madness?

Ceasefire isn’t enough for Palestinians in Gaza

Why?

The death and destruction being inflicted on the Gaza Strip is impossible to describe.

Sitting here in Gaza, it is hard to even understand what is happening.

Last week, we witnessed another attack on a United Nations compound where civilians were sheltering — 17 dead, 120 injured — and an attack on a market in Shujaiya during the hours of what was supposed to be a ceasefire — 18 dead, nearly 200 injured.

Raji Sourani in The Electronic Intifada posted this 3 August 2014

03082014_ash_00_4.jpg

Israeli shelling killed ten Palestinians at a United Nations school on 3 August.(Ashraf Amra / APA images)

Today in Rafah, Israel shelled another school run by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, (established in 1948, and supposedly for limited time to enable the refugees to return home according to UN resolution) where thousands were sheltering, killing ten.

Even the US State Department issued a rare condemnation of Israel, calling the attack “appalling” and “disgraceful.”

This is a nightmare. But it is one we know we cannot wake up from.

Israel’s Gaza Doctrine of illegally targeting densely packed civilian areas and homes is inflicting untold horror.

Israel is deliberately punishing civilians in order to exert political pressure on Hamas. They are collectively punishing the 1.8 million citizens of the Gaza Strip.

How else do you explain the statistics?

The most recent figures collected by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) indicate that 1,817 Palestinians have been killed. Of these, 1,545 — an incredible 85 percent — are civilians: the so-called “protected persons” of international humanitarian law.

(These numbers increased to over 2,100 killed)

Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been displaced. Ordered to flee, but with nowhere safe to go:

UN shelters housing civilians have been repeatedly targeted. The Gaza Strip lies in ruins. The destruction of Shujaiya is difficult to comprehend. Even the power plant has been destroyed.

How will our hospitals operate?

How will the sewage treatment centers run? How will we access safe water?

Our demands

In the middle of this we want an end to the violence. We want an end to this horror, to this suffering. Too many children have died. War crimes have become our daily reality.

But a ceasefire is not enough.

We demand justice.

We demand accountability.

We demand to be treated as human beings, to have our inherent human dignity recognized.

We demand an end to the closure of the Gaza Strip.

For the last 7 years, Israel has subjected the Gaza Strip to a strict closure. By shutting the borders, Israel has slowly suffocated Gaza, subjecting us to a process of deliberate under-development.

Before the current offensive, 65 percent of the population were unpaid or unemployed.

85% of the population depended on food aid distributed by international organizations. Patients requiring life-saving treatment unavailable in the Gaza Strip were denied permission to leave. They died.

Life under the closure is not life. We cannot go back to this reality. I cannot imagine another seven years. The closure signifies the absence of hope. It means that Gaza’s youth have no future.

No jobs. No opportunity to leave. Even when the war comes, we cannot flee.

But the closure is only one half of the reality of the Gaza Strip. The other is the total absence of the rule of law. War crimes are committed with complete impunity.

The closure itself is a war crime and it is official policy of the government of Israel.

Beside this there are the constant attacks and the frequent offensives. This is the third major offensive since the closure began. Literally thousands of civilians have been killed. Thousands more homes and livelihoods have been destroyed.

Complete impunity

These war crimes are committed with complete impunity. After Operation Cast Lead — the 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009 offensive — PCHR submitted 490 criminal complaints on behalf of 1,046 victims. (The UN chief Ban Ki Moon tampered with the report of the commission of investigation through the pressure of the US)

In the five years that followed, we received only 44 responses. The Israeli authorities decided that 446 cases didn’t even warrant a reply.

The results?

One soldier was convicted for the theft of a credit card and received a 7-month sentence.

Two soldiers were convicted for using a 9-year-old boy as a human shield. They each received a three-month suspended sentence.

One soldier was convicted for the “misuse of a firearm” in relation to the shooting of a group of civilians carrying white flags, which resulted in the deaths of two women. He was sentenced to 45 days imprisonment.

Is this justice in the eyes of the world community?

The impact of these constant war crimes, and the resultant impunity denies our very dignity, our worth as human beings. It says our lives are not sacred. That we don’t count.

Faced with this existence, our demands are not excessive. They are not unrealistic.

We want to be treated as equals. We want to have our rights respected and protected. We ask that international law be applied, equally, to Israel and Palestine, to Israelis and Palestinians. The rule of international law must be adhered to, and all those responsible for its violations must be held to account.

We ask that suspected war crimes be investigated and those responsible prosecuted. Is this unreasonable?

We want an end to the closure. The illegality of Israel’s closure policy is not in doubt. In a rare public statement the International Committee of the Red Cross explicitly stated that Israel’s closure policy constitutes collective punishment in violation of international law.

The consequences of the policy are evident in the reality of the Gaza Strip.

We ask that the closure be lifted.

We want the opportunity to live a life in dignity. Is this unreasonable?

These are no tpolitical demands. They are a demand to be treated as human.

A ceasefire is not enough. It will not end the suffering.

It will only move us from the horror of death by bombardment to the horror of death by slow strangulation.

We cannot go back to being prisoners in a cage that Israel rattles when it chooses with brutal destructive offensives.

Raji Sourani is the director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.


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