‘War crimes' in Gaza need to be punished and a lasting solution found to Palestine

The seemingly disproportionate Israeli attack on Gaza resulted in at least 253 Palestinian deaths, including 66 children. 12 people were killed in Israel by rockets fired by Hamas during same period

‘War crimes' in Gaza need to be punished and a lasting solution found to Palestine
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Syed Nooruzzaman

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has landed his country in
major international embarrassment by large-scale use of high technology weapons while trying "to eliminate" the Hamas militants during the 11-day
war between Israel and the Palestinians that ended on May 21.

His actions during the war have led to United Nations High Commissioner
for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, stating that Israel’s recent attacks on the besieged Gaza Strip, killing more than 200 Palestinians and destroying at least 1500 targets, including a large number of high-rise civilian buildings, may constitute “war crimes” if they are found to be disproportionate.

Bachelet’s comments came as she opened a special session of the UN
Human Rights Council on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic
Cooperation. The UN senior official said she did not come across
evidence to prove that civilian buildings in Gaza hit by Israeli
fighter jets were being used for military purposes.

According to the UN, "War crimes are those violations of international
humanitarian law (treaty or customary law) that incur individual
criminal responsibility under international law. As a result, and in
contrast to the crimes of genocide and crimes against humanity, war
crimes must always take place in the context of an armed conflict,
either international or non-international."

Highlighting the scale of the destruction in Gaza, Bachelet, a former
Chilean President, asserted, “Although reportedly targeting members of
armed groups and their military infrastructure, the Israeli attacks
resulted in extensive civilian deaths and injuries as well as
large-scale destruction and damage to civilian objects.”

Israeli fighter jets targeted government buildings, civilian homes,
international humanitarian organisations, medical facilities and media
offices in the enclave of two million people described by the UN as
“the world’s largest open-air prison" called Gaza.

She made these assertions during a debate on a draft resolution at the
Council's meeting to launch a broad, international investigation into
not only the law violations in Gaza but also of “systematic” abuses in
the Palestinian territories and inside Israel.

The war resulted in at least 253 Palestinian deaths, including the
killing of 66 children and wounding more than 1,900 people. Twelve
people, including three foreign workers and two children, were killed
in Israel by 4,340 rockets fired by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad inside
Israel. While most of the rockets fired from Gaza were destroyed in
mid-air by Israeli forces, Israel's attacks on Gaza went on
unchallenged.


According to an assessment carried in Forbes magazine, Israel used
F-16 and F-35 fighter planes with precision-guided bombs. What its
fighter jets did was damaging 53 school buildings, 11 health centres
and six hospitals, including Gaza’s only Covid testing and vaccination
centre, and a Red Crescent building. Also, the leader of Gaza’s
Covid-19 campaign was killed along with dozens of civilians.

In all, the Israeli attacks on Gaza reportedly damaged 17,000
residential and commercial units and destroyed 1000 residential units,
including five residential towers, rendering homeless at least 72,000
Palestinians.

Will then Netanyahu be really hauled up for committing "war crimes"?
There is apparently no possibility because of the US support he
enjoys. He may find himself in the dock only if there is an uproar
from all corners of the world, not observed till now.

The US at this stage is interested only in launching a process of
rebuilding Gaza as also helping Israel in carrying out repair work to
enable the affected people to lead a normal life. Primacy, of course,
has to be given to rebuilding Gaza, and this humanitarian objective
will hopefully be achieved soon as it happened after the 2014
Israeli-Palestinian hostilities. But innocent families which have
lost their near and dear ones on both sides will continue to feel the
pain of what happened to them for no fault of theirs.

If the world community seriously wants that the region does not
experience a war again, it needs to get overactive to find a lasting
solution to the festering crisis. There is, in fact, an urgent need to
revive the stalled peace process to ensure that the people in Israel
and the Palestinian National Authority areas, including Gaza and the
West Bank, live in peace without the periodic armed conflicts as has
been the case so far.

In any peace initiative, there is always the possibility of two
specific ideas being discussed these days: a two-state proposal for
Israel and a Palestinian homeland to exist side by side, and a
single-state solution for both Jews and Palestinian Arabs. Experts
believe that the single-state idea may never be acceptable to the
Israelis as it may be considered suicidal for the Jews, who fought for
and got a homeland for them in accordance with what their religious
scripture says.

A joint homeland for both the Jews and the Palestinian
Arabs will render the Jews a minority and, therefore, they may not be
able to ensure that any Jew living anywhere in the world can become a
citizen of this country as the situation exists in today's Israel.
There are certain other things too with which the Jews have an
emotional attachment and which may become unachievable for them.

The Israelis can accept, though after a lot of persuasion, the idea of
two states, one for the Jews and the other for the Arab Palestinians,
existing side by side, even if this will mean abandoning the Jewish
settlements that have come up in the West Bank and other
Palestinian-dominated areas, which would be a Palestinian territory
once the Palestinians get a separate homeland for them.

This arrangement will be in accordance with the land-for-peace theory which most Israelis have been favouring willy-nilly. The Palestinians may
also accept the two-state idea if they are able to make East Jerusalem
as their capital and the occupied territories are returned to them.
The extremist movements like Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, which
advocate that Israel has no right to exist in the Arab world, may be
persuaded to accept this reality.

However, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, assigned by President
Joe Biden the task of doing the ground work for an eventual resumption
of the long-stalled peace talks, has expressed the view in the course
of an interview with the CNN that time is not ripe for such a
course of action. In his opinion, at this stage, steps can only be
taken to repair the massive damage caused by the Israeli air strikes
in Gaza.

Both sides are in a celebratory mood as both have claimed victory
after the ceasefire, agreed to with Egyptian intervention. Prime
Minister Netanyahu and the Hamas leadership may have their own reasons
to consider themselves as gainers, not losers, after the intense
fighting for 11 days. But the masses on both sides of the
Israeli-Palestinian divide are definitely the losers, as they are the
victims of "war crimes". Both Netanyahu and the Hamas leadership must
be brought to book for the untold suffering caused to the people
through their indiscriminate targeting of civilians.

(The writer is a New Delhi-based senior journalist and columnist. Views are personal)

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Published: 30 May 2021, 5:10 PM
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