In a report embargoed until 12:01 am on 23 February, Amnesty International said there should be no more business as usual, after the three-week Israeli Operation Cast Lead attack on Gaza — and years of rocket, mortar and missile attacks from Gaza upon neighboring areas of Israel.
“We urge the UN Security Council to impose an immediate and comprehensive arms embargo on Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups until effective mechanisms are found to ensure that munitions and other military equipment are not used to commit serious violations of international law,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty’s Director for the Middle East, in a statement issued on Sunday but embargoed until just after midnight on Monday.
His statement added:“In addition all states should suspend all transfers of military equipment, assistance and munitions to Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups until there is no longer a substantial risk of human rights violations … To a large extent, Israel’s military offensive in Gaza was carried out with weapons, munitions and military equipment supplied by the USA and paid for with US taxpayers’ money … As the major supplier of weapons to Israel, the USA has a particular obligation to stop any supply that contributes to gross violations of the laws of war and of human rights,” said Malcolm Smart.
Smart called for an immediate suspension of U.S. military aid to Israel.
In a press release announcing their new report, Amnesty said that “Even before the three-week conflict, those who armed the two sides will have been aware of the pattern of repeated misuse of weapons by the parties. They must take some responsibility for the violations perpetrated with the weapons they have supplied and should immediately cease further transfers”.
Amnesty’s Donatella Rovera, who headed the NGO’s recent fact-finding mission to southern Israel and Gaza, said, according to a press release, that “Israeli forces used white phosphorus and other weapons supplied by the USA to carry out serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes. Their attacks resulted in the death of hundreds of children and other civilians and massive destruction of homes and infrastructure”.
Rovera added: “At the same time, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups fired hundreds of rockets that had been smuggled in or made of components from abroad at civilian areas in Israel. Though far less lethal than the weaponry used by Israel, such rocket firing also constitutes a war crime and caused several civilian deaths.”
To ensure balance and a comprehensive picture, the Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a statement with an embargo ending a minute before the publication of the Amnesty report. Among other things, it said that because Hamas controls the Gaza Strip, the testimony of all and each and every one of its 1.5 million inhabitants is unreliable:
“Initial study of the report indicates that it presents a biased version of the events, and does not adhere to professional criteria and objectivity. A detailed response will be given at a later stage, but at this time, it is possible to state that:
1. The report ignores the basic fact that Hamas is a terror organization, recognized as such by the European Union, the United States and other countries. This organization has constantly refused to recognize Israel, rejects any opportunity for peace with it, and openly aspires to bring about its destruction.
2. There is no mention in the Amnesty report of Hamas’ deliberate use of civilians as human shields: Hamas’ bases, ammunition depots and battlegrounds were all purposely located in the midst of Palestinian population centers, with willful intent to cause injury to this population during the fighting. Hamas openly used women and children as shields for military targets, and booby-trapped homes and public buildings.
3. While the report does mention Hamas’ intentional targeting of Israeli civilians, it ignores the scale: Approximately ten thousand rockets and mortars were launched against Israelis in the past eight years.
4. Armaments employed by the IDF comply both with international law and with its usage by Western armies.
5. The IDF never intentionally targeted civilians. The witnesses providing the descriptions appearing in the report are interested parties and under Hamas pressure, as has been documented by many independent investigations in the international media. Hamas controls the Gaza Strip and employs terror against its own citizens, thus rendering their testimony unreliable.
6. The international community has accepted the fact that Hamas was solely responsible for the military confrontation, but the Amnesty report is dedicated almost exclusively to the censure of Israel.
7. The comparison of the supply of weapons to Israel and the Hamas is inappropriate. Israel is a sovereign nation that is obligated to use force to protect its citizens, while Hamas is a terror organization. Can a comparison be made between the weapons used by Al-Qaeda to those used by NATO forces?
8. Amnesty presumes to determine which individuals participated in combat. The organization has neither the means nor the capability to determine this.
9. Amnesty chose not to mention that Hamas is supported by foreign extremists in its struggle against the legal and recognized government of the Palestinian Authority.
10. The term ‘proportionality’ has meanings that are defined in international law, and Amnesty makes erroneous and misleading use of this term”.