Geopolitics

War Crimes In Gaza? Evidence Against Both Sides

Gaza City on Aug. 27
Gaza City on Aug. 27
Hélène Jaffiol and Hélène Sallon

GAZA — Palestinian human rights organizations have used the truce in Gaza to begin their difficult investigation work on a war that has already killed more than 2,000 people. They are among the few NGOs on the ground while global organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, await permission to enter the enclave, which they have been asking of Israel since July 8.

It will take months to substantiate allegations from both sides of international humanitarian law violations. Hundreds of stories, that sometimes mix experienced horrors with overheard rumors, need to be confirmed, and some jealously guarded secrets must be unveiled. On July 23, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that "war crimes" may have been committed by both Israel and Hamas. Legal responsibility will be judged by the principles of the Geneva conventions.

International humanitarian law requires that warring parties distinguish between combatants and civilians and between civil and military targets, and that they take all necessary precautions to avoid civilian casualties and that they respect the principle of proportionality. Attacking a military target is illegal if it risks hitting civilians, unless civilian casualties are considered proportional to the direct and concrete military advantage expected from the attack.

"International humanitarian law applies to parties regardless of whether the other party abides by it," notes Haggai Elad, executive director of Israeli NGO B'Tselem. Le Monde carried out its own initial investigation, with a preliminary list of the allegations.

AGAINST ISRAELIS

Civilian homes turned into military targets. On the evening of July 12, in the Shejaiya neighborhood east of Gaza City, Hamas Police Chief Tayseer Al-Batsh was targeted in front of his cousin's home. At least 18 members of his family, including four women and six children, were killed in the bombing that blew up six houses. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) attacked the homes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad members, which it defined as military targets, at the cost of many civilian lives.

Mahmoud Abu Rahma from the al-Mezan Center For Human Rights says the presence of a fighter in a home does not justify it being considered a military target. "A house can lose its civilian status if it is used to store weapons and is used as an operations center," he says. And, even in that case, "the principle of proportionality must be respected and the number of civilian victims limited."

Insufficient preventive measures. "You have five minutes to leave. Take the children." This July 8 IDF message to the al-Kaware family in Khan Younis was not enough. Eight family members were killed as the house was bombed. Human rights organizations consider these warnings to be too little too late, like the "knock on the rooftop" missile warning technique and evacuation orders for entire neighborhoods. "To be in accordance with international humanitarian law, warnings and evacuation orders must include precise indications on how and where to take shelter," the Israeli B’Tselem organization concludes.

Entire neighborhoods as military targets. "On Aug. 1, at 9:50 a.m., the Israelis started to bomb the eastern neighborhoods in Rafah with F-16 fighter jets, drones and armored vehicles," says Mohammed Abdallah, an investigator for al-Mezan. "Ambulances couldn't drive. Locals received text messages telling them not to leave their homes. The al-Najjar hospital was targeted and had to be evacuated. Almost 200 people were killed."

According to Israeli journalist Amos Harel, Rafah's bombing came after the launch of the secret Hannibal Directive to find second lieutenant Hadar Goldin, abducted that morning by Palestinian fighters. In three hours, the town was hit by 1,000 artillery shells and 40 airstrikes, without any evacuation order.

Humanitarian and health workers targeted. Salem, a Palestinian Red Crescent instructor in Khan Younis, recalls: "On July 25, we got a call from one of our ambulances. The Israeli soldiers had fired on the driver, Mohammed al-Abadla, in al-Qarara. Three teams dispatched there were shot at. We asked the International Red Cross to organize a coordination with the Israeli army. It took 20 minutes. He died."

Several medical teams and hospitals were targeted. The bombings also hit six UN schools. The attack of the school in Rafah, on Aug. 3, which the UN's Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) blames on Israel, killed nine refugees and one guard.

AGAINST PALESTINIANS

Israeli civilians deliberately targeted. More than 3,500 rockets and mortar shells were fired on Israeli territory, killing three civilians. Hamas said that "all Israelis," civilians and troops alike, were potential targets.

Gaza's population in danger. The IDF claims, providing video evidence, that at least 1,600 of the 3,500 rockets were fired from residential areas, including mosques and schools. Tunnel entries were found in civilian buildings. The UNRWA said it found rockets in two of its vacant schools. Journalists from France 24 and Indian broadcaster NDTV filmed, on Aug. 1 and 5, the setting-up of a rocket launcher by men dressed as civilians and rockets expand=1] being fired near a hotel in central Gaza where international news organizations were staying.

Either out of solidarity with the resistance or by fear of retaliation, few Palestinians are willing to talk about these "war secrets." A man from Shejaiya says that a workshop adjoining his building where rockets are made was destroyed in an air raid, while explosives were later stored in his courtyard.

No proof of human shields. On July 9, a Hamas spokesman hailed a family's decision to stay on their roof to protect the buildings from an Israeli attack and called on the population to "take on this practice." Three days later, the Palestinian interior minister, who is close to Hamas, urged the population not to obey the IDF's evacuation orders for "closed military zones."

No testimony, however, has so far suggested that the population was under coercion. Thousands of people did flee combat zones. Those who stayed said they did so because they were afraid they would endanger themselves more by leaving, feared being unable to find their homes when they returned and did not feel safe anywhere, not even in UNRWA schools.

Threats and executions of suspected Israeli collaborators. On Aug. 21, after the targeted killing of three Hamas military officials in Rafah, Gaza security sources told Palestinian website al-Majd that seven people had been arrested for "helping the enemy locating targets." Eighteen suspects were executed. Also suspected of collaborating with Israel, members of Hamas rival party Fatah were placed under house arrest at the beginning of Israel's Operation Protective Edge. On July 28, militant Sami Abu Lashin was wounded in his home by gunmen for not following that order.

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Running of the Bulls in Tafalla, northern Spain

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Здравейте!*

Welcome to Monday, where an apparent coup is underway in Sudan, Colombia's most-wanted drug lord gets caught, and Michael Jordan's rookie sneakers score an auction record. We also focus on a report that the Thai government is abusing the country's centuries-old law to protect the monarchy from criticism (lèse-majesté) to target pro-democracy activists and protesters.

[*Zdraveite - Bulgarian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Developing: Sudan leaders arrested amid military coup reports: Soldiers have arrested several members of Sudan's transitional government as well as civilian leaders, and Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok has reportedly been put under house arrest, in what the information ministry called a military coup. Pro-democracy protesters have taken to the streets of the capital city Khartoum where there are reports of gunfire and clashes.

• Colombia's most wanted drug lord to be sent to U.S.: Colombia's most dangerous drug trafficker, known as Otoniel, was caught after a joint army, air force and police operation and faces extradition to the U.S. He led the country's largest criminal gang, and was on the U.S. most wanted list for years.

• Xi speech marks China's UN anniversary: China's President Xi Jinping marked the 50th anniversary of Beijing's entry into the United Nations with a speech calling for greater global cooperation, adding that issues like climate change, terrorism and cyber security needed multilateral solutions. Taiwan was not mentioned.

• German ISIS bride jailed for crimes against humanity: A German court has sentenced a German woman and former member of the Islamic State to 10 years in prison for letting a 5-year-old Yazidi enslaved girl die of thirst in Iraq. The case is one of the world's first trials to prosecute a war crime against the Yazidis.

• COVID update: The Beijing marathon scheduled next weekend has been postponed until further notice as China seeks to stamp out Delta variant outbreak and return to zero cases ahead of the Winter Olympics next February. Meanwhile, coronavirus cases in Eastern Europe have surpassed the 20 million mark as the region fights against its worst outbreak since the pandemic started and vaccination efforts lag.

Goodbye, Gunther: U.S. actor James Michael Tyler, best known for his role as the barista Gunther on the TV show Friends, has died at 59 of prostate cancer.

• Sneakers record: A pair of Michael Jordan's white-and-red Nike shoes, which he wore during his rookie season with the Chicago Bulls in 1984, sold for $1.47 million — a new record price for sneakers at auction.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"The end of a boss," titles Colombian daily El Espectador, reporting on the arrest of drug lord Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel, who had led Colombia's largest criminal gang and had been on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency's most wanted list for years. He was captured in a raid and will be extradited to the U.S.


#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$57,789

A Georgia man is being prosecuted for wire fraud after spending most of his business's COVID relief loan to buy one Pokémon trading card for $57,789.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

How Thailand's "Lèse-Majesté" law is used to stifle all protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

👑 Thailand's Criminal Code "Lèse-Majesté" Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family. But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

🚨 The recent report "Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand," documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations." The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

💻 The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them. Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com


📣 VERBATIM

"Children are going to die. People are going to starve."


— The United Nations warns that Afghanistan verges on a "total breakdown" as millions of Afghans, including children, could die of starvation unless urgent action is taken by the international community. The agency calls for the release of frozen assets to avoid economic and social collapse, despite concerns over the Taliban government. A recent report said that about 97% of Afghanistan's population may sink below the poverty line, and World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director David Beasley warned that more than half of Afghanistan's population of 39 million were facing acute food insecurity and "marching to starvation" in comparison to 14 million two months ago.

🕌 🔍 IN OTHER NEWS

Dutch cities have been secretly probing mosques since 2013

At least ten Dutch towns and cities have secretly used a private agency to probe mosques and other local religious organizations, Amsterdam-based daily het NRC reports in an exclusive investigation.

The clandestine operation — funded by NCTV, the National Security Services, the Netherlands' leading counter-terrorism agency — was prompted by the social unrest and uncertainty following multiple terror attacks in 2013, and a rise in Islamic radicalization.

The NCTV, which advises and financially supports municipalities in countering radicalization, put the municipalities in touch with Nuance by Training and Advice (Nuance door Trainingen en Advies, NTA), a private research agency based in Deventer, Netherlands. Among the institutions targeted by the investigations, which came at a cost of circa 500,000 euros, were the Al Mouahidin mosque in the central Dutch town of Ede, and the Nasser mosque east of the city of Utrecht, according to NRC.

Unlike public officials, the private agency can enter the mosques to clandestinely research the situation. In this case, the agents observed activity, talked to visitors, administrators, and religious leaders, and investigated what they do and say on social media.

All findings then wound up in a secret report which includes personal details about what the administrators and teachers studied, who their relatives are, with whom they argued, and how often they had contact with authorities in foreign countries, like Morocco.

It is unclear whether the practice is legal, which is why several members of the Dutch Parliament are now demanding clarification from the outgoing Minister of Justice and Security, Ferd Grapperhaus, who is said to be involved.

"The ease with which the government violates (fundamental) rights when it comes to Islam or Muslims is shocking," Stephan van Baarle, member of the leftist party DENK, told De Volkskrant, another Dutch newspaper.

Leaders of the Muslim organizations that were secretly probed say they feel betrayed. Hassan Saidi, director of one of the mosques investigated, said that the relationship with the local municipality had been good. "This puts a huge dent in the trust I'd had in the municipality," he told the Dutch public broadcaster NOS.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Are you more Chicago Bulls or running of the bulls? Let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com info@worldcrunch.com!

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