The recent United Nations report, which condemned both Israel and the Palestinian authorities for war crimes during Israel’s military invasion of Gaza from December 27 to January 18, primarily blasted Israel for “actions amounting to war crimes, possibly crimes against humanity.” That is, perhaps, not surprising in a lopsided 22-day conflict that saw more than 1,400 Palestinians killed, the great majority civilians, and only 13 Israelis killed, the majority soldiers.
According to the U.N. press release on the report, “the Mission found that, in the lead up to the Israeli military assault on Gaza, Israel imposed a blockade amounting to collective punishment and carried out a systematic policy of progressive isolation and deprivation of the Gaza Strip. During the Israeli military operation, code-named ‘Operation Cast Lead,’ houses, factories, wells, schools, hospitals, police stations and other public buildings were destroyed. Families are still living amid the rubble of their former homes long after the attacks ended, as reconstruction has been impossible due to the continuing blockade.”
The press release goes on to say, “Significant trauma, both immediate and long-term, has been suffered by the population of Gaza…” And that, “The report concludes that the Israeli military operation was directed at the people of Gaza as a whole, in furtherance of an overall and continuing policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population, and in a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed at the civilian population. The destruction of food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and residential houses was the result of a deliberate and systematic policy which has made the daily process of living, and dignified living, more difficult for the civilian population.”
That is one of the most chilling parts of the report to me – the details of deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure. Not only for its implications for the ongoing efforts at peace between Israel and the Palestinians, but also for its implications about international law and international justice.
During the first Gulf War and again in 2003, the United States deliberately targeted Iraq’s electrical grid and its water sanitation systems. And, in fact, for years leading up to the second Gulf War, the United States and the United Nations, itself, enforced a draconian sanctions regime against Iraq, which caused the deaths of, at a minimum, hundreds of thousands of people, mostly the young and the elderly, in a misguided effort to get the civilian population to rise up against Saddam Hussein.
To date there have been no legal repercussions for the United States or the United Nations for that particular “systematic policy… which made the daily process of living, and dignified living, more difficult for the civilian population.”