Israel’s War Crimes in Gaza

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu knows he has Official Washington so deeply in his pocket that he can get away with almost anything including the stealing of Palestinian land and the slaughtering of civilians in Gaza. Whatever his war crimes, Netanyahu will be excused, as Marjorie Cohn notes.

By Marjorie Cohn

Israel has commenced full-scale warfare on the people of Gaza.

The recent tensions began about six weeks ago when Israeli forces abducted 17 Palestinian teenage boys in the occupied West Bank. Then, on June 12, three Israeli teenagers were abducted in the southern West Bank; Israel blamed Hamas. After the three youths were found dead, a group of Israelis tortured and killed a Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem. Finally, on July 7, Israel launched a large military operation dubbed “Operation Protective Edge” in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to 2014 convention of the powerful lobbying group, American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to the 2014 convention of the powerful lobbying group, American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

During the past week, Israel has killed 162 Palestinian civilians and counting, including 34 children. In addition to more than 1,200 Israeli airstrikes, Israel has threatened to launch a ground invasion of Gaza. Israel attacked a center for the mentally and physically disabled in Beit Zahiya, killing three patients and a nurse. In addition, Israel has stepped up demolitions of Palestinian homes, and administrative detentions of Palestinians without charge or trial.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs(OCHA) reported that 77 percent of the people Israel has killed in Gaza were civilians. Although Hamas has launched about 1,000 rockets into Israel in the past week, no Israelis have been killed.


UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay expressed alarm at the Israeli military operations as well as the indiscriminate firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel. “For its part, the Government of Israel must take all possible measures to ensure full respect for the principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions in attack, during the conduct of hostilities, as required by international humanitarian law. In all circumstances, they must avoid targeting civilians,” she said.

In light of “deeply disturbing reports that many of the civilian casualties, including of children, occurred as a result of strikes on homes,” Pillay continued, “serious doubt [has been raised] about whether the Israeli strikes have been in accordance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law.”

The principle of distinction forbids deliberate attacks on civilians or civilian objects. The proportionality principle forbids disproportionate and excessive civilian casualties compared to the claimed military advantage gained in the attack. Precaution requires that measures be taken in advance to ensure compliance with the principles of distinction and proportionality, to minimize incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects, and requires taking all feasible precautions in the choice of means and methods of warfare.

Collective Punishment by Israel

Headlines in the mainstream media falsely portray an equivalence of firepower between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza. But Israel’s use of force greatly exceeds that of the Palestinians, and the asymmetric warfare continues to escalate.

The Obama administration and Congress have condemned the rocket fire into Israel by Hamas and the “deliberate targeting of civilians.” But Washington says Israel has a right to defend itself, justifying Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza and blaming Hamas, while minimizing Israel’s role in creating and escalating the violence.

Israel’s overwhelming use of military force constitutes collective punishment, which is a war crime. The laws of war, also known as international humanitarian law, are primarily found in the Geneva Conventions.

Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which Israel is a party, specifically forbids collective punishment. It says, “No protected person [civilian] may be punished for an offense he or she has not personally committed. . . . Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.”

Israel’s collective punishment of Palestinians in Operation Protective Edge constitutes a deliberate policy to punish the entire population of Gaza. Since the Palestinians concluded a unity agreement between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza in June, Israel has stepped up the construction of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

Richard Falk, former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, noted that Israel broke off the peace talks with the Palestinians before the formation of the Palestinian unity agreement.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has blamed Hamas for the kidnapping and killing of the three Israeli teens in order to discredit the new Palestinian unity agreement. In what amounts to a catch-22, Netanyahu has cynically stymied the peace negotiations because, he said, there was no unified voice to speak for the Palestinians. But now that the Palestinians have a unity agreement, Netanyahu is driving a wedge between Fatah and Hamas in an effort to justify and maintain Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.

The 140 square-mile Gaza Strip, home to 1.7 million people (half of whom are children), is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. It is often described as the world’s largest “open air prison,” as Israel maintains a tight blockade, restricting all ingress and egress.

Since mid-2013, unemployment has dramatically increased and delivery of basic services has decreased. More than 90 percent of the water in Gaza is unsuitable for drinking. The health system is close to collapse, according to the World Health Organization.

Last year, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child reported, “Palestinian children arrested by [Israeli] military and police are systematically subject to degrading treatment, and often to acts of torture.”

The committee also concluded that Israel’s “illegal long-standing occupation” of Palestinian land, continued expansion of “unlawful” Jewish settlements, construction of the barrier wall into the West Bank [found by the International Court of Justice 10 years ago to violate international law], and the confiscation of land and demolition of homes and livelihoods “constitute severe and continuous violations of the rights of Palestinian children and their families.”

After Israel’s 2008 to 2009 Operation Cast Lead, in which nearly 1,400 Palestinians (82 percent of whom were civilians) and 13 Israelis were killed, a UN Human Rights Council report by a commission headed by Justice Richard Goldstone concluded, “Disproportionate destruction and violence against civilians were part of a deliberate policy [by Israel].”

In its 2009 report, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) found, “During Operation Cast Lead no type of property was left untouched: residences, hospitals, schools, mosques, factories and agricultural fields were demolished by the IDF.”

Israel, according to PCATI, employed “a coherent strategy that incorporated two major elements into the planning of Operation Cast Lead: 1) The implementation of the ‘Dahiye Doctrine,’ the principal tenet of which was to cause intentional suffering to civilians so that they would bring pressure to bear on those who were fighting against the IDF [Israel Defense Forces], and 2) The ‘No Risk’ policy, which placed absolute priority on preventing harm to IDF soldiers, even at the cost of greater danger to Palestinian civilians.” Israel is apparently pursuing the same policy in Operation Protective Edge.

In 2013, Falk said, “the people of Gaza have endured the unendurable and suffered what is insufferable for six years. Israel’s collective punishment of the civilian population in Gaza must end today.” He added, “Israel has the responsibility as the Occupying Power to protect the civilian population.”

“In circumstances of prolonged occupation and state terrorism,” Falk observed, “Hamas is entitled to claim rights of resistance, although their precise contours are not clearly established by international law. Hamas is certainly entitled to act in self-defense within the constraints of international humanitarian law.”

International Reaction

On July 12, 2014, the UN Security Council issued a unanimous statement calling for an immediate ceasefire and “de-escalation of the situation, restoration of calm, and reinstitution of the November 2012 ceasefire.” That ceasefire ended eight days of bombings of Gaza by Israel that killed 140 Palestinians, and rocket attacks by Hamas along the border that killed five Israelis.

In its July 12 statement, the Council expressed “serious concern regarding the crisis related to Gaza and the protection and welfare of civilians on both sides” and called for respect for international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilians.

Hanna Amira, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization in the West Bank, said of the Council’s statement, “This announcement deals with the oppressor and the victim in the same way; it is a general call to end the fighting, without setting any mechanism to end the fighting. What is needed is an end to the aggression against the Palestinian people in Gaza.”

The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) National Committee has called on “international governments to impose a two-way arms embargo immediately and to suspend bilateral agreements until Israel fully complies with international law.”

Indeed, U.S. military aid to Israel also violates U.S. law. The Human Rights and Security Assistance Act requires that the United States halt all military aid to Israel because the latter has engaged in a consistent pattern of gross violation of internationally recognized human rights.

“Because collective punishment is a war crime under the Geneva Conventions, [the Palestinian BDS National Committee] urge[s] the international community to pressure Israel to end its all-out military assault aimed against the total population of Gaza, open the Rafah crossing [between Egypt and Gaza] permanently and heed our call for boycotts, divestment and sanctions.”

Organizations such as the Bill Gates Foundation, the Presbyterian Church USA and the United Methodist Church are divesting from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation, including Hewlett Packard, Motorola Solutions and Caterpillar.

“Israel is able to act with utter impunity because of the military, economic and political support it receives from governments around the world,” according to Zaid Shuaibi, a spokesperson for the Palestinian BDS National Committee. Indeed, Israel would be unable to carry out its policies of aggression in Gaza without the support of the United States, which gives Israel more than $3 billion per year.

The United States should demand an immediate ceasefire from both Israel and Hamas. The U.S. government should condemn Israel’s escalation, bombing and collective punishment of civilians just as forcefully as it has condemned Hamas’ firing of rockets. The Gaza blockade and limitations on freedom of travel of Gazans should be lifted and Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories should be ended.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, a former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Her books include Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law. Her next bookDrones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral and Geopolitical Issues,will be published next month. [Copyright, Reprinted with permission. To see the original, click here.]

16 comments for “Israel’s War Crimes in Gaza

  1. Samantha
    July 26, 2014 at 20:59

    On the first link it clearly states, how Israeli pm wants to go to war with Iraq and Iran. On family history it clearly states by bibi father regarding the palastinian people “that they want be able to face anymore, the war with us would indicate, which would indicate withholding food from Arab countries. Preventing education and terminating electrical power cuts and so on. They want be able to exist and will run away from here but it depends on war” This is what Zionist brainwash their kids with, I’m not surprised, It’s Zionist culture. Now son is acting on fathers orders.
    Second link, a iraeli soldier (terrorist) Breaks the silence
    There were no need for all these civilians to be killed, if UN. US. And other European countries, acted promptly, by sanctioning Israel and Hamas for immediate ceasefire, if not, send in military to stop war. And reached soulution, to give palastine what every country has. That would be justice. In my country if a crime has been commited, they are arrested and action is taken, YOU DONT GO IN TO WAR.
    Why has OBAMA given killing machines to Israel, knowing full well, what there going to use it for. If Israel didn’t have these killing machines. There would have been many lives save. Please take israeli weapons of them, there doing war crimes.

  2. Mike
    July 21, 2014 at 09:00

    Israel for what it is worth in a loose term is a war crime nation. The three Israeli teenagers executed must have been executed by Israeli Sercret Services as a means to justify them taking war crimes into Gaza. After all, Hamas openly announced it did not execute the three Israeli teenagers, before you doubt this, remember that Hamas has openly admitted when it has executed people. Israel executed these teenagers so as to allow Israel to justify military action into Gaza. The state of Israel should be flattened by the Arab Nation and that land given back to the Palastinians. Israel as it stands at now is no better than Nazi Germany, Israel carries out ethnic cleansing with the full backing of the United States and it’s Jewish led population. Just look at the backing the United states give Israel, weapons and munnitions that are used to murder innocent civilians. Look at how the United States is reacting to Russia about the downed Malaysian airliner, all mouth and threats but yet nothing from the United States about the war crimes carried out by Israel. Just look at how the United States is an ally of the UK but then financially and military supported the IRA to carry out terrorist crimes against the British people, no different to how they support the state of Israel so it can carry out war crimes against the people of Palastine and the Arab Nation. Israel should not exsist, since this bogus state came into effect all that it has done is unstabilise the Arab Nations. The Jews would not be so hated as they are if they showed full respect to its Arab neighbours but Israel does not, it just takes land it has no right too and launches military actions whenever it wants. It is about time the International War Crimes courts in the Hague should issue arrest warrents for all Jews in high offices in Israel, from politicians to community leaders to the military brass, they should be made accountable for their war crimes against humanity. Maybe a good starting point would be a war court sat by members of the Arab Nation to sentance the Jewish war criminals. Just like the allies sat and sentanced the Nazis at the Nuremberg trials. Real justice for the Palastinian people, real justice for the Arab Nation and real justice for the world.

  3. Hillary
    July 16, 2014 at 20:28

    Gaza is compared to the Warsaw Ghetto by Professor Norman Filkenstein
    But Israel can explain.

  4. canadian christian
    July 16, 2014 at 13:38

    i think it is a huge communication break down.. people need to learn to respect each others religious rights like we tend to do in Canada where I am anyhow.. and if these religions and people are peace loving they need to show peace in their actions.. i do believe that everyone has a right to defend, however there is a better way.. a unification standing against simple hate, and crimes against humanity, no matter what color or religion you are.. i think people should unify to hold people of hate crimes responsible at every level, rather then blowing each other to pieces.. it should be a joined effort. I am hoping very much for peace, people on both sides can find peace, and learn to accept differences not as something that is bad, but as something that makes us as individuals, and it can be a share or knowledge and wisdom. most people have noses, and eyes, and ears, two hands, and two feet, they can talk, listen, walk to greet, and even in difference, if it is not hurting others, then it should be ok. if it is hurting someone, then it should be dealt with at an educational level, even in multitudes, so a child can come home and say to his mother and father, “don’t you think that hating someone for there race or religion, or preferences that do not matter, is very unintelligent?” and his/her parents can have an epiphany, and say, yes, it is, and take a stand against it. Anyhow, Canada is hoping and praying for peace at every level, and with many religions. Peace

  5. July 16, 2014 at 11:30

    The cost of war to USA officials is measured in $.

    For Russia & China the real meaning of war is hatred & misanthropy, evil goals, death, destruction, misery, all followed by the gruesome effects on society.

    USA is at war perpetually because USA has no respect for human life.

    The USA lives & thrives by the sword.

    This is not the time for beautiful platitudes or political mouthing off. The main issue facing civilization is the murderous barbarism of USA and its allies.

    The assault on mankind is spearheaded by fbi,cia, dod and their homicidal and evil associates globally such as GB, France, Germany, Australia (per Jed), “?Isreal”, etc. So, get it straight: continue to live in fear and to hide from the ugly reality of this government’s bestial conduct and you (the reader of this message as well as all who should read it) thereby contribute both to the inhumanity that envelopes us as a species and to the Nazi type Gestapo regime, now super charged, that is the United States Of America today. All sidebar issues are of little consequence when humans are reduced in perpetuity to chattels & slaves of the ruling class


  6. John J
    July 15, 2014 at 23:41

    Perhaps Hager512 you should live under conditions like those in Gaza for 70 years and see how your emotional behaviour turns out after a few years.
    Don’t forget many Israeli PM were terrorists too, or were they your freedom fighters saving you from tyranny. Sounds parallel to the Palestinian situation to me. They took their homes, their lands, their water, their freedom and everything else but you don’t know them as you don’t see yourself.

  7. John J
    July 15, 2014 at 23:31

    I’m disgusted with my government here in Canada. The guys at the top keep telling us Israel has the right to protect itself. Well the Palestinians have the right to protect themselves too from land theft and abuses from soldiers to brutal settler violence to collective punishment.
    How long do a people have to wait for international law to be enforced concerning borders, land rights, freedom and a good life.
    Israeli PMs and military leaders have stated, contrary to much Zionist literature, that the 1967 war was there choice, they knew (full message intercepts) Egypt didn’t want war and that the Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai were small in number and in a defensive position.
    PM Eshkol was undermined by extreme Zionists Sharon and Begin, who inturn tried to sink the Liberty ( the Office of the US Defence Attache in Tel Aviv had sent a coded message to Washington’s US Army Communications Centre stating that the IDF was planning to attack the Liberty if the ship continued to move closer to the Israeli coast.) because they wanted to attack Syria before the US or the UN would try to stop them. Why? To build the Greater Israel that Herzl had planned and Ben-Gurion in ’48 had told them they could capture later.
    If the blame comes down on the Palestinians for starting this latest conflict, it should fall much heavier on Israel for foot dragging on peace (Oslo – where they continued to build roads and settlements on Palestinian land knowing full well that couldn’t be tolerated.) The Oslo peace didn’t last long because Palestinians after the death of Rabin (killed by a fanatical settler) could see it meant nothing.
    How can a people protect themselves from a despotic brute. Israeli policy is dangerous and probably will breed new anti-Semitism as people become aware of the situation. At least there are a lot of good admirable Jews trying to get that message across.

  8. scott
    July 15, 2014 at 23:14

    Imagine getting a phone call or a mortar dead hit on your roof advising you to gather your children because your gonna get an airstrike because some Hamas guy next door fired a glorified bottle rocket?

    Its collective punishment and targeting civilians and the same tactics were used in WW2 by all sides

  9. July 15, 2014 at 18:32

    As far as I am concerned Israel should use its full military might and show these
    terrorists exactly what indiscriminate rocket fire really is.. If you repeatedly stand and cheer every time the rockets are outgoing ,you are a terrorist, not an innocent civilian , and get what you richly deserve when they come back your way.

    • Nate
      July 15, 2014 at 18:53

      So I suppose that makes the millions of Americans that cheered the bombing of Iraq and the invasion of Afghanistan terrorists then?

      If you support violent action against the innocent to strike at the guilty what does that make you?

    • F. G. Sanford
      July 15, 2014 at 19:49

      Spoken like a true “Christian”.

    • Joe Tedesky
      July 16, 2014 at 00:58

      No sense asking hager512 their opinion on the “Wounded Knee Massacre”…?

      • July 16, 2014 at 12:15

        Clearly hager is unbias and has a sensible opinion. if you support israels current strategy then your logic would have you support the following…

        Example, there are many projects in brooklyn and queens( low income housing if your not familiar) ISRAELs crimes are equivalent to a group of people from the projects killing an nypd officer, so as response the nypd decides to blow up all the projects in queens and brooklyn as a result of some people from the projects doing something un acceptable. if you support israels tactics then your logic would have you support the scenerio above. Clearly you need to open your eyes

        • YQ
          July 16, 2014 at 13:08

          At least in Brooklyn, or Queens, those living in the projects have the rights of US citizens.

    • YG
      July 16, 2014 at 17:12


      It’s way simplistic to think that Hamas only gets arms from Iran and Syria.

    • amine
      July 19, 2014 at 22:00

      if i came to the usa with my army and took your land by force,what will be your reaction?

Comments are closed.