Today marks the third anniversary of the commencement of Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s 27 December 2008 – 18 January 2009 offensive on the Gaza Strip. 27 December also marks the anniversary of the single bloodiest day in the history of the occupation; on this day three years ago 334 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces, 76.6% of whom were civilian.
In total, 1,419 Palestinians were killed during Operation Cast Lead, 1,167 (82.2%) of whom were civilians. A further 5,300 were injured. Israeli forces directly targeted and attacked private homes and civilian institutions, including hospitals and schools. Exacerbating the effects of the continuing illegal closure, the offensive had a devastating impact on the overall economy of the Gaza Strip. Civilian workshops and factories were directly targeted and agricultural land was razed, destroying farms, fields and irrigation systems that formed the basis of farmersʹ livelihoods. As reconstruction is virtually impossible due to the illegal closure, the hardship brought about by this destruction has only increased in the last three years.
To mark the anniversary of the attacks, and to highlight the continuing lack of justice, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) will release a series of narratives, documenting the experiences of victims in the three years since the offensive. The story of the Al Ashi family is released today. This series is also accompanied by a factsheet providing an overview of the flaws inherent in the Israeli justice system and the criminal complaints submitted to the Israeli authorities on behalf of victims of Operation Cast Lead. Further information is available in Genuinely Unwilling: An Update.
PCHR believes that Israeli forces committed serious violations of IHL and IHRL over the course of the offensive. Violations entailing individual criminal responsibility include – but are not limited to – the crimes of wilful killing, the extensive destruction of civilian property, the direct targeting of civilians and civilian objects, the use of human shields, and the launching of indiscriminate attacks.
PCHR has submitted 490 criminal complaints to the Israeli authorities, on behalf of 1,046 victims of Operation Cast Lead. To-date, only two substantive replies have been received. The overwhelming majority of complaints have been simply ignored.
It is evident that these crimes demand judicial redress. If the law is to be respected – if it is to prove capable of protecting civilian populations – it must be enforced; victims’ rights to the equal protection of the law and effective judicial remedy must be upheld. Those responsible for committing such crimes must be investigated, tried and prosecuted in accordance with international standards.
If the occupation has taught us anything it is that as long as Israel is granted impunity, it will continue to violate international law, Palestinian civilians will continue to suffer the horrific consequences.
In light of the clear and unequivocal failure of domestic justice systems, it is clear that recourse must be had to mechanisms of international criminal justice. PCHR call upon the UN Security Council, acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, to refer the situation in Israel and Palestine to the International Criminal Court. PCHR also reminds States, as High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions, of their pressing legal obligation, to search for and prosecute all those suspected of committing war crimes, regardless of their nationality.