ISRAEL’S bombing of the Gaza Strip is a massive violation of international law because it is punishing an entire population for the actions of a few.
That is the assessment of the United Nations regional envoy, Professor Richard Falk.
Yesterday, Professor Falk accused Israel of targeting civilians and of a disproportionate response to the threat posed by Hamas’ equally illegal rocket attacks on its southern border.
An emeritus professor of international law at Princeton University and a trenchant critic of the Bush Administration’s foreign policy, Professor Falk was again at odds with the White House, which has blamed Hamas for breaking the Gaza ceasefire.
The US used veto rights to block a UN Security Council resolution demanding an end to the Israeli attacks. The council instead issued a statement calling for a halt to violence.
While Israel said it targeted Hamas militants, Professor Falk said its air strikes hit the most densely populated area of the Middle East.
He said Israel’s blockade of Gaza led to food shortages and prevented medical aid from reaching the injured.
“Certainly the rocket attacks against civilian targets in Israel are unlawful,” Professor Falk said.
“But that illegality does not give rise to any Israeli right … to violate international humanitarian law and commit war crimes or crimes against humanity in its response. The entire 1.5 million people who live in the crowded Gaza Strip are being punished for the actions of a few militants.”
As the raids continued and the death toll passed 300, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni appeared on US television saying the attacks were needed “to change the reality on the ground”.
That reality, she said, was one in which Hamas continued rocket attacks on the people of southern Israel without retaliation. Ms Livni would not comment on whether a ground invasion was imminent or under consideration, but she would not rule it out.
She said Israel was trying to minimise civilian casualties. The clear message to Hamas was that it would be held responsible for aggression against Israel and it was responsible for civilian casualties.
Her view was endorsed by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who issued a statement condemning repeated rocket and mortar attacks against Israel.
“The US … holds Hamas responsible for breaking the ceasefire and for the renewal of violence in Gaza,” Dr Rice said. “The ceasefire should be restored immediately.”
Over the weekend, Dr Rice briefed President-elect Barack Obama, who is holidaying in Hawaii, on the crisis.
Mr Obama’s senior adviser, David Axelrod, appeared cautious when interviewed about the incoming administration’s approach to the Middle East, although he described Israel as the most important ally of the US in the region.
He said that as president, Mr Obama would recognise the important bond and special relationship that the two nations shared.
“I think he recognises that special relationship. He is going to work closely with Israel, which is a great ally of ours, the most important ally in the region, and that is a fundamental principal from which he’ll work,” Mr Axelrod said.
“He wants to be a constructive force in helping to bring about the peace and security that both the Israelis and the Palestinians want and deserve. Obviously, this situation has become even more complicated in the past couple of days and weeks. As Hamas began its shelling, Israel responded.”
Hamas said 180 of its members had been killed and that civilians comprised the rest of the fatalities, which included 16 women and some children.
The Palestinian envoy to the UN, Riyad Mansour, said Israel had provoked Hamas with covert incursions into Gaza to commit assassinations, and with its blockade.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for an immediate halt to all acts of violence. The Palestinian casualties included eight trainees and a staff member of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, which keeps researchers at all hospitals in the Gaza Strip, said it had counted 251 dead by midday on Sunday, and that among them were 20 children under the age of 16, and nine women.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said the military operation against Hamas was likely to continue indefinitely.
Ian Munro, New York
December 30, 2008
Source: The Age