Thursday, January 10, 2002
GUSH SHALOM - pob 3322, Tel-Aviv 61033 - http://www.gush-shalom.org/
"Destroying the houses of innocent civilians is a war crime" Shulamit
was quoted to have said today during her visit to Arafat in his besieged Ramalla
residence. Confronted with that statement on the Israeli Channel-Two five
o'clock news Aloni explained: "I have said it also yesterday in Tzavta: the
time has come to prepare charge sheets."
Last night we held in Tel-Aviv's Tzavta Hall a well-attended panel
discussion on the war crimes being perpetrated in the Occupied Territories.
On the morning of the same day, our appeal on a related issue was heard by
the Supreme Court in Jerusalem. Just as we were about to compose a report
on these events we got
the information about the destruction of dozens of Palestinian homes at
Rafah by Israeli troops - leaving hundreds of people, exposed to a cold and rainy
winter night, powerless against the bulldozers. The number of destroyed
homes varies in different reports from 45 in some, to 73 in others. In any
case, the earlier terse communique by the IDF spokesman, speaking of "a
number of structures demolished out of tactical considerations" and
published as fact by the Israeli media, was grossly and deliberately
The destruction was clearly intended as retaliation for the guerrilla
in which four Israeli soldiers were killed a day earlier at the Gaza Strip
border; a retaliation directed entirely against a civilian population which had
nothing to do with the attack, and as such a violation of International Law,
specifically of the Fourth Geneva Convention - and as such a war crime.
This act would be horrific enough in itself. It is all the more so,
but part of of a long-term policy implemented at the long-suffering town of
Rafah, which is divided in three: one part under the self-governing Palestinian
Authority, another part under Egyptian rule, and bisecting them in between,
a long and narrow Israeli-held miltary zone, designed to prevent contact
between these two sundred parts and - in general - prevent Palestinians from having
free acess to the outside world. This unnatural situation led to an
endless series of confrontations and incidents over the past year and half.
In response, the Israeli Army formulated a simple and brutal strategy: to
extend and widen the "buffer zone" under its control by destroying
Palestinian dwellings and creating a "sterile zone" in their place.
The policy was stated quite openly by reserve General Yom-Tov Samia,
former commander of IDF's Southern Command, in a live interview to
Israeli radio on June 9, 2001:
"THE IDF MUST RAZE ALL THE HOUSES within a strip of 300-400 metres in
width.... No matter what the future (final) agreement would be, this will be our
border with Egypt (!)... Arafat must be punished; after each incident, another two
or three rows of houses must be razed..." This is precisely what the army has
been doing, steadily and systematically, ever since. As several of the
speakers at our panel discussion remarked, war crime (as, in fact, ordinary crime) is
aggravated by being part of a deliberate and systematic policy.
A few hours before the latest wave of destruction was unleashed at Rafah,
Dr. Eyal Gross of the Tel-Aviv University Faculty of Law advanced at the Tzavta
Hall the opinion that ordering a soldier to drive a bulldozer to destroy a
civilian dwelling constitutes a manifestly illegal order: "Under both
International Law and the Israeli Military Code, a soldier has not only the
right but also the duty to refuse such an order. Should he be
court-martialed for that refusal, he can in all consicience claim to be law-abiding, while
it was his commanding officer who was guilty of law-breaking".
Shulamit Aloni - former Education Minister, and grand old lady of the
Israeli peace and human rights movement - was even more forthright: "The time has
come for us to prepare the charge sheets of Israel's war criminals, since nobody
else does it.". This she said from the podium at Tzavta yesterday, and
repeated it at a TV interview today.
So as not to make this message too long, a fuller description of the
meeting will be delayed for tomorrow.
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