How Israel sabotages war crimes investigations in Gaza

The number of people Israel allowed through the Erez crossing with Gaza on average each month in 2016 was about two percent of what it was in September 2000.

Anne Paq ActiveStills

Israel systematically denies human rights workers entry to the occupied Gaza Strip, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch.

The group says the travel ban, which has been enforced for almost a decade, has significantly impeded the work of international, Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups, which document violations by the Israeli military and Palestinian armed groups.

The Israeli government told Human Rights Watch that the travel restriction is imposed for security reasons. It regularly informs applicants for travel permits that the Israeli government is only obliged to allow passage in “exceptional humanitarian circumstances.”

Since Israel withdrew its military and settlements from Gaza in 2005, it has maintained that it no longer occupies the territory and is therefore not subject to the law of occupation which requires it to allow travel.

But this position has been rejected by the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United States and the European Union, which all maintain that Gaza remains occupied because Israel still exercises “effective control” over the territory despite the redeployment of its forces to the perimeter.

On Twitter, Emmanuel Nahshon, the spokesperson for Israel’s foreign ministry, responded to Human Rights Watch’s report by tweeting, “Given the number of terrorists employed by intl orgs, that’s right policy!!”

Hampering investigations

In February, on advice of the foreign ministry, Israel’s interior ministry refused to grant Human Rights Watch’s new Palestine director Omar Shakir a work permit, saying the organization produces “Palestinian propaganda.”

Israel’s military bureaucracy that runs the occupation, known by the acronym COGAT, denied any blanket ban on human rights workers, claiming it does coordinate the passage of rights groups, listing Doctors without Borders as an example.

But Human Rights Watch says the travel restrictions cast further doubt on the credibility of Israel’s internal investigations of alleged crimes, a mechanism which Israel hopes will stave off international legal accountability.

The International Criminal Court must determine whether Israel carries out credible investigations that satisfy the court’s standards before opening a formal investigation into possible war crimes.

While claiming that it carries out thorough investigations, Israel says its relies on information provided to it by the very human rights groups it heavily restricts.

The reports states: “These restrictions hamper what is, by the Israeli government’s own acknowledgement, a significant source of information and evidence about potential [international humanitarian law] violations, raising questions not just about the capability of the Israeli authorities to investigate potential violations of the laws of war but also their willingness to do so.”

Human Rights Watch, which has been granted access to Gaza only one time since 2008, recommends that the International Criminal Court immediately open a formal investigation into the situation in Palestine.

The court opened its preliminary examination in January 2015, which could take years to complete.

Humanitarian aid, not human rights

The refusal to let human rights workers in and out of Gaza is part of Israel’s comprehensive blockade on all movement in and out of the small territory that is home to two million Palestinians.

These restrictions have been reinforced by Egypt, which has kept the Rafah crossing mostly closed since July 2013, when Egyptian president Muhammed Morsi was deposed in a military coup.

In 2012, Israel said its so-called “separation policy” is meant to prevent the transfer of a “human terrorist network” from Gaza to the West Bank, where Israeli settlers live.

However, there are notable exceptions.

Israel allows hundreds or merchants, some medical patients and employees with humanitarian aid organizations to leave Gaza.

It also gives travel privileges to employees of humanitarian aid or UN organizations, but never to those who work for human rights groups.

Israel has defended this policy in court by explaining that humanitarian groups help Israel fulfill its commitment “not to harm the humanitarian minimum that residents of the Strip need – including giving travel permits in appropriate humanitarian circumstances.”

Impeding work

Palestinian human rights groups say the travel ban isolates them and weakens their work.

Jaber Wishah, deputy director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, says the limitations can be costly, both financially and in terms of getting their work international exposure.

Staff at PCHR and Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights are consistently denied permission to leave Gaza to attend trainings, workshops and conferences with colleagues in present-day Israel and the occupied West Bank.

Amnesty International has not been granted access to Gaza since June 2012. Human Rights Watch was granted access for the first time since 2008 in September 2016 on a one-time, exceptional basis to advocate for Israelis detained by Palestinian groups in Gaza.

Though these international groups hire local Gaza researchers to collect evidence, they were unable to hire an independent weapons expert to fully assess evidence following Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza.

Israel began limiting the movement of Palestinians in Gaza in the mid-1990s, but implemented dramatic restrictions in 2007, when Hamas took control inside Gaza after the group won the 2006 Palestinian elections.

In 2016, the average number of crossings from Gaza to Israel or the occupied West Bank was about 12,000 a month. That compares with half a million crossings in September 2000, the eve of the second intifada, the Palestinian uprising against Israel’s military occupation – a drop of about 98 percent.

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Comments

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You state "...they were unable to hire an independent weapons expert to fully assess evidence following Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza."

That is not quite true.

In July 2014, following discussions with Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-Israel) commissioned a fact-finding mission (hereafter ‘FFM’) to Gaza, whose aim was to gather evidence and draw preliminary conclusions regarding types, causes and patterns of injuries and attacks; attacks on medical teams and facilities; evacuation; impact of the conflict on the healthcare system; and longer-term issues including rehabilitation of the wounded, mental health, public health and displacement.

PHR-Israel recruited 8 independent international medical experts, unaffiliated with Israeli or Palestinian parties involved in the conflict: four with special expertise in the fields of forensic medicine and pathology; and four experts in emergency medicine, public health, paediatrics and paediatric intensive care, and health and human rights.

You can find the full report here: https://www.scribd.com/documen...

Charlotte Silver's picture

My article wrote that neither Amnesty International nor HRW were able to hire independent weapons experts, which your comment does not refute in anyway. It seems the PHR-Israel report you refer to was indeed compiled by 8 independent experts, but none of them appear to be weapons experts either. 

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Good comeback Charlotte. You complain of the bad apples sold by your greengrocer - this " hereafter" lawyer type commends the grocer for his great oranges.

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Snarky remarks never contribute to a sensible conversation. If you would have read the guy's remarks you would have realised he did not "attack" Charlotte.

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What is Vaak's reply doing as a reply to my reply. I don't see the term " attack " anywhere. Having said that, in my political dictionary, mixing apples and oranges is an obvious, purposeful obfuscation and misdirection, which itself is merely a variation of the concept of an " attack ".

Charlotte's reply was and remains consistent.

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Anybody has the right to answer to any comments on a public platform, which is why I replied to your snarky remark to PK. He has acknowledged her consistency AND has apologised. Your remark about an "obvious, purposeful obfuscation and misdirection" is completely misplaced, but you clearly did not take the trouble of reading any of the guy's comments.

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01 Kid's " apology " was qualified by "... nevertheless, in my INTERPRETATION ...", effectively changing her meaning.
02 Kid's apology to Charlotte was posted on the 6 [sixth].
03 My Reply in support of Charlotte was posted on the 5 [fifth].
04 Your humorous and anachronistic critique, that I had not read Kid's apology one day PRIOR to its posting, ends this thread.

Thanks ever so much for your advice on net etiquette.

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Once again, you re evading the issue. My point was that if you had read the Kid's original post with a bit more attanetion & interest you would have realised there was no need for snarkiness, unless snarkiness is your standard behaviour.

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You are right, and I apologise for that oversight on my part. Nevertheless, my interpretation of your phrase is that the importance to have had independent experts assess the damage inflicted by the israeli army. And I feel that the human damage is even more important than the material, non-human damage, so medical experts seem more appropriate. Having said all that, I am not trying to prove I am right because the issue at the end of the day is that an independent assessment was done.
By the way, I do enjoy all your reports and am impressed by your style of reporting, so please don't take my comment above badly.

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Charlotte Silver

Charlotte Silver's picture

Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist and regular writer for The Electronic Intifada. She is based in Oakland, California and has reported from Palestine since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @CharESilver.