The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) has submitted a report to the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor debunking Israeli claims that last summer’s attack on Gaza was an act of “self-defense.”
Since the court began a preliminary examination into the events in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip beginning from 13 June 2014, Israel has attempted to ward off a full investigation by claiming that its 51-day assault on Gaza was an act of defense.
NLG, a US human and civil rights organization, also sent its report to US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, who have suggested Israel’s right to defend itself justified the air bombardment and ground assault that left more than 2,200 people, the vast majority civilians, dead.
In their cover letter to the ICC and the White House, NLG notes that numerous respected sources have alleged war crimes, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations Human Rights Council and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“The central message that Israeli forces were protecting Israeli citizens from Hamas rockets was so ubiquitous in the Western media as to eclipse war crimes allegations,” said report author and Vermont attorney James Marc Leas. “But the facts and law do not support the self-defense claims.”
Israeli attacks came first
Analyzing the timeline of events (as reported by Israeli think-tank Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center) in early July 2014 that precipitated Israel’s launch of “Operation Protective Edge,” the NLG report shows that Israel’s air and ground attacks on occupied Palestinian territories preceded any rocket fire from Hamas.
“The Hamas rocket fire was neither actually occurring nor imminent when Israeli forces launched a non-judicial execution in Gaza, killing a Hamas member and severely wounding three civilians on 11 June,” the report states. ”Nor when Israeli forces launched their massive assault on the West Bank on 13 June 2014. The Israeli attacks were not necessary to stop rockets because rockets were not being fired at the time by Hamas and non-Hamas groups. Nor was rocket fire imminently threatened at the time.”
On 16 January, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda opened a “preliminary examination of the situation in Palestine” prompting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to denounce the court’s action and assert, “Israel is adamant that it will have the right to defend itself against all those who wish to propagate terror and other attacks against its citizens, against its territory.”
But NLG’s report notes that previous statements made by Netanyahu contradict the assertion that defense motivated Israel’s attack on Gaza, such as wishing to break up the Palestinian Authority “consensus government” formed with the assent of Hamas.
The NLG points out that according to both international law and the findings of the International Court of Justice, an occupying power cannot base an invasion on self-defense.
The Rome Statute that set up the ICC, moreover, allows for the possibility that acts based on self-defense can also be criminal, the report explains. Targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure and using indiscriminate weapons in densely populated areas does not abide by the rules of proportionality.
The National Lawyers Guild was founded in 1937 as the nation’s first racially integrated bar association, and has a long history of supporting the rights of Palestinians abroad and in the United States.
The report was arranged by the guild’s International Committee’s subcommittee on Palestine.