Letter: Switzerland must act on Gaza even as others choose silence

8 November 2006

H.E. Ms Micheline Calmy-Rey
Federal Councillor
Federal Department of Foreign Affairs
Bern, Switzerland
Via email: generalsekretaer at eda.admin.ch

Dear Minister Calmy-Rey,

This morning, Israeli occupation forces shelled a civilian area near Beit Hanoun in the north of the Gaza Strip, killing nineteen people, of whom at least eight are children, and four women. Eleven of the dead are from a single family. Over forty people were wounded.

This morning’s massacre brings to at least 73 the number of Palestinians killed since November 1 including at least 16 children and six women, and to over 300 the number injured. Two of the dead were Red Crescent medics tending to the injured.

I am not an ambassador, a minister, or an elected official. I have no standing to appeal to your conscience except as a human being. I do so now with all the will I can muster to urge your government immediately to reconvene the Conference of the High Contracting Parties of the Fourth Geneva Convention urgently to consider measures to enforce this Convention and end the grave and mounting breaches being perpetrated by Israel, the Occupying Power, in the Gaza Strip.

Since June 26, Israeli occupation forces have killed over 360 Palestinians in Gaza, over half of whom are non-combatant civilians. There is clear and mounting evidence that the Israeli political and military leaders act knowingly, wilfully and indiscriminately when they carry out these killings. Indeed they boast that they make no distinction between civilians and combatants.

According to B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, Israel’s prime minister Ehud Olmert told the Israeli parliament on October 30 that in the previous three months, the Israeli military has killed 300 “terrorists” in the Gaza Strip. According to B’Tselem’s investigation, Israeli occupation forces did indeed kill 294 Palestinians in Gaza between June 26 and October 27. However, over half of those killed — 155 people, including 61 children –- did not participate in the fighting when they were killed.

On November 5 the Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) stated, “Israeli occupying forces have deliberately attacked and targeted unarmed civilians as well as PRCS ambulances and medical teams. On November 3, 2006, Israeli forces targeted and killed two members of PRCS medical teams, while they were attempting to evacuate a victim killed by Israeli fire in Beit Lahia area.”

PRCS reported that “Beit Hanoun Hospital continues to be under siege by Israeli tanks and armored vehicles, which prevent medical teams and victims from reaching the hospital,” and it called “upon the states parties to the Geneva Conventions, the UN Secretary General, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and international organizations of human rights” to act.

It was heartening when Switzerland previously convened the Conference of the High Contracting Parties several years ago, though disappointing that it was adjourned without substantial action. I respectfully remind you that the Conference declaration issued by the Swiss Federal Government on 5 December 2001 stated:

“The participating High Contracting Parties call upon the Occupying Power to immediately refrain from committing grave breaches involving any of the acts mentioned in art. 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, such as wilful killing, torture, unlawful deportation, wilful depriving of the rights of fair and regular trial, extensive destruction and appropriation of property not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly. The participating High Contracting Parties recall that according to art. 148 no High Contracting Party shall be allowed to absolve itself of any liability incurred by itself in respect to grave breaches.”

The statement adds that the participating High Contracting Parties “welcome and encourage the initiatives by States Parties, both individually and collectively, according to art. 1 of the Convention and aimed at ensuring the respect of the Convention, and they underline the need for the Parties, to follow up on the implementation of the present Declaration.”

Unfortunately no follow up action has been taken by any states parties to the Convention. If under the present circumstances no country moves to fulfill its obligations under this Convention, it is the clearest evidence possible that the regime of international law, so painstakingly built, and which I learned about with awe when I visited the Red Cross Museum in Geneva, is impotent and worthless to those who are most in need of its protection.

I urge you to act forthwith, with the force of the law, with the moral authority that you enjoy, and with the courage it will take knowing that you would be doing so even as all the others who have the power and responsibility to act choose silence and complicity.

With highest regards,
Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah is co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of “One Country - A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse” (Metropolitan Books, 2006)

Related Links

  • Israeli bombardment of Beit Hanoun kills at least 18, including 11 from one family
  • Ma’an News Agency