Ambassador Richard H. Jones
71 Hayarkon Street
Tel Aviv 63903
4 November 2006
As a Palestinian organisation dedicated to the protection and promotion of human rights, Al-Haq is extremely alarmed by the current intensification of Israeli military operations in Gaza. This operation, codenamed “Autumn Clouds”, which is exerting a heavy toll on the civilian population of Gaza, is disturbingly reminiscent of operation “Defensive Shield” of 2002. Further, the ongoing military assault is effectively contributing to the destabilisation of the entire region. We hereby call upon you and the international community as a whole to take immediate and concrete steps to halt the indiscriminate attacks being carried out in Gaza.
Over the last four days, Israel has stepped up military operations, including intense air strikes in densely populated areas, causing the death of approximately 40 people. Many of these were civilians not taking part in hostilities, including women, young children and two paramedics working for an emergency unit of the Palestinian Red Crescent Society. Furthermore, the military incursion is causing extensive destruction of civilian infrastructure, places of worship and private properties. Since 1 November, the 30,000 residents of Beit Hanoun have been effectively under tight army curfew, with all men between the age of 16 and 45 ordered to present themselves for questioning. The area has been deprived of running water for the last three days and the provision of electricity in the entire Gaza Strip is gravely deficient.
The Israeli security cabinet has expressed the intention of launching a large scale offensive extending throughout the entire Gaza Strip. No restraint in the use of force seems to have been taken into account; on the contrary the newly appointed Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman suggested operating in Gaza “like Russia operates in Chechnya.”
The international community and the UN Secretary-General have clearly condemned this renewed wave of violence in Gaza. However, in light of Israel’s blatant disregard of its legal obligations as an Occupying Power, actions - not words - are needed.
The Israeli military forces in Gaza are operating in patent violation of the fundamental humanitarian law principles of proportionality and distinction. The loss of numerous Palestinian lives, including many civilians, is alarming and will only increase as the attack escalates. Opening fire on civilians and the extensive destruction of their properties, not demanded by imperative military necessity, constitute grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention as stated in Article 147. Also, Israel has failed to fulfil its obligation to respect the special protection awarded to medical personnel and places of worship, as respectively provided in Article 15(1) of the First Additional Protocol of 1977 and Article 56 of The Hague Regulations, both reflective of customary international law.
Al-Haq wishes to make it emphatically clear that Israel’s right to defend itself is not unrestrained, as might be understood from official declarations recently made by the United States of America State Department. The current violence must also be placed in the context of almost 40 years of military occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. During this time Palestinians have been subjected to immeasurable violations of their rights, including the right to self-determination. Uncritical support of Israel with no call to respect international law and its obligations as an Occupying Power further contributes to increasing tension and conflict in the region with global repercussions on international peace and security.
In light of the recent escalation in Gaza and the unrelenting violations of the fundamental principles of international humanitarian law, we urge the United States of America, as a High Contracting Party to the Fourth Geneva Convention, to uphold its obligation under Article 1 to ensure respect for international humanitarian law. Israel must be brought to uphold its obligations under the Convention. In view of the exceptionally severe current circumstances, we call upon you to exert all means at your disposal to affect the immediate halt of the alarming wave of violations in Gaza.
Al-Haq is deeply concerned that the continuous flagrant violations of the fundamental principles of humanitarian law and the impunity which Israel enjoys are diminishing the trust of Palestinians in law as a means of protection of their rights, which in turn prompts further disrespect for the rule of law. With this in mind, Al-Haq urgently requests the United States of America to actively pursue the reconvening of the Conference of High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Moreover, we invite you to reconsider your unwavering support of Israeli policies of indiscriminate use of force in the Gaza Strip and in the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and to acknowledge that the necessary prerequisite for the solution of this conflict is an end to the occupation, to be achieved under strict adherence to international law.
Please kindly acknowledge receipt of this letter; we trust you will give it due consideration. In anticipation of your response.