Overview of the current attacks

The Electronic Intifada remains gravely concerned at the ongoing Israeli attacks, which are resulting in the deaths and serious injury of innocent Palestinian civilians, the damage of family homes and property, and the Israeli state intimidation of the Palestinian civilian population with violence.

The United States of America, being the primary foreign underwriter of the 34-year-old Israeli military occupation, bears no small responsibility for the current carnage.

Ramallah saw an invasion of around 150 Israeli tanks and armoured vehicles and thousands of troops at around midnight last night. Israel’s targeting of journalists is becoming more overt, in parallel to its attacks on refugee camps. This morning at 8:02AM ET, on CNN’s American Morning, veteran correspondent Ben Wedeman reported two incidents to host Paula Zahn where Israel appeared to be targeting journalists and their cameras in Ramallah:

“Paula, that is the City Inn Palace, which is really right across the street from the refugee camp I mentioned. According to our cameraman there, Joe Duran (ph), there were about 40 journalists in the hotel, and they were concentrated in the stairwell on the fourth floor overlooking the camp. Their cameras were rolling. They were all there, and all of a sudden, there were shots coming in their direction from street level from an armored personnel carrier. They dove out of the way, but exactly the spot where all of the cameras were, was hit by that gunfire.

One ABC camera took seven bullets, including one bullet directly in the lens. The Israeli government subsequently apologized. They said it was a mistake. That they were shooting in an area they believed fire was coming from. But the journalists who were there told me that there was no fire coming from that hotel.

Now, also in another incident, and in fact, the building I am in, Israeli helicopters apparently fired upon it. This camera took five bullets, essentially destroyed. This is where the bullets came out of. No explanation from the Israeli army as to why that incident took place. But I can tell you that this area, Ramallah, has been declared a closed military area by the Israeli defense forces. But we are unable to leave the area, because it is simply too dangerous.

There is a lot of firing going on right now. It’s quiet, but over the last hour or two, Paula, there has been some very heavy exchange of fire and also tank fire as well…”

The following press release from Palestinian human rights organisation LAW [www.lawsociety.org] offers an overview of the recent Israeli attacks on densely populated refugee camps and other civilian areas throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip and is a good basis for letter writing.

Nigel Parry
for The Electronic Intifada

Calls to end the conspiracy of silence and take immediate action

12 March 2002

LAW, MIFTAH and PCHR, today wrote to the EU, US, and other non-EU members of the international community calling upon them to take effective action and intervene in the face of the latest, rapid escalation of attacks by the Israeli occupying forces against the Palestinian civilian population in the densely populated refugee camps and other civilian areas throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israeli occupying forces have attacked, invaded and placed under siege key Palestinian cities and adjacent refugee camps in the past few days, including within and near Tulkarem, Nablus, Jenin, Bethlehem, Beit Jala, Ramallah, Al Bireh, Qalqilya, Hebron and the Gaza Strip.

The organizations highlighted the even more extreme, intensive, Israeli methods of attacking civilians, that first started at Balata refugee camp in Nablus on 28 February 2002, but are now being employed in other refugee camps (including Tulkarem Nur al Shams; Jenin; Aaza, Aida and Deheisha in Bethlehem; Al Arrob in Hebron; Khan Younis, Rafah and Jabalya in Gaza), and other civilian areas. These tactics are being used pursuant to Sharon’s “new” stated policy of “hitting Palestinians hard [until it is] very painful. We must cause them losses, victims, so that they feel the heavy price”.

Military tactics used more intensively, include:

  • Use of heavy weaponry in intensive strikes, including ground missiles and tank shells from tanks, missiles from helicopter gunships and F-16 warplanes, deployment of tanks, armoured personnel carriers, and heavily armed paratroopers, and use of high velocity live ammunition;

  • High numbers of civilian casualties and fatalities, as a result of the disproportionate and lethal use of force in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Between 28 February 2002 to 10 March 2002 at least 113 killed and 368 injured. Since September 2000 to date 1,160 Palestinians killed and 18,307 injured.

  • Assassinations carried out during these operations where arrests or other means of restraint could have been used. Since November 2000 to 11 March 2002 at least 70 have been assassinated, with at least 20 bystanders (including 5 children).

  • Mass arbitrary arrests of all male Palestinians between age about 14 to about 48 years. The detainees, including children, have apparently been arbitrarily arrested, and held in detention camps outside their areas before it is determined whether they should be held or even questioned for suspected terrorist activity, contravening their rights against arbitrary arrest and detention. Since 28 February 2002 to date about 2,200 have apparently been arbitrarily arrested and detained. Cruel, inhuman and degrading methods used during these mass arrests have included blindfolding, hand-cuffing, strip-searching with removal of upper clothing, and writing of numbers on their arms (reported by the BBC and Ha’aretz, 12 March 2002).

  • Extensive destruction of property, wantonly and without military necessity, with destruction and/or damaging of civilian homes, workplaces, hospitals, ambulances, field clinics, schools, universities, churches and mosques; key infrastructure including water pipes/supplies and electricity lines. New methods used since Balata has included the destruction of all the walls between adjoining homes as soldiers move from home to home. Family homes have been blown up or otherwise destroyed by Israeli forces in situations where they state that “suspects” have been in those homes, rather than attempting to enter and arrest the purported suspects.

  • Access to vital services and supplies, such as electricity, water and food have been restricted or denied altogether, exacerbating the existing humanitarian crisis in all areas.

  • Movement of Palestinian vehicles throughout the West Bank has been banned since about 8 March 2002, except for those with express permission. Those traveling without such permission are being shot on sight without warning. Ambulances are also being attacked and denied permission to reach injured and sick patients or move them to hospitals. This ban intensifies the pre-existing severe restrictions on movement (including the hundreds of checkpoints; unmanned dirt blockades and trenches, and few iron gates) and siege that have made access to work, schools, universities, food and water, and other key humanitarian and health services severely restricted if not impossible, since September 2000.

  • Attacks on paramedics, medical staff and patients in ambulances, field clinics and hospitals have intensified. Since 28 February 2002 to date it is estimated that about 6 paramedics have been killed, 12 injured and 5 ambulances totally destroyed, and 10 partially damaged. From September 2000 to 1 March 2002 the PRCS estimate that about 165 of their ambulances have been attacked with about 69 destroyed (c. 68% of their fleet); about 122 emergency medical personnel injured. It is estimated that from September 2000 to 6 March 2002, about 17 medical staff have been killed.

  • The hindering and denial of access to humanitarian assistance and medical treatment are in violation of international humanitarian law. Deliberate attacks constituting willful killings or willfully caused serious injuries committed against the wounded or sick, or “against those medical or religious personnel, medical units or medical transports which are under the control of the adverse Party”, constitute grave breaches (i.e. war crimes) of article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention and article 85, Protocol 1 to the Geneva Conventions. The International Committee of the Red Cross and PRCS have publicly stated that all ambulances were clearly marked and were coordinating their movements closely with the Israeli authorities. Physicians for Human Rights-Israel lodged a second petition in the Israeli High Court on 9 March 2002 on the issue of Israeli attacks on ambulances and prevention of evacuation.

    LAW, MIFTAH and PCHR have condemned the so-called “justification” of all these methods that violate international humanitarian law, being used on the flimsy pretext of rooting out “terrorists” and “terrorist bases”. The attacks are being used in effect to punish the entire, defenseless population. Moreover, so-called security or military purposes cannot justify these methods employed that constitute violations of international humanitarian law, in particular where they constitute grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention and Protocol 1 to the Conventions (i.e. war crimes).

    The organizations referred to key violations of international humanitarian law and apparent grave breaches (war crimes) they are documenting during the course of these operations, including willful killings, willfully depriving protected persons of rights of fair and regular trial, disproportionate use of force intended to cause “great suffering or serious injury to body or health”, as well as “extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.”

    The organizations also referred to other forms of grave breaches (war crimes) that are being perpetrated as a result of the massive attacks against the Palestinian civilian population, and through the denial or restrictions in access to key food, water supplies and humanitarian aid, including “making of the civilian population the object of attack”, launching of “indiscriminate attacks affecting the civilian population or civilian objects in the knowledge that such attacks will cause excessive loss of life, injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects”, “making non-defended localities and demilitarized zones the object of attack”, making persons the “object of attack in the knowledge that [they are] hors de combat”, and “making the clearly-recognised historic monuments, works of art or places of worship which constitute the cultural or spiritual heritage of peoples and to which special protection has been given, the object of attack”.

    LAW, MIFTAH and PCHR have urged the international community to immediately intervene by:

  • Undertaking to unequivocally denounce these brutal actions, in particular the grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention (i.e. war crimes);

  • Ensuring the Israeli occupying power’s respect of its obligations by taking effective measures, in particular economic sanctions such as the immediate suspension of key trade agreements including the EU-Israel Association Agreement;

  • Ending these grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention (war crimes) and other serious violations of international humanitarian law by immediately sending an independent, effective international protection presence to the area;

  • Providing an alternative that is capable of dealing with the core of the problem and ending the Israeli occupation, illegal settlement policies and providing refugee rights of return.

  • Complying with their own obligations by:
    investigating, and bringing the perpetrators of such war crimes to trial, and by establishing a War Crimes Tribunal to prosecute such war criminals; and

  • ending all aid used to perpetrate such crimes in particular by ending the supply of all arms used against the Palestinian civilian population.

    LAW is a Palestinian human rights organisation. Nigel Parry lived in Ramallah and worked at Birzeit University during the transition from Israeli occupation of the town to Palestinian autonomy, 1994-1998. His photodiary from the period can be found at nigelparry.com/diary. Parry is one of the four founders of The Electronic Intifada.