Red Cross training Gaza fighters in international humanitarian law

Hamas fighters pray during the funeral of their comrades in Deir al-Balah, central Gaza Strip, 4 December 2007. An Israeli airstrike on the Gaza Strip killed three Hamas fighters overnight, medics said today. The victims were all members of Hamas’s armed wing, the al-Zaddine al-Qassam Brigades. Such assasination strikes are frequent in the densely populated Gaza Strip, killing many bystanders. (Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)


The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Gaza has recently begun training Palestinian resistance fighters to respect international humanitarian law.

For the past several years various Palestinian resistance factions in Gaza have fired crude homemade rockets at nearby Israeli towns, killing about a dozen Israeli civilians and recently injuring 69 soldiers in one such attack. The rockets usually land in open spaces but cause panic amongst Israeli civilians.

Ostensibly to prevent the firing of rockets into Israel and more likely to pressure the Palestinian civilian population into tempering their support of the resistance, the Israeli army has extrajudicially executed resistance activists, repeatedly invaded certain areas of Gaza and razed homes and agricultural land to make “buffer” zones near the Gaza-Israel border.

According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, more than 1,800 civilians have been killed by Israeli forces in Gaza since September 2000.

This year, more than 100 Palestinians, mostly resistance activists, have been killed during Israeli army air strikes on and incursions into Gaza.

According to the spokesperson of the Salah al-Din brigades, Abu Mojahed, the armed wing of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) in Gaza, which has been attending the ICRC’s humanitarian training, “This is a part of the ICRC’s mission, which we feel we should respect and deal with.”

He adds, “We have met with the ICRC more than once concerning humanitarian precautions, particularly first aid.”

“The Israeli army’s allegations are false when they claim to be aware and avoid harm to women and children,” said Abu Mojahed about the Israeli army’s targeting of Palestinian homes close to the Gaza-Israel border.

“We always avoid areas where there is a civilian population so we can guarantee less harm is inflicted. However, the Israeli army intentionally harms civilians, alleging that there happened to be resistance fighters in the targeted area.”

He added, “We are very aware of protecting the civilian lives. We reject the Israeli claims that we use civilians as human shields. It is the Israeli army that does not take the human lives into account.”

Though the ICRC would likely disagree and the casualty statistics stand in contradiction, he adds, “All the Israeli population are not civilians; all of them have been militarily trained or served in the army. Nevertheless, we have always attacked military targets,” Abu Mojahed said.

The ICRC’s training comes while the Israeli army has repeatedly accused Palestinian resistance fighters of using civilians as human shields when launching the homemade rockets.

Over the past several months, many women and children have been killed in and around their homes from Israeli shelling of dense residential areas from which Israel accuses Palestinians of launching rockets.

ICRC’s spokesperson in Gaza, Iyad Nasir, said of the significance of the training, “We are teaching and training the Palestinian resistance factions the laws, texts and and the spirit [of international humanitarian law] as well as the applicability of these laws to the conflict they are involved in. At the same time, we are doing the same with the Israeli army.”

“We are helping them to save their lives and to try and rescue the people who are injured and all the factions, without exception, have applied to take part in the trainings.”

When asked of the Israel army’s violtions of internatial law, Nasir replied, “What we are doing is theoretically disseminating international humanitarian law as well as the means to apply such laws, but when it comes to applying these laws, it’s solely the responsibility of the parties concerned in the conflict.”

Since mid-June, Israel has been imposing a strict closure on the Gaza Strip, declaring the region a “enemy entity” on 19 September and cutting fuel supplies to Gaza’s 1.4 million-strong population in October.

Israel says such policies are designed to stop the firing of rockest from Gaza, though human rights organizations have said that they amount to collective punishment of the Palestinian civilian population.

Rami Almeghari is currently contributor to several media outlets including the Palestine Chronicle, aljazeerah.info, IMEMC, The Electronic Intifada and Free Speech Radio News. Rami is also a former senior English translator at and editor in chief of the international press center of the Gaza-based Palestinian Information Service. He can be contacted at rami_almeghari at hotmail.com.