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Gaza Update: Shooting Lions and Lawyering Up

Late reports from Rafah note that Egypt has closed the Rafah crossing into Gaza from fear that Israel is gearing up for new attacks. 

Israeli attacks have not ended during the "cease-fire" period – the Israeli navy has continued shelling Gazan fishing boats and the coastline:

It’s barely dawn and the Israeli warships off the Gaza Strip coast are opening fire on the small Palestinian fishing boats a few hundred yards off the shore. The Palestinians pulling in their meager hauls from the cloudy, sewage-saturated waters try to ignore the incoming fire that splashes in the waters around them.

The Israeli ships enforcing a Naval blockage of Gaza have been firing on the fisherman every morning in an apparent attempt to keep them from getting too far from shore.

But this morning, Thursday, Jan. 22nd, the Israeli fire blasts through the morning all along the coastline. Then the Israeli fire gets closer to shore. By late morning, five Palestinians, including a little girl, have been wounded by the Israeli cease fire shelling.

In meetings in Egypt, Hamas has offered Israel a one year truce on the condition that the border crossing be opened. So far, Israel has refused to agree to the border opening and demanded that Hamas (Gaza’s elected government) not be allowed to manage the rebuilding:

"Any activity on the ground in Gaza, we will have to make sure it doesn’t fall into the hands of Hamas," said Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog, who has been charged with overseeing the delivery of humanitarian aid. 

Israel’s outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said last week that "Hamas cannot … be allowed to lead the reconstruction process in the strip and thereby gain some measure of legitimacy.

Along with the back and forth on extending the precarious cease-fire, the Israeli government continues their plans to defend against war crimes prosecutions.  The Israeli Cabinet is lawyering up

Defense Minister Ehud Barak explained the decision to "provide full legal defense to any soldier" facing international war crimes prosecution by saying:

"The endorsement will ensure that since we sent out soldiers to carry out Operation Cast Lead, which was carried out exceptionally and by the most moral army in the world, the state of Israel, which sent the IDF on the mission, will give soldiers and commanders backing in the face of any external accusations or internal self-flagellation," he said. 

But look more closely at this "most moral army:"

Ha’aretz reports that the materials the official IDF rabbinate handed out to forces during the attack on Gaza included such statements as:

The IDF rabbinate, also quoting Rabbi Aviner, describes the appropriate code of conduct in the field: "When you show mercy to a cruel enemy, you are being cruel to pure and honest soldiers. This is terribly immoral. These are not games at the amusement park where sportsmanship teaches one to make concessions. This is a war on murderers. ‘A la guerre comme a la guerre.’" 

And in a Ha’aretz article suggesting that the IDF cannot claim to have "won the war" when there was no real "war", Reuven Pedatzur describes the Israeli ROE:

At the start of the ground offensive, senior command decided to avoid endangering the lives of soldiers, even at the price of seriously harming the civilian population. This is why the IDF made use of massive force during its advance in the Strip. As a Golani brigade commander explained, if there is any concern that a house is booby-trapped, even if it is filled with civilians, it should be targeted and hit, to ensure that it is not mined – only then should it be approached. Without going into the moral aspects, such fighting tactics explain why there were no instances in which there was a need to assault homes where Hamas fighters were holed up. 

Other outcomes of this fighting method were the extensive damage and the deaths of many civilians. According to IDF statistics, almost two thirds of Palestinians killed were civilians. 

Given the reports that have been published of the IDFs behavior in Gaza, the concern over war crimes prosecutions is not surprising – yet actual trials may be quite difficult to start as Fouad Riad, a former Yugoslavian ICT judge discusses issues here. (h/t markfromireland)

While Human Rights organizations explore how to bring charge, more reports of violations of international law are emerging as more foreign journalists gain access to Gaza. Just one example from the Toronto Star

Abed Rabbo said he and other family members were in their home in a five-storey apartment building when Israeli tanks entered the area. A voice in Arabic boomed over a loudspeaker, advising residents to flee for their safety because the neighbourhood was to be attacked by Israeli forces.

Carrying a white flag, Abed Rabbo and nine family members left their home, meaning to flee, but quickly confronted three Israeli tanks parked near their house.

"There were two soldiers sitting on one of the tanks," said Abed Rabbo. "They were eating chips. They looked at us. We expected them to tell us where to go."

But that is not what took place.

"Suddenly, by surprise, a soldier came out of the turret, out to his waist," said Abed Rabbo. "He got an M-16, and he started shooting at us. He shot the kids."

Hit were Souad, 7, Samar, 4, and Amal, 2, all nieces of Abed Rabbo. His mother – the girls’ grandmother – was also hit, suffering three bullet wounds. Her name is also Souad.

He said he and the other adults pulled their wounded family members back into their apartment building. By this time, the younger Souad was dead. Amal died about 10 minutes later, he said.

And while not a direct contravention of Geneva, Emad Jameel Qasim, zookeeper for the Gaza Zoo wants to bring charges against Israel for the cost of rebuilding this one, rare, bright spot in the lives of Gaza’s children: 

A month ago, it was attracting families – he says the zoo drew up to 1,000 visitors each day. He points at the foot-long hole in the camel in one of the enclosures…. Around every corner, inside almost every cage are dead animals, who have been lying in their cages since the Israeli incursion.

Qasim doesn’t understand why they chose to destroy his zoo. And it’s difficult to disagree with him. Most of them have been shot at point blank range.

"The first thing the Israelis did was shoot at the lions – the animals ran out of their cage and into the office building. Actually they hid there."…

Inside the main building, soldiers defaced the walls, ripped out one of the toilets and removed all of the hard drives from the office computers. We asked him why they targeted the zoo. He laughs. "I don’t know. You have to go and ask the Israelis. This is a place where people come to relax and enjoy themselves. It’s not a place of politics."

When asked to respond to Israeli charges that Hamas was firing from "civilian areas", he says:

"Let me answer that with a question. We are under attack. There was not a single person in this zoo. Just the animals. We all fled before they came. What purpose does it serve to walk around shooting animals and destroying the place?"…

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Siun is a proud Old Town resident who shares her home with two cats and a Great Pyrenees. She’s worked in media relations and on the net since before the www, led the development of a corporate responsibility news service, and knows what a mult box is thanks to Nico. When not swimming in the Lake, she leads a team working on sustainability tools.

Email: media dot firedoglake at gmail dot com