Human Rights Organizations Condemn Israeli Supreme Court’s Reply Concerning Israeli Forces’ Use of White Phosphorous in Built-up Areas

The undersigned human rights organizations strongly condemn the Israeli Supreme Court’s reply to a petition filed by human rights organizations to prevent the Israeli military from using white phosphorous in built-up areas. They believe that the court’s decision leaves the door open for continuing the use of white phosphorous in built-up areas in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), extremely endangering the lives of the civilian population.

On 09 July 2013, the Israeli Supreme Court accepted the pledge presented by the Israeli public prosecution, representing the State, to abstain from using white phosphorous against civilians, excluding in exceptional cases. Details of such cases were classified as confidential and were not made available to the petitioners or the public, which do not practically ban the use of white phosphorous in built-up areas in the future, but this time by the consent of the highest Israeli judicial body.

The undersigned organizations point out that white phosphorous is an inflammable chemical compound that causes second and third degree chemical burns once the skin is subjected to it. It also seriously endangers the lives of civilians, and may cause death if it is touched, inhaled or swallowed as it contains poisonous substances.

According to reports of Palestinian human rights organizations, the Israeli military extensively used white phosphorous during its offensive on the Gaza Strip in the period 27 December 2008 – 18 January 2009 (“Operation Cast Lead”). The Israeli military used white phosphorous bombs against civilian persons and facilities in Khuza’a village, east of the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Yunis; Tal al-Hawa neighborhood in the southwest of Gaza City; and the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahia. As a result of the use of white phosphorous bombs in populated areas and against civilian shelters at UNRWA schools, 12 Palestinian civilians were killed. Some facilities were also burnt, including UNRWA’s main warehouses, the buildings of al-Quds and al-Wafa hospitals, the office of Palestine Red Crescent Society in Gaza City and an UNRWA school in Beit Lahia.

The report of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in Gaza (Goldstone Report) observed in detail the Israeli military’s use of white phosphorous bombs, thus confirming reports of human rights organizations. The report stated: “…The Mission finds that the Israeli armed forces were systematically reckless in determining its use in built-up areas.” It also recommended Israel to seriously consider banning the use of white phosphorous in built-up areas.

The undersigned organizations reiterate their condemnation of the continued legal cover provided by the Israeli Supreme Court for Israeli crimes against Palestinian civilians, and calls upon the international community, especially the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions, to fulfill their legal obligation to provide protection to Palestinian civilians and to exert pressure on Israel to completely ban the use of white phosphorous in built-up areas.