Today, Tuesday 27 December 2011, marks the third anniversary of the Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip (code-named “Operation Cast Lead” (OCL)). During this 22-day military operation, the Israeli occupation forces (IOF) killed hundreds of Palestinians, destroyed and razed tens of thousands of residential houses, public facilities, and agricultural infrastructure, detained hundreds of Palestinians and subjected them to torture, and used civilians, including children, as human shields.
Operation Cast Lead was unprecedented in its scope and brutality. The IOF attacked civilians and civilian objects in flagrant violation of international law, conduct that rises to the level of war crimes and may have constituted crimes against humanity, as described by the UN Fact-Finding Mission.
During the course of OCL, Al Mezan followed developments and documented the conduct of hostilities. The evidence showed clearly that the IOF acted in serious violation of international law. According to Al Mezan’s database, during OCL the IOF killed 1,411 persons in Gaza, including 355 children and 111 women. The IOF killed 949 civilians and 230 members of police forces. The IOF also destroyed at least 11,151 houses, of which 2,644 were totally demolished. Another 30,000 residences at a minimum were slightly damaged. The IOF razed 6,652 dunams (one dunam equals 1,000 square meters) of agricultural land, including 1,173 dunams that had often been razed in the past. The IOF also destroyed 614 public facilities, 643 vehicles, 211 industrial facilities, and 705 commercial facilities.
Three years after this aggression, tens of thousands of civilians in Gaza continue to live a life of displacement. The international community has failed to lift the siege, itself a violation of international law, and to assume its legal obligations to ensure respect for international law and hold those who have flagrantly violated it accountable for their acts. As a result, the IOF has been encouraged to continue its violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL), resulting in the death of hundreds of victims since the end of the aggression. During the past three years, victims have been killed in military attacks that violated customary and IHL rules and basic principles. Patients have passed away or seen their health conditions deteriorate as the IOF prevents their access to receive medical treatment. The IOF attacks Palestinian fishermen on daily basis and cuts them off from their source of livelihood.
Three years after OCL, Al Mezan questions the failure of the international community to take tangible and effective steps to end the systematic immunity or to lay the foundations for accountability for violations of IHL and IHRL. States and international organizations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN, have described the Israeli siege as an intolerable form of unlawful collective punishment.
In the context of the siege, the systematic immunity, and the ongoing attacks against civilians, the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights condemns these Israeli acts and the silence of the international community. During the last three years following the end of OCL, the IOF has killed 225 persons, and destroyed or damaged 229 homes, 52 commercial stores, 29 industrial facilities, and 56 public facilities, including 24 educational facilities. The IOF has also razed 4,348 dunams, imposed collective punishment on the civilians of Gaza, and acted to obstruct the achievement of justice for the victims of these violations, which represents systematic persecution of the population; a crime against humanity.
Al Mezan calls on the international community to promptly take effective measures to:
· Lift the unlawful and immoral siege imposed on the Gaza Strip by securing free passage of people and commodities, including the construction materials needed for the reconstruction of Gaza, without any further delay;
· Ensure the protection of civilians and their property and dignity in the face of the continuing Israeli attacks on the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt);
· Enforce international mechanisms of accountability for violators of international law, and provide redress for the victims of violations; and · Accelerate the efforts to end the occupation and secure Palestinians’ collective right to self-determination in accordance with international law.
The Al Mezan Center for Human Rights declares that it will continue its efforts to expose the flagrant violations of IHL and IHRL in the oPt. It also will continue its work with international and Palestinian human rights organizations to exert pressure on the international community to end its policy of silence and to uphold its legal obligations, particularly those arising from the Fourth Geneva Convention, to ensure protection for civilians and pursue Israeli war criminals.