Occupied Palestine: condemnation of collective punishment
Vienna, 14 January 2002/P/RE/17431c-is
In a message sent to the President of the Security Council, the
International Progress Organization strongly condemned Israel's policy of
collective punishment vis-à-vis the population in occupied Palestine. The
I.P.O. stated that - apart from the illegality of the Israeli occupation as
such - the recent demolitions of large numbers of Palestinian houses in the
Gaza area constitute a serious breach of Art. 53 of the Geneva
Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of
August 12, 1949. The International Progress Organization reiterated its
call for the immediate dispatch of a United Nations protection force to the
occupied Palestinian territories.
Report and commentary by Gideon
Levy in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, 13
"The punitive action executed by Israel
at the weekend in the Gaza Strip, and in particular the mass demolition of
homes in Rafah on Thursday morning, constitute a war crime. There is no
other way to describe and define the collective punishment of hundreds of
innocent civilians who have been left utterly destitute.
Under the cover of the media blackout in Israel - it is very difficult to
get to the southern Gaza Strip - bulldozers of the Israel Defense Forces
turned "homes into a wasteland," as M., a Rafah resident, said by phone. If
there was a time when at least part of Israeli public opinion was in an
uproar over the demolition of the home of a terrorist's family, and there
was a public debate over the justice of the act, now Israel is demolishing
the homes of hundreds of residents who don't even have a family connection
to terrorism - and hardly anyone says a word in protest.
Can we, the Israelis, even begin to imagine what it feels like to have
bulldozers suddenly appear in the middle of the night and plow under
everything a family has, as they and their children watch? Did the decision
makers take into account the hatred they are sowing in the hearts of the
children who witnessed the destruction of their homes? And what will become
of these wretched people now, people who even before their homes were razed
were doomed to a sordid life in one of the poorest of the refugee camps?
Where are they going to spend the bitterly cold nights?
And what was their sin? True, Rafah is a bastion of the Hamas organization,
a place where the Palestinian Authority wields little influence; but does
that justify the decision to launch war against every person in the city?
According to UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and
Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East, the IDF
[Israeli Defense Forces]
leveled 54 homes in Rafah, leaving 510 people without a roof over their
head; according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, the number left
homeless is 700. In the past year, before Thursday's action, Israel had
already demolished about 200 homes in Rafah. Even if the version put out by
the IDF Spokesman is correct - at first he claimed that "a few houses" were
demolished, and then conceded that "some of the houses were connected," so
that a few more homes than originally stated were razed - this was a cruel
The demolition of the houses in Rafah, the most extensive action of its kind
so far, came in reaction to the killing of four Israeli soldiers in the
Africa outpost near Kerem Shalom and the capture of the Karine A weapons
ship - but there is absolutely no connection between the victims of the
destruction and those two operations.
Even if we believe the IDF's contention that the Palestinians used the
houses as cover for opening fire on the IDF, and that their courtyards may
even have been used to dig tunnels into Egypt through which weapons were
smuggled, that is no justification for their demolition.
Destroying the homes of civilians is precisely the type of action that an
enlightened state does not do, under any circumstances. A country that
opposes terrorism against civilians cannot demolish homes of innocent
civilians and then claim that what it did is not an act of terrorism.
The impression is that the Rafah action was another brutal manifestation of
the Israeli need to "react" immediately, to inflict punishment - really, to
exact revenge - even if the reaction is neither morally justified nor
politically wise. In this context, the participation in the operation,
according to reports, of the Bedouin unit that lost four of its members in
the attack on Africa outpost last week, was particularly tasteless.
Israel is now treating the Gaza Strip as its own territory - destroying the
airport (and letting it be rebuilt), impounding dozens of fishing boats that
serve as a rare source of livelihood in the area, and demolishing homes
wholesale. Those who bear responsibility for these acts are not only the
"extremist" cabinet ministers, but also the "moderate" ministers of the
Labor Party, notably, of course, Defense Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer and
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres. They too will one day have to pay for being
part of this government and for the part they played in operations such as
the one in Rafah.
Israel will have to explain the difference between the violence it is
perpetrating and the violence perpetrated by the other side - and,
horrifically, it is hard to believe that the Palestinians will succeed in
preventing mass terrorist acts in this state of affairs. The next suicide
bomber may well emerge from the ruins of the homes in Rafah.
The officers and soldiers who take part in contemptible operations of this
kind will no longer be able to wash their hands of guilt and claim they are
only following orders. What do they tell their families on the day on which
they demolished dozens of tin huts, and what will they tell their children
in the future?
In a meeting sponsored by the Gush Shalom organization - which calls on
soldiers to refuse to serve in the occupied territories - last week in Tel
Aviv, Colonel (res.) Yigal Shochat, a former combat pilot, called on Air
Force pilots to refuse to obey orders to bomb civilians and liquidate wanted
individuals, as such actions constitute war crimes. As far as is known, not
one pilot has refused to obey an order to demolish the homes of civilians,
an action that can be defined as flagrantly illegal.
"These are disgusting days," the novelist David Grossman wrote on this page
a week ago, referring to the hoopla surrounding the capture of the weapons
ship. The IDF's punitive action in reaction to that affair only lends
credence to his despairing description."
END/Occupied Palestine: condemnation of