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14 Jan, 2009 06:33

Demands for investigation into alleged Israeli war crimes

With ever-increasing violence and pictures of civilian casualties within Gaza, there have been increasing calls from organisations around the world for investigations into whether Israel has committed war crimes.

These have included United Nations relief agencies and international human rights organisations such as Amnesty International. 

Israel denies it has committed war crimes and rejects the need for any investigation. However, there have been calls to make some Israeli generals answer allegations at the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague, in the same way that politicians and military figures from the former Yugoslavia were.

“What we see happening every day is definitely tantamount to a war crime. The killing of children, women and innocent civilians is happening every day,” said Dr. Rafiq Al Husseini, Chief of Staff of the Palestinian Authority, to RT.

A group of Israeli generals, all veterans of the 1967 Six-Day War, have met in Tel Aviv to discuss the war in the Gaza Strip. Neither in the past nor any of them now have had to face charges of war crimes.

“In most cases we were fighting against armies and when you fight against an army there is a code of war,” explains retired Major-General Nati Sharony.

He says today’s situation is quite different now: “There were instances where we entered into Arab cities along the West Bank or other places and civilians were hurt, but nothing compared to what takes place today”.

Still, he believes the Israeli military did what they should to prevent civilian casualties and blames Hamas for not letting the people out.

“In a highly populated area where everything is so dense and you cannot see what goes on inside those houses and the obscured alleys, the civilian population can be hurt and that is the reason why we spread so many fliers to tell people to get out of there. And in many cases we do know that Hamas didn’t let them go,” Nati Sharony said.

It is not only international public opinion that calls for Israeli generals to be brought before the courts, but also within Israeli society there is a growing chorus of voices demanding the same.

“International courts are a growing phenomenon and there is a possibility that also Israeli pilots or commandos will be pulled before international proceedings,” believes leader of Israeli Communist Party Dov Hanin.

A year ago an airplane belonging to the Israeli national airline El Al landed at London’s Heathrow airport. On board was a former Israeli commander in the Gaza Strip, Major General Doron Almog. Waiting for him were detectives from New Scotland Yard. They had received orders to arrest him following an application by British lawyers acting for Palestinian victims in Gaza. Almog, however, was tipped off and never got off the plane.

He says accusations of war crimes are inevitable when a country is at war:

“This is a fundamental problem. There will be a black stamp on the careers of all Israeli commandos in the future after they finish their military service. This isn’t just my case, it’s something Israeli society, Israeli institutions and the Israeli legal system will have to deal with. It’s not just our problem. Every democratic society which goes to war will find itself in the same situation”.

Others in Israel blame the international community for double standards.

“When people come to us, especially the British, they don’t come with clean hands – because they apply to us standards which they’ve never applied at home. What they’ve done in Northern Ireland, how they’ve treated the population there, when the population was mixed civilians and fighters, and the emergency rule they applied there with expelling people and torture – we’ve done nothing of that sort,” said former Israeli intelligence officer Reuven Merhav.

Hostilities set to go on

The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is in Egypt as part of his continued efforts to push for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. He is touring the region in an attempt to drum up support for a halt to the hostilities.

Meanwhile, Israeli troops have continued airstrikes overnight and are reported to be engaged in street fights in several suburbs of Gaza city. Some 53 trucks carrying aid have arrived in Gaza where the humanitarian situation is said to be at crisis point.

Israel says it will continue its offensive until it succeeds in weakening Hamas's potential for launching rockets into Israel.

It’s difficult to believe that Israel will follow the Yugoslav example and hand over its people to international courts, but as the violence in the Middle East continues, more and more servicemen will find themselves unsure of getting out of a plane on foreign soil.