UN human rights expert Richard Falk said on Thursday that the recent Israeli military operation on the Gaza Strip "raises the specter of systematic war crimes" and needs to be investigated. Falk told journalists in Geneva from his home in California that he had little doubt as to the "unavoidably inhuman character of a large-scale military operation of the sort that Israel has initiated... against an essentially defenseless population." Charging that "unlawful targets have been selected" by Israeli forces during the fighting, Falk insisted that Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip including children and the wounded were effectively trapped in a war zone and prevented from fleeing.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has issued demands for a full explanation of "outrageous" Israeli attacks on UN facilities on the Gaza Strip including a school used as a refuge for civilians, killing dozens. The UN chief noted that Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert had promised to provide results of an Israeli inquiry into the attacks "on an urgent basis" and said he would then decide on "appropriate follow-up action." On January 12, the 47-member UN Human Rights Council voted by a large majority to launch an investigation into "grave" human rights violations by Israeli forces against Palestinians. Israel is also facing questions from human rights groups regarding the use of illegal weapons, including white phosphorus munitions, against Palestinian civilians on the Gaza Strip.
These charges come amid renewed calls for a global boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel from groups such as the Global BDS Movement. Recently, Canadian journalist Naomi Klein wrote in support of such a boycott: "The best strategy to end the increasingly bloody occupation is for Israel to become the target of the kind of global movement that put an end to apartheid in South Africa." Some are also calling for a boycott of US exports for its continuing support of Israeli actions against Palestinians.
The Palestinian death toll from Israel's recent war on Gaza currently stands at around 1300, most of whom were innocent civilians, and around a third of whom were children. Ten Israeli soldiers and three civilians were killed in Israel during the same period, an indicator of Israel's massively disproportionate response to Palestinian attacks on Israelis. A total of twenty-eight Israelis have been killed by Palestinian rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip since 2001, a tiny fraction of the number of Palestinians killed in Israel's recent Gaza actions alone. These numbers echo casualty figures from the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict which consistently show innocent Palestinian dead including children massively outnumbering Israelis.
Rocket attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip deserve both condemnation by the international community and a proportionate response by Israel. The killing of one Israeli in a rocket attack does not, however, entitle Israel to respond by slaughtering twenty, thirty, or forty innocent Palestinian civilians. Such slaughter, furthermore, will no more stop Hamas' rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip than it stopped Hezbollah's rocket attacks from Lebanon in 2006. Just as Hezbollah could declare victory in the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war simply by surviving to fight another day, so Hamas can declare victory in Gaza this day. Meanwhile, Israel increasingly becomes a pariah state in the eyes of the world, as does the United States for its complicity in the slaughter. Ever-growing anger particularly in the Arab world serves America's national security interests no better than it serves Israel's.
Behold, America: Your tax dollars at work in the Middle East.
Out of the tragedy of Gaza, perhaps, will come renewed opportunity to hold Israel accountable for its actions, to press for a new US policy on the Middle East, for peace, and for an end to Israel's long and bloody occupation of the Palestinian Territories. Boycott, divestment, and sanctions efforts such as those promoted by the Global BDS Movement have a proven track record of success as in the case of South Africa, and deserve our support. UN efforts to hold Israel accountable for its actions also deserve our support, but are likely to require UN Security Council action of the type America with its power of veto most often and most notoriously obstructs. Pressure, therefore, needs to be applied to the White House and Congress for a new US approach to the conflict and a new US attitude in the UN Security Council. Whether our new ambassador to the UN offers active support with a "yes" vote or passive permission by abstaining on UN efforts to hold Israel accountable for its actions, our message to the new administration regarding these efforts can be stated clearly and briefly as follows: NO VETO!
Slide show: Gaza Massacre by Sabbah.
Photo gallery: Child victims of Gaza violence.