Human rights groups argued Wednesday that a detailed probe into Hamas's firing of Kassam rockets at Israeli communities is not necessary, because it constitutes such a "blatant" war crime. By contrast, Israel's actions are more complex, and therefore do require such investigation, they said.
War crimes, said Sarit Micha'eli of B'tselem, are those actions that violate Article III of the Geneva Convention, and it was clear that Hamas was in violation of the requirement of distinction between civilian and military targets.
"It makes it quite easy regarding Hamas. It is quite clear that they are attacking and targeting civilians. When someone straps a bomb on themselves or fire missiles at civilians, the details are less important. It is clearly a war crime without even looking at the details," she said. "Even if they fired a Kassam missile as a military target, the fact that it is an inaccurate weapon, it would still count as an indiscriminate attack."
"With Israel things are more complicated because Israel states it does not deliberately target civilians and that it safeguards them. With Israel, you have to investigate each specific incident because even if a civilian is killed in an attack, it doesn't mean its necessarily a war crime. Targeting civilians is a war crime, but the damage to civilians in a given situation isn't indicative of a war crime."
"The Israeli authorities deny everything, so one has to prove what happened in a way that you don't need to do with the Palestinian rockets," said Donatella Rovera of Amnesty International.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum was quoted by AP Wednesday as saying Hamas attacks on southern Israel towns are "a means of self-defense."
"Those are not civilians. They are all soldiers," Barhoum said of the residents of southern Israel. "We are firing at places that bring us the F-16s, the warplanes and the tanks."
But Micha'eli dismissed Barhoum's statements as absurd. "No credible human rights law expert would accept that excuse," she added.
Also on Wednesday, Jerusalem-based watchdog NGO Monitor today released a report analyzing NGO coverage of the recent Gaza conflict. The report documents the over 500 statements released by over 50 NGOs in the month covering the fighting and its immediate aftermath.
NGO Monitor accused the groups behind the statements of devoting minimal attention to Israeli human rights and casualties, as well as the "consistent manipulation of international law by NGOs in their statements on Gaza."
In 2008 alone, they wrote, NGOs issued over 300 statements in condemnation of Israel's policy regarding Hamas-controlled Gaza. This contrasts with a handful of statements condemning over 6,500 rockets fired on Israel from Gaza since disengagement in 2005.
NGO Monitor's Executive Director, Prof. Gerald Steinberg commented, "The NGO campaign in the Gaza conflict further erodes what remains of the moral foundation and the universality of the human rights movement. The consistent attempt to demonize Israel in the media and in the courts while turning a blind eye to the illegal activities of Hamas demonstrates that many human rights groups have lost their moral compass."
The organization warned that anti-Israel activities are likely "to continue through the persistent attempts by NGOs to bring 'war crimes' charges against Israeli military and political leaders in international law courts,' noting that "NGOs including Adalah, Amnesty International and Ittijah have already called for charges to be brought over Gaza."
In addition, they warned, the upcoming UN Durban Review Conference was likely to become another venue for similar attacks against Israel's actions in Gaza.
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