No justice for Gaza: plus ça change

This time a year ago the world was reeling at the scenes of devastation coming out of Gaza. Now we’re reeling at the scenes of devastation coming out of Haiti.

Plus ça change. Except … Gaza was man-made, Haiti was not. Yes, the death toll in Gaza was on quite a different scale to the horrifying numbers emerging from Port-au-Prince – at least 1,383 Palestinians and 13 Israelis killed compared to Haitians in their tens of thousands (or even, tragically, in excess of 100,000). But, still, the death and destruction in the Middle East was massive. It inflicted huge suffering on thousands of people, and was avoidable in a way that the death toll in the Caribbean hasn’t been.

Amnesty’s got a new update out today on the after-effects – the after-shocks – of the pulverising Israeli offensive on Gaza. It’s predictably grim reading. Twenty thousand Palestinians are still living in temporary shelter after their homes were obliterated. Depressingly enough, their efforts to rebuild houses, businesses, roads and other infrastructure have been thwarted by Israel’s blockade of Gaza (see my December post for details of how this has reduced to a trickle the supply of building materials into Gaza).

The Israeli government argument that its forces acted in response to Palestinian rocket attacks into southern Israel has never, as far as I can see, accounted for the scale of Operation Cast Lead: 3,500 homes and 18 schools totally destroyed, with far higher numbers badly damaged, including 700 business properties.

Israel always had, and always will have, an absolute right to protect its citizens from attack – but by these devastating means? A crushing assault on a heavily-crowded territory in the midst of a swingeing blockade – collectively punishing an entire population like this is a breach of international humanitarian law and utterly indefensible.

Research from Amnesty and others points to war crimes having been committed by both sides in the Gaza conflict – both indiscriminate Palestinian rocket attacks into southern Israeli towns and indiscriminate Israel Defense Forces attacks on Gaza City and elsewhere (see previous posts here, here, here and here).

The question now is what is going to be done about it? The UN Goldstone investigation has thrown down a gauntlet to both sides: properly investigate or it could go to the International Criminal Court. The signs are that no meaningful, independent investigations are on the cards. Meanwhile, of course, the Israeli government has reacted furiously to last month’s attempt to have their former foreign minister Tzipi Livni arrested in the UK.

So what next? Shamefully, it’s looking as if Britain is set to bend to Israeli pressure and restrict the issuing of arrest warrants for suspected war criminals at large here in the UK. Net result – Impunity for war criminals 1: International justice 0. Please support Amnesty’s call on the UK government to stand up for its own avowed principles on international justice and resist external pressure that could turn Britain into a haven for war criminals.

The 2008-9 Gaza conflict was a horrible start to last year, the Haitian earthquake has been a horrible start to this one. Let’s at least support efforts to use man-made law to bring justice and relief to those whose lives have been turned upside down by man-made havoc and destruction.

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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