23 February 2009

One family - one shoah -holocaust (continued)

When the family returned to their home after Israel's unilateral ceasefire they discovered it had been shelled twice and all their animals killed. 250 metres away, and visible through a hole in the side of the house, is the toppled minaret of the local mosque, which took a direct hit. An airstrike also hit Beit Lahiya's large Ibrahim Al Maqadmah mosque on the 2 January 2009, killing 16 people and injuring dozens more. A total of 2,400 homes were completely destroyed during the three week offensive and over 12,000 were partially damaged.

International organizations have established a number of tent camps around the Gaza Strip. But in search of adequate shelter from the elements, some displaced and homeless people have moved in with extended family members in other areas. This is further squeezing Gaza's urban centres and placing an extra burden on already densely populated areas. It also means the scale of the problem of internally displaced people in Gaza is less visibly apparent.

On what was the second floor of the house, Najat's sister-in-law Faiza, 44 picks through the remains of their children's clothes. 'Sometimes I wish we'd died rather than this' she says. 'There were no militants near our house. Is this not haram [forbidden]? Destroying homes, bombing mosques, killing chickens. Is that not haram?'

Maysa has been too upset to study since the end of the offensive. 'She had 99 per cent in English, but all her school reports and prizes are under that sand,' says her mother Najat. 'What will happen to her future?' She shows me her bedroom now consumed by a mound of earth, and the edge of her bed that pokes out of the sand. 'I had a few savings under my mattress,' she says. 'Who knows if I'll ever find them.'

International law and the destruction of civilian property

Operation Cast Lead, Israel's 22 day offensive on the Gaza Strip between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009 had a devastating impact on Gaza's physical infrastructure.

The preliminary list of damage to civilian property includes:
1. 2,400 homes destroyed, and at least 12,000 homes damaged.
2. 60 police stations and 30 mosques completely destroyed.
3. 21 private enterprises, including cafeterias, wedding halls and hotels.
4. 28 public civilian facilities, including ministry buildings, municipalities and fishing harbours.
5. 121 industrial/commercial workshops destroyed and at least 200 damaged.
6. 5 concrete factories and one juice factory destroyed.
7. 5 media and 2 health institutions destroyed.
8. 29 educational facilities including schools damaged or destroyed.
9ยท Thousands of dunums [[i]] of agricultural land razed to the ground.

Israel's destruction of property and land belonging to Palestinians has been a feature of its occupation since 1967 and is in clear violation of international law. It has also contributed to the steadily deteriorating humanitarian situation in the occupied territories.

Despite Israel's withdrawal of its forces and settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Israel remains in control of Gaza's seas, external borders, and airspace. The Gaza Strip is defined as occupied territory in accordance with international law. Consequently, as the Occupying Power, Israel remains bound by international humanitarian law. The targeting of civilian property violates the most basic tenets of humanitarian law, and is explicitly prohibited by both customary international humanitarian law and the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949.
Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits the targeting of civilian property, except where such destruction is rendered 'absolutely necessary by military operations'. As the Occupying Power, Israel has specific legally-binding obligations towards the civilian population of the Gaza Strip. If the destruction of property is found to be disproportionate to the direct military advantage gained, this would constitute a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions.

The systematic nature of Israel's destruction of Palestinian civilian property and its use of heavy artillery, tanks and fighter jets against heavily populated residential areas has resulted in a disproportionately high number of civilian deaths and injuries, as well as extensive damage to civilian objects. The attacks are therefore illegal; they violate the principles of distinction and proportionality, and as such constitute grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights is calling upon the High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions to fulfill their obligations under Article 1 of the Fourth Geneva Convention to prevent such crimes, as well as their legally-binding obligation in accordance with Article 146 to bring persons alleged of committing grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions to justice.