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Rights Groups Charge Israelis With War Crimes

  • Israel's iron fist tactics have been condemned as war atrocities by an international human rights group.
Exclusive to The SPOTLIGHT
By Christopher Bollyn

Israel's military tactics in the occupied territories have been strongly condemned and "could amount to war crimes," according to the London-based human rights group Amnesty International (AI).

An American group, Physicians for Human Rights USA (PHR), also investigated the clashes by sending a team of three physicians to the occupied territories in Gaza and the West Bank from Oct. 20-27.

PHR reinforced AI's findings, reporting that the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) uses live ammunition and rubber-coated steel bullets "excessively and inappropriately."

Five weeks of Arab-Israeli violence have left 200 people dead -- many of them children -- almost all of them Palestinian.

"There is a pattern of gross human rights violations that may well amount to war crimes," said Claudio Cordone, AI's international research director.

AI's latest findings go much further than its earlier criticism that Israeli troops were using "excessive force" against Palestinians.

Cordone repeated long-standing criticism of Israel's "iron fist" military response to Palestinian demonstrations that applies "combat reflexes" as opposed to what would be proper policing methods.

"There is excessive use of force resulting in killings that shouldn't take place," Cordone said. "If a kid is throwing stones at you but not posing any other risk -- you don't shoot him."

Geneva Conventions VIOLATED

AI says the Israeli forces are breaking the Geneva Conventions as well as their own rules, namely, that lethal force must only be used to counter an immediate threat to life.

As part of international humanitarian law, the Geneva Civilian Convention (1949) protects civilians under occupation and has applied to Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza since the 1967 war. An IDF senior officer told PHR that "the Fourth Geneva Convention and other humanitarian laws apply" to the current clashes.

The Geneva Conventions prohibit murder, torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment. Included in the Geneva Conventions is a law against force that results in disproportionate and/or indiscriminate killing of or violence toward civilians.

In an occupation, such as Israel's of the West Bank and Gaza, the rule of proportionality applies and prohibits excessive force against civilians.


Israel has repeatedly used combat helicopters firing heavy machine guns and armor-piercing missiles on Palestinian civilians, towns, and even ambulances.

The PHR team examined a Red Crescent Ambulance in Gaza which was damaged by a helicopter gunship. The Israeli helicopter strafed the ambulance with five 50-caliber shells that passed right through the ambulance, including a metal gurney.

The bullets used by the IDF against Jewish citizens in Israel or Jewish settlers in the occupied territories are very different than those used on Palestinians. The bullets used for Jewish riot control are solid rubber. There have been no reported deaths resulting from these bullets.

The so-called rubber bullets used by the IDF against Israel's Arab citizens and Palestinians are significantly different. The "Arab bullets" examined by the PHR team are merely rubber-coated steel bullets and very lethal.

The rubber-coated bullets used on Palestinians are of two shapes: spherical and cylindrical.

The bullets used against Arabs only look rubber with a thin 2 mm outer rubber shell around a solid steel core 1.83 cm in diameter.


PHR concluded that Israeli soldiers are shooting high-velocity live ammunition and rubber-coated steel bullets with intent to kill and maim Palestinian demonstrators, based on the high number of injuries to the head and thighs.

PHR's analysis of fatal gun shot wounds in Gaza reveals that approximately 50 percent were to the head. The high proportion of fatal head wounds suggests that soldiers are specifically targeting Palestinians' eyes.

The IDF spokesman told the PHR team that he was aware of the high incidence of gun shot wounds to the head, and did not dispute that most of these injuries were inflicted upon people who posed no immediate threat to any member of the IDF.

After reviewing medical records of 31 Palestinians killed in Gaza between Sept. 30 and Oct. 24, PHR found that 53 percent were shot by high velocity weapons and 38 percent were under the age of 18.

PHR reported a pattern of high velocity gunshot wounds to the leg, particularly to the thigh. These wounds cause extreme injury, usually producing complex fractures and extensive muscle, nerve, and vascular injury. The majority of victims of these injuries will be permanently disabled, according to PHR.

Witness reports, IDF statements and information provided to other human rights organizations indicate that those injured in this manner were at most throwing stones and were not carrying firearms.

The numerous reports of thigh wounds suggest a specific IDF policy, according to PHR.

"A response to throwing stones that results in permanent disability constitutes a gross violation of human rights," PHR concluded.


PHR reported numerous instances in which the IDF blocked hospitals in Jeru salem and prevented injured patients from receiving care.

PHR also reported IDF shooting at medical personnel, who were wearing vests clearly identifying them as medical personnel, while they were providing care to the injured.

According the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS), 33 ambulances were hit by gunfire and 17 were destroyed in 64 separate attacks. Between Oct. 1 and Oct. 23, PHR reported that 17 Pales tinian ambulances were "utterly de stroyed" by the IDF. During the week from Oct. 19 to Oct. 23 alone, PHR found that 26 ambulances were damaged by gunfire.

AI said that Israeli forces were no longer carrying out investigations into killings.

An IDF legal officer said soldiers, whose use of live ammunition results in the death of a Palestinian, need not file a report or face an investigation into the justification for the use of their weapon. This is a departure from the procedures in place during the 1987-1993 Intifada.