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Where’s the Accountability for Israeli War Crimes?

by AUDREY BOMSE and JAMES MARC LEAS

Gaza City.

The Palestinian Authority would be “traitors” if they agreed to a condition the UK is seeking to impose in exchange for agreeing to  support Palestine upgrading its membership in the UN. So said Raji Sourani, Director of the Palestine Center for Human Rights (PCHR) at a meeting with lawyers from the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) in Gaza City today.

The condition is that Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, pledge not to pursue Israeli government and military officials for war crimes at the International Criminal Court. An article in the Guardian yesterday describes the pressure on Abbas to agree to the condition. Sourani said the entire Palestinian public knows that the Palestinian Authority would condemn itself–and that PCHR would make such a public condemnation–if the PA accepted that condition.

The article, “Britain ready to back Palestinian statehood at UN–Mahmoud Abbas pledge not to pursue Israel for war crimes and resumption of peace talks are UK conditions, states, “Whitehall officials said the Palestinians were now being asked to refrain from applying for membership of the International Criminal Court or the International Court of Justice, which could both be used to pursue war crimes charges or other legal claims against Israel.”

The key problem Sourani sees facing Gaza and the West Bank is no accountability for Israeli war crimes. Israeli political and military leaders know that if a tribunal considers the facts and the applicable international law, the tribunal could rule that Israeli conduct is illegal. Thus, the strong efforts to keep out of tribunals and to continue Israel’s ability to engage in military assaults.

The condition that the UK government is seeking to impose on the Palestinian Authority would guarantee the continued impunity and immunity Israeli officials enjoy. The trauma for Palestinians would would be repeated every few years, said Sourani.

What is needed first is for international law to apply to territories ruled by Israel and for those violating international law to be subject to criminal prosecution, according to PCHR.

PCHR is documenting the facts about violations of human rights. All 1.8 million people in Gaza, including PCHR staff, Sourani said, were traumatized by what they lived through during the 8 days of bombing and in conducting the interviews to prepare files for court.

US lawyers Audrey Bomse and James Marc Leas are in Gaza along with a large number of internationals to help bring the human stories of the bombing of Gaza to a wider public. Israeli forces killed 163 people and wounded over 1200 during its 8-day campaign. They also destroyed many private homes and civilian infrastructure, including government buildings in violation of Israel’s responsibilities as occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention. All this is happening at a time when the US is supplying many of the weapons used. The NLG calls for an end to US military aid to Israel until the Israeli government complies with international law.

Audrey Bomse and James Marc Leas are co-chairs of the NLG Free Palestine Subcommittee

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