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PLO official Hanan Ashrawi: Israel’s assault on Gaza is ‘state terrorism’ and should be referred to the International Criminal Court

By Alex Kane          26 July 2014        Mondoweiss

PLO official Dr. Hanan Ashrawi. (Photo: New America Foundation/Flickr)

PLO official Dr. Hanan Ashrawi. (Photo: New America Foundation/Flickr)

Israel’s assault on Gaza constitutes “state terrorism” and the state should be referred to the International Criminal Court, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) Hanan Ashrawi charged in an interview Friday.

“When you target civilians, this is terrorism, but it is state terrorism, because it is taken as a result of political decisions giving orders to the army and the army executing these orders by killing civilians. Otherwise, how do you explain that the vast majority of victims are women and children?” Dr. Ashrawi told me over the phone. She is a member of the PLO’s executive committee–the body that represents Palestine internationally–and is a prominent spokeswoman for the Palestinian cause.

Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip has claimed the lives of over 800 Palestinians, the vast majority of them civilians. Human rights organizations have echoed Ashrawi’s charge that Israel has committed war crimes.

Ashrawi has recently attracted attention in the U.S. because of an emotional interview aired on ABC News, in which she said Israel was carrying out a “deliberate massacre” in the Gaza Strip. Ashrawi has also made headline

or her threats to bring Israel to the International Criminal Court over alleged war crimes in Gaza. She told me that Palestinian officials “have taken the decision” to go to the ICC. And hours after the early Friday interview, the Associated Press reportedthat through a Paris-based lawyer, “top Palestinian officials have filed a complaint to the International Criminal Court, accusing Israel of war crimes in Gaza.” Israel and the U.S. strenuously oppose such a move.

It’s doubtful the ICC will take on the case, and they first have to decide whether they have jurisdiction over the Palestinian territories. The “state of Palestine,” as the United Nations now calls it since the 2012 vote granting non-member observer state status to Palestine, has not acceded to the ICC because of the Israeli threats. But Ashrawi said that another avenue to the ICC was the UN Human Rights Council’s investigation into Israeli war crimes in Gaza. The council voted to establish an inquiry over the objections of the U.S. this week.

I interviewed Ashrawi on another day of intensive diplomacy aimed at securing at least a temporary cease-fire to halt the fighting between Israel and the Palestinian factions battling the state. Secretary of State John Kerry was in the region to try to get Israel and the Palestinian factions to agree to a temporary, one-week ceasefire. But Israel rejected it, though they did accept a 12-hour humanitarian truce.

The cease-fire negotiations are trying to bridge the large gap between the positions of the Palestinians and of Israel. Egypt, the U.S. and Israel all support a halt to the fighting before talking about Hamas and the PLO’s main demands, which focus on ending the crippling blockade of Gaza and releasing prisoners arrested in the West Bank who had been released in 2011 for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Hamas has expressed openness to a humanitarian truce.

“It’s a unified position. We want to end the siege, we want to lift the siege and the blockade, we want to ensure that the people of Gaza have…a minimal level of a decent life,” said Ashrawi. “We cannot go back to the status quo ante. This is a unanimous position adopted by all Palestinians–that the conditions giving rise to this Israeli impunity and use of violence and recurrent pattern of closing down Gaza and then shelling and bombing it, that this has to stop.”

The unity of the Palestinians was reflected in the massive demonstrations in the West Bank on Thursday night, said Ashrawi–protests that were the largest in decades. Those demonstrations, the largest of which were at the Qalandia checkpoint separating Ramallah from Jerusalem, “are significant in that they are sending a message to Israel and the world: that Gaza is not isolated, Gaza is not just one place. It is part of Palestine,” Ashrawi added.

While the PLO official expressed hope about the mass protests, she also was dour about the role the U.S. has played.

“Look, the problem of the American role is that they repeatedly support Israel blindly–that they have stood with the occupation, against the rights of the Palestinian people,” Ashrawi told me. “It’s very difficult to envision the Americans having a change of heart unless the American people really put pressure on their representatives. And it’s the American Congress unfortunately that is more Zionist than the Israeli government.”


Survivors of massacre in Khuza’a say Israeli forces used Palestinians as human shields

by Yousef Alhelou          26 July 2014           Mondoweiss

Smoke rises after a shell fired by the Israeli army slammed into a building near ambulances as medics reported that they were waiting to evacuate wounded people from the town of Khuza'a, east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, on July 23, 2014. (Photo: AFP Photo / Said Khatib)

Smoke rises after a shell fired by the Israeli army slammed into a building near ambulances as medics reported that they were waiting to evacuate wounded people from the town of Khuza’a, east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, on July 23, 2014. (Photo: AFP Photo / Said Khatib)

Khuza’a is a village in the very eastern part of Khan Younis adjacent to the border fence in the southern Gaza strip.  Its farmers have faced death almost on a daily basis in the past 7 years as Israeli gunfire has become the norm along the buffer zone between Gaza and Israel.

Following the Shuja’iyeh massacre, Israeli forces invaded Khuza’a with aerial strikes targeting any moving object. Survivors recall with horror that seemingly heavy random tank fire led to the killing of dozens, injuring dozens others.

Over 150 of its residents were arrested by Israeli forces. Most of them were released, others are still in detention. Rescue calls were made live on the local radio stations, as many residents were besieged in their homes, unable to leave. Those who managed to leave came under fire as they were fleeing.

Ayman Abu Toaimah, 32, a resident of Khuza’a recalls, “As Israeli invading troops advanced to the village they besieged it and used residents as human shields. When the Israeli army arrested people and then released some of them, they were told they are free to go back to the village, but as they were fleeing they came under fire and some of them shot dead. These people were used as human shields.”

Abu Saleem, 56, a resident of Khuza’a echoed Abu Toaimah, “Israelis claim that Hamas is using us as human shields– how? This is a lie, we do not see fighters in the streets. It’s them, the Israelis who used us as human shields in Khuza’a andShuja’iyeh. They turned our houses into military posts, terrified residents in the houses. They attacked innocent civilians with their bombs, and missiles, they attacked chicken farms, they burned our crops, they have no mercy.”

What happened in Khuza’a was a massacre. Civilians were killed in their homes and while they were fleeing. Even ambulances were not immune. Paramedics report that Israeli forces stopped ambulances that were trying to reach casualties and tried to arrest a number of wounded. Ambulances came under fire despite the coordination by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Scenes of dead bodies scattered in the streets reminiscent of the Sabra and Shatila massacre that took place in two Palestinian refugee camps in 1982 have begun to leak out of the village.

Abu Ali Qudail a resident of Khuza’a said: “When the ICRC told us that ambulances are waiting us at the entrance of the village from the western side, about 1,000 people rushed to leave their homes, some of which were used as a hideout for Israeli forces. As people were leaving they were surprised that the ambulances were not there, and as we were waiting tank shells rained down on our heads.”

Many people were killed, many others injured. Survivors say they could not help the wounded, many were still under the rubble, homes were destroyed and the smell of smoke and bombs was everywhere.

Abu Ali Qudail continued: “I was watching members of my family dying in front of me, some of them were torn to pieces. Rami, Ibrahim, Alia, Haj Abed died..we had to leave them behind, as soon as we reached one of the Khan Younis schools we entered it to seek shelter but it was very crowded with people who fled their homes. It’s hard to see people dying and you do not know what to do. One of my relatives’ homes were struck while they were inside.”

As the all-out Israeli assault on Gaza entered its 19th day, John Kerry announced from Cairo that he proposed a one week ceasefire, but Israel’s PM Netanyahu refused the offer and only agreed to a 12-hour lull.

Ma’an News reports on one family that fled Khuza’a and was then killed by an Israeli missile strike in Khan Younis as the ceasefire went into effect:

Minutes before a 12-hour humanitarian ceasefire went into effect in Gaza on Saturday morning, an Israeli airstrike left at least 20 members of a Palestinian family dead in Khan Younis refugee camp.

The al-Najjar family had fled their homes in Khuzaa, just east of Khan Younis, earlier in the day after Israeli artillery shelling there killed dozens, and they were hoping to find shelter somewhere further from the border.

Their refuge in Khan Younis, however, turned out to be anything but, as missiles fired from Israeli warplanes just before 8 a.m. completely leveled the four-story building they were sleeping in.

The airstrike killed eleven children, four women, and five men from the family, according to Palestinian medical sources.

The killing of the al-Najjar family brought the death toll in Gaza since the beginning of hostilities 18 days ago to 940.

Following the attack on the UN school in Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza in which 17 people were killed and over 200 injured, 29 of the UN Human Rights Council’s 47 members voted in favor of creating a commission of inquiry to look at possible war crimes committed by Israel. Only the United States voted against the resolution, while 17 states abstained, 10 of them European.

The vote was taken after Navi Pillay, the UN’s human rights commissioner, said “there seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes.”