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Has Amnesty International Lost Its Way? Part 8
Indiscriminate and Deliberate Targeting of Civilians and Civilian Objects
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Beyond indicting Hamas for the commission of war crimes because it used indiscriminate weapons, Amnesty also, and as a discrete line in its ledger, indicts Hamas for the commission of war crimes because it used these indiscriminate weapons to launch “indiscriminate attacks” and “attacks targeting civilians.” Article 51 of the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions prohibits “indiscriminate attacks” which inter alia are defined as “those which are not directed at a specific military objective” or “those which employ a method or means of combat which cannot be directed at a specific military objective.” Thus “indiscriminate attacks” subsumes both these prohibitions, whereas Amnesty splits them into separate and distinct crimes.[1]International Committee of the Red Cross, Commentary on the Additional Protocols of 8 June 1977 to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1948 (Geneva: 1987), p. 613. Amnesty correctly cites this provision in Unlawful and Deadly’s précis of international law. It exhorts Hamas to “end the use of inherently indiscriminate weapons such as unguided rockets, denounce attacks targeting civilians and indiscriminate attacks.” The “value” of each Hamas projectile in Amnesty’s bill of indictment has now doubled: Hamas committed a war crime each time it made “use” of an indiscriminate weapon and also each time it launched an “attack”—either indiscriminate or targeting civilians—with one of them. That neat linguistic subtlety presumably enables Amnesty to boost its indictment of Hamas to 14,000 war crimes (for those who are still counting), even if, still, only six civilians in Israel were killed and only one house was destroyed.

It also merits taking a closer look at Amnesty’s indictment of Hamas for “targeting” civilian areas. It reports that “in many cases” Hamas was—or declared it was—“directing” its projectiles “towards Israeli civilians and civilian objects,” that it “directed them at specific Israeli communities.” Insofar as Amnesty ruled Hamas’s use of its rockets illegal because they “cannot be accurately targeted at specific targets,” it’s hard to make out how Hamas can additionally be scored for “targeting” civilian communities when it fired them: how does one target an “inherently” un-targetable weapon? If Hamas publicly proclaimed its intention to target a civilian community, it might be guilty of bluster, but not of a deliberate attack. Still, it might be contended that Hamas rockets were sufficiently accurate to target a large civilian community, if not a specific object within it. But, then, why did so many Hamas rockets land in vacant areas away from Israel’s population?[2]Recall that Iron Dome was deployed around urban populated areas of Israel and, of the 5,000 Hamas rockets fired at Israel, less than 1,000 came within Iron Dome’s range. It’s not very plausible that Hamas was targeting empty space. Moreover, Amnesty accuses Hamas of deliberately targeting an Israeli civilian community not only when that was its declared intention but also when its declared intention was to target a “military base” located in the community.[3]“These [Hamas] statements, most of which specified the time of each attack, the community (or in rarer cases, the military base) targeted, and the munition used indicate that these attacks were directed at civilians or civilian objects” (emphasis added). If a Hamas press release serves as proof of intent, it perplexes how it proves intent to target civilians even when it manifestly eschews such an intent.[4]“These [Hamas] statements, most of which specified the time of each attack, the community (or in rarer cases, the military base) targeted, and the munition used indicate that these attacks were directed at civilians or civilian objects” (emphasis added). In one instance, Hamas verges on scoring a trifecta of war crimes as Amnesty indicts it for firing mortar shells at a kibbutz: the mortar was an “imprecise weapon,” and it was a “direct attack on civilians or civilian objects,” and “even if the attack had targeted IDF troops or equipment in the vicinity of the kibbutz…, the attack would still have been indiscriminate.”

But surely the most bizarre item in Amnesty’s charge sheet is for the death of 13 Gazan civilians apparently caused by a Hamas rocket that misfired. Hamas is charged with a foursome of war crimes: “it was an indiscriminate attack using a prohibited weapon which may well have been fired from a residential area within the Gaza Strip and may have been intended to strike civilians in Israel” (emphasis added). It would unduly tax the forbearance of the reader to parse the inanities and incongruities of this nocturnal emission. But for starters, “indiscriminate attack” against whom? In any event, however many multipliers Amnesty applies to Hamas’s war crimes, the sum total would still pale beside the horror Israel inflicted. It is symptomatic of Amnesty’s egregious bias that, whereas it meticulously inventories Hamas’s military arsenal, the reader is left utterly clueless about the magnitude of firepower Israel visited on Gaza. How many bombs (and of how much tonnage) did Israel drop? How many missile attacks did Israel launch? How many tank and artillery shells did it fire? One searches Amnesty’s OPE reports in vain for answers to these basic questions. In fact, Israel reportedly fired 20,000 high-explosive artillery shells, 14,500 tank shells, 6,000 missiles and 3,500 naval shells into Gaza.[5]United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Humanitarian Bulletin—Monthly Report (June-August 2014); “Taking Stock,” BaYabasha (Ground Forces Journal) (October 2014), p. 47 (Hebrew). These figures do not yet include bomb tonnage—over 100 one-ton bombs were dropped on the Shuja’iya neighborhood alone. All told, Israel expended as many as 20,000 tons of explosives during OPE,[6]National Early Recovery and Reconstruction Plan, p. 8. whereas the total explosive tonnage of Hamas projectiles fired into Israel probably came at most to 35-70 tons.[7]10-20 pounds of explosives per Hamas rocket/mortar shell x 7,000. Gaza ranked third globally in 2014 (behind Iraq and Syria, but ahead of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Ukraine) for the number of civilian casualties due to explosive weapons, a majority heavy explosive weapons.[8]Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), Explosive States: Monitoring explosive violence in 2014(2015). This rank

[1] International Committee of the Red Cross, Commentary on the Additional Protocols of 8 June 1977 to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1948 (Geneva: 1987), p. 613. Amnesty correctly cites this provision in Unlawful and Deadly’s précis of international law.

[2] Recall that Iron Dome was deployed around urban populated areas of Israel and, of the 5,000 Hamas rockets fired at Israel, less than 1,000 came within Iron Dome’s range.

[3] “These [Hamas] statements, most of which specified the time of each attack, the community (or in rarer cases, the military base) targeted, and the munition used indicate that these attacks were directed at civilians or civilian objects” (emphasis added).

[4] “These [Hamas] statements, most of which specified the time of each attack, the community (or in rarer cases, the military base) targeted, and the munition used indicate that these attacks were directed at civilians or civilian objects” (emphasis added).

[5] United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Humanitarian Bulletin—Monthly Report (June-August 2014); “Taking Stock,” BaYabasha (Ground Forces Journal) (October 2014), p. 47 (Hebrew).

[6] National Early Recovery and Reconstruction Plan, p. 8.

[7] 10-20 pounds of explosives per Hamas rocket/mortar shell x 7,000.

[8] Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), Explosive States: Monitoring explosive violence in 2014(2015). This rank

(Republished from Byline.com by permission of author or representative)
 
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