Today, 27 December 2016, marks the start of Israel's major assault on Gaza eight years ago in 2008, which the Israeli military code-named “Operation Cast Lead” (OCL). During this 23-day military assault, the Israeli occupation forces (IOF) used lethal military force and killed over 1,400 Palestinians most of whom were civilians, destroyed and razed tens of thousands of residential houses, public facilities, and agricultural infrastructure. Victims of unlawful attacks; many amounting to war crimes, are yet to see justice or redress.
The critical lack of accountability and access to justice perpetuates the use of violence by IOF, notably encouraging Israel to launch the full-scale military aggressions in 2012 and 2014 and the daily attacks on civilians across the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). Al Mezan warns about this persisting culture of impunity and calls for restoring respect to the rule of law by holding perpetrators of serious violations of international law; especially war crimes, to an account. Al Mezan hopes that the UN Security Council resolution 2334 of 13 December 2016 denouncing Israeli settlement activities represents the start of international action to ensure the rule of law, full respect of international humanitarian law, and accountability and justice.
The OCL offensive was launched at approximately 11:30am on Saturday, 27 December 2008, with a surprise airstrike campaign carried out by dozens of warplanes. The attack targeted, among other targets, the majority of the police stations and security and government buildings in Gaza. Lasting only about five minutes, this first attack was devastating due to its timing, scale and the type of weaponry used. The timing of the attacks also sparked a state of panic among Gaza’s children as it coincided with the times between school shifts when nearly all of Gaza’s school students were either in the streets or on school grounds. Several school children were killed in these attacks.
The 23-day military offensive was at that time unprecedented in terms of the scale of grave and systematic violations of the provisions of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, especially the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 1949 and Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts of 1977. IOF attacks were directed to civilian objects and numerous acts amounting to war crimes were committed. This reality was grasped by the UN Independent Fact-Finding Committee, which concluded that the Israeli actions, added to the ongoing closure of Gaza and lack of access to recourse of justice, could amount to persecution; a crime against humanity.
According to Al Mezan’s documentation, during OCL the IOF killed 1,410 people including 356 children and 113 women. Of the total number of those killed, 949 were civilians and 231 were civil police officers. The total number of destroyed houses reached 11,157; of which 8,511 were partially destroyed and 2,646 completely destroyed. According to Al Mezan’s estimation, about 30,000 other houses sustained minor damages. The total area of razed land reached 6,743 dunams (1 dunam is 1,000 square meters), including 1,170 dunams that were razed more than once. The IOF damaged 612 public facilities, 643 vehicles, 209 industrial facilities, and 710 business facilities.
Al Mezan strongly condemns the failure of Israel to take any credible actions to ensure that perpetrators of crimes are held to account; thus denying the victims their right to justice. Al Mezan also questions the international community's failure to take effective steps to end Israel’s violations and the persistent impunity which prevents any form of accountability for violations of international law.
Al Mezan welcomes the Security Council Resolution 2334, which condemns Israel's illegal colonial settlement enterprise in the oPt, and the destruction and violations without accountability. Al Mezan asserts that the effectiveness of such a resolution and other similar resolutions are bounded by taking effective steps to impellent them. Al Mezan calls on the international community to take effective and prompt steps to: