Unlawful and Deadly in Gaza: Where does Canada stand?

By Tarek Chatila, Montreal-area activist and writer for Amnesty Canada’s Isr/OT/PA co-group

In March, Amnesty International released the report ‘Unlawful and deadly: Rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian armed groups during the 2014 Gaza/Israel conflict’, which focuses on the firing by Palestinian armed groups of thousands of unguided rockets and mortars towards Israel, during the fifty day war.

These indiscriminate attacks were a breach of international law which led to the deaths of both Israelis and Palestinians. Six Israeli civilians, including a four-year-old boy and a Bedouin man, were killed. Bedouin communities in Israel’s Negev/Naqab face increased risk as they do not benefit from shelters, missile defenses or warning sirens afforded to others in Israel. Thirteen Palestinians, including eleven children, were killed when a projectile believed to have been launched from within the Gaza Strip fell short of its intended target and struck the al-Shati refugee camp.

Where does Canada stand?

Canada has not released a statement regarding the findings in the report. The Canadian government has, however, been a vocal opponent of Palestinian ICC membership – despite being a member itself – calling the move “a concerning and dangerous development” despite overwhelming international support for Palestinian accession at the United Nations.

Canada must support the ICC’s exercise of jurisdiction over the Palestinian territory and take an evenhanded approach to such investigations, thereby helping to obtain justice for both Israeli and Palestinian victims, while reinforcing its reputation as a reliable human rights champion. Canada must call on Israel to grant full access to Amnesty International and other organizations to the Gaza Strip.

Here are 8 reasons why Canada needs to change its game:

1. The ICC would investigate Palestinian armed groups for IHL violations in Gaza
Israel claims Palestinian armed groups failed to take necessary precautions to protect civilians by using human shields and firing from built up civilian areas. Palestinian armed groups have denied taking these actions, and Israel has not provided any details to substantiate its claims. An investigation could help establish whether this was in fact the case.

2. The ICC would investigate Palestinian armed groups for IHL violations against Israel
IHL imposes obligations on all parties to armed conflict to “distinguish between civilians and combatants” and between “civilian objects” and “military objectives.” The firing of indiscriminate munitions towards Israel injuring or killing civilians constitutes a war crime.

3. An ICC investigation would examine Israeli claims that it abides by the rules of war
The Israeli government and the IDF have insisted that they “do not target civilians.” Yet, the vast majority of Palestinian casualties during the 2014 war were civilian. A full investigation allows the opportunity to verify Israel’s claims it had been targeting militants or military objectives in its attacks.

4. An ICC investigation would bring an end to the pattern of impunity enjoyed by perpetrators in previous conflicts
Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups both committed violations of  IHL in 2008-09 during Israel’s operation ‘Cast Lead’ and in 2012 during operation ‘Pillar of Defense.’ The prosecution of those responsible will help deter future violations and secure justice for victims.

5. Palestine’s accession to the Rome Statute of the ICC is a positive development
The international community can apply more pressure on Palestine to incorporate human rights treaties to which they have now acceded into national law and practice; and to sign up to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICCPED).

6. Israeli retaliation for Palestine’s accession to the Rome Statute is counter-productive
Punitive measures against Palestine by Israel – such as the withholding of vital tax revenues – not only harm the civilian population in the OPT, but also undermine the rights of its own citizens who might wish to seek and obtain justice through an ICC investigation.

7. The ICC continues to enjoy strong support despite cynical Israeli moves to block it
Israeli efforts which seek to undermine the ICC’s work by encouraging allies to cut funding have failed. Major donor countries such as Germany, U.K and France, who account for more than a third of the court’s budget, have rebuffed Israeli calls and continue to provide funding. Canada, for its part, has also said it has no plans to suspend its funding.
8. An unprecedented demand for justice of victims of IHL violations in Gaza and Israel
Public sentiment in support of achieving justice for the victims is rising. This also extends to the situation in the occupied West Bank with a flourishing debate on settlement activity since Palestinian ICC membership, and increased calls for an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Bi-lateral negotiations have failed to end the violence or secure justice for the victims and alternative approaches to peacefully resolving the long-standing conflict are needed. Amnesty International urges both sides to cooperate with an ICC investigation into violations during the 2014 conflict.

We call on Palestinian authorities to denounce attacks targeting civilians and ensure armed groups comply with international law.

We call on Israeli authorities not to penalize Palestine for acceding to the Rome Statute, ensure Bedouin villages in the Negev/Naqab are adequately protected against any future attacks in line with other communities in Israel, completely lift the siege of the Gaza Strip, and desist in launching disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

Amnesty International calls on Canadians to show evenhanded support for the ICC investigation into IHL violations committed by all parties to the 2014 Gaza/Israel conflict. Canadians can lobby their local member of Parliament to demand that our government not undermine the ICC’s exercise of jurisdiction over Palestinian territory in any way, to encourage all parties to co-operate with the ICC Prosecutor, and to demand that Israel grant Amnesty International and other international human rights organization researchers and investigators access to the Gaza Strip.

For more information, please read:

Unlawful and deadly: Rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian armed groups during the 2014 Gaza/Israel conflict
Families under the rubble: Israeli attacks on inhabited homes
Nothing is immune: Israel’s destruction of landmark building in Gaza

Tarek Chatila is a MENA specialist and writer for Amnesty Canada’s Isr/OT/PA co-group. After leaving Beirut in the midst of the Lebanese Civil War, he moved to Montreal and gained his Master’s in Public Policy and Administration from Concordia University. Tarek was head researcher for the Social Media Monitoring Project on Syria at the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies.