The United Nations Human Rights Council has voted to launch an investigation of possible Israeli war crimes committed during its 16-day war against Hamas in Gaza.
The United States cast the sole vote against the war crimes inquiry. “We will stand up for Israel,” said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf in Washington, “even if it means standing alone.”
The HRC on Wednesday condemned Israel’s Operation Protective Edge campaign, which it said involved “disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks” including targeting of homes, hospitals, schools, mosques and a power plant. The UN has called Israel’s actions “collective punishment” of Gaza. On Tuesday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Israel may be guilty of war crimes in Gaza. Pillay also condemned Hamas for its “indiscriminate attacks” against Israel. Thousands of rockets have been launched against Israeli cities and towns from Gaza; Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system has intercepted hundreds of them.
Israel reacted angrily, accusing the UN of anti-Israel bias. “The decision today by the HRC is a travesty and should be rejected by decent people everywhere,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “The HRC should be launching an investigation into Hamas’ decision to turn hospitals into military command centers, use schools as weapons depots and place missile batteries next to playgrounds, private homes and mosques.” Hamas had been using an empty hospital as a command center until Israeli forces bombed it after ensuring all patients and staff had been evacuated.
On Tuesday, UN officials announced that rockets, presumably placed there by Hamas or another militant Palestinian resistance group, had been found for the second time in a vacant UN school in Gaza.
Israel, which claims it goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid civilian casualties, said its forces are acting in accordance with international law, under which its occupation and settler colonization of Palestine are illegal. Among the measures Israeli forces take to reduce civilian death and injury are text messages and “roof knocking” warnings of impending attacks, although there was no such warning at the UN school in Beit Hanoun and many Gaza residents angrily claim there have been no warnings ahead of many Israeli strikes.
“It is regrettable civilians are killed, but when we call on them to vacate and Hamas calls on them to stay, then that is what happens,” said Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni.
Of the nearly 800 Palestinians killed in Gaza, between 70-80 percent have been civilians, the UN says, including at least 175 children.
On Thursday, Israeli shelling struck a United Nations school in Beit Hanoun were hundreds of terrified civilians sought refuge from the war raging around them. At least 17 civilians, including children, were killed, with dozens more wounded. UN officials said they pleaded with Israeli military officials to allow for the evacuation of refugees, but their pleas fell upon deaf ears. The Beit Hanoun school shelling marked the fourth time in the last two days that Israeli forces have targeted Gaza schools.
At least 80 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed throughout Gaza on Thursday as Israeli forces continued their ferocious land, air and sea assault against Hamas and other militants in Gaza. Ten members of one family were killed in separate Israeli strikes, and a 2-year-old patient in an intensive care unit was killed, and dozens wounded, in an Israeli strike outside the Muhammad al-Durra Hospital in Gaza City.
More than 4,500 Palestinians have been wounded during the 16-day war, with at least 475 homes completely destroyed and thousands more homes damaged by Israeli strikes. Dozens of schools and mosques, as well as seven hospitals and a Gaza’s only power plant, have also been attacked. Thirty-two Israeli troops have been killed in combat, while two Israeli civilians and one Thai farmer have been killed by rockets and artillery launched from Gaza.