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Crisis In Gaza
'There should be an investigation'
A human rights expert on a possible war crime during the recent war on Gaza.
Last Modified: 20 Feb 2009 15:26 GMT

Fred Abrahams says the incident in Khuza'a is very "clear cut"
Fred Abrahams from Human Rights Watch has spoken to eyewitnesses about an incident near the Israeli border in Gaza that left 37-year-old Rawhiyya al Najar dead from a single shot to the head.

Abrahams says investigation of the incident leaves serious concerns.

"
Our job is to look at how the parties to the conflict in Gaza - Hamas and Israel - respected or disrespected international law.

There is such a long list of issues but this case in Kuza'a seems to be quite clear cut and that is why we focused on it.

We have an area where the Israeli army seems to have been in control, there were no hostilities at the time.

We have civilians that were ordered to leave the area and walk to the centre of the village, a group of women who were on this street waving white flags and one of them, Rawhiyya al Najar was shot in the head from a house.

We visited it and there are signs that the soldiers were there but there were no hostilities at the time.

Khuza’a is on the border [with Israel] and all the cases we have looked at indicate the militants retreated away from this area.

If a civilian is killed and there is fighting that can be seen as collateral damage and is not necessarily a war crime.

But if they [the army] have control of the area, if they can clearly see a civilian walking, if they see that person is waving a white flag, if they are not coming under fire and they shoot at a civilian then we have a serious problem and it’s a potential war crime.

'Serious violation'

They could see the civilians who had a white flag. To us that suggests a serious violation, definitely worthy of investigation and prosecution of anyone who was found to have violated the laws of war.

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The Israeli military, like all militaries, do not publish their specific rules of engagement. But in researching Gaza which I have done for the past two years we find they often create certain kill zones.

In other words when they are based in a house, there are sometimes orders, it seems to us, based on the evidence that anyone who gets within a certain range, say 100 metres, can be fired upon.

It is my hypothesis at this moment that they were definitely based in a house down and they saw the civilians coming.

It suggests to me that they had an order to shoot anyone who came too close, I cannot prove that of course.

We will present all our information to the Israeli army and ask them to reply but they rarely give such details on an operational level.

There are a couple of issues that are interesting about this case, the first is the bulldozers and tanks had reached the edge of the village and were ordering people to go into the centre and we know that.

Little faith

I have now interviewed seven people independently and separately who all testified to this, that they were ordered to leave but when they tried they came under fire.

Maybe that is bad co-ordination on the military's part but I believe all the evidence suggests the army had firm control of this area at the time of the incident.

I do not believe the civilians were running. Everybody I spoke to testified they were walking forward for ten seconds at least when the soldier saw them.

In our view they are then obliged to take every effort to not target civilians and to distinguish between fighters and civilians.

We do not have any faith in the Israeli military’s willingness to investigate itself. It has a long record of failing to investigate.

There should be an international investigation, but it is going to be difficult.

Our job at Human Rights Watch is to document it scrupulously, to publicise it and to try and encourage some sort of accountability mechanisms.

We do not have an enforcement mechanism so I can just do my investigations, put it out there for the public and to try and push people to do the right thing in terms of justice.

I have worked in five war zones and in many ways this is the most frustrating because I have never seen such a wide gap between the facts on the ground and the international reaction.

In most places, in Kosovo for example, there was an immediate reaction. The west invaded militarily in response to serious human rights allegations. Here everywhere you turn there is a serious violation, extreme violence, and yet the reaction is so muted, particularly from western countries."

Source:
Al Jazeera
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