Hala Ahmad Salman Abu Sabikha, 2, was killed in her yard when an Israeli tank targeted her home in Al-Mughazi refugee camp, central Gaza, on December 24, 2013. Israeli soldiers shot Adnan Abu Khater, 16, in the leg with live ammunition on January 2, 2014, and he died the following day. Mohammad Rafiq Shinbari, 17, was shot and wounded in the leg with live ammunition on December 15.
These were cases of the recent cross-bodrer violence which resulted in fatalities and injuries to children.
It has been five years since Operation Cast Lead, a 22-day Israeli military offensive in Gaza which took place between December 27 and January 18, 2008 and claimed the lives of at least 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 350 Palestinian children.
Despite damning evidence of war crimes, the US government played a role in blocking international efforts to hold Israel accountable for serious breaches of international law. The resulting impunity has enabled Israel to continue its oppressive policies in Gaza where children undoubtedly remain targets.
On December 27, 2008, Israel launched an intensive aerial and naval bombing campaign throughout the Gaza Strip. A large-scale ground invasion followed the week after. The onslaught was arguably Israel’s boldest military operation since the 2006 Lebanon war when it inflicted deliberate destruction to civilian infrastructure in Beirut’s Dahiya neighbourhood, a Hezbollah stronghold.
Following the 2006 war, Major General Gadi Eisenkot stated: “What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on.” He added: “These are not civilian villages, they are military bases.”
Two years later, Israeli military leaders put the “Dahiya doctrine” into action in the Gaza Strip by applying disproportionate force to inflict great damage to civilian infrastructure and neighbourhoods.
The devastating impact on children in Gaza was immediate. On December 29, 2008, five girls from the Balousha family (aged 4 – 17) were killed in their home when Israeli airstrikes targeted a nearby mosque in the densely populated Jabaliya refugee camp in North Gaza. On the same day in Rafah, the al-Absi family lost three sons (aged 4, 12, and 14) when their home was the target of an Israeli airstrike. These are only a few examples.
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Human rights groups, including Defence for Children International Palestine, Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch, have documented cases of children killed and maimed in unlawful attacks; the destruction of civilian infrastructure such as schools and water and sanitation networks; the use of children as human shields; the unlawful use of white phosphorous in populated areas; and the arbitrary detention of children.
Israeli forces killed at least 26 children in or near schools, completely destroyed 18 schools, and damaged 260 others during the military operation.
Following the attacks, the UN Human Rights Council established a fact-finding mission headed by Justice Richard Goldstone. Their mandate was “to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law” that may have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations conducted in Gaza between December 27, 2008 and January 18, 2009. Although international law requires states to investigate war crime allegations, Israeli authorities refused to cooperate with the investigation.
The mission’s report, published in September 2009, found evidence of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity committed by both the Israeli military and Palestinian armed groups. Known as the “Goldstone Report”, it was overwhelmingly endorsed by the UN General Assembly on November 5, 2009, with 114 states voting in favour of a resolution demanding that Israel and the Palestinians undertake “independent, credible investigations” into alleged war crimes. The resolution also urged the Security Council to take action on the report’s recommendations, primarily by referring cases to the International Criminal Court.
Unsurprisingly, the US was one of 18 countries to vote against the resolution. The Obama administration then employed its diplomatic power to mitigate the impact of the Goldstone Report, and also blocked any further potential progress through the Security Council.
Since Israeli officials announced a unilateral ceasefire, ending Operation Cast Lead just over five years ago, Israel has unceasingly continued policies that amount to collective punishment of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip, a violation of international humanitarian law. Around 51 percent of Gaza’s 1.7 million residents are under the age of 18, and almost 1.2 million people in Gaza receive humanitarian assistance.
Operation Cast Lead was by no means an isolated incident, as the ceasefire did not end Israel’s military violence against children. The last major Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip, Operation Pillar of Defence, occurred in November 2012, and resulted in more than 30 Palestinian children killed.
Israeli leaders have demonstrated they are unwilling to carry out genuine investigations in an impartial, independent, and effective way and hold perpetrators accountable. The US government’s supposed “unbreakable bond” with Israel has increasingly contributed to a context of seemingly perpetual impunity. If the US and Israel are truly the “closest of friends”, US leadership should not let Israeli officials escape reality.
Brad Parker is a staff attorney and international advocacy officer with Defence for Children International Palestine, an independent child-rights organisation dedicated to defending and promoting the rights of children living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. DCI-Palestine provides free legal assistance to children, collects evidence and conducts advocacy targeting various duty bearers. Follow DCI-Palestine on Twitter and Facebook. Follow Parker at: @baparkr.