Gaza and the Bipartisan War on Human Rights

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During and after Israel’s war on Gaza, bipartisan congressional majorities have worked to undermine war crimes investigations by the United Nations and human rights groups

Stephen Zunes

Israel’s seven weeks of attacks this summer on heavily populated civilian neighborhoods in Gaza has led to unprecedented concern among Americans who, while still broadly supportive of Israel, found the attacks to be disproportionate and unnecessary.

Close to 1,500 Palestinian civilians in Gaza were killed in the Israeli attacks — more of 500 of whom were children — and 18,000 homes were destroyed, leaving over 100,000 people homeless. Despite this devastating civilian toll, leading Democrats in Washington have joined Republicans in claiming that Israel’s actions were legitimate acts of self-defense against military targets, dismissing reports by reputable Israeli and international human rights groups saying otherwise.

In July and August, the two houses of Congress passed four resolutions and forwarded a series of letters providing unqualified backing for the massive Israeli air and ground assault, echoing the Israeli government’s justifications for the war and directly contradicting findings by United Nations officials on the ground, as well as investigations by both Israeli and international human rights groups.

What is particularly shocking is not just the vehemence with which the vast majority of congresspersons so enthusiastically supported a military operation condemned by most of the international community, but that they went on record making demonstrably false accusations despite being repeatedly confronted with evidence directly contradicting their claims.

The resolutions and letters seem to assume that while Hamas was guilty of terrorism in the deaths of the five civilians killed by Hamas rockets inside Israel, the Israeli government bore absolutely no responsibility for the deaths of nearly 1,500 Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli ordnance inside the Gaza Strip. Indeed, members of Congress have repeatedly asserted that the Palestinian side was somehow responsible for the deaths of its own people at Israel’s hands.

On July 25, Amnesty International reported that “Israeli forces have carried out attacks that have killed hundreds of civilians, using precision weaponry such as drone-fired missiles, as well as munitions such as artillery, which cannot be precisely targeted, on very densely populated residential areas.” Israeli forces “directly attacked thousands of homes,” including high-rise apartment blocks, killing whole families. Observing that civilians in the Gaza Strip had “nowhere to escape military operations by Israeli forces,” Amnesty provided ample evidence that Israeli forces were engaging in “indiscriminate attacks on urban areas using artillery and bombs.” In a particularly serious breach of international law, Amnesty further reported that “ambulances and medical personnel on their way to collect the wounded appear to have been deliberately targeted on several occasions, and hospitals have been destroyed by shelling from tanks and missiles.”

The congressional reaction to reports like Amnesty International’s was swift.

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