Friday, January 30, 2009

FAQ - Answers to questions on the operation against Hamas


1. Q: Will Israel cooperate with investigations of war crimes?

A: Israel takes every report of war crimes seriously, provided it comes from a credible source. However, no official body or organization has presented any evidence of war crimes allegedly committed by Israel. All accusations have been based on rumor, half-truths, anonymous reports from unconfirmed sources, and manipulations of the truth.

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) routinely and thoroughly scrutinizes its operational activities and when necessary, is subject to oversight by judicial and governmental authorities. Therefore, there is no need of outside intervention. It is important to emphasize that no credible evidence or proof of war crimes allegedly committed by Israel has been presented.
On the other hand, proven war crimes have been committed by Hamas. Over many years, Hamas has targeted civilians with rockets and mortars, as well as committing suicide attacks, which are deemed "crimes against humanity" by both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. In addition, the tactic of using Palestinian civilians as human shields, which Hamas is openly proud of, also falls in the realm of war crimes. 2. Q: Will Israel investigate the illegal use of phosphorus?

A: During the operation in Gaza, there was no illegal use of phosphorus or any other material. The President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Jacob Kellenberger, told the New York Times on 14 January that no evidence was found of illegal use of phosphorus by Israel. The investigation of this matter, which was reported by the Israeli media, were routine IDF checks of its internal operating procedures and in no way indicated any illegal use.

3. Q: Does Israel permit humanitarian aid to enter the Gaza Strip?

A: Even during the military operation, massive amounts of humanitarian aid entered Gaza. Already before the end of the fighting, 40,000 tons of humanitarian aid had entered the Gaza Strip via Israel. The ICRC sent Israel a letter of thanks for its assistance. Now, with the end of the fighting, Israel is interested not only in continuing to facilitate the entry of aid, but also in helping with Gaza's reconstruction, in full coordination with the international bodies involved.

One of the reasons that the aid did not always reach the civilian population in need despite Israel's best efforts was because Hamas confiscated it. This has happened regularly over the past year (in February 2008, the Jordanian Red Crescent condemned Hamas for confiscating an entire aid shipment from Jordan), and it continues to occur. Since the operation, there have been a growing number of media reports (most recently, from Jordan again) concerning the confiscation of aid as well as about violent attacks, including shootings and executions, by Hamas against its opponents.

The international community should take careful measures to ensure that the aid they send to Gaza reaches the right hands and is not confiscated by Hamas, which is manipulating the civilian population's distress to its own advantage.

4. Q: The UN accused Israel of shooting at schools; it also claimed that Israel changed its story afterwards.

A: When IDF forces were shot at, they returned fire towards the source of the shooting. Defensive actions of this type are explicitly allowed under the Geneva Convention.

The IDF did not fire directly at UNRWA schools; clearly had a school been targeted directly, it would have been completely destroyed, and there would have been countless casualties among those civilians sheltering there. Rather, in the tragic incident which caused civilians casualties, the IDF justifiably returned fire at the Hamas cell that had launched mortar shells at Israeli forces from a position adjacent to the building. Unfortunately, the return fire hit the building and caused casualties. Israel mourns the loss of innocent life, however responsibility for all injuries and damage lies fully with Hamas, which deliberately drew the fighting into a civilian facility.

In the case of the school in Jabalya, two independent media reports (AP and New York Times) confirm Israel's version that mortar fire came from a position located very close to the building. The reports by these respected media outlets contradict the claim made by a UNRWA spokesperson that there is no evidence to support Israel's investigation. Rather, Hamas was launching mortars from a distance of mere meters from the walls of the school, which explains how the return fire hit the building.

Contrary to claims, Israel did not "change its story" regarding this incident. More accurately, it gave out details as they became available during the fighting, and corrected minor discrepancies which were revealed with further investigation. These incongruities were indeed insignificant, and concerned whether the launches came from the school compound versus from its immediate vicinity. Despite Israel's best efforts, it is not reasonable to expect a conclusive and definitive investigation during the heat of battle.

5. Q: Why were women and children killed?

A: Israelis were profoundly pained by the sight of dead children and the Prime Minister officially expressed his deep sorrow over the civilian casualties. However, it should be asked who is responsible for their deaths and whether the causes have been thoroughly examined.

It is no secret that Hamas used human shields as one of its primary tactics - many reports have described how Hamas recruited civilians, indoctrinated them, and publicly bragged about it. Civilians who tried to flee the fighting were threatened by Hamas gunmen, while many were killed in crossfire initiated by Hamas. It is obvious that some civilians were hurt in booby-trapped houses and by bombs placed by Hamas throughout the Gaza Strip. These are the real reasons why many civilians were killed.

As for the numbers of civilian casualties, extreme caution should be exercised concerning statistics emanating from Gaza. Throughout the past year, Hamas has dismissed doctors, nurses and teachers identified with Fatah and replaced them with its own supporters. This political cleansing process was reported in the media and criticized harshly by the Palestinian Authority. Gaza's hospitals are now staffed only with Hamas supporters and Hamas officials are the primary sources of information. Clearly Hamas representatives have a vested interest in propagating the illusion that a majority of the injured were civilians rather than terrorists.

6. Q: Will Israel place limitations on the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip?

A: Israel has a strong interest in the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip. Israel will work together with the donor states and the moderate Arab regimes to bring a better life to the Palestinian residents.

At the same time, it is important to ensure that the aid reaches the people who need it and does not fall into Hamas' hands. Hamas could confiscate part of the aid and exploit it for its own needs, as it has done in the past (for which it was condemned by the Jordanian Red Crescent, for example). Now, however, the situation is more sensitive than ever. The international community must be extremely vigilant to ensure that the aid it donates will be used only for the benefit of the civilians and not for the material, political or military rehabilitation of Hamas.

7. Q: Why does Israel relate to Hamas as a terrorist organization?

A: In addition to its long history of horrific suicide attacks, shootings and rocket fire aimed at civilian targets, Hamas' charter calls for the violent extermination of the State of Israel and the murder of Jews - simply for being Jews. Article 7 of its charter states: " The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say 'O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him'." It is not possible to negotiate with those who call - based on extremist religious justifications - for your destruction.

Indeed, Israel is not the only country which defines Hamas as a terrorist group. The European Union, US, Canada, Australia and other states have all officially classified Hamas as a terrorist organization. On 12 September 2003 - after a series of Hamas terrorist attacks that violated the 2003 hudna (cease-fire) - the European Union added Hamas' "political wing" to its terrorist list, having already included the military wing years before.

The international community has given Hamas the opportunity to become a legitimate partner for negotiations, by setting out three simple conditions: recognizing Israel, accepting previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and the cessation of terrorist activity. These conditions were formulated by the International Quartet (the US, EU, UN and Russia), and while acceptable to Israel, have been repeatedly rejected by Hamas.
For these reasons, negotiating with Hamas is not only rejected by Israel but by the international community.

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