Arshad Shaikh traces the history of war crimes committed by the State of Israel ever since it was formed. Unfortunately, none of its leaders, be they from the ranks of politicians or military generals is yet to be punished by any international body. It seems the international community becomes paralyzed and weak kneed when it comes to confronting Israel. In contrast, bravado and “crusader” like spirit is exhibited by many Western leaders when it comes to sending armed forces to Muslim countries for establishing “a new world order”. The same zeal is missing to stop Israel from committing war crimes and to hunt down their “butchers” who have put the civilized world to shame.
The UN Office on Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect has an exhaustive essay on War Crimes. It says, “There is no one single document in international law that codifies all war crimes. Lists of war crimes can be found in both international humanitarian law and international criminal law treaties, as well as in international customary law.”
According to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, “Extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly; unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement. Intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects. Attacking or bombarding, by whatever means, towns, villages, dwellings or buildings which are undefended and which are not military objectives. Intentionally using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare by depriving them of objects indispensable to their survival, including willfully impeding relief supplies as provided for under the Geneva Conventions.”
The list goes on. A cursory reading of the literature on war crimes and one who has followed the illegal Occupation of Palestine by Israel will conclude that Israel is the biggest unpunished perpetrator of war crimes in the Middle East.
The timeline of Israeli war crimes continues until this day and goes back to the days when the State of Israel was newly established.
Let’s look at a few major events in which war crimes were carried out with impunity by Israel. Unfortunately, their heinousness and atrociousness have not been recorded or presented in the manner they deserved. It will require volumes and compendiums of reports and research to record all the war crimes committed by Israel. This article just includes a few pointers in that direction.
Arab-Israel War 1948
The biggest war crime of the last century is probably what was seen in Palestine in 1948. More than 700,000 Palestinian Arabs (around 50% of the pre-war Mandatory Palestine’s Arab population) were forcibly displaced and ethnically cleansed by Zionist militias. This mass expulsion and deliberate destruction of Palestinian society is known among the Arab world as the Nakba. Around 400 and 600 Palestinian villages were decimated, their wells were poisoned and their dwellings were pillaged. Many Palestinian Arab sites were “Hebrew-ized” to change their historical nature.
Six-Day War (1967) and 1982 Lebanon War
It is reported that a paratrooper unit of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) conducted a mass murder of Egyptian Prisoners of War (POWs). It is known as the Ras Sedr massacre.
The Egyptians discovered two shallow mass graves in the Sinai at El Arish in 1995. They contained the remains of 30 to 60 Egyptian POWs and unarmed civilians shot by the IDF. There are reports of the killing of more than a thousand Egyptians after they surrendered to the Israeli armed forces.
One of the most gruesome massacres of Palestinians and Lebanese Shias took place in 1982 in Beirut’s Sabra neighborhood and the Shatila Refugee Camp. Although the killings were carried out by a faction of Christian militias, the IDF was complicit in the crimes as they surrounded the Palestinian Camp, blocking the exit and denied safe passage to the Palestinians.
Second Intifada, 2006 Lebanon War, and 2008-2009 Gaza War
In all these resistance uprisings against the Occupation of Palestine by Israel, the people of Palestine were regularly subjected to the worst war crimes. The blocking of medical care, the use of civilians as human shields, shooting and killing of unarmed civilians, the demolition of houses even while their residents were still inside, and the arbitrary detention and torture of prisoners were regularly carried out by the Israelis.
Present 2023 attack on Gaza
The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem accused Israel of war crimes in Gaza. In a recent statement, it said, “Hundreds of homes already lie in ruins, including residential towers reduced to rubble and houses that collapsed on top of inhabitants.”
B’Tselem says Israel is following a policy “to prefer damage over precision” even as “more than 180,000 people have been internally displaced. Roads and public buildings, including schools and medical clinics, have been damaged by airstrikes. Hospitals are functioning only partially. Some were damaged by bombing, and all are severely lacking medical equipment and fuel for electric generators. The Gaza Strip is closed off on all sides and the residents have no way out. There are no shelters and no way to seek cover from airstrikes. The decision to imprison Gaza even more tightly than usual has also been implemented. The crossings are closed and goods cannot be brought in,” it noted.
There is no justification for these actions, which constitute war crimes openly ordered by top Israeli officials. Even in the face of horror and terror, intentionally harming civilians, their property and civilian infrastructure is always prohibited.
It is time to start questioning the hypocrisy of Western governments on the question of Palestine. By siding with the oppressor, while claiming to be the “messiah” of the oppressed, the West has been pushed on the “wrong side of history” by the Israelis.
The West fancies itself as the “champion and custodian of freedom and liberty”. However, its inability to expose and pursue Israeli war crimes shows the enormous and unchallenged power and influence wielded by Israel over Western governments and the international community.
There is no military solution to the Palestinian question. Ending the Occupation of Palestine is the only solution. Occupation is the root cause of the problem and has to be addressed without fear or favor. For this, the West must first be cured of its infatuation with Israel. The West has to clean the mess it created in the Middle East if it aspires to remain on the right side of history.