Israeli war crimes

IssueDecember 2023 - January 2024
News by PN staff

Hundreds of British lawyers have signed two Open Letters to the government (on 26 October and 9 November) detailing Israeli war crimes – and calling for a ceasefire, an end to the Israeli siege of Gaza and a halt to British arms exports to Israel.

The first Open Letter was signed by over 250 lawyers including a former head of the Criminal Bar Association and a former counsel general for Wales. The follow-up was signed by 830 lawyers, including 60 KCs.

The lawyers said that Hamas’ attacks against Israeli civilians on 7 October were serious violations of international law: ‘International law strictly prohibits the targeting of civilians, the use of indiscriminate weapons, murder, mutilation, and hostage taking.’

However, the lawyers pointed out, these war crimes could not ‘justify further such crimes by Israel in its response’.

They spelled out the basic principles of international humanitarian law, the laws of war, and then wrote: ‘Intentionally launching an attack in the knowledge that it will cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or widespread, long-term severe damage to the natural environment that would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated is a war crime....

‘The sheer scale of the loss of life and injury in Gaza, particularly to women and children [two-thirds of the dead], together with the widespread damage to civilian objects and infrastructure appear to indicate clear breaches of those principles and rules, and violations of international law. Amnesty International has asserted that its “research points to damning evidence of war crimes in Israel’s bombing campaign that must be urgently investigated”.’

The lawyers added: ‘The starvation of a civilian population as a method of warfare, including wilfully impeding adequate relief supplies, as Israel is doing in Gaza, is strictly prohibited under customary international law..., has been robustly condemned by the UN Security Council, and constitutes a war crime’.

International law also strictly forbids the transfer by force of a civilian population from one area to another, unless required for the security of the civilians involved or for ‘imperative military reasons’.

The lawyers quoted the Red Cross: ‘The instructions issued by the Israeli authorities for the population of Gaza City to immediately leave their homes, coupled with the complete siege explicitly denying them food, water, and electricity, are not compatible with international humanitarian law.’ In other words, these are war crimes.