Saturday, November 04, 2006

B'Tselem Condemns Israeli Attacks

B'Tselem, the human rights organisation based in Israel, has written a letter to Ehud Olmert condemning his recent comment that the Israeli military has killed 300 'terrorists' in the Gaza strip during its war against terror groups. According to an investigation carried out by the group, the IDF did kill 294 Palestinians in Gaza since the abduction of Cpl. Shalit. However, over half of those killed - 155 people, including 61 children, were innocent civilians and were not involved in any military action against the IDF when they were killed. This raises the question as to why Olmert felt the need to describe all of those killed as 'terrorists', particularly given the death toll of children. They have sent Olmert a full list of casualties instructing him to observe basic humanitarian law and to pay particular attention to the distinction between civilians and combatants. The letter is reproduced below:

Jerusalem, 30 October 2006

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
The Kirya

By mail and fax

Dear Sir:

Re: Killing of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip

According to reports in the media, on 30 October you told the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Knesset that, in the past three months, the IDF has killed 300 terrorists in the Gaza Strip in its war against the terror organizations.

B'Tselem's data, which is based on independent fieldwork and is cross-checked with all available sources of information, indicate that, from the time of the abduction of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, on 26 June, to 15 October, the IDF killed 278 Palestinians. 146 of those killed, among them 59 minors, took no part in the hostilities. Two of the remaining 132 fatalities were the object of targeted killings, and the other 130 were killed while engaged in the hostilities. As these figures show, more than one-half of the fatalities were civilians who were not involved in the hostilities.

With these statistics in mind, your comments to the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, if you were properly quoted, indicate that the government of Israel considers all those who were killed to be terrorists who deserved to die.

Such a claim is outrageous and shameful. It sends a dangerous message to soldiers and officers, according to which Palestinian civilians are a legitimate target, and contains within it a twisted logic whereby the fact that someone was killed by the military proves that he is a terrorist.

Treating all casualties as terrorists constitutes a blatant violation of the principle of distinction, one of the foundations of international humanitarian law. The principle requires the sides in an armed conflict to distinguish at all times between combatants and civilians who are not taking part in the hostilities. The deliberate killing of civilians is a war crime. Even if the other side breaches the principle of distinction, as Palestinian organizations do when they attack Israeli civilians, international law does not allow Israel to respond in a way that violates the said principle.

I am taking this opportunity to provide you with a list of the 278 Palestinians who were killed by Israeli security forces' gunfire in the Gaza Strip in the relevant period. The list, which appears on B'Tselem's website, includes the names, ages, and dates of death of each of the fatalities, as well as the circumstances of their deaths. If the defense establishment has information that contradicts B'Tselem's figures and indicates that one or more of the 146 persons listed as civilians in fact took part in the hostilities, we would appreciate receiving it.

In closing, I call on you to instruct the defense establishment to strictly comply with the provisions of international humanitarian law, and in particular the principle of distinction between combatants and civilians.


Jessica Montell
Executive Director