Friday, January 16, 2009

Attacks Are Inhuman, Peace Activists Tell Olmert, Barak

Published on Thursday, January 15, 2009 by The Sydney Morning Herald

by Jason Koutsoukis

Despite graphic images of the carnage in Gaza being shown around Israel and the high number of Palestinian casualties, public support for the war remains high.

[Israeli left-wing activists protest outside President Shimon Peres' residence in Jerusalem. Israel's offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip has caused unprecedented suffering to civilian residents of the Palestinian territory, local human rights groups said on Wednesday. (AFP/Gali Tibbon)]Israeli left-wing activists protest outside President Shimon Peres’ residence in Jerusalem. Israel’s offensive against Hamas in the Gaza Strip has caused unprecedented suffering to civilian residents of the Palestinian territory, local human rights groups said on Wednesday. (AFP/Gali Tibbon)

A poll commissioned by the liberal daily newspaper Haaretz yesterday found 82 per cent of people surveyed believe that Israel has not gone too far with its use of military force during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.The war in Gaza also appears to have gone some way towards rebuilding public confidence in the military following the perceived failures of Israel’s 2006 war in Lebanon, with 78 per cent of people judging the war a success.

But not all Israelis are in favour of the war.

On Wednesday a coalition of nine Israeli human rights groups convened to urge an immediate halt to the fighting in the Gaza Strip which they said was on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe.

In an open letter to the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert. and the Defence Minister, Ehud Barak, the groups said a commission of inquiry would be needed after the conflict ended to investigate alleged Israeli war crimes.

Michael Sfard, a lawyer with the Israeli human rights group Yesh Din that was a part of Wednesday’s press conference, told the Herald it was time Israelis looked into the mirror.

“I think we have become so used to violence that when the sort of things that are happening in Gaza are shown, people don’t care any more,” Mr Sfard said.

“Several years ago, the killing of 15 Hamas militants by the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] caused a major moral revision here within Israel.

“Now [there have been] 1000 people killed in Gaza, many of them children, and there is very little national debate about whether this is right or wrong.”

The groups, which also included Amnesty International, B’Tselem, Gisha, and Physicians for Human Rights, also presented six cases in which they say IDF troops fired on medical personnel, killing 12 people.

They said there have been 15 hits on medical facilities during the conflict, including clinics and medical storage facilities.

“I care about humanity, and what is happening here is inhuman,” said Professor Zvi Bentwich, the head of the Centre for Tropical Diseases and AIDS at Ben Gurion University.

“There is no sense whatsoever of proportionality, it’s a dreadful and callous disregard for human life,” Professor Bentwich said.

Copyright © 2009. The Sydney Morning Herald

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