9. US Arms Used for War Crimes in Gaza

by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

Human Rights Watch, March 25, 2009
Title: “White Phosphorus Use Evidence of War Crimes Report: Rain of Fire: Israel’s Unlawful Use of White Phosphorus in Gaza”
Author: Fred Abrahams

Consortium News, January 18, 2009
Title: “Is Israel’s Gaza War a New War Crime?”
Author: Dennis Bernstein

Flashpoint Radio ( KPFA) Gaza Special ( January 2009)
Producers‑Dennis Bernstein and Nora Barrows-Friedman

Guardian/UK, February 23, 2009
Title: “Suspend Military Aid to Israel, Amnesty Urges Obama after Detailing US Weapons Used in Gaza”
Author: Rory McCarthy

Inter Press Service, January 8, 2009
Title: “US Weaponry Facilitates Killings in Gaza”
Author: Thalif Deen

International Middle East Media Center News, January 8, 2009
Title: “US military re-supplying Israel with ammunition through Greece”
Author: Saed Bannoura

Foreign Policy Journal, January 09, 2009
Title: “US Senate Endorses Israel’s War on Gaza”
Author: Jeremy R. Hammond

Student Researchers: Erin Galbraith and Curtis Harrison
Faculty Evaluators: Andy Merrifield, PhD, Cynthia Boaz, PhD, and David McCuan, PhD Sonoma State University

Israel’s repeated firing of US-made white phosphorus shells over densely populated areas of Gaza during its recent military campaign was indiscriminate and is evidence of war crimes, Human Rights Watch said in a report released March 25, 2009.

The seventy-one-page report, “Rain of Fire: Israel’s Unlawful Use of White Phosphorus in Gaza,” provides witness accounts of the devastating effects that white phosphorus munitions had on civilians and civilian property in Gaza. Human Rights Watch researchers found spent shells, canister liners, and dozens of burnt felt wedges containing white phosphorus on city streets, apartment roofs, residential courtyards, and at a United Nations school in Gaza immediately after hostilities ended in January.

Militaries officially use white phosphorus to obscure their operations on the ground by creating thick smoke. It has also been used as an incendiary weapon, though such use constitutes a war crime. “In Gaza, the Israeli military didn’t just use white phosphorus in open areas as a screen for its troops,” said Fred Abrahams, senior emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report. “It fired white phosphorus repeatedly over densely populated areas, even when its troops weren’t in the area and safer smoke shells were available. As a result, civilians needlessly suffered and died.” The report documents a pattern or policy of white phosphorus use that Human Rights Watch says must have required the approval of senior military officers.

The devastating Israeli firepower, unleashed largely on Palestinian civilians in Gaza during the three-week attack starting December 27, 2008 was fueled by US-supplied weapons paid for with US tax dollars. Washington provided F-16 fighter planes, Apache helicopters, tactical missiles, and a wide array of munitions, including white phosphorus and DIME. The weapons required for the Israeli assault were decided upon in June 2008, and the transfer of 1,000 bunker-buster GPS-guided Small Diameter Guided Bomb Units 39 (GBU-39) were approved by Congress in September. The GBU 39 bombs were delivered to Israel in November (prior to any claims of Hamas cease fire violation) for use in the initial air raids on Gaza.

Researchers in Gaza found several weapon fragments after the attacks. One came from a 500lb (227kg) Mark-82 fin guided bomb, which had markings indicating parts were made by the US company Raytheon. They also found fragments of US-made white phosphorus artillery shells, marked M825 A1.

In the recent Gaza operations, Israeli forces frequently airburst white phosphorus in 155mm artillery shells in and near populated areas. Each airburst shell spreads 116 burning white phosphorus wedges in a radius extending up to 125 meters from the blast point. White phosphorus ignites and burns on contact with oxygen, and continues burning at up to 1500 degrees Fahrenheit (816 degrees Celsius) until nothing is left or the oxygen supply is cut. When white phosphorus comes into contact with skin it creates intense and persistent burns that continue to ignite.

On January 15, several white phosphorus shells fired by the Israeli military hit the headquarters of the UN Relief and Works Agency in Gaza City, destroying medicine, food and other basic aid. One fragment found at the scene had markings indicating it was made by the Pine Bluff Arsenal, based in Arkansas, in October 1991.

The UN Security Council, Amnesty International, International Red Cross, and voices of protest from around the world demanded a ceasefire. Yet, with shocking lack of regard, both houses of US Congress overwhelmingly endorsed resolutions to support a continuation of Israel’s “self defense.”

Four days after the carnage ensued, on December 31, the US Navy’s Sealift Command hired ships to deliver another 3,000-odd tons of arms to Israel through Greece. This last shipment was halted mid-January due to Greek protest. The US has long been the largest arms supplier to Israel; under a current ten-year agreement negotiated by the Bush administration, the US will provide $30 billion in military aid to Israel.
“As the major supplier of weapons to Israel, the USA has a particular obligation to stop any supply that contributes to gross violations of the laws of war and of human rights,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa program director. “To a large extent, Israel’s military offensive in Gaza was carried out with weapons, munitions and military equipment supplied by the USA and paid for with US taxpayers’ money.”

Update by Jeremy R. Hammond
On the day the US Senate passed S.RES.10, “reaffirming the United States’ strong support for Israel in its battle with Hamas” (January 8, 2009), the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a statement demanding to be allowed to assist those in need of medical attention because the Israeli military had blocked access to wounded Palestinians, a war crime under international law. Also that same day, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon issued a statement condemning the Israeli Defense Force for firing on a UN aid convoy delivering humanitarian goods to the desperate people of Gaza, another war crime, as well as the killing of two staff members of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in a separate incident.

The next day, the House passed its own version of the resolution, H.RES.34, as UNRWA announced that it had had to halt its humanitarian efforts because of numerous incidents in which its staff, convoys, and installations had come under attack by Israeli forces.

The Senate resolution was reported by foreign media agencies. The Jerusalem Post had a story on it, as did Reuters. In the US, it was reported by the Jewish daily Forward and mentioned in alternative media sources by Stephen Zunes, Robert Naiman, and several others. It was first brought to my attention by Foreign Policy in Focus (http://www.fpif.org), and the text was available on the AIPAC website. But to my knowledge it was not reported in the mainstream media.

It’s hardly a secret that the US has a “special relationship” with Israel, but the full extent of US support for Israeli crimes is a matter that is met with absolute silence by the mainstream media, and Congressional support for Israel’s aggression and war crimes against the people of Gaza was no exception. When reported, the mainstream media employs euphemisms or parrots the official US government line, such as that settlements are an “obstacle to peace” rather than “illegal.”

The US supports Israel financially, with upwards of $3 billion annually. This money is given with little to no oversight, but even if it is not used to directly fund Israel’s illegal settlements and occupation, it allows Israel to free up other funds and divert them for that purpose.

The US supports Israel militarily. In its assault on Gaza, for instance, Israel employed US-made F-16 jets and Apache helicopter gunships. U.S-made bombs were dropped on Gaza during twenty-two days of violence, resulting in over 1,300 Palestinian deaths, nearly a third of whom were children, among other civilian victims.

The US also supports Israel diplomatically. For instance, the US delayed passage of a UN resolution calling for a cease-fire during the assault on Gaza, according to foreign diplomats.
President Obama has issued strong words in support of Palestinian statehood and against the Israeli settlements. It’s up to the American people, though, to put pressure on the US government to ensure that the rhetoric is followed up with action, such as an end to such financial, military, and diplomatic support for Israeli crimes.

This is among the reasons why it’s so important that stories like the US Congressional endorsement for Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” against Gaza be made known to the public.