Israel’s Use of Lethal Weapons, Exceeding International Norms

Israel closed all of the Gaza Strip’s borders in June 2007. Since then it has blocked humanitarian aid shipments of food, medical supplies and school books, as well as fuel supplies to run electricity and water treatment plants. Collective punishment of this kind is illegal under international law, particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention. But Israel’s denial of international law in its occupation policies is not the sum total of its defiance of international norms, as it is exhibited in its use of banned weapons of war and its exempting itself from agreements on what gets labeled as weapons of mass destruction.

An article entitled “Israel Treated Gaza Like Its Own Private Death Laboratory” by Conn Hallinan in the February 14, 2009 issue of Foreign Policy in Focus, chronicles Israel’s use of lethal weapons, which approach or exceed international norms.

Erik Fosse, a Norwegian cardiologist who worked in Gaza hospitals during the December 2008/January 2009 war, said he had been to war zones for 30 years but he had “never seen such injuries before,” referring to the recently concluded Gaza conflict. Dr. Fosse was describing the effects of a U.S. “focused lethality” weapon that minimizes explosive damage to structures while inflicting catastrophic wounds on its human victims.

The specific weapon is called a Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME). The weapon wraps high explosives with a tungsten alloy and other metals like cobalt, nickel or iron in a carbon/epoxy container. When the bomb explodes, the container evaporates and ;the tungsten turns into micro-shrapnel that is extremely lethal within a 13-foot radius. According to Norwegian doctor Mad Gilbert, the blast results in multiple amputations and “very severe fractures. The muscles are split from the bones, hanging loose, and you also have quite severe burns.”

Even if the victims survive their injuries, they are almost certain to develop rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS), a particularly deadly cancer that deeply inbeds itself into tissue and is almost impossible to treat.

DIME weapons may have been used in the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon but they were widely used in Gaza, with one hospital alone seeing 100 to 150 patients with DIME-like injuries.

DIME weapons aren’t banned under the Geneva Conventions because they have never been officially tested; however, any weapon capable of inflicting such horrendous damage is normally banned from use.

Besides DIME, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) also used white phosphorus in Gaza. White phosphorus is a chemical that burns with intense heat and inflicts terrible burns on victims. The IDF initially denied using the chemical but on January 20, 2009, it confessed to using it in artillery and mortar shells.

Israel is also accused of using depleted uranium (DUA) ammunition, which a United Nations sub-committee found in 2002, in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Charter, the Geneva Conventions, the International Convention Against Torture, the Conventional Weapons Convention and the Hague Conventions against the use of poison weapons.

Besides the use of these lethal weapons, Israel was also charged with intentionally targeting medical personnel in the Gaza conflict, killing over a dozen, including paramedics and ambulance drivers. This targeting prompted the International Federation for Human Rights to call on the UN Security Council to refer Israel to the International Criminal Court for possible war crimes.

Even though all countries have an obligation to take remedial actions against those accused of “grave” breaches of the rules of war, the United States is almost certain to veto any UN Security Council effort to refer Israel to an international body for sanctions.

On a less serious, yet tragic, matter, there have been at least six instances in which IDF armed forces have caused serious injury or death by hitting people with a hurled tear gas canister. Three of the people thus hit, died.

The U.S. Arms Export Control Act (Public Law 90-829) limits the use of U.S. weapons given or sold to a foreign country to “internal security” and “legitimate self-defense” and prevents their use against civilians.

On December 15, 2011, Congress released a new condition, as part of the foreign operations portion of the spending bill, asking the State Department to submit a report “detailing any crowd control items, including tear gas, made available with appropriated funds or through export licenses to foreign security forces that the Secretary of State has credible information have repeatedly used excessive force to repress peaceful, lawful and organized dissent.”

Concluding this section on how Israel has divorced itself from a host of international conventions and agreements, it has also exempted itself from the Biological and Chemical Conventions and has refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The United States has joined some of the European countries in blocking efforts to have Israel sign the NNPT.

Finally, there is that curious term of “nuclear ambiguity,” whereby the United States is given an excuse to break laws saying we can’t give aid to countries that have weapons of mass destruction and don’t follow the rules of the road regarding their possession. The number of nuclear warheads Israel is estimated to possess varies widely — from 60 to as many as 300 — and one proposed remedy to induce Iran to give up any nuclear bomb aspirations is to make the Middle East a nuclear weapons-free zone. That sort of remedy is unlikely to be supported by the current White House, with its “unshakable and “ironclad” ties to Israel.

In the final analysis, President Barack Obama would have accorded himself a much higher standing in world public opinion and in the eyes of historians if he had not so uncritically accepted the excesses of Israeli behavior.

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