[Published 13 July 2014]
Mahmoud Abbas — Head of the Government of National Consensus in Gaza since 2 June — faces prosecution in the international criminal justice system for aiding and abetting war crimes involving the indiscriminate firing of 384 rockets and missiles from Gaza into Israeli population centres reaching as far away as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem over the past four days.
This latest barrage — which sees no signs of ending—comes after more than 10000 similar rocket attacks on Israeli civilians from Gaza - then governed by Hamas - following Israel’s unilateral disengagement from Gaza in 2005.
Abbas and his Government now however bear primary responsibility for preventing war crimes emanating from Gazan soil.
In a prerecorded message aired on Palestine TV - Abbas said the new government was transitional. This lame excuse cannot enable Abbas to abdicate his responsibility to prevent war crimes being committed in Gaza.
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch stated in December 2012:
“There is simply no legal justification for launching rockets at populated areas.”
Human Rights Watch makes it clear that under international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, civilians and civilian structures may not be subject to deliberate attacks or attacks that do not discriminate between civilians and military targets. Anyone who commits serious laws-of-war violations intentionally or recklessly is responsible for war crimes.
Locating rocket launchers within or near densely populated civilian areas is also a war crime.
There is abundant evidence that this is occurring in Gaza right now.
Belligerents are also prohibited from using civilians to shield military objectives or operations from attack. “Shielding” refers to purposefully using the presence of civilians to render military forces or areas immune from attack.
This too is occurring in Gaza under the watchful gaze of Abbas’s Government.
Abbas as head of the ruling Government in Gaza, is obligated to uphold the laws of war and should appropriately punish those responsible for these serious violations.
Abbas is making no effort to restrain or end the commission of these war crimes.
There appears to have been no effort by Abbas or the security or police forces that he now controls in Gaza to take action to prevent the further commission of these war crimes.
Abbas has not attempted to travel to Gaza to take control of the rapidly deteriorating position Gaza finds itself in as rockets continue to be fired indiscriminately into Israeli population centres with what appears to be ever increasing intensity — inviting retaliation by Israel to defend its civilian population under article 51 of the United Nations Charter.
Abbas was clearly aware of the danger of provoking such an Israeli response to rockets being launched into Israel - as this report on 6 July made clear:
“Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Mahmoud Abbas spoke to the chairman of the Hamas political bureau, Khaled Meshaal, on Sunday, and asked him to calm the situation in Gaza. Abbas asked Meshaal to avoid escalation of the situation, which would give Israel an excuse to launch an operation in Gaza.
Meshaal reportedly told Abbas that he would not act to stop the rocket fire unless the PA met its financial obligations to Hamas, including paying the overdue salaries of several Hamas officials.
The PA is currently embroiled in a conflict over wages with Hamas; some 40,000 Hamas employees are not being paid backlogged wages by the newly established unity government, even while the PA’s 70,000 employees in Gaza continue to be paid.”
Abbas’s plea was made after Hamas ignored Israel’s ultimatum - made on 3 July - which called for the rocket fire to stop within 48 hours or face war.
At least fifteen rockets were fired on Israel in a 12-hour period on 5 July including two at Be’er Sheva.
Abbas clearly exercises control over the public servants in Gaza. He must immediately assert control over those presently in Gaza committing these heinous war crimes.
Abbas’s inaction in using his security and police forces to forcibly intervene to:
1. Remove rocket launchers from populated civilian areas
2. Destroy supplies of rockets
3. Prevent the manufacture of rockets
4. Prevent the importation of rockets
5. Confront, arrest and try those found launching rockets into Israel
6. End the use of “human shields”
- could result in Abbas and his Government colleagues having to face charges before the International Criminal Courts including:
1. Committing war crimes by omission
2. Aiding and abetting the commission of war crimes
3. Substantial contribution to the commission of war crimes
4. Tacit approval and encouragement of war crimes
5. Aiding and abetting war crimes by omission
6. Ending the use of “human shields”
Abbas could well follow in the footsteps of former Liberian President Charles Taylor who was found guilty on 26 April 2012 on 11 counts including aiding and abetting war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Taylor’s appeal was dismissed by the Court of The Hague on 26 September 2013.
Taylor’s case was the first concluded by an international court against a head of state since the Nazi trials at Nuremberg in 1946 convicted Admiral Karl Doenitz - who became President of Germany briefly after Adolf Hitler’s suicide.
Will the international community end its love affair with Abbas by calling for his prosecution for aiding and abetting the commission of war crimes being perpetrated in Gaza at this very moment?
The silence presently coming from the United Nations condemning Abbas is deafening.
Justice will hopefully prevail.