By Marjorie Cohn / Truthout
From July 3-4, Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) — using weapons funded by the United States — mounted the most violent military assault in the occupied West Bank in two decades.
In what Israel dubbed “Operation Home and Garden,” more than 1,000 ground troops invaded the Jenin refugee camp. Assisted by helicopter gunships and armed drones, the IOF killed 12 Palestinians — including six civilians (five of them children) — and wounded more than 120 others (including 14 children), according to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights. The IOF partially destroyed 109 houses, extensively damaged the infrastructure, leveled the streets and created a power outage. About 4,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes.
While the IOF has used armed drones against Gazans, they are now using them against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank as well.
Meanwhile, the U.S. government, as usual, issued no criticism of the brutal IOF assault on Jenin. Instead, the White House declared that the United States “supports Israel’s security and right to defend its people against Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups.”
Under international law, the occupying power (Israel) is not entitled to self-defense against the people it occupies (the Palestinians). A UN-appointed Commission of Inquiry determined last year that Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory is illegal and called on the General Assembly to seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice.
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Israel Illegally Targeted Civilians and Hospitals and Denied Access to Ambulances
The IOF denied ambulances access to evacuate the wounded in Jenin. Jovana Arsenijevic, operations coordinator in Jenin for Médecins Sans Frontières, said in a statement that the IOF fired tear gas into the Khalil Suleiman hospital. The Fourth Geneva Convention provides that civilian hospitals must never be the object of attack.
On July 3, Jenin’s mayor, Nidal Obeidi, told Al Jazeera that the attack was “a real massacre and an attempt to wipe out all aspects of life inside the city and the camp.” Although Israel claimed to target resistance fighters, Obeidi said, “Those being targeted now are not just the resistance fighters but civilians are being killed and wounded as well.”
Many journalists reporting from Jenin were targeted directly by Israeli live fire. Al Araby TV channel correspondent Ahmed Shehadeh reported that the IOF destroyed his camera with gunfire while he and four other journalists were trapped inside a home in the camp for two hours before they were evacuated by the Red Crescent.
Last year, Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was killed while reporting on an IOF raid in the Jenin camp. The beloved Palestinian American correspondent was shot in the head while wearing a flak jacket clearly marked “PRESS.” No one has been brought to justice for her assassination.
U.S. Is Complicit in Israeli War Crimes
Three UN experts said, “Israeli forces’ operations in the occupied West Bank, killing and seriously injuring the occupied population, destroying their homes and infrastructure, and arbitrarily displacing thousands, amount to egregious violations of international law and standards on the use of force and may constitute a war crime.” The experts included Special Rapporteurs Francesca Albanese (human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967), Paula Gaviria Betancur (human rights of internally displaced persons), and Reem Alsalem (violence against women and girls).
UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated that the use of airstrikes by the IOF in Jenin was “inconsistent with the conduct of law enforcement operations.” He reminded Israel that as the occupying power, it is responsible for ensuring that civilians are “protected against all acts of violence.”
“The Israeli assault on Jenin violated a host of international laws, including the Geneva Conventions. They include the prohibition on collective punishment, attacking civilian infrastructure, failure to distinguish between military and civilians, and much more,” Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, told Truthout. “Their use of U.S. Apache helicopter gunships and myriad other weapons purchased with the $3.8 billion we give the Israeli military every year means that the U.S. is accountable for those violations.”
The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court can be used to prosecute anyone who “aids, abets or otherwise assists” in the commission or attempted commission of a crime “including providing the means for its commission.”
Bennis noted that the IOF also violated U.S. domestic laws. The Leahy Law forbids Congress from funding foreign military forces who commit gross violations of human rights. The Arms Export Control Act requires governments that receive weapons from the United States to use them for legitimate self-defense. As stated above, Israel as the occupying power cannot claim self-defense against the occupied Palestinians.
The Biden administration’s continuing support for “Israel’s assault on Jenin, despite its legal violations, shows once again how deeply out of touch the Democratic leadership in the White House and Congress are with their voter base — who increasingly support Palestinian rights far more than they support Israel,” Bennis said.
Indeed, a 2023 Gallup poll concluded that 49 percent of Democrats are more sympathetic to the Palestinians, 38 percent sympathize more with Israel, and 13 percent sympathize with neither.
On July 5, 72 rights organizations signed a letter urging the Biden administration “to take decisive action by holding Israel accountable and enforcing the Leahy Law, ensuring that not a single dollar of U.S. military aid to Israel is used for purposes such as the military detention of Palestinian children, the demolition of Palestinian homes, or the annexation of Palestinian territories.”
Attorney Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, said in a statement, “This military operation reminds us of IOF’s recurrent and consistent attacks across the Occupied Palestinian Territory (oPt), where civilians are in the eye of the storm and IOF deliberately inflict harm on them and systematically destroy civilian property and infrastructure, constituting war crimes and crimes against humanity according to the international law.”
Sourani called on the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel’s war crimes. Two and a half years ago, the ICC opened an investigation into war crimes committed in the occupied Palestinian Territory. But no progress has been made. By contrast, the ICC prosecutor filed war crimes charges against Vladimir Putin one year after Russia illegally invaded Ukraine.
“We reiterate our call on the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to take an immediate action, including proceeding with the investigation into the situation of Palestine to end these crimes and send a clear message to the perpetrators of the war crimes that no crime goes unpunished,” Sourani said.
Israel’s Assault on Jenin Has Galvanized Palestinian Resistance
The Jenin refugee camp was established by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in 1953. It is populated with refugees who were ethnically cleansed from their lands in the 1948 Nakba (Arabic for “catastrophe”) during the creation of the state of Israel.
One of 19 refugee camps in the occupied West Bank, Jenin is the poorest with the highest population density .
“For so long, the Jenin refugee camp has been a symbol of Palestinian resistance and social steadfastness,” Mohammed R. Mhawish wrote at Jacobin. “Israel’s portrayal of the invasion as ‘targeting terrorism’ dismisses Palestine’s century-long struggle for freedom and obscures the broader context of resistance in Jenin and across the occupied West Bank.”
Under international law, the Palestinians have a legal right to resist Israel’s occupation, including by the use of armed struggle. In 1982, the UN General Assembly reaffirmed “the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, including armed struggle.”
Israel’s assault on the Jenin camp has galvanized the resistance, according to Ghassan Khatib, a political analyst and former Palestinian minister based in the West Bank city of Ramallah. “I think there is overwhelming sympathy and support for those guys trying to fight against the occupation by whatever means,” he told The New York Times. “I think that one of the most immediate and obvious outcomes of this Israeli operation — or on our side, the term used is aggression — is a dramatic increase in public support for resistance” against Israel.
Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and a member of the national advisory boards of Assange Defense and Veterans For Peace, the bureau of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, and the U.S. representative to the continental advisory council of the Association of American Jurists. Her books include Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral and Geopolitical Issues. She is co-host of “Law and Disorder” Radio.