ISRAELI LEGAL SYSTEM A SMOKESCREEN FOR WAR CRIMES says PCHR

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ISRAELI forces opened fire at farmers in the central Gaza Strip on Monday, locals said.

Witnesses said that Israeli troops stationed at a watchtower fired at farmers east of al-Bureij refugee camp, forcing them to flee the area.

Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers opened fire at a Palestinian liaison crew accompanying sick passengers to Israel via the Erez crossing in northern Gaza, witnesses said.

No injuries were reported.

This came as the Israeli military closed probes into more that 60 allegations of misconduct during its November war on Gaza, including a strike that killed 12, among them five women and five children.

In a report sent to news agencies, the army said its Military Advocate General had ‘reviewed the factual findings, as far as they existed, with respect to approximately 65 incidents, and did not find a basis for opening a criminal investigation in those cases.’

Among the incidents was a November 18 air strike on a family home in Gaza City in which Muhammad al-Dalou, a Hamas policeman described by the Israeli army as a ‘terrorist’, was killed along with nine other members of his family and two neighbours.

‘The regrettable deaths of members of the al-Dallu family were caused as a result of an attack aimed against a senior terrorist operative and several other terrorists responsible for launching many dozens of missile and rocket attacks,’ against Israeli population centres, said the report, received on Sunday.

It added that about 15 more incidents were still being probed.

The eight-day offensive against Gaza militants, codenamed ‘Operation Pillar of Defense’ by Israel, claimed the lives of 177 Palestinians, including over 100 civilians, and six Israelis, two of them soldiers, according to sources on both sides.

The Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights condemned the military investigation procedure.

‘Given the flaws inherent in this system – which more than five months after the latest Israeli offensive has failed to result in a single war crimes indictment – PCHR believes that Israel’s legal system is used as a smokescreen, to provide an illusion of investigative rigour,’ it said in a statement.

Meanwhile it was business as usual in the West Bank.

A nine-year-old boy was injured on Monday after being knocked down by a settler’s car in a Bethlehem-area village, medics said.

Malik Adel al-Shaer was run over in the village of Tuqu while on his way to school. He suffered internal bleeding and was taken to hospital for treatment, medics said.

Medics at the scene said Israeli troops verbally abused them.

Mayor of Tuqu Taysir Abu Mfarih called on Israeli authorities to install speed bumps in the area.

Israeli forces detained six people overnight Sunday across the occupied West Bank, local residents and an army official said.

Residents of al-Arrub refugee camp said Israeli forces seized 24-year-old Samed Jawabreh five days after his release from jail. They said two others, Wisam Sweilem, 19, and Muhannad Abu Sal, 25, were also detained.

The soldiers were looking for stone-throwing youths, according to residents.

Local wtinesses said Khalil Tariq al-Sadi, 19, and Mahmud Abed al-Latif Shibrawi, 19, were detained in Jenin and taken to an unknown location.

An Israeli army spokeswoman confirmed two arrests in al-Arrub but said four Palestinians were detained including two in Jenin and one each from Tulkarem and the Burqa and al-Dhahiriya villages.

• Despite winter rainfall which has painted green patches on the rolling south Hebron hills, the 145 residents of Tuba village face a daily struggle to access the most basic levels of water needed to survive.

Like 70 per cent of Palestinian communities in Area C, Tuba is not connected to the water network.

Located in 30,000 dunams of land designated by Israel as a closed military area, or Firing Zone 918, Israel’s Civil Administration forbids all construction in Tuba.

Villagers live in caves and tents and depend entirely on cisterns and tankered water to meet their daily needs.

‘These communities live in conditions similar to that of a post-disaster situation, such as an earthquake or tsunami,’ Advocacy Task Force Officer for EWASH, Alex Abu Ata, says.

‘People affected by natural disasters are forced to live in tents and have little access to water or food.

‘They basically only have what is provided to them through aid.’

The Emergency Water, Sanitation and Hygiene group (EWASH) is a coalition of almost 30 organisations working in the water and sanitation sector in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Established in 2002, its members include international and national NGOs and UN Agencies.

International NGOs implement humanitarian projects in the south Hebron hills but cannot obtain authorisation from Israel to build long-term water infrastructure.

‘They can only really delay the problem, without ever solving it,’ Abu Ata says.

Between 2009 and 2011, Israe’s military destroyed 173 water, sanitation and hygiene structures in the West Bank including 40 wells, 57 rainwater collection cisterns and at least 20 toilets and sinks, OCHA (UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) says.

In 2012, dozens of international aid agencies issued a collective call for Israel to halt the ‘continuous targeted destruction’ of cisterns in Area C, labeling the demolitions a ‘clear breach’ of international humanitarian law.

‘If communities in Area C were allowed to develop real infrastructure they would have water by now, like all nearby Israeli settlements,’ Abu Ata says.

The Israeli water company Mekorot has built pipelines in the south Hebron hills to service settlements, outposts and agricultural industries but Palestinian villages, with the exception of al-Tuwani, have not been allowed to connect to the network.

Abu Ata stresses: ‘Israel’s policy in the West Bank is to exercise pressure on communities in Area C to force them to leave.

‘Demolishing water infrastructure is one of the means, as is harassment, and Israel pressures vulnerable communities, the poorest communities, in an effort to displace them.’

The discrepancy in water consumption between Palestinians and Israeli settlers in the West Bank is vast.

EWASH estimates that around 9,400 Israeli settlers in the Jordan Valley enjoy water allocation equal to almost a third of the consumption of the entire population of 2.5 million Palestinians.

Israelis, including settlers, have access to 300 litres of water per day, according to EWASH, while the West Bank average is around 70 litres, well below the World Health Organisation’s recommended minimum of 100 litres per day for basic sanitation, hygiene and drinking.

In the south Hebron hills, average water consumption varies between 10-60 litres per day, similar to consumption levels in sub-Saharan Africa or Haiti.