Punish Israel for ‘using white phosphorous’ against the Palestinians

Pretoria wants Israel to be held accountable for what the Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Dr Naledi Pandor, describes as “war crimes”. Picture: Jason Boud/African News Agency (ANA)

Pretoria wants Israel to be held accountable for what the Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Dr Naledi Pandor, describes as “war crimes”. Picture: Jason Boud/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Nov 19, 2023


HUMAN Rights Watch has sounded alarm: Israel is using prohibited “white phosphorus” in the Gaza Strip and also in Lebanon, thereby endangering scores of innocent lives.

Ideally, the UN Security Council should speak with one voice to condemn such excesses. However, a myriad of competing sectarian geopolitical interests has relegated the plight of the Palestinian people to the back seat.

Innocent civilians trapped under the fatal white phosphorus in Lebanon are just as doomed as their neighbours in Palestine’s Gaza Strip.

White phosphorus can cause “bone-deep burn, resulting in death or lifelong injuries. It can also be used “to generate smokescreens, mark targets and incinerate enemy targets”.

Israel used white phosphorus extensively during its bombardment of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in 2009. There was international condemnation at the time.

The Human Rights Watch accusation against the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) comes in the aftermath of the organisation’s independent investigation. It showed “multiple uses of artillery-fired white phosphorus” over the Gaza City port and “at two rural locations along the Israeli-Lebanon border”.

This week, President Cyril Ramaphosa joined a growing chorus of international voices against what many has termed “the genocidal operation” of the IDF in Gaza.

Speaking during his state visit to Qatar, Ramaphosa further revealed that SA has cited Israel at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Pretoria wants Israel to be held accountable for what Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Dr Naledi Pandor, describes as “war crimes”.

The SA Parliament also this week debated whether to cut diplomatic ties with the Jewish state. Leading parties in parliament, notably the ruling ANC and the third largest party, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), favour cutting diplomatic ties with Israel.

It is expected that when voting together, both the ANC and Julius Malema’s EFF will prevail. Voting on the matter is expected within the next seven days.

SA and other nations across the global south and indeed growing voices in the Western capitals have been calling for a ceasefire in the wake of Israel’s indiscriminate bombing of densely populated residential areas in Gaza.

Hospitals have also been targets of Israeli air strikes and the UN mission inside Gaza has all but collapsed due to the Israeli blockade of the enclave.

But is it the use of white phosphorus, prohibited under the Geneva Convention, that has raised eyebrows, more so in the light of the apparent impunity with which the Israeli military operates.

According to Lama Fakih, Human Rights Watch Director for the Middle East and North Africa: “Any time that white phosphorus is used in crowded civilian areas, it poses a high risk of excruciating burns and lifelong suffering.”

She said: “White phosphorus is unlawfully indiscriminate when airburst in populated urban areas, where it can burn down houses and cause egregious harm to civilians.”

The Human Rights Watch has since appealed to Israel to refrain from using the “airburst white phosphorus”, but their plea has fallen on deaf ears that are covered by Washington’s unipolar foreign policy. Israel denies using white phosphorus this time, although evidence suggests otherwise.

Human Rights Watch is not alone in raising the alarm. Amnesty International is equalled appalled at the evidence of the use of white phosphorus.

Brian Castner, a weapons investigator for Amnesty International, said: “White phosphorus should never be used in densely populated areas, and Gaza is one of the most densely populated places in the world,” he told Al Jazeera TV.

So far Israel has killed more than 12 000 Palestinians since October 7 after Hamas militants launched surprise attacks inside the Jewish state, killing more than 1 300 and taking around 240 people hostage.

In brutish retaliation, Israel has launched a lethal siege of Gaza and increased its subjugation of all the Palestinian occupied territories. Apartheid-style detention with trial, wanton murder, all forms of basic human freedoms are denied Palestinians by the illegal occupation force of Israel.

The Israeli settlers who have been illegally housed on Palestinian land are also a law unto themselves. They have state authority against all Palestinians and they can do as they please against the Palestinians without any consequences.

In Gaza, Israel’s main object of its retaliation for the October 7 attacks, innocent men, women and children are killed every minute. Millions have been deliberately displaced and Israel’s plan, according to the Arab League, is to uproot the Palestinians from their land permanently.

Appeals for a ceasefire appear not to hold - in spite of the UN Security Council’s resolution this week calling for a momentary cessation of hostilities to allow international aid into through the Rafah crossing from neighbouring Egypt.

Any stern action against Israel at the UN Security Council, whose resolutions are binding, is swiftly pushed back by the US using its veto power that it enjoys as a permanent member of the council.

The Arab League, the African Union and the rest of the global south has expressed great regret at the genocidal attack on the Palestinian people, who have been under Israeli occupation for 75 years with no end in sight.

Recently, a London-based newspaper Middle East Eye with contacts in the resistance groups reported that things are only going to get worse for the Palestinians in Gaza.

It reported that “Israel will flood Hamas tunnels with nerve gas and chemical weapons under the surveillance of US Delta Force commandos” as part of a surprise attack on the besieged Gaza Strip.

Quoting a leak that the publication said originated from the US, the Middle East Eye said: “Israel and the US hope to achieve the element of surprise in order to penetrate Hamas tunnels, rescue an estimated 220 hostages, and kill thousands of soldiers belonging to Hamas’ al-Qassam Brigades.”

It added: “US Delta Force will oversee large quantities of nerve gas being pumped into Hamas tunnels, capable of paralysing bodily movement for a period of time between six and 12 hours. During this period, the tunnels would be penetrated, the hostages rescued and thousands of al-Qassam soldiers killed.”

There are countless underground tunnels in the Gaza Strip that Hamas has built over the years as some kind of security “bunkers” for use during frequent bombardment of the densely populated enclave by the Israeli military. Hamas also uses the tunnels for storage of their weapons, keeping their arsenal out of Israeli sight.

The Israeli military, together with their US directors, are concerned that the ground invasion in Gaza could easily go awry due to a lack of their knowledge about the make-up of the tunnels. And that would count heavily against the unpopular Israeli leader, Benjamin Netanyahu and his “war cabinet.”

Such a scenario would undoubtedly cause a major public relations nightmare not only in Tel Aviv, but notably in Washington itself.

Nations such as South Africa should become pro-active and move to stop the use of chemical weapons against the Palestinians before it is too late.

They should without delay approach the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) at its HQ at The Hague.

The organisation itself should stand up and be counted. After all, it has a binding mandate to ensure that chemical weapons are never used against the Palestinians, or any other nation.

Like the ICC, the OPCW should be seen to be fearless and independent in carrying out its duties. Any failure to protect the people of Palestine – based in Gaza or elsewhere in their land of birth – will be an affront to international justice.

Israel’s war on the Palestinians (not Gaza as the pro-Western media reports mischievously) has caused untold harm to the stature and standing of international organisations.

It has exposed particularly the UN as a captured institution controlled by the few but wealthy and powerful nations of the global north.

Not all the Palestinian people are members of Hamas. Their collective punishment, therefore, is in stark contravention to the ethos of international humanitarian law.

We are to hear loud cries against Israel and the US “joint venture” against the Palestinian people, similar to their cries against Russia’s “Special Military Operation” in Ukraine.

I shudder to think about the level of noise had Russia been accused of using white phosphorus against the Ukrainians. We are living in an immoral world of abominable double-standards.