Fact finding Mission in Gaza: Israel should be held accountable!

In the aftermath of the Gaza war of July 2014, Physicians for Human Rights Israel undertook a fact finding mission (FFM) in Gaza. Eight independent medical experts undertook three missions between August and November. They interviewed victims and spoke to doctors and paramedics. They present their findings in a report. Dr Louis Reynolds, a retired paediatrician living in South Africa and member of the People's Health Movement, was one of the experts. We talked with him on his experiences during his visit to Gaza and the works of the FFM.
We hope that more people will have the courage to say no to Israel

What were your first impressions of Gaza?

Dr. Reynolds: "You finally cross the border, and then you walk trough a long iron corridor and, at the other end, it is as if you land in a bad science fiction movie: tall buildings half destroyed but still standing. And then you enter and see that there are families living in these buildings, children playing and women trying to manage their household.

We entered Gaza during the cease-fire. But our colleagues from the first FFM said that during their stay people where constantly under surveillance of drones. These machines that remind you that in Gaza, there is no safe place."

Did you feel yourself threatened?

Dr Reynolds: "No, on the contrary. The people are so friendly and welcome you in what's left of their homes. The confrontation with their misery makes you forget your own troubles. The only thing that was threatening was the traffic though! Gaza is 40 km long and a few km wide with 1,8 million people. It is one large open target. If you fire one rocket, you cannot avoid killing and injuring men, women and children. Then you realize the truth of what Desmond Tutu said: "Gaza is the world’s biggest open air prison." "

What were your most important findings?

Dr Reynolds: "We interviewed victims and asked them under what conditions they were hurt. We found that the attacks were characterised by heavy, indiscriminate and unpredicatable bombardment of civilian neighbourhoods. Most victims were wounded nearby their homes and that they were attacked together with neighbours and  relatives. At least one entire family was eliminated.

Often there were multiple repeated strikes in the same immediate area, resulting in civilians and rescuers getting wounded or killed. There were reports of medical teams attempting to evacuate injured people being attacked.

IDF (Israel Defence Forces) warnings of iminent attacks were inadequate, and the IDF did not take precautions necessary to allow safe evacuation of civilians. There was no safe place in Gaza during the attacks. At the very least, I would say that the IDF had no consideration at all for the safety of the people and that - essentially - the people themselves were targets.

We encountered a huge frustration among fathers: their traditional role to protect the family was made impossible. There is no safe place in Gaza."


You also interviewed medical staff?

Dr. Reynolds: "As a doctor this was particularly shocking. We spoke to a paramedic whose ambulance was bombed when he arrived at the scene of a bombardment to evacuate the injured. He lost his leg during the first strike. But then his colleagues came to help, while the bombing continued. It seems that the attackers were trying to cause as many casualties as possible, and then prevent evacuation of the injured.

It is difficult to imagine why people do such things. What is their motivation, why do they hate so much? In my view it has to do with the idea of ethnic cleansing, as the historian Ilan Pappé describes: "Palestinians are not considered as a neighboring people or even as human beings, but as an obstruction that should be removed." "

Did you experience this during your visit?

Dr. Reynolds: "What struck me the most in the short time available was the deep despair of the people. What you see is the agony of the mothers that cannot provide a better life for their children, the fathers that are sitting in the streets, doing nothing because there is no work.

Children play in the remains of destroyed homes, looking, at first glance, like children anywhere in the world. Then you remember that many have lived through three wars. What would they like to do when they grow up? How do they see the world and their place in it? What are their dreams for the future? These are questions I often ask my patients. I regret that I had no time to ask them in Gaza.

One person said: "The whole world is looking at Gaza, doing nothing. The Israeli are immune. Europe is collaborating in this regard by letting them do this." "

I suppose that the mission what an attempt to breach this immunity?

Dr Reynolds: "Our first call to the world is: read our report. It provides substantial evidence to legally determine whether either side of this conflict violated international human rights and humanitarian law, and to seek justice and reparations.

We would also like to see an impartial investigation of the impact of this war, previous armed conflicts, as well as the occupation, on public health, mental health, and the social determinants of health in Gaza.

In the past, we struggled in South Africa against Apartheid. But it was different to Gaza because we knew that the whole world was on our side and that our moment would come, even in the face of harsh repression.

Palestinians are vulnerable and need us to speak loud for them. I admire the example of the 90-year old Mister Henk Zanoli, who received a medal of honor from the Israeli government, because of his fight against the deportation of Jews during world war II. During the Gaza war some of his family members, living in Gaza, were murdered.

Mr Zanoli returned his medal stating: "After the horror of the holocaust my family strongly supported the Jewish people as with regard to their aspirations to build a national home. Over more than six decades later, I have however come to realize that the Zionist project had from its beginning a racist element in it in aspiring to build a state exclusively for Jews.

As a consequence, ethnic cleansing took place at the time of the establishment of your state and your state continues to suppress the Palestinian people in the West Bank and in Gaza.

The actions of your state in Gaza these days have already resulted in serious accusations of war crimes and crimes against humanity. As a retired lawyer it would be no surprise to me that these accusations could lead to possible convictions if true and unpoliticized justice is able to have its course. What happened to our kin in Gaza will no doubt be brought to the table at such a time as well.

The only way out of the quagmire the Jewish people of Israel have gotten themselves into is by granting all living under the control of the State of Israel the same political rights and social and economic rights and opportunities. Although this will result in a state no longer exclusively Jewish it will be a state with a level of righteousness on the basis of which I could accept the title of ‘Righteous among the Nations’ you awarded to my mother and me together with the medal."

It is difficult to see the way forward out of the current situation of seemingle endless war and human rights violations. Mr Zanoli’s words gave me a new insight, and what he says above closely reflects my current view of what needs to happen."

You can find the entire report of the fact finding mission here.