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15 Years Since ‘Operation Cast Lead’: Israel's Perpetual Impunity Persists in the Face of Ongoing Genocide in Gaza

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27 December 2023

Gaza, 27 December 2023 — Today marks exactly 15 years since the start of the first major Israeli military offensive against Gaza, code-named ‘Operation Cast Lead’. As we mark this somber anniversary, it is imperative to reflect on the enduring consequences arising from the lack of accountability for Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people as a significant contributing factor to the ongoing genocide in Gaza.

According to Al Mezan documentation, between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, Israeli forces killed around 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza—the overwhelming majority of whom were civilians—and destroyed and razed tens of thousands of residential houses, public facilities, and agricultural infrastructure. Many of the patterns observed in Gaza today were already in use by the Israeli military back during Operation Cast Lead, including direct and intentional targeting of UNRWA-managed shelters and places of worship; using civilians as human shields and putting them in other positions of harm; using internationally prohibited weapons, or legal weapons in an illegal way, such as the widespread use of white phosphorus in residential areas; targeting civilians holding white flags; firing at medical teams, ambulances and civil defense teams and preventing them from reaching the injured and dead; targeting journalists and media workers in an attempt to obscure the truth.

The 23-day military offensive was at that time unprecedented in terms of the scale of grave and systematic violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law. Al Mezan collected evidence which demonstrates clearly that many Israeli attacks qualified as grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention and were carried out in a systematic and deliberate manner, rendering them war crimes and crimes against humanity according to international law. This reality was also grasped by the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, also known as the Goldstone Report, which concluded that the Israeli actions, added to the ongoing closure of Gaza, could amount to the crime against humanity of persecution. 

Despite an abundance of reports from Palestinian, Israeli, and international human rights organizations, alongside the findings of the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission, all of which have extensively documented clear violations of international law, there has been a notable absence of accountability. Remarkably, no Israeli soldier or official has been prosecuted for international crimes committed during Operation Cast Lead.[1]Fifteen years have passed, and Palestinian victims remain without justice. Those who suffered from deaths and injuries in their family and destruction to their property maintain no hope that redress will be achieved. 

Al Mezan maintains that the persistent impunity for Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people, coupled with the unwillingness and inability of the international community to hold Israel accountable, has led to a seemingly endless cycle of oppression and violence perpetrated by Israeli forces against Palestinians that is now culminating in the ongoing acts of genocide in Gaza. 

The lack of accountability served as an encouragement for Israel to maintain 16 years of closure and blockade against Gaza, an illegal collective punishment and an act of persecution, a crime against humanity; to carry out full-scale military operations against Gaza in 2012, 2014, 2021, and 2022; to shoot and kill over 200 Palestinian protesters at the Great March of Return in Gaza between 2018 and 2019; to further expand its illegal colonial enterprise in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and other daily acts of violence against civilians throughout the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT). Al Mezan strongly condemns the failure of the international community to take effective steps to end Israel’s policy of impunity and secure accountability for violations of international law.

 As we somberly reflect on 15 years since Operation Cast Lead during the ongoing genocide in Gaza, it is crucial to reiterate our urgent appeal to the international community. Immediate and substantive action is required to halt the continued Israeli all-out war on Gaza, thwart declared Israeli plans to carry out a second Nakba and prevent the ethnic cleansing and mass deportation of Gaza's population. Equally pressing is the need for effective measures to ensure accountability for the atrocity crimes perpetrated by Israeli authorities and military personnel in the occupied Palestinian territory. This includes addressing war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of genocide. 

Lastly, Al Mezan appeals to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to vigorously pursue accountability for the international crimes committed in the occupied Palestinian territory since 13 June 2014. 

To this end, we strongly reiterate our calls on the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) to promptly issue arrest warrants for Israeli authorities and military personnel—especially Israeli governmental officials and high-ranking military staff—believed to be responsible for perpetrating, ordering, planning, and instigating international crimes. Al Mezan contends that the sufficient evidence submitted by various UN investigative bodies and civil society organizations warrants immediate action on cases related to the Gaza closure, the Great March of Return, and the 2014 and 2021 wars on Gaza. Such proceedings will serve to deter Israeli authorities and military personnel from the commission of further genocidal acts in Gaza.

This call is not just an invocation of legal obligations but a plea for the ICC to be a beacon of hope for victims of atrocity crimes by ensuring that perpetrators are held accountable for their actions. The pursuit of justice through international legal avenues is a crucial step toward breaking the cycle of impunity.



Photograph: Palestinian women in Jebaliya, January 2009. Courtesy of Hatem Moussa/AP


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[1] After Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Military Advocate General (MAG) concluded that legal standards had been met in all but three cases.