Former Palestinian foreign minister Dr. Saeb Erekat, an expert in international politics and law, claimed that the Wednesday morning attack in Beit Hanoun that left 18 Palestinians dead is an Israeli war crime.
Dr. Nitza Shapira-Libai, an international law expert and former chairperson of Amnesty International's Israeli chapter, conceded that it is possible that Israel violated international law.
Dr. Erekat, who currently resides in the West Bank, told Ynet of his impressions from Wednesday morning: "What Israel did is a war crime against the civilian population in Gaza," he declared.
"Women and children were killed in their sleep. In terms of international law, it is fitting to impose the convention from 1948."
Criticism of international leaders
"International leaders must act in accordance with these conventions, which deal with protecting civilians during wartime."
Erekat had harsh criticism of international leaders and their treatment of the issue. "The world must stop viewing Israel as occupation above the law," he cried. "The Israelis can't hide behind their withdrawal from Gaza."
"As long as they continue to attack, according to international law, they're still considered occupiers. A gross violation of international law is the shooting of civilians by an occupying force. It is a war crime," he continued.
Despite his harsh accusations against Israel, Arikat said that Palestinians should not take revenge: "We’re not moving towards a solution by using military or violent means."
"What the Israelis and Palestinians need is a solution through negotiation, a political solution through dialogue. Only thus will we end this crazy violence," he elaborated.
Qassam-oriented operations: Ends vs. means
One issue that arose as a result of the accident in Beit Hanoun is the prudence of firing artillery at Qassam launch sites situated next to residential areas. Dr. Shapira-Libai posited whether taking out the launch cells justifies harming civilians.
"The army claims that it is interested in harming rocket launchers. That's a legitimate military objective and we know and understand that sometimes there is collateral damage," she stated.
"The big question is whether taking out the rocket launchers is such a clear military achievement, since it's not large in comparison to the potential harm that can be caused," she explained.
"I think that there is possibly an immediate advantage in operating in such a way, but, in general, experience has shown that such artillery fire does not halt the rocket fire. It's also uncertain whether the population that is harmed is able to prevent gunmen from continuing their fire."
Regarding the legal implications of Wednesday morning's incident and the international response, Dr. Shapira-Libai said: "It's borderline. The Palestinians appealed to the Security Council, who could determine that Israel is committing war crimes, but it's reasonable to assume that it will issue a warning."
"Israel has not signed the convention of the international criminal court, thus immediate sanctions or trial are unlikely," she explained.
"Nonetheless, Abbas said he would appeal to the Security Council, so it's possible that the prime minister, defense minister or IDF chief of staff would be called to trial. It's most likely that the US would veto that," she elaborated.
Dr. Shapira-Libai added that, despite the fatal repercussions of the incident, the deaths at Beit Hanoun cannot be categorized as murder.
"The death and harm must be shown to be the intentional eradication of a certain population, completely or partially, for it to be categorized as murder," she stated.
"Is it a war crime? According to international law, there's a clear principle forbidding harming civilians not participating in enemy actions or direct attacks. There must be a differentiation between military and civilian targets," she said.