as if they had stepped on a mine, but there was no shrapnel in
the wound. Some had lost their legs. It looked as though they
had been sliced off. I have been to war zones for 30 years, but
I have never seen such injuries before”
Erik Fosse, Norwegian cardiologist who worked in Gaza hospitals
during the recent war.
Fosse was describing was the effects of a U.S. “focused
lethality” weapon that minimalizes explosive damage to
structures while inflicting catastrophic wounds on its victims.
While the weapon has been used in Iraq, Gaza was the first test
of the bomb in a densely populated environment.
is a Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME) and was developed by the
U.S. Air Force, Boeing Corporation, and University of
California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 2000. The
weapon wraps the high explosives HMX or RDX with a tungsten
alloy and other metals like cobalt, nickel or iron, in a carbon
fiber/epoxy container. When the bomb explodes, the container
evaporates and the tungsten turns into micro-shrapnel that is
extremely lethal up to about 60 feet.
is inert, so it does not react chemically with the explosive.
While a non-inert metal like aluminum would increase the blast,
tungsten actually limits the explosion.
the weapon’s range, however, it is inordinately lethal.
According to Norwegian doctor Mad Gilbert, the blast results in
multiple amputations and “very severe fractures. The muscles are
sort of split from the bones, hanging loose, and you also have
quite severe burns.”
who survive the initial blast quickly succumb to septicemia and
organ collapse. “Initially, everything seems in order…but it
turns out on operation that dozens of miniature particles can be
found in all their organs,” says Dr. Jam Brommundt, a German
doctor working in Kham Younis, a city in southern Gaza. “It
seems to be some sort of explosive or shell that disperses tiny
particles…that penetrate all organs, these miniature injuries,
you are not able to attack them surgically.” According to
Brommundt, the particles cause multiple organ failures.
some miracle, victims do survive, they are almost to certain
develop rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS), a particularly deadly cancer
that deeply embeds itself into tissue and is almost impossible
to treat. A 2005 U.S. Department of health study found that
tungsten stimulated RMS cancers even in very low doses. Out of
92 rats tested, 92 developed the cancer.
DIMEs were originally designed to avoid “collateral” damage
generated by standard high explosive bombs, the weapon’s
lethality and profound long-term toxicity hardly seems like an
improvement. And in Gaza, the ordinance was widely used.
Al-Shifta alone has seen 100 to 150 such patients.
a test of DIME in urban conditions?
Gilbert told the
is a strong suspicion I think that Gaza is now being used as a
test laboratory for new weapons.”
characteristics of the GBU-39 are likely to make it a go-to
weapon in the future. The bomb is small and light—less than six
feet long and only 285 pounds—that means an aircraft can carry
four times as many weapons. It can also be dropped 60 miles from
its target. Internal wings allow the bomb to navigate to its
target. It can penetrate three feet of reinforced concrete. It
can also be mounted on drones, like the Predator and the Reaper,
and compared to other weapons systems, is a bargain.”
Garlasco, Human Rights Watch’s senior military advisor, says “It
remains to be seen how Israel has acquired the technology,
whether they purchased weapons from the United States under some
agreement, or if they in fact licensed or developed their own
type of munitions.”
Congress approved the $77 million sale of 1.000 GBU-39s to
Israel in September, 2008, and the weapons were delivered in
December. Israel was the first foreign sales of the DIMES.
weapons are not banned under the Geneva Conventions because they
have never been officially tested. However, any weapon capable
of inflicting such horrendous damage is normally barred from
use, particularly in one of the most densely populated regions
in the world
thing, no one is sure about how long the tungsten remains in the
environment or how it could affect people who return to homes
attacked by a DIME. University of Arizona cancer researcher Dr.
Mark Witten, who investigates links between tungsten and
leukemia, says that in his opinion “there needs to be much more
research on the health effects of tungsten before the military
increases its usage.”
DIMEs were not the only controversial weapons used in Gaza. The
Israeli Self-Defense Forces (IDF) also made generous use of
white phosphorus, a chemical that burns with intense heat and
inflicts terrible burns on victims. In its vapor form it also
damages breathing passages
International law prohibits the weapon’s use near population
areas and requires that “all reasonable precautions” be taken to
Israel initially denied it was using the chemical. “The IDF acts
only in accordance with what is permitted by international law
and does not use white phosphorus,” said Israel’s Chief of Staff
Gabi Ashkenazi on Jan. 13.
eyewitness accounts in Gaza and Israel soon forced the IDF to
admit that they were, indeed, using the substance. On Jan 20,
the IDF confessed to using phosphorus artillery shells as smoke
screens, as well as 200 U.S.-made M825A1 phosphorus mortar
shells on “Hamas fighters and rocket launching crews in northern
those shells hit the UN Works and Relief Agency compound Jan,
.15, igniting a fire that destroyed hundreds of tons of
humanitarian supplies. Al-Quds hospital in Gaza City was also
hit by a phosphorus shell. The Israelis say there were Hamas
fighters near the two targets, a charge that witnesses adamantly
Donatella Rovera of Amnesty International said, “Such extensive
use of this weapon in Gaza’s densely-populated residential
neighborhoods…and its toll on civilians, is a war crime.”
is also accused of using depleted uranium ammunition (DUA),
which in a UN sub-commission in 2002 found in violation of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Charter, the
Geneva Conventions, the International Convention Against
Torture, the Conventional Weapons Convention, and the Hague
Conventions against the use of poison weapons.
not highly radioactive, but after exploding some of it turns
into a gas that can easily be inhaled. The dense shrapnel that
survives also tends to bury itself deeply, leaching low-level
radioactivity into water tables.
human rights groups, including B’Tselem, Gisha, and Physicians
for Human Rights, charge that the IDF intentionally targeted
medical personal, killing over a dozen, including paramedics and
International Federation for Human Rights called upon the UN
Security Council to refer Israel to the International Criminal
Court for possible war crimes.
the Israelis dismiss the war crimes charges, the fact that the
Israeli cabinet held a special meeting on Jan 25 to discuss the
issue suggests they are concerned they could be charged with
“disproportionate” use of force. The Geneva Conventions require
belligerents to at “all times” distinguish between combatants
and civilians and to avoid “disproportionate force” in seeking
use of unguided missiles fired at Israel would also be a war
crime under the Conventions.
one-sidedness of casualty figures is one measure of
disproportion,” says Richard Falk, the UN’s human rights envoy
for the occupied territories. A total of 14 Israelis have been
killed in the fighting, three of them civilians killed by
rockets, 11 of them soldiers, four of the latter by “friendly
fire.” Some 50 IDF soldiers were also wounded.
contrast, 1330 Palestinians have died and 5450 were injured, the
overwhelming bulk of them civilians.
kind of fighting constitutes a blatant violation of the laws of
warfare, which we ask to be investigated by the Commission of
War Crimes,” a coalition of Israeli human rights groups and
Amnesty International said in a joint statement. “The
responsibility of the state of Israel is beyond doubt.”
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that Justice Minister Daniel
Friedmann would coordinate the defense of any soldier or
commander charged with a war crime. In any case, the U.S. would
veto any effort by the UN Security Council to refer Israelis to
the International Court at The Hague.
points out, “all countries have an obligation to search out
those accused of ‘grave’ breaches of the rules of war and to put
them on trial or extradite them to a country that will.”
the basis under which Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was
arrested in Britain in 1998.
in a seismic shift in international law,” Amnesty International
legal advisor Christopher Hall told the
who says that Israel’s foreign ministry is already examining the
risk to Israelis who travel abroad.
like walking across the street against a red light,” he says.
“The risk may be low, but you’re going to think twice before
committing a crime or traveling if you have committed one."
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