Amnesty: Israeli Gaza Strikes Show ‘Callous Indifference’ to Civilians
The intense fighting this summer in the Gaza Strip took the lives of more than 2,000 Palestinians, and a new report from Amnesty International concludes that Israel’s military campaign there to halt rocket strikes on its own territory repeatedly flouted international law by ignoring the possibility of civilian casualties caused by its air strikes. According ...
The intense fighting this summer in the Gaza Strip took the lives of more than 2,000 Palestinians, and a new report from Amnesty International concludes that Israel's military campaign there to halt rocket strikes on its own territory repeatedly flouted international law by ignoring the possibility of civilian casualties caused by its air strikes. According to the report, some of the incidents may amount to war crimes.
The intense fighting this summer in the Gaza Strip took the lives of more than 2,000 Palestinians, and a new report from Amnesty International concludes that Israel’s military campaign there to halt rocket strikes on its own territory repeatedly flouted international law by ignoring the possibility of civilian casualties caused by its air strikes. According to the report, some of the incidents may amount to war crimes.
In an examination of eight strikes on Gaza during this summer’s 50-day conflict, Amnesty found that Israeli forces targeted civilian homes in which it was aware of or should have been aware of the presence of large amounts of civilians. Taken together, the eight cases resulted in the deaths of 111 individuals, at least 104 of whom were civilians. All told, Israeli forces gave no warning of an imminent attack. Over the course of the campaign, Israeli officials emphasized that they tried to mitigate civilian casualties by warning residents near target zones with phone calls and small rocket strikes.
"Israeli forces have brazenly flouted the laws of war by carrying out a series of attacks on civilian homes, displaying callous indifference to the carnage caused," Philip Luther, the director of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa program, said in a statement accompanying the report’s release. "The report exposes a pattern of attacks on civilian homes by Israeli forces which have shown a shocking disregard for the lives of Palestinian civilians, who were given no warning and had no chance to flee."
The Amnesty report notes that Palestinian militants carried out thousands of "indiscriminate" rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli civilian areas, which also constituted violations of international law. Six civilians, including one child, died as a result of those attacks. Over the course of its campaign to suppress rocket and mortar fire from Gaza, 66 Israeli soldiers died.
The Israeli military has provided little information about whom it targeted in its aerial campaign, and that has required a measure of inference to determine the targets of Israeli strikes. Under international humanitarian law, civilian casualties are not totally outlawed, but military action that may result in such casualties are governed by the concepts of proportionality, distinction, and precaution.
Amnesty argues that Israeli forces failed to abide by the requirements of proportionality by using large munitions — including, at times, 2,000 pound precision-guided bombs — in densely populated areas to either target fighters or retaliate for rocket attacks. Moreover, the group Israeli forces did not comply with the requirement to distinguish between civilian and military targets. The report documents how members of the armed Palestinian resistance were targeted while at home with their families. Amnesty argues that Israel also failed to show a due measure of precaution by targeting houses that contained large numbers of civilians, including many children.
"The use of large aerial bombs to level entire homes without prior warning to civilians in targeted or neighbouring houses is prima facie evidence of serious violations of international humanitarian law," the report argues. "Attacks directed at civilian objects or at civilians, or disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks that kill or injure civilians are war crimes."
The Israeli government dismisses Amnesty as hopelessly biased — in part because of a belief that the group focuses less attention on attacks conducted by Palestinian militants — and has since 2012 refused the group’s personnel access to Gaza. In assembling the report, the human rights group was forced to investigate remotely and rely on two contractors on the ground. Amnesty’s hired workers visited the sites of all eight strikes examined in the report and spoke to witnesses and survivors.
This latest report makes for grisly reading. High-powered Israeli munitions made easy work of Gaza’s flimsily constructed homes, and survivors and rescue workers quoted in the report speak of sorting through the dismembered remains of dead men, women, and children. "All I can remember are the bits and pieces I saw of bodies, teeth, head, arms, insides, everything scattered and spread," a neighbor who rushed to the scene of a July 20 attack on a Gaza City home that killed 18 people, including six children, told Amnesty. "We managed with very simple, primitive tools — a broomstick and other tools – to go through the rubble."
Among the strikes documented in the report is a July 29 strike on the al-Dali building in Khan Younis that left 36 people dead, including 18 children. That strike killed more civilians than any other strike during Operation Protective Edge, as the Israeli military campaign was known. At the time of the strike, shortly after 7:30 a.m., there were 37 people in the three-building structure. The strike completely demolished the building, and a military expert who worked with Amnesty said that he believed it was caused by a 2,000 pound precision bomb.
"I have five children, three daughters, and my son’s daughter. They all died. I have no one left," Hana’ al-Najjar, who survived the attack, told Amnesty. "Nothing is left for me. My husband is dead."
Israel has not made clear why it targeted the al-Dali building, but witnesses told Amnesty that a member of the armed wing of Islamic Jihad, may have had an office in one of the apartments. Another resident of the building was said to have been a former member of Quds.
The report argues that while Israel may have been justified in targeting the office, it used far too much force in doing so and failed to take into account the scores of civilians who would surely be killed in an attack that involved such a large munition.
"Even if a fighter had been present in one of these residential homes, it would not absolve Israel of its obligation to take every feasible precaution to protect the lives of civilians caught up in the fighting," Luther said.
In another attack documented in the report, Israeli forces killed Hayel Shehdeh Abu Dahrouj, a member of the armed wing of Islamic Jihad, his wife, their two children, and another relative. While Dahrouj may have himself been a legitimate military target, he was killed alongside his entire family, raising questions about whether the attack violated the protections international law accords to civilians in war.
"He missed his kids so he came back to the house," Dahrouj’s brother Wael told Amnesty.
Another strike documented in the report indicates that Israeli forces may have targeted a family with no discernible connection to the conflict. On Aug. 20, Ra’fat Mustafa Mahmoud al-Louh, his pregnant wife, and their three children were killed in their home by an Israeli bomb. That day, according to witnesses quoted by Amnesty, al-Louh had gone out into the fields near his house to investigate what he thought was a rocket being fired toward his house. After returning home, he was killed along with members of his family. The witnesses speculated that Israeli forces may have believed he was responsible for firing the rocket but said that no one in the family was involved in fighting.
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