Amnesty International: Hamas Committed War Crimes During Gaza War

Israel has taken fierce international criticism for its conduct during last year's fighting. A new report says Palestinian militants may have violated international law as well.


Last August, 4-year-old Daniel Tregerman was playing with his best friend at their house in Kibbutz Nahal Oz, near the border with Gaza, when a mortar slammed into the car parked outside and took his life.

“My husband and son were in the living room and I was yelling for them to come into the shelter,” Daniel’s mother, Gila Tregerman, told Amnesty International investigators for a report released Thursday. “Shrapnel [from the mortar] entered Daniel’s head, killing him immediately.” The mortar, according to the report, was fired by Hamas’ military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades.

Israel has been criticized for months for its alleged brutality during the 50-day war in Gaza, which resulted in the deaths of at least 1,585 Palestinian civilians, including more than 530 children. Some 66 Israeli soldiers, and six civilians within Israel itself, were killed during the fighting, which was triggered by the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers.

The 65-page report focuses not on Israel, though, but on Palestinian militant groups like Hamas. Amnesty says that the Palestinian terror group violated international law by firing thousands of rockets and mortar shells into civilian areas in Israel during the war. More than 4,800 rockets and 1,700 mortars were fired from Gaza during Operation Protective Edge, according to United Nations data, some 224 of which are believed to have struck civilian structures.

“When indiscriminate attacks kill or injure civilians, they constitute war crimes,” according to the report.

In a statement attached to the report, Philip Luther, the director of the group’s Middle East and North Africa Program, said  “but violations by one side in a conflict can never justify violations by their opponents.”

The deadliest incident chronicled by the report was the July 28 explosion of a Palestinian rocket in Gaza’s al-Shati refugee camp, which killed 13 civilians, including 11 children. The children were playing in the street just before the attack a local shop owner, Yasser Mahmoud Mustafa Abu Shaqfa, told Amnesty. “They were buying crisps and soft drinks and juice, playing and enjoying themselves. And the next thing we knew, the rocket fell, near the door of the shop. We cannot have been the targets, nor the children. I don’t know how it happened.”

The unpredictability of the rockets could be to blame. “Evidence suggesting that a rocket launched by a Palestinian armed group may have caused 13 civilian deaths inside Gaza just underscores how indiscriminate these weapons can be and the dreadful consequences of using them,” said Luther.

The reported also cited the practices of storing munitions in civilian buildings and launching rockets from densely populated civilian areas as violations of international law.

Accusations of war crimes are not new in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but the Amnesty report comes at a particularly fraught time: the Palestinian Authority applied for membership in the International Criminal Court (ICC) in late December, and the ICC launched a probe to investigate possible war crimes in January. Jerusalem has steadfastly denied the charges and said Hamas made civilian casualties inevitable by firing rockets from densely populated areas.

JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Thomas Stackpole is an Assistant Editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @tom_stackpole

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