Amnesty International on Wednesday accused Israel of committing war crimes during its 50-day military operation in Gaza this summer, saying Israeli forces had displayed “callous indifference” in attacks on family homes in the densely populated coastal strip. Israel’s government dismissed the report, the latest in a series by human rights organizations questioning Israeli tactics in Gaza.
Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” left more than 2,100 Palestinians dead, the majority civilians, according to Palestinian and U.N. officials. Israel lost 66 soldiers and six civilians in the conflict. A number of human rights groups have since probed the question of war crimes in a conflict in which both sides struck civilian targets. Israeli authorities are reluctant to have their military actions under the scrutiny of international jurists, and threatened last month to abandon future talks with the Palestinian Authority should the Palestinian leadership carry out a threat to refer Israel to the International Criminal Court.
Amnesty said in a report released Wednesday that “Israeli forces killed scores of Palestinian civilians in attacks targeting houses full of families, which in some cases have amounted to war crimes.” A report by Human Rights Watch in September also accused Israel of committing war crimes in the course of its Gaza operation.
Israel’s foreign ministry rejected the report’s findings, saying the London-based rights group “ignores documented war crimes perpetrated by Hamas.”
“The report does not mention the word ‘terror’ in relation to Hamas or other armed Palestinian groups, nor mentions tunnels built by Hamas to infiltrate Israel and perpetrate terror attacks,” the ministry said.
But an Amnesty representative told Al Jazeera that the human rights organization has consistently used the war crime label to condemn indiscriminate rocket fire by Palestinian armed groups. Amnesty added that abuses by Hamas or other Palestinian armed groups would be covered in a forthcoming report.
“Over the coming months Amnesty International plans to release other briefings on Israeli forces’ actions in Gaza and on abuses by Palestinian armed groups,” the Amnesty representative said.
Israel launched the Gaza operation in early July after Hamas had responded with rocket fire to Israeli air strikes launched on the territory after Israeli authorities blamed the Palestinian organization for the murder of three Israeli teenagers in Hebron.
It coincided with a crackdown by Israeli forces in the West Bank, where troops arrested scores of Hamas members following the Hebron killings.
Operation Protective Edge saw the fiercest conflict between the two sides in years.
“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,” said Philip Luther, director of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa program.
Israel says its forces took great care to avoid civilian casualties, citing its system of providing warning to civilians that strikes on their buildings were coming when possible. But the policy of warning civilians – so called “roof knock” strikes – has come under harsh criticism from rights experts. Those attacks involve firing a low- or non-explosive missile at the roof of a targeted building to warn residents to evacuate, with more lethal ordnance fired a short time later. Residents who fail to evacuate after the initial warning are considered unavoidable “collateral damage” by the Israeli military – a flawed argument according to Eyal Weizman, a forensics analyst and director of the Forensic Architecture project at the University of London.
“This is a gross misuse of international law,” wrote Weizman. “It is illegal to fire at civilians, even if the intention is to warn them. It is ridiculous to ask them to understand, in the commotion and chaos of war, that being shot at is a warning – and it is outrageous to claim that this is undertaken to save their lives.”
The Amnesty report focused on eight cases in which targeted Israeli attacks resulted in the deaths of at least 104 civilians, including entire families and 62 children.
“The fact that, in these eight cases … Israel has made no statement about who or what was being targeted, or even acknowledged that it carried out these particular attacks and the loss of civilian lives that they caused, is deeply worrying,” the report said.
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press
Israel and Palestine
The innocent imprisoned. Movement restricted. Trade suffocated. Homes demolished. Human rights abuses are rife in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
We do not take a position on issues of statehood.
We stand with those demanding that all sides respect human rights, and that perpetrators of human rights abuses are brought to justice.
The Gaza Platform: seeking justice for war crimes
The Israeli military offensive ‘Operation Protective Edge’ launched on 8 July 2014, killed and injured thousands of civilians.
This bloody seven-week escalation of the conflict wreaked further havoc, punishment and devastation on Gaza’s already blockaded population, with Gaza’s children caught in the crossfire – 551 were killed.
One year on from Operation Protective Edge, we’ve launched a new digital mapping tool to help investigate human rights violations during the conflict.
The Gaza Platform aims to uncover the truth about the attacks and serve as evidence of war crimes.
Using forensic architecture, satellite imagery, broadcast news and citizen-generated footage during the 50 days of the conflict, we’ve built a definitive picture of what happened minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day.
This digital database allows us to detect patterns in the Israeli forces’ conduct – a major step on the path to justice for victims of the violence.
‘Our aim is for it to become an invaluable resource for human rights investigators pushing for accountability for violations committed during the conflict.’
Philip Luther, Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Director
Forensic architecture originally referred to the work of building surveyors – the careful analysis of the conditions of a building. Now the researchers at the Forensic Architecture project at Goldsmiths University have redefined the term.
With more conflicts taking place in urban areas, the violations of human rights and the laws of war often take place within cities.
Violence leaves scars on the environment, as well as the people, so architectural analysis is increasingly called upon as evidence in legal and political forums.
‘Buildings become evidence for a new form of violence. We are like architectural detectives.’
Eyal Weizman, Forensic Architecture Director
The Gaza Platform allows us to explore and analyse exactly what happened during Israel’s 2014 military operation in Gaza.
The repeated use of artillery – an imprecise explosive weapon – in densely-populated civilian areas should be investigated as a war crime.
In some cases, Israel issued evacuation warnings to residents of Gaza that they were about to bomb the area.
One such method was the ‘knock on the roof’ warning – firing a small warning missile onto the roof a building just before dropping a deadly bomb.
With only a minute between the so called warning and the real and far deadlier bomb, many people died just trying to evacuate their house.
Families in the firing line
The evidence suggests that the Israeli military had a deliberate policy of targeting family homes. They continued to target homes throughout the war, even after it became clear how many civilians were being killed.
One Sunday evening during the conflict, three missiles struck the apartment of the al-Hallaq family in a residential neighbourhood of Gaza.
One detonates in the family’s TV room where three of their children were watching cartoons – killing all of them.
Another hits the kitchen, killing three women who had been preparing a fast-breaking meal during Ramadan.
At least two of the missiles pierce through the floor into the home of the Anmar family below, killing their three children.
‘It was terrifying; we couldn’t save anyone … All of the kids were burnt. I couldn’t tell which were mine and which were the neighbours’ … It was impossible to recognise them or their features.’
Khalil Anmar, 45, father of four and a doctor with the Palestinian Medical Council
There is also a pattern of attacks on health workers and facilities. In some cases, the Israeli army repeatedly fired at clearly marked ambulances and paramedics wearing recognizable fluorescent vests.
The Rafah bombings
We have used forensic architecture approaches to analyse military operations in Rafah, the southernmost city in the Gaza Strip, and one of the sites that suffered most destruction during Operation Protective Edge.
Sparked by the capture of an Israeli officer, Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, by Hamas fighters on 1 August 2014, four days of conflict killed between 135 and 200 civilians in Rafah, according to reports, as Israeli forces bombed civilians in the city intensively, even after the Lieutenant was declared dead on 2 August.
What we’re calling for
We want to see an independent investigation by the International criminal Court (ICC) into the 2014 Gaza conflict to ensure justice for victims and their families on both sides of the conflict.
The Gaza Platform has helped shed light on the colossal scale of the attacks and highlights the desperate need for an independent, impartial investigation.