The bombings of the Gaza Strip began a year ago today. For hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, last summer’s nightmare has become an ongoing reality. There are now some 100,000 displaced persons in Gaza living with relatives or in rented homes, in tents, or in the ruins of their old homes. Nearly 20,000 houses were partly or completely destroyed last summer, and hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza still live in 150,000 damaged residences. After the fighting ended, B'Tselem continued to publicize the stories of Gazans who are still dealing with its consequences.
The UN report on the 2014 Gaza conflict rejects Israeli government and military officials’ view of what is permissible in combat in densely populated areas. The UN commission’s premise differs from that of these officials, seeing Gaza as the home of over 1.5 million civilians where combat took place, not as a battlefield on which civilians live. The report states that the immense harm to civilians during the fighting cannot be justified nor can IHL be interpreted so as to legalize it, even considering the modus operandi of Hamas and other armed groups. The commission also found that the responsibility for violating IHL rests with the senior political and military officials who drew up the policy and did not change it even when its lethal consequences became clear.
The UN commission of inquiry into last summer’s fighting in Gaza recommended an international criminal investigation against Israel and Hamas. This is aimed primarily at the leaders on both sides, rather than at the ground forces. Despite the horrifying and predictable results, top military and government officials in Israel ordered that the lethal policy of massive bombings in Gaza be continued. Denial and passing the buck cannot be the only response to such serious findings. A healthy society should face the criticism and thoroughly investigate the allegations of serious human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law.
Palestinian women from Beit Hanoun found shelter with their families at an UNRWA school. They tell of the rough living conditions after losing their homes and speak of their hopes for the future. According to UN figures for Beit Hanoun, 90 homes were destroyed and 24 others damaged during Operation Protective Edge.
Op-ed by Hagai El-Ad, B'Tselem's executive director: The Gaza Strip is the most silenced issue in the current election campaign. Silenced? Apart from certain politicians vying for credit for discovering the tunnel threat, Gaza is completely absent from this election – erased, along with this summer’s unpleasant war. Gaza is gone. Its residents do not exist. Our future, our suffering, isn’t interlinked with theirs. The Gazan neighbors of Sderot, Ashkelon, Nahal Oz, and Tel Aviv are invisible.
Safiyeh a-Najar from Khuza'a describes life after Operation Protective Edge. The town of Khuza'a lies in south Gaza, about 500 meters from the Israeli border. The town council listed some 15,000 residents before the operation, in about 2,000 homes. Residents told B’Tselem that on 22 July 2014, 2 days after ground forces entered Gaza, the town was heavily attacked and many fled to schools in nearby Khan Yunis. The UN listed 556 homes damaged, 336 of them destroyed. Many residents still live in UN schools, trailers, or with relatives. Some, like a-Najar's family, are living in rough conditions among ruins.
Today (Wednesday, 28 January 2015) B’Tselem published its report on the policy of attacking residential buildings in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge. The report addresses one of the appalling hallmarks of the fighting in Gaza this summer: bombings in which hundreds of people were killed – constituting more than a quarter of all of the Palestinians killed in the fighting. Time and again Palestinian families suffered much grievous loss of life. In a single instant, so many families were ruined, with the wreckage of their lives mirroring the devastation of their homes. Hamas made explicit its intention to harm civilians. In contrast, the Israeli government claimed that it acted to prevent harm to civilians in Gaza. Is that the case?
Muhammad Sabah, B’Tselem field researcher in Gaza, has been hard at work documenting life amidst the ruins left in the wake of this summer’s fighting: “The fighting during the Operation Protective Edge made it practically impossible to get around Gaza to document events as they unfolded. For the past three months, B’Tselem’s 3 field researchers in Gaza have been carefully going through the Gaza Strip, following up on reports one neighborhood at a time, one house at a time. We take pictures of formerly vibrant, densely populated neighborhoods that have been reduced to rubble. We meet people living amidst the ruins... (click to read more and view the photos)
Shuruq's home is one of 100,000 houses in Gaza that were ruined or damaged in Operation Protective Edge. The families who lived in them now live in rough, crowded conditions in the cold. She related: "For the first 7 years of our married life, we lived with my husband’s parents. We kept dreaming of building a home of our house so things would be calmer and easier for us. In 2012 we own to build a house on our plot... I felt I couldn’t go and look at what’s left of the house. I couldn’t bear to see how years of work went down the drain in a single moment."
Tens of thousands of Gazan families are homeless, more than 3 months after Israel’s last operation there. In October 2014, the UN published that 20,000 homes of families were destroyed in the operation, and another 80,000 damaged. In the town of Khuza’a, east of Khan Yunis and close to the border with Israel, hundreds were destroyed. Until last summer, the extended al-Qara family lived in a five-apartment building. It was destroyed in the fighting and they now live in two tents next to the ruins.
“A friend told me ‘Alaa had been killed. He and his family had fled when the bombardment began and took cover in the hospital, but shells hit the hospital and ‘Alaa was hit by shrapnel in the abdomen and killed… My friends and I get together almost every day and remember ‘Alaa.” Operation Protective Edge ended over three months ago, but Gaza residents are still living with its aftermath. This account by Mu’taz is the third installment in the weekly series of voices from Gaza. Click here for the full account.
Images of people hard put to find adequate shelter in the recent heavy rainstorms serve as a reminder that Operation Protective Edge, which ended three months ago, continues to have serious consequences for life in Gaza. The following account by Shadi Barakeh is the second in a series of voices from Gaza that we will be presenting in the coming weeks. Shadi, 12, lost his father and his home in Operation Protective Edge. He now lives in an improvised tent with no facilities: “We have no happiness now… My mother cries for hours on end… It’s cold at night and I’m afraid when I hear dogs bark and the wind whistle.”
Operation Protective Edge ended in late August 2014, but most residents of the Gaza Strip are still suffering its consequences. The video shows the apartment of the Sukar family in a-Shuja’iyeh neighborhood in Gaza City, which was heavily shelled in the operation. The parents and their seven children now live in an apartment that does not provide them shelter from the cold and rain: “This apartment had been hit by shells and parts of it were destroyed. Whenever it rains, the house is flooded. The children get sick with colds. I hope we’ll be able to go back to our apartment, with all our belongings and furniture, especially the washing machine… This war set us forty years back…"
In response to the MAG corps announcement detailing some of the investigations opened into "exceptional" cases during operation Protective Edge, B'Tselem stated that based on past experience, it isn't holding out hope that this process will lead to results other than a whitewash. B'Tselem announced this week that it will not assist the current military investigation mechanism, which currently amounts is nothing more than a masquerade and called for the establishment of an effective, transparent and impartial mechanism.
During Operation Protective Edge, Israel violated international humanitarian law in some cases, and many other cases are highly suspect. However, B’Tselem does not intend to demand that these suspicions be investigated by Israel’s current investigation mechanisms. This is due to the experience that B’Tselem gained following past military offensives in the Gaza Strip, which shows that there is currently no official body in Israel capable of conducting independent investigations of suspected violations of international humanitarian law.
B’Tselem and Yesh Din, the two leading Israeli human rights organizations in monitoring the investigations of offenses committed by security forces against Palestinians, find that the military law enforcement system is a complete failure. After examining the results of hundreds of investigations, the organizations assert that the existing investigation mechanism precludes serious investigations and is marred by severe structural flaws that render it incapable of conducting professional investigations.
According to media reports, armed Hamas operatives killed over twenty Palestinians in the Gaza Strip for allegedly collaborating with Israel. Images of the executions were published in the media. According to media reports, since Thursday 21 August 2014, some 25 Palestinians were executed, including seven persons in a central square in Gaza City.
B'Tselem's board and staff send their sincere condolences to our colleague Issam Younis, director of al-Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza, for the death of his father and his father's wife in an Israeli airstrike on Rafah, in the morning of 21 August 2014.
During the fighting in Gaza, dozens of residences were bombed while residents were at home. The following infographic lists members of families killed in their homes in 72 incidents of bombing or shelling. In these incidents, 547 people were killed, including 125 women under the age of 60, 250 minors, and 29 people over the age of 60. Mouse over the houses for more details. The figures B’Tselem collected regarding the number of Palestinians killed in the course of the fighting in the Gaza Strip are very preliminary, and are still being cross-referenced and checked.
According to B'Tselem's initial figures, at least 1,767 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip and Israel from the time fighting began through 10 Aug. 2014. The fatalities include: 431 minors (one minor participated in the hostilities), 200 women (under age 60), 85 persons aged 60 and over. During the same period two Israeli civilians, one foreign national and 64 Israeli soldiers have been killed in Israel and the Gaza Strip. The figures B’Tselem collected regarding the number of Palestinians killed in the course of the fighting in the Gaza Strip are very preliminary and incomplete. In the months ahead, B’Tselem plans to further investigate the incidents.