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.
Use of firearms
B’Tselem has recently documented dozens of cases near Ramallah in which Israeli security forces injured Palestinians, some of them severely, with live gunfire. Most injuries are apparently the result of.22 inch bullets, whose impact is less than that of “ordinary” bullets but can still cause grave, even fatal injuries. The regular use of live fire against demonstrators in breach of regulations indicates that it is part of a policy, an unlawful policy. B’Tselem calls on security forces to stop firing live ammunition at unarmed civilians, except in extreme cases of immediate mortal danger.
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.
In March 2014, soldiers killed Yusef a-Shawamreh, 14, as he crossed the Separation Barrier to pick edible plants for his family. He was shot although he posed no danger, in broad daylight. In July 2014, the MAG Corps declared the investigation closed with no charges. Examination of the military file revealed a sloppy investigation and corroborated B’Tselem’s suspicion of unlawful conduct in the incident. The MAG Corps effectively sanctioned this conduct by accepting a flawed investigation and releasing the commanders from accountability.
On 13 May 2011, Milad ‘Ayash, 17, was hit by a live bullet fired at him from the Beit Yehonatan settlement in Silwan, East Jerusalem. ‘Ayash died of his wounds the next day. Both the DIP and the Israel Police investigated the shooting; both closed their case files citing “perpetrator unknown.” B'Tselem appealed to the State Attorney’s Office against the decision to close the investigations, noting grave investigative failings. The negligence with which the investigations were conducted and the closing of the files evince disregard by Israeli authorities for Palestinian lives.
Today Israel’s State Attorney’s Office notified the High Court of Justice that in the case of Palestinian youth Samir ‘Awad it had decided to file an indictment for the minor offense of committing “a reckless and negligent act using a firearm”. This is a new low in Israeli authorities’ disregard for the lives of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and a clear message to the security forces in the Occupied Territories: if you kill an unarmed Palestinian who poses no threat, we will do everything to cover it up and ensure impunity. Killing a wounded, fleeing youth who posed no threat by shooting him in the back is not a “reckless and negligent act”. The disparity between the grave action and the minor offense is incomprehensible and outrageous.
The mother of Bassem Abu Rahmeh, a resident of the West Bank village of Bil’in killed when a soldier fired a tear-gas canister at him, petitioned Israel’s High Court of Justice yesterday demanding that the Court compel the Military Advocate General (MAG) and the Attorney General to reach a decision concerning the appeal over the closing of the investigation file, and to indict the soldier who fired the canister along with any others bearing military command responsibility for the killing of her son. In the petition, filed jointly with Israeli human rights organizations B’Tselem and Yesh Din, Subhiya Abu Rahmeh demanded that the Court put an end to the foot-dragging and the avoidance of conducting even the most basic investigative acts that could shed light on the identity of the persons responsible for killing her son.
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.
On 25 March 2015 Israel’s High Court of Justice (HCJ) reiterated its ruling that by mid-April 2015 the State Attorney’s Office must announce its decision in the case of the killing of Samir ‘Awad. The HCJ made this announcement in response to the State’s request for yet another extension. B’Tselem criticizes the State’s disregard of a previous HCJ ruling and foot-dragging in the case. Samir ‘Awad, 16, was killed on 15 January 2013 by gunshots fired by soldiers near the Separation Barrier in the West Bank village of Budrus, although he posed no danger. Despite the more than two years that have passed since the incident, no decision has been made in the case.
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?
Recent months have seen a dramatic rise in Israeli security forces’ use of live 0.22 inch caliber bullets in clashes with Palestinians in the West Bank. The firing of this ammunition is an almost weekly occurrence in the West Bank in sites of protests and clashes. Most of those injured have been young Palestinians, including minors. Yet, in the last two months, one Palestinian woman, at least three photographers, and a foreign national who was taking part in a demonstration were also hit by these bullets. The military commander in the West Bank, Brig. Gen. Tamir Yadai, confirmed that the military had adopted a policy of firing live ammunition at stone-throwers.
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."
On 11 Nov. 2014, a soldier shot and killed Muhammad Jawabreh at home in al-‘Arrub RC. The soldier was on a rooftop overlooking a spot where clashes were taking place, some distance from Jawabreh’s home. The circumstances raise grave suspicion of unlawful use of live fire. Jawabreh is the 44th Palestinian killed in the West Bank by Israeli security forces this year, yet soldiers and commanders are rarely held accountable. Policy makers in the government and military are responsible for allowing this ongoing disregard for Palestinian lives.
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.
At around 2:00 A.M. on 12 Nov. 2014, Ahmad Hasunah and his sister stepped outside to throw out garbage after a family gathering at their home in Bitunya, Area A. B’Tselem found that soldiers lying in ambush fired live bullets at Hasunah as he walked back home, badly injuring him. The soldiers then questioned him for 20 minutes before giving him first aid. They also confiscated security camera footage in an apparent cover-up attempt. Shortly after the shooting the soldiers arrested a neighbor, and only then permitted a Palestinian ambulance to take Hasunah to hospital.
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.”
Yesterday (1 Dec. 2014) HCJ held first hearing in petition by Ahmad ‘Awad whose son Samir, 16, was shot and killed by soldiers in Budrus nearly two years ago. The petition, filed with B’Tselem, calls for a decision by the MAG on whether to indict. The Court added the Attorney General as respondent because Military Justice Law no longer applies to the since-discharged soldiers suspected in the incident. Justice Melcer: “In future, MAG Corps officials must know that […] they must complete all proceedings before the soldiers are discharged.”
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…"