An airstrike on the Gaza Strip. Photo: Ahmad Zakut, Reuters, 21 july 2014
Ten human rights organizations urgently contacted Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein today following the release of reports on the nature of attacks within the Gaza Strip and the high rate of civilian casualties. This information raises concerns about grave violations of international humanitarian law.
The organizations demanded that the Attorney General instruct the government to refrain from violating the laws of war and re-evaluate its aggressive policy and rules of engagement. The organizations seek to clarify whether the Attorney General critically evaluated the legal advice supplied to the Military Advocate General that underpins 'Operation Protective Edge', and calls on him to establish an external, independent and effective investigatory mechanism to examine the decision making of the political and operational establishment as required by international law and supported by the rulings of the High Court of Justice.
The joint letter notes that more than 400 people have been killed and thousands injured since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, the vast majority of which are Palestinians. More than 80 of the dead Palestinians are children. According to estimates provided by the United Nations, civilian casualties constitute 70% of the deaths.
The letter illustrates several instances of severe attacks suffered by Palestinian civilians. In the neighborhood of Shujaya, newly released data reveals a shocking picture of dozens of dead Palestinians, including at least 17 children and 14 women. In this case, serious concern is raised concerning the legality of the operation, an in particular, the potential violation of the fundamental principles of the laws of war, specifically the principle of distinguishing between combatants and civilians. The organizations assert that actions that do not enable a distinction between combatants and civilians must be avoided so much as possible to minimize civilian casualties.
The organizations emphasize that sending alerts or providing warnings to residents does not transform them, or their homes, into legitimate military targets, and does not exempt the army from its duty to avoid executing indiscriminate attacks in the area. "In the absence of a protected area for residents that provides shelter and an answer to their humanitarian needs, military commanders can not claim that they have taken sufficient precautions to avoid causing injury".
The organizations point in their letter to a number of significant attacks on civilian targets, including the shelling of a cafe that killed 9 civilians, the shelling of a beach that caused the death of 4 children and the bombing of a home for disabled persons that killed 2 residents. Even if there were legitimate military targets in these locations, as was suggested by the IDF spokesperson, the consequences of these attacks raises concerns that insufficient measures were adopted to prevent incurring civilian casualties and that questions of proportionality were not considered in the decision to execute the maneuver.
The letter also reviews a number of cases of bombings of residential apartments where, according to the IDF spokesperson, Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives resided. As such, the bombing of the Kwarea family home took the lives of 8 people, 6 of which were children. In the bombing of the Hammad family home that occurred that same evening, 6 people were killed in their sleep. In the bombing of the al-Haj family home, 8 people were killed. Three children from the Shuheiber family, 8 year old and 11 year old boys and their 8 year old cousin, were killed as a result of a warning missile that was directed at a nearby house. The organizations assert that it is illegal to attack a residential dwelling just because it is the residence of a operative of an enemy organization. Even in the case that the house was used to conduct military operations, there is still a duty to consider questions of proportionality concerning the danger to civilian life.
The organizations emphasized in the letter that violations of the laws of war by the opposing party in a conflict does not warrant or justify the violation of Israel's obligations under the laws of war.
Organization who signed the letter:
B’Tselem - Gisha - The Association for Civil Rights in Israel – The Public Committee against Torture in Israel - Hamoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual - Yesh Din - Adalah - Machsom Watch - Rabbis for Human Rights - Physicians for Human Rights – Israel