In a new report on the latest Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip, Amnesty International has disclosed that Israeli forces killed scores of Palestinian civilians in attacks targeting houses occupied by families which, in some cases, amount to war crimes. The report entitled Families under the Rubble: Israeli Attacks on Inhabited Homes, details eight cases in which residential family homes in Gaza were attacked by Israeli forces without warning during Operation Protective Edge in July and August 2014, causing the deaths of at least 104 civilians, including 62 children. The report reveals a pattern of frequent Israeli attacks using large aerial bombs to level civilian homes, sometimes killing entire families.
“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 the Middle East and North Africa Program at Amnesty International.
Luther continued: “The report exposes a pattern of attacks on civilian homes by Israeli forces which have shown a shocking disregard for the lives of Palestinian civilians, who were given no warning and had no chance to flee. The report contains numerous accounts from survivors who describe the horror of frantically digging through the rubble and dust of their destroyed homes in search of the bodies of children and loved ones.
“Even if a fighter had been present in one of these residential homes, it would not absolve Israel of its obligation to take every feasible precaution to protect the lives of civilians caught up in the fighting. The repeated, disproportionate attacks on homes indicate that Israel’s current military tactics are deeply flawed and fundamentally at odds with the principles of international humanitarian law,” said Luther. In the single deadliest attack documented in the report, 36 members of four families including 18 children were killed when the three-storey al-Dali building in Khan Yunis was struck. Israel has not stated why the building was targeted, but Amnesty International has identified possible military targets within the building.
The second deadliest attack appears to have targeted a member of the al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ armed wing, who was just outside the Abu Jame’ family home, also in Khan Yunis. The house was completely leveled killing 25 civilians including 19 children. Regardless of the intended targets, both of these attacks constitute grossly disproportionate attacks and, under international law, they should have either been called off or delayed as soon as it became evident that so many civilians were inside the house.
Israeli officials have failed to give any justification for carrying out these attacks. For some of the cases appearing in this report, Amnesty International has not been able to identify any possible military target. In such cases it appears that the attacks directly and deliberately targeted civilians or civilian property, which would constitute war crimes. In none of the cases researched by Amnesty International was prior warning given to residents of the homes which were attacked. If such warning had been given, excessive loss of civilian lives could clearly have been avoided.
The report highlights the catastrophic consequences of Israel’s attacks on homes, which have shattered the lives of entire families. Some of the homes attacked were crammed with relatives who had fled other areas of Gaza in search of safety. Survivors of an attack on the al-Hallaq family home in Gaza City described horrifying scenes of strewn body parts amid the dust and chaos after three missiles struck the house. Khalil Abed Hassan Ammar, a doctor with the Palestinian Medical Council and a resident in the building said: “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 neighbors’… We carried whomever we were able to the ambulance… I only recognized Ibrahim my eldest child, when I saw the shoes he was wearing…I had bought them for him two days before.”
Ayman Haniyeh, one of the neighbors, described the trauma of trying to search for survivors: “All I can remember are the bits and pieces I saw of bodies, teeth, heads, arms, insides, everything scattered and spread,” he said. One survivor of the same attack described hugging a bag full of the “shreds” of her son’s body.
Israel has so far failed to even acknowledge any of the attacks detailed in the report and has not responded to Amnesty International’s requests for explanations of why each of these attacks took place. Given the failure of Israeli and Palestinian authorities to independently and impartially investigate allegations of war crimes, it is imperative that the international community support the involvement of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Amnesty International is renewing its calls on Israel and the Palestinian authorities to accede to the Rome Statute and grant the ICC the authority to investigate crimes committed in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). The organization is also calling for the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Israel and the OPT to the ICC so that the prosecutor can investigate allegations of crimes under international law by all parties. Israel has continued to deny access to Gaza for international human rights organizations including Amnesty International and the organization has been forced to conduct its research for this report remotely, supported by two fieldworkers based in Gaza. Israel has also announced that it will not co-operate with the Commission of Inquiry established by the UN Human Rights Council.