Amnesty: Cutting Edge Investigation Reveals Evidence of Israeli War Crimes in Rafah

New evidence showing that Israeli forces carried out war crimes in retaliation for the capture of an Israeli soldier was released on Wednesday, July 29, in a joint report by Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture. The evidence, which includes detailed analysis of vast quantities of multimedia materials, said that the systematic and apparently deliberate nature of the air and ground attack on Rafah, in the summer of 2014, which killed at least 135 civilians, may also amount to crimes against humanity.


The online report, ‘Black Friday’: Carnage in Rafah during 2014 Israel/Gaza conflict, features cutting edge investigative techniques and analysis pioneered by Forensic Architecture, a research team based at Goldsmiths, the University of London. “There is strong evidence that Israeli forces committed war crimes in their relentless and massive bombardment of residential areas of Rafah in order to foil the capture of Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, displaying a shocking disregard for civilian lives. They carried out a series of disproportionate or otherwise indiscriminate attacks, which they have completely failed to investigate independently, said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International. This report presents an urgent call for justice that must not be ignored. The combined analysis of hundreds of photos and videos, as well as satellite imagery and testimony from eyewitnesses, provides compelling evidence of serious violations of international humanitarian law by Israeli forces which must be investigated.”

The massive amount of evidence collected was presented to military and other experts, and then pieced together in chronological order to create a detailed account of events from August 1, when the Israeli military implemented the controversial and secretive “Hannibal” procedure following the capture of Lieutenant Goldin. Under the “Hannibal Directive,” Israeli forces can respond to the capture of a soldier with intense firepower despite the risks to his life or to civilians in the vicinity. As the report illustrates, the implementation of the directive led to the ordering of unlawful attacks on civilians. “After Lieutenant Goldin was captured, Israeli forces appear to have thrown out the rule book, employing a ‘gloves off’ policy with devastating consequences for civilians. The goal was to foil his capture at any cost. The obligation to take precautions to avoid the loss of civilian lives was completely neglected. Entire districts of Rafah, including heavily populated residential areas, were bombarded without distinction between civilians and military targets,” said Luther.

The ferocity of the attacks, which continued after Lieutenant Goldin was declared dead on August 2, suggests they may in part have been motivated by a desire to punish the population of Rafah as revenge for his capture. Shortly before Lieutenant Goldin’s capture on August 1, 2014, a ceasefire had been announced, and many civilians returned to their homes believing it was safe. Massive and prolonged bombardment began without warning while masses of people were in the streets, and many of them, especially those in vehicles, became targets. That day later became known in Rafah as “Black Friday.”

Eyewitness accounts described horrifying scenes of chaos and panic as an inferno of fire from F-16 jets, drones, helicopters and artillery rained down on the streets, striking civilians on foot or in cars, as well as ambulances and other vehicles evacuating the wounded. One witness described the attacks that day as an attempt to pulverize Rafah’s civilians, likening the onslaught to “a machine making mincemeat out of people without mercy.”

Attacks on Hospitals and Medical Workers

Satellite images and photographs analyzed for the report show craters and damage indicating that hospitals and ambulances were attacked repeatedly during the assault on Rafah, in violation of international law.

A doctor described how frantic patients fled Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital after attacks on the area intensified. Some were wheeled out on beds, many with intravenous drips still attached. A young boy in a plaster cast dragged himself along the ground to get away.

An ambulance carrying a wounded old man, woman and three children was struck by a drone-fired missile, setting it alight and incinerating to death everyone inside including medical workers. Jaber Darabih, a paramedic who arrived at the scene, described the charred remains of bodies with “no legs, no hands… severely burned.” Tragically, he later discovered that his own son, a volunteer paramedic, was among those killed in the ambulance.

“By attacking ambulances and striking near hospitals, Israel’s army displayed a flagrant disregard for the laws of war. Deliberately attacking health facilities and medical professionals amounts to war crimes,” said Luther.

Ending the Cycle of Impunity

This investigation into Rafah provides some of the most compelling evidence yet of serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes, during the conflict. In previous reports, Amnesty International has highlighted violations by both sides, including systematic attacks by Israel on inhabited civilian homes and its wanton destruction of multi-storey civilian buildings; and Palestinian armed groups’ indiscriminate attacks and direct attacks on civilians in Israel, as well as summary killings of Palestinians in Gaza.

However, a year after the conflict, the Israeli authorities have failed to conduct credible, independent and impartial investigations into violations of international humanitarian law. Israel’s limited military inquiries into some of its forces’ actions in Rafah on August 1 have not held anyone accountable.

“Thus far, the Israeli authorities have proved at best incapable of carrying out independent investigations into crimes under international law in Rafah and elsewhere, and at worst unwilling to do so. This report’s findings add compelling evidence to an already large body of credible documentation of serious violations during the Gaza conflict, which demand independent, impartial and effective investigations,” said Luther. “Victims and their families have a right to justice and reparation. And those suspected of ordering or committing war crimes must be prosecuted.”

The full Amnesty report: