Human Rights Watch questioned why the Israel Defence Force targeted a building that houses media offices in Gaza City (struck on November 19, 2012).
Elham Asaad Buaras
Israel killed Palestinian civilians and destroyed homes during November’s Operation Pillar of Defense without legal justification, according to a report by one of the world’s leading independent human right organisations.
After “a detailed investigation” Human Right Watch (HRW) field investigators ruled last month that the Israel Defence Forces’ (IDF) killing of 43 Palestinian civilians, including 12 children in Gaza were in violation of the laws of war.
“There was no indication of a legitimate military target” in 14 of the 18 strikes carried out during the eight days of fighting reads the report.
Investigators also ruled that in four other cases, attacks may have targeted Palestinian fighters, but appeared to use indiscriminate means or caused disproportionate harm to civilians.
HRW Middle East Director, Sarah Leah Whitson, said the IDF “often conducted airstrikes that killed Palestinian civilians and destroyed homes in Gaza without apparent legal justification.”
“The burden is on the Israeli military to show that attacks killing large numbers of civilians were lawful,” Whitson said. “The victims’ families deserve to know why their loved ones died.”
IDF missiles and a bomb struck civilians, houses and farm groves, without any apparent military objective, HRW said.
The killing of three men in a truck carrying tomatoes and a teacher who was sitting in his front yard with his 3-year-old son on his lap, are among many cases of violation of laws of war reported by HRW.
Other drone-launched missile attacks killed a 79-year-old and his 14-year-old granddaughter in the family’s olive grove; also killed was a farmer and his nephew walking on a road; and a woman in her yard.
An aerial bomb destroyed the two-story home of the Hijazi family in Jabalya, killing the father, two of his children ages 4 and 2, and wounding his wife and four other children.
Despite being protected under the laws of war, hospitals were not spared, Gaza City hospital was struck by a Hellfire missile on November 19, puncturing the roof and cutting electricity and water. There were no casualties.
Investigators found no evidence of Palestinian fighters, weaponry, or other apparent military objectives at the time of the attack.
HRW said that as several of the strikes targeting military objectives had disproportionately harmed civilians, the IDF had knowingly violated the laws of war which “prohibit attacks in which the expected loss of civilian life and property exceeds the anticipated military gain.”
HRW says the IDF have failed to explain “specific attacks that killed civilians in Gaza.”
The attack that caused the largest number of civilian deaths was the bombing of the Dalu family home, which killed 12 civilians. Since HRW’s previous coverage of the airstrike in which it reported that two posters showed one of those killed Mohamed al-Dalu as a Qassam Brigade member, an online forum, allegedly from the Qassam Brigade, described him as a fighter. No information is provided as to the role of al-Dalu if al-Dalu was a valid military target and the intended target of the strike, the attack on the home nonetheless raises concerns that it caused disproportionate loss of civilian life and property.
Israeli spokespersons said the attack targeted a member of a Palestinian armed group but failed to show HRW any evidence he was a legitimate target, nor published the findings of a promised investigation following the attack.
Israel also has not provided information that would justify other attacks previously documented by HRW: a probable drone strike that killed two cameramen, a missile strike on a media office that killed a 2-year-old boy, and a third missile strike that wounded seven media workers.
UK-based NGO Friends of Alqsa (FoA) said HRW’s finding “justifies” sanctions on Israel.
FoA Chair, Ismail Patel, told The Muslim News, “These facts should also be presented to governments within Europe when trade agreements are being negotiated with Israel, so that favourable trade terms are tied in with human rights records, and thus, used as an incentive to pressure Israeli into complying with international laws. The HRW report also appears to provide evidence justifying the use of sanctions against Israel until international laws are complied with.”