HRW: Israel displayed ‘callous indifference’ in deadly attacks on family homes in Gaza

A general view shows the destruction in part of Gaza City’s al-Tufah neighbourhood as the fragile ceasefire in the Gaza Strip entered a second day on August 6, 2014. Photo credit: MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images

Human Rights Watch (HRW) today released a new report on the attacks perpetrated against houses full of civilians during Operation Protective Edge in July and August 2014, attacks which have allegedly amounted to war crimes. Families under the Rubble: Israeli attacks on inhabited homes  was elaborated following investigations on eight cases of residential family homes that were attacked without prior warning during Israeli latest operation in Gaza. These attacks cause the deaths of more than 100 civilians, of which 62 were children. In total, it is estimated that at least 18,000 homes were destroyed or rendered uninhabitable and that more that 1,500 Palestinian civilians, including 519 children, were killed during Operation Protective Edge. The report reveals a pattern of frequent Israeli attacks using large aerial bombs to level civilian homes, sometimes killing entire families.

While the report ackowledges that possible military targets were identified in some of the bombed areas, it argues that the devastation to civilian lives and property caused in all cases was clearly disproportionate to the military advantages gained by launching the attacks. Attacks where no military targets could have been clearly identified constitute a war crime. When evidence of possible military targets can be proven, under international law, the report states that they should have been cancelled or postponed as soon as it was evident that so many civilians were present in the house.

The deadliest attack documented by the report reveals the death of 36 member of four families, including 18 chidren, living in the al-Dali building.  The report gives testimonies from survivors describing horrifying scenes of body parts scatterned around and hardly identifiable. 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 neighbours’…We carried whoever 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.”

HRW has failed to obtain explanations by Israeli authorities, which haven’t acknowledged any of the attacks reported.  HRW is calling upon support of the international community for the involvement of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and for the adoption of the Rome Statute by both the Israel and Palestinian authorities. Indeed, Palestinian armed groups also committed war crimes, firing thousands of indiscriminate rockets into Israel killing six civilians, including one child.

The independent Commission of Inquiry established by the United Nations Human Rights Council following Operation Protective Edge should present its written report in March 2015. Israel has also announced that it will not co-operate with the Commission.