Thursday, July 30, 2015
Evidence of war crimes - Amnesty looked into Israel's carnage of August last year in Rafah
Rafah after the Israeli attacks. (Photo AP)
Amnesty Internationale has, together with the London group Forensic Architecture, investigated what happened when during the Operation Protective Edge of last summer in te Gaza-Strip, one of their soldiers was kidnapped on the 1st of Augustus in Rafah and the military got involved in the so called ''Hannibal Directive''. This is one of their conclusisons:
There is overwhelming evidence that Israeli forces committed disproportionate, or otherwise indiscriminate, attacks which killed scores of civilians in their homes, on the streets and in vehicles and injured many more. This includes repeatedly firing artillery and other imprecise explosive weapons in densely populated civilian areas during the attacks on Rafah between 1 and 4 August. In some cases, there are indications that they directly fired at and killed civilians, including people fleeing.
Here follow some excerpts from the summary of their report:
On 1 August 2014 Israel and Hamas agreed to a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire that would take effect at 8am that day. Three weeks after Israel launched its military offensive on Gaza, thousands of Palestinians who had sought refuge in shelters or with relatives prepared to return to their homes during the anticipated break in hostilities.
In Rafah, the southernmost city in the Gaza Strip, a group of Israeli soldiers patrolling an agricultural area west of the border encountered a group of Hamas fighters posted there. A fire fight ensued, resulting in the death of two Israeli soldiers and one Palestinian fighter. The Hamas fighters captured an Israeli officer, Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, and took him into a tunnel. What followed became one of the deadliest episodes of the war; an intensive use of firepower by Israel, which lasted four days and killed scores of civilians (reports range from at least 135 to over 200), injured many more and destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes and other civilian structures, mostly on 1 August.
In this report, Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture, a research team based at Goldsmiths, University of London, provide a detailed reconstruction of the events in Rafah from 1 August until 4 August 2014, when a ceasefire came into effect. The report examines the Israeli army’s response to the capture of Lieutenant Hadar Goldin and its implementation of the Hannibal Directive – a controversial command designed to deal with captures of soldiers by unleashing massive firepower on persons, vehicles and buildings in the vicinity of the attack, despite the risk to civilians and the captured soldier(s). (I rote about the Hannibal Ditective - in Dutch - click here)
An Israeli infantry officer described to Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence the events that ensued after the Hannibal Directive was announced on the radio. He reported that the initial burst of fire lasted three hours. An artillery soldier said his battery was “firing at a maximum fire rate” right into inhabited areas. According to the report of an Israeli military inquiry, more than 2,000 bombs, missiles and shells were fired in Rafah during 1 August, including 1,000 in the three hours following the capture.
According to the Israeli army, the initial strikes aimed to stop the movement of all “suspicious” persons and vehicles, to isolate the area until the arrival of ground forces and to target known and suspected tunnel shafts, which meant bombing residential buildings and agricultural installations suspected of harbouring tunnel exits or entrances.
Another officer explained the logic of the operation, including potentially killing the captured soldier: “In such an event you prefer a killed soldier rather than a soldier in enemy hands, like [Gilad] Shalit. I told myself ‘even if I bring back a corpse I have brought back the missing person’.”
As the strikes began, the roads in eastern Rafah were full of disoriented civilians moving in all directions. Believing a ceasefire had begun, they had returned – or were returning – to their homes. Many decided to turn around, attempting to flee under a barrage of bombs and gunfire. Palestinian witnesses described jets, drones, helicopters and artillery raining fire at pedestrians and vehicles at the intersections, indiscriminately hitting cars, ambulances, motorbikes and pedestrians. “You see the hysteria of the children, destruction, and mushroom clouds, and you try to get as far away from them as you can,” said Wa’el al-Namla, a local resident and father of two.
Inam Ouda Ayed bin Hammad, a local resident, told Amnesty International that, after 9 a.m, on 1 August, she noticed the shelling intensifying and missiles landing in close vicinity to their home in the al-Tannur neighbourhood of Rafah. She and her family were on the streets seeking shelter elsewhere when a bomb hit a building nearby and killed her son Anas, her cousin Wafa and at least 14 other civilians, as well as injuring scores of other fleeing civilians.
One of the scenarios that the Israeli military considered was that the captured soldier, Lieutenant Goldin, had been wounded and taken to the Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital, the medical facility closest to the area of capture. The flood of casualties started coming into the hospital at about 10 a.m., according to medical staff. The attacks around the hospital grew nearer and more frequent as the day went on. Studying photographs of the hospital, Forensic Architecture noted both internal and external damage. On the satellite image taken on 14 August, Forensic Architecture detected one crater about 120m south-west of the hospital and three craters about the same distance north-east of the hospital.
Patients, staff and persons seeking refuge at the hospital proceeded to evacuate the building in a rush when the attacks intensified. An organized evacuation took place in the evening. By about 7 pm the hospital was closed and reporters claimed that the entire neighbourhood around the Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital was under artillery fire.
On the same day three ambulances from the hospital went to collect wounded people near a mosque in Rafah; one ambulance was hit and completely destroyed by what appeared to be three drone-launched missiles. The three medics and all the wounded within the ambulance were burnt to death. A second ambulance left, while the other, which remained to collect the wounded and dead, was hit by another apparent drone strike.
Public statements by Israeli army commanders and soldiers after the conflict provide compelling reasons to conclude that some attacks that killed civilians and destroyed homes and property were intentionally carried out and motivated by a desire for revenge – to teach a lesson to, or punish, the population of Rafah for the capture of Lieutenant Goldin.
There is consequently strong evidence that many such attacks in Rafah between 1 and 4 August were serious violations of international humanitarian law and constituted grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention or other war crimes.
The UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict examined the Israeli army attack on Rafah on 1 August and also raised serious concerns about the conformity of the Israeli army actions on that day with international law. (....) Israeli army commanders and officers can operate in confidence that they are unlikely to be held accountable for violations of international law due to the pervasive climate of impunity that has existed for decades. This is due, in large part, to the lack of independent, impartial and effective investigations. (.....)
With regard to Israeli army operations in Rafah between 1 and 4 August, the Israeli authorities have failed to conduct genuine, effective, and prompt investigations into any of the allegations of serious violations of international humanitarian law documented in this report, let alone to prosecute individuals, including commanders and civilian superiors, suspected of committing or ordering related crimes under international law. The authorities have failed to ensure that victims have effective access to justice, or to provide them with full and prompt reparation, including restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.