Israeli forces have killed scores of Palestinian civilians in attacks targeting houses full of families which in some cases have amounted to war crimes, Amnesty International has disclosed in a new report on the latest Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip.
Families under the Rubble: Israeli attacks on inhabited homes details eight cases where 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 Programme at Amnesty International.
“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.
In several of the cases documented in the report, possible military targets were identified by Amnesty International. However the devastation to civilian lives and property caused in all cases was clearly disproportionate to the military advantages gained by launching the attacks.
“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 Philip 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, was struck. Israel has not announced 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 outside the Abu Jame’ family home. The house was completely levelled 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 been cancelled or postponed as soon as it was evident that so many civilians were present in the house.
Israeli officials have failed to give any justification for carrying out these attacks. In some of the cases in this report Amnesty International has not been able to identify any possible military target. In those cases it appears that the attacks directly and deliberately targeted civilians or civilian objects, which would constitute war crimes.
In all of the cases researched by Amnesty International no prior warning was given to residents of the homes which were attacked. If it had been given, excessive loss of civilian lives could clearly have been avoided.
“It is tragic to think that these civilian deaths could have been prevented. The onus is on Israeli officials to explain why they chose to deliberately flatten entire homes full of civilians, when they had a clear legal obligation to minimize harm to civilians and the means of doing so,” said Philip Luther.
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 overflowing with relatives who had fled other areas of Gaza in search of safety.