IN ITS EARLY May offensive on the occupied Gaza Strip, Israeli forces unlawfully destroyed Palestinian homes, often without military necessity, in what amounted to a form of collective punishment against the civilian population, says Amnesty International.
Israel also conducted apparently disproportionate airstrikes which killed and injured Palestinian civilians, including children.
Amnesty has investigated nine Israeli airstrikes that resulted in the killing of civilians and in the damage and destruction of residential buildings in the Gaza Strip, publishing its findings in a nine-page analysis.
On 9 May, Israeli forces began a five-day offensive on the Gaza Strip, apparently targeting members and facilities of Al-Quds Brigades. The Israeli attacks killed 11 Palestinian civilians, including four children, and the Ministry of Health in Gaza reported that 190 people were injured, of whom 64 were children. The Israeli attacks also damaged 2,943 housing units, including 103 homes which were completely destroyed, and at least 1,244 Palestinians were displaced due to the offensive according to the Palestinian Ministry of Public Works.
Three separate attacks on the first night of bombing on 9 May, in which precision-guided bombs targeted three senior Al-Quds Brigades commanders, killed ten Palestinian civilians and injured at least 20 others. They were launched into densely-populated urban areas at 2am, which suggests that those who planned and authorised the attacks anticipated – and in all likelihood disregarded – the disproportionate harm to civilians. Intentionally launching disproportionate attacks, a pattern Amnesty has documented in previous Israeli operations, is a war crime.
With Amnesty researchers denied access to Gaza by the Israeli authorities, the organisation’s on-the-ground research on the May conflict was undertaken by a local field researcher who collected evidence and interviewed witnesses at strike sites. Amnesty researchers then conducted follow-up interviews and analysis of satellite imagery and other open-source evidence.
As Amnesty has said repeatedly, unlawful Israeli attacks on Palestinian homes and its illegal blockade of Gaza are part and parcel of its apartheid system against Palestinians which amounts to the crime against humanity of apartheid under both the Apartheid Convention and the Rome Statute.
Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director, said: “It has been a month since the ceasefire agreement between the Israeli authorities and Palestinian armed groups, but the suffering that these recurrent Israeli offensives inflict upon the civilian population in the Gaza Strip never ceases. In our investigation, we heard vivid accounts of bombs obliterating homes, of fathers digging their little girls out from under rubble, of a teenager fatally injured as she lay in bed holding a teddy bear.
“That we have been documenting the same patterns of unlawful killings and destruction over and over again is an indictment of the international community’s failure to hold Israel accountable. Israel’s impunity for the war crimes it repeatedly commits against Palestinians, and for its cruel ongoing 16-year illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip, emboldens further violations and makes injustice chronic.
“The root cause of this unspeakable violence is Israel’s system of apartheid. This system must be dismantled, the blockade of the Gaza Strip immediately lifted, and those responsible for the crime of apartheid, war crimes and other crimes under international law must be held to account.”
Regarding the UK’s position over pursuing justice for events such as the May attacks in Gaza, Kristyan Benedict, Amnesty International UK’s Crisis Response Manager, said: “It’s incredibly disappointing that the UK government is so abjectly failing to support justice and accountability for those suffering at the hands of Israeli apartheid while rightly being extremely vocal and constructive about the need for justice when it comes to Ukraine.
“The International Criminal Court should consider the applicability of the crime against humanity of apartheid within its current Palestine investigation and this investigation needs to be sped up, with arrest warrants issued against the alleged perpetrators. The UK should be supporting justice and accountability consistently for everyone, everywhere.”
Israeli attack on al-Sha’af district early on 9 May
At 2am on 9 May, Israeli airstrikes hit a two-storey building in the al-Sha’af district in Gaza City with a GBU-39 bomb, a small diameter weapon manufactured by Boeing Defense, Space & Security, and exported to Israel from the United States. The strike targeted the apartment of Khalil al-Bahtini, a senior member of Al-Quds Brigades. It killed Al-Bahtini, his wife Leila and their four-year-old daughter Hajar. The neighbouring apartment was also struck, killing 19-year-old Dania Adas and her 17-year-old sister Iman.
Alaa Adas, Dania and Iman’s father, told Amnesty he was woken up by his bedroom door falling on him. He ran to Dania and Iman’s room and found his daughters in bed. Dania, whose wedding was due in July, was already dead. Iman, a student with dreams of becoming a doctor, was still breathing and was rushed to hospital where she died a few hours later.
Heba Morayef said: “As civilians, the lives of Leila and Hajar al-Bahtini and Dania and Iman Adas should have been protected, not snuffed out. Israel has an obligation to cancel an attack if it becomes apparent that it may disproportionately harm civilians and civilian objects. Intentionally launching a disproportionate attack is a war crime.”
Israeli attack on Nabhan building in Jabalia refugee camp on 13 May
Israel’s deliberate destruction of civilian homes also took a heavy toll on civilians in the Gaza Strip, including on people living with disabilities.
On 13 May, Israeli forces targeted a four-storey building in the Jabalia refugee camp. The building was home to 42 people from the extended Nabhan family. Five members of the family live with disabilities, including three wheelchair users.
Hussam Nabhan, an eyewitness to the attack, told Amnesty he received a call he believed to be from an Israeli intelligence officer at around 6pm saying residents of the building had 15 minutes to evacuate. Hussam told the caller that there were people with disabilities in the building and they needed more time, but the caller just repeated the warning. After the attack, 22-year-old Haneen Nabhan was so traumatised she found it hard to talk, saying that her wheelchair had been buried under the rubble of her home so she could no longer move around independently.
Research by Amnesty found no evidence that the Nabhan building – and other residential buildings destroyed or damaged during the last two days of the offensive – had been used to store weapons or any other military equipment or that rockets had been launched from their direct vicinity.
On 10 May, Al-Quds Brigades, along with smaller armed groups, responded to Israel’s offensive by firing hundreds of rockets towards Israeli towns over four days, killing two civilians in Israel – Inga Avramyan, an 82-year-old Israeli woman, and Abdallah Abu Jibbeh, a 35-year-old Palestinian worker from Gaza – and injuring 40 others, according to the Israeli Ministry of Health. Rockets by Palestinian armed groups that misfired or fell short also killed three Palestinian civilians in the north of the Gaza Strip, including two children: Layan Mdoukh, aged ten, and Yazan Alayan, aged 16. This is not an isolated incident, and Amnesty has previously reported on Palestinian casualties caused by rocket misfires.
Heba Morayef said: “Known for their inherent inaccuracy, rocket attacks by Palestinian armed groups are indiscriminate; these attacks must be investigated as war crimes and victims be granted prompt and adequate redress.”
* Read the report here.
* Source: Amnesty International