Posted by Hunter Headapohl on July 20, 2015 in Blog

Gaza_ruins_2014.jpgAn independent commission of inquiry for the UN Human Rights Council recently published its report on last summer’s war in Gaza, referred to by Israel as "Operation Protective Edge." It investigated incidents on both sides that might amount to violations of international humanitarian law. The report found evidence that the Israeli Military targeted civilian populations, used munitions disproportionate to the military objective at hand, and failed to adequately warn civilians in Gaza with its “roof Knock” policy. The dense urban landscape of Gaza and the inability for civilians to escape, make Gaza particularly vulnerable to civilian casualties. The report suggests that, if confirmed, some of Israel’s actions during "Operation Protective Edge" could have violated multiple human rights treaties and agreements that the Israeli government is bound by.

 Israeli shelling of the densely populated neighborhood of Shujaila was so comprehensive that the report called it a “creeping artillery barrage,”  raising questions “with regard to the respect by the Israel Defense Forces of the rules of distinction, precaution, and proportionality.” In fact, the firepower used against the Shujaila neighborhood was so great that a senior US military officer concluded that “the only possible reason for doing that is to kill a lot of people in as short a period of time as possible.” The amount of force used by the IDF shocked many Pentagon officials. “Holy bejeezus” exclaimed a retired U.S. Army General “That rate of fire over that period of time is astonishing. If the figures are even half right, Israel’s response was absolutely disproportionate.” The report also found that the use of High Explosive rounds—particular deadly in dense urban environments—increased by 533% from the number of high explosive rounds used in 2008 and 2009.

While the Israeli Defense Forces claim to warn civilians with their so-called “roof knocks”, wherein a smaller missile is fired at the roof of a building as a warning before a destructive barrage arrives, the commission concluded that “roof knocks” cannot be considered a proper warning “given the confusion they often cause to building residents and the short time allowed to evacuate before the actual strike”. These types of ineffective tactics demonstrate the Israeli Military’s apparent disregard for civilian lives and safety, taking only token measures to satisfy international norms.

But perhaps the most damning assertion in the report is the commission’s findings in the “Green Line” area near the border with Israel. The report found that the destruction in these areas amounted to 100%, and the systematic way in which these areas were “flattened one after the other” raised questions as to whether or not this kind of destruction was required by any military necessity. “If confirmed,” the report reads, “this would constitute a grave beach of article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which is a war crime.”Article 147 details protections for civilians in wartime, specifically the prevention of “extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.”

The commission also investigated  allegations that Palestinian armed groups committed war crimes as well. Concerns were raised about extrajudicial killings of civilians that Hamas believed to be colluding with Israel, as well as rocket attacks on civilian targets without warning or specific military purpose. If proven, Palestinian armed groups would also be in violation of international law.

 While the report did find that Palestinian groups used rocket fire indiscriminately, a lack of cooperation by Israel prevented the commission from investigating many of the incidents in detail. In fact, Israel’s lack of cooperation was a main theme of the report. The report claims that “despite its repeated requests, the commission was not granted access to the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel posed a challenge for conducting interviews in person with victims…which made viewing the sites where violations were alleged to have been committed impossible.” The commission also says that it was unable to verify Israel’s claims that Palestinian Armed Groups used civilian buildings “owing to the denial by Israel of access to Gaza.” In contrast, the report states that it received “full cooperation” from the State of Palestine. If Israel wants to defend its integrity at the UN, it should cooperate with the Human Rights Council or begin by actually complying with humanitarian law in the first place. 

Hunter Headapohl is an intern with the Arab American Institute