UN school in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip August 3, 2014.
Aftermath of Israeli air strike at a United Nations-run school, where displaced Palestinians take refuge, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip August 3, 2014. Photo by Reuters
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The army’s operation in Rafah over the weekend requires a thorough and exhaustive investigation. The suspected kidnapping and capture of Givati Brigade officer Lt. Hadar Goldin led his commanding officers to invoke the “Hannibal procedure,” the purpose of which is to prevent kidnappings. This resulted in massive firing upon the residential sections of Rafah. In that heavy gunfire, just this past weekend, between 130 and 150 Palestinians, including many women and children, were killed.

The battles in the city continued even after Lt. Goldin was declared a fallen soldier. On Friday, an UNRWA school sheltering thousands of refugees was shelled, and 10 of the people staying there were killed. Army officials are still investigating that incident. Previously, the Palestinians reported two other incidents, in which nine members of one family and eight members of another were killed by Israeli artillery fire. Inhabitants of Rafah report that they fell into a firetrap when the Israeli army shelled and bombed homes with their residents still inside, indiscriminately, and when those inside tried to flee, the shells and bombs caught up with them in the streets.

The reports and photographs from Rafah are horrible to see. The Palestinian Health Ministry is using the refrigerators of vegetable vendors to store the corpses of the dead since there is no room in the local hospital. The army also confirms that in resorting to the Hannibal procedure, in its most violent use ever, innocent civilians were killed.

Army officials say that the operation in Rafah, with its many casualties, was necessary in order to isolate the area and prevent the kidnappers from getting away with Goldin, until his fate had been ascertained. Still, the army confirmed that even Goldin’s death was confirmed the IDF fire continued in response to Hamas operatives trying to return fire.

The American administration and the UN secretary–general harshly condemned the strike on the UNRWA school. Ban Ki-moon even described it as “a moral outrage and a criminal act.” Israel has a moral obligation to investigate precisely what happened in Rafah — and this is regardless of any international demand to probe the allegations of war crimes. It must be ascertained whether the IDF chief of staff and the political echelon were aware in real time of the heavy fire directed at residential neighborhoods and its tragic consequences, as well as the intensity of the attacks on Rafah even after Goldin’s death was confirmed. Following the events in Rafah, the army and political echelon must look closely at the use of the Hannibal procedure and examine whether it involves intolerable harm to an innocent civilian population.