IDF Broke International Law in Dozens of Gaza War Strikes, Israeli Rights Group Says

More than 70 percent of those killed in dozens of house bombings over the summer were civlians, according to B'Tselem report.

Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen
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Two boys walk past destroyed homes in the northern Gaza strip a few miles away from the border with Israel. August 13, 2014.
Two boys walk past destroyed homes in the northern Gaza strip a few miles away from the border with Israel. August 13, 2014. Credit: AFP
Gili Cohen
Gili Cohen

The Israel Defense Forces broke international law at least in some of the dozens of strikes it made against homes during the fighting in Gaza last summer, according to a report released this week by the human rights group B’Tselem.

The group came to its conclusions based on its examination of 70 incidents in which more than three people were killed in homes as a result of IDF strikes.

More than 70 percent of the people killed in 70 incidents examined by B’Tselem were non-combatants, according to the report, a copy of which was also given to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In these 70 strikes, 606 Palestinians were killed, B’Tselem says, including 93 children under age 5, 129 children ages 5 to 14, and 42 teens, ages 14 to 18. This figure also included 135 women ages 18 to 60, and 37 men over 60 years old.

“B’Tselem has not yet reached a determination regarding participation in the fighting by each of those killed, however it can already be determined that more than 70 percent were non-combatants,” the report stated with regard to the incidents it examined.

An IDF Military Police investigation is now underway regarding the strike against the home of the Abu Jama family in Khan Yunis, in which 27 civilians were killed.

The B’Tselem report states that Hamas also broke international law and its obligation to distinguish between military and civilian targets. It noted that Hamas fired on Israeli civilian targets from populated areas of the Gaza Strip, which “undermines the most basic rule of humanitarian law, intended to reduce strikes against civilians as much as possible and to keep them away from combat zones,” the report said.

The human rights group said civilian casualties were caused by the broad nature of Israel’s definition of a “military target,” which meant that numerous homes were hit. Senior IDF officers said that many Hamas commanders turned their homes into operational headquarters or bases, thus, according to the Military Advocate General’s office, making “military use” of these premises, and turning them into legitimate targets.

“There is no doubt that from the point of view of these rules of warfare, these are military targets against which attacks are legitimate, as long as the collateral damage does not greatly exceed the military advantage expected from it,” Chief Military Advocate General Danny Efroni said six weeks ago at an Institute for National Security Studies conference.

According to B’Tselem, the army’s practice of firing a mortal shell on a house, before a major strike, known as “knocking on the roof,” or warning entire neighborhoods, was insufficient.

The report also states that the army too broadly interpreted the concept of “collateral damage,” considered legal during warfare. “Even if the leaders of the state and the army believed that implementing this policy would bring about the cessation of firing on Israeli communities, it should not have been implemented because of the expected and horrific consequences, the report stated.

The IDF declined to comment on the report.

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