[Palestinian parents discover their children were among the four killed in the Israeli navy’s deliberate shelling of Gaza City beach]
Elham Asaad Buaras
Last Wednesday an Israeli navy deliberately fired multiple artillery shells at children on a beach in Gaza City killing four children between the ages of 9 and 11, and wounding a number of other children. This was witnessed by international media who were watching from a hotel nearby.
More than 227 Palestinians have been killed and further 1,550 injured in Israel’s indiscriminate air bombardment of Gaza which started on July 8.
At least 80% of those killed are civilians, a higher figure than recorded in Israel’s offensive against Gaza in November 2012, when 108 civilians were said to be among the 167 Palestinians killed.
Among the civilians killed are 47 children, including babies, and 25 women, one of whom was four months pregnant. Those killed were struck in their homes, mosques, cafes and in one case a care home for people with disabilities.
In some cases entire families were wiped out in deliberate strikes. One airstrike (on July 13) hit the house of the head of the Gaza police, Tayseer al-Batsh, killing him and 18 members of his extended family. The grief-wrenched face of Tayseer’s 12 year-old son, Abdul Rahman, became one of the most powerful images of the conflict.
A photograph of his shoulders slumped, head titled back in heartbreaking wailing against a car, shows the moment when he discovered his father and entire family was among the dead.
“They think we are worth nothing. They are killers, and one day I will avenge my father,” screamed the child.
Chain of events
The operation follows a chain of events that began with the murder of three Israeli teenagers in the occupied West Bank last month, for which Israel blamed Hamas. The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) claimed the two men Israel suspects of having kidnapped the teenagers were known members of Hamas.
No evidence of this has been offered by the Israeli authorities and Hamas has denied any involvement or knowledge about the incident. In revenge IDF killed ten Palestinians, including two under 18 and arrested 700 in the West Bank in the subsequent widespread search for the missing teenagers.
Hours after the funeral of the three murdered Israelis, a 16-year-old Palestinian teenager, Mohammed Abu Khdeir of Beit Hanina, was kidnapped and burned alive in a retaliatory attack by Jewish extremists.
Israel conducted mass arrests of Palestinians, including parliamentarians, during the search for the three missing Israeli teenagers, with as many as 150 people taken into custody by June 16.
The IDF also re-arrested 51 Palestinians freed in a 2011 as part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange.
Hamas took responsibility for rockets fired into Israel on July 8 and insisted on the release of those rearrested as a condition of a ceasefire.
The deliberate targeting of civilian homes
The high civilian death toll has been credited to Israel’s extrajudicial assassinations attempts of Hamas members in their homes, a policy human rights groups have branded a prohibited collective punishment at best and a war crime at worst.
On July 8 an IDF spokesperson admitted that “among the targets attacked were four homes of activists in the Hamas terror organisation who are involved in terrorist activity and direct and carry out high-trajectory fire towards Israel.”
Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said that initial statement was an official military admission that “the attacks were illegally aimed at homes that were not military targets.”
“Only later was a new announcement made, in an attempt to retroactively adapt the described activity to the requirements of international law, stating that the targets were ‘the homes of senior activists that function as command and control headquarters’. ”
B’Tselem continues, “Bombing the homes of senior activists in armed groups violates international humanitarian law, which provides a narrow definition of what constitutes a legitimate target and permits aiming attacks only at targets that effectively assist military efforts, when damaging them can provide a military advantage. Treating these homes as legitimate targets is an unlawful, distorted interpretation of the concept, resulting in harm to civilians, whom this body of law is intended to protect. ”
A preliminary UN report has also ruled that the IDF’s bombardment of homes have been unlawful: “buildings ordinarily used for civilian purposes, such as homes, are presumed not to be legitimate military targets.”
While Israel claims that fighters are using these homes as a base to fire rockets, the Euro-mid Observer for Human Rights points out that Israel has not provided any evidence to support this claim. The group added: “Holding civilians accountable for an act they did not commit amounts to collective punishment, which is a war crime under International law.”
On July 11, an Israeli attack on the Fun Time Beach café near the city of Khan Yunis killed nine civilians, including two children, and wounded three, including a 13-year-old boy. An IDF spokesman said the attack was “targeting a terrorist” but presented no evidence that any of those at the café, who had gathered to watch a World Cup match, were participating in military operations, or that the killing of one alleged “terrorist” in a crowded café would justify the expected civilian fatalities.
In some cases, Hamas targets have not been at home at the time of the assaults, instead the strikes only succeeded in killing multiple members of their families.
In one particularly horrific case, two severely handicapped women were decapitated and four other people seriously wounded when a missile struck their disabled care home, which was not used to launch or stock missiles. The targets who lived in flats upstairs were away at the time.
Skewed international reaction
Inexplicably the western reaction to the rising Palestinian body count focused primarily on condemning Hamas and reiterating Israel’s right to self-defense, with no mention of Israel’s part in violating the 2012 ceasefire or its targeting of civilian homes and buildings.
US President, Barack Obama, requested that both sides use restraint and White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, stated, “No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians and we support Israel’s right to defend itself against these vicious attacks.” On July 11, the House of Representatives passed a non-binding resolution showing their support for Israel and denouncing Hamas.
UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, said: “We should be very clear about two things; one is that Hamas has been firing rockets continually into Israel and secondly, Israel has a right to defend itself as a sovereign country that’s been under attack.”
British Foreign Secretary, William Hague, condemned “the firing of rockets into Israel by Gaza-based militants. The UK calls on Hamas and other militant groups to stop these attacks.”
French President, Francois Hollande “expressed France’s solidarity (with Israel) in the face of rocket fire from Gaza” and told Netanyahu “France strongly condemns these aggressions [by Hamas].” Hollande also said that it was up to Israel “to take all measures to protect its population in the face of threats” but reminded the Israeli premier “of the need to prevent an escalation of violence.”
However Israel’s part in the escalation of violence was not entirely ignored. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, stated that reports of attacks on homes raise doubts that Israeli attacks are legal under international law. She has called for an investigation into Israeli air strikes on Gaza.
For more updates on the ongoing conflict, including official statements by British Muslim MPs please visits www.muslimnews.co.uk