Elham Asaad Buaras
The Israeli military violated international law during its airstrikes on the Gaza Strip last summer by repeatedly and deliberately targeting homes killing 2,200 people, according to new report by an Israeli human rights group.
In its report Black Flag: The Legal And Moral Implications Of The Policy Of Attacking Residential Buildings In The Gaza Strip, Summer 2014 B’Tselem pointed to three factors behind the high numbers of Palestinian civilian casualties in the incidents they investigated: Israeli forces’ overly broad definitions of legitimate military targets, their repeated violations of the “principle of proportionality,” and a lack of or ineffective warnings to civilians that the homes would be targeted.
“A hallmark of the fighting in Gaza in summer was the numerous strikes on residential buildings, destroying them while their occupants were still inside,” read the report by B’Tselem.
The report released on January 28 also concluded, “This aspect of the fighting was particularly appalling” and was “the result of a policy formulated by Government officials and the senior military command.”
B’Tselem recognised that Hamas had fired from within civilian-populated areas but argued the “violations of international humanitarian law by one party do not grant the other party permission to breach them as well.”
B’Tselem said that it had not received a response to the report from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.
In a letter to Netanyahu, B’Tselem Executive Director, Hagai El-Ad, wrote, “Senior officials, with you at the helm, backed the strikes, reiterating the argument that the attacks conform to international humanitarian law (IHL) and eschewing any responsibility for harm to civilians.”
“This interpretation is designed to block, a priori, any allegation against Israel and means that there are no restrictions whatsoever on Israeli action and that whatever method it chooses to respond to Hamas operations is legitimate, no matter how horrifying the consequences. This interpretation is unreasonable, unlawful, and renders meaningless the principle that violations committed by one party do not release the other party from its obligations toward the civilian population and civilian objects,” El-Ad wrote.
B’Tselem based its charge on precedent, particularly the December 27, 2008, strike that killed 42 police cadets and signaled the onset of Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s previous large-scale offensive in Gaza. Lt Col Avital Leibovich, a chief foreign media spokesperson for the army at the time, said that “anything affiliated with Hamas is a legitimate target.”
B’Tselem said that the current policy of striking homes even if there are civilians present “is not a legitimate response” and that it is one that has the “black flag of illegality flying over it.”