Human Rights Watch (HRW) yesterday accused Israel of carrying out attacks against the Palestinians in Gaza “that violated the laws of war and apparently amount to war crimes” during its 11-day assault in May.
The deadly bombardment killed 253 Palestinians, including 66 children, and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes.
The international human rights organisation issued its conclusions after investigating three Israeli air strikes that it said killed 62 Palestinian civilians. It also conducted interviews with relatives of civilians killed, residents of areas targeted and those that witnessed the Israeli attacks.
“Israeli forces carried out attacks in Gaza in May that devastated entire families without any apparent military target nearby,” said Gerry Simpson, associate crisis and conflict director at HRW.
“Israeli authorities’ consistent unwillingness to seriously investigate alleged war crimes, as well as Palestinian forces’ rocket attacks toward Israeli population centers, underscores the importance of the International Criminal Court’s inquiry.”
Omar Abu Al-Ouf, the only survivor in his family after the four-story building they lived in collapsed from Israel’s bombings, was among those interviewed. His father, Ayman, head of internal medicine at Gaza City’s Al-Shifa hospital, his mother, and two siblings were killed.
He said: “They all happened in about five seconds. The house swayed and I thought it was going to collapse. After the second, the house started shaking. I caught my sister’s hand, pulled her to the corridor, and hugged her in an attempt to protect her.”
Then I heard another bomb and saw fire outside the window and the wall of the corridor collapsed and suddenly the floor disappeared, and everything started falling down on us. Then the final bomb came. It devastated us.
“My sister remained under my arm, breathing for about 15 minutes. I asked her to say the shahada [Islamic declaration of faith] and then she became a martyr. I didn’t know where my father was. I heard my mother say the shahada and then she was silent.”
In its investigation, HRW concluded that Israel had used US-sourced GBU-31 precision-guided bombs, and that it did not warn residents to evacuate the area ahead of time. It also found no evidence of military targets in the area.
“An attack that is not directed at a specific military objective is unlawful,” it wrote.
HRW called out Israel “to improve its compliance with the laws of war” and investigate past allegations. It also called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Israeli strikes during the May assault on Gaza.
“These investigations should also address the larger context, including the Israeli government’s crushing closure of Gaza and its crimes of apartheid and persecution against millions of Palestinians,” said Simpson.