Amnesty International Accuses Israel of War Crimes
November 10, 2014
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press & Amnesty International & Uncut Chronicles / RT News & Mark Perry / Al Jazeera America
Amnesty International has accused Israel of committing war crimes during its 50-day military operation in Gaza, saying Israeli forces displayed "callous indifference" in attacks on family homes in the densely populated coastal strip. Israel's "Operation Protective Edge" left more than 2,100 Palestinians dead, the majority civilians. A number of human rights groups have probed the question of war crimes in a conflict in which both sides struck civilian targets.
(August 13, 2014) -- VIDEO CONTAINS DISTURBING IMAGES - There are allegations of war crimes on both sides in the current Israel Gaza conflict - The United Nations Human Rights Council has appointed an independent commission to investigate allegations of war crimes on both sides.
Amnesty International Accuses Israel of War Crimes
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press
(November 5, 2014) -- Amnesty International on Wednesday accused Israel of committing war crimes during its 50-day military operation in Gaza this summer, saying Israeli forces had displayed "callous indifference" in attacks on family homes in the densely populated coastal strip. Israel's government dismissed the report, the latest in a series by human rights organizations questioning Israeli tactics in Gaza.
Israel's "Operation Protective Edge" left more than 2,100 Palestinians dead, the majority civilians, according to Palestinian and UN officials. Israel lost 66 soldiers and six civilians in the conflict. A number of human rights groups have since probed the question of war crimes in a conflict in which both sides struck civilian targets.
Israeli authorities are reluctant to have their military actions under the scrutiny of international jurists, and threatened last month to abandon future talks with the Palestinian Authority should the Palestinian leadership carry out a threat to refer Israel to the International Criminal Court.
Amnesty said in a report released Wednesday that "Israeli forces killed scores of Palestinian civilians in attacks targeting houses full of families, which in some cases have amounted to war crimes." A report by Human Rights Watch in September also accused Israel of committing war crimes in the course of its Gaza operation.
Israel's foreign ministry rejected the report's findings, saying the London-based rights group "ignores documented war crimes perpetrated by Hamas."
"The report does not mention the word 'terror' in relation to Hamas or other armed Palestinian groups, nor mentions tunnels built by Hamas to infiltrate Israel and perpetrate terror attacks," the ministry said.
But an Amnesty representative told Al Jazeera that the human rights organization has consistently used the war crime label to condemn indiscriminate rocket fire by Palestinian armed groups. Amnesty added that abuses by Hamas or other Palestinian armed groups would be covered in a forthcoming report.
"Over the coming months Amnesty International plans to release other briefings on Israeli forces' actions in Gaza and on abuses by Palestinian armed groups," the Amnesty representative said.
Israel launched the Gaza operation in early July after Hamas had responded with rocket fire to Israeli air strikes launched on the territory after Israeli authorities blamed the Palestinian organization for the murder of three Israeli teenagers in Hebron.
It coincided with a crackdown by Israeli forces in the West Bank, where troops arrested scores of Hamas members following the Hebron killings.
Operation Protective Edge saw the fiercest conflict between the two sides in years.
"Israeli forces have brazenly flouted the laws of war by carrying out a series of attacks on civilian homes, displaying callous indifference to the carnage caused," said Philip Luther, director of Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa program.
Israel says its forces took great care to avoid civilian casualties, citing its system of providing warning to civilians that strikes on their buildings were coming when possible. But the policy of warning civilians -- so called "roof knock" strikes -- has come under harsh criticism from rights experts. Those attacks involve firing a low- or non-explosive missile at the roof of a targeted building to warn residents to evacuate, with more lethal ordnance fired a short time later.
Residents who fail to evacuate after the initial warning are considered unavoidable "collateral damage" by the Israeli military -- a flawed argument according to Eyal Weizman, a forensics analyst and director of the Forensic Architecture project at the University of London.
"This is a gross misuse of international law," wrote Weizman. "It is illegal to fire at civilians, even if the intention is to warn them. It is ridiculous to ask them to understand, in the commotion and chaos of war, that being shot at is a warning -- and it is outrageous to claim that this is undertaken to save their lives."
The Amnesty report focused on eight cases in which targeted Israeli attacks resulted in the deaths of at least 104 civilians, including entire families and 62 children.
"The fact that, in these eight cases ... Israel has made no statement about who or what was being targeted, or even acknowledged that it carried out these particular attacks and the loss of civilian lives that they caused, is deeply worrying," the report said.
Stop The War in Gaza
Fermate la Guerra a Gaza
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(July 25, 2014) -- Guerra di Gaza. Uno Stato Terrorista, un Genocidio di un Popolo
Israeli Forces Displayed 'Callous Indifference'
In Deadly Attacks on Family Homes in Gaza
(November 5, 2014) -- Israeli forces have killed scores of Palestinian civilians in attacks targeting houses full of families which in some cases have amounted to war crimes, Amnesty International has disclosed in a new report on the latest Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip.
Families under the Rubble: Israeli attacks on inhabited homes details eight cases where residential family homes in Gaza were attacked by Israeli forces without warning during Operation Protective Edge in July and August 2014, causing the deaths of at least 104 civilians including 62 children. The report reveals a pattern of frequent Israeli attacks using large aerial bombs to level civilian homes, sometimes killing entire families.
"Israeli forces have brazenly flouted the laws of war by carrying out a series of attacks on civilian homes, displaying callous indifference to the carnage caused," said Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International.
"The report exposes a pattern of attacks on civilian homes by Israeli forces which have shown a shocking disregard for the lives of Palestinian civilians, who were given no warning and had no chance to flee."
The report contains numerous accounts from survivors who describe the horror of frantically digging through the rubble and dust of their destroyed homes in search of the bodies of children and loved ones.
In several of the cases documented in the report, possible military targets were identified by Amnesty International. However the devastation to civilian lives and property caused in all cases was clearly disproportionate to the military advantages gained by launching the attacks.
"Even if a fighter had been present in one of these residential homes, it would not absolve Israel of its obligation to take every feasible precaution to protect the lives of civilians caught up in the fighting. The repeated, disproportionate attacks on homes indicate that Israel's current military tactics are deeply flawed and fundamentally at odds with the principles of international humanitarian law," said Philip Luther.
In the single deadliest attack documented in the report, 36 members of four families including 18 children were killed when the three-storey al-Dali building, was struck. Israel has not announced why the building was targeted, but Amnesty International has identified possible military targets within the building.
The second deadliest attack appears to have targeted a member of the al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas' armed wing, who was outside the Abu Jame' family home. The house was completely leveled killing 25 civilians including 19 children.
Regardless of the intended targets, both of these attacks constitute grossly disproportionate attacks and under international law, they should have been cancelled or postponed as soon as it was evident that so many civilians were present in the house.
Israeli officials have failed to give any justification for carrying out these attacks. In some of the cases in this report Amnesty International has not been able to identify any possible military target. In those cases it appears that the attacks directly and deliberately targeted civilians or civilian objects, which would constitute war crimes.
In all of the cases researched by Amnesty International no prior warning was given to residents of the homes which were attacked. If it had been given, excessive loss of civilian lives could clearly have been avoided.
"It is tragic to think that these civilian deaths could have been prevented. The onus is on Israeli officials to explain why they chose to deliberately flatten entire homes full of civilians, when they had a clear legal obligation to minimize harm to civilians and the means of doing so," said Philip Luther.
The report highlights the catastrophic consequences of Israel's attacks on homes, which have shattered the lives of entire families. Some of the homes attacked were overflowing with relatives who had fled other areas of Gaza in search of safety.
Survivors of an attack on the al-Hallaq family home described horrifying scenes of strewn body parts amid the dust and chaos after three missiles struck the house.
Khalil Abed Hassan Ammar, a doctor with the Palestinian Medical Council and a resident in the building said: "It was terrifying we couldn't save anyone . . . . All of the kids were burnt, I couldn't tell which were mine and which were the neighbours' . . . .We carried whoever we were able to the ambulance… I only recognized Ibrahim my eldest child, when I saw the shoes he was wearing. . . I had bought them for him two days before."
Ayman Haniyeh, one of the neighbours, described the trauma of trying to search for survivors:
"All I can remember are the bits and pieces I saw of bodies, teeth, head, arms, insides, everything scattered and spread," he said. One survivor of the same attack described hugging a bag full of the "shreds" of her son's body.
Israel has so far failed to even acknowledge any of the attacks detailed in the report and has not responded to Amnesty International's requests for explanations of why each of these attacks took place.
At least 18,000 homes were destroyed or rendered uninhabitable during the conflict. More than 1,500 Palestinian civilians including 519 children were killed in Israeli attacks carried out during the latest Gaza conflict. Palestinian armed groups also committed war crimes, firing thousands of indiscriminate rockets into Israel killing six civilians including one child.
"What is crucial now is that there is accountability for any violations of international humanitarian law that have been committed. The Israeli authorities must provide answers. The international community must take urgent steps to end the perpetual cycle of serious violations and complete impunity," said Philip Luther.
Given the failure of Israeli and Palestinian authorities to independently and impartially investigate allegations of war crimes, it is imperative that the international community support the involvement of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Amnesty International is renewing its calls on Israel and the Palestinian authorities to accede to the Rome Statute and grant the ICC the authority to investigate crimes committed in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). The organization is also calling for the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Israel and the OPT to the ICC so that the prosecutor can investigate allegations of crimes under international law by all parties.
Israel has continued to deny access to Gaza for international human rights organizations including Amnesty International and the organization has been forced to conduct its research for this report remotely, supported by two fieldworkers based in Gaza. Israel has also announced that it will not co-operate with the Commission of Inquiry established by the UN Human Rights Council.
"Failing to allow independent human rights monitors into Gaza smacks of a deliberately orchestrated attempt to cover up violations or hide from international scrutiny. Israel must cooperate fully with the UN Commission of Inquiry and grant international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International immediate access to Gaza to prove its commitment to human rights," said Philip Luther.
Gaza-Israel War. Deadly July 2014
Uncut Chronicles / RT News
(August 3, 2014) -- The IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) began their current operation against Hamas after three teens were kidnapped and killed. The military op has already claimed over 1,500 civilian lives in Gaza. The fragile humanitarian ceasefires end within minutes of creation pushing the region into further bloodshed.
Why Israel's Bombardment of Gaza
Neighborhood Left US Officers 'Stunned'
Mark Perry / Al Jazeera America
'The only possible reason for doing that is to kill a lot of people in as short a period of time as possible . . . It's not mowing the lawn. It's removing the topsoil.'
-- A senior US military officer
(August 27, 2014) -- The cease-fire announced Tuesday between Israel and Palestinian factions -- if it holds -- will end seven weeks of fighting that killed more than 2,200 Gazans and 69 Israelis. But as the rival camps seek to put their spin on the outcome, one assessment of Israel's Gaza operation that won't be publicized is the US military's.
Though the Pentagon shies from publicly expressing judgments that might fall afoul of a decidedly pro-Israel Congress, senior US military sources speaking on condition of anonymity offered scathing assessments of Israeli tactics, particularly in the Shujaiya neighborhood of Gaza City.
One of the more curious moments in Israel's Operation Protective Edge came on July 20, when a live microphone at Fox News caught US Secretary of State John Kerry commenting sarcastically on Israel's military action. "It's a hell of a pinpoint operation," Kerry said. "It's a hell of a pinpoint operation."
Rain of High-explosive Shells
Kerry's comment followed the heaviest bombardment of the war to that point, as Israeli artillery rained thousands of high-explosive shells on Shujaiya, a residential area on the eastern edge of Gaza City.
A high-ranking US military officer said that the source of Kerry's apparent consternation was almost certainly a Pentagon summary report assessing the Israeli barrage on which he had been briefed by an aide moments earlier.
According to this senior US officer, who had access to the July 21 Pentagon summary of the previous 24 hours of Israeli operations, the internal report showed that 11 Israeli artillery battalions -- a minimum of 258 artillery pieces, according to the officer's estimate -- pumped at least 7,000 high explosive shells into the Gaza neighborhood, which included a barrage of some 4,800 shells during a seven-hour period at the height of the operation. Senior US officers were stunned by the report.
Twice daily throughout the Israel Defense Forces' (IDF) operation, a select group of senior US military and intelligence officers at the Pentagon received lengthy written summaries of Israeli military action in Gaza.
The reports -- compiled from information gleaned from open sources, Israeli military officers with whom US officials speak and satellite images -- offered a detailed assessment of Israel's battlefield tactics and the performance of its weaponry, a considerable portion of it supplied by the United States.
Although these reports shy from offering political judgments on the operation, a number of senior US military officers who spoke about the contents of those daily reports were highly critical of some of the IDF's tactics, particularly in the Israeli ground invasion of Shujaiya. An official spokesman at the Pentagon declined to comment on the contents of this article.
On July 16, the IDF dropped leaflets into Shujaiya, warning residents of an imminent Israeli attack and urging them to evacuate the area. The next day, after a short artillery preparation, three IDF units, led by the Golani Brigade, began a ground assault into the neighborhood to destroy Hamas bunkers and break up Hamas formations.
'Take off the Gloves'
The incursion went well at first, with Golani soldiers meeting little resistance. But by late on Saturday afternoon, July 19, forward elements of the brigade were running head on into well-organized Hamas units, and some IDF formations were pinned down in vicious fighting in Shujaiya's streets and alleys.
What had been envisaged as a limited ground operation was not going as planned, with Hamas units emerging from tunnels and bunkers in attempts to exploit IDF weaknesses. The Hamas units were well prepared and trained, with their formations hidden so well that Israeli soldiers were rarely able to pinpoint their locations.
"The ground assault was poorly handled into eastern Gaza City," an Israel civilian adviser to the IDF's chief of staff said at the time. "The Hamas fighters showed an unexpected tenacity and were far more effective against our armored units than we'd anticipated."
By late Saturday night and into Sunday morning, the fight had devolved into a series of vicious small unit clashes, with IDF squads facing off against Hamas squads, sniper units and teams carrying lethal anti-tank rockets. In one eight-hour period starting early on July 20, the IDF suffered 13 dead, seven of them in an armored personnel carrier that caught fire after a Hamas sapper team detonated an anti-tank mine beneath it.
When the IDF moved to retrieve the bodies and the stricken APC, Hamas fighters targeted the rescue vehicles and engaged in gun battles with IDF combat teams as the rescue convoy retreated.
In the early hours of that Sunday morning, with IDF casualties mounting, senior officers directed IDF tank commanders to "take off the gloves" and "to open fire at anything that moves," according to reports in the Israeli press.
The three Israeli units assaulting Shujaiya were never in danger of being defeated, but the losses the IDF suffered in the four-day house-to-house battle embarrassed IDF commanders. By the afternoon of July 19, even before Israel had suffered most of its casualties, the scale of resistance prompted Israeli battlefield commanders to blanket Shujaiya with high-explosive artillery rounds, rockets fired from helicopters and bombs dropped by F-16s. The decision was confirmed at the highest levels of the IDF.
By Sunday night, Palestinian officials were denouncing the bombardment of Shujaiya as a massacre, and international pressure mounted on the Israeli government to explain the heavy casualty toll being inflicted on Gaza civilians. The IDF told the press that Shujaiya had been a "fortress for Hamas terrorists" and reiterated that while Israel had "warned civilians" to evacuate, "Hamas ordered them to stay. Hamas put them in the line of fire."
Kerry's hot-microphone comments reflect the shock among US observers at the scale and lethality of the Israeli bombardment.
"Eleven battalions of IDF artillery is equivalent to the artillery we deploy to support two divisions of US infantry," a senior Pentagon officer with access to the daily briefings said. "That's a massive amount of firepower, and it's absolutely deadly."
Another officer, a retired artillery commander who served in Iraq, said the Pentagon's assessment might well have underestimated the firepower the IDF brought to bear on Shujaiya. "This is the equivalent of the artillery we deploy to support a full corps," he said. "It's just a huge number of weapons."
Artillery pieces used during the operation included a mix of Soltam M71 guns and US-manufactured Paladin M109s (a 155-mm howitzer), each of which can fire three shells per minute.
"The only possible reason for doing that is to kill a lot of people in as short a period of time as possible," said the senior US military officer. "It's not mowing the lawn," he added, referring to a popular IDF term for periodic military operations against Hamas in Gaza. "It's removing the topsoil."
"Holy bejeezus," exclaimed retired Lt. Gen. Robert Gard when told the numbers of artillery pieces and rounds fired during the July 21 action. "That rate of fire over that period of time is astonishing. If the figures are even half right, Israel's response was absolutely disproportionate."
A West Point graduate who is a veteran of two wars and is the chairman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, D.C., he added that even if Israeli artillery units fired guided munitions, it would have made little difference.
Even the most sophisticated munitions have a circular area of probability, Gard explained, with a certain percentage of shells landing dozens or even hundreds of feet from intended targets. Highly trained artillery commanders know this and compensate for their misses by firing more shells.
So if even 10 percent of the shells fired at combatants in Shujaiya landed close to but did not hit their targets -- a higher than average rate of accuracy -- that would have meant at least 700 lethal shells landing among the civilian population of Shujaiya during the night of July 20 into June 21. And the kill radius of even the most precisely targeted 155-mm shell is 164 feet. Put another way, as Gard said, "precision weapons aren't all that precise."
Senior US officers who are familiar with the battle and Israeli artillery operations, which are modeled on US doctrine, assessed that, given that rate of artillery fire into Shujaiya, IDF commanders were not precisely targeting Palestinian military formations as much as laying down an indiscriminate barrage aimed at cratering the neighborhood.
The cratering operation was designed to collapse the Hamas tunnels discovered when IDF ground units came under fire in the neighborhood. Initially, said the senior Pentagon officer, Israel's artillery used "suppressing fire to protect their forward units but then poured in everything they had, in a kind of walking barrage. Suppressing fire is perfectly defensible. A walking barrage isn't."
That the Israelis explained the civilian casualty toll by saying the neighborhood's noncombatant population had been ordered to stay in their homes and were used as human shields by Hamas reinforced the belief among some senior US officers that artillery fire into Shujaiya was indiscriminate.
"Listen, we know what it's like to kill civilians in war," said the senior US officer. "Hell, we even put it on the front pages. We call it collateral damage. We absolutely try to minimize it, because we know it turns people against you. Killing civilians is a sure prescription for defeat. But that's not what the IDF did in Shujaiya on July 21. Human shields? C'mon, just own up to it."
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