Concerns about Violations of International Law in Operation Protective Edge

CC-BY: Basel YazouriCC-BY: Basel Yazouri

 

B’tselem – Gisha – The Association for Civil Rights in Israel – The Public Committee against Torture in Israel – Hamoked: Center for the Defence of the Individual – Yesh Din – Adalah – Machsom Watch – Rabbis for Human Rights – Physicians for Human Rights – Israel

 

 

 

Update: August 5, 2014

According to the response of Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein, it appears that for the time being at least, he has no intention of examining the IDF’s offensive policies in Operation Protective Edge.

 

The Attorney-General’s response does not explain how repeatedly attacking civilian targets such as homes, schools and markets, or attacking essential civilian infrastructure such as electricity and water, is consistent with the basic duty to target military objectives alone and in accordance with the principle of proportionality – as was written by Weinstein himself.

 

The principle that needs to guide the actions of any responsible jurist, and certainly the Attorney-General, is that suspicions regarding the legality of orders and commands must be independently, seriously and effectively investigated. A democratic nation must be held accountable to itself and to its citizens on these critical issues. This is a dictated by both law and basic concepts of morality.

 

It is odd that the Attorney General is relying on the conclusions of the Turkel Commission, since this commission strongly criticized the existing investigatory framework – in particular the lack of any systematic review of the Military Advocate General and the orders given by the command and political echelon during combat. The commission even submitted 13 detailed recommendations for improving the inspection and investigation mechanisms for IDF activity. The Attorney-General noted in his response, without elaborating, that only some of these recommendations were implemented.

 

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 July 21, 2014

Ten human rights organizations urgently contacted Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein today following the release of reports on the nature of attacks within the Gaza Strip and the high rate of civilian casualties. This information raises concerns about grave violations of international humanitarian law.

 

The organizations demanded that the Attorney General instruct the government to refrain from violating the laws of war and re-evaluate its aggressive policy and rules of engagement. The organizations seek to clarify whether the Attorney General critically evaluated the legal advice supplied to the Military Advocate General that underpins ‘Operation Protective Edge’, and calls on him to establish an external, independent and effective investigatory mechanism to examine the decision making of the political and operational establishment as required by international law and supported by the rulings of the High Court of Justice.

 

The joint letter notes that more than 400 people have been killed and thousands injured since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, the vast majority of which are Palestinians. More than 80 of the dead Palestinians are children. According to estimates provided by the United Nations, civilian casualties constitute 70% of the deaths.

 

The letter illustrates several instances of severe attacks suffered by Palestinian civilians. In the neighborhood of Shujaya, newly released data reveals a shocking picture of dozens of dead Palestinians, including at least 17 children and 14 women. In this case, serious concern is raised concerning the legality of the operation, an in particular, the potential violation of the fundamental principles of the laws of war, specifically the principle of distinguishing between combatants and civilians. The organizations assert that actions that do not enable a distinction between combatants and civilians must be avoided so much as possible to minimize civilian casualties.

 

The organizations emphasize that sending alerts or providing warnings to residents does not transform them, or their homes, into legitimate military targets, and does not exempt the army from its duty to avoid executing indiscriminate attacks in the area. “In the absence of a protected area for residents that provides shelter and an answer to their humanitarian needs, military commanders can not claim that they have taken sufficient precautions to avoid causing injury”.

 

The organizations point in their letter to a number of significant attacks on civilian targets, including the shelling of a cafe that killed 9 civilians, the shelling of a beach that caused the death of 4 children and the bombing of a home for disabled persons that killed 2 residents. Even if there were legitimate military targets in these locations, as was suggested by the IDF spokesperson, the consequences of these attacks raises concerns that insufficient measures were adopted to prevent incurring civilian casualties and that questions of proportionality were not considered in the decision to execute the maneuver.

 

The letter also reviews a number of cases of bombings of residential apartments where, according to the IDF spokesperson, Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives resided. As such, the bombing of the Kwarea family home took the lives of 8 people, 6 of which were children. In the bombing of the Hammad family home that occurred that same evening, 6 people were killed in their sleep. In the bombing of the al-Haj family home, 8 people were killed. Three children from the Shuheiber family, 8 year old and 11 year old boys and their 8 year old cousin, were killed as a result of a warning missile that was directed at a nearby house. The organizations assert that it is illegal to attack a residential dwelling just because it is the residence of a operative of an enemy organization. Even in the case that the house was used to conduct military operations, there is still a duty to consider questions of proportionality concerning the danger to civilian life.

 

The organizations emphasized in the letter that violations of the laws of war by the opposing party in a conflict do not warrant or justify the violation of Israel’s obligations under the laws of war.

 

 

Additional Materials

To read the full letter (in English), click here.

To read the full letter (in Hebrew) – click here.

To read the Attorney-General’s Response to our letter (in Hebrew), click here.

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Categories: Gaza Strip, The Occupied Territories, Use of Force

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