Accusations of Hamas War Crimes
Israelis were encouraged to write complaints to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights saying that their human rights were violated by war crimes carried out by Hamas leading up to and during Operation Protective Edge. The Israeli educational organization Im Tirzu is facilitating this movement, as any person can submit a complaint against any country or group for human rights violations. Hamas has been frequently accused of commiting war crimes and crimes against humanity by Israeli officials, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the argument that during Operation Protective Edge Hamas was guilty of commiting "Double war crimes" by both targetting civilians and civilian areas with it's rockets and mortars, and by hiding behind the Palestinian people and using them as human shields for their weapons caches. War crimes constitute when the offender has failed to adhere to the norms of procedure and the normally accepted rules of battle, and these crimes are tried in the UN's International Criminal Court.
Expert on International law and Bar-Ilan University law professor Avi Bell thinks that the Israeli's claim is legitimate, and that Hamas has deprived them of their right to live. According to Bell, Hamas terrorism violates the Israeli's freedom of movement, violates their right to be safe in their own home, and encourages hatred and discrimination based on religion. Avi Bell cites the International Criminal Court's regulations and claims that Hamas has violated 6 war crime statutes leading up to and during Operation Protective Edge. Bell states that Hamas:
- Attacked soldiers and civilians indiscriminately
- Used weapons that cannot physically be aimed at a specific target (which is a war crime even if there are no victims)
- Used human shields in the form of stashing their weapons in hospitals, schools, mosques, and relief shelters
- Concealed terrorist activities using protected symbols, such as transporting terrorists in fake ambulances or Red Cross vehicles
- Recruited and used fighters under the age of 15
- Attempted to take hostages
Other Jewish leaders believe that the list of war crimes committed by Hamas is much longer.
The laws of warfare require the waring parties to respect the limits of war and respect and protect civilians and captured combatants. Throughout Operation protective Edge Hamas has shown that they have little regard for Israeli as well as Palestinian civilian lives, by launching rockets from civilian areas and putting their citizens in immediate danger, and using civilians as shields for their weapons caches, forcing Israel to make a difficult choice.
The laws of war protect civilian objects, and these objects include homes, apartments, places of worship, schools, and cultural landmarks. Through the duration of Operation Protective Edge the main goal of Hamas has been the deaths of Israeli citizens, as evidenced by their constant rocket fire directed at civilian areas such as Ashdod, Ashkelon, Eilat, Jerusalem, and Hebron. The Hamas rockets are a war crime because they are being specifically directed at civilian areas frequently, with the actual combat between Israeli and Hamas forces being seen on the ground in Gaza and surrounding Hamas tunnels. There are not soldiers where Hamas is firing, they are strictly firing at civilian areas with homes and communities.
According to the Palestinian Envoy to the UN Human Rights Council, Hamas and the Palestinians would not be able to take Israel to the ICC on accusations of war crimes because Hamas is greviously guilty of war crimes itself. Palestinian official Ibrahim Khraishi, speaking on Palestinian TV on July 9 stated that "The missiles that are now being launched against Israel, each and every missile constitutes a crime against humanity, whether it hits or misses, because it is directed at civilian targets."
The unsophisticated rockets that Hamas is using are not only a danger to Israel, but a danger to their own citizens because they are often poorly constructed and cannot be aimed properly. Qassam rockets fired by Hamas into Israel are highly innacurate due to the fact that they do not have a "canted nozzle" like most other rockets, which means that the nozzle on the Qassam rocket is parallel to the direction of the rocket's flight. This causes the rocket to not be able to spin about it's longitudinal axis during flight, which significantly decreases accuracy but makes it easier for the manufacture and assembly of the rockets. Operation Protective Edge has seen much evidence of the innacuracy of Hamas rockets, with multiple examples of Hamas hitting Gaza power plants with their own rockets and cutting power to the Palestinian people. The Israel Electric Company took care of power for the people of Gaza, and eventually fixed the power plant. On July 28 Hamas militants fired a barage of four rockets that were meant for Israel, but instead one hit Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza and another hit the Shati refugee camp, also inside of Gaza.
The most depraved tactic used by Hamas in this conflict is the use of it's own Palestinian people as human shields and pawns. Hamas has been hiding weapons and munitions in multiple public shelters and institutions including schools, hospitals, mosques, and civilian homes. The Hamas operatives fire their rockets and store their supplies in civilian areas, and force the Israeli military to act on these targets, effectively putting all people in the immediate vicinity of their actions in danger. They choose these civilian areas in order to shield themselves from Israeli strikes and maximize the civilian casualties when Israel has no option but to respond, creating a media cycle of sympathy for them and condemnation for Israel. According to a 2009 report by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Hamas has "planned carefully for a major Israeli invasion, Hamas [is] expected to mount an impressive defense using civilians and civilian facilities as cover for it's military activity".
In July 2014, a captured Hamas Resistance Manual shed light on their tactics, including the use of human shields. This manual details the benefits of having civilians among pockets of resistance and fighters because it creates problems for Israel in terms of opening fire, getting medical supplies to injured Gazans, and controlling the civilians. This manual also explains how the destruction of civilian homes helps the Hamas cause and creates negative media coverage of Israel. The Israeli Defense Forces have also gathered photographic evidence of people standing on the roofs of buildings that were going to be struck by an air strike, these people were protecting the weapons hidden inside of the buildings.
As analysis commenced on Operation Protective Edge it became more and more blatantly obvious that Hamas fires weapons from civilian areas deliberately in an attempt to use civilians as shields and maximize civilian casualties. Ghazi Hamad is a senior Hamas official in Gaza who was quoted on September 12 stating that "The Israelis kept saying rockets were fired from schools or hospitals when in fact they were fired 200 or 300 meters (yards) away". This is the first official aknowledgement by a Hamas official of the fact that they fire rockets from the vicinity of civilian protected facilities such as schools, hospitals, and relief buildings.
The use of human shields is not just limited to Palestinian civilians either. There have been multiple videos surfacing of Hamas operatives using foreign journalists as human shields, firing off their rockets right next to where journalists are reporting, to try to make Israel retaliate. In another incident, a Finnish female reporter was filming a segment in the parking lot of Shifa Hospital when Hamas militants set off a rocket in the hospital parking lot, right behind her.
The most glaring example of this during Operation Protective Edge is Hamas's use of the Shifa hospital in Gaza as an operations base/bunker. The hospital is continuing to see patients as the Hamas operatives congregate in the bunker underneath. This hospital has been a Hamas headquarters for many years, and in 2006 PBS aired a documentary that showed Hamas militants roaming the hallways and offices of the hospital. It is no secret that the hospital doubles as a Hamas operations base, and Hamas officials have held interviews in the hospital before. In the past, the Palestinian Health Ministry has accused Hamas of taking control of areas in Shifa hospital and using rooms for interrogation, torture, and imprisonment.
On August 1 2014, a Finnish female reporter was reporting from Shifa hospital when she witnessed a rocket launched from the parking lot, destined for Israeli territory.
Below a video can be found of Hamas launching rockets from the roofs of, and next to, medical facilities.
The Palestinian youth are taught to hate and fight their Jewish neighbors through Hamas's elective high school class, available at schools throughout Gaza. The 2014 session saw 13,000 young men sign up for the program, which "create[s] future soldiers and leaders who can defend their cause and appreciate the value of resistance". The class is known as "Futuwwah", and is sponsored by the Hamas Education Ministry in order to indoctrinate the young men into their militant ideology. An enthusiastic 15 year old graduate of the course, Radwan Wasfi was quoted saying that “My officer taught me the values of courage, sacrifice and love of jihad," and also that he could now "do for real what I do in video games". The first group of graduates is known as the "Liberation Vanguards".
A senior Hamas Commander named Zaher Jabarin said in a December 2012 TV interview that "The Palestinian youngsters, the resistance and Jihad warriors, fight and quarrel over performing a courageous suicide operation".
Hamas also uses child labor in addition to training these young soldiers, and an Institute for Palestine Studies report in Summer 2012 showed that over 1,600 children had died while building the tunnels going from Gaza to Israel. There have been concerns over child labor in Gaza since the early 2000's.
In a report released after Operation Protective Edge done by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, it was revealed that a significant number of Hamas operatives during the confrontation were children and teenagers whose ages had been falsified for Hamas official records. The names of Hamas operatives who were killed during the conflict were analyzed, and the analysts found several instances of children and teenagers serving in the Hamas military wing. The report also delved deeper into the mandatory military training that children and teenagers undergo in Gaza schools and summer camps. The report found that 9 year old Obeida Fadhel Muhammad Abu Hweishel had been killed while assisting his uncle (a senior Hamas commander), and his age had been reported as 24 in the official list of casualties published by the Palestinian Ministry of Health. This official list includes names of teenagers and children who were recruited by Hamas and used as child soldiers, such as Anas Qandil (17) and Wasim Rida Salhia (15). Other discrepancies include Ibrahim Jamal Kamal Nasr, a man in his 20's who was reported as a 13 year old boy.
The tunnels that the Hamas militants have dug from Gaza into Israel serve only the purpose of attacking and attempting to abduct Israeli citizens and IDF soldiers. Eyal Yifrach (19), Gilad Shaar (16), and Naftali Frenkel (16) were three Israeli students who were abducted and subsequently murdered by terrorists while they were on their way home from school on the night of June 12 2014. This incident sparked a revenge kidnapping of a Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdier carried out by Israelis, and can be traced back as the spark of Operation Protective Edge.
The three teens were hitch-hiking looking for a ride to their homes in central Israel from the West Bank at around 10p.m. on Thursday June 12. They entered a strangers vehicle who promised to drive them home, soon realized that it was not an Israeli vehicle and phoned the police for help. One of the teens can be heard on the recording telling the police officer who answered the phone that he had been kidnapped, but his speech was soft and muffled. Multiple attempts were made to reconnect with the phone after the call ended abruptly but it was eventually passed over as nothing serious, or a possible prank. Later that evening the parents of Gilad Shaar called the local police station and informed the officers that their son had not returned home, and only then were the IDF and the ISA informed of the call recieved over four hours prior.
During the first few days of the search the Israeli military was able to locate where the call was made from, and mounted a 2,500 person manhunt searching the Hebron hills and begining Operation Shuvu Achim (Operation Bring Back Our Brothers). By June 17, almost 300 Palestinian civilians and suspected Hamas leaders/militants had beenarrested on suspicion of having some sort of involvement with the kidnapping. The Israeli government announced that in the first 6 days of the search IDF soldiers had searched 800 structures, some of them perviously used by Hamas for operations.
The following week saw Israel intensify it's search and clash multiple times with Palestinian civillians and/or Hamas militants. There were multiple incidents where fire was exchanged and in some instances there were casualties on the Palestinian side, with 6 people dieng during clashes that week. By the end of the week, on day 14 of the search, Israel announced the identities of it's two key suspects. Marwan Qawasme and Amer Abu Aisheh were both Hamas operatives, had been arrested for engaging in terrorist activities previously, and had dissapeared on the night of the abduction so they were suspects from the begining.
On June 30, after almost 3 weeks of searching that left 8 dead (including 2 of heart attacks from midnight raids), 120 wounded, and 566 arrested, the bodies of the Israeli teens were found bound and buried on land purchased byMarwan Qawasme's family just north of Hebron. An examination of the bodies by an Israeli medical team determined that they had been murdered and buried soon after the initial abduction. In the middle of the night on July 1, the IDF levelled the homes of the two main suspects in custody.
In the wake of the failed cease-fire that was attempted on the morning of August 1 2014, the Israeli Defense Forces believed that one of their soldiers had been kidnapped by Hamas. Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin was feared to have been kidnapped in an incident that occured only shortly after a humanitarian cease-fire was announced to start at 5a.m. Goldin was born in the United Kingdom, is 23 years old, and is a relative of Israel's Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon. As Goldin and the other members of his brigade approached a tunnel entrance just outside of the Israeli neighborhood of Rafah, they were ambushed and put under heavy fire by Hamas militants. The IDF believed that during this exchange of fire the enemy combatants were able to use the confusion to abduct Goldin into the tunnel. This incident preceeded the official end to the proposed cease-fire, that was announced at 3a.m. and called off at 10a.m.
The following day the Israeli Defense Forces announced, contrary to what the media and they themselves had originally reported, that Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin was not abducted into a terror tunnel by Hamas, but was instead killed in the line of duty along with the other soldiers he was stationed with. Unfortunately his body was not recovered, and in September 2016 Israel's mission to the United Nations sponsored a display of his artwork at the U.N. headquarters in a project titled “Bring Hadar Home.”
On Wednesaday August 13 2014 a group of Jewish leaders addressed the Un Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for a full 90 minutes, expressing greivances and feelings that Hamas has been commiting many war crimes in the current conflict against Israel. The group included Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper (directors of the Simon Wiesenthal Center), Abraham Foxman from the Anti-Defamation League and Malcolm Hoenlein from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, along with multiple representatives from B'nai B'rith and Hadassah. This group of influential and powerful Jews urged the UN to launch a full and complete investigation into the use of UNRWA schools as Hamas weapons caches and launching points, and also urged them not to permit the UNRWA to handle and supervise the international aid going to Gaza for reconstruction purposes. In addition, the group stated that they believe no peace can come and no long term reconstruction project can be started until Hamas is completely disarmed. Ban Ki-moon was left with a lot to ponder after the group left, as they left him with a comprehensive and cited list of 19 war crimes that they believe to have been committed by Hamas during the current conflict. The full list can be found below.
1) Hamas’ rocket attacks directed at Israel’s civilian population centers deliberately violates the basic principles of distinction (Additional Protocol I, arts. 48, 51(2), 52(1).) Any doubt about this is resolved by the fact that Hamas itself has boasted of its intention to hit population centres. It is well accepted in customary international law that intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking part in hostilities constitutes a war crime. (Rome Statute, art. 8(2)(b)(i))
2) Staging of Attacks From Residential Areas and Protected Sites: The Law of Armed Conflict not only prohibits targeting an enemy’s civilians; it also requires parties to an armed conflict to distinguish their combatant forces from their own civilians, and not to base operations in or near civilian structures, especially protected sites such as schools, medical facilities and places of worship. As the customary law principle is reflected in Article 51(7) of Additional Protocol I: The presence or movements of the civilian population or individual civilians shall not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations, in particular attempts to shield military objectives from attacks or shield, favor or impede military operations.
3) Use of Civilian Homes and Public Institutions as Bases of Operation – see (2) for citations.
4) Misuse of Medical Facilities and Ambulances – Any time Hamas uses an ambulance to transport its fighters it is violating the Law of Armed Conflict: Under Article 23(f) of the 1907 Regulations annexed to the Hague Convention IV Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, which reflects customary international law, it is especially forbidden … [t]o make improper use of a flag of truce, … as well as the distinctive badges of the Geneva Convention. Article 44 of the First Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and SICK in Armed Forces in the Field (1949)also provides that: … the emblem of the Red Cross on a white ground … may not be employed, either in time of peace or in time of war, except to indicate or to protect the medical units and establishments…
5) Booby-trapping of Civilian Areas – see (2) for citations.
6) Blending in with Civilians and Use of Human Shields – As the ICRC rule states, lilt can be concluded that the use of human shields requires an intentional co-location of military objectives and civilians or persons hors de combat with the specific intent of trying to prevent the targeting of those military objectives.
7) Exploitation of Children – Hamas has paramilitary summer camps for kids. There are reports, from this war and previous ones, of children fighting and being used for tunnel digging. violates the Law of Armed Conflict, including prohibitions against allowing children to take part in hostilities. As customary international law is reflected in this regard in Additional Protocol I, the parties to a conflict must take “all feasible measures” to ensure that children lido not take a direct part in hostilities and, in particular, they shall refrain from recruiting them into their armed forces. (Additional Protocol I, art. 77(2))
8 ) Interference with Humanitarian Relief Efforts – While Israel kept its end of humanitarian truces. Hamas used them to shoot rockets into Israel, including the Kerem Shalom crossing where humanitarian goods are brought into Gaza. All of these actions violate the Law of Armed Conflict, which requires parties to allow the entry of humanitarian supplies and to guarantee their safety. Article 59 of the Fourth Geneva Convention requires parties in an armed conflict to permit the free passage of [humanitarian] consignments and shall guarantee their protection. Article 60 of the same Convention protects the shipments from being diverted from their intended purpose, something Hamas has certainly done in the past and is reported to have done in this conflict as well.
9) Hostage-taking – The Fourth Geneva Conventions, article 34, says flatly “The taking of hostages is prohibited.” This is not an “arrest” as Israel-haters claim, and this is not a prisoner of war situation as Hamas has made clear – the purpose of Hamas’ hostage-taking falls under the definition on the International Convention Against the Taking of Hostages: “Any person who seizes or detains and threatens to kill, to injure or to continue to detain another person (hereinafter referred to as the “hostage “) in order to compel a third party, namely, a State, an international intergovernmental organization, a natural or juridical person, or a group of persons, to do or abstain from doing any act as an explicit or implicit condition for the release of the hostage commits the offence of taking of hostages (“hostage-taking ‘) within the meaning of this Convention.
10) Using the uniform of the enemy – Additional Protocol I prohibits the use of enemy flags, military emblems, insignia or uniforms “while engaging in attacks or in order to shield, favour, protect or impede military operations”.  Under the Statute of the International Criminal Court, “making improper use … of the flag or of the military insignia and uniform of the enemy” constitutes a war crime in international armed conflicts when it results in death or serious personal injury.  According to some, this is considered perfidy, a war crime. (h/t Joshua)
11) Violence aimed at spreading terror among the civilian population – Rule 2 of ICRC’s Customary IHL is Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited. II It quotes Article 51(2) of Additional Protocol I prohibits “acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population”. Hamas rockets are aimed not only at killing civilians, but also at spreading terror among Israelis.
12)Targeting civilian objects, such as airports or nuclear power plants – Rule 7 of the Customary IHL says “Attacks must not be directed against civilian objects, quoting Articles 48 and 52(2)of Additional Protocol I.
13. Indiscriminate attacks – Besides targeting civilians and civilian objects, Rule 11 of the ICRC CIHL states flatly that “Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited. II By definition, every Qassam rocket attack and most of the other rocket and mortar attacks are by their very nature indiscriminate. See also Rule 71, “The use of weapons which are by nature indiscriminate is prohibited.
14) Proportionality in attack – ICRC’s Rule 14 states “Launching an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated, is prohibited. Rocket attacks against civilians have zero military advantage, so by definition they are disproportionate to their military advantage. See also Rule 18: “Each party to the conflict must do everything feasible to assess whether the attack may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.
15)Advance Warning – Rule 20 of the ICRC CIHL states “Each party to the conflict must give effective advance warning of attacks which may affect the civilian population, unless circumstances do not permit. Given that Hamas has used the media and SMS calls to threaten Israelis, it is clear that they have the ability to warn before every rocket attack. Their failure to do so is a violation of IHL.
16) Protecting civilians – Rule 22 of the ICRC Customary IHL states, “The parties to the conflict must take all feasible precautions to protect the civilian population and civilian objects under their control against the effects of attacks. Hamas not only has failed to protect civilians in Gaza by building bomb shelters, they have deliberately put civilians in harm’s way.
17) Attacking medical units – Rule 28 states, Medical units exclusively assigned to medical purposes must be respected and protected in all circumstances. Hamas has shot mortars at the Israeli field hospital, set up for Gazans, near the Erez crossing.
18) Protection of Journalists – Hamas has threatened journalists, implicitly and explicitly, accusing some of being spies and sometimes not allowing them to leave Gaza, making them effectively hostages. Rule 34 states “Civilian journalists engaged in professional missions in areas of armed conflict must be respected and protected as long as they are not taking a direct part in hostilities.
19) Mistreating the dead. Rule 113 says, Each party to the conflict must take all possible measures to prevent the dead from being despoiled. Mutilation of dead bodies is prohibited. Hamas has shown off an alleged chip cut out from the (presumably) dead body of Shaul Orono
Accusations of Israeli War Crimes
Throughout Operation Protective Edge the international community has had a lot to say about Israel's conduct in the Gaza Strip, and there have been accusations of war crimes being committed on both sides. International groups such as Human Rights Watch have been critical of Israel's actions and have even gone so far as to accuse the IDF of breaking international law by striking civilian facilities such as homes and hospitals. The Goldstone Report, released after Israel's last invasion of Gaza in 2009, detailed and claimed that Israel had commited war crimes during the operation in Gaza by: wilful killing, torture or inhuman treatment, wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, and extensive destruction of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly. According to some members of the international comminty, Israel is guilty of war crimes for:
- Targetting Civilian Facilities
- Imposing Collective Punishment on Gaza
- Not Sharing the Iron Dome with Gaza
On December 8 2014 human rights organization Amnesty International officially levied accusations against the IDF that they had committed various war crimes while carrying out Operation Protective Edge. Amnesty International claims that Israeli strikes on civilian facilites including multiple high-rise apartment complexes and UN school buildings represent the war crime of imposing collective punishment on the people of Gaza for the actions of their Hamas leaders. The IDF rebutted these claims of war crimes, stating that the buildings they struck were all known to house either Hamas offices or weapons, and that they provided adequate warning for the strikes in the form of leaflets and dummy bombs.
The Israeli Defense Forces claim to have extremely accurate strike capabilities, but even with sophisticated rockets and tracking systems civilian casualties occur. The IDF has come under heavy international scrutiny for explosions and strikes near schools, hospitals, and homes in the Gaza Strip. On Sunday August 3, the international news media reported that there had been an Israeli air strike carried out on Rafah Preparatory Boys School, which was at the time being used as a UN run shelter for about 3,000 people. There were explosions heard outside of the school gates, and multiple people outside of the school were killed or injured while they were waiting to buy food and drinks from street vendors. The strike hit about 10 metres from the school grounds, outside the gates on the street, and was reported as an attack on the school itself. According to the US State Department Israeli forces know the exact coordinates of every UN sanctioned school and facility in Gaza, and the United States has slammed Israel for the attack. In it's defense, Israeli officials stated that they were targeting Hamas militants who were riding a motorcycle in front of the school at the time. Israel claims that it struck it's intended targets. Even if the terrorists were within the vicinity of the school, UN run shelters are protected by the Geneva Convention and any strike on a UN run facility is a gross violation of international rules of conduct. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon announced on October 21 that he was in the process of setting up an inquiry into the Israeli attacks that damaged UN schools during Operation Protective Edge. This inquiry will also analyze whether or not these UN locations were used as storage areas for Hamas weapons.
In another incident on July 28 Israeli forces fired on Gaza's Al-Shifa Hospital, in an attack that killed 10. They claimed that there had been rockets fired by militants from the hospital parking lot and grounds, which Hamas denied. There have been multiple videos shot of Hamas operatives firing rockets from the hospital parking lot, even near reporters currently in the middle of a live news report. Shifa hospital is internationally known as a hiding place for Hamas terrorists. In 2006 PBS aired a documentary that showed Hamas militants wandering the halls of the hospital, and the hospital rooms are often used by Hamas for everything from conducting interviews to torturing and detaining people. The hospital staff are not allowed in certian portions of the building, and Hamas members intimidate and harass the employees. Hamas uses the hospital as cover for it's terrorist activities in the bunker below while patients are treated in the hospital above.
Israel justifies these actions by stating that Hamas exploits neutral protected facilities like schools and hospitals by using them as weapons caches and rocket launching points. Israeli and international forces have uncovered at least 3 seperate caches of weapons in UN sanctioned schools, and discovered multiple examples of Hamas doing the same with Mosques in the area. Videos have been taken of Hamas firing rockets from hospital parking lots, just outside of school buildings, and packed residential neighborhoods. The international community knows that Hamas uses hospitals and other protected civilian facilities as cover for it's operations.
Israeli forces have also been accused of targeting individual civilians while they were being complaint. In one instance a group of Israeli soldiers opened fire on a group of Palestinians that they had just released from questioning as they were walking down the street in the opposite direction of the soldiers. The soldiers killed one and injured two others. In another incident Israel bombed the home of Tayseer al-Batsh, a Gaza police chief who was not currently involved in military offensives against the IDF, and killed him and 18 of his family members.
According to Kenneth Roth, the executive director of the organization Human Rights Watch, Israel's rocket fire into Gaza constitute war crimes because he claims that Israel is firing the rockets knowing that the number of civilian casualties will be disproportionate to the comparative military gain achieved. Roth has acknowledged on his twitter that he believes the rockets fired from Hamas are war crimes as well, stating that "#Hamas is still firing rockets indiscriminately at Israel. These are war crimes. But they don't justify #Israel's own crimes, killing many".
The IDF claims that when these civilian facilities become used for military purposes then they become legitimate military targets, and Israel's critics say that these strikes serve no strategic military purpose.
On November 5 the highest ranking member of the US military, Army General Martin Dempsey, held a press conference in which he praised the actions of the IDF during Operation Protective Edge, stating that the IDF went to "extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties" during the conflict. Because of how well the IDF handled avoiding civilian casualties in the urban war zone of Gaza, the general also said that the Pentagon had sent a team to see what lessons could be learned from the conflict and brought back for US troops. General Dempsey defended Israel, stating that "In this kind of conflict, where you are held to a standard that your enemy is not held to, you're going to be criticized for civilian casualties". The way that Hamas conducted themselves during the recent conflict "caused the IDF some significant challenges. But they did some extraordinary things to try and limit civilian casualties," according to General Dempsey. (Reuters, November 6 2014)
The argument could be made that the entirety of Operation Protective Edge is imposing collective punishment on the Palestinian people for Hamas's abduction and murder of three Israeli teens in June. After the abduction the Israeli military searched over 1,000 structures in the Gaza Strip and clashed with Palestinian citizens and Hamas members many times. There have been multiple examples of retaliatory attacks, that could possibly be considered Israel imposing collective punishment on the Palestinian people for the actions of Hamas. For example, the first weekend in August there was an attack carried out by Israeli forces on a marketplace in Rafah, and statements on social media hinted that the attack was a retaliation after an attack in Rafah left two IDF soldiers dead and Second Lieutenant Hadar Goldin potentially abducted (but then later reported dead). Some claim that the motives for this attack were to terrorize the citizens of Rafah and collectively punish them for the actions of the Hamas militants earlier in the day. If this is the case, this could certainly be considered a war crime.
In the eyes of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, Israel has committed an egregious war crime by not sharing it's Iron Dome missile defense system with the people that it is supposed to protect Israel from. Israel's Iron Dome is Israel's primary rocket defense system, and the most advanced system of it's kind in the world. Funded in conjunction with the US government, the Iron Dome has been keeping Israel safer since it's inception in 2007, and has intercepted hundreds of rockets during Operation Protective Edge. Mrs Pillay slammed the United States at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council for funding the Iron Dome for Israel but not providing the same adequate protection for citizens of the Gaza Strip. The United Nations is claiming that Israel is using disproportionate force when dealing with Hamas, and states that Israel should have shared it's Iron Dome missile defense system with the Palestinians. Because Gaza is an occupied territory according to the United Nations Israel has an obliogation to protect the citizens of Gaza, and the UN claims that Israel is not fulfilling it's obligation to protect those citizens by not providing them with the same Iron Dome that Israel has.
On Tuesday August 5 the Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki held a meeting with the UN's International Criminal Court's prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. The goal of this conversation was to inquire how a state could accept the jurisdiction of the ICC; Malki wanted to know how the Palestinian authority could go about trying Israel in the ICC for war crimes committed in Gaza. The Bar Council's human rights committee sent a letter to Bensouda asking for investigations into Israeli war crimes committed in the Gaza Strip as well, stating that they believed that it was under the ICC jurisdiction to bring such charges under article 15 of the ICC's Rome Statute.
Palestine, at the time of this conversation however, was not a signatory to the ICC's Rome Statute. The United Nations also had not, according to Bensouda, "received any official document from Palestine indicating acceptance of ICC jurisdiction or requesting the prosecutor to open an investigation into any alleged crimes". Because Palestine was not a signatory to the Rome Statute and hadn't indicated that they are accepting of the ICC's jurisdiction, they were not able to enter any formal complaints of war crimes committed on their territory. The International Criminal Court has "no jurisdiction over alleged crimes committed on the territory of Palestine" until they accept the Rome Statute and accept the jurisdiction of the ICC.
On December 31 2014 the Palestinian Authority released a document showing that they had accepted Article 12 Paragraph 3 of the Rome Statute, and were officially accepting the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in order to conduct investigations on war crimes committed in Palestine since June 13 2014. The full text of this document can be found here.
In response to this action Israel immediately froze $127 milion in collected Palestinian tax revenues, and Israeli legal organization Shurat HaDin filed war crimes lawsuits against three heads of the Palestinian Authority in the International Criminal Court. War crimes charges were brought against Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, Minister Jibril Rajoub, and Palestinian Authority intelligence chief Majed Faraj on January 5 2015. During the summer 2014 Gaza conflict that became known as Operation Protective Edge, Shurat HaDin claims that Fatah members and officials "openly boasted in Facebook pages and other media channels that it launched projectiles that caused the injury and death of Israeli civilians." The war crimes accusations brought against the Palestinian Authority officials also detail tortures and killings of Palestinian citizens, carried out by members of Fatah and Hamas. The statement released by Shurat HaDin alleged "Faraj and Hamdallah, as commanders in the Palestinian security services, are directly responsible for widespread human rights violations committed [in the West Bank] against regular Palestinians by units under their authority."
International actors including US Secretary of State John Kerry have criticized Israel for withholding tax revenues collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, in response to their bid to join the International Criminal Court. Kerry has stated that he is concerned about the “continued viability of the Palestinian Authority if they do not receive funds soon.” In the first two months of 2015 Israel refused to hand over 2 payments of tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority, totalling over $200 million. Israeli officials contest that the Palestinian Authority is not on the verge of collapse and will be fine for the time being without the funds.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon announced on January 6 2015 that the Palestinian envoy will join the International Criminal Court starting on April 1. A statement released by Moon later that day said that "the statute will enter into force for the State of Palestine on April 1, 2015." This move was opposed by the United States, with officials stating that this is just another obstacle to reaching a peace agreement. At the time of this announcement, Moon also announced that he had also approved the Palestinians requests to join 16 other international organizations and treaties. A full list of these can be found here.
Leaders of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee warned the Palestinian Authority on January 28, 2015, that their aid packages from the United States might be in danger if they do not back out of their bid to join the ICC and bring war crimes accusations against Israel. The lawmakers penned a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry in which they asserted "The United States should not support direct economic assistance to the [Palestinian Authority] until it demonstrates a meaningful reversal of this destructive course and proves it can be a willing partner for peace." The letter was signed by House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce and ranking member Eliot Engel, as well as representatives Ted Poe, William Keating, Brad Sherman, Ted Deutch, Albio Sires, and Chris Smith, among others.
Israel announced on March 27, 2015 that they would be transfering the withheld tax revenue to the Palestinian Authority, due to humanitarian considerations and international pressure. In return for the release of this tax revenue, the Palestinians are not expected to take steps forward against Israel at the ICC for settlement construction. Additionally, the Palestinian Authority is not expected to take steps at the ICC regarding Operation Protective Edge.
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda stated in an interview with the Associated Press in May 2015 that she had not received any information or documentation from either the Israeli or Palestinian side regarding Operation Protective Edge. Bensouda explained that she could not begin even the preliminary investigation, because nothing had been given to her. During the interview, Bensouda repeatedly stressed that if she did not receive the information from the Israelis or Palestinians, she would have to get her information from different sources which may hold bias towards either side.
The United Nations named experts in international law and human rights violations to a panel known as the Gaza Commission of Inquiry on August 11, 2014. The purpose of this commission was to investigate and determine whether war crimes were committed by either side during Operation Protective Edge. The commission includes Doudou Diene from Senegal, and Canadian Professor Dr WIlliam Schabas. The choice made by the UN to put Schabas in charge of this investigation was met with harsh criticism from Israel and it's supporters. Schabas is openly anti-Israel and holds strong opinions on Israeli issues and people, stating at one point that he would love to see Benjamin Netanyahu "on the dock of the International Criminal Court". Due to these views, Israeli government officials dismissed Schabas as a legitimate impartial investigator and claimed that no investigation needed to be done because the verdict was already decided by Schabas's vehemently anti-Israel bias. In a letter to the UN Security General Ban Ki-Moon on August 12, Israel's ambassador to the UN Ron Proser wrote:
"Mr. Schabas’s agenda is clear. He has repeatedly called for the prosecution of Prime Minister Netanyahu and former President Shimon Peres saying, “My favorite would be Netanyahu within the dock of the International Criminal Court.”
In light of his hate-fuelled rants, one doesn’t need to be a fortune teller to predict the outcome of any inquiry led by Mr. Schabas. Furthermore, the exploitation of the UNHRC by some of the world’s worst human rights abusers is a grave misfortune for the millions of oppressed people around the world. While the Council is singularly focused on its anti-Israeli agenda, the world’s most murderous tyrants continue brutalizing their people.
I call on you to publically denounce the appointment of Mr. Schabas. His selection is a disgraceful stain on the values that the UN claims to stand for."
Hamas members praised the appointment of Schabas to the commission; Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri stated ""Hamas welcomes the decision to form an investigation committee into the war crimes committed by the occupation (Israel) against Gaza and it urges that it begin work as soon as possible". The Gaza Inquiry Commission was due to present it's findings to the UNHRC in March 2015.
On August 25, it was announced that former New York Supreme Court Judge Mary McGowan Davis was going to be the third member of the commission, alongside Schabas and Diene.
Israel refused entry into the country to the members of the commission on November 12, announcing that they will not be cooperating with the Human Rights Council and their appointed commission. Members of the commission arrived in the Jordanian capital of Amman and requested entry into Israel, but were denied by officials in Jerusalem.
Israel began a campaign against the commission of inquiry in mid January 2015, in an attempt to ensure that the 47 countries who established the commission will not be endorsing the report generated by the inquiry. The findings of the commission are due to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council on March 23 2014, less than one week after Israel elections are scheduled for. The goal of this campaign by Israel is to get as many countries as possible to refute the findings, abstain from the vote, or just not show up for the vote alltogether. The campaign also aims to discredit the head of the investigation, William Schabas. Because Israel has refused to cooperate with the commission and has refused them entry into the country, the committee is gathering information and testimony through technological means and conducting interviews in Jordan.
Due to rampant accusations of bias, on February 2, 2015, William Schabas resigned as the director of the investigation. After facing much criticism for his involvement in 2012 as a consultant for the Palestine Liberation Organization, and for his blatant bias against Israel and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Schabas conveyed his resignation from the Gaza Commission of Inquiry in a letter written to the UNHRC. He stated in the letter that although his views on Israeli-Palestinian issues had been well-known, he had pledged to serve the inquiry commission with “independence and impartiality.” He was replaced the following day with former New York State Supreme Court Justice Mary McGowan Davis, a member of the panel already. The council's acting president appointed McGowan Davis instead of bringing in an outside individual because the council had almost finished gathering their evidence. McGowan Davis is expected to be more balanced towards Israel, especially after it was evidence presented by her that caused Richard Goldstone to recant the conclusions of his investigation, titled the Goldstone Report.
The commission of inquiry requested more time to complete their investigation in March 2015, citing the need to re-evaluate and adjust their work due to the resignation of Schabas. In addition to the increased workload due to the departure of Schabas, McGowan Davis stated that they had received a significant amount of submissions, documents, and witness reports during early 2015 that slowed their process further. The commission was originally scheduled to present their findings to the UN Human Rights Council on March 23, 2015. The president of the UN Human Rights Council approved their request for more time to finish their investigation.
These organizations are supposedly seeking to evaluate the war crimes situation during the conflict and determine through an independent analysis whether or not war crimes were committed by either side. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have been attempting to gain entry to Gaza since July 7 2014. Neither one of these organizations is on an approved list of aid groups designated by the Israeli Ministry of Social Affairs, as they are not UN agencies. The Israelis additionally claim that since the border crossings into Gaza have been strictly monitored since the begining of these recent hostilities, that they were not issuing any new permits for approved groups. In addition, according to the accountability website www.ngomonitor.org:
"... the evidence clearly demonstrates that neither Amnesty International nor HRW is capable of conducting independent, unbiased, and credible investigations, particularly in the context of intense conflict, and environments where information is strictly controlled and manipulated by groups like Hamas. Neither NGO abides by international fact-finding standards such as the Lund-London Guidelines adopted by the International Bar Association. In addition to the lack of objectivity, their research processes are entirely non-transparent and not subject to accountability or independent verification.
Officials from Amnesty and HRW are not trained professionals in criminal and military investigations and forensics, do not possess the requisite expertise, and do not produce findings that would be admissible in legal proceedings. Their main practice consists of conducting unverifiable “witness” interviews, claiming to ascertain whether Palestinian fighters were present in the location of Israeli operations. (This determination is essential to resolve questions of military necessity and compliance with international law.) Neither group discloses the extent to which its staff is shadowed by Hamas and whether Hamas minders select interview subjects. Such practices were among the factors that discredited the NGO-based Goldstone Report on Gaza, published in 2009. More importantly, their activities, which do not adhere to professional standards, may jeopardize genuine investigations by tainting evidence and witnesses".
Amnesty International released a 63 page report on March 26, 2015, detailing war crimes committed by the Hamas organization during Operation Protective Edge. Included in the report were several examples of Hamas displaying blatant disregard for the safety of civilians. The focus of the report was Hamas's constant barage of missiles being fired into Israel, as well as the organization's actions within the Gaza Strip. Evidence presented in the report includes "credible reports" that Hamas launched rockets at Israel from the vicinity of public spaces and civilian facilities including mosques, schools, churches,
It was announced on November 10 2014 that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon had formed an internal inquiry board through the UN Headquarters Board of Inquiry to investigate incidents at UN facilities during Operation Protective Edge. During the conflict these UN facilities including schools suffered multiple hits from Israeli rockets that left UN staff and civilians badly injured and in some cases resulted in casualties. In addition to investigating the strikes themselves, the inquiry board will also evaluate whether or not Hamas did indeed store weapons, explosives, and ammunition in UN schools and other designated safe areas. The inquiry board will be led by Patrick Cammaert from the Netherlands and will also include Maria Vicien-Milburn from Argentina, Lee O’Brien of the United States, Pierre Lemelin from Canada and K.C. Reddy representing India.
UK Colonel Richard Kemp penned a letter to the UN Inquiry Commission in February 2014, in which he stated that “In my opinion the actions taken by the IDF were necessary to defend the people of Israel from the ongoing, intensive and lethal attacks by Hamas and other groups in Gaza.” The letter details his experiences working with the IDF and studying Palestinian terror organizations, and brings to light the distance that the IDF goes to make sure that civilian casualties are as low as possible during their operations. To read the full letter, click here.
The UN Internal Inquiry Commission abstract report was released on April 27, 2015, by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. The report found that Israel was responsible for damage done to seven UN facilities in the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge, and also concluded that Hamas had in fact been launching rockets from the vicinity of UN schools and shelters, and using many UN buildings as storage facilities for weapons and other materials. The board of inquiry investigated 10 incidents total. Upon the release of the report, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon thanked Israel for it's cooperation throughout the inquiry, and praised Israel for opening up their own investigations into outstanding incidents during the confrontation. In a letter delivered accompanying the report, Ban Ki-Moon wrote “I deplore the fact that at least 44 Palestinians were killed as a result of Israeli actions... I am dismayed that Palestinian militant groups would put United Nations schools at risk by using them to hide their arms”.
U.N. investigators stated on June 22, 2015, that both Israelis and Palestinians participated in abuses of human rights during Operation Protective Edge that may amount to war crimes. In their report, the investigators called on Israel to explain it's targetting practices, which led to the deaths of approximately 1,400 civilians. The findings of the report were quickly disputed by Israel, with officials stating that the IDF operated at the highest level of international standards during the conflict. The Hamas organization largely ignored accusations levied against it by the report. To read the full report published by the U.N. Board of Inquiry, please click here.
Sources:Israel Today (July 14, 2014); YNet News (July 13, 2014);Israel National News (July 13, 2014); Tablet Magazine (July 25. 2014); The Washington Times (August 1, 2014); RT (August 5, 2014); The Blaze (August 3, 2014); NGO Monitor (August 19, 2014); The Washington Post; (September 12, 2014); Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center; UN News Center; Ynet News (November 12, 2014); Times of Israel (January 24, 2013)(January 5, 2015); The Jerusalem Post (January 15 2015); The Hill (January 27, 2015); The New York Times (February 3, 2015), (February 4, 2015); Yahoo News (March 9, 2015); Haaretz (April 27, 2015); Reuters (April 27, 2014)