Amnesty International: Israel Committed War Crimes in Rafah

JERUSALEM, July 29, 2015 (WAFA) – Amnesty International revealed on Wednesday that after gathering evidence, it appears the Israeli forces committed and indiscriminate attacks which led to the killing of scores of Gaza civilians in their homes in Rafah.

The report revealed “There is overwhelming evidence that Israeli forces committed disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks which killed scores of civilians in their homes in Rafah, in southern Gaza Strip, during the Israeli war on Gaza last year.”

Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Amnesty International said, “This report’s findings add compelling evidence to an already large body of credible documentation of serious violations during the Gaza conflict, which demand independent, impartial and effective investigations.”

”Victims and their families have a right to justice and reparation. And those suspected of ordering or committing war crimes must be prosecuted.”

The attacks specified by Amnesty include repeated firing of artillery and other imprecise explosive weapons in densely populated civilian areas between 1 and 4 August.

It added that in some cases, evidence indicates the Israeli forces directly fired at and killed civilians, including people fleeing.

“Public statements by Israeli army commanders and soldiers after the conflict provide compelling reasons to conclude that some attacks that killed civilians and destroyed homes and property were intentionally carried out and motivated by a desire for revenge – to teach a lesson to, or punish, the population of Rafah for the capture of Lieutenant Goldin,” the report explained.

Amnesty argued that Israeli army commanders and officers “can operate in confidence that they are unlikely to be held accountable for violations of international law due to the pervasive climate of impunity” that has existed for decades. “This is due, in large part, to the lack of independent, impartial and effective investigations.”

The group cited strong evidence that many of the Israeli attacks in Rafah between 1 and 4 August were serious violations of international humanitarian law, which followed the capture of Israeli soldier Lt. Hadar Goldin by Palestinian armed groups on August 1 2014.

An Israeli infantry soldier, who was quoted by Amnesty, said that during the initial burst of fire, which lasted three hours,  his battery was “firing at a maximum fire rate” right into inhabited areas. According to the report of an Israeli military inquiry, more than 2,000 bombs, missiles and shells were fired in Rafah during 1 August, including 1,000 in the three hours following the capture.

Israel claimed the initial strikes aimed to stop the movement of all “suspicious” persons and vehicles, to isolate the area until the arrival of ground forces and to target known and suspected tunnel shafts, which meant bombing residential buildings and agricultural installations suspected of harboring tunnel exits or entrances.

An Israeli officer explained the logic of the operation, including potentially killing the captured soldier: “In such an event you prefer a killed soldier rather than a soldier in enemy hands, like [Gilad] Shalit. I told myself ‘even if I bring back a corpse I have brought back the missing person’.”

As the strikes began, the roads in eastern Rafah were full of disoriented civilians moving in all directions. Believing a ceasefire had begun, they had returned – or were returning – to their homes. Many decided to turn around, attempting to flee under a barrage of bombs and gunfire.

Palestinian witnesses described jets, drones, helicopters and artillery raining fire at pedestrians and vehicles at the intersections, indiscriminately hitting cars, ambulances, motorbikes and pedestrians.

Wa’el al-Namla, a father of two, said “You see the hysteria of the children, destruction, and mushroom clouds, and you try to get as far away from them as you can”.

Inam Ouda Ayed bin Hammad, another Palestinian from Rafah, told Amnesty International that, after 9am on 1 August, she noticed the shelling intensifying and missiles landing in close vicinity to their home in the al-Tannur neighborhood of Rafah.

Inam and her family were on the streets seeking shelter elsewhere when a bomb hit a building nearby and killed her son Anas, her cousin Wafa and at least 14 other civilians, as well as injuring scores of fleeing civilians.

The flood of casualties started coming into the hospital at about 10am, medical staff told Amnesty.

The attacks around the hospital grew nearer and more frequent as the day went on. Studying photographs of the hospital, Forensic Architecture noted both internal and external damage.

On the satellite image taken on 14 August, Forensic Architecture detected one crater about 120m south-west of the hospital and three craters about the same distance north-east of the hospital.

Patients, staff and persons seeking refuge at the hospital proceeded to evacuate the building in a rush when the attacks intensified. An organized evacuation took place in the evening. By about 7pm the hospital was closed and reporters claimed that the entire neighborhood around the Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital was under artillery fire.

On the same day three ambulances from the hospital went to collect wounded people near a mosque in Rafah; one ambulance was hit and completely destroyed by what appeared to be three drone-launched missiles. The three medics and all the wounded within the ambulance were burnt to death. A second ambulance left, while the other, which remained to collect the wounded and dead, was hit by another apparent drone strike.

The pounding of Rafah continued for three days after the initial strikes of 1 August, even after Lt. Goldin was declared dead by an Israeli rabbinical court and buried on 2 August.

Thus far, the Israeli authorities have proved at best incapable of carrying out independent investigations into crimes under international law in Rafah and elsewhere, and at worst unwilling to do so.