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The human rights community’s consensus: Israel is committing war crimes in Gaza

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A Palestinian family leaves its house in Gaza City after it was damaged in an Israeli airstrike. (Photo: MOHAMMED ABED / AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

A Palestinian family leaves its house in Gaza City after it was damaged in an Israeli airstrike. (Photo: MOHAMMED ABED / AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

When the Israeli military wages assaults on Gaza, their spokesmen, former officials and sympathetic journalists blanket the airwaves to justify their military policies as targeted and precise. But during this attack on Gaza–and previous assaults–a consensus among human rights groups has emerged: Israel is committing war crimes in strikes that are wiping out civilians.

Since the start of Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge,” Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and United Nations officials–the heavyweights when it comes to interpreting international law–have all issued reports and statements slamming Israel for violations of international law. Those organizations have also said Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups firing rockets are committing war crimes since their volleys are indiscriminately aimed at Israeli civilians.

Israeli spokespeople have pointed to a number of military policies they say are aligned with international law to deflect criticism from the growing civilian death toll in Gaza, which is at 164, according to the UN.  One policy frequently cited is the so-called “knock on the roof,” when Israel launches a less-lethal projectile to warn the inhabitants of a home in Gaza that they are about to be attacked with munitions. Another policy Israel says is justified is attacks on the homes of Palestinian militants, with Israeli spokespeople claiming that homes store armaments in them.

An Israeli army Twitter post

An Israeli army Twitter post


And Israel has also pounded home the message that civilian deaths are occurring because Hamas uses Palestinians as “human shields.” No evidence has been presented that Hamas does so.

“We’re doing everything to keep civilians out of harm’s way,” Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., said today during a Twitter Q and A on the conflict. “No country in history has more rigorously upheld international law when its homeland under attack.”

But human rights organizations have dismissed many of Israel’s claims. In response to Israel’s “roof knocking” and warning policies, Amnesty International’s Philip Luther, the Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme, said that “There is no way that firing a missile at a civilian home can constitute an effective ‘warning’. Amnesty International has documented cases of civilians killed or injured by such missiles in previous Israeli military operations on the Gaza Strip.” In addition, some accounts from Palestinians in Gaza indicate that families “warned” of an airstrike were not given enough time to evacuate–or that there was no warning at all.

Yesterday, Human Rights Watch published the results of their investigation into four separate strikes in Gaza that they say amount to war crimes. The organization laid into Israel’s practice of bombing the homes of alleged Palestinian militants.

“Civilian structures such as residential homes become lawful targets only when they are being used for military purposes,” the report states. “Attacks targeting civilians or civilian property are unlawful, as are attacks that do not or cannot discriminate between civilians and combatants.” Israel has claimed that these attacks on civilian homes occur because they are used as “command and control” centers by Hamas and other groups–but Human Rights Watch dismissed those claims, saying there was no evidence to justify them.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Human Rights Watch’s Middle East director, said in a statement that “the presence of a single, low-level fighter would hardly justify the appalling obliteration of an entire family. Israel would never accept an argument that any Israeli home of an Israel Defense Force member would be a valid military target.” Whitson echoed what UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said when the assault on Gaza began.

“We have received deeply disturbing reports that many of the civilian casualties, including of children, occurred as a result of strikes on homes. Such reports raise serious doubt about whether the Israeli strikes have been in accordance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law,” said Pillay.

Tellingly, there has only been one instance of the Israeli military claiming that a strike was on a home that stored weapons, according to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. The group also documented the military’s changing explanations of strikes on homes.

On July 8th, the Israeli army said that they bombed the homes of Hamas activists “involved in terrorist activity”–a clear violation of international law, since mere involvement in “terrorism” in the past does not allow an army to legally bomb their house. The next day, the army changed the wording of statements concerning the bombing of houses, stating, with no evidence, that houses they hit “functioned as command and control infrastructure for the organization.”

Alex Kane
About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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14 Responses

  1. eljay
    July 17, 2014, 1:33 pm

    Change the poster to read “Where do Israeli terrorists hide their weapons? Houses | Temples | Hospitals | Schools” and no-one will complain the next time Hamas targets these suspected* terror sites. Hamas can also “knock on a few roofs” to give the occupants of the terror sites time to evacuate.

    (*Suspicion is all that’s required: As hophmeee pointed out recently, there’s no reason to wait for a rocket to be fired before hitting a target.)

  2. LuLu
    July 17, 2014, 1:37 pm

    Everyone know Israel has committed war crimes in this recent weeks of barbaric criminal genocide and for the past 66 years. The US Government that I’m ashamed It’s partner in war crimes and genocide, is going to cover anything that these evil war criminals door and report that speaks against their evil doing..that makes our Govt as Guilty as these war criminals. .

  3. Justpassingby
    July 17, 2014, 3:24 pm

    Reports that the hospital in Gaza is getting attacked more severe than earlier is coming in.

  4. Sumud
    July 17, 2014, 3:38 pm

    About that IDF Spokesperson graphic in the middle of the story, after you read the tweet below please scroll up and look at the graphic again:

    Think seriously about what the Israeli Defense Forces are trying to accomplish w/ this chilling ad.

    • Chu
      July 17, 2014, 3:49 pm

      Seems like their laying out their case for genocide with military agitprop graphics.

  5. oldgeezer
    July 17, 2014, 3:45 pm

    I don’t pray but figurative prayers to the innocent in Gaza as the ground war starts.

  6. kalithea
    July 17, 2014, 4:04 pm

    Nitwityahoo is launching a ground invasion. No doubt he’s been itching for a bloodbath in Gaza ever since he came to power. He wants Gaza’s waters to turn red. Zionists seem to want to level Gaza – the most populated concentration camp on earth to obliterate all proof of their war crimes and crime against humanity. Half the population are children – the objective is to stop this demographic threat by all means.

    Genocidal butchers!

  7. Citizen
    July 17, 2014, 4:10 pm

    Just look and read the latest from the WH spokeswoman fielding questions about Israel’s murders of the Palestinian fisherman family kids on the beach, right here on another recent thread on MW. The press was right there. But, so what? I’d like to personally confront the WH spoke people on this matter. They are pure examples of Goy America’s lack of any moral and ethical integrity, of US concern with nothing but career opportunity. The suck. But that’s America today. Geez, that sucks too.

  8. Kay24
    July 17, 2014, 4:42 pm

    Where do Israeli terrorists in uniform take their war into? Mosques, schools, hospitals, home for the disabled, civilians homes and civilian structures.

    Who do they mostly kill? Unarmed men, women, children, babies, and MOSTLY civilians. They specialize in killing children who play soccer.

    What do they use on civilians? Take your pick:

    Plus weapons banned by UN. (white phosphorous, DIME)

    Who supports them, arms them, and protects them from world condemnation?
    Good ole USA

    The USA has defended the war crimes of the one of the 10th most powerful military of the world, that ranks No. 6 when it comes to military weapons. AGAINST unarmed civilians living in a large concentration camp, fenced in, and nowhere to shelter against said weapons.

    Now watch the real massacre of innocents begin.

  9. kalithea
    July 17, 2014, 5:03 pm

    At 11:20 pm Palestine time, Zio-terror is being unleashed under the cover of night on Gaza. Zionist tanks are rolling in and the bombardment is non-stop. Gazans are totally vulnerable to tank and Apache helicopter firepower and the rest of the Zionist Goliath war machine assailing Gaza from sky and sea. This is Cast Lead redux or worse. This is not war as the lying Zionist media pretends; this is extreme disproportionate violence executed by one of the heaviest armed military in the world against a concentration camp filled to the brim with impoverished civilians half of whom are children a new generation of Palestinians.

    Who is going to crush this genocidal offensive? Is everyone just going to stand by AGAIN, witness this wanton butchery and do nothing??? What will it take for the world to stop this ritual genocide against the Palestinian people?

    • Kay24
      July 17, 2014, 10:16 pm

      The world will do NOTHING as usual. The US has already supported the war crimes by claiming they have the right to defend itself (from unarmed civilians), the UN will simply make a few noises, but nothing comes out of it, the Arab nations do not give a fig, and the rest of the world will say it was a bad thing, but soon start trading with Israel again, after all they are the victims of a holocaust and must be given all the aid it needs to survive from their decades of old job of being occupiers.
      The Palestinian people, will have to rebuild their flattened homes (without cement how can they, really?) and the little babies who survive will be traumatized for the rest of their lives.

  10. ritzl
    July 17, 2014, 7:47 pm

    Where do Israelis hide their military command centers?

    In residential neighborhoods of Tel Aviv.

  11. michelle
    July 17, 2014, 10:40 pm

    their blood is on all of our hands
    everyone knows
    though not many talk about it
    my goat is given more rights and protection by
    self proclaimed “higher moral grounded” leaders
    governments know
    the u.n. knows
    the human rights community knows
    we know
    Hamas defends with useless arms
    it’s been well over 50 years how is it still happening
    i wish i was important and that there were a million of me
    (maybe collectively i would be important enough to be effective)
    i would be a human shield to these people who are not fighting but are under attack
    i have never felt so useless
    some things are best undiscovered
    some truths are better untold
    some pain is quiet whilst throbbing
    some hurt is too much to hold
    G-d Help us all

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