One Year After Gaza Massacre, UN Exposes Likely War Crimes

by Marjorie Cohn, Truthout | News Analysis –

gaza in ruins

One year ago, on July 7, 2014, Israel launched “Operation Protective Edge,” a massive assault on the Gaza Strip. For 51 days, Israel bombarded Gaza with more than 6,000 airstrikes. Many of them hit residential buildings. Tawfik Abu Jama, a father of eight, told UN investigators, “I was sitting with my family at the table ready to break the fast. Suddenly we were sucked into the ground. Later that evening, I woke up in the hospital and was told my wife and children had died.”

The UN Human Rights Council subsequently convened an independent, international commission of inquiry to investigate violations of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly the Gaza Strip. The commission finally issued its report on the investigation on June 24, 2015, which included the quote from Abu Jama.

The commission concluded that Israel, and to a lesser extent, Palestinian armed groups, had likely committed violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, some constituting war crimes. “The scale of the devastation was unprecedented” in Gaza, according to the commission.

It documented the deaths of 2,251 Palestinians, including 1,462 civilians (299 women and 551 children), and the injuring of 11,231 Palestinians, including 3,540 women and 3,436 children. Ten percent of the children suffered a permanent disability as a result. More than 1,500 Gazan children were orphaned. On the Israeli side, six civilians and 67 soldiers were killed, and up to 1,600 were injured.

Collective Punishment

“According to official Israeli sources, rockets and mortars hit civilian buildings and infrastructure, including schools and houses, causing direct damage to civilian property amounting to almost $25 million,” the report stated. In addition, 18,000 housing units were totally or partially destroyed; much of the electrical, water and sanitation infrastructure was incapacitated; and 73 medical facilities and several ambulances were damaged. Twenty-eight percent of the Palestinian population was displaced.

The commission determined, “The impact of the hostilities in Gaza cannot be assessed separately from the blockade imposed by Israel.” That blockade and the military operation “have led to a protection crisis and chronic, widespread and systematic violations of human rights, first and foremost the rights to life and to security, but also to health, housing, education and many others.” The commission quoted the UN secretary general’s characterization of Israel’s blockade of Gaza as “a continuing collective penalty against the population of Gaza.”

Indeed, the commission stated: “Closed into the Strip, with no possibility to exit at times, 44 percent of Gaza was either a no-go area or the object of evacuation warnings. These terrifying circumstances created a sense of entrapment, of having ‘no safe place’ to go.”

The commission examined 15 cases of strikes on residential buildings across Gaza, which killed 216 people, including 115 children and 50 women. Many of the attacks took place in the evening or at dawn when people were eating, or at night when they were asleep. “The timing of the attacks increased the likelihood that many people, often entire families, would be at home,” according to the commission. “Attacking residential buildings rendered women particularly vulnerable to death and injury.”

Probable Violations of International Law

The commission documented probable violations of three principles of international humanitarian law – distinction, proportionality and precautions – which may amount to war crimes.



Reprinted with permission from Truthout