A B’Tselem report to be published early Wednesday blasts the country’s civilian leadership, and specifically Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his cabinet, as culpable for hundreds of Palestinian civilians being killed in their residences during last summer’s Gaza war.
Neither the IDF, nor the Foreign Ministry nor the Prime Minister’s Office responded, but NGO Monitor called the document part of a “chorus of false Gaza war allegations.”
B’Tselem – The Israel Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories said the report was partially distinguished by a broader focus on war policy set by the highest levels of the IDF and Netanyahu’s security cabinet, in particular on their alleged approval of bombing a large number of civilian residences as part of fighting Hamas.
The report said that 70 percent, or around 400 out of 606 Palestinians killed in 70 incidents, were killed in their residences, and were civilians as they were under 18, over 60 or women.
Israel has generally argued that around 50 percent of the more than 2,200 Palestinians killed during the war were combatants.
The report honed in on 13 incidents in which 179 Palestinians were allegedly killed.
B’Tselem said that it had established that in three of the 13 incidents, Hamas or Islamic Jihad operatives were among those killed, but that in 10 of the incidents it could not establish if fighters were involved and that the IDF has not provided specific information, relying instead on general statements that no attacks were ordered unless there was a military target.
Rather than asking the IDF to investigate the soldiers involved in the incidents, the report attacks the IDF’s policy decisions as having an overly “flexible interpretation of what constitutes a military objective,” the “concept of lawful ‘collateral damage’” and what is an “effective warning.”
B’Tselem said that the IDF’s warnings could not be said to be effective with so many civilian deaths and that early tragic errors, such as a mistaken attack on the Kaware family in Khan Yunis, had put the IDF on notice that it could not attack civilian residences with its current warnings policy without inevitable massive civilian casualties.
In that case, the IDF successfully warned civilians to leave a residence designated for attack with telephone calls and a non-exploding warning shot missile or “roof-knocking,” but nine civilians were killed when they reentered the building too soon. One member of the family, Odeh Kaware, is a commander in Izzadin Kassam, Hamas’s military wing.
NGO Monitor disputed both the report’s factual and interpretive allegations.
The report ignored IDF statements and a report by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center regarding properly identifying who was a civilian and who a fighter, NGO Monitor said.
It complimented B’Tselem on the “honest admission” that it “has no way of knowing” where the IDF attacked because of fighters being present or for another reason, such as concealed weapons, but then objected to B’Tselem’s interpreting the IDF’s actions as unlawful without having that information.
NGO Monitor said that B’Tselem was inventing new, aspirational, rules of law that are not obligatory, that the IDF’s warnings are “more extensive than that of any other army” and questioned what practical suggestions B’Tselem had for better fighting Hamas.
B’Tselem consistently says it is not its job to provide the IDF improved tactical suggestions.
The IDF is expected to announce additional criminal investigations and updates soon.
One discrepancy between the B’Tselem report and a November 2014 report by Amnesty International was that B’Tselem did not have evidence that any fighters were killed in the alleged IDF attack on the a-Dali family in Khan Yunis, whereas Amnesty indicated there was evidence of a fighter killed in that incident.
Without addressing the specific incident, a B’Tselem representative said there were cases where the group suspected that fighters may have been involved, but it was only reporting their involvement where the evidence was hard and clear.
Regarding the Abu Jame family attack, also in Khan Yunis, which the IDF has acknowledged and ordered a criminal investigation into, even though a Hamas operative was killed in the attack, B’Tselem said that the investigation was unlikely to be enough.
A representative said that even if the soldiers involved were prosecuted, the IDF high command and civilian war policy decision-makers were really the ones who had approved an overly aggressive, wide-ranging policy of attacks on civilian residences, and that the IDF investigation would ignore that issue.
The report does note that Hamas systematically and intentionally violated international law both with indiscriminate rocket fire and by intentionally firing rockets at Israel from civilian areas, effectively using its own civilian population as human shields.
But B’Tselem said that Hamas’s violation of the law did not empower Israel to violate the law also.
As for the Palestinian efforts toward bringing war crimes complaints against Israelis before the International Criminal Court, B’Tselem said it has not yet decided a position on that issue.
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