Amnesty slams Israel for ‘callous indifference’ to civilian casualties in Gaza

Report says some IDF attacks on homes indicate possible ‘war crimes’; NGO Monitor questions reliability of some figures, which ‘essentially come from Hamas.’

An Israeli mobile artillery unit fires towards southern Gaza on August 1, 2014 (photo credit: REUTERS)
An Israeli mobile artillery unit fires towards southern Gaza on August 1, 2014
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In a continuing series of human rights reports attacking Israel for its conduct during the summer’s Gaza war, an Amnesty International Report on Wednesday slammed the state for “callous indifference” to civilians in alleged attacks on civilian homes.
Zoning in on eight cases, the report concludes that the IDF committed war crimes and presses Israel and “Palestine” to join the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court or for the UN Security Council to refer the situation to the ICC.
NGO Monitor responded by criticizing Amnesty’s methodology both in the specific report and in general, saying the rights group lacked the military expertise and intelligence information to properly analyze the cases.
When contacted for comment, the IDF Spokesman’s Office conveyed that it would defer to the Foreign Ministry.
The Amnesty report, “Families under the Rubble: Israeli attacks on inhabited homes,” details eight cases where family dwellings were allegedly attacked by Israeli forces without warning during Operation Protective Edge, causing the deaths of at least 104 civilians, including 62 children. It alleges a pattern of frequent attacks using large aerial bombs to level homes, sometimes killing entire families.
“Israeli forces have brazenly flouted the laws of war by carrying out a series of attacks on civilian homes, displaying callous indifference to the carnage caused” and giving civilians “no chance to flee,” said Philip Luther, director of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa Program.
Even though Amnesty does discuss some military aspects, including of the types of armaments used, it does not fully explain IDF claims that some attacks it was accused of were actually Palestinian rocket misfires.
The rights group admitted that in four of the cases, attacks on the Abu Jame home, the al-Dali building, the Bakri residence and the Abu Dahrou home, it confidently identified possible military targets in the vicinity. In several other cases it was unsure about possible targets, but its research showed that a member of an armed group might have been residing there or renting a nearby residence.
In an additional case, it said it was possible that a rocket might have been fired at Israel from nearby but did not elaborate on the circumstances.
Still, Amnesty followed this admission by characterizing the “devastation to civilian lives” as “clearly disproportionate to the military advantages gained by launching the attacks” in “all cases.”
“Even if a combatant had been present in one of the homes, it would not absolve Israel of its obligation to take every feasible precaution to protect the lives of civilians caught up in the fighting,” Luther said.
Although noting that it did not receive information from the IDF about what military advantage was sought, the report does not explain how it balanced its analysis. Rather, it appears to take hotly debated interpretations of international law (which Israel rejects) in which some assume that a sizable volume of civilian deaths means the military advantage could not possibly have been worth it or that civilian homes do not become potential targets even when a combatant is present.
The report also assumes that the IDF could have targeted the combatants at other times yet does not explain militarily how this would be done or whether there would be complications.
In the deadliest incident documented in the report, 36 members of four families, including 18 children, were killed when the three-story al-Dali building was struck.
Israel has not announced why the structure was targeted, but Amnesty identified one of the casualties as a member of an armed group while noting that two eyewitnesses had said they saw a grenade launcher and a gun in the rubble. It said Israeli officials had failed to give any justification for these attacks.
The report notes an earlier report by the Israeli rights group B’Tselem, which noted attacks on 72 homes with civilian casualties.
In cases where Amnesty was unable to identify any possible military target, it concluded that the IDF had “directly and deliberately targeted civilians or civilian objects, which would constitute war crimes.”
In all the cases it researched, the IDF allegedly gave no warning.
It wrote that if warnings “had been given, excessive loss of civilian lives could clearly have been avoided.”
Khalil Abed Hassan Ammar, a doctor with the Palestinian Medical Council, described the area after an attack on the al-Hallaq family home, where he resided.
“It was terrifying we couldn’t save anyone,” he is quoted as saying. “All of the kids were burnt, I couldn’t tell which were mine and which were the neighbors’.... We carried whomever we were able to the ambulance....
I only recognized Ibrahim, my eldest child, when I saw the shoes he was wearing....
I had bought them for him two days before.”
At least 18,000 homes were destroyed or rendered uninhabitable during the conflict, the report said.
The report makes passing reference to dated partial initial information about IDF investigations, but fails to mention that the IDF has opened several new full criminal investigations, completed 47 initial investigations and was investigating another 50 or so incidents using a new and heavily staffed Fact Finding Assessment mechanism.
Amnesty, using UN statistics, assumes that around 75 percent of the approximately 2,000 people killed were civilians, including 519 children, while Israeli security sources have said that civilians deaths were likely closer to 50%.
Anne Herzberg, NGO Monitor’s legal adviser, questioned the reliability of the UN’s numbers, saying the figures “essentially come from Hamas.” She added that the UN “appears only to get total figures from Gaza sources, without asking for back-up, like a full list of the names” of casualties.
The Amnesty report does note that Palestinian armed groups also committed war crimes, indiscriminately firing thousands of rockets into Israel, killing six civilians, including one child. It also notes the over 60 IDF soldiers were killed.
The rights group has also complained that it was denied access to Gaza by both Israel and Egypt (as were other NGOs and the UN Human Rights Council commission of inquiry headed by William Schabas), forcing it to conduct its research from afar supported by just two local fieldworkers.
“Failing to allow independent human rights monitors into Gaza smacks of a deliberately orchestrated attempt to cover up violations or hide from international scrutiny,” an Amnesty statement said.