NGO: Gazans had no place to hide during IDF bombings

Report calls on government to open inquiry into Israeli human rights violations during this past summer's operation.

A Palestinian woman in the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun surveys the devastation (photo credit: REUTERS)
A Palestinian woman in the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun surveys the devastation
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Gazans had no place to run during this summer’s war, the Israeli branch of Physicians for Human Rights said in a report it released on Tuesday as it called on the government to open a national commission of inquiry into Israeli violations of human rights during Operation Protective Edge.
A report based on evidence it collected in Gaza from interviews with 68 Palestinians who were injured during the conflict with Hamas, as well as digital photographs of the deceased and other medical evidence, was sent, along with a letter, to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The IDF charged that the report was inaccurate and biased, and said there already was a mechanism in place that examined IDF activity, including that of Operation Protective Edge. Such investigations, it said, were ongoing.
As part of already existing investigatory efforts, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira on Tuesday announced that he is bringing in three outside experts to help him judge IDF compliance with international law during the war.
Among the chief conclusions of the Physicians for Human Rights report was the absence of an adequate warning system prior to bombings or a safe zone for civilians.
“There here was not one safe place in the Gaza Strip where the civilian population could find refuge,” Ron Goldstein, chief executive officer of its local branch, wrote in the letter to Netanyahu.
“UNRWA schools, hospitals and residential buildings were all targets attacked by the Israeli army. Moreover, no safe passages were defined for civilians and patients.
“The warning mechanism failed completely,” he added.
In cases where warnings were given, there was no allowance for the safe evacuation of the population, he said.
The report concluded that residential neighborhoods of Gaza were bombed in a way that “made it impossible to distinguish legitimate targets from the civilian population.”
In some cases, it said, the IDF used civilians as human shields.
Also, it claimed, medical facilities, teams and ambulances were attacked while performing their duties.
The report further charged that the IDF failed to coordinate the evacuation of casualties with the medical organizations on the ground.
In one case they examined in Khuza, Goldstein wrote that the “prevention of a medical evacuation was documented, despite the fact that there was eye contact between the soldiers and the casualties. The prevention involved direct fire on civilians waving white cloth, and the use of civilians as human shields.”
He blamed the violations of human rights identified in the report on policy decisions rather then the actions of any one individual soldier. It is for this reason, he told Netanyahu, that a national commission of inquiry is needed.
The IDF denied the charges in the report, saying it acted in accordance with international law, noting, in particular, that it warned civilians prior to bombings and had, as much possible, attempted to coordinate the safe evacuation of the wounded.
It was terrorist organizations in Gaza that used Palestinian civilians as human shields during the operation by shooting from medical facilities and residential neighborhoods, the IDF said.
The report was blunt about its limitations, and, for this reason, it said a national commission of inquiry was necessary. The report admitted it was not able to investigate Israeli claims that Hamas hid behind civilians and used residential homes, mosques, hospitals and UNRWA facilities to store weapons and launch rockets.
The report was based on three trips a delegation of eight international medical experts took to Gaza in July, September and November of 2014. According to the report, this is believed to have been the only independent group to allowed entry to Gaza to collect information about the war.
The document was published as the United Nations Human Rights Council probe into the Gaza war compiles war crimes evidence for a report it plans to publish in March. The Palestinians, similarly, are working on putting together a case on the Gaza war that they hope to bring before the International Criminal Court.