Amnesty International has accused the Israeli military of committing war crimes over the summer in its attack on Gaza, noting eight instances in which the army targeted houses full of families without warning.
In its report published Wednesday, Amnesty also called on Israeli and Palestinian officials to give the International Criminal Court (ICC) authority to investigate crimes committed in occupied territories.
The report, Families Under the Rubble: Israeli Attacks on Inhabited Homes, charges Israeli forces with "callous indifference" to human life for carrying out a series of attacks with large aerial bombs to demolish residential homes without taking necessary precautions to avoid excessive harm to civilians and property, sometimes killing entire families. Those bombings resulted in the deaths of at least 104 civilians, including 62 children—deaths which could have been prevented if the Israeli military had given prior warning to the residents of those homes, Amnesty says.
In one case outlined in the report, Amnesty found that the Israeli army failed to identify a military target before bombing a residential building, which means that it may have "directly and deliberately targeted civilians or civilian objects, which would constitute war crimes."
"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," said Philip Luther, director of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa Program.
The report notes that several of the attacks were aimed at military targets, but that the devastation they caused were "clearly disproportionate to the military advantages gained by launching the attacks."
Numerous survivors' accounts are detailed in the 49-page report. Witnesses recalled digging through rubble after rockets leveled their homes to pull out the "shreds" of family members and neighbors. Palestinian Medical Council doctor Khalil Abed Hassan Ammar told Amnesty, "It was terrifying we couldn’t save anyone…. All of the kids were burnt, I couldn’t tell which were mine and which were the neighbors’… We carried whoever 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."
Israel's seven-week assault killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians. Seventy-two Israelis, most of whom were soldiers, also died.
The conflict also displaced a large number of Gaza's population. Pierre Krähenbühl, Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNWRA) said Tuesday that almost one-third of Gazans fled their homes during the peak of the crisis. There has also been a "significant upsurge" in the trend of violence towards Palestinians in the West Bank, Krähenbühl said.
The Israeli government has repeatedly denied Amnesty and other watchdog groups entry into the country, forcing the organization to conduct its research remotely. The report "exposes a pattern of attacks on civilian homes by Israeli forces which have shown a shocking disregard for the lives of Palestinian civilians, who were given no warning and had no chance to flee," Luther said.
Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected Amnesty’s findings on Wednesday, saying the organization did not have the evidence to support its claims against Israel and that it "ignores documented war crimes perpetrated by Hamas, including the use of human shields, as well as ammunition storage and firing at Israeli civilian population centres from within schools, hospitals, mosques and civilian neighborhoods."
The Ministry also said that "investigations are currently underway by several bodies, inside and outside the Israeli Defense Forces, into 90 incidents."
Though the bulk of Amnesty’s report focuses on Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians, it also found that "Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups fired thousands of indiscriminate rockets and mortar rounds into civilian areas of Israel, killing six civilians, including one child."
The report continues:
The large number of civilian casualties, as well as the destruction and displacement in the Gaza Strip, on the one hand, and the toll of indiscriminate rockets fired by Palestinian armed groups on civilians in Israel, on the other, during Operation Protective Edge only make ending this impunity more urgent. Neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian authorities have taken meaningful measures to stop these serious violations, or to bring those responsible to justice. Ending the systematic impunity for past crimes would serve as a deterrent against their repetition, and is thus a critical component to ensuring the protection of civilians on both sides in the long term.
The rights group is "continuing to document serious violations of international humanitarian law, including unlawful killings and injuries to civilians and destruction of civilian property, both by Israel and by Hamas and Palestinian armed groups."
Amnesty said government officials in both regions "must accede to the Rome Statute" of the ICC, which gives the court jurisdiction over war crimes. Israel, too, should cooperate with an inquiry by the United Nations Human Rights Council—which it has been boycotting on the grounds that the inquiry may be biased.