Attacks in which the Israeli military deliberately targeted Palestinian homes were an "appalling hallmark" of the military offensive this summer and had the backing of top Israeli officials, an Israeli human rights organization charges in a report released Wednesday.
For its report, Black Flag: The legal and moral implications of the policy of attacking residential buildings in the Gaza Strip, summer 2014 (pdf), B’Tselem investigated 70 incidents in which at least three people were killed while inside their home during what Israel called Operation Protective Edge.
In these incidents, B’Tselem said, over 600 Palestinians were killed, 70% of whom likely too no part in fighting. They included the deaths of 93 infants and children under the age of 5, as well as 129 5- to 14-year old children, and 37 people over 60.
One of the incidents described in the report is the bombing of the Abu Jame’ home in Bani Suheil, which killed 24 members of a family and one person described as a Hamas operative who is not related to the family.
Thirty-six-year old Tawfiq Abu Jame’, whose wife and six of his seven children were killed in the attack, told B'Tselem that though there was artillery fighting in the area, his family had nowhere to flee. "We were bombed without any warning. We didn’t receive a telephone call and a missile wasn’t fired at our house, like sometimes happened in other houses."
"I’d worked with my brothers on building this house, building our lives, since I was eleven, and suddenly we’d lost everything. The house and the family obliterated in a matter of seconds. I only have my son Nur a‐Din left. All I have left of them is a few photos of my children I took on my cell phone at a wedding a week before Ramadan. I keep turning on my phone, looking at the pictures, and remembering my kids and the various stages in their lives," he said.
The organization pointed to three factors behind the high numbers of Palestinian civilian casualties in the incidents they investigated: Israeli forces' overly broad definitions of legitimate military targets, their repeated violations of the "principle of proportionality," and a lack of or ineffective warnings to civilians that the homes would be targeted.
The operation ultimately killed over 2,100 Palestinians, including over 500 children. The attacks also resulted in the deaths of 67 Israeli soldiers and 5 Israeli citizens.
The report also acknowledges that Hamas violated international humanitarian law, yet stresses that this does not abdicate Israel from still having to adhere to the law.
The organization sent the report to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his response. In a letter accompanying report, B’Tselem Executive Director Hagai El-Ad wrote, "Senior officials, with you at the helm, backed the strikes, reiterating the argument that the attacks conform to international humanitarian law (IHL) and eschewing any responsibility for harm to civilians."
"This interpretation is designed to block, a priori, any allegation against Israel and means that there are no restrictions whatsoever on Israeli action and that whatever method it chooses to respond to Hamas operations is legitimate, no matter how horrifying the consequences. This interpretation is unreasonable, unlawful, and renders meaningless the principle that violations committed by one party do not release the other party from its obligations toward the civilian population and civilian objects," El-Ad wrote.
B'Tselem's report, which follows a slew of other reports denouncing Israeli actions during the offensive, comes a day after the UN Relief and Works Agency announced it was suspending its cash assistance program to the nearly one hundred thousand people in Gaza whose homes were damaged or destroyed during the summer attack.
The agency cited a funding shortfall of $585 million as reason for the suspension.
UNRWA Director in Gaza Robert Turner stated the while raising $135 million was "a tremendous achievement; it is also wholly insufficient."
"It is easy to look at these numbers and lose sight of the fact that we are talking about thousands of families who continue to suffer through this cold winter with inadequate shelter," Turner continued. "People are literally sleeping amongst the rubble; children have died of hypothermia. US$ 5.4 billion was pledged at the Cairo conference last October and virtually none of it has reached Gaza. This is distressing and unacceptable."
The Electronic Intifada's Maureen Clare Murphy previously remarked that Israel was "the true beneficiary" of the $5.4 billion pledged in aid. She continued: "The self-declared international community has once again footed the reconstruction bill as it arms Israel with the weaponry and ensures it the impunity that only rewards its brutal onslaught on Gaza and essentially guarantees its repetition."