Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Waiting for ceasefire: innocent civilians have become collateral damage in Gaza

By Charlotte Drax - July 14, 2014
Section: [Main News]
Tags: [Gaza]

Bodies of the slain al-Kaware'a family are carried at a funeral procession in Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip.  Photo by Jordi Bernabeu Farrus


75-year-old Muhammed Hamad lost six members of his family on Thursday when an F-16 missile blew up the home of his son, 'Abd al-Hafez, a commander in the armed group Islamic Jihad. 

In a testimony to B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organisation, Muhammed described the horrifying moment he saw the bodies of his three sons, wife, granddaughter and daughter-in-law strewn across the yard. 
“I went into shock. The neighbours held me because I couldn’t stand. I felt like I was going to faint from the horror of it. The missile fell on my family with no warning. I assume they wanted to hit 'Abd al-Hafez, but what did the rest of the family do wrong? Why did they kill an entire family?”
Since the launch of “Operative Protection Edge”, the largest military offensive against the Gaza Strip since 2012, Israel has killed 172 individuals and eliminated eight entire families. According to an emergency report by OCHA, 77% of the 1230 injured are civilians. 
International Law
With the mounting death toll attracting international attention and criticism, the Israeli army has released several statements, posters and videos defending their decision to bomb civilian homes in Gaza. 
“When is a house a home? And when does it become a legitimate military target? Hamas use Palestinian homes in Gaza for military purposes,” one poster reads. This statement is accompanied by a cartoon image of a civilian house with rooms clearly labelled 'weapon storage’ and 'command center’.    
According to international law, when a house is being used for military purposes, it may become a legitimate military target. There are, however, stringent procedures which must be followed prior to an attack. 
“Even when a home is identified as being used for military purposes, any attack must be proportionate, offer a definite military advantage in the prevailing circumstances at the time, and precautions must be taken to protect civilians,” Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the UN’s human rights department, told Ma’an News Agency on Friday. 
She went on to add that, “the disturbing number of reports that many of the civilian casualties, including of children, occurred as a result of strikes on homes ... raise doubts about whether the Israeli air strikes have been in accordance with international humanitarian law and international human rights law.”
“It is unavoidable that some civilians will be harmed”
The Israeli air force has stated that deaths of children and civilians are not intentional, but claims that nothing can be done to prevent them. Speaking of one incident on Tuesday in which five children from the Kaware’a family died, a high-ranking Israeli officer who wished to remain anonymous  said that children could be seen entering the house as it was being bombed. 
“There was nothing to be done, the ammunition was in the air and could not be diverted,” he told reporters. “Although you see [the family members] running back into the house, there was no way to divert the missile.”
In a statement released on their website, the Israeli army maintain that “the IDF makes great efforts to minimize potential harm to the surrounding civilian population. For example, the IDF may use real-time visual coverage in order to assess the civilian presence at a target. The IDF also carefully chooses weaponry and ammunition that will help to minimize any harm to civilians. In certain instances, the IDF also provides advance warning before striking a target.”
In attempt to support such statements, the Israeli army has distributed a video with English subtitles showing a pilot cancelling an air strike in Gaza because he sees civilians in the target range. “There are people close to our target. It looks like there are people, maybe children,” the pilot says. Another voice can be heard responding: “We won’t attack this target now, let’s go on.”
Human Shields
In the case of the Kaware’a family home, however, the call to abort was not made. Not only did six children die, two adults were also killed and twenty-eight people injured after a human shield was formed on the roof of the house.   
'Odeh Kaware’a, a Hamas operative and the single target of the attack, was not at the house when it was bombed.  
In a discussion of the Kaware’a case, a high-ranking Israeli officer said that the defence establishment would continue to bomb the homes of senior Hamas operatives, adding that even though the Israeli air force realizes that sometimes residents of a targeted building try to prevent the bombings by standing on the roof as human shields. “We will take down those houses,” he said.
The Blame Game
In a recent press release,  Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took pains to absolve Israel of responsibility, claiming responsibility for civilian losses lay firmly with Hamas. 
“We are hitting Hamas with increasing strength,” he said. “The enemy uses the residents of Gaza as a human shield and inflicts disaster on them. The responsibility for harm to the citizens of Gaza lies on the shoulders of Hamas and Israel regrets every harm to them.”
Yet, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel on Wednesday of committing “genocide” against the Palestinians. “This war is not against Hamas or any faction, but against the Palestinian people,” he added. 
With no sign of a ceasefire, it looks set that innocent civilians in Gaza will continue to perish beneath the rubbles and dust of obliterated buildings.  

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