Amnesty: Israel Committed War Crimes in Retaliation for Capture of Israeli Soldier

(This article is published in Mondoweiss.)

“What we saw was not just war,” Rafah resident Iyad Ghaboun said of Israel’s summer 2014 attack on Gaza. “It was like a meat machine making mincemeat from people without mercy.”

Israel carried out war crimes and “possible crimes against humanity” in its attack on Rafah, Gaza from 1-4 August, according to a new report by Amnesty International.

When Hamas fighters captured an Israeli soldier and took him into a tunnel, the Israeli military initiated the “Hannibal Directive,” unleashing what Amnesty described as “massive firepower in the neighborhood surrounding the tunnel, despite the risk to civilians and the captured soldier.”

Today, the beginning of the Rafah massacre, 1 August, is referred to as “Black Friday.”

Amnesty created a video summarizing the findings of its investigation:

135 Dead Civilians

Israel’s four-day bombardment of Rafah killed 135 civilians at the least (perhaps over 200), including 75 children (56% children). Many more were injured, and hundreds of homes were destroyed or damaged. Some of these civilians were gunned down while fleeing.

“After Lieutenant Hadar Goldin was captured, Israeli forces appear to have thrown out the rule book, employing a ‘gloves off’ policy with devastating consequences for civilians,” Director of Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa Program Philip Luther said.

“The obligation to take precautions to avoid the loss of civilian lives was completely neglected. Entire districts of Rafah, including heavily populated residential areas, were bombarded without distinction between civilians and military targets,” Luther added.

In one of the cases discussed in the report, two one-ton bombs—the largest bomb employed by the Israeli air force—were dropped on a single-story building. Scores of civilians were near the building during the attack.

Targeting Medical Workers

The Amnesty report describes a scene in the August onslaught:

An ambulance carrying a wounded old man, woman and three children was struck by a drone-fired missile, setting it alight and burning everyone inside including medical workers to death. Jaber Darabih, a paramedic who arrived at the scene, described the charred remains of bodies with “no legs, no hands… severely burned.” Tragically, he later discovered that his own son, a volunteer paramedic was among those killed in the ambulance.

A doctor told Amnesty patients frantically fled a Rafah hospital during the bombardment. Some of the Palestinians running for their lives “were wheeled out on beds, many had intravenous drips still attached.”

“A young boy in a plaster cast dragged himself along the ground to get away,” Amnesty wrote.

“By attacking ambulances and striking near hospitals, Israel’s army displayed a flagrant disregard for the laws of war,” Luther stated. “Deliberately attacking health facilities and medical professionals amounts to war crimes.”

Collective Punishment

Amnesty suggests that the Hannibal Directive amounts to collective punishment of the population of Rafah. The leading human rights organization says public statements by Israeli army commanders and soldiers confirm that the campaign was an act of revenge for the capture of the soldier.

Palestinian witnesses say jets, drones, helicopters, and artillery pummeled roads, indiscriminately hitting pedestrians, ambulances, and vehicles.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) “display[ed] a shocking disregard for civilian lives,” Luther said. “They carried out a series of disproportionate or otherwise indiscriminate attacks, which they have completely failed to investigate independently.”

Amnesty even says the IDF’s utter disregard for damage posed to civilians in its Hannibal Directive suggests the attacks may have been intended to kill the captured soldier.

“In such an event you prefer a killed soldier rather than a soldier in enemy hands, like [Gilad] Shalit,” an Israeli officer said, referring to a captured Israeli soldier who was exchanged for 1,027 prisoners in 2011.

Lieutenant Goldin was declared dead by an Israeli rabbinical court and buried on 2 August, but the Israeli military continued its relentless attack on Rafah for two more days.

“All this evidence indicates that Israeli forces committed war crimes in Rafah and possible crimes against humanity” Amnesty wrote, “and they must now be held to account.”

The human rights organization created a video summarizing the findings of its recent investigations on Israel’s attack on Gaza:

US Complicity

The report also notes several times that US-made weapons, munitions, and equipment were used in strikes that killed or injured unarmed civilians, including children and paramedics, some of whom were fleeing.

The Israeli military employed warplanes, Apache helicopters, bombs, Caterpillar armored bulldozers, and Hellfire missiles that were made in or provided by the US.

During its attack on Gaza, the US senate also voted unanimously to give full support to Israel.

The US government gives over $3 billion per year to Israel in military aid alone. Since Israel began its illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories in 1967, the US has given it over $100 billion in military aid.

Expert Analysis

Amnesty’s report, “‘Black Friday’: Carnage in Rafah during 2014 Israel/Gaza conflict,” is based on hundreds of videos, photos, and satellite images analyzed by experts, using advanced geo-synching and architectural modeling techniques, such as scrutinizing shadows and smoke in multiple videos to determine time and location of attacks.

These materials were also cross-referenced with eyewitness testimony from civilians, medics, journalists, and human rights observers.

A research team from Goldsmiths, University of London conducted the investigation with the leading human rights organization.

A video describes how Amnesty’s research team investigated:

Similar Findings

Amnesty’s findings corroborate similar findings in numerous other investigations into Israel’s summer 2014 assault on Gaza, codenamed “Operation Protective Edge.”

An independent medical fact-finding mission in Gaza conducted by Physicians for Human Rights-Israel detailed Israel’s deliberate killing of Palestinian civilians, documenting the use of human shields, close-range murder of civilians, targeting of medics and ambulances, employment of unconventional weapons, and more.

The UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict found similar results.

Another report by Israeli veterans group Breaking the Silence found that soldiers were ordered to “fire at every person you see,” including civilians. Israeli soldiers recall shooting innocent Palestinian civilians in Gaza because they were “bored.”