Gaza and Beirut: Human Rights in the Fire Zone
Public attention has been drawn in recent weeks away from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Now all eyes are on Lebanon and northern Israel, on the military confrontation taking a heavy toll on the residents of the region. Many have become refugees. Some residents have no home to return to. Many hundreds have lost their lives. Particularly worrisome is the high number of dead men, women, and children who were not taking part in the hostilities.
Human rights violations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip continue, and there is reason for concern. More than one hundred persons have been killed in the Occupied Territories since the beginning of the fighting in Lebanon. Many of the persons killed were not taking part in the hostilities. The IDF continues to act in the Occupied Territories, making arrests, destroying structures, and bombing residential neighborhoods from the air. The separation barrier continues to be built, and living conditions in the areas under occupation continue to be intolerable. It is precisely at such times that careful monitoring of Israel’s acts in the Occupied Territories is needed.
48% of Gaza fatalities – civilians not taking part in the hostilities
In July, the Israeli military killed 163 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, 78 of whom (48 percent) were not taking part in the hostilities when they were killed. Thirty-six of the fatalities were minors. In the West Bank, 15 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces. The number of Palestinian fatalities in July was the highest in any month since April 2002.
Of the incidents B’Tselem investigated in Gaza over the past month, the organization has identified three cases in which Israel may have committed grave breaches of international humanitarian law. B’Tselem wrote to the Judge Advocate General, demanding that he order a Military Police investigation into the incidents, and to prosecute those responsible if the suspicions are verified
B’Tselem: Investigate the killing of civilians in the Gaza Strip
On 12 July, around four o’clock in the morning, an Air Force plane bombed a three-story building in Gaza City, causing it to collapse. Nabil and Salwah Abu Salamiya and their seven children, who lived in the building, were killed in the attack. Four other civilians were injured. According to the IDF, the bombed building “served as a hiding place for senior activists in the military wing of Hamas.” As in similar cases, the army did not provide evidence that would explain the killing of the civilians.
The principle of proportionality states that an attack is forbidden if the side making the attack knows it will cause injury to civilians that exceed the military advantage anticipated. Breach of this principle is considered a war crime under international humanitarian law, for which the persons responsible bear personal criminal liability. B’Tselem wrote to the Judge Advocate General and demanded that he immediately order a Military Police investigation of the persons responsible for the bombing, including the Chief-of-Staff and the Commander of the Air Force.
Israel’s military operation in Gaza: the Humanitarian Perspective
More than one month has passed since the IDF began Operation Summer Rains. The Gaza Strip is sealed closed. The humanitarian situation, which was dire before the operation began, has grown worse. International aid organizations are supplying food and water to needy families and substitute housing to residents who lost their homes or had to flee IDF bombing. There is a shortage of vital medicines because Karni Crossing is closed and as a result of the financial crisis of the Palestinian Authority.
The Air Force bombed an electricity relay station. As a result, the supply of electricity to the residents of the Gaza Strip has been irregular. The irregularity of electricity supply has caused a breakdown in the water network, homes and shops have been unable to refrigerate food products, and twenty-two hospitals have had to rely on generators and to limit their use to emergency procedures and services.
As long as Israel controls all of the borders surrounding the Gaza Strip, it is responsible for the orderly supply of all the needs of the population. Israel’s destruction of civilian targets in Gaza breaches the principle of distinction between combatants and civilians, is disproportionate, and is, therefore, illegal.
Soldiers used Palestinian civilians as human shields in Gaza
Findings of an investigation by B’Tselem into an IDF operation in Beit Hanun, in the northern Gaza Strip on 17 July, show that IDF forces took control of two buildings and used six occupants, among them two minors, as human shields for about twelve hours. During this time, there were intense exchanges of gunfire at the location.
During the operation, the soldiers endangered the lives of the civilians in an attempt to protect themselves from Palestinian gunfire. Among other things, the soldiers forced a Palestinian occupant to accompany them in a search of the apartments, handcuffed occupants and held them in the stairwell, which was exposed to gunfire from the outside. B’Tselem wrote to the Judge Advocate General, demanding an immediate investigation of the incident.
High Court accepts state’s contradictory arguments on barrier
On 17 July 2006, the High Court of Justice rejected a petition that Palestinian residents of villages around the Ariel settlement had filed opposing the section of the separation barrier that surrounds the settlement. The barrier’s route in that area penetrates deep into the West Bank and places, in addition to Ariel, fourteen settlements on the “Israeli” side of the barrier. The barrier in this area will separate seven villages north of the settlement from the district’s major town, Salfit, where the residents go for a full range of services.
In its response to the decision, B’Tselem pointed out that the High Court erred grievously. On the one hand, the High Court accepted the state’s position that the barrier’s route intended to leave an empty “warning space” between it and the houses in the settlement. On the other hand, the High Court itself mentioned that there is a plan to expand the settlement into that very space. The High Court should have realized that a “warning space” is incompatible with a built-up area. Clearly, the state’s security argument was used as a cloak of legality for the political considerations that lay behind the route chosen for the barrier.