UN Report Reveals the War Crimes of Israel's Assault on Gaza in 2014: "In Wartime, There Is No Civilian Population, Just An Enemy"

July 6, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


On July 3, the 47-member United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) voted 41-to-1 in favor of approving the recent Report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict—a special Commission of Inquiry on the Gaza Conflict—the 51-day military onslaught by Israel against the 1.8 million Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip in July and August of 2014.

In the face of massive evidence compiled by the commission detailing—overwhelmingly—war crimes and human rights abuses by Israel against Palestinians during the 2014 assault (along with a much smaller number of crimes carried out by Palestinian forces—many of them against other Palestinians), only one country dared to vote “no” on the report. This country was the United States. The U.S. consistently backed the Israeli attacks on Gaza and even re-supplied armaments to Israel in the midst of the war.

An area of Gaza City destroyed by Israeli airstrikes in August, 2014. Photo: AP

For its part, Israel refused to cooperate with the commission. “The commission repeatedly requested Israel to cooperate, including by granting it access to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Regrettably, Israel did not respond to these requests.” Israel made it impossible for UN investigators to enter Gaza and obstructed the work of the commission as much as it could. Egypt, as well, prevented the commission from entering Gaza through its border crossing.

The commission did have the cooperation of the Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank. It was also able to gather evidence and testimony through the already existing UN agencies on the ground in Gaza. Hamas, the Islamic fundamentalist group that governs Gaza, did very little by way of cooperation.

The report was immediately condemned by Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu said “The report is biased. The commission that wrote it is under a committee that does everything but protect human rights.” Pro-Israel groups in the United States unleashed a great deal of venom against the “shame” of the “yes” vote and the report as a whole.

What the UN Report says

In detailing the destruction carried out by Israeli forces in the course of the war, the report says: “In Gaza, in particular, the scale of the devastation was unprecedented. The death toll alone speaks volumes: 2,251 Palestinians were killed, including 1,462 Palestinian civilians, of whom 299 women and 551 children; and 11,231 Palestinians, including 3,540 women and 3,436 children, were injured... of whom 10 per cent suffered permanent disability as a result.” The report also goes into the highly repressive clampdown carried out by Israel against Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem during its assault on Gaza.

On the other side, the UN reports “The death of six civilians in Israel and 67 soldiers and the injury of up to 1,600 others.”

These are a few selected examples found in the report:

Targeted air strikes on residential and other buildings
“The IDF carried out more than 6,000 airstrikes in Gaza during the 2014 Operation, from the first day throughout the Operation. These included targeted attacks on residential and other buildings. As a result, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), during the 2014 hostilities, 142 Palestinian families had three or more members killed in the same incident owing to the destruction of residential buildings, for a total of 742 fatalities. An even higher figure is reported by some non-governmental organizations, which speak of 1066 people, including 370 children and 241 women, killed inside their homes. In addition, IDF air strikes destroyed—in whole or in part—a significant number of houses.”

There are dozens of excerpts of testimonies from civilian residents of Gaza who talk about what they experienced during the Israeli attacks.

Here are just a couple of statements by survivors of Israeli airstrikes:

“I was staying on the first floor and I was the only survivor from the first floor. When the attack took place, I was knocked out. I woke up at about 6 or so, in the hospital, and I later learnt that my sister, my mother and my children had all died. Even many of my relatives on the second floor had died. We all died that day, even those who survived.”

“A minute later [...] the dust had settled and I saw my family all ripped to pieces. My family included my brothers, my wife and my children. Some were dead and others wounded. It was a very difficult thing to see. The majority of those who fell were women and children.”

Ground Operations
The Israeli forces began their ground invasion in Gaza on July 17. What this meant in the real world was a horrific blitzkrieg. The attack on one neighborhood in Gaza in particular, Shuja’iya, is a case in point. The report notes that “Shuja’iya is also one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods in Gaza with a population of 92,000 concentrated in an area of around 6 km² [6 square kilometers, or 2.32 square miles].” According to the UN report, Israel fired at least 600 artillery shells into Shuja’iya in less than an hour and dropped over 100 one-ton bombs in a short period of time.

The report also states that Shuja’iya was almost totally leveled by the Israeli army, with 100% of the buildings being destroyed in major parts of the neighborhood. By the UN’s own conservative estimate, “55 civilians, including 19 children and 14 women, were killed on 19 and 20 July in Shuja’iya as a result of the IDF’s actions.” [IDF is the official acronym for the Israeli military—”Israel Defense Forces”.]

There is damning testimony from Israeli soldiers. One, who took part in the assault on Shuja’iya testified: “A row of tanks go in, they spread out wide, get into position, identify ‘suspicious spots’, fire as required. The rules of engagement were very, very lax. [...] There was no such thing as requesting authorization. Just fire.”

The other quote is from a top Israeli officer at the time, the head of the “Doctrine Desk” at the Infantry Corps HQ: “We don’t want to confuse the troops, and that’s the story. When I teach people to fight in a war, the civilian population is not supposed to be there, and if it is, I persuade it to keep away. In peacetime security, soldiers stand facing a civilian population, but in wartime, there is no civilian population, just an enemy.”

The report also describes the assault on the city of Rafah, on Gaza’s southern-most border with Egypt. “Rafah was basically turned into a closed military zone. According to media accounts, the IDF fired over 1000 shells against Rafah within three hours and dropped at least 40 bombs. Tanks and bulldozers demolished dozens of homes. Inhabitants came under intense attacks in their homes and in the streets. Witnesses reported to the commission that dozens of homes were destroyed by IDF bulldozers. Ambulances and private vehicles trying to evacuate civilians from the fighting were also hit. As a result of the operation, virtually every person or building in Rafah became a potential military target. Families gave accounts of dividing their children into separate groups before fleeing their homes, in the hope that only one group might be fired on and the others would survive.”

Attacks on schools that were being used as shelters for people fleeing Israeli attacks
The UN report details how Israel targeted supposedly safe havens run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza. Many of these were school buildings. “Owing to the insecurity resulting from airstrikes and ground operations throughout the Gaza Strip and following IDF instructions to evacuate, about 300,000 people moved to 85 UNRWA schools serving as Designated Emergency Shelters (DES) during Operation Protective Edge. According to reports reviewed by the commission, shelters were attacked seven times. The commission examined three incidents: the Beit Hanoun Co-educational A and D School (Beit Hanoun School) and Jabalia Elementary Girls A and B School (Jabalia School), which were directly hit, while in the case of the Rafah Preparatory Boys A School (Rafah School), a target next to it was struck by a precision guided missile. All the incidents resulted in deaths in the shelters—in total between 44 and 47 people died, including 14 children and 4 women. The number of people injured in these incidents has not been firmly established, but amounts to at least 200.”

So-called “warnings” to civilians of impending Israeli attacks
During and after its 2014 war on Gaza, Israel boasted that it took pains to warn civilians of imminent airstrikes and ground assaults. Israel claims it dropped so-called “roof-knock” non-explosive projectiles on the roofs of residential building to warn the residents. They also claim to have made calls to cell phones with pre-recorded messages telling people to immediately evacuate a targeted area and also dropped leaflets by air.

The UN report quotes a Palestinian named Talal who described the attack on the building where he, his family, and several other families lived: “Talal confirmed that 11 people died as a result of the attack, and that rescuers did not arrive on the site until several hours later. The building was completely destroyed and it was extremely difficult to pull out the bodies. He added that they had not received any leaflets, calls or phone messages warning them about the imminent attack. The only thing that could have been a warning was the missile that hit their roof, which he had not noticed until his brother had called him, but to the witness it was never clear whether the projectile was a so-called roof-knock. According to Talal, even if it was a warning, it would have given them too little time to leave.” In the documented cases in which people actually did receive warning messages on their cell phones, people were given only around 10 minutes to get out. Imagine trying to collect your most vital belongings, your children, your elderly parents, your disabled relatives, in that amount of time and survive a bombing attack.

A Gazan from the village of Khuza’a that was also destroyed in the Israeli attack stated that: “Yes, we had received warnings through leaflets that were dropped from the air. The warning was issued on that same morning, but the attacks also started on that same day so it was a difficult choice as we feared the idea of fleeing while the attacks were taking place.”

Attacks on civilians fleeing areas of military action
From the UN Report: “The commission learned that, on 23 July, civilians holding a white flag and attempting to leave Khuza’a were confronted by a group of IDF soldiers who allegedly prohibited them from exiting the village, and reportedly opened fire on them.” A resident of Khuza’a testified that: “We moved very slowly towards a line of IDF soldiers who were waiting for us and preparing for confrontation. When we approached the soldiers, those of us who were in the front lines started calling on the soldiers telling them, ‘We are civilians, please don’t shoot.’ When we were at 5 or 10 meters from the soldiers, they confronted us and told us, ‘Return to your homes, we warned you to leave days ago. Why did you not leave?’ They did not allow anyone to leave, not even the women and children standing in front of them who obviously did not represent any threat to them. When people refused to turn around, they started using sound bombs and tightening their line. After that, we started retreating and when we were about 100 or 200 meters away, they suddenly started firing at us.”

An overwhelmingly one-sided slaughter

The report of the UN commission condemns actions of Palestinian armed groups active in Gaza for “...the inherently indiscriminate nature of most of the projectiles directed towards Israel by these groups and to the targeting of civilians, which violate international humanitarian law and may amount to a war crime.” These reported violations of laws against war crimes are obviously dwarfed by the horrific and massive death, devastation, and terror reigned down on Gaza by Israel: 2,251 Palestinians killed, including 1,462 civilians, including 551 children. This compared to six Israeli civilians reported killed and sixty-one Israel troops killed while carrying out massive war crimes against the Palestinians.

The report also criticizes reported violations of human rights committed by armed Palestinian groups (including Hamas, various Jihadist groups, and secular nationalist groups) against other Palestinians.

But overwhelmingly, the report of the commission gathers and presents horrific evidence that Israel carried out terrible and massive war crimes in Gaza.

If it were to be judged solely on the basis of this 51-day slaughter, the state of Israel would justly be condemned as a viciously criminal terrorist state. But the fact is that this war is part-and-parcel of the war against the Palestinian people that the state of Israel has been carrying out since its founding in 1948. It is a settler-colonial state founded with the active approval of imperialist powers that has been an enforcer of imperialist domination in the Middle East as a whole, built on ethnic cleansing, and genocide.


Volunteers Needed... for revcom.us and Revolution

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.

REVOLUTION AND RELIGION The Fight for Emancipation and the Role of Religion, A Dialogue Between Cornel West & Bob Avakian
BA Speaks: Revolution Nothing Less! Bob Avakian Live
BAsics from the Talks and Writings of Bob Avakian
Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America (Draft Proposal)
WHAT HUMANITY NEEDS Revolution, and the New Synthesis of Communism
You Don't Know What You Think You 'Know' About... The Communist Revolution and the REAL Path to Emancipation Its History and Our Future Interview with Raymond Lotta