Human Rights & Public Liberties

Human Rights & Public Liberties

Published on: 13 Jan, 2021

Human Rights Watch: Israel’s attack on high rise buildings in Gaza could constitute war crimes

Published on: 25 August, 2021


Al Jalaa building being destroyed on 15 May 2021 [Hatem Moussa /AP]

Al Jalaa building being destroyed on 15 May 2021 [Hatem Moussa /AP]

On Monday Human Rights Watch accused Israel of war crimes because of the Israeli military’s destruction of four high rise buildings in Gaza City during the 11-day conflict in May.

According to Human Rights Watch the destruction of the high rise buildings may have amounted to war crimes.

The report focuses on the destruction of Hanadi, al-Jawhara, al-Shorouk and al-Jalaa towers in the densely populated al-Rimal neighbourhood between 11 and 15 May.

The 11- storey al-Jalaa building housed Al Jazeera’s offices and the offices of the Associated Press. The building also housed several residences and other offices.

In May the UN’s office for Coordination and Humanitarian Affairs said nearly 17 000 residential and commercial buildings were damaged or destroy during the Israeli bombardment.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch said: ‘Israeli strikes destroyed high rise buildings in Gaza, wiped out scores of homes and businesses upending the livelihoods of thousands of Palestinians including those who lived in, worked in, shopped in or benefitted from the buildings. Striking iconic towers in the heart of Gaza also send the message that nowhere in Gaza strip is safe and aims to hurt the morale of two million people caged in an open air prison.’

War crimes

Shakir says: ‘Under the laws of war warring parties may target only military objectives, deliberate attacks on civilians and civilian objects are prohibited. The laws of war also prohibit indiscriminate attacks which include attacks that do not target a specific military objective or do not distinguish between civilian and military targets. Attacks in which the expected harm to civilians and civilian property is disproportionate to the anticipated military gain are also prohibited.’

‘If an attack on an empty building did not target a specific military objective or if the expected harm to civilians exceeded the expected military gain those would constitute violations of international humanitarian law and could also amount to war crimes’, said Shakir.

Jawad Mahdi, 68, an owner of  al-Jalaa tower who lived there with dozens of family members, said to Human Rights Watch: ‘All these years of hard work, it was a place of living, safety, children and grandchildren, all our history and life, destroyed in front of your eyes … It’s like someone ripping your heart out and throwing it.’

Ghalia Hamad, an Al Jazeera reporter based in Gaza said to Al Jazeera: ‘ I came home after days of absence from it to change my clothes and get some rest, I received a call from a colleague, he said while running and panting: We received a warning that the tower should be evacuated in preparation for bombing it, I laughed and told him not to joke, it seems that you are tired. Then it turned out that what he said was right. I quickly arrived at a nearby tower overlooking the Al-Jalaa Tower, which houses the Al-Jazeera office and other media offices.  I was in shock and denial until I saw the tower fall and leveled to the ground.’

Hamad said: ‘This tower, according to my observations and my knowledge of it, includes many press offices such as Al-Jazeera and AP, and the rest are apartments. Practically, it can never include military activity in the center of Gaza City, but it seems that Israel was disturbed by the voice of Al-Jazeera, which was conveying the reality of what is happening on the ground.’