Human Rights & Public Liberties

Human Rights & Public Liberties

Published on: 13 Jan, 2021

Human Rights Watch: Israel committed apparent war crimes during May attacks

Published on: 29 July, 2021


Gaza City, May 14, 2021. [REUTERS/Mohammed Salem]

Gaza City, May 14, 2021. [REUTERS/Mohammed Salem]

On Tuesday Human Rights Watch released a new report finding that Israel apparently committed war crimes during the 11-day conflict in Gaza in May.

The report, Gaza: Apparent war crimes during May fighting, also accused Palestinian militants of apparent war crimes  but focused on Israeli action during the fighting in Israel-Palestine in May.

Human Rights Watch reached its conclusions after investigating three Israeli strikes that killed 62 Palestinian civilians in locations where there were no evident military targets in the vicinity. The rights group  interviewed  30 Palestinians who witnessed Israeli attacks, were relatives of civilians killed, or were residents of areas targeted.

Three strikes

The report focuses on attacks that occurred in Gaza on 10 May, on 15 May and on 16 May.

On May 10 an Israeli-guided missile struck near four houses of the al-Masri family near the town of Beit Hanoun. The missile killed 8 civilians, including 6 children.

On 15 May a guided bomb destroyed a three-story building in al-Shati refugee camp, killing 10 civilians, 2 women and 8 children from two related families. And on May 16 a series of Israeli airstrikes lasting four minutes struck al-Wahda Street in Gaza City, causing three multi-story buildings to collapse, killing 44 civilians.

All those interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that none of those who were killed or who survived the attack took part in any armed group. Human Rights Watch found no evidence that any of the victims were combatants.

None of the witnesses that Human Rights Watch interviewed said they had received or heard about any warning issued by the Israeli authorities to evacuate their buildings before the Israeli strikes.

International Criminal Court

According to HRW the International Criminal Court (ICC) should include in its Palestine investigation Israeli attacks in Gaza that resulted in apparently unlawful civilian casualties, as well as Palestinian rocket attacks that struck population centers in Israel.

Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director at HRW said to Al Jazeera: ‘Human Rights Watch has called on the International Criminal Court not not only look at the events that took place in May but also the crimes of apartheid and persecution and to investigate and prosecute those credibly implicated in those crimes.’

According to Gerry Simpson, associate crisis and conflict director at Human Rights Watch, ‘Israeli authorities’ consistent unwillingness to seriously investigate alleged war crimes, as well as Palestinian forces’ rocket attacks toward Israeli population centers, underscores the importance of the International Criminal Court’s inquiry.’

‘Israel and the Palestinian authorities have shown little or no interest in addressing abuses by their forces, so global and national judicial institutions should step up to break the vicious cycle of unlawful attacks and impunity for war crimes,” Simpson said.

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Simpson added that this was the ‘first time’ the ICC had a chance to investigate attacks soon after it happened so it is hoped that the ICC Prosecutor will look into the evidence obtained by HRW and others.

Triestino Mariniello, senior lecturer of law at Liverpool John Moores University said to Al Jazeera: ‘A decision not to follow up in this context would significantly undermine the legitimacy of the International Criminal Court, an institution which has already been accused of asymmetrical application of international criminal justice.’

Mariniello added: ‘The HRW report is very important from a legal perspective, particularly in light of the ICC’s ongoing investigation into the Palestinian situation. According to the ICC consolidated practice the HRW report as indirect evidence might have probative value that there are reasonable grounds to believe that war crimes have been committed.’

The report states that Palestinian armed groups also committed unlawful attack by launching more than 4360 unguided rocket and mortars toward Israel, violating the prohibition against deliberate or indiscriminate attacks against civilians.

Human Rights Watch will separately release findings on rocket attacks by Palestinian armed groups.

US security assistance

HRW recommends that Israel’s ‘partners’, particularly the United States, which supplies significant military assistance to Israel should condition future security assistance to Israel on it taking concrete actions to improve its compliance with the laws of war and international human rights law, and to investigate past abuses.

There has been no immediate reaction by Israel to the report.