Amnesty International released a report on the latest Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip. The report, “Families under the Rubble” examines eight cases where residential family homes in Gaza were attacked by Israeli forces without warning during Operation Protective Edge in July and August 2014. The report exposes a pattern of attacks on civilian homes that suggests Israeli forces flouted the law of war by displaying callous indifference to the carnage caused to civilians by their campaign.
International Humanitarian law, codified in the Hague Regulations, Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, requires that parties to an armed conflict must at all times distinguish between civilians and combatants, especially in that attacks may only be directed against combatants. A similar distinction must be made between civilian objects and military objectives. A corollary of the rule of distinction between civilian and military objects and objectives is that indiscriminate attacks are prohibited. International humanitarian law also prohibits disproportionate attacks, which are those that may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, or civilian objects, that would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated. In general, indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks are considered war crimes. Further, according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, intentionally directing attacks against civilian populations as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities and intentionally directing attacks against civilian objects constitutes war crimes.
Amnesty International found first, that the Israel government has not provided any explanation of what was being targeted and whether a military objective was even present, and second, that damage to the civilians, their homes, and property was disproportionate to the military advantage, if any, gained by launching the attacks. Therefore, Amnesty International, finding that Israeli forces displayed callous indifference towards civilians in their execution of their military operations, is guilty of committing war crimes.
Further, Amnesty International has renewed its call on Israeli and Palestinian authorities to grant access to international human rights organizations. Amnesty International claims that failing to allow independent human rights monitors into Gaza smacks of a deliberate attempt to cover up human rights violations and to hide from international scrutiny. The report concludes urging that both Israeli and Palestinian armed groups have committed violations of international law, and both sides must take urgent action to stop these violations. Amnesty International once again calls on the UN to impose an arms embargo on all parties to the conflict to prevent further serious violations of international law.
In response to allegations of war crimes, Israel has officially rejected to Amnesty International report, claiming they have been accused with no evidence. Likewise, Israel claims that Amnesty International has ignored the war crimes perpetrated by Hamas, even though the report explicitly acknowledges Palestinian and Hamas violations of international law. Israel also notes that Operation Protective Edge was required to stop rocket fire from Gaza towards its southern communities and that Amnesty International serves only to further terrorist propaganda.
Even if Amnesty International had ignored international law violations committed by Palestinian armed forces, should that be a basis for Israel to escape liability for their own violations? Further, could the human rights violations, committed by both sides of the conflict, be stopped by human rights organizations if they were granted access to the region? Should the United States or United Nations press the parties further to ensure international human rights workers have access to the area? Do you think it should be a violation of international law to block third-party human rights organizations from areas of armed conflict?