What violations by Israeli forces have been identified by Amnesty since Operation Protective Edge began?

Israeli forces have carried out attacks killing hundreds of civilians, using both precision weaponry, such as drone-fired missiles, and munitions which cannot be precisely targeted.

Thousands of homes and several medical facilities and non-military governmental buildings have been destroyed or badly damaged. They have also directly attacked civilian objects.

Israeli authorities say that they consider the homes of people associated with Hamas to be legitimate targets. This indicates that Israel has adopted targeting rules that do not conform to international humanitarian law. It could be evidence that at least some of the attacks on civilian homes are deliberate policy.

There are increasing reports of medics trying to evacuate civilians, workers repairing damaged sanitation infrastructure and journalists coming under fire. Direct attacks on civilians and civilian objects, as well as indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks with the intention of killing or injuring civilians constitute war crimes.

Although the Israeli authorities claim to be warning civilians in Gaza, their actions do not constitute an 'effective warning' under international humanitarian law.

Israeli attacks have caused mass displacement of Palestinian civilians. The UN has reported that a school sheltering displaced people in the al-Maghazi refugee camp was shelled by Israeli forces on at least two occasions, with at least one child injured. Another UN school sheltering displaced families in Beit Hanoun was struck on 24 July, killing at least 15 civilians and injuring many others.

What is Amnesty’s position on the firing of indiscriminate rockets and mortars by Palestinian armed groups?

Scores of rockets continue to be fired into Israel by Hamas’ military wing and other Palestinian armed groups every day. Two Israeli civilians have been killed and others have been wounded since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge. Homes and other civilian properties in Israel have been damaged.

The rockets fired from Gaza into Israel cannot be aimed exactly at their objective – their use violates international humanitarian law. It also endangers Palestinians inside the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

Some leaders of Palestinian armed groups have indicated that they have no qualms about launching fatal attacks against Israeli civilians. Attacks that directly target civilians and indiscriminate attacks resulting in death or injury to civilians constitute war crimes.

Are the tunnels used by Hamas and Palestinian armed groups legitimate targets?

Tunnels that are being used to make an effective contribution to military action (including storage and transportation of weapons) would be legitimate military objectives. Those being used for civilian purposes (including smuggling civilian goods and supplies into Gaza) are not military objectives and cannot be directly targeted.

As the occupying power, Israel may take reasonable and proportionate security measures. This could include preventing the unregulated passage of goods, and ensuring that military equipment is not entering the territory.

However, measures such as the blockade, which amount to collective punishment of the civilian population, are prohibited. The most effective way of ending the use of tunnels would be for Israel to end the siege which has been crippling Gaza economically and violating the human rights of the civilian population for more than seven years.

The Israeli authorities claim that Hamas and Palestinian armed groups use Palestinian civilians in Gaza as ‘human shields’. Does Amnesty have any evidence of this?

We’re monitoring and investigating these claims but we don’t have evidence of this during the current hostilities. In previous conflicts, we have documented that Palestinian armed groups have stored munitions in and fired indiscriminate rockets from residential areas, which is in violation of international humanitarian law.

During the current hostilities, Hamas spokespeople have reportedly urged residents in some areas of Gaza not to leave their homes after the Israeli military warned people in the area to evacuate.

However, the lack of clarity from Israel on safe routes for evacuation, the lack of shelters, and numerous reports of civilians who did heed the warnings and flee doing so under Israeli fire, such statements by Hamas officials could have been motivated by a desire to avoid further panic.

International humanitarian law is clear – even if they did direct civilians to remain in a specific location in order to shield military objectives, Israel’s obligations to protect these civilians would still apply.

Under international humanitarian law, what are the key obligations of both sides?

International humanitarian law aims to protect civilians during armed conflicts by regulating the conduct of both forces.

The principle of distinction requires that parties direct their attacks only at military targets. Deliberate attacks on civilians or civilian objects – such as homes, medical facilities, schools, governmental buildings – that are not being used for military purposes are war crimes.

It is lawful to directly attack soldiers participating in hostilities and military objectives (such as army bases, weapons stores). If in doubt whether a target is civilian or military, the attacker must presume civilian status.

The principle of proportionality requires that an attack must not be launched if it would cause excessive civilian casualties or damage to civilian objects in relation to the military advantage anticipated. Firing munitions that cannot be precisely aimed, such as artillery and mortars, into densely populated residential areas does not comply with this, even if they are aimed at military targets located in these areas.

Parties must also protect civilians from attack by not locating military objectives in the vicinity of densely populated civilian neighbourhoods and launching attacks from populated civilian areas.

As the occupying power, Israel has obligations to ensure the welfare of the population of the Gaza Strip and adhere to the prohibition on collective punishment. Given the precarious humanitarian situation, it is imperative that Israel allows sufficient fuel and medical supplies into Gaza and facilitate the safe passage of humanitarian workers. Egypt should also ensure that supplies are allowed into Gaza on a continual basis.

If the Israeli military has warned residents of Gaza to evacuate the area, does that fulfil its obligations to protect civilians?

Effective advance warning to civilians is only one of the prescribed precautions aimed at minimising harm to civilians.

Key elements have been missing from the Israeli warnings, including:

  • informing civilians where it is safe to flee
  • providing safe passage
  • allowing sufficient time to flee before an attack.

Issuing a warning does not absolve an attacking force of its obligations to spare civilians. They must do everything feasible to verify the target is a military objective, suspend an attack if it is clearly disproportionate, and choose methods that minimise the risk to civilians.

Does Amnesty have delegates on the ground in Gaza?

We have not yet been able to get delegates into Gaza during the current hostilities, although we have requested permission from the Israeli authorities for entry via the Erez crossing and from the Egyptian authorities for entry via the Rafah crossing.

We continue to press both authorities to allow us and other international human rights organisations immediate access. In the meantime, we’re working with trusted contacts in Gaza to take testimonies from eyewitnesses and family members of individuals who have been killed, and to collect photographic and video evidence for munitions experts to examine. Read our blogs written from Gaza, the West Bank and Israel.

We’re closely monitoring the ongoing hostilities by both the Israeli authorities and Palestinian armed groups. We’re also using information from Palestinian and Israeli human rights organisations, as well international NGOs and UN organisations with staff on the ground in Gaza, to help identify patterns of violations and cross-check particular incidents.

Neither Israel nor Palestinian armed groups have heeded Amnesty’s calls. What are you calling on all states to do at this point?

All states (particularly key suppliers, such as the USA for Israel) must suspend all transfers of weapons, munitions and other military equipment to all sides until there is no longer a substantial risk that such items will be used for serious violations of international humanitarian law or human rights abuses.

The suspension should include all indirect exports via other countries, the transfer of military components and technologies, and any brokering, financial or logistical activities that would facilitate such transfers.

All states should exercise universal jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute crimes committed in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories in fair trials before their national courts, including crimes committed during previous conflicts.

Israel withdrew its civilian settlers and military bases from Gaza in 2005. Why does Amnesty still consider Israel the occupying power?

‘Territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army. The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised.’
Article 42 of the Hague Regulations

The notion of ‘effective control’ is key. When the occupying power has withdrawn its forces from all or parts of the occupied territory, but has maintained key elements of an occupying power’s authority, this can amount to effective control.

Israel maintains sole control of Gaza’s air space and territorial waters, and continues to prohibit any movement of people or goods via air or sea. It directly controls all but one of Gaza’s land border crossings, and continues to close three out of the four crossings for commercial goods, restrict the volume of key imports, and ban most exports, all of which have a serious impact on humanitarian and socioeconomic conditions in Gaza.

Israel continues to control the Palestinian population registry, which covers residents of both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, so all identity documents (including passports) require Israeli approval. And the Gaza Strip continues to depend on Israel for the majority of its electricity supply.

Since 2005, Israel has continued its land incursions into Gaza, with Israeli forces regularly destroying farmland and agricultural assets in areas near its perimeter. Several large Israeli operations in recent years have had a devastating effect and Israeli forces regularly use live fire against Palestinian civilians – primarily farmers and fishermen.

Israel carries out constant surveillance on Gaza, using sophisticated unmanned aircraft, satellite imagery and other means.

The combination of these policies and actions enable Israel – even without a permanent military presence – to exercise effective control over Gaza. It thus remains the occupying power in Gaza and continues to be bound by the law of occupation.

Israel has chosen not to fulfil many of its positive obligations as an occupying power. At the very least, it is incumbent upon Israel not to actively obstruct relief for the civilian population. Its military blockade, which has continued for over seven years, is contrary to its obligations and constitutes collective punishment.

What is Amnesty’s position on the use of flechettes?

Flechettes are 3.5cm-long steel darts, sharply pointed at the front, with four fins at the rear. Between 5,000 and 8,000 of these darts are packed into shells, usually fired from tanks.

The shells explode in the air and scatter the flechettes in a conical pattern over an area about 300m by 100m. Flechettes are designed to be used against mass infantry attacks or squads of troops in the open. They pose a very high risk to civilians when fired in densely populated residential areas.

Since Israeli forces launched their ground offensive on Gaza on 17 July, there have been reports of cases in which civilians in Gaza have been killed and injured by flechette shells. We haven’t yet been able to verify these cases during the current hostilities, but we have previously documented Israeli forces’ use of flechette rounds in Gaza, resulting in the killing of civilians, including children.

Flechettes are not specifically prohibited by international humanitarian law, however, they should never be used in densely populated areas.