Israel/OPT: US-made munitions used in two Israeli airstrikes in Gaza killed 43 civilians

The Al-Najjar home after the attack © Amnesty International

Detailed investigation shows huge Boeing-made bombs hit two family homes with no military targets present 

Nineteen children were killed in the two attacks in the city of Deir al-Balah in central Gaza

‘I was shocked. I rushed home and saw a scene of utter destruction. I could not believe my eyes. Everybody was under the rubble’ - Suleiman Salman al-Najjar

‘The US-made weapons facilitated the mass killings of extended families’ - Agnès Callamard

US-made munitions were used by the Israeli military in two deadly, unlawful airstrikes on homes in Gaza which killed a total of 43 civilians - 19 children, 14 women and ten men - Amnesty International has found following a detailed investigation into the two attacks.

On 10 October, an airstrike on the al-Najjar family home in Deir al-Balah killed 24 people, while on 22 October an airstrike on the Abu Mu’eileq family home in the same city killed 19 people.

Both locations were south of Wadi Gaza, within the area where - on 13 October - the Israeli military had ordered residents of northern Gaza to relocate to, and in both cases survivors told Amnesty there had been no warning of an imminent strike.

Amnesty’s research has found that the airstrikes were either direct attacks on civilians or civilian objects, or indiscriminate attacks, and is calling for them to be investigated as war crimes.  

Amnesty’s weapons experts and remote-sensing analyst examined satellite imagery, and photographs taken by Amnesty’s fieldworkers at the attack sites of fragments of ordnance recovered from the rubble. Based upon the heavy damage to the target and surrounding buildings, the bomb that struck the al-Najjar home probably weighed 2,000lb, while the weapon that hit the Abu Mu’eileq home is likely to have weighed at least 1,000lb. In both attacks the bombs were US-manufactured Joint Direct Attack Munitions, with photos of metal fragments from the weapons clearly showing distinctive rivets and harness system which served as a part of the frame surrounding the body of the bomb. In addition, the 70P862352 codes stamped on recovered bomb fragments are associated with Joint Direct Attack Munitions and the manufacturer Boeing. Additional codes indicate that the munition that killed members of the al-Najjar family was manufactured in 2017, while the one used in the Abu Mu’eileq attack was manufactured in 2018.

Amnesty interviewed six survivors and relatives of the victims of the attacks, and also analysed satellite imagery which showed destruction in the relevant locations during a period consistent with witness accounts. 

On 10 October at approximately 8.30pm, an Israeli airstrike killed 21 members of the al-Najjar family when the family home in Deir al-Balah was bombed. Three neighbours were also killed. Suleiman Salman al-Najjar (48), who owns a car sales and repair shop, told Amnesty that his wife Susanne Subhi Asalam Najjar (40) was killed along with four of their children: daughters Safa (17 months) and Farah (23), and sons Yazan (14) and Nadim (20).

Suleiman Salman al-Najjar said:

“I was shocked. I rushed home and saw a scene of utter destruction. I could not believe my eyes. Everybody was under the rubble. The house was completely pulverised. The bodies were reduced to shreds. Only the body of my son Nadim was recovered whole. My baby girl, Safa, we only found her hand… Now, me and my two surviving sons live in a tent by the ruins of our home. Our lives have been destroyed in a moment. Our family has been destroyed. Something that was unthinkable is now our reality.”

The al-Najjar’s neighbours - Yousef Baker Abu Traya (29), as well as Layla Said Ahmad al-A’awar (42) and her seven-year-old daughter Jana Hani al-A’awar - were also killed in the attack. Analysis of satellite imagery of the site confirms destruction between the mornings of 10 and 13 October. 

In the other attack, at approximately 12pm on 22 October, three houses belonging to three Abu Mu’eileq brothers and their families were hit by an Israeli airstrike north of Deir al-Balah. In total, 18 members of the Mu’eileq family were killed - 12 children and six women - as well as their neighbour Rajab Ghazi Mezyed.

Samaher Abu Mu’eileq, who survived the attack, told Amnesty:

“I had just left the house where my sisters-in-law and my nephews and nieces were sitting, a minute before the house was bombed. I walked downstairs and just as I was opening my front door, my brother’s house next door was bombed. I was thrown against the door by the force of the explosion and was injured in my face and neck. I can’t understand why the house was bombed. My sisters-in-law and their children and my stepmother were killed, all of them women and children … others were injured. What is the reason for such crime against civilians?”

Samaher’s brother, Bakir Abu Mu’eileq, an ear, nose and throat specialist, lost his wife Islam Majid Abu Mu’eileq (34) and four of their children - daughters Do’a (16) and Lama (11), and sons Ghanem (14) and Mohamed (12) - in the attack. Bakir Abu Mu’eileq was working at the hospital close to the family home when the attack occurred. He told Amnesty: 

“We are three brothers married to three sisters, living among ourselves, focused on our families and work and far from politics. We are doctors and scientists, and our focus is living a good life and building a good future for our children. We cannot understand why our homes were bombed. We have never had any problem previously. It is the same for our neighbours. There is nobody armed or political here. Our lives, our families, were destroyed completely, obliterated. Why?”

Analysis of satellite imagery from 22 October shows damage that occurred to structures on that day in that location. Amnesty sent questions regarding the two attacks to the Israeli military’s spokesperson unit on 21 November. At the time of publication, no response had been received. Amnesty has long been calling on the UN Security Council to impose a comprehensive arms embargo on all parties to the conflict in Gaza and Israel. Amnesty is also urging the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to expedite the investigation opened in 2021 into war crimes and other crimes under international law committed by all parties.

In light of the evidence of war crimes and other violations, the US must follow its own laws and policies regarding the transfer and sale of arms, including its Conventional Arms Transfer Policy and Civilian Harm Incident Response Guidance, which together are meant to prevent arms transfers that risk facilitating or otherwise contributing to civilian harm and to violations of human rights or international humanitarian law. 

Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said: 

“The US-made weapons facilitated the mass killings of extended families.

“The fact that US-made munitions are being used by the Israeli military in unlawful attacks with deadly consequences for civilians should be an urgent wake-up call to the Biden administration.

“Two families have been decimated in these strikes, further proof that the Israeli military is responsible for unlawfully killing and injuring civilians in its bombardment of Gaza.

“In the face of the unprecedented civilian death toll and scale of destruction in Gaza, the US and other governments must immediately stop transferring arms to Israel that more likely than not will be used to commit or heighten risks of violations of international law. 

“To knowingly assist in violations is contrary to the obligation to ensure respect for international humanitarian law. A state that continues to supply arms being used to commit violations may share responsibility for these violations.”

Direct attacks on civilians

Parties to an armed conflict must at all times distinguish between civilians and civilian objects on one hand, and fighters and military objectives on the other. Direct attacks on civilians and civilian objects are prohibited, as are indiscriminate attacks. When attacking a military objective, the Israeli military is obligated to take all feasible precautions to avoid, and in any event to minimise, death and injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects. Such precautions include doing everything possible to verify that a target is a military objective; choosing means and methods of attack that minimise civilian harm; assessing whether an attack would be disproportionate; giving effective advance warning to civilians where feasible; and cancelling an attack should it become apparent that it would be unlawful.  

Amnesty did not find any indication that there were military objectives at the attack sites or that people in the buildings were legitimate military targets, raising concerns that these were direct attacks on civilians. Amnesty searched media articles for information on the attacks, and did not find any relevant statement from the Israeli authorities that there were military objectives present. Even if there had been a legitimate military objective in the vicinity of any of the buildings that were hit, the use of explosive weapons with wide-area effects in such densely-populated areas could make these indiscriminate attacks. As such, these attacks must be investigated as war crimes.

The extremely high population density in Gaza entails additional challenges for all parties involved in the conflict. Hamas and other armed groups are required under international humanitarian law to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians under their control against the effects of attacks. This includes, to the extent feasible, avoiding locating military objectives within or near densely-populated areas. In the attacks investigated here, Amnesty did not find any indication of human shielding by Hamas, or even of the presence of fighters where the attacks occurred. However, even if armed groups fail to fulfil their obligations, Israel remains bound by international humanitarian law, including prohibitions against indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks. 

A longstanding pattern of reckless attacks that strike civilian objects, which Amnesty has documented throughout Israel’s ongoing attacks, as well as during the 2008-9, 2014, and 2021 conflicts, may amount to directing attacks against civilians and civilian objects, which are also war crimes. 

Amnesty has documented damning evidence of war crimes by Israeli forces in their intense bombardment of Gaza, including direct or indiscriminate attacks as well as other unlawful attacks and collective punishment of the civilian population. Amnesty is calling for an immediate sustained ceasefire, the release of all remaining civilian hostages, and for Israel to end its illegal siege of Gaza. Amnesty is also calling for a comprehensive UN Security Council arms embargo on Israel, Hamas and other armed groups that covers the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of arms and military material, including related technologies, parts and components, technical assistance, training, financial or other assistance.

On 7 October, Hamas and other armed groups launched indiscriminate rockets and sent fighters into southern Israel and committed war crimes, such as the deliberate mass killing of civilians and hostage-taking. According to the Israeli authorities, at least 239 people, mostly civilians, including 33 children, were taken hostages by Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza. 

 

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