The Gaza war (July-August 2014)
This briefing is based on a variety of sources including UN, Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups reports in addition to specific briefings given to a Caabu Parliamentary delegation in the last week of August 2014 that visited Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank. The delegation met with representatives from UN agencies, development and health NGOS.
After 51 days of conflict, Israel and the Palestinian factions agreed a series of understandings for an indefinite ceasefire on 26 August. It brought to an end, for the time being at least, the most destructive assault on Gaza since 1967. This ceasefire remains precarious and could break down.
On Monday 7 July 2014, the Israeli army had launched a massive military operation in the Gaza Strip, from air and sea with the stated objective of stopping Palestinian rockets firing at southern Israel and destroying the military infrastructure of Hamas and other armed groups. This is the third major operation against Gaza over the last five years.
An Israeli ground invasion of Gaza started on the night of 17 July. This represented a major escalation especially in the eastern parts of the strip.
The Israeli position was that it had no choice and had to attack to prevent rocket attacks on Israel from Palestinian groups. Opposed to that many argued including UN agencies and human rights groups, that the Israeli military attacks were hugely disproportionate and did not do enough to differentiate between military and civilian targets.
Effects of military operations
An indefinite ceasefire was agreed and implemented on 26 August 2014. 2220 Palestinians were killed. This included a reported 1,492 civilians; including 551 children and 299 women according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. The Israeli authorities challenge the numbers of civilians claiming to have killed more than 616 ‘militants’. The Daily Telegraph has produced an infographic with the names, ages and locations of the children killed in Gaza. 73 Israelis – 6 civilians (incl one child) and 67 soldiers were killed. Over 11,231 Palestinians were injured including 3374 children, 2088 women and 410 elderly. (SOURCES: OCHA-oPt, ‘Fragmented Lives: Humanitarian Overview 2014’, March 2015; OCHA-oPt, ‘Gaza: Initial Rapid Assessment’, 27 August 2014; Ministry of Health, Gaza.
According to the UN, Israel used 5,000 tons of munitions, 14,500 tank shells and roughly 35,000 artillery shells.
Over 500,000 Palestinians in Gaza were displaced, around 28% of the population according to the UN. On 12 July, Israel warned over 300,000 residents in the northern part of the Gaza Strip to leave and continue to do so. 44% of the Gaza Strip has been declared by the Israeli military as a ‘buffer zone’ as of 23 July and communities located within this 3km buffer have received warnings from the Israeli army to evacuate. (The Gaza strip is effectively sealed so they cannot flee the military operations). By 29 August the United Nations stated that the numbers in UN shelters had fallen to 55,849.
At least 18,000 homes have been destroyed or severely damaged in Gaza according to the UN. Reconstruction and repair costs are estimated at US$410 million. UNRWA has opened 90 schools to house the displaced. It is estimated that another 38,994 IDPs are residing in 23 government schools and other institutions. As of late December 2014, an estimated 100,000 remained homeless.
Rocket and mortar attacks
Palestinian groups in Gaza fired more than 1,300 rockets into Israel since the start of this crisis according to the Israeli military some of which have almost reached Haifa and Tel Aviv. Approximately 985 rockets hit Israeli territory and 225 (86%) rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome Missile defence system with an overall success rate of 86%. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) suspended all flights to Israel's Ben Gurion airport on 22 July for a period of 24 hours after a rocket landed one mile (1.6km) away. A number of European airlines also suspended flights.
Such indiscriminate attacks on civilian targets are a war crime. Israel had its first fatality on 15th July. A fragment from mortar shell killed an Israeli man at Erez crossing to the northern Gaza Strip. A Bedouin man in an unrecognised village in the Negev was also killed. Bedouin villages do not have air raid sirens, nor are they covered by Iron Dome. They also lack bomb shelters.
On three occasions missiles were found by UNRWA on their premises, which at the time had been abandoned.
Some of the Palestinian rockets and mortars did fall short of their target and landed inside Gaza.
The Israeli military believes that the operations destroyed or expended two-thirds of the rocket stores in Gaza.
Israeli selection of targets
Israelhas selected targets for attack including what would normally be considered civilian targets such as mosques (around 70 destroyed) and schools. It argues that it has evidence they were being used for military purposes. Six high rise buildings were destroyed by bombing including a shopping mall in Rafah.
In the last days of the war Israel began targeting high rise buildings arguing that they contained Hamas command and control centres.
There have also been reports of the use of illegal weapons. A Palestinian human rights organisation reported the use of flechette shells. Israel states that it has not used white phosphorous during this operation.
International law under the Geneva Conventions states that: “In case of doubt whether an object which is normally dedicated to civilian purposes, such as a place of worship, a house or other dwelling or a school, is being used to make an effective contribution to military action, it shall be presumed not to be so used.”
Attacks on schools
20 schools were destroyed according to the UN, 122 schools were damaged, 75 of which are UN schools. During this attack on Gaza, 7 UN schools used as shelters have been shelled. A total of 230 schools have been damaged, 90 UNRWA and 140 governmental schools. This Guardian report examines the issue. Also, Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict said that "Israel used one of these (UNRWA) schools as a military base".
On 30 July a UNRWA school in Jabalia sheltering internally displaced persons (IDPs) was struck by Israeli shells, killing at least 15 people, including four children. This news came after the Israeli assault on a UNRWA school in Beit Hanoun on 24 July in which at least 15 people were killed and over 200 injured, including children. UNRWA's spokesman Chris Gunness said that the coordinates of the shelter had been given to the Israeli army:
"Precise co-ordinates of the UNRWA shelter in Beit Hanoun had been formally given to the Israeli army ... Over the course of the day UNRWA tried to coordinate with the Israeli Army a window for civilians to leave and it was never granted,"
On 3 August, a UN school in Rafah in southern Gaza was also shelled killing at least 9 people. Once again the UN had given the coordinates to the Israeli authorities. The head of UN operations in Gaza said that he had warned the Israelis 33 times.
Attacks on hospitals
Five hospitals have shut down for security reasons. According to the UN, 15 out of 32 hospitals were damaged.
The ICRC condemned the shelling of the Al Aqsa hospital in Deir El Balah, Gaza on 21 July, which left four people dead, and left scores of people injured. The surgical ward, the intensive care unit and pieces of life-saving equipment were all severely damaged, disrupting essential medical services.
"This incident is yet another illustration of the dangers faced by health care personnel, patients, ambulances and hospitals, in the current conflict in Gaza,” said Christian Cardon, the head of the ICRC’s sub-delegation in Gaza. “Even in the midst of warfare, people must be able to receive medical care in safety.” The ICRC continues to remind all parties "of their obligation to respect and to protect medical personnel, ambulances and facilities, as provided for under international humanitarian law. The parties to the conflict must ensure that medical personnel are not endangered or harmed, and hospitals and ambulances not attacked, damaged or misused."
Amnesty International has said that the attack on Al Aqsa hospital and other attacks on civilians could amount to war crimes, and should be included in an independent international investigation. Amnesty said that there is no justification for attacks on health facilities. The UN’s top human rights official Navi Pillay also stated that “there seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes", and also condemned Hamas’ “indiscriminate attacks” on civilians.
In an open letter in the medical journal The Lancet many doctors and scientists denounced “the aggression of Gaza by Israel.” They note:
“Weaponry known to cause long-term damages on health of the whole population are used; particularly non fragmentation weaponry and hard-head bombs. We witnessed targeted weaponry used indiscriminately and on children and we constantly see that so-called intelligent weapons fail to be precise, unless they are deliberately used to destroy innocent lives.”
Treatment of critically injured
The entire health system in Gaza was out under intense pressure. The hospitals in Gaza are unable to carry the complex surgery often required so some of but not all of the critically injured were able to leave Gaza for treatment. Patients left to Turkey, Jordan, Egypt as well as West Bank and East Jerusalem hospitals.
The Caabu delegation visited the Makassad hospital on the Mount of Olives. It has received 75 patients from Gaza so far with around a further 75 more expected. According to the Doctors, all the injured were serious multi-trauma cases. Many of these involved loss of limbs, serious burns and large wounds. Many of the patients suffered grave infections with high-resistant bacteria so dangerous that last resort antibiotics had to be prescribed. The patients will have to remain in Jerusalem for an extended period because of the difficulties of returning to Gaza and coming back to the Jerusalem hospitals for assessment. The delegation met one family where nearly all of them had lost limbs, including a four-year old boy, Sharif, who had lost a leg. His father had lost a leg too but his mother, who had lost both legs, was in a hospital in Hebron. The delegation asked the Israeli authorities to investigate how the family could be united in one hospital.
Electricity and power
Gaza's sole power plant remains shut down after being shelled on 29 July. It is estimated that it will take at least a year to be repaired. In addition to the critical shortage of electricity, on which the sector is dependent, 12 cellular antennas have been damaged in the course of hostilities. Over 373,000 children in Gaza are in need of psychosocial support. The lack of power had a critical impact on the water and sewage infrastructure.
According to UNRWA up to ½ of the population in Gaza was without water supply due to inability of technicians to repair and operate critical infrastructure. Senior Israeli politicians called for power and water to Gaza to be cut off entirely. These include the former deputy Defence Minister Danny Danon (sacked on Tuesday 15 July 2014) and the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee.
A Caabu delegation to Jerusalem was informed by the UN in Jerusalem that on initial assessment, 35km of water pipelines and 30km of sewage pipes had been destroyed or partially damaged.
It had taken until 12 July for the United Nations Security to call for a ceasefire. “The Security Council members called for de-escalation of the situation, restoration of calm, and reinstitution of the November 2012 ceasefire.”
On Tuesday 15 July 2014, an Egyptian proposal calling on Israel and all Palestinian armed groups to cease all hostilities in the Gaza Strip was accepted by the Israeli cabinet but not accepted by Hamas. Israeli attacks were halted for six hours, but resumed amid continuing rocket fire directed at Israel. Hamas claim that they were not consulted over the ceasefire offer.
On 22 July, US secretary of state John Kerry had held talks with Egyptian officials in Cairo, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon met with leaders in Jerusalem and Ramallah in efforts to bring an end to the 16 days of fighting between Hamas and Israel. John Kerry met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Jerusalem and Ramallah respectively on Wednesday 23 July. Kerry was in Cairo on Thursday 23 July in efforts to work on the details of a cease-fire proposal.
Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said that in order for a cease-fire to work, there must be an end to the blockade. He said that Hamas would continue to reject a ceasefire that does not include in its terms, the opening of the Rafah crossing, release of prisoners and an end to the blockade. At a news conference in Qatar on Wednesday 23 July he said:
”We will not accept any initiative that does not lift the blockade on our people and that does not respect their sacrifices.”
UN Commission on Inquiry
The United Nations Human Rights Council on Wednesday 23 July voted in favour of launching a commission of inquiry into alleged in the ongoing Gaza offensive. The only country to object to the resolution was the U.S. Britain abstained. British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond later announced that “Today’s UN Human Rights Council resolution will not help achieve a lasting ceasefire. It is fundamentally unbalanced and will complicate the process by introducing unnecessary new mechanisms.”
UK Review of arms sales to Israel
David Cameron's deputy official spokesman also announced on 4 August that the British government will review the sale of £8bn in arms and military goods to Israel, to establish whether each licence is "appropriate" given the circumstances surrounding the conflict in Gaza.
Immediate humanitarian needs
According to UNRWA, it needs $47 million in the next four weeks to help make conditions “just about bearable in Gaza” pending fully fledged reconstruction
Background to the war on Gaza (dubbed "Operation Protective Edge" by Israel)
Before the Gaza war started on 7 July, the immediate crisis had started in the West Bank. Tensions had been escalating for months with the increased settlement activity, increased home demolitions, and increased use of live fire by Israeli forces.
The increasing evidence of live ammunition used by the Israeli army in the West Bank has been reported by the United Nations and in an Amnesty International report: Trigger-Happy: Israel’s use of excessive force in the West Bank. In 2013, 27 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces (25 by live ammunition and 2 by rubber-coated metal bullets). This number was 1.5 times more than those killed in 2011 and 2012 combined.
Kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers
On 12 June, three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed.
Chris Doyle argued in the Telegraph that: “Israeli authorities believe this was a Hamas operation though the group has denied it. If so, it was most likely from elements within Hamas who reject April’s deal between Fatah and Hamas and want to weaken Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. As ever spoilers on either side have plenty of scope to knock back any steps forward.”
The Israeli government launched a huge military operation in the West Bank that has led to over 1000 arrests of Palestinians. Two homes of suspects were blown up. “Operation My Brothers Keeper” saw five Palestinians killed and many injured. Human rights groups point to a lack of due process and abuse of legal processes.
Burning of Mohammad Abu Khdeir
It culminated with the death of 16-year-old Mohammad Abu Khdeir from Jerusalem, allegedly lynched and his body burnt. Israeli far right protesters had on 1 July roared anti-Arab slogans including ‘death to Arabs’ in Jerusalem. Hate attacks are flaring up with increasing regularity.
As a result there were clashes in Jerusalem and also within Israel. Palestinians from Jerusalem told the Caabu delegation that it was akin to a mini-Intifada in the city. Shu’afat refugee camp, where Mohammad Abu Khdeir came from, became a no zone. Several light railway stations were burnt. The Israeli police set up a checkpoint at the entrance to the camp and significant tensions continue at time of writing. Tensions are also evident in other areas of Jerusalem. The delegation saw increased Israeli security force presence on the Haram Al Sharif/Temple Mount and also on the Mount of Olives where there were clashes.