Geneva - We are following with great concern Israel's warnings to the Palestinian people in many parts of the Gaza Strip to evacuate their homes in preparation for shelling and airstrikes, on false claims that they were used by Palestinian armed groups to launch attacks against Israeli areas, said the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor.
The Israeli authorities have deliberately and severely targeted civilian objects in the Gaza Strip since Saturday, May 4th, 2019, without any military necessity, added the human rights watchdog.
Dozens of air and artillery attacks carried out by the Israeli forces against Gaza has left 21 Palestinians killed in two days, including two pregnant women and a baby girl, as well as resulted in a complete or partial destruction of hundreds of homes, facilities, shops and media companies.
Moreover, Israel is threatening to target people located in Gaza’s densely populated areas, including al-Daraj, al-Remal, al-Nasr, al-Twam and al-Shujaiya neighborhoods in Gaza City. Refugee camps and neighborhoods in Gaza’s middle and south areas are not spared either.
These areas have large population densities that reach to over 500,000 people, which means that targeting them in this very broad way cannot be justified as it ignores the principle of proportionality of the desired military advantage compared to the immense damage and casualties that are expected to befall civilians and their properties.
Euro-Med’s team on the ground documented the total destruction of nine residential buildings and ten homes by Israeli warplanes, in addition to partially damaging over 100 housing units across the Strip.
Article 25 of the Hague Conventions on the Laws and Customs of ground War prohibits the “attack or bombardment, by whatever means, of towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings which are undefended.” Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states that “any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.”
The destruction of property without the justification of military necessity and on such a large scale, constitutes a serious offence of the Fourth Geneva Convention under article 147 and a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (art. 8.2, b.2).
Israel tries to justify the targeting of civilians' homes on claims that they are used by Palestinian armed groups to launch rockets or to store ammunition, which makes its destruction a military necessity required by military operations.
However, Euro-Med’s team found that the homes destroyed and the areas where Palestinians were asked to evacuate as a prelude for bombardment cannot be used as rocket stores or stations as claimed by the Israeli propaganda. The Israeli military could not provide evidence for such claims, nor did it prove any military advantage being gained except for the horror and intimidation of civilians.
Such irresponsible acts run contrary to article 52 (3) of the Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, which stated that if there was a doubt about a place that is normally used for civilian purposes, but instead it is used to make an effective contribution to military action, it should be assumed that it is not used for military purposes until proven otherwise.
Even in the case of military necessity, which Israel claims, it remains incumbent upon the occupying power to comply with other provisions of international humanitarian law, said Sarah Pritchett, Euro-Med’s spokeswoman, which prohibit the damage of facilities as a means of prevention in case this risk is not ascertained and prevent the destruction of properties to achieve deterrence, instill panic among civilians, or reprisals against them.
The destruction of property is illegal if it is not proportionate, warned Pritchett, comparing the military advantage gained and the damage incurred, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Moreover, the Israeli policy of demolishing and destroying civilian homes constitutes collective punishment of Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, added Pritchett, in violation of international law, particularly article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which provides for the prohibition of collective punishment, and all threats and reprisals against protected persons and their properties.
Article 57 of the Additional Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions, which is part of the customary international law, ruled that all feasible precautions must be taken when choosing attack methods in order to avoid causing casualties in civilian lives or damage to civilian objects in a way that exceeds what is expected to result in concrete and direct military advantage, said Audrey Ferdinand, Euro-Med’s legal researcher.
Otherwise, under the same Protocol, they are indiscriminate attacks, and under the Rome Statute, constitute a war crime. Article 57 also provides for the necessity to give advance warning by viable means in case of attacks that may affect civilians.
Israel claims to have alerted civilians before bombing their homes, either through a telephone call or a warning missile (a small-sized rocket by Israeli drones at the building before it is leveled to the ground).
However, the fact is that Israel is not committed to any other control mentioned in the same article, and that the warning it gives is useless because the actual bombing, in most cases, took less than two minutes after the warning, and in some cases even less than a minute, which is not enough for people to run for their lives.
According to Ferdinand, the report of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza War in 2008-2009 considered that the warning must be effective in the sense that it reaches those persons who may be at risk and gives them sufficient time to respond to the warning. The Mission added that the warning missiles fired by Israel to warn civilians before bombing their homes represent a pattern of absolute recklessness.
The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor calls on the Israeli authorities to immediately stop targeting Palestinians’ civilian objects and homes, and to spare them the horrors of war, stressing that the catastrophic situation in the Strip cannot bear any further deterioration.