Thursday - 05 March 2015 

Gaza Under Attack

Israel, as an occupying power in Gaza, has a responsibility to protect the Palestinian civilian population and civilian infrastructure and to refrain from targeting them as individuals or as a group through collective punishment or through unlawful reprisals. DCI/PS's special section link to , ‘Gaza Under Attack', endeavors to provide interested parties with up-to-date information on Israeli breaches of its obligations as an occupying power under international law during operation ‘Summer Rain'. The focus of this section will be on children, but it also provides background information on Gaza post-disengagement and statements and alerts from other human rights organizations and international bodies/organizations reacting to events as they unfold. Please be patient with us as data collection is delayed given the difficult and dangerous situation on the ground in Gaza which hampers the work of our field workers.

Gaza under Attack: the Prelude

The Israeli occupation forces completed their unilateral ‘disengagement' of Israeli settlers and military personnel from the Gaza Strip on 12 September 2005. Despite the disengagement, Israel has maintained effective control over the territory. The existence of ‘effective control' is the test under Article 42 of the 1907 Hague Convention IV respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land regulating when an occupation ends. That is, if the occupying power maintains effective control over the occupied territory, the territory remains occupied. In Gaza , the nature of the occupation has changed but the occupation itself has not.

Israeli settlers are no longer resident in the Gaza Strip, and initially, Israeli ground troops withdrew to the Gaza/Israel border, yet Israel maintains control over much of Gaza 's telecommunications, water, electricity and sewage networks. Additionally, Israel controls the flow of people and goods in and out of the Strip. As Human Rights Watch noted, “…as long as Israel holds the veto over Gazans' ability to support themselves economically, it will continue to bear an occupying power's responsibility to ensure their welfare”. [1]

While Israel was capitalizing on the image it had crafted internationally that the Gaza disengagement was a generous and selfless offering to the peace process, elsewhere in the occupied Palestinian territories, Israel continued to consolidate its hold. Despite the unmitigated condemnation of Israel 's West Bank Wall as illegal and the specific recommendation for its dismantling and for compensation to be offered to the Palestinians for their losses, in the two years since the International Court of Justice advisory opinion was issued on the Wall, all recommendations remain unheeded. Upon the Wall's, completion it is estimated that Israel will have de facto annexed 9.5% of the territory of the West Bank [2]. With each passing day of construction, the Wall disrupts economic activity critical for the livelihood of West Bank families, the provision of education and health care and normal social interactions. Moreover, illegal Israeli settlements have continued to be built, closures and movement restrictions have persisted, and thousands of Palestinians—including hundreds of minors below the age of 18—have been arrested and tried before military courts which fail to meet international standards for due process.

Since the disengagement, and even before the recent escalation of events, there has been ample evidence of the continued ability of Israel to exert control over the Gaza Strip. Bombing raids, extrajudicial assassinations, land confiscations, house demolitions, border closures and arrests are still a routine part of life for Gazans. For example, over a three-day period just after the disengagement (24-26 September), Israel, having reserved the right to launch incursions into Gaza, launched nighttime aerial bombardments resulting in the extrajudicial assassination of four Palestinians, the injury of 25 civilians and the destruction of civilian facilities. Israel couches such attacks in the language of self-defence – justifying the destruction wrought by its actions as a necessary response to the attacks launched against its civilians by Palestinian armed groups. It is true that in the months since the disengagement took place, Palestinian groups have fired a number of homemade rockets over the border into Israel , and that some of these have landed in or near populated areas such as the southern Israeli town of Sderot . Between April and June 2006, Palestinian armed groups fired 479 homemade rockets towards Israel . During the same period, 7,599 Israeli artillery shells and 71 missiles reined down on Gaza . [3]Between May and June 2006, there were 63 Palestinian casualties [4] and 142 injuries, while there were two Israeli casualties (soldiers, rather than civilians) and 14 injuries. As an indication of the ostensible Israeli goal of damaging ‘Palestinian terrorist' cells and infrastructure, of the Palestinian deaths in June, one-third of them were civilians, including ten children (six of whom aged five years and younger). [5]

The Israeli actions in Gaza demonstrate a consistent Israeli policy to employ methods of war which cause unnecessary suffering to Palestinian civilians–-even in the ‘disengaged' Gaza Strip.

Israeli-imposed border closures for goods and people in Gaza were stepped up following the Hamas victory in the democratic national elections held on 25 January 2006 in breach of the terms of the Israeli/PNA border crossing agreement of 15 November 2005. In addition to the withholding of essential medical supplies, basic food items and access to medical facilities located outside of Gaza through the institution of border closures, Israel has withheld tax clearances from the PNA which provide a key source of funding for the PNA budget. This combined with the freezing of foreign development aid to the PNA by donor nations has lead to a financial catastrophe amounting to the imposition of collective punishment on the 25% of the population of the OPT who are reliant upon PNA salaries [6], as well as a rest of the population through a ripple effect on the economy. These events are the prelude to the sharp deterioration in the situation of the people of Gaza which began on 25 June 2006.

Operation 'Summer Rain' Begins

During the pre-dawn hours of 25 June, a raid was launched by three Palestinian resistance groups, Ezzedine al-Qassam (military wing of Hamas), the Popular Resistance Committees and the Army of Islam, against an Israeli army post near the Karem Shalom crossing point on the Gaza-Israel-Egypt border. An Israeli tank was attacked with grenades resulting in the death of two Israeli soldiers and the capture of one, in addition to the death of two Palestinian combatants. Israel immediately began to mass troops on Gaza 's southern border close to where it was presumed the captured soldier was being held and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned of a possible large scale military operation.

The day after the capture of the Israeli soldier, the Israeli Cabinet gave the green light to the Israeli army to commence a series of large-scale military operations in the Gaza Strip. In preparation, tanks advanced on southern Gaza while ground troops were reinforced on Israel 's border with northern Gaza . All border crossings between Gaza and Israel were closed as was the Rafah border crossing with Egypt – Gaza 's only passage to the outside world. At the same time, Israel resumed intensive artillery shelling and launched naval and air strikes targeting south and central Gaza .

On 28 June 2006, the deadline the Israeli government set for the return of the captured soldier came and went and Israeli military ground operations began in southern Gaza . Israeli air-strikes destroyed the only domestic power plant in the Gaza Strip which provided 43% of the region's daily electricity supply. As a result, much of the power to the central and southern governorates of the Strip was knocked out. Other vital civilian infrastructure was targeted, such as the Wadi Gaza Bridge , the destruction of which divided Gaza into two from north to south. Meanwhile, ground troops fired heavy artillery into the Rafah area of southern Gaza . The Israeli troops demanded that the inhabitants of this area evacuate the immediate vicinity.

Throughout this campaign and during the months preceding it, Israeli F-16 aircraft have tormented the Gaza population by flying fast and low over the densely-populated Strip, deliberately breaking the sound barrier and consequently causing sonic booms which shake buildings, shatter windows, blow off doors, and cause widespread panic and fear, especially among children.

On 3 July 2006 the deadline set by the Palestinian resistance groups holding the Israeli soldier for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza passed unheeded by Prime Minister Olmet. He issued orders for the offensive of Gaza to continue. Following the order, Israeli troops invaded northern Gaza in the areas of Beit Hanoun and Beit Lahiya. Agricultural lands were bulldozed, houses were invaded and more civilian infrastructure destroyed. Northern Gaza has been singled out by Israel as one of the key areas from which Palestinian militants have been firing home made rockets, and the Israeli Security Cabinet gave orders to create a buffer zone in the area, in an attempt to secure Israeli border communities from the missile strikes.

Having amassed scores of tanks and armored personnel carriers (APCs) into the northern area, the Israeli army on 5 July 2006 implemented a siege of Beit Lahiya and Beit Hanoun, separating the two towns from Gaza City .

On the 6 July 2006, the largest offensive yet in the crisis took place across the Strip but with Israeli forces focusing their efforts again on northern Gaza districts. For 48 hours, Palestinian residents huddled in their houses as Israeli tanks and soldiers engaged in street-to-street fighting with Palestinian militants. Twenty-three Palestinians were killed and more than 60 civilians were injured, including many children. One child was among the 10 Palestinians killed as Israeli troops intensified air and ground strikes on 7 July.

This continuous military campaign, which has destroyed vital civilian infrastructure has been accompanied by a deteriorating humanitarian situation for all in the Gaza Strip. Power is intermittent, which has a knock-on effect on families' ability to store food and secure water for personal hygiene, hospitals, sewage treatment plants and water wells are having to depend heavily on generators for their electricity supply – resulting in a high consumption of fuel, supplies of which are falling.

[1]International Herald Tribune. Li, Darryl., and Lattig, Lance. Disengagement Will Change Little for Gaza . 2 November 2004. Reproduced on Human Rights Watch website:
[2]Put together, the Wall and Israeli settlements will result in the de facto annexation of at least 46 % of the West Bank by Israel (containing approximately 85 % of Israeli settlers).
[3]UN OCHA. Rise in Civilian Killings in the Gaza Strip. 21 June 2006
[4] These casualties are only from Israeli fire, they do not include casualties from internal Palestinian clashes.
[5]UN OCHA. Situation Report: Escalation in Conflict in the Gaza Strip. 27 June 2006
[6]UN OCHA. Assessment of the Future Humanitarian Risks in the Occupied Palestinian Territory . 19 April 2006

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