As Israel faces mounting criticism over its killings of at least 44 Palestinians in six UN shelters and 547 children overall last summer, 100,000 in Gaza remain displaced as “not a single destroyed home has been rebuilt.”
Palestinian children sit next to hanged clothes, on the First day of Eid al-Fitr in a United Nations school where dozens of families have sought refuge after fleeing their homes in fear of Israeli airstrikes, in the Jabaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip. A U.N. inquiry has found that at least 44 Palestinians were killed and at least 227 injured by “Israeli actions” while sheltering at U.N. locations during last year’s Gaza war. Secretary Ban Ki-moon said Monday, April 27, 2015, he deplores the deaths and calls U.N. locations “inviolable.”
UNITED NATIONS — Israel’s military operations against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip under last summer’s Operation Protective Edge face renewed criticism as a Palestinian human rights group and a United Nations inquiry calculate the toll of its 51-day offensive, including the killings of at least 44 Palestinians in six U.N. shelters and 547 children.
“Our investigation found overwhelming and repeated evidence of international humanitarian law violations committed by Israeli forces, including direct drone attacks on children, and indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks on civilian homes and schools,” Brad Parker, international advocacy officer for Defense for Children International Palestine, told MintPress News.
“Operation Protective Edge: A war waged on Gaza’s children,” a report issued by DCIP on April 16, surveys the 547 deaths and 3,374 injuries of children the Ramallah-based human rights group has confirmed.
A separate count by U.N. agencies reaches 548 deaths.
The document’s case studies range from killings that burst into the international spotlight, like the naval shelling of four boys from the Bakr family as they played football on the Gaza beach, to the equally shocking but globally unknown, such as an airstrike that killed 19 children from the Abu Jami family as they began to break the Ramadan fast with dinner in their in Khan Younis home.
“We then heard the muezzin leading the calls for prayers at 7:47 p.m., and we started eating,” Tawfiq Abu Jami told DCIP. “I was about to have my first bite, when suddenly I felt something blowing me to the other side of the room. I saw a red flash, like fire or something.”
When he went to the morgue, “I could not recognize my children, except Ahmad, 7, whose injury was in the head; Razan, 14, whose injury was in the head and abdomen; and Aya, 10, whose injury was in the head. I also recognized my wife Sabah who was eight month pregnant. I could not recognize the rest of my children, or my nephews or my nieces.”
In a number of these mass killings, like a drone strike that ended the lives of four children from the Joudeh family and their mother in the yard of their Jabaliya house, DCIP claims “evidence suggests that Israeli forces directly targeted children.”
“Places that should have provided children with shelter and safety were not immune from attacks by Israeli forces,” Parker said. “Missiles fired from Israeli drones and warplanes, artillery shelling, and shrapnel scattered by explosions killed children in their homes, on the street as they fled from attacks with their families, and as they sought shelter from the bombardment in schools.”
“The need for justice and accountability is urgent”
A United Nations aid agency car lies destroyed by shrapnel from an Israeli strike in the Jebaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip, Tuesday, July 29, 2014.
DCIP investigates not only the scale of Israel’s killing of children, but also its means: the arsenal of advanced weaponry, much of it traded on global markets, deployed in Gaza.
The largest number of children, 225, died in airstrikes by warplanes, many sent by the United States.
Another 164 were killed by missiles fired from the drones Israeli manufacturers eagerly sell abroad, driving the country to dominate the global drone market with 60.7 percent of exports since 1985.
“Gaza: Life beneath the drones,” a Feb. 20 briefing by Corporate Watch, found Israel’s drones responsible for 37.7 percent of Palestinian deaths during its 2014 offensive, on top of 78.8 percent in its 2012 military operation.
These numbers have sparked wide revulsion, with many activists protesting the close ties between Israeli drone manufacturers like Elbit Systems, which makes 85 percent of Israel’s drones, and foreign governments and institutions, such as its funding by the European Union.
Further steps to stop Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights are needed, Parker said. “In a context where systemic impunity is the status quo, the need for justice and accountability is urgent.”
“Hopes and trust denied”
Israel’s summer 2014 bombardment reached even Palestinians who had sought protection in U.N. facilities.
“I deplore the fact that at least 44 Palestinians were killed as a result of Israeli actions and at least 227 injured at United Nations premises being used as emergency shelters,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote in a 27-page summary of the body’s 207-page report, which was not publicly released.
Read the full report:
Ban gave the full document to the 15 member states of the U.N. Security Council on Monday.
“United Nations premises are inviolable and should be places of safety, particularly in a situation of armed conflict,” he continued. “It is a matter of the utmost gravity that those who looked to them for protection and who sought and were granted shelter there had their hopes and trust denied.”
The synopsis outlines the findings of the Board of Inquiry’s investigations into Israeli forces’ bombings of seven U.N. Relief and Works Agency schools, six of them used by the agency to shelter displaced Palestinians.
Several of the strikes produced scenes of mass carnage with a dozen or more deaths.
Jamal Abu ‘Owda, a survivor of the July 24 shelling of a school in Beit Hanoun, told Human Rights Watch of seeing “shredded bodies, a mix of everything, boys, men, girls, women, a mix of different faces and bodies.”
UNRWA had sent each of the six schools’ GPS coordinates to Israeli military commanders twice daily, with information on their use as civilian shelters.
“Attributable to the IDF”
In no case did the board find evidence that Palestinian armed groups had used any of the schools targeted by Israeli forces for military purposes, although an Israeli unit claimed it “had found a Palestinian Islamic Jihad operational map and other military equipment” inside a school in Khuza’a.
The only school targeted by Israeli forces that UNRWA had not used as a shelter, it lay empty when Israeli bulldozers and a tank shell damaged it.
“The inquiry found that despite numerous notifications to the Israeli army of the precise GPS coordinates of the schools and numerous notifications about the presence of displaced people, in all seven cases investigated by the Board of Inquiry when our schools were hit directly or in the immediate vicinity, the hit was attributable to the I.D.F.,” UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness said in a statement released Monday.
The report also lists three schools in which UNRWA staff found weapons, from two of which the board concluded Palestinian armed groups could have fired projectiles.
UNRWA had not used any of the three schools, vacant during the summer recess, as shelters, nor were they among the seven targeted by Israeli forces.
“In none of the schools which were hit directly or in the immediate vicinity, were weapons discovered or fired from,” Gunness said. “If it were confirmed that militants did fire rockets from our schools we would condemn it, just as we robustly we condemned other violations of our neutrality.”
“Not a single home has been rebuilt”
A Palestinian girl sits inside a room of her family’s building which was damaged in last summer’s Israel-Hamas war, in the Shijaiyah neighborhood of Gaza City, northern Gaza Strip, Monday, Feb. 23, 2015.
UNRWA reported on April 23 that almost eight months after Israel’s complete destruction of 9,161 refugee homes during last year’s bombardment, which damaged 133,933 more, “not a single destroyed home has been rebuilt.”
The U.N. estimates that Israeli strikes also damaged or destroyed roughly 35,000 non-refugee houses, for a total around 178,000.
The enclave had already faced a deficit of 71,000 homes as a result of the damage of previous Israeli military operations and restrictions on the import of building materials, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
“After such an intense conflict that inflicted such widespread damage on civilian infrastructure, the need is overwhelming and has massively outstripped donor funds,” Gunness told MintPress News.
International donors who pledged $3.5 billion in aid to reconstruct the Gaza Strip at a conference in Cairo last October have released only about a quarter of those funds, the Association of International Aid Agencies said in a briefing paper on April 13.
The Popular Committee to End the Siege, a Gaza-based campaign, said in a report issued Sunday that only 10 percent of the construction materials needed to rebuild had arrived through Israeli checkpoints since the offensive.
The announcement followed a Feb. 26 warning by Oxfam International that essential building could take over a century unless Israel lifts its blockade.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the special envoy of the Middle East Quartet, reportedly threatened during a Feb. 15 visit to Gaza to block reconstruction unless the Hamas movement changed its political goals.
“Disappointment, frustration and anger”
With their homes still in ruins, hundreds of thousands of the besieged enclave’s 1.8 million residents remain uprooted, many of them refugees for a second time.
“The situation of the approximately 100,000 internally displaced persons as a result of the July-August hostilities remains precarious and uncertain,” UNOCHA communication and information analyst Hayat Abu-Saleh told MintPress.
She added that in addition to 5,600 Palestinians remaining in U.N. collective centers as of April 21, “1,700 [lived] in prefabricated housing units, and the rest in rented accommodation, with host families or in makeshift shelters in the rubble of their damaged or destroyed homes.”
Gunness said the funding shortfall had not only prevented the reconstruction of demolished houses, but also hampered emergency relief measures.
“Due to the agency’s lack of funding, 685 families still haven’t received the transitional rental subsidy for the period from September to December 2014,” he told MintPress. “9,000 refugee families are waiting for the first quarter of 2015 payment and 7,400 families have not received their $500 reintegration grant. Over 62,500 families are awaiting assistance to commence with minor repairs to their damaged shelter.”
“There is a lot of disappointment, frustration and anger,” he added. “The slide towards further conflict feels inexorable unless things change.”