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‘Black Friday’: Carnage in Rafah (2014 Israel pre-emptive war on Gaza)

On 8 July 2014, Israel launched a military operation code-named Operation Protective Edge, the third major offensive in Gaza since 2008.

It announced that the operation was aimed at stopping rocket attacks from Gaza on Israeli civilians.

A ground operation followed, launched on the night of 17-18 July. According to the Israeli army, one of the primary objectives of the ground operation was to destroy the tunnel system constructed by Palestinian armed groups, particularly those with shafts discovered near residential areas located in Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip.

On 1 August 2014 Israel and Hamas agreed to a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire that would take effect at 8am that day.

Three weeks after Israel launched its military offensive on Gaza, thousands of Palestinians who had sought refuge in shelters or with relatives prepared to return to their homes during the anticipated break in hostilities.

In Rafah, the southernmost city in the Gaza Strip, a group of Israeli soldiers patrolling an agricultural area west of the border encountered a group of Hamas fighters posted there. A fire fight ensued, resulting in the death of two Israeli soldiers and one Palestinian fighter.

The Hamas fighters captured an Israeli officer, Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, and took him into a tunnel. What followed became one of the deadliest episodes of the war; an intensive use of firepower by Israel, which lasted four days and killed scores of civilians (reports range from at least 135 to over 200), injured many more and destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes and other civilian structures, mostly on 1 August.

In this report, Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture, a research team based at Goldsmiths, University of London, provide a detailed reconstruction of the events in Rafah from 1 August until 4 August 2014, when a ceasefire came into effect. The report examines the Israeli army’s response to the capture of Lieutenant Hadar Goldin and its implementation of the Hannibal Directive – a controversial command designed to deal with captures of soldiers by unleashing massive firepower on persons, vehicles and buildings in the vicinity of the attack, despite the risk to civilians and the captured soldier(s).

The report recounts events by connecting various forms of information including: testimonies from victims and witnesses including medics, journalists, and human rights defenders in Rafah; reports by human rights and other organizations; news and media feeds, public statements and other information from Israeli and Palestinian official sources; and videos and photographs collected on the ground and from the media.

Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture worked with a number of field researchers and photographers who documented sites where incidents took place using protocols for forensic photography. Forensic Architecture located elements of witness testimonies in space and time and plotted the movement of witnesses through a three-dimensional model of urban spaces.

It also modelled and animated the testimony of several witnesses, combining spatial information obtained from separate testimonies and other sources in order to reconstruct incidents. Three satellite images of the area, dated 30 July, 1 August and 14 August, were obtained and analysed in detail; the image of 1 August reveals a rare overview of a moment within the conflict. 7

Forensic Architecture also retrieved a large amount of audiovisual material on social media and employed digital maps and models to locate evidence such as oral description, photography, video and satellite imagery in space and time. When audio-visual material from social media came with inadequate metadata, Forensic Architecture used time indicators in the image, such as shadow and smoke plumes analysis, to locate sources in space and time.

An Israeli infantry officer described to Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence the events that ensued after the Hannibal Directive was announced on the radio:

“The minute ‘Hannibal Directive’ is declared on the radio, there are consequences. There’s a fire procedure called the ‘Hannibal fire procedure’ – you fire at every suspicious place that merges with a central route. You don’t spare any means.”
Israeli army Infantry Officer

He reported that the initial burst of fire lasted three hours. An artillery soldier said his battery was “firing at a maximum fire rate” right into inhabited areas. According to the report of an Israeli military inquiry, more than 2,000 bombs, missiles and shells were fired in Rafah during 1 August, including 1,000 in the three hours following the capture.

According to the Israeli army, the initial strikes aimed to stop the movement of all “suspicious” persons and vehicles, to isolate the area until the arrival of ground forces and to target known and suspected tunnel shafts, which meant bombing residential buildings and agricultural installations suspected of harbouring tunnel exits or entrances.

Another officer explained the logic of the operation, including potentially killing the captured soldier: “In such an event you prefer a killed soldier rather than a soldier in enemy hands, like [Gilad] Shalit. I told myself ‘even if I bring back a corpse I have brought back the missing person’.”

As the strikes began, the roads in eastern Rafah were full of disoriented civilians moving in all directions. Believing a ceasefire had begun, they had returned – or were returning – to their homes. Many decided to turn around, attempting to flee under a barrage of bombs and gunfire.

Palestinian witnesses described jets, drones, helicopters and artillery raining fire at pedestrians and vehicles at the intersections, indiscriminately hitting cars, ambulances, motorbikes and pedestrians. “You see the hysteria of the children, destruction, and mushroom clouds, and you try to get as far away from them as you can,” said Wa’el al-Namla, a local resident and father of two.

Inam Ouda Ayed bin Hammad, a local resident, told Amnesty International that, after 9am on 1 August, she noticed the shelling intensifying and missiles landing in close vicinity to their home in the al-Tannur neighbourhood of Rafah. She and her family were on the streets seeking shelter elsewhere when a bomb hit a building nearby and killed her son Anas, her cousin Wafa and at least 14 other civilians, as well as injuring scores of other fleeing civilians.

One of the scenarios that the Israeli military considered was that the captured soldier, Lieutenant Goldin, had been wounded and taken to the Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital, the medical facility closest to the area of capture. The flood of casualties started coming into the hospital at about 10am, according to medical staff. The attacks around the hospital grew nearer and more frequent as the day went on. Studying photographs of the hospital, Forensic Architecture noted both internal and external damage.

On the satellite image taken on 14 August, Forensic Architecture detected one crater about 120m south-west of the hospital and three craters about the same distance north-east of the hospital.

Patients, staff and persons seeking refuge at the hospital proceeded to evacuate the building in a rush when the attacks intensified. An organized evacuation took place in the evening. By about 7pm the hospital was closed and reporters claimed that the entire neighbourhood around the Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital was under artillery fire.

The pounding of Rafah continued for three days after the initial strikes of 1 August, even after Lieutenant Goldin was declared dead by an Israeli rabbinical court and buried on 2 August.

There is overwhelming evidence that Israeli forces committed disproportionate, or otherwise indiscriminate, attacks which killed scores of civilians in their homes, on the streets and in vehicles and injured many more. This includes repeatedly firing artillery and other imprecise explosive weapons in densely populated civilian areas during the attacks on Rafah between 1 and 4 August. In some cases, there are indications that they directly fired at and killed civilians, including people fleeing.

Public statements by Israeli army commanders and soldiers after the conflict provide compelling reasons to conclude that some attacks that killed civilians and destroyed homes and property were intentionally carried out and motivated by a desire for revenge – to teach a lesson to, or punish, the population of Rafah for the capture of Lieutenant Goldin.

There is consequently strong evidence that many such attacks in Rafah between 1 and 4 August were serious violations of international humanitarian law and constituted grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention or other war crimes.

The UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict examined the Israeli army attack on Rafah on 1 August and also raised serious concerns about the conformity of the Israeli army actions on that day with international law. The Commission investigated attacks it considered disproportionate or otherwise indiscriminate and found that some might amount to war crimes.

The Commission also concluded that the Israeli army did not appear to have taken precautions to verify that targets of attacks were lawful military objectives and to choose the weapons which could avoid or minimize civilian casualties and destruction to civilian structures.

Israeli army commanders and officers can operate in confidence that they are unlikely to be held accountable for violations of international law due to the pervasive climate of impunity that has existed for decades. This is due, in large part, to the lack of independent, impartial and effective investigations.

Despite the massive toll that Operation Protective Edge had on civilians in Gaza, almost one year after the conflict, military prosecutors have indicted only three soldiers for one incident of looting. A significant number of cases have been closed on the basis that no crimes were committed (the main reason given in such decisions) or that there was insufficient evidence to indict.

With regard to Israeli army operations in Rafah between 1 and 4 August, the Israeli authorities have failed to conduct genuine, effective, and prompt investigations into any of the allegations of serious violations of international humanitarian law documented in this report, let alone to prosecute individuals, including commanders and civilian superiors, suspected of committing or ordering related crimes under international law.

The authorities have failed to ensure that victims have effective access to justice, or to provide them with full and prompt reparation, including restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.

The events need to be independently and impartially investigated. Amnesty International’s view is that no official body capable of conducting such investigations currently exists in Israel. It is therefore calling on the Israeli authorities to: co-operate fully with the ongoing preliminary examination by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court into the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and any future investigations or prosecutions; reform their domestic mechanisms for investigating allegations of violations of international humanitarian law to ensure that it is independent, effective, prompt and transparent; allow human rights organizations access to Gaza to investigate suspected violations of international law by all parties to the conflict; and immediately and fully lift the blockade imposed on Gaza since 2007.

Amnesty International is also asking the international community in general to support the role of the International Criminal Court in examining allegations of crimes under international law including those documented in this report, and to pressure the Israeli and Palestinian authorities to co-operate fully with the Office of the Prosecutor.

All states should oppose punitive measures against Palestine for joining the International Criminal Court or for submitting information on Israeli violations to the Court or taking other steps to activate international justice mechanisms.

On the same day three ambulances from the hospital went to collect wounded people near a mosque in Rafah; one ambulance was hit and completely destroyed by what appeared to be three drone-launched missiles. The three medics and all the wounded within the ambulance were burnt to death.

A second ambulance left, while the other, which remained to collect the wounded and dead, was hit by another apparent drone strike.

Andrew Bossone shared this link

“There is overwhelming evidence that Israeli forces committed disproportionate, or otherwise indiscriminate, attacks which killed scores of civilians in their homes, on the streets and in vehicles and injured many more.

This includes repeatedly firing artillery and other imprecise explosive weapons in densely populated civilian areas during the attacks on Rafah between 1 and 4 August.

In some cases, there are indications that they directly fired at and killed civilians, including people fleeing.

‘Black Friday’: Carnage in Rafah (2014 Israel pre-emptive war on Gaza)
A joint report by Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture reveals strong evidence of Israeli war crimes during attacks on Rafah between 1 and 4 August…
blackfriday.amnesty.org|By Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture

 

Gaza ceasefire gives Rafah residents chance to return to ruined homes

Al-Qaq family salvage belongings during first sustained calm in four weeks – but with one son in critical condition, there is no joy
When Hanan al-Qaq reached her home at around 11am on Tuesday, she walked through the shrapnel-strewn, dust-caked rooms, over the shattered remains of doors and windows. “At least it is still there,” the 42-year-old teacher sighed. “And at least we are, just.”.
Hanan al-Qaq in her home in Rafah

Hanan al-Qaq in the front room of her home in Rafah, Gaza. The family of nine have spent most of the conflict so far at a neighbour’s house. Photograph: Jason Burke for the Guardian

Across Gaza, with the 72-hour ceasefire agreed by Israel and Hamas the night before appearing more solid as the day wore on, tens of thousands of people were saying, in a multitude of different ways, the same thing.

Others, including Qaq’s neighbours, were simply trying to salvage any belongings from the smashed ruins of their houses.

Despite the first prolonged period of calm since the conflict began four weeks ago there was little celebration in Gaza.

After a series of broken ceasefires, people have learned not to hope too hard. Most are stunned by the scale of the damage done in this most recent war. With more than 1,800 dead, and more than 9,000 injured according to the United Nations and the local health ministry, many are also grieving.

More than 9,000 Palestinians have been injured. Two of Qaq’s seven children are among them. Her son Mohammed, 20, is in a critical condition after being hit in the chest and stomach by shell fragments when the family first tried to return to their home in the southern city of Rafah on Friday.

The family had spent more than three weeks of the conflict in the home of a neighbour who lived in a safer area; the promised ceasefire lasted a mere three hours and renewed fighting between the Israeli military and Hamas caught the Qaq family exposed.

“We started running, all of us,” Qaq said. “Shells were falling. My little girl was hit. Her sister carried her. Then my son. I was shaking so much I could not pick him up. Some neighbours and my husband got him to hospital.”

Hussein al-Qaq, 47, is a garrulous civil servant, employed in the agriculture ministry. The family has lived in their breeze-block house, with its cats, and single vine, and corrugated iron fence for 20 years.

Even in peacetime life is not easy. After paying for further education for his older children, there is little left and crippling bank loans are needed to tide over tight times. “We get by, just about,” Qaq said.

rafahRafah in southern Gaza has experienced heavy bombardment in recent days. Photograph: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters.

No one has yet assessed the physical damage wrought by this latest conflict, but the economic cost, adding to that of seven years of effective blockade by Israel and, to a lesser extent, Egypt, is evident.

A biscuit factory, halfway between Rafah and Gaza City, is a smoking ruin. It employed hundreds. Huge amounts of livestock have died. Vast areas of agricultural land are littered with unexploded ordnance. Then there are the villages – and parts of Rafah itself – that have been effectively levelled.

Israeli strikes continued throughout the night before the ceasefire, while Hamas launched a final salvo of rockets minutes before it came into effect. The group have fired around 3,000 into Israel since the conflict began, officials say, killing three.

An Israeli strike overnight reduced the council offices in Shawkah to rubble. “It will take us years to rebuild,” said Adil Alibda, the municipality’s chief engineer.

Though few are yet in any condition to take stock, many in Gaza compared the latest conflict to those in 2008, 2009 and 2012. All say this has been by far the worst. “There is more destruction, much more. And so many dead,” said Sabriha Idbari, 50.

The UN estimates that a third of a million children will need some kind of counselling, at the very least.

Hanan al-Qaq, who runs an informal creche and gives private tutorials at her home, said her own daughters had been traumatised.

“They wake up at night screaming,” she said. “They have no feeling of safety. Nor do we, so we can’t give it to them. Fear has occupied our minds.”

With what Gaza has lost only now becoming clear, few are even thinking about what, if anything, might have been gained.

There is little immediate interest in the detail of ongoing talks in Cairo, which aim to make this temporary ceasefire permanent. Most people are focused on shelter, food, water or electricity.

Few criticise Hamas, at least not openly. Hussein al-Qaq insists that the leaders of all the Palestinian factions are “very good.” His wife agrees, but qualifies her husband’s praise with a quiet “maybe”.

At the UN-run school in the centre of Rafah, where nine died on Sunday after what is now thought to be an Israeli missile landed metres from its gates, not a single family has yet formally swapped the fetid, cramped classrooms for their homes. Most are scared. Some are among the tens of thousands across Gaza whose houses are no longer habitable.

“We are too frightened,” said Kamla Udwan, 55.  Around 270,000 people are currently living in more than 90 schools, the UN says.

One of those who died at the school on Friday was Hazem Abu Hilal, 24, a volunteer UN worker. At his home nearby a tent had been set up for the traditional mourning period. Neighbours and relatives sat quietly with his father.

“I want the ceasefire to work so much. I just want us to live like ordinary people, to be with my children, to watch my grand children grow up, to go to sleep, to wake, like people everywhere,” said Abdul Basit, a 55-year-old nurse. He has a 30-year-old daughter and a son, a microbiology graduate, who had recently married.

The shelling and fighting of last week – Hamas militants clashed with Israeli forces attempting to destroy tunnels near Rafah that could be used for cross-border infiltration – had prevented a proper funeral for Hilal.

The mourning tent, which should traditionally stand for three days, was erected within an hour of the 72 hour ceasefire being declared.

“When we buried the body, no one was there. People were afraid. It was too quick. It was not right,” Basit said. “I want the ceasefire to hold. I need 72 hours for the right time for mourning him.”

Jamal Dajani's photo.
Jamal Dajani's photo.
Jamal Dajani's photo.
Jamal Dajani added 3 new photos.

Palestinians return to destroyed homes and devastated neighborhoods…more than 3,000 homes were destroyed or damaged by Israel. (Photos shared by Rabab, Samer, Rita)

Get the whole picture – and other photos from Joanna Choukeir
PIC.TWITTER.COM

 

Butchery in Rafah. The dead are kept in vegetable refrigerators

#GazaUnderAttack

As Gaza stranglehold tightens, full morgues have forced people to store dead bodies in refrigerators

Corpses of the dead stored in a vegetable refrigerator in Rafah (Twitter / @FoolowGaza)
Mohammed Omer's picture
Mohammed Omer posted this Saturday 2 August 2014

Abu Taha, a farmer in Rafah, opened the refrigerator he normally keeps his potatoes and carrots in.

In it were the corpses of children, young men and women lying on top of one another, soaked in blood. Many were impossible to identify and only a few have been placed in white burial shrouds.

Such was the savagery of Israel’s bombardment in Rafah, such was the quantity of dead bodies, that there was simply no other option but to use vegetable refrigerators as makeshift morgues.

The closure of hospitals which came under bombardment led to a cascade of corpses. It started when medical staff were forced to abandon Rafah’s main hospital Abu Yousef al-Najjar which came under constant bombardment by artillery shelling from the east of the city.

They evacuated the injured to Kuwaiti Hospital, a facility totally ill-equipped to deal with major trauma injuries from the extended battlefield that the Gaza Strip has become.

Even so, several bodies were left lying on the roads, bleeding for hours without any ambulance crew arriving to rescue them.

Meanwhile, three ambulance crew members have been killed, their bodies were unidentifiable after they were hit by an Israeli tank shell directed at their ambulance.

Several of the cases close to the hospital gate were not reachable by rescue teams, says Abu Ahmed, an ambulance driver. “Each time, I drive through tank shells are fired nearby,” he says while he is a couple of hundred meters from tens of victims bleeding on the road.

Most cases of those killed in Rafah are civilians slain by canon shells that wiped several homes in Hay al-Junina area.

Meanwhile, Israeli warplanes fired missiles on several homes in Rafah targeting homes of Abu Suliman, Zorb, Alshaer, and Abu Suliman. The death toll in Rafah in the past 24 hours is now 110 killed and hundreds injured.  Medics say there are more bodies they could not reach.

The corpses were taken into vegetables refrigerators in Rafah, which have their own electricity generators. Even burying the dead was full of hazard, as the cemetries in the east of the city have also been under Israeli artillery shelling over the past 24 days.

“We had no option but to put the bodies of tens killed in the refrigerators,” Subhi Radwan, mayor of Rafah told MEE.

Al-Nujjar hospital has only enough beds for a few dozen patients, but evacuation has meant nowhere else to go for victims of the attack.

Radwan says, the war on Rafah is not over, and his staff members are unable to offer any facilities to people on the ground, that includes water and electricity lines which were destroyed by strikes.

“We appeal to the international organizations to step in and help us evacuate injured people lying in the east of Rafah,” he says.

Meanwhile, international groups have tried to help evacuate victims, but to no avail.

Survivors of the 24-hour bombardment said they had seen nothing like it in their lives. They were bombed from the air, sea and ground simultaneously.

“It is terrifying, the Israeli military has gone out of control, they bombed a building of families fleeing and killed 23 innocents,” says Abdelraouf Ayyad, a 33-year old whose home he fled in Hay al-Junina when bombing started 24 hours ago.

“No one is safe; no home, no hospital, no shelter” he says as he runs into Tal al-Sultan to seek shelter at his cousin’s house.

Twenty three family members have been killed by Israeli F16 missile, mostly from families that fled bombing in east of the city to the West of Rafah.

Radwan says, there is no other hospital, and now even the Kuwaiti hospital is under canonfire—journalists and rescue teams were forced to leave the area under gunfire.

Ashraf Al Qudra of health ministry appeals to the international community to allow ambulances to evacuate injured people from roads of East of Rafah and Kuwaiti hospital.

“We need safe routes for ambulance to evacuate victims into other hospitals in Khan Younis.”

Israeli tanks could be seen in the east, overlooking Rafah, home of 180,000 inhabitants in the far south border with Egypt.

“There are tens of cases of people bleeding and the hospital is unable to deal with massive number of victims”

Rafah’s massacre occurred two hours into the 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire announced yesterday.

Hamas and Israel exchanged accusations of breaking the ceasefire. However, Israel insisted on carrying out a military ground operation on the eastern border, despite the truce.

Israel announced one missing soldier during its ground invasion, while Hamas’s al-Qassam Brigades say they lost communication with some of their members who were in combat with Israeli troops before the ceasefire started.

Qassam Brigades said in a statement that the Israeli soldier was probably killed during in ambush along with Qassam Brigades members.

The death toll across the Gaza strip is 1680 dead and 8500 injured since the war began 27 days ago – the majority are civilians according to the UN. Meanwhile in Israel 3 civilians and 50 soldiers have been killed during the ground attack in Gaza.

Palestinian factions and Israel were expected to travel to Cairo for talks with Egyptian on a long-lasting truce, but the presence of Israeli tanks around the Rafah Crossing point will make this unlikely to happen anytime soon.

– See more at: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/gazans-forced-keep-dead-bodies-vegetable-refrigerators-1006544969#sthash.7DTcuIEy.dpuf


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