Ref: 102/2014

 

 

The Palestinian
Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) strongly condemns the bloody attack launched by
Israeli forces on Thursday, 24 July 2014, on an UNRWA humanitarian shelter,
which hosts 800 displaced Palestinian civilians who escaped death. The Israeli
attack killed 11 civilians, including 7 children and 2 women, and wounded 110
others, including 55 children and 31 women. Israeli forces targeted civilians who
sought refuge in an UNRWA school took place a few hours after the UN Human Rights
Council had adopted a resolution condemning the crimes committed in the Gaza
Strip and forming an independent international committee to investigate the
Israeli violations in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). This reflects a
clear challenge by the Israeli authorities to the international law system and
disregard for the international protection mechanisms offered by the UN. This
new crime demonstrates Israel’s insistence on punishing civilians and disrupting
their life, safety and security although the UNRWA had coordinated the
establishment of humanitarian shelters with the Israeli forces and provided
comprehensive geographical schemes of the UNRWA’s facilities and their GPS
coordinates. Moreover, the UNRWA facilities are clearly marked as they are
colored in white and blue and the blue UN flag is clearly fixed on top of their
buildings.

 

According to
preliminary investigations conducted by PCHR, at approximately 14:50 on
Thursday, 24 July 2014, Israeli tanks that had moved into Beit Hanoun in the
northern Gaza Strip fired 5 shells at the UNRWA Beit Hanoun Elementary School
in Qa’at al-Wad area. The school was opened by the UNRWA for dozens of
displaced families who left their houses in the border area in the city. The
shells landed on the school’s yard, where the displaced families had gathered
in preparation to evacuate it. As a result, 11 civilians were killed, including
7 children and 2 women, and 110 others, including 55 children and 31 women,
were wounded and taken to Kamal Odwan Hospital in Beit Lahia, al-Awda Hospital
in Jabalia and Shifa Hospital in Gaza City that received  about 25 wounded persons for the seriousness
of their wounds. The civilians who were killed are:

1. Awad
Abdul Majid Hassan Abu-Ouda (39);

2. Belal
Ahmed Tawfiq al-Shenbari (21);

3. Abed-Rabbu
Jamal Ayoub al-Shenbari (17);

4. Soha
Abed-Rabbu Mohammed Mesleh (2);

5. Mohammed
Akram Abdul Aziz al-Kafarnah (15);

6. Fatma
Mohammed Ayoub al-Shenbari (47);

7. Abed-Rabbu
Shaiboub Ahmed al-Shenbari (16);

8. Falastin
Hussein Hassan al-Shenbari (40);

9. Mariam
Shaiboub Ahmed al-Shenbari (11);

10. Ali Shaiboub Ahmed al-Shenbari (9); and

11. Hassan Abdullah Mostafa al-‘Athamnah (59).

 

The last one
died of his wounds later. The displaced families resorted to this school after
Israeli forces had declared launching a ground operation in the Gaza Strip on
17 July 2014. Israeli forces ordered civilians to leave their houses via phone
calls and by leaflets that were dropped by warplanes along the border area.

 

According to
UNRWA sources, the number of displaced families in the school that was targeted
is about 800 civilians. The UNRWA pointed out that they had not able to officially
offer food and services to families in the school since Wednesday, 23 July
2014, due to the Israeli practices. In addition, the International Committee of
the Red Cross (ICRC) representatives headed to the school upon the request of
the UNRWA in order to evacuate who would like to leave the school under the
ICRC’s protection. Approximately 40 persons left the school, while the others
preferred to stay as there was no other safe shelter for them. UNRWA sources stated
that they informed the civilians that they intended to close the school for the
gravity of its location on Thursday, 24 July 2014, and agreed with the
displaced families on that. During discussions on how to evacuate the school
safely, artillery shells suddenly targeted the school and caused this bloody outcome.
In the meanwhile, there were 3 UNRWA staff members at school.

 

This war crime
is not the first of its kind. On 17 January 2009, Israeli forces fired phosphorus
shells at the UNRWA Beit Lahia School for boys that was sheltering about 320
families. The attack resulted in killing 2 children (brothers) and wounding 36
others. The school also caught fire.

 

It should be
noted that since the beginning of the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip, the
number of civilians who escaped from their houses seeking refuge has amounted
to over 300,000 displaced persons, 141,338 of whom have resorted to 83 UNRWA
schools throughout the Gaza Strip, while others resorted to public schools,
hospitals, public facilities and houses of relatives.

 

PCHR stresses
that this crime is part of a series of war crimes that have not been stopped because
of the absence of accountability for the grave breaches of the international
law committed by Israeli forces against the Palestinian civilians, including
children, women, disabled persons and elderly. PCHR believes that such attacks
against facilities that are designated for the protection of civilians in wars,
especially UNRWA shelters, constitute a violation of the provisions of the customary
international law related to distinction and necessary precautions during
attacks. The customary international law clearly stipulates that all possible precautions
should be taken when choosing means and methods of the military operations in
order to avoid or reduce the level of serious injuries or cause loss among
civilians. Furthermore, the customary international law requires that an
assailant should do all what is needed to evaluate whether it is expected for
the attack to cause losses or serious injuries among civilians. The same law
defines the indiscriminate attack as the attack which employs a combat method
or means the effects of which cannot be limited as required by international
humanitarian law. Indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks are grave breaches
of Geneva Conventions and thus constitute war crimes. The Israeli use of
artillery shells in this way constitutes a violation of these laws and
provisions. Therefore, PCHR:

1. Calls
upon the United Nations to form a committee to investigate the crime that was
committed by Israeli forces in the school and to submit publically its
recommendations to the various mechanisms of the United Nations, including prosecuting
the perpetrators before the International Criminal Court;

2. Reiterates
that these Israeli crimes clearly reflect not only the indiscriminate and
excessive use of force, but also the retaliatory nature of attacks launched by
Israeli forces against the Palestinian civilians;

3. Holds
Israel responsible for the lives of Palestinian civilians in all circumstances.
PCHR points out that under the international law, the presence of armed
resistance does not justify in any case the excessive, disproportionate and
indiscriminate use of force;

4. Warns
that lives of Palestinian civilians are in danger in light of the threats by Israeli
officials at the political and military levels to expand the military operation
against the Gaza Strip; and

5. Calls
upon the international community to immediately intervene in order to put an
end to these crimes and demands the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth
Geneva Convention to fulfill their obligations under article 146 which
stipulates to search for persons alleged to have committed, or to have ordered
to be committed, such grave breaches, and shall bring such persons before the
court. These breaches constitute war crimes under article 147 of the convention
and Additional Protocol I. the High Contracting Parties’ priority now should be
putting an end to the Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip.