[23 June 2015] – On 22 June 2015, the International Commission of Inquiry established by the UN following last year's war in Gaza published its findings in a 183 page Report and 34 page Summary. The Commission’s mandate was to examine alleged violations of international law occurring between 13 June and 26 August 2014, throughout Israel and Palestine. The Commission received full support from Palestine whilst Israel declined to cooperate.
According to the Summary, the hostilities of 2014 erupted in the context of the protracted occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip and of the increasing number of rocket attacks on Israel. On 7 July 2014, the Israeli military commenced operation “Protective Edge” in the Gaza Strip, with the stated objective of stopping the rocket attacks by Hamas and destroying its capabilities to conduct operations against Israel.
According to the Commission, 2,251 Palestinians and 73 Israelis were killed during the 51-day conflict. The Commission found that 1,462 of the Palestinian fatalities were civilians (65 per cent), including 299 women (20 per cent) and 551 children (38 per cent). A further 11,231 Palestinians were injured, including 3,540 women (32 per cent) and 3,436 children (31 per cent). The Commission found that six of the Israeli fatalities were civilians (8 per cent) and up to 1,600 Israelis were injured. According to the Commission, 1,500 children in Gaza were left orphaned by the war.
In addition to the human toll, the Commission found that there was enormous destruction to the civilian infrastructure in Gaza, including: 18,000 housing units destroyed in whole or in part; much of the electricity network and of the water and sanitation infrastructure were incapacitated; and 73 medical facilities and many ambulances
were damaged. At the height of the hostilities, the number of internally displaced persons reached 500,000 or 28 per cent of the population of Gaza.
The Commission found that during the 51-day conflict, Palestinian armed groups fired 4,881 rockets and 1,753 mortars towards Israel, killing six civilians and injuring as many as 1,600, including 270 children. Although there was evidence that some armed groups attempted to warn civilians in Israel prior to an attack and to direct attacks towards military targets, the majority of projectiles were unguided and launched in the direction of major cities with the stated intention of targeting civilians.
The Commission found that the indiscriminate use of rockets and the targeting of civilians in many cases indicated an intention to spread terror among the civilian population, in violation of international law.
The Commission found that during the same period, Israel conducted more than 6,000 airstrikes and fired 14,500 tank and 35,000 artillery shells at Gaza. Many of these munitions hit residential buildings. The Commission found an absence of any explanation as to why some residential buildings were hit and confirmed that the legal onus of proof was on Israel to establish that they were legitimate military targets. Absence of such proof, these attacks would fail to satisfy the principle of distinction and amount to a war crime under international law.
The Commission also found that many of the attacks launched by Israel on residential buildings occurred at dusk and dawn. The timing of the attacks increased the likelihood that many people, often entire families, would be at home. Further, attacking residential buildings rendered women particularly vulnerable to death and injury.
The Commission found that in some cases Israeli forces provided warning of an impending attack via phone, text messages or via “roof-knocks” (a small missile attack followed by the destruction of the house). The Commission found that in some cases these methods reduced civilian casualties but in other cases they were not properly understood and entire families were killed. In the case of “roof-knocks” the Commission found that they could not constitute a proper warning due to the confusion they caused.
Contrary to official Israeli assertions, the Commission also found that artillery and other heavy weapons were widely used in residential areas
resulting in a large number of casualties and extensive destruction. Their use in these circumstances calls into question the Israeli military’s compliance with the rules of distinction, precaution and proportionality, potentially amounting to a war crime. The extensive destruction in Gaza carried out in a systematic way may also constitute a grave breach of article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention amounting to a war crime.
The Commission concluded by stating that the persistent lack of implementation of recommendations – made by previous commissions of inquiry, fact-finding missions, United Nations treaty bodies, special procedures and other United Nations bodies, in particular the Secretary-General and OHCHR – lies at the heart of the systematic recurrence of violations in Israel and Palestine. The Commission made a number of specific recommendations to both parties based on agreed principles of international law. The Commission also found serious flaws in both Israel’s and Palestine’s investigative processes and a lack of appropriate accountability.
On 15 January 2015, WCLAC submitted a 55-page report
to the Commission of Inquiry highlighting the cases of 36 women from Gaza and including their eyewitness testimonies of their experiences during the 51-day conflict. Many of the issues referred to by the Commission of Inquiry are included in these testimonies.