Israel/OPT: Civilian deaths and extensive destruction in latest Gaza offensive highlight human toll of apartheid
In its early May offensive on the occupied Gaza Strip, Israel unlawfully destroyed Palestinian homes, often without military necessity, in what amounts to a form of collective punishment against the civilian population, Amnesty International said today. Israel also conducted apparently disproportionate air strikes which killed and injured Palestinian civilians, including children.
Amnesty International investigated nine Israeli air strikes that resulted in the killing of civilians and in the damage and destruction of residential buildings in the Gaza Strip. Three separate attacks on the first night of bombing on 9 May, in which precision-guided bombs targeted three senior Al-Quds Brigades commanders, killed 10 Palestinian civilians and injured at least 20 others. They were launched into densely populated urban areas at 2am when families were sleeping at home, which suggests that those who planned and authorized the attacks anticipated – and likely disregarded – the disproportionate harm to civilians. Intentionally launching disproportionate attacks, a pattern Amnesty International has documented in previous Israeli operations, is a war crime.
Palestinian armed groups based in the Gaza Strip, led by Al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, fired indiscriminate rockets which killed two civilians in Israel and three Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip, which should also be investigated as war crimes.
“It has been a month since the ceasefire agreement between Israeli authorities and Palestinian armed groups, but the suffering that these recurrent Israeli offensives inflict upon the civilian population in the Gaza Strip never ceases. In our investigation, we heard vivid accounts of bombs obliterating homes, of fathers digging their little girls out from under rubble, of a teenager fatally injured as she lay in bed holding a teddy bear. More frightening than any of this is the near certainty that, unless perpetrators are held to account, these horrifying scenes will be repeated,” said Heba Morayef, Middle East and North Africa Regional Director at Amnesty International.
“That we have been documenting the same patterns of unlawful killings and destruction over and over again is an indictment of the international community’s failure to hold Israel accountable. Israel’s impunity for the war crimes it repeatedly commits against Palestinians, and for its cruel ongoing 16-year illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip, emboldens further violations and makes injustice chronic.”
The five-day offensive
On 9 May, Israeli forces began a five-day offensive on the Gaza Strip, apparently targeting members and facilities of the Al-Quds Brigades. The Israeli attacks killed 11 Palestinian civilians, including four children. The Ministry of Health in Gaza reported that 190 people were injured, of whom 64 were children.
The Israeli military operations damaged 2,943 housing units, including 103 homes which were completely destroyed. At least 1,244 Palestinians have been displaced due to the offensive, according to numbers provided by the Palestinian Ministry of Public Works.
On 10 May, Al-Quds Brigades, along with smaller armed groups, responded to Israel’s attack by firing hundreds of rockets towards Israeli towns over four days, killing two civilians in Israel – Inga Avramyan, an 82-year-old Israeli woman, and Abdallah Abu Jibbeh, a 35-year-old Palestinian worker from the Gaza Strip – and injuring 40 others, according to the Israeli Ministry of Health. Rockets by Palestinian armed groups that misfired or fell short also killed three Palestinian civilians in the north of the Gaza Strip, including two children Layan Mdoukh, aged 10, and Yazan Alayan, aged 16. This is not an isolated incident, Amnesty International’s most recent findings on Palestinian casualties caused by rocket misfire were published after the August 2022 military operation.
“Known for their inherent inaccuracy, rocket attacks by Palestinian armed groups are indiscriminate; these attacks must be investigated as war crimes and victims be granted prompt and adequate redress,” said Heba Morayef.
At 2am on 9 May, Israeli air strikes hit a two-storey building in the al-Sha’af district in Gaza City with a GBU-39 bomb, a small diameter bomb manufactured by Boeing Defense, Space & Security, and exported to Israel from the United States. The strike targeted the apartment of Khalil al-Bahtini, a senior member of Al-Quds Brigades. It killed Khalil al-Bahtini, his wife Leila al-Bahtini and their four-year-old daughter Hajar. The neighbouring apartment was also struck, killing 19-year-old Dania Adas and her 17-year-old sister Iman.
Alaa Adas, Dania and Iman’s father told Amnesty International that he was woken up by his bedroom door falling on him. He ran to Iman and Dania’s room and found his daughters in bed. Dania, whose wedding was due in July, was already dead. Iman, a keen student with dreams of becoming a doctor, was still breathing and was rushed to the hospital where she died a few hours later.
“Instead of graduating and studying at university and fulfilling her wish of becoming a doctor, she [Iman] died,” said Adas.
“As civilians, the lives of Leila and Hajar al-Bahtini and Dania and Iman Adas should have been protected, not snuffed out. Israel has an obligation to cancel an attack if it becomes apparent that it may disproportionately harm civilians and civilian objects. Intentionally launching a disproportionate attack is a war crime,” said Morayef.
Israel’s deliberate destruction of civilian homes also took a heavy toll on civilians in the Gaza Strip, including on people living with disabilities.
On 13 May, Israeli forces targeted a four-storey building in the Jabalia refugee camp. The building was home to 42 people from the extended Nabhan family. Five members of the family live with disabilities, including three being wheelchair users.
Hussam Nabhan, an eyewitness to the attack, told Amnesty International he had received a call he believed to be from an Israeli intelligence officer at around 6pm, saying residents of the building had 15 minutes to evacuate. Hussam told the caller that there were people with disabilities in the building and they needed more time, but the caller just repeated the warning.
After the strike, 22-year-old Haneen Nabhan was so traumatized she found it hard to talk, saying that her wheelchair had been buried under the rubble of her home so she could no longer move around independently.
Research by Amnesty International found no evidence that the Nabhan building – and other residential buildings destroyed or damaged during the last two days of the offensive – had been used to store weapons or any other military equipment or that rockets had been launched from their direct vicinity.
“The root cause of this unspeakable violence is Israel’s system of apartheid. This system must be dismantled, the blockade of the Gaza Strip immediately lifted, and those responsible for the crime of apartheid, war crimes and other crimes under international law must be held to account.” said Morayef.
As Israeli authorities continue to prevent Amnesty International from accessing the Gaza Strip, the organization contracted a local field researcher who collected evidence and interviewed witnesses at strike sites, both during and after the five-day offensive. Amnesty International researchers conducted follow-up interviews and analyzed satellite imagery and other open-source evidence, including footage of the attacks and their aftermath, along with statements from Israeli officials.
The unlawful attacks on Palestinian homes and the illegal blockade imposed on Gaza since 2007, are part and parcel of Israel’s apartheid system against Palestinians which amounts to the crime against humanity of apartheid under both the Apartheid Convention and the Rome Statute.