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Unprecedented Review of Israel's War Crimes

World  (tags: Israel, war, crimes, civilians, children, women elderly, Gaza, ICC, airstrikes, Palestinians )

- 1371 days ago -
The youngest killed by the Israelis was a 4-day-old girl, the oldest a 92-year-old man.


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Sam H (410)
Saturday February 14, 2015, 3:19 am
RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — The youngest to die was a 4-day-old girl, the oldest a 92-year-old man.

They were among at least 844 Palestinians killed as a result of airstrikes on Gaza homes during Israel's summer war with the Islamic militant group, Hamas.

Under the rules of war, homes are protected civilian sites unless used for military purposes. Israel says it attacked only legitimate targets, alleging militants used the houses to hide weapons, fighters and command centers. Palestinians say Israel's warplanes often struck without regard for civilians.

The Associated Press examined 247 airstrikes, interviewing witnesses, visiting attack sites and compiling a detailed casualty count.

The review found that 508 of the dead — just over 60 percent — were children, women and older men, all presumed to be civilians. Hamas says it did not use women as fighters in the war, and an Israel-based research group, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, which tracks militants among the war dead, said it has no evidence women participated in combat.

Sam H (410)
Saturday February 14, 2015, 3:20 am
In addition:

— Children younger than 16 made up one-third of the total: 280 killed, including 19 babies and 108 preschoolers between the ages of 1 and 5.

— In 83 strikes, three or more members of one family died.

— Among those killed were 96 confirmed or suspected militants — just over 11 percent of the total — though the actual number could be higher since armed groups have not released detailed casualty lists.

— The remaining 240 dead were males between the ages of 16 and 59 whose names did not appear in AP searches of militant websites or on street posters honoring fighters.

Sam H (410)
Saturday February 14, 2015, 3:25 am
The review was the most painstaking attempt to date to try to determine who was killed in strikes on homes; Israel's army and Gaza militants have refused to release information about targets and casualties. The count tracked all known airstrikes on homes, though not all strikes had witnesses and damage inspected by the AP wasn't always conclusive.

The number of civilian deaths has been a key issue in the highly charged battle over the dominant narrative of the 50-day war.

Fighting erupted in July, after a month of escalating tensions triggered by Hamas' abduction and killing of three Israeli teens in the West Bank, and an Israeli arrest sweep of Hamas supporters that led to renewed Gaza rocket fire on Israel.

Israel says it tried to avoid harming civilians, even as Hamas embedded weapons and fighters in residential areas.

"Our position is very clear. Israel did not commit war crimes," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon.

Palestinians say Israel attacked with disproportionate force and callous disregard for civilians.

If most of those killed are civilians, "you cannot call them collateral damage," said Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian spokeswoman.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has asked the International Criminal Court to investigate the war, a move that could pave the way for possible prosecution of both Israel and Hamas.

International law experts note that a high civilian death toll alone does not constitute conclusive evidence of war crimes. But it "raises a red flag and suggests that further investigation is warranted," said Alex Whiting, a former top official at the ICC in The Hague, Netherlands.

Israel would not say how many of its 5,000 air attacks were directed at homes. However, it insists it only aimed at legitimate military targets.

Asked for comment on the AP's findings, an Israeli army spokesman, Lt. Peter Lerner, said that "one cannot draw broad conclusions" by examining only a small percentage of Israel's airstrikes.

Reuven Erlich, a former senior Israeli intelligence officer, questioned the reliability of Gaza witnesses and said only military experts could determine what happened in each strike.

According to preliminary U.N. figures, at least 1,483 Palestinian civilians were killed in the war — 66 percent of the overall death toll of 2,205.

Gaza militants fired about 4,300 rockets and mortar rounds at Israel, according to the Israeli military. The barrages drove tens of thousands of Israelis from their homes to seek cover. Five civilians were killed, among them a 4-year-old boy, along with 67 soldiers.

Advocacy groups and U.N. investigators have said that Hamas' battle tactics over the years, including indiscriminate rocket fire at Israel, amount to war crimes.

Sam H (410)
Saturday February 14, 2015, 3:26 am
The AP examined cases in which people were killed in homes or adjacent yards, including those hit by shrapnel or debris from attacks on neighboring buildings. The count excluded artillery strikes which are inherently inaccurate.

Starting in November, three reporters visited the vast majority of attack sites, interviewed survivors and collected hundreds of death certificates — documents recognized by Israel as proof of mortality.

The youngest victim, Shayma Sheik Ali, died four days after her pregnant mother's body was pulled from the rubble of their home in the Deir el-Balah refugee camp.

The infant was delivered by emergency cesarean section, her relatives said. She died July 29, according to her death certificate.

The oldest victim, 92-year-old Abdel Karim Abu Nijem, was killed along with a son, three grandsons and three other relatives, in an airstrike on his home in the Jebaliya refugee camp. Islamic Jihad later confirmed that two fighters were also killed in that strike.

A nephew said the family received no warning. "Otherwise we would have fled," said Mohammed Abu Nijem, whose 29-year-old wife, Soha, and 3-year-old daughter, Ragheb, were killed.

The military said it warned civilians when possible, including through phone calls or "knocks on the roof" with non-explosive missiles, and it aborted some strikes due to civilians in the vicinity.

In January, the Palestinians joined the International Criminal Court, opening the way for possible investigations of both Israel and Hamas. In response, the ICC prosecutor launched a preliminary review of whether a full probe is warranted.

Israel's military says it is conducting a transparent investigation of any wrongdoing by its forces in the Gaza war. However, rights groups in Israel and abroad demand an independent investigation, arguing that house strikes were part of a policy approved at the highest levels and the Israeli military cannot investigate itself.

Sandrea S (278)
Saturday February 14, 2015, 2:55 pm
Ha ha, right! ---> Israel's military says it is conducting a transparent investigation of any wrongdoing

Past Member (0)
Saturday February 14, 2015, 3:42 pm
Ha, Ha, right! Someone has to do it and it sure isn't going to be plo/pa/hamas/palestinians!!

Rose Becke (141)
Saturday February 14, 2015, 3:44 pm
It must be an Independent review

Angelika R (143)
Saturday February 14, 2015, 3:52 pm
"one cannot draw broad conclusions" by examining only a small percentage of Israel's airstrikes."
Well, I CAN and going by the account of incidents that WERE examined that strongly suggests the real percentage would amount to much higher than 66%.

Given that IDF considered the whole of Gaza a "military base" and acting accordingly, perhaps we should be happy there weren't 1,xx mio casualties, victims that is.

Here's a "knock on your door" Mr Lerner: better come up with some solid proof, or else Ms Bensouda's investigators surely will.
Forget all about IDF in-house "investigations"- not only opaque but in most cases simply skipped.> waste dept.
Thx Sam!

Angelika R (143)
Saturday February 14, 2015, 3:59 pm
While common sense tells you that the sheer number alone of 5000 airstrikes on such a densely populated "cage" in essence cannot possibly be sparing civilians, it isn't the number alone but the OUTLAWED MATERIAL used as well.

Freya H (345)
Saturday February 14, 2015, 5:02 pm
The more Israel's atrocities come to light, the fewer people will be willing to defend this vile "sacred cow" no matter what. Israel needs to be punished for its evil deeds.

Past Member (0)
Saturday February 14, 2015, 9:30 pm
Gazans elected Hamas who called for the war with Israel.

Unfortunately, Gazans did not realize that Hamas does not have the strength of Nazis, while Israelis are no defenseless Jews anymore and can fight the Arab aggressors back. Now Gazans have no one to blame other than themselves.

I hope they will learn their lesson NOT to elect racist and militant parties to power anymore.


Stephen Brian (23)
Saturday February 14, 2015, 10:07 pm
Far from unprecedented. Also not really a review.

Error #1: The evidence necessary to support meaningful conclusions cannot be gathered. The central defensive strategy of urban militias involves making it difficult or impossible to differentiate between militants (combatants or their rear-echelon support) and innocent civilians. If the AP has a way of doing this with the kind of precision such a review requires, there are about a hundred generals and the directors of nearly every spy-agency on Earth who would love to know how. This is just a news-agency making claims, again, well beyond what it could possibly support.

Error #2: Regardless of crazy conspiracy-theories, the Israeli armed forces do not have perfect knowledge of everything. Homes lose their protected status and can legitimately be attacked when used for military purposes, but how would the force doing the striking know exactly which ones? Without perfect knowledge of everything, some standard of evidence short of absolute certainty must be used to identify legitimate targets. More to the point, under conventions of war, they are supposed to launch these strikes without regard to innocent civilians who will be caught in the middle. Does that mean innocent people will die? Yes, and that is the horror of war. More importantly, would even more innocent civilians die if militias were granted impunity by the laws of war until they were discredited and inevitably discarded entirely? Yes, and that is why ethical laws of war give great leeway in striking such targets.

Error #3: The proxies used to identify civilians are just wrong. Combatants and rear-echelon support by women, children, and the elderly are far from unheard-of in the Gaza Strip, and child-combatants have been sen as well. One of the central problems is the conflation of "militant" and "combatant". You don't have to pick up a gun to be part of an army. The U.S. soldiers in Iraq were a great example: Over half of them, the soldiers actually deployed, not counting the ones back home, were support-personnel who never left base. They were vital tot he war-effort and as much soldiers as the combat-arms soldiers, but not combatants. The same applies to Hamas and every other force on Earth: Any army using at least 20th century technology will have a large enough proportion of support-personnel that only counting combatants as militants is badly misleading. The second proxy used, cases where three or more members of one family were killed, is also entirely misleading: The indoctrination necessary to join a militia happens at home. There is a serious correlation between one member of a family being a militant and a direct relative being one too.

Error #4: Another misleading number. Typically, houses are struck because they are used for weapons-storage or in a precursor to a ground-offensive, eliminating firing-positions. (An effective ground-strike on the city of Gaza, keeping it intact as the Soviets did with Berlin in WW2, assuming similar manpower-requirements apply, would require a force larger than the entire IDF including reservists.) Unless the strike is used as air-support for ongoing ground-conflict, it is rare that such structures will be targeted due to the known presence of militants. Even rarer is the case where the militants in such structures, struck either due to weapons-storage, logistical use (tunnels), or air-support, are previously identified. The 11% was just those ones, not the total dead militants. That number cannot be determined due to the militias' defensive strategy, but the 11% sets a lower limit on its possibilities.

Error #5: Bombs dropped by aircraft are not much more accurate than artillery strikes. People seem to have this idea that bombs dropped from aircraft in motion can fall to balance on a needle, but Israeli guidance-systems (SPICE and non-GPS JDAMs), among the best in the world, under perfect conditions, can manage to get within ten feet of the target, half the time. Take into account real conditions, and blast-radius needed to reliably destroy the target will catch innocent bystanders. This is a large part of why war is something to avoid.

Ultimately, I would very much like to see an independent investigation. However, I do not believe that a sufficiently neutral interested body exists to conduct one. It is unfortunate, and far from the only case where that occurs.

Stan B (123)
Sunday February 15, 2015, 2:28 am
Thanks for presenting some facts, Stephen. I'm looking forward to Sam's response.

Angelika R (143)
Sunday February 15, 2015, 5:17 am
Above all, let's not forget that there simply ISN'T and WASN'T ANY SAFE HIDING PLACE , no matter if time delay till strikes would be 1 or 20 minutes! And Israel most definitely was and is aware o this fact!

Lona G (67)
Sunday February 15, 2015, 8:04 am
This investigation by Associated Press seems a good starting point for a further INDEPENDENT investigation. As the article mentions: "International law experts note that a high civilian death toll alone does not constitute conclusive evidence of war crimes. But it "raises a red flag and suggests that further investigation is warranted," said Alex Whiting, a former top official at the ICC in The Hague, Netherlands." As others are quick to label Palestinian attacks on Israel as criminal: "Advocacy groups and U.N. investigators have said that Hamas' battle tactics over the years, including indiscriminate rocket fire at Israel, amount to war crimes.", it stands to reason that these AP findings do indeed warrant a further independent investigation.

And yes, it may be difficult to put together the right investigating team but if both sides have an equal say about its members, an independent investigation can and should be held. If either side objects to the formation of such a team, that should tell us enough about their true intentions.

Past Member (0)
Sunday February 15, 2015, 5:45 pm
@Angelika "there simply ISN'T and WASN'T ANY SAFE HIDING PLACE".

Hamas had enough concrete to build tunnels under the whole Gaza and into Israel. There was enough concrete for several hospitals and subways. Yet Hamas did not built a single bomb shelter for Gazans, while calling for the war with Israel.

Israel heard Hamas and built those bomb shelters, lots of them. That also took lots of concrete.

Gazans should demand accounting from Hamas for deliberate endangering their lives and leaving them without bomb shelters at the predictable war.

Carol F (273)
Sunday February 15, 2015, 8:44 pm
And to your questions No I didn't miss it.! I know what the ratio is between Israel & Palestine , not good or fair for Palestine!!!
No one seems to sorry that children & their mothers got killed!! On either side people have sacrificed their lives what?? What do they think they are fighting for????

Stephen Brian (23)
Sunday February 15, 2015, 10:12 pm
Hi Ros :)

Who would create such a neutral agency? While there certainly are those who just support the rule of law and they may constitute a genuinely neutral movement capable of building such an organization, they lack anything close to the clout to have that investigation accepted. It is kind of like the problem that I have with jury-selection for many very high-profile cases: If the media has polarized everybody before a jury could be sequestered, it may be impossible to find neutral jury-members and due process, as typically envisioned, may be impossible. This is analogous, but if the media had been polarizing everybody, globally, for generations.

I've also seen videos showing the accuracy of modern bombs. The standard measure is the median distance between the target and where the bomb typically strikes, which helps determine the yield of the bomb used for any given target. This is the Circular Error Probable (CEP). Here is the data on the two guidance-packages used by Israel:
This is mostly about the JDAM as used for self-propelled bombs (missiles).
This one, used for bombs, has a CEP of 3 m, which is the best Israel can manage. The U.S. can do better, but only when satellite-signals are good and it can take full advantage of GPS-guidance in the way only U.S. forces can.

Sometimes they fall well below the CEP distance from the target. Sometimes they fall well above it. The people with the camera taking the video in the link were lucky that the attack they saw did not fall into the second category.

Eleonora Oldani (37)
Monday February 16, 2015, 1:57 pm

Thank you Sam - it's a first step I'd assume. What made me stop is

""Our position is very clear. Israel did not commit war crimes," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon."

WOW - big news!! I've never seen a country or a person coming forward and saying I/we committed war crimes ... even the Nazis at the Nuremberg Trial didn't want to see/admit what they did. It was and is "business as usual" for the perpetrators.

I fully agree with Lona's comment - if one side ALWAYS and WITHOUT exception refuses any impartial investigation then that side definitely has something to hide. It's simple ABC. Take the team of the Jenin Commission as an example of which one is a good family friend of my parents - they all have a long and known record for impartiality and fairness; no hidden agenda, no ulterior motives. We sure all remember the knee-jerk actions and blackmailing that took place from Israel's side (via the US) until this commission was dismantled a few days before they should have started their investigations

And taking this testimony as an example there sure would have been plenty to investigate.

If I'd go by Stephen's argument about a "neutral body" ... then we would never ever be able to have any court cases and no criminals being brought to justice. Funny enough that this argument always (but only) pops up when Israel is involved and when it is "against" Israel i.e. when the voices who shout "war crimes and crimes against humanity" can no longer be silenced.

As for the continuously coming up argument of "self-defense" I believe we all (??) agree that an occupying power has no right of self-defense ... Or as I read recently in a posting of a dear friend:

“You steal my land – you destroy my olive trees – you build walls around me – you blockade me in – you drop bombs on me – you kill my fellow citizens. But I am to blame – I threw a rocket back.”


Stan B (123)
Monday February 16, 2015, 6:36 pm
Looks like Sam has left the building, Ros.

Stephen Brian (23)
Tuesday February 17, 2015, 3:48 pm
Hi Ros :)

The problem is that it doesn't matter if neither one gets a say. If you can find a third-party accepted as both credible on the issue and neutral by both sides, I will find you and bring you a cookie.

To go down two flights of stairs in a hurry, it takes me about 2 - 3 seconds. For my grandmother to cross an apartment the size of a small house in the year before she died, unassisted except by her walker, without a hurry took about three minutes. I think you're overestimating the distances involved. The difference in timing might have been a glitch in the computer or the coordination, or it could have had to do with the type (and mobility) of the target.

Stephen Brian (23)
Thursday February 26, 2015, 2:46 pm
Hi Ros :)

I meant it the second way, because I doubt they would have any way of knowing if there were a disabled person present, or someone on the toilet really counting on those 10 - 15 minutes. If soldiers on the ground report heavy fire coming from a building that is not surrounded, air-support may bomb the building immediately, with no intention of letting enemy combatants escape. If there are heavy weapons stored in a building, like Fajr 5s, then they would be able to send a warning and bomb twenty minutes later because 6-meter rockets aren't going anywhere undetected so fast. Something in between, like Qassam rockets or a stockpile of guns, on the other hand, would allow some length of time in between those.

In a normal trial it would be up to a defendant's lawyer to point out bias. The problem is that for the normal system to work, there has to be an authority to which to appeal which would not allow bias to interfere. On the international stage, there is no unbiased authority to accept or reject a claim of bias by a defendant.
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