Israel unlawfully destroyed Gaza property, says report


THE ISRAELI army wantonly destroyed civilian property during its 22-day offensive against Gaza, Human Rights Watch has reported.

The human rights group says Israeli forces targeted buildings and other facilities that had no “no military significance” in “grave” breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

In a 116-page document, entitled I Lost Everything: Israel’s Unlawful Destruction of Property in the Gaza Conflict, the report documents the complete destruction of orchards and farms as well as 189 buildings. These included 11 factories, eight warehouses and 170 residential buildings, rendering 971 people homeless during Operation Cast Lead which began on December 27th, 2008 and ended on January 18th, 2009.

The report said that a dozen specific targetings documented in the report account for only 5 per cent of the homes, warehouses and factories destroyed during the conflict. The report stated: “These cases describe instances in which Israeli forces caused extensive destruction of homes, factories, farms and greenhouses in areas under [Israeli] control without any evident military purpose”.

The human rights group said there had been no evidence of fighting in the vicinity of these facilities at the time of the attacks and Israeli bulldozers demolished the property after fighting had ceased and Israel had taken full control.

In “many cases, the destruction was carried out during the final days of the campaign when an Israeli withdrawal was imminent”, HRW said. “Individuals responsible for committing or ordering such destruction should be prosecuted for war crimes.”

At least 1,445 Palestinians died, the vast majority civilians, and 13 Israelis, including 10 soldiers, were killed.

HRW obtained satellite photographs of the area and interviewed 94 people in Gaza about their experiences during the campaign.

In a written comment on the report, an Israeli army spokes- man stated: “The level of damage to the infrastructure was proportional, and did not deviate from that which was required to fulfil the operational requirements.”

HRW also criticised Israel for the continuing blockade of Gaza, imposed after the capture by Hamas affiliates of an Israeli soldier in 2006, and called for an end to all restrictions on imports and exports. The blockade has made reconstruction impossible.

At least 3,000 homes were destroyed and 17,000 others were damaged during the Israeli campaign.

A second report published by Amnesty International accused Israel of harassing two Palestinian citizens of Israel who were arrested during raids on their homes last week.

“Ameer Makhoul is a key human rights defender, well known for his civil society activism on behalf of the Palestinian citizens of Israel,” said Philip Luther, deputy director of the organisation’s Middle East and North African programme.

Omar Said, an activist with the National Democratic Assembly, was also detained. His party holds three seats in the Israeli parliament and campaigns for Israel to become a “state for all its citizens”, including the 1.5 million Palestinians who account for about 20 per cent of the country’s population but do not receive the same opportunities and amenities accorded to Jewish citizens.