Women, Children Biggest Victims of Israeli Airstrikes

Women, Children Biggest Victims of Israeli AirstrikesWomen, Children Biggest Victims of Israeli Airstrikes

At least 844 Palestinians were killed as a result of airstrikes on homes during Israel’s summer war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, according to an Associated Press investigation. The youngest to die was a 4-day-old girl, the oldest a 92-year-old man.

AP examined 247 Israeli airstrikes on homes, 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.

Under international rules of war, homes are considered protected civilian sites unless used for military purposes. Israel claims it attacked only legitimate targets, but Palestinian resistance movement Hamas says Israel’s warplanes often struck without regard for civilians.

The investigation showed that 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 fighters – or just over 11 percent of the total – though the actual number could be higher since armed groups have not released detailed casualty lists.

  War Crimes Allegations

The number of civilian deaths has been a key issue in the highly charged battle over the dominant narrative of the 50-day war, the third and most destructive confrontation between Israel and Hamas since 2008.

The war erupted in July after a month of escalating tensions. Palestinians assert that Israel attacked Gaza with disproportionate force and callous disregard for civilians.

“Either they have the worst army in the world that constantly misses targets and hits civilians, or they are deliberately killing civilians,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). If most of those killed are civilians, “you cannot call them collateral damage,” she said.

Israel says it tried to avoid harming civilians. “Our position is very clear. Israel did not commit war crimes,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate the war.

Israel’s military says that it is conducting its own investigation of any wrongdoing by its forces. But rights groups in Israel and abroad demand an independent investigation, including of the strikes on houses, arguing these were a policy approved at the highest levels and the Israeli military cannot investigate itself in this case.

Human rights groups said Israel must be more transparent. “In these specific attacks, the onus is on the Israeli authorities to come clean and say what it was they were targeting, and how it was they could justify targeting a house full of children and other civilians,” said Philip Luther of Amnesty International, which has looked into eight house attacks and alleged some amounted to war crimes.

  Israeli Court Decision

Israel’s Supreme Court put an end to decade-long legal proceedings on whether the Israeli army would be held liable for the March 2003 death of American national Rachel Corrie, a pro-Palestinian demonstrator crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer while attempting to prevent a housing demolition in the Gaza Strip.

Corrie’s family was pursuing a case against Israel’s defence ministry, alleging the army was guilty either of intentionally murdering Rachel, or of negligence while operating the bulldozer. The family appealed a 2012 ruling delivered by a lower court in Haifa that declared Corrie’s death an accident.

The court noted that Israel cannot be held accountable for events that take place in a war zone.

“Our family is disappointed but not surprised,” Corrie’s family said in a statement after the ruling. “We had hoped for a different outcome, though we have come to see through this experience how deeply all of Israel’s institutions are implicated in the impunity enjoyed by the Israeli military.”

The decision has left some questioning the impunity afforded to the Israeli army.

“A key aim of the laws of war is to protect civilians from unnecessary harm,” Bill Van Esveld, a senior researcher for the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch, said. “The ruling dangerously disregards the laws of war by granting blanket immunity to Israeli forces when engaged in ‘wartime activity’, without even assessing their conduct.”