Israel has been the occupying power with overall control of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the Gaza Strip and the West Bank including East Jerusalem, since June 1967. The Oslo Accords agreed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO, the representative of the Palestinian people) in 1994 provided for a degree of Palestinian self-rule in parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Neither the establishment of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 1994 nor the recognition of Palestine as a non-member observer state at the UN General Assembly in 2012 changed the status of the Occupied Palestinian Territories under international law. They remain territories under Israeli military occupation over which Israel maintains effective control, including control of the population, natural resources and, with the exception of Gaza’s short southern border with Egypt, their land and sea borders and air space.
In 2006 Hamas won elections to the PA’s legislature. This led a number of states to impose economic and other sanctions and increased tensions with Fatah, Hamas’s rival party, culminating in violent conflict. Within Gaza, armed clashes between security forces and militias loyal to Fatah on the one hand and Hamas on the other hand escalated in the first half of 2007 and resulted in Hamas seizing control of PA institutions in the Gaza Strip. Following this, Hamas installed a de facto administration that has remained in power since June 2007. For almost seven years two separate Palestinian governments operated – one dominated by the Fatah party in the West Bank, and one run by the Hamas party in the Gaza Strip. This situation persisted until unity talks resulted in the appointment of a “national consensus” government, including four ministers from the Gaza Strip, which was sworn into office by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, on 2 June 2014. The cabinet of independent technocrats was tasked with running civilian affairs in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and preparing for parliamentary and presidential elections. However, significant disagreements between Fatah and Hamas remain unresolved, no date for elections has been set and the Hamas de facto administration has continued to control government institutions and the security forces in practice.
On 8 July 2014, Israel launched a military operation codenamed Operation Protective Edge, the third major offensive in Gaza since 2008. It announced that the operation was aimed at stopping rocket attacks from Gaza on Israeli civilians. A ground operation followed, launched on the night of 17 July. According to the Israeli army, one of the primary objectives of the ground operation was to destroy the tunnel system constructed by Palestinian armed groups, particularly those with shafts discovered near residential areas located in Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip.
The scale of death, destruction, displacement and injury wrought by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip during the 50-day war in July and August 2014 was unprecedented. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), over 2,220 people were killed in the Gaza Strip, at least 1,492 of whom were civilians – 551 children, 642 men and 299 women. Over 11,000 Palestinians were injured, up to 10% of them permanently. At the height of the hostilities, an estimated 485,000 people in the Strip were internally displaced, living in dire conditions in emergency shelters in UN or government schools, in public buildings, or with host families. There are no bomb shelters or warning systems to help protect civilians in the Gaza Strip, and no place was truly safe during the hostilities; on several occasions civilians were killed when UN schools designated as emergency shelters came under fire.
Across the Gaza Strip, homes were destroyed or severely damaged in Israeli attacks, and in some areas entire neighbourhoods were left in rubble. According to damage assessments conducted by UN agencies and the Ministry of Public Works and Housing, over 19,000 housing units were destroyed or rendered uninhabitable, leaving approximately 100,000 people homeless, while nearly 150,000 other housing units were damaged but remained inhabitable. This added to a substantial housing deficit that predated the 2014 hostilities, due largely to severe restrictions on imports of construction materials imposed by Israel as part of the blockade since June 2007, and the destruction of homes in the 2008-2009 and 2012 conflicts. The essential infrastructure in Gaza was seriously affected; not only was its only power plant severely damaged, but the damage to the water and wastewater system left 20-30% of households without access to municipal water. Commercial property, farmland, agricultural infrastructure, health facilities, and educational institutions all suffered heavy damage during the conflict. Gaza’s economy, already heavily aid-dependent from the cumulative effects of seven years of Israeli blockade, was further devastated, with almost 45% of the workforce unemployed in the fourth quarter of 2014, one of the highest rates in the world. A year after the conflict, reconstruction has barely begun, due to continuing Israeli restrictions on imports, unfulfilled donor pledges, and ongoing disputes between the national consensus government based in Ramallah and the Hamas authorities in Gaza.
Israeli forces committed serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes, during the hostilities. Israeli violations included direct attacks on civilians and civilian objects using precision weaponry, and attacks using munitions such as artillery, which cannot be precisely targeted, on very densely populated residential areas. In addition to the contribution made by this report, Amnesty International documented and analysed Israeli violations, including attacks that constituted war crimes, in documents issued in 2014. Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture have also collaborated to create the Gaza Platform, an interactive map of attacks by Israeli forces on Gaza that took place between 8 July and 26 August 2014. The tool enables its users to explore a vast collection of data, gathered on the ground by the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), as well as by Amnesty International fieldworkers, during and after the conflict. It reveals trends by making links between dispersed individual events and detecting patterns of attacks across the 50-day time span of the conflict, thereby contributing to an assessment of the conduct of Israeli forces and its conformity or otherwise with the provisions of international humanitarian law.
During the conflict, Palestinian armed groups fired thousands of unguided rockets and mortars towards Israel, in many cases directing them towards Israeli civilians and civilian objects. Such attacks violate international humanitarian law and some constituted war crimes. These attacks killed six civilians in Israel, including a child, in Israel, wounded others, and damaged civilian property. The conduct of Palestinian armed groups, including firing from residential areas and the use of indiscriminate munitions that cannot be accurately directed at a military target, also endangered civilians in the Gaza Strip. In one case, the available evidence indicates that a rocket fired by a Palestinian armed group on 28 July 2014 killed 11 children and two adults in the al-Shati refugee camp, north-west of Gaza City. Amnesty International has documented and analysed these attacks in detail.
Hamas forces also committed serious human rights abuses within Gaza during the conflict, including abductions, torture, and summary and extrajudicial executions. They targeted Palestinians they accused of assisting Israel, subjecting at least 23 of them to summary, extrajudicial executions. Hamas forces also abducted or attacked members and supporters of Fatah, their main rival political organization within Gaza, including former members of the PA security forces, torturing some of them. Amnesty International has published a report on these abuses.
The Hannibal Directive is a secret Israeli army operational order designed to deal with the event of a capture of an Israeli soldier by armed forces of non-state organizations.
The origins of the Directive can be traced back to May 1985, when Israel and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC) signed a prisoner exchange deal that led to the release of 1,150 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for three Israeli soldiers captured in 1982. The prisoner exchange was controversial among both the military and general public in Israel who felt that the price of the exchange was too high and would endanger Israel’s security. The military feared the deal would encourage further attempts at capturing Israeli soldiers and create public pressure to release prisoners.
The Israeli army drew up the Directive shortly after Hizbullah, a political party with an armed wing based in Lebanon, captured two Israeli soldiers in southern Lebanon in June 1986. The Israeli army exposed the existence of the Directive in 2003 and some of its guiding principles have since been discussed in Israeli media.
In the event of a situation in which one or several Israeli soldier(s) are captured, the Directive authorizes Israeli army field commanders to activate artillery fire and air force strikes around the entire area where the capture has occurred, without seeking permission from headquarters, which would be required in other circumstances. “The kidnapping must be stopped by all means even at the price of hitting and harming our own forces”, Israeli media have reported the Directive as stating. The Directive apparently does not, however, acknowledge the potential increased risk to civilians posed by such an approach.
The Directive was designed to deal in particular with the scenario of soldiers captured in a getaway vehicle. A revealed part of the Directive reads: “If the vehicle or the abductors do not stop, single-shot (sniper) fire should be aimed at them, deliberately, in order to hit the abductors, even if this means hitting our soldiers. In any event, everything will be done to stop the vehicle and not allow it to escape.”
Asa Kasher, a professor of Professional Ethics and Philosophy of Practice at Tel Aviv University who was involved in drafting the army’s ethical code and was consulted in framing the Directive, has elaborated on what “everything” means in this context. He said the Directive allows the Israeli army to risk the lives of soldiers during attempts to rescue them, but not to intentionally kill them. In an interview in 2003, Yossi Peled, then chief of the Northern Command (the command responsible for the northern border with Syria and Lebanon) and one of the authors of the original Directive, explained what risk he thought was reasonable: “I wouldn't drop a one-tonne bomb on the vehicle, but I would hit it with a tank shell”.
Beyond the Directive’s official wording, the Israeli army appears to have developed an “oral tradition” whereby soldiers have been made to understand that the death of captured soldiers is preferable to them being taken alive. According to this interpretation of the Directive, the damage that a captive would cause is considerably higher than the death of a soldier. In 1988 an Israeli officer was recorded briefing his soldiers as follows: “‘an IDF [Israel Defense Forces] soldier was kidnapped’ no longer features in our lexicon; we must stop the kidnapping at any price even if it means targeting our soldier. We prefer our soldier hit than in their hands”. In 1999 Shaul Mofaz, then chief of staff of the IDF, explained: “In certain senses, with all the pain that saying this entails, an abducted soldier, in contrast to a soldier who has been killed, is a national problem.”
The oral interpretation of the Directive seems to have been further reinforced when three operations by armed groups resulted in the capture of Israeli soldiers in the 2000s: Hizbullah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers in 2000, Hamas’s armed wing’s capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit through a cross-border tunnel in 2006 and Hizbullah’s capture of two more soldiers in a cross-border raid the same year. Before Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli army’s major incursion into Gaza in 2008-9, the commander of an infantry battalion told his soldiers he expected them to commit suicide rather than be abducted: “no soldier from the 51st Battalion can be kidnapped, at any cost, not in any circumstance. That can mean that a soldier should detonate his hand grenade and blow himself up [together] with the person trying to abduct him.” In 2011 Gilad Shalit was exchanged for 1,027 prisoners, most of them Palestinian.