In implementing the Hannibal Directive in Rafah following the capture of Lieutenant Hadar Goldin on the morning of 1 August 2014, the Israeli army unleashed massive firepower that struck civilians in the street, in their homes and in moving vehicles, especially in the eastern areas of Rafah, including the vicinity of the Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital.
There is overwhelming evidence that Israeli forces committed disproportionate, or otherwise indiscriminate, attacks that killed scores of civilians in their homes, on the streets and in vehicles and injured many more, including through repeated use of artillery and other imprecise explosive weapons in densely populated civilian areas. Hundreds of homes and other civilian structures were destroyed or damaged. In some cases, there are indications that they directly fired at and killed civilians, including some who were fleeing. Such attacks continued even after Lieutenant Goldin was declared dead on 2 August.
International humanitarian law requires that parties choose appropriate means and methods of attack when military targets are located within residential areas. This requirement rules out the use of certain types of weapons and tactics. Given the presence of hundreds of civilians, many of whom were unable to leave their homes due to continuous aerial bombardment and tank fire, the Israeli army had a legal obligation to avoid use of imprecise explosive weapons and to take other feasible precautions to spare civilians and civilian objects. Throughout the period from 1 to 4 August, the Israeli army failed to verify that they were targeting military objectives and to take other necessary precautions. In some cases they warned civilians to stay in their homes which were then bombarded; in other instances they failed to provide safe routes for civilians who were attempting to flee under heavy fire.
Statements made by Israeli army commanders and soldiers to the Givati Brigade inquiry, on the one hand, and to Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence, on the other, suggest that some attacks that killed civilians and destroyed homes and property may have been intentionally carried out and motivated by a desire for revenge, to teach a lesson to, or to punish the population of Rafah for the capture of Lieutenant Goldin. There is consequently strong evidence that many such attacks in Rafah between 1 and 4 August were serious violations of international humanitarian law and constituted grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention or other war crimes.
To the extent that some of the violations committed by the Israeli army in Rafah between 1 and 4 August may have been carried out as part of a widespread or systematic attack on the civilian population in Rafah, in furtherance of a state policy, they may also constitute crimes against humanity.
The UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict examined the Israeli army attack on Rafah on 1 August and also raised serious concerns about the conformity of the Israeli army actions on that day with international law. The Commission’s findings, which are consistent with Amnesty International’s research, were that in eastern Rafah on 1 August it appeared that the Israeli army targeted all moving vehicles without distinction, and this, the Commission concluded, amounts to a deliberate attack against civilians and civilian objects and may amount to a war crime. The Commission also raised concerns that the Israeli army acted without respect to the principle of distinction, citing the excessive and prolonged use of mortar shells as well as the firing of hundreds of artillery and tank shells on a densely populated and built-up area. As regards the Hannibal Directive, the commission stated that, while preventing the capture or freeing of a soldier offers a military advantage, the loss of one soldier from an army such as that of Israel does not reduce military capability .Further, the leverage that a Palestinian armed group may gain from having captured a soldier cannot be part of the proportionality calculus of a commander responding to such a capture. The Commission concluded that the manner in which the Israeli army conducted its operations in Rafah appeared to have violated the principles of distinction and proportionality.
Israeli army commanders and officers can operate in confidence that they are unlikely to be held accountable for violations of international law due to the pervasive climate of impunity that has existed for decades. This is essentially due to the lack of independent, impartial and effective investigations. Despite the massive toll that Operation Protective Edge had on civilians in Gaza, almost one year after the conflict, military prosecutors have indicted only three soldiers for one incident of looting. A significant number of cases have been closed on the basis that no crimes were committed (this is the case in the majority of such decisions) or that there was insufficient evidence to indict. With regard to Israeli army operations in Rafah between 1 and 4 August, the Israeli authorities have failed to conduct genuine, effective, and prompt investigations into any of the allegations of serious violations of international humanitarian law documented in this report, let alone prosecute individuals, including commanders and civilian superiors, suspected of committing or ordering related crimes under international law. They have failed to ensure that victims have effective access to justice, ot to provide them with full and prompt reparation, including restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.
The events need to be independently and impartially investigated. Amnesty International’s view is that no official body capable of conducting such investigations currently exists in Israel. It therefore makes the following recommendations: