'Black Friday'

On 1 August 2014 Israel and Hamas agreed to a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire that would take effect at 8am that day. Four weeks after Israel launched a military offensive on Gaza, thousands of Palestinians who had sought refuge in makeshift shelters or with relatives prepared to return to their homes during the anticipated break in hostilities.

In Rafah, the southernmost city in the Gaza Strip, a group of Israeli soldiers patrolling an agricultural area west of the border encountered a group of Hamas fighters posted there. A fire fight ensued, resulting in the death of two Israeli soldiers and one Palestinian fighter. The Hamas unit captured an Israeli officer, Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, and took him into a tunnel. What followed became one of the deadliest Israeli attacks during the war; an intensive use of firepower, which lasted four days and killed scores of civilians (reports range from at least 135 to over 200), injured many more and destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes and other civilian structures, mostly on 1 August.

Bombs dropped in Israeli air strikes fall in eastern Rafah on 1 August 2014 at 12.26pm. © Private.
About the Report

In this report, Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture, a research team based at Goldsmiths, University of London, provide a detailed reconstruction of the events in Rafah from 1 August until 4 August 2014, when Israeli ground forces retreated to Gaza’s borders, although the conflict lasted for three more weeks. The report exposes the Israeli army’s response to the capture of Lieutenant Hadar Goldin and its implementation of the Hannibal Directive – a controversial command designed to deal with captures of soldiers by unleashing massive fire on persons, vehicles and buildings in the vicinity of the attack, despite the risk to civilians and the captured soldier.

The report recounts events by connecting various forms of information including: testimonies from victims and witnesses including medics, journalists, and human rights defenders in Rafah; reports by human rights and other organizations; news and media feeds; public statements and other information from Israeli and Palestinian official sources; and videos and photographs collected on the ground and from the media. The events are presented in the time and space in which they took place.

The main narrative of the report includes links to detailed case studies that describe individual incidents in which civilians were killed or injured and include testimonies collected by Amnesty International fieldworkers during the conflict or shortly afterwards, in August or September 2014 (one case study, that of the Abu Suleiman family, includes extracts from testimonies provided to the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights during the conflict). The case studies also include analysis of how the actions of the Israeli military violated international humanitarian law (the laws of war). The report presents relevant provisions of international law and analyses the adequacy or otherwise of the Israeli investigations carried out to date into the events of 1-4 August 2014. In addition, the report includes a detailed methodology section and a background section that sets out the context of the events in Rafah, namely the overall conflict of July-August 2014 and patterns of violations on both sides, as well as a brief history of the Hannibal Directive. Finally, on the basis of the information and analysis presented in the report as a whole, the report sets out conclusions on the extent to which the attacks of 1-4 August 2014 violated international humanitarian law and might amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as proposing recommendations for how justice can be achieved for victims and how such violations can be avoided in the future.

From Ceasefire to Carnage

On the night between 31 July and 1 August 2014 Israel and Hamas agreed to a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire, negotiated by the UN and the USA. The official announcement came at 1.18am on 1 August and read: “This humanitarian ceasefire will commence at 8am local time on Friday, August 1, 2014. It will last for a period of 72 hours unless extended. During this time, the forces on the ground will remain in place.” The ceasefire was supposed to lead to negotiations that would end the conflict. Following the announcement the Israeli officials stated that even during a ceasefire they would continue to search for and demolish tunnels within its lines. Hamas agreed to cease its cross-border rocket fire but said it did not agree to the Israeli army continuing to take actions against tunnels.

Following the announcement of the ceasefire, Colonel Ofer Winter, the commander of the Israeli army’s Givati Brigade (an infantry brigade in charge of the military operation in the area), ordered his troops to find and destroy a tunnel – at the time, the last known tunnel that had not been discovered and destroyed by the Israeli army – south-east of Rafah, about 2km north-west of the border with Israel. It was in an agricultural area with scattered homes, small plantations, fields and greenhouses. The military had previously occupied and searched the area but eventually retreated without finding the tunnel. On the night of 31 July - 1 August the area was beyond the Israeli army lines established within Gaza.

A Pléiades satellite image from 30 July 2014 showing south-eastern Rafah, with a red line marking the area where the capture of Lieutenant Hadar Goldin took place. © CNES 2014, Distribution AIRBUS DS, all rights reserved.
Pushing the Limit

According to the report of the Givati Brigade inquiry, commissioned by the Israel army to draw lessons from the military operation in Rafah, parts of which were made public, Colonel Winter ordered his forces to surround and isolate the possible tunnel area until 8am when the ceasefire was to come into effect. According to Colonel Winter, the intention was to create a line further into the Gaza Strip within which the Israeli army could continue searching for tunnels. Colonel Winter described this military manoeuvre to the Givati Brigade inquiry as “confusing” since it led to a situation whereby a tunnel harbouring Palestinian fighters existed within the area surrounded by the Israeli army during the ceasefire.

In a testimony given to Breaking the Silence, a junior infantry field officer who took part in the incursion describes his experience:

“The incursion occurred the night before the ceasefire. The entrance happened at midnight, and everyone knew that at 8am the next morning it would be over. We entered the area in order to destroy the entire tunneling infrastructure that still remains there. If you think about it, that really means every house and agricultural structure in the area. There was pressure to go in and finish the job very quickly. Just to purposelessly destroy stuff, to finish the job.”
Israeli army infantry Officer
Attacking the Frontier

According to this officer his unit destroyed about 12 structures, mostly one-story houses and agricultural structures.At 7.30am the ‘Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades (al-Qassam Brigades), Hamas’ military wing, tweeted about “battles in east Rafah”. At 7.34am they tweeted that “at 7am a group [of Hamas fighters] clashed with [Israeli] forces east of Rafah and caused many injuries and death to them [Israeli soldiers].” Hamas later claimed that the capturing of Lieutenant Goldin took place at this time. Medical staff in the Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital said casualties started arriving at the hospital around 8am.

The blast of an Israeli air strike, seen from Khirbet al-‘Adas, eastern Rafah, on 1 August 2014 at 7.33am. © Private.

At 7.33am Israeli fighter jets bombed the house of Suleiman Zayed Suleiman Abu Omran in Khirbet al-‘Adas, less than 200m north-east of the Abu Youssef al-Najjar roundabout, killing six civilians including one child. Suleiman Zayed Suleiman Abu Omran told Amnesty International:

“We were expecting 1 August to be a day of ceasefire but it turned out to be a day of war. F-16 airplanes from the occupiers [the Israeli army] bombed our house, killing six people.”
Suliman Zayid Suliman Abu Omran

According to Amnesty International’s research, there was no military target in the house.

Meanwhile, displaced Palestinian families started returning to their homes, believing the announcement of a ceasefire on the morning of 1 August signified a lull in fighting. This was in line with the ceasefire terms, which stated: “During this period, civilians in Gaza will receive urgently needed humanitarian relief, and the opportunity to carry out vital functions, including burying the dead, taking care of the injured and restocking food supplies.”

A Palestinian family returning to their home in eastern Rafah during the ceasefire, with the ruins of the house of the Abu Omran family in the background, on 1 August 2014 around 8am. © Private.

Hannibal Unleashed

The Fire fight

Around that time a group of six Israeli soldiers from the reconnaissance unit of the Givati Brigade was searching for a tunnel in an area of plantations and greenhouses. An officer from the Givati Brigade explained that the area was considered “dirty” (an area that has not been searched nor cleared of enemy forces). Colonel Winter told the Givati Brigade inquiry the area was “unoccupied and unsecured”. The al-Qassam Brigades describe the situation as follows:

“Zionist enemy forces used the talks about a humanitarian ceasefire to advance troops more than 2km inside the Gaza Strip to the east of Rafah. Our assessment is that one of our deployed ambushes clashed with the advancing troops. We informed the mediators who participated in arranging the humanitarian ceasefire of our agreement to cease fire against Zionist cities and settlements; and that we cannot operationally cease fire against troops inside the Gaza Strip that conduct operations and move continuously. These enemy forces could easily come in contact with our deployed ambushes, which will lead to a clash.”
al-Qassam Brigades

According to the Israeli army, at about 9am Major Banya Sarel, the reconnaissance force commander, radioed that he was about to arrest a “suspicious person” he had spotted some 150m away on top of a narrow two-story cinder block structure whose top floor had openings in all directions. The soldiers divided into two groups of three. Major Sarel, his radioman Staff Sergeant Lial Gidoni, and Lieutenant Goldin, another reconnaissance officer, approached the structure, with the other group of three soldiers outflanking the building from around a large greenhouse. It was a tactical error to have approached the structure with such a small force, Colonel Winter later admitted to the Givati Brigade inquiry. While it was routine, at least in Operation Protective Edge, for soldiers to fire missiles or tank shells at buildings before approaching them, was ruled out because of the ceasefire. The outflanking group members recall hearing Major Sarel calling for help, immediately followed by a blast and two short sequences of fire. Major Sarel, Staff Sergeant Lial Gidoni and Lieutenant Goldin then stopped responding on the radio.

The paths the two groups of Israeli soldiers took when approaching the structure that concealed Hamas fighters marked on a Pléiades satellite image captured on 30 July 2014 at 11.40am. © CNES 2014, Distribution AIRBUS DS, all rights reserved.

The Givati Brigade inquiry timed the beginning of the firefight at 9.06am. From traces found on site, presumably gun cartridges and footprints, it concluded that the Hamas unit was comprised of five or six members. The inquiry concluded that Lieutenant Goldin was taken into the tunnel less than one minute after the fire fight began. When the soldiers from the outflanking unit and others arrived at the scene they found three bodies on the ground and initially believed them to be the bodies of the three Israeli soldiers. By 9.16am the soldiers realized that one of the bodies was that of a Hamas fighter, and that Lieutenant Goldin was missing. They also discovered a tunnel entrance at the ground level of the structure. Initial Israeli army reports wrongly stated that the attack involved a suicide bomber. The Givati Brigade inquiry later found that the Israeli soldiers were likely taken by surprise and unable to return much fire before they were shot, though they did kill one Hamas fighter.

Because no one saw Lieutenant Goldin dragged into the tunnel, all commanders in the area were ordered to count their soldiers. According to the Israeli army, at 9.36am, after confirming that Lieutenant Goldin was indeed missing, Colonel Winter announced the implementation of the Hannibal Directive over the radio, thus unleashing the operational directive that would determine the events of the days that followed. At 9.46am, according to the Israeli army, the bombardment of Rafah began.

An infantry officer described to Breaking the Silence the events that ensued after the Hannibal Directive was announced on the radio:

“The minute ‘Hannibal Directive’ is declared on the radio, there are consequences. There’s a fire procedure called the ‘Hannibal fire procedure’ – you fire at every suspicious place that merges with a central route. You don’t spare any means. A thousand shells were fired that Friday morning, at all the central intersections. The entire Tancher [route, the way the Israeli army refers to Salah al-Din Street, the main road in Gaza] was bombed. After the area was hit by 1,000 shells that Friday morning, I saw Tancher in ruins. Everything totally wrecked.”
Israeli army Infantry Officer

He reported that the initial burst of fire lasted three hours. An artillery soldier said his battery was “firing at a maximum fire rate” right into inhabited areas. The Givati Brigade inquiry confirmed that more than 2,000 bombs, missiles and shells were fired during the entire day, including 1,000 in the three hours following the capture.

The initial bombardment had two purposes, according to the Israeli army:

  1. Roadways and intersections: To stop the movement of all “suspicious” persons and vehicles and isolate the area until the arrival of ground forces.
  2. Known and possible tunnel shafts: This meant bombing residential buildings and agricultural installations possible of harbouring tunnel exits or entrances.
A video animation demonstrating the methodology used by Forensic Architecture to detect the craters left by shelling and bombing via remote sensing. © Forensic Architecture.

Raining Fire
As the strikes began, the routes in eastern Rafah were full of disoriented civilians moving in all directions. Believing a ceasefire had begun, they had returned – or were returning – to their homes. Many decided to turn around, in an attempt to escape the intense bombing. Palestinian witnesses described jets, drones, helicopters and artillery raining fire at pedestrians and vehicles at the intersections, indiscriminately hitting cars, ambulances, motorbikes and pedestrians. “You see the hysteria of the children, destruction, and mushroom clouds, and you try to get as far away from them as you can,” said Wa’el al-Namla, a father of two.
A video of residents fleeing south-east Rafah on the morning of 1 August 2014. © Private.
The locations of the houses within eastern Rafah of three witnesses to the Israeli attack on Rafah: Abdel-Rahim Lafi, Inam bin Hammad and Saleh Abu Mohsen. The houses are marked on a Pléiades satellite image captured on 1 August 2014 at 11.39am. © CNES 2014, Distribution AIRBUS DS, all rights reserved.
Returning to Destruction

Saleh Abu Mohsen, a local resident, described the scene to Amnesty International: “People were running away from their homes in terror. It was a scene reminiscent of 1948 [the 1948 Palestinian exodus, also known as the Nakba], which we had only seen on TV. People were barefoot, women were running with their heads uncovered, it was a very difficult scene.” Civilians attempting to flee the inferno were hit by missiles and artillery, which also struck ambulances and other vehicles evacuating the wounded.

Saleh Abu Mohsen recalls rockets falling over his neighbourhood about 20 minutes after returning to his home, roughly at 9.30am: “I would not be exaggerating if I told you that around 50-60 shells were falling every minute.” He decided to leave the house with his daughters after it was hit and the front door blown off.

An enlargement of a Pléiades satellite image taken on 14 August 2014 at 11.54am with a red line marking the area where artillery damage is visible along Zalata Street, south-east Rafah © CNES 2014, Distribution AIRBUS DS, all rights reserved.

Inam Ouda Ayed bin Hammad recalls the shelling and bombing that took place next to her house in the al-Tannur neighbourhood: “The minute I left the house, an Apache [a US-manufactured Israeli air force helicopter] started shooting at us.” She escaped the open street and ran to her brother’s home banging on his metal door until it opened. From inside the house she heard artillery shells and missiles falling for the next hour and a half.

Abdel-Rahim Lafi described to Amnesty International the shelling of the area around his house. It began around 9am, he recalled, more than half an hour before the time that the Givati Brigade inquiry claims the strikes started:

“My son Yehya and I left the house. We reached the Abu Youssef al-Najjar roundabout when the first missile fell about 13m ahead of us… I fell and was injured in my right leg. When I looked next to me I found my son. He looked up at me for seconds and died immediately after. When the first missile fell, two women to the right on the road towards Abu Youssef al-Najjar roundabout died. About a moment later, the second rocket fell while I sat with my dead son, and nearby a young man in a blue shirt flew in the air when a rocket hit him. Another rocket fell about 8m away from me.”
Abdel-Rahim Lafi
A video animation reconstructing Abdel-Rahim Abdel-Karim Lafi's account of the path he took through eastern Rafah on the morning of 1 August 2014. © Forensic Architecture.

Engineer Ala Sheikh al-Eid, who lived next to the Mashrou’ Amer roundabout, said: “Anyone walking on the Abu Youssef al-Najjar Street was hit. Even a fly would have been hit. They [the people of Rafah] called the street ‘death street’.”

Around the same time, members of the al-Namla family left their home in the al-Tannur neighbourhood when they heard the bombing. Israeli army shelling of the area killed Ala Jamal al-Namla and her children Youssef and Nagham just outside their home.

During the initial phase of the attack the Israeli army appeared to fire at moving vehicles without distinction, including at ambulances heading to the Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital. This resulted in ambulances being unable to reach the victims and evacuate the wounded to the hospital.

Tunnel Chase

At 9.54am Lieutenant Eitan Fund, an officer in the reconnaissance unit and a close friend of Lieutenant Goldin, received Colonel Winter’s permission to enter the tunnel. Colonel Winter reportedly asked him “to throw in a grenade” before going in, regardless of the possibility that it might harm Lieutenant Goldin. Lieutenant Fund entered, with a hand pistol only. Three soldiers followed him, carrying torches and shooting continuously as they moved through the tunnel. Lieutenant Fund lost his hearing. The tunnel, he said, was 1.9m high, made of concrete with electrical wires running along the walls. The soldiers noticed a trail of blood after 200m. They continued to fire shots. In a media interview Lieutenant Fund said: “I instructed the soldier next to me to open fire if he identified any figures – even if it meant killing or wounding Hadar [Goldin]. Painful as it is, it is preferable that way.” This confirms that Lieutenant Fund, like other soldiers, understood that Lieutenant Goldin’s death was preferable to letting Hamas capture him alive, according to their understanding of the Hannibal Directive.

After 300 or 400m, according to Lieutenant Fund, the tunnel split. Here they found some of Lieutenant Goldin’s clothing and his personal equipment. The right turn was closed off with a blanket hiding a pile of military bags with battle equipment, guns, explosives, food and water. Lieutenant Fund and another soldier ran for a couple of minutes, following the trail of blood. Their radio did not work and they feared being taken prisoners themselves. They turned around and ran back. Shortly afterwards another group of soldiers was sent into the tunnel to call them out.

The soldiers left the tunnel at about 10.30am. Once above ground, Lieutenant Fund and the soldiers joined the rest of the troops as they prepared for an incursion towards the area they believed the tunnel led to. According to the Givati Brigade inquiry the ground incursion began at 10.40am. At around 12pm, Lieutenant Fund received orders to return to the tunnel entrance and lead a group of specialized soldiers from the “Unit for the identification of missing people” and commandos. They were to retrieve the rest of Lieutenant Goldin’s remains to assess his condition. They found several items belonging to Lieutenant Goldin, including personal items and blood-stained pieces from his uniform. Based on these items, the Israeli army’s forensic unit assessed that Lieutenant Goldin could not have survived his wounds. The following night the chief military rabbi signed Lieutenant Goldin’s death certificate and cleared the way for a funeral to take place on Sunday 3 August. By that time most of the Israeli army units had retreated from Rafah and the rest of the Gaza Strip.

Another Givati Brigade officer who participated in the battle explains the logic of the operation: “In such an event you prefer a killed soldier rather than a soldier in enemy hands, like [Gilad] Shalit. I told myself ‘even if I bring back a corpse I have brought back the missing person’. You do everything possible not to put an entire state in a Gilad Shalit whirlwind.”

Attacking the Tunnels
Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture cross-referenced various sources to reconstruct what the Israeli army stated were attacks on the Palestinian armed groups’ tunnel system. Based on this analysis, it appears that during the enactment of the Hannibal Directive the Israeli military targeted some locations where it thought Lieutenant Goldin might be.

The analysis is based upon the following sources:

  1. A high-resolution satellite image taken at 11.54am on 14 August shows traces of deep mechanical excavations – where the Israeli army dug for tunnels – in various places north and south of Salah al-Din Street.
  2. Ground-level photographs of these excavations and exposed tunnels
  3. Photographs of smoke plumes indicating heavy aerial bombing
  4. Lieutenant Eitan Fund’s description of his movements through the tunnel
  5. Material released by the Israeli army and published in Israeli media

Timing and Locating the Strikes

The earliest photographs of the strikes on 1 August that Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture have obtained were taken at 10.22am, and show the dust raised by artillery fire at the Abu Youssef al-Najjar roundabout, while at about 10.49am they feature the first bombs dropped from the air. Journalists, photographers, human rights activists and citizens with cameras took photographs of the carnage on the streets. Several photographers were taking pictures from the Smart Media Center on the eighth floor of the Masri Towers, from where the entire city is visible.

The pictures from the rooftops are characteristic photojournalistic representations of a city under fire. The photographic frame is horizontally divided between the cityscape and the sky, linked by smoke plumes generated from artillery and air force bombing. Using these photographs, Forensic Architecture identified, located and timed each of the large smoke plumes generated by aerial bombs.

The photographs confirm fire burning and heavy aerial bombardment on the area possible of harbouring the tunnel entrances, from 10.49am. This timeline aligns with the Israeli air force evacuating its soldiers from the tunnel at 10.30am, clearing the way for the tunnels to be bombed by the air force.

A video animation demonstrating Forensic Architecture’s methodology by which they establish the time of air strikes by cross-referencing metadata of images and analysis of the shapes of plumes of smoke. @ Forensic Architecture.

Photographs of smoke plumes taken from 10.49am onwards allowed Forensic Architecture to determine the locations of heavy bombing. The area most heavily bombed is where traces of excavations can be seen on the ground. These excavations were undertaken from the afternoon of 1 August until 3 August. This demonstrates that the Israeli army bombed the very places where it later excavated for the tunnel network.

The size of the plumes and the craters indicates that the aerial strikes included the use of one-tonne bombs, likely to be MK-84/GBU-31 bombs, according to a military analyst commissioned by Amnesty International. The analyst confirmed that if half-tonne or one-tonne bombs were to land in close proximity to a tunnel entrance they would have created a blast of extreme heat and a shock wave strong enough for the tunnel to collapse, killing those inside it.

Eli Gino, Colonel Winter’s deputy, explains: “We knew that bombing the tunnel mouths by plane would reduce the chances of finding Lieutenant Goldin alive… but this was the best way to deal with the situation.” “The bottom-line”, another Givati Brigade commander said weeks after the end of the war, “is that Lieutenant Goldin is not with them [Palestinian fighters] and the Hamas unit is probably exterminated.”

Mapping the Tunnel

According to the Givati Brigade inquiry the entire incursion into the tunnel lasted slightly over 30 minutes. By Forensic Architecture’s calculations, Lieutenant Fund and his team covered about 800m of tunnel. Lieutenant Fund’s testimony, together with traces of excavation seen in the satellite image of 14 August, allowed Forensic Architecture to reconstruct the path of the tunnel as the Israeli army thought it to be. The tunnel has since been destroyed but, as this report will later demonstrate, the Israeli air force bombed the tunnel in the very places it thought its captured soldier might have been located.

Mapping the Tunnel Network. © CNES 2014, Distribution AIRBUS DS, all rights reserved.

Many Palestinians died during the manhunt in which the Israeli army directed intense and indiscriminate firepower at populated residential neighbourhoods in eastern Rafah. Not all attacks were conducted at calculated locations, but at least two attacks using large aerial bombs appear to have been directed at locations where the Israeli army possible Lieutenant Goldin to be.

The single most deadly strike of this day occurred at 10.53am when two one-tonne bombs were dropped on a residential area in the al-Tannur neighbourhood of eastern Rafah. Several buildings were completely destroyed and many others at least partially damaged. The buildings were largely empty but at least 16 people died on the streets while trying to flee the area.

A video clip shot from a rooftop in Rafah shows two large bombs striking a dense residential area. Towards the end of the clip, the videographer enlargements out briefly and captures two columns casting a clear shadow on the roof terrace. Using these columns as sundials Forensic Architecture determined the strike took place at 10.53am, and corroborated this time by synching the video clip with other photographs and videos.

A video animation that demonstrates Forensic Architecture’s methodology for determining the time of a strike by the length and direction of shadows cast by buildings. © Forensic Architecture.

By analysing the same smoke plume as seen from different perspectives, Forensic Architecture located the strike site near the intersection of Oruba Street and al-Balbisi Street, next to the Abu Shawareb building, in eastern Rafah. The site is a few hundred metres west of the western-most area captured by Israeli army ground forces in their 1-4 August incursion. Two frames within the video capture the actual bombs in mid-fall.

A video animation that demonstrates Forensic Architecture’s methodology for synchronizing multiple videos of the same air strike by matching the shape of the smoke plume produced by the bomb. © Forensic Architecture.

Having previously established the distance of the videographer from the bombed site, Forensic Architecture measured the bombs and deemed them to be consistent with MK-84/GBU-31 bombs, the largest and most destructive guided bombs of their kind, each packed with one tonne of explosives, a conclusion corroborated by the analysis of military experts. The two bombs fell on a small single story structure – the house of Abdel-Raouf Mohammed Fahajan, who was not at the premises at the time. That structure and the Abu Shawareb building nearby collapsed; both appear to have been uninhabited at the time of the attack. However, at least 16 people who had fled their homes and were on Oruba Street and al-Balbisi Street were killed in the attack, and many others were injured. Scores of people were on the streets attempting to flee the area in close vicinity to the site of the attack.

A video reconstruction by Forensic Architecture of the Israeli air strike on the al-Tannur neighbourhood that killed at least 16 fleeing Palestinian civilians. © Forensic Architecture.

Shirin Jamal Arafat, 25, who had fled her home amid tank shelling of the area, was carrying her two-month-old son, Mohammed Anas Mohammed Arafat, while attempting to flee the area through al-Balbisi Street. She recounts the attack that killed her son:

“We stayed until about 10am here in the house. Other people fleeing also came to our house. When they fled, we went with them… I was injured and my son was in my hands. He died in my hands… My son got hit in the head and was injured in the face and his face split open. I lost consciousness. Then they moved us to the Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital. When they were moving me, they thought I was dead. My face was disfigured.”
Shireen Jamal Arafat

Shirin Arafat recounts that her heart stopped while she was at the Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital. “When the second ambulance came my heart started again and they took me to the Nasser [hospital in Khan Yunis].” She was later transferred to the Gaza European hospital and then to the al-Maqased hospital in Jerusalem for treatment for the shrapnel injuries to her head.


Several reasons lead Forensic Architecture to believe that the Israeli army possible the area of harbouring a tunnel mouth and thus bombed it to target the captured soldier and his captors:

  1. The strike targeted a small single-story structure with a one-tonne bomb (one of the largest bombs in the Israeli air force arsenal).
  2. According to the military analyst commissioned by Amnesty International to examine photographs of the site, the ammunition is a one-tonne bomb with a delay fuse. This ammunition allows the bomb to blast underground – pointing to an air force trying to target an underground structure.
  3. The site was struck at the same time as other tunnel entrances in the east of Rafah were struck, likely pointing to the same air force mission.
  4. The site is located on a line connecting sites that were subsequently excavated by the Israeli army searching for tunnels (visible on the 14 August satellite image).
The location of the Israeli air strike in the al-Tannur neighbourhood lies directly along the line of previously identified tunnel routes. A collage of photographs shows the aftermath of the Israeli air strike on al-Tannur, in Rafah. © Al Mezan Center for Human Rights.
Recounting the Attack

Moments before the bombing, Inam bin Hammad decided to leave her brother’s house accompanied by several family members. She describes the events that followed:

“Around 60 people from the al-Tannur area arrived on the street coming out of Abu Shawareb. Suddenly there was smoke, dust, rubble and shrapnel flying above us. A column from a wall fell, protecting me and my daughter Remas from the shrapnel. I lost consciousness for a few minutes and when I recovered felt a pain in my leg. I got up from under the rubble, took my daughter and stepped out… When I looked back at the Abu Shawareb building as I was getting into an ambulance, I saw that it had been shelled.”
Inam bin Hammad

Inam bin Hammad lost 12 relatives including her son in this single most deadly strike of the day.

A Pléiades satellite image of eastern Rafah taken on 1 August 2014 at 11.39am, with the path that Inam bin Hammad took marked by a yellow dotted line. © CNES 2014, Distribution AIRBUS DS, all rights reserved.

Abdel-Munim Abdel-Al, a medic, received calls from the al-Balbisi supermarket area after the bombing of the Abu Shawareb building. He recalls:

“We couldn’t reach them [the injured and people in need] as there was so much bombing. People were imploring us. We asked the Red Crescent for a permit into the eastern area and the al-Balbisi intersection in particular. After over an hour, we got there with difficulty and found severed body parts belonging to women, children, and elderly people. We carried what we could.”
Abdel-Munim Abdel-Al

Hammam Mahmoud Mohammed Abu Mesameh, an ambulance driver and a medic, describes the same evacuation effort:

“People would call and direct us to where help was needed. We evacuated families from inside the al-Tannur district and at one time we carried as many as 25 women and children in the ambulance – either injured or being evacuated. We would drop them off near the Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital where they would continue on foot, while we’d go and collect more people. The al-Balbisi area had many casualties – we carried them away while still under artillery fire. We only took three dead away. There were many more but we decided it was more important to move the injured and those escaping the shelling, and leave the dead to be collected later.”
Hammam Mahmoud Mohammed Abu Mesameh

Hana Salem Suleiman al-Mahmoum was leaving her house on al-Balbisi Street when the strike knocked her unconscious. She says:

“A first shell was shot at me, my sisters Islam and Esra, my brother Mohammed and the women with us. I fainted and fell to the ground with stones and concrete falling on me. My back and both my legs were injured. When I regained consciousness, there was dust everywhere. All I could manage was to carry my brother Mohammed and started walking away. I couldn’t see anyone who was were with me because of the dust and smoke. I kept stumbling on women as I walked; I was sure many of them were dead.”
Hana Salem Suleiman al-Mahmoum

She describes the difficulty of extracting people from the site, making the evacuation impossible in some cases. Because there were no ambulances available, she was left to go back to the strike site to find and try to save members of her family. She recounts:

“We called an ambulance which bandaged my brother and took him away with my cousin Fathiya who had also broken her arm. I asked the medics to go collect my mother and other relatives from the area I had just come from, but they refused to go, saying it was too dangerous. I walked about 2km or 3km down al-Balbisi Street to Deir Yassin Road when I ran into young men who called the fire department when they saw my injury. They took me to the Kuwaiti hospital – the [Abu Youssef] al-Najjar hospital was closer but it was under threat from shelling.”
Hana Salem Suleiman al-Mahmoum
Photographs, names and ages of victims of the bombing of the al-Tannur neighbourhood. © Kent Klich.

The al-Tannur bombing was the single most deadly incident between 1 and 4 August. The casualties all occurred in the streets, with families fleeing artillery, helicopter and drone fire. The destruction radius of the bomb was 100m, with an approximate impact area (where casualties could be sustained) of 17,500m2 according to Forensic Architecture.


According to the Givati Brigade inquiry, at 10.40am, 10 minutes after the soldiers came out of the tunnel, the ground manoeuvre began. It aimed to follow the assumed path of the tunnel network overground and intercept the northern exits of the tunnels about 2km to the north. The force reportedly included a tank battalion (about 36 tanks), armoured D9 bulldozers, personnel carriers, and dismounted infantry. “Almost all the forces located in the centre-southern part of the Gaza Strip were shifted to Rafah,” according to the Israeli army. This was also an agrarian area of low-density housing, fields and greenhouses just north of Salah al-Din Street. The Sa’ad Sayel training base, a Palestinian military installation, is located there.

Remote Sensing
At 11.39am on 1 August 2014, the European Pléiades image satellite passed over Rafah and captured a multi-spectral image of Rafah. It would return only on 14 August 2014, 10 days after the Israeli army retreated from the Strip. The satellite image provides a rare snapshot of the battle.

Click here to view the high-resolution Pléiades satellite image taken 1 August 2014, 11.39. Please note: this is a very large file (~100mb). We recommend opening it only with a stable and high-speed internet connection.

Forensic Architecture's analysis detected the following elements in the image:

  1. Israeli armoured vehicles can be seen en route to, on and north of Salah al-Din Street. These tanks are at the same location as those that shot and killed Saleh Abu Mohsen’s daughter. In total 37 tanks and three D9 bulldozers visible on the satellite image.
  2. The tracks of heavy armoured vehicles can be seen leading north towards and past Salah al-Din Street.
  3. Smoke plumes indicate that strike took place beforehand. Smoke plumes and fire were identified at the area possible of harbouring the tunnels north of Salah al-Din Street and at the Mashrou’ Amer junction
  4. Craters and burn marks of artillery shells and impact craters of air strikes, are still emitting smoke plumes.
  5. The site of Abu Shawareb building in al-Tannur at the intersection of Oruba Street and al-Balbisi Street is already destroyed.
  6. The roadways next to the Mashrou’ Amer and Ayn roundabouts show disturbances that are consistent with aerial attacks.
Close-ups of a Pléiades satellite image, taken on 1 August 2014 at 11.39am, reveal Israeli tanks as they move into position near Salah al-Din Street, Rafah. They are here marked within the boxes drawn with red-dotted lines. © CNES 2014, Distribution AIRBUS DS, all rights reserved.

The satellite image of Rafah at 11.39am is consistent with witness testimonies regarding the location and level of destruction as well as the location of ground forces.

A cross-reference analysis of satellite images from 14 August and 1 August reveals that the armoured vehicles entering Gaza started from a “staging area” next to the entrance of the civilian community of Kibbutz Sufa.

A video that reconstructs the paths Israeli tanks took in their incursions into the Gaza Strip during the conflict in 2014. © Forensic Architecture. Based upon an NDVI analysis of Pléiades satellite images taken on 30 July 2014 at 11.40am and 14 August 2014 at 11.54am & Landsat 8 satellite images taken on 30 July 2014 and 8 August 2014. © CNES 2014, Distribution AIRBUS DS, Landsat 8, all rights reserved.
Mass Destruction

The Israeli army apparently intended to surround and isolate the Tabet Zare’ neighbourhood north of Salah al-Din Street. Tank commanders were given permission to shoot at “suspicious points” – buildings, people or vehicles – without warning. What constituted a “suspicious point” was left to the discretion of the commanders, and soldiers interpreted it as any building close to the tanks or overlooking them, “almost every object or structure within the forces’ eyeshot had the potential to be considered suspicious and thus targeted,” states the introduction to the Breaking the Silence compilation of testimonies.

The D9 bulldozers moved first, uprooting trees, removing small structures and piling earth mounds to mask the movement of infantry soldiers. An officer described this movement to Breaking the Silence:

“A crazy amount of artillery was fired… armoured D9 bulldozers plowed the entire area. After them came the tanks in two lines, continuously shooting at houses as they moved along. The infantry walked along the trail opened by the tanks.”
Israeli army officer

Armoured vehicles were positioned north and west of Salah al-Din Street, in the Tabet Zare' neighbourhood close to the Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital.

There were tank tracks through the small fields and orchards surrounding homes in this semi-agrarian area. Tanks avoided the roads, fearing they might be booby-trapped. The same officer quoted above also said: “There are also agricultural fields there, the D9 [bulldozer] rips them all up. And tin sheds. It takes down whatever’s in its way, it topples greenhouses.”

A tank commander described to Breaking the Silence how he used the manoeuvre through the semi-agrarian area as a training opportunity:

“I assigned one of my company commanders to document some of this [the manoeuvre] by video, so we could illustrate it in training – showing soldiers for example how a tank drives through a grove of trees or shoots in different situations. Because in training we don’t have planted grove areas we can keep running over, or a variety of ‘live’ houses to shoot at.”
Israeli army tank commander

Dolev Ohayon, a Givati Brigade soldier who participated in the ground assault, describes the situation in a diary he kept throughout the war: “The air force, tanks, artillery, engineering, machine guns, all the Israeli army fire power was there.”

Salah al-Din Street was the deepest point the Israeli army’s ground incursion had reached into the Rafah area during the war. Dolev Ohayon’s unit dismounted the armoured vehicles and crossed Salah al-Din Street on foot to search buildings.

“We moved towards the building under a heavy covering fire, we searched and ‘purified’ the house that was in pieces like all the other houses in the neighbourhood which was all completely on fire, I never saw such a level of destruction, almost every building in this neighbourhood was hit.”
Dolev Ohayon

Dolev Ohayon and other soldiers who recounted their experience to Breaking the Silence or the media (after Israeli army’s censorship) all describe the same process by which houses were captured. First, a tank would fire a shell at the building, then covered by the tank’s machine-gun fire, soldiers would approach the building. Soldiers might fire a portable anti-tank and rockets at one of the ground-level walls to produce a large hole. They would then enter the house through this hole and throw in grenades before entering a room, regardless of whether or not there were civilians inside.

A residential building in Rafah attacked by the Israeli army during the 2014 conflict. The traces of destruction – small weapons fire, tank fire, and walls blown out by explosives – are consistent with testimonies gathered by the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence that describe the way army takes over buildings in the vicinity of its forces. © Private.

One of the officers of the Givati Brigade describes the attack as “aggressive and crushing”. He continues: “The motto guiding lots of people was, ‘let’s show them.’” Other soldiers said they were there “to settle accounts” or to “extract a price”. The soldiers fired such large quantities of ammunition that Eli Gino, deputy commander of the Givati Brigade, was heard screaming over the brigade radio network (in a recording released by the Israeli army): “Stop shooting! Stop shooting! You are shooting like retards, you will kill each other, stop! I already have casualties, I already have two dead soldiers.” Hardly any return fire was reported and no further Israeli army fatalities were sustained that day. The incident on the morning of 1 August was the last in which the Israeli army sustained combat fatalities inside Gaza, during the 2014 conflict. Colonel Winter later said: “I hoped they [Hamas fighters] would come face to face with us, but they chickened out. That’s not combat. There were very few places with fighting retreats. They left everything and escaped.” If, as Colonel Winter maintains, there were no serious fire fights, the question arises as to whether the army’s use of massive firepower was in fact intended to “take revenge” on Rafah.

Mohammed Khalil Mohammed Abu Duba, who was trapped with his family in their home in the Mashrou’ Amer area (and lost his father, Khalil Abu Duba, and brother Munir Abu Duba in an attack the following day), recounts seeing the rows of tanks in eastern Rafah on the evening and night of 1 August as they continued intensively firing into the residential neighbourhoods:

“We were at home [in the Mashrou’ Amer area] on Friday, before the sunset call to prayer [about 7.30pm]. The F-16 airplanes appeared and hit us with over 15 missiles one after the other with minutes in between. They fell on all the homes around our house… most of them civilian homes with nothing to do with anything. They were random hits… . “At 11pm we began to hear sounds of tanks clearly as if they were next to our home. From far away, approaching. They struck the house and I no longer saw what was happening as we hid under the stairs… The tanks were right next to our demolished house, one side of the tank touching the fallen masonry of our home, and continuing to bombard. And another in our street, one behind and one in front of al-Mashrou’ Amer. . “Munir went up to the roof – without of course our father knowing – and he began to count the flags on top of the tanks. They numbered about 37 and more just in… our area. Sometimes they flew above the roof. They were just the ones we managed to count before fleeing. We counted and came straight back down. We weren’t going to stay up there. He told me and my father and we went up to the roof. And sure enough. There were so many tanks. For every street, at least four or five tanks. And each one was bombarding the homes and people – wherever there were people… The tanks were coming from everywhere, from every street as if in shifts: five would leave and another five would take their place going round and round.”
Mohammed Khalil Mohammed Abu Duba

Escaping through Fire

Around the same time (11.01am), 20 minutes after the armed column started moving north, Saleh Abu Mohsen and his three daughters left their home north of Salah al-Din Street, shortly after hearing a massive explosion. They also heard the tanks coming and feared “another massacre”. They reached Salah al-Din Street two minutes later, at 11.03am. “When we reached there I was surprised to find a [truck] trailer on fire,” said Saleh Abu Mohsen. He continued:

“I found tanks in front of the Sa’ad Sayel barracks. The tanks fired at us… We decided with my daughters beforehand to walk in two groups separated by a distance of 10m in case we were targeted; that way some of us stood a chance of being saved… I took two of my daughters and my third daughter stayed with the wife of our neighbour. [When crossing the Mashrou’ Amer intersection], I looked behind me and did not see my daughter.”
Saleh Abu Mohsen

Saleh Abu Mohsen said he saw four or five tanks on both sides of Salah al-Din Street, 15m away from him. Forensic Architecture identified six tanks and one D9 bulldozer at the entrance of the Sa’ad Sayel barracks and one D9 bulldozer on the satellite image taken half an hour later at 11.39am.

Past the intersection, Saleh Abu Mohsen and his two surviving daughters ran north towards Abu Youssef al-Najjar Street to find an ambulance to return and pick up his missing daughter. “When I arrived there the ambulances were too busy because so much was happening in east Rafah and no one dared go east of the hospital,” he said. He did eventually convince an ambulance driver to risk the journey. From the ambulance, Saleh Abu Mohsen recalls seeing “burned cars and a drone-fired missile [fall] in front of the ambulance narrowly missing us.” Saleh Abu Mohsen and the ambulance driver were forced to return without finding his daughter. He finally found the body of his daughter, Asil Abu Mohsen, 17, four days later. Her body had gunfire wounds to the chest.

Mohammed Baha al-Din al-Gharib, resident of Mussabeh, al-Zuhur district, lost his father, Baha al-Din Kamel al-Gharib and sister Ula, when they were struck by what appears to have been a drone-fired missile at approximately 10.30am on 1 August. He recounts:

“My father had just returned from the supermarket and he and my sister Ula were on their way to the hospital at 10.30am. They walked through a side road, avoiding the main road [Salah al-Din Street], which was being shelled. A drone hit both of them. . “My other sister saw smoke coming from the area they were walking in and came running to tell me… My father had lost his legs and his elbow had been cut off; he had shrapnel in his back, which was also full of holes from the shrapnel. He also had shrapnel in his stomach. My sister Ula had lost her right leg and shrapnel had punctured her eye approaching her brain, and another piece of shrapnel had slit her throat. The ambulance came after a long time, they were afraid to go into certain areas because of the shelling.”
Mohammed Baha al-Din al-Gharib

Samira Aliyan Hamdan Qishta recalls how she and her husband escaped the area amid heavy, persistent fire:

“I was cooking breakfast at around 10am when the really heavy bombing started and shells fell everywhere… Other people were running with us, all raising white flags. No one could reach George Street, so they came through this side street while carrying their flags… When we saw everyone running, we continued to run with them at the same time as the shells continued to fall. My family and I were running and crawling and at one point I became so tired my feet just stopped moving. My husband kept pushing and dragging me till we reached my brother-in-law’s house at the end of the road.”
Samira Aliyan Hamdan Qishta

According to Palestinian testimonies collected by the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, a Palestinian human rights organization, at about midday tanks started crossing the Salah al-Din Street moving north.

A video animation that locates multiple images and videos of Israeli attacks in Rafah on 1 August 2014 in a digital three-dimensional model. © Forensic Architecture.
Attacks on Abu Youssef al-Najjar Hospital
The Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital is located in eastern Rafah and treated dozens of wounded through the earlier part of 1 August. It was unable to deal with the amount of casualties it received. The Israeli army attacked the hospital building, its premises and streets in its immediate vicinity throughout the day, injuring doctors and patients and causing serious damage to the building. The hospital was eventually evacuated around 3.30pm on the afternoon of 1 August, when the attacks on the premises intensified and scores of patients rushed to evacuate the building, some while still connected to hospital equipment such as intravenous drips.

One of the scenarios that the Israeli military considered was that the captured soldier Lieutenant Hadar Goldin had been wounded in the fire fight with Hamas fighters and would be taken to the Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital, the medical facility closest to the area of capture. Dr Ashraf Mahmoud Hamad Hijazi, head of the Surgery Department at the Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital describes what happened: “An officer from the Israeli intelligence services called a nurse at the hospital, said that the missing Israeli soldier was in the hospital and that we wouldn’t be allowed to leave the hospital until we released the soldier. This was absurd.”

Dr Ashraf Hijazi arrived at the hospital around 9am. The flood of casualties started coming in at about 10am, he said. The hospital was overflowing with casualties and their families. He could not even count the dead and wounded. He says:

“The bombing began increasing and [bombs were] dropping continuously, and closer to the hospital. They bombed a house no further than 20m away from the hospital [and later] a missile fell at the door of the hospital.”
Dr Ashraf Hijazi

Dr Majed Ayesh Abu Taha, a bone specialist at the hospital, confirms that “a missile landed next to the main door. I had gone to see some patients in the clinic down there when a missile fell at the hospital’s main door. All of the clinic’s window glass flew out. I moved to the reception and another missile fell behind and all the reception glass fell out.”

The attacks around the hospital grew nearer and more frequent between 2pm and 2.30pm. Dr Ashraf Hijazi recalls: “There was the sound of the missile and a large explosion. I saw fire coming in from the window and it reached Dr Youssef’s [one of the hospital staff] arm”. Dr Majed Abu Taha remembers: “In the afternoon at 2.30pm I went upstairs to pray, and all the windows were blown out, the roof gone, and the door broken.”

Studying photographs of the hospital taken by locals, photojournalists, and human rights defenders, Forensic Architecture noted both internal and external damage. On the satellite image taken on 14 August, one crater is visible about 120m south-west of the hospital and three craters about the same distance north-east of the hospital.

Pictures of the damage to Abu Youssef al-Najjar Hospital caused by Israeli attacks on 1 August 2014. © Amnesty International.
Evacuating the Hospital

Patients, staff and civilians seeking refuge at the hospital proceeded to evacuate the building en masse in a rush when the attacks on the premises intensified and it was believed that the hospital might be subjected to attack in the afternoon of 1 August. Dr Hijazi described how “some people started leaving the hospital through a back door but it was not safe”. Dr Abu Taha adds that “at 3.30pm the patients fled the hospital; some had plaster casts, with drips in their chests and stomachs. I saw a young boy in a plaster cast crawling trying to flee by dragging himself along.” Abdel-Rahim Lafi, who had arrived at the hospital with the body of his son Yehya and surviving members of his family, saw an unexploded missile at the front of the hospital and missile fire next to the hospital’s rear exit as he tried to flee through there.

Iyad Ali Salama Ghaboun, whose home is located right beside the hospital, recounts the evacuation:

“Suddenly, there was noise in the streets. It was between 2.30pm and 3pm. My brother looked out onto the street and came back saying ‘quick the hospital is being evacuated’. I looked at the hospital and will never forget what I saw. People leaving the hospital on hospital beds holding drips, being pushed on carts also holding drips. I saw doctors in hospital clothes carrying white sheets. And people were streaming out. This was in the street. There was a doctor – Ahmed Abu Geir Abu Zakar – he was holding a white screen and making people go down the street next to ours.”
Iyad Ali Salama Ghaboun

According to Dr Hijazi no organized evacuation took place until the evening: “It was getting dark around 6.30pm or 7pm. We agreed to leave with patients in separate ambulances. I got into an ambulance and we took a couple of patients, a paediatrician and the ambulance driver and we went to the Kuwaiti hospital.” The hospital was closed soon after. At 7pm reporters claim that the entire neighbourhood around the Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital was under artillery fire.

Destruction Continues

Goldin's Death
On Saturday 2 August the military forensic medicine unit assessed that Lieutenant Hadar Goldin was dead. The examination, they said, was based on blood stains, tissues and other bodily fluids found on Goldin’s personal gear retrieved from the tunnel. “It was concluded that even if Goldin had been taken alive, there was no possibility Hamas doctors could have kept him alive”.

At 11.25pm on 2 August an emergency rabbinical court issued a death certificate. The former chief rabbi Israel Weiss explained the necessity of quickly issuing a death certificate using the same logic as the Hannibal Directive. The military does this so that “the bargaining-chip value decreases”, he said.

On Saturday, the Israeli army’s assessment was that Lieutenant Goldin and his captors were buried underground in a tunnel that collapsed due to the air force bombings. “It was likely that [the captors and Lieutenant Goldin] never left the tunnel,” the Givati Brigade inquiry confirmed. A similar assessment was also communicated by Hamas’s military wing on 2 August:

“Until now, we at al-Qassam have no knowledge of the missing soldier, his whereabouts or the circumstances of his disappearance… We have lost contact with the mujahedeen unit that was in that ambush, and we think that all the fighters in this unit were killed by Zionist shelling along with the soldier, who the enemy says is missing.”
Hamas's military wing

Given that the forensic report has been kept secret, it is impossible to independently verify the cause of Lieutenant Goldin’s death and whether it corresponded to the Israeli version that he was killed by Hamas bullets at 9.06am or the Hamas version suggesting that he might have been killed when a bomb crushed the tunnel on top of him.

Despite the determination that Lieutenant Goldin had died, the Israeli military continued its attacks in the Rafah area on 2-3 August.

Destruction Continues

On 2 and 3 August the Israeli army continued the destruction of greenhouses and homes, apparently as part of the search for Lieutenant Goldin or his remains. Large areas of fields and orchards at the outskirts of Rafah turned into wasteland.

A Pléiades satellite image of eastern Rafah taken on 14 August 2014 at 11.54am that reveals extensive destruction of fields and greenhouses by Israeli forces in the three areas marked by red boxes on the image. © CNES 2014, Distribution AIRBUS DS, all rights reserved.

The practice is referred to by the Israeli army as “exposure”, which involves bulldozers and other heavy mechanical equipment digging out tunnel entrances and exits.

A major in the Engineering Corps described to Breaking the Silence the procedure of demolishing a tunnel:

“When arriving at the area of the tunnel, about 100-200m from it, we would assess which locations could command the tunnel opening. We identified the opening itself, and two rows of buildings a kilometre away that command it. Then tanks would come and fire at those buildings. You’ll have all kinds of other buildings around the tunnel – so a D9 [bulldozer] comes over and flattens the entire area.”
Israeli Engineering Corps Major
A photograph showing destruction caused by Israeli bulldozers and tanks in south-east Rafah. © Kent Klich.

The military did not manage to retrieve the remains of Lieutenant Goldin’s body. Heavy bombing of tunnel areas reduced the likelihood of finding him. His funeral on 3 August, arranged in an exceptional fashion, eventually allowed the Israeli military to leave the Gaza Strip without admitting that they had left a soldier behind. By 2pm on Sunday 3 August, the Israeli army had withdrawn most of its soldiers from Rafah. Forensic Architecture was able to locate at least two images of smoke plumes on 3 August indicating that aerial attacks had not ceased.

A photograph shows smoke rising from the site of Israeli air strike in the east of Rafah on 3 August 2014. © REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa.

The D9 bulldozers, the digging equipment and the securing forces were the last units to leave the Gaza Strip on 4 August. The conflict continued until 26 August as a series of cross-border fire exchanges that saw the significant escalation of aerial bombing. For further information on the last days of the war see here.

Shift in proportionality

The pounding of Rafah continued for three days after the initial strikes of 1 August. Under the veil of the Hannibal Directive, the Israeli army enacted a “gloves off” policy whereby it struck general targets from its “target banks” – a continuously updated list of targets prepared by the military intelligence – that were not previously authorized because they were determined to involve too high levels of collateral damage. This type of bombing continued even after the Israeli army’s chief rabbi signed Lieutenant Goldin’s death certificate.

The striking of these type of targets points to a shift in the Israeli army’s own proportionality calculations and appeared to be meant to generate a level of destruction that would deter future capture attempts. Colonel Ofer Winter, commander of the Givati Brigade, who activated the Hannibal Directive on 1 August, suggests he was clear about the logic of the action taken: “Anyone who abducts should know that he will pay a price. This was not revenge. They simply messed with the wrong brigade.”

Post-conflict briefings to soldiers and public statements of Israeli officers suggest that the high death toll and massive destruction were not seen as regrettable side effects but “achievements” or “accomplishments” that would keep Gaza “quiet for five years”. An Intelligence Corps soldier quoted senior army officers as saying: “2,000 dead and 11,000 wounded, half a million refugees, decades’ worth of destruction. Harm to lots of senior Hamas members and to their homes, to their families. These were stated as accomplishments so that no one would doubt that what we did during this period was meaningful.” Another Israeli soldier told Breaking the Silence that the aim in bombings was to “deter them, scare them, wear them down psychologically”.

Israeli army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said Israel’s assaults were mostly aimed at convincing Hamas never to try it again: “When they come out of their bunkers and they look around, they are going to have to make a serious estimation of whether what they have done was worth it.” These statements indicate an intention to generate material damage as a deterrent.

The Israeli army’s firing policy has been revealed in a number of testimonies from soldiers and officers serving in the field and from command centres. These testimonies, given to Breaking the Silence, confirm that targets that were not previously authorized, because military planners deemed they involved too high a level of civilian casualties, were authorized after the Hannibal Directive was launched. They describe three levels of fire. The first expects a “low level of civilian harm”, the second a “moderate level” and the third a “necessary level”, where a high level of harm to civilians is expected. Every level routinely requires authorization from different levels of command, unless the forces involved are at immediate risk or a Hannibal Directive is declared, in which case the decision is left to the field commander in charge. According to the testimonies, after the Hannibal Directive was declared many targets that were classified as the highest level, such as multi-story buildings or structures located in densely populated areas, were approved for attack and attacked regardless of whether they would help extracting the soldier. A military planner describes the determination of targets:

“In the ‘Hannibal Procedure’, you [hit] all the targets that you’ve prepared in advance, all optional targets. I brought them a list of targets for preliminary approval, and they told me: ‘That’s not enough targets, come back [with more].’ Now, I look at the aerial footage, and I don’t know if there are civilians in there, I don’t know anything. I’m allowed to designate a seven-story building as a target, I’m allowed to order a ‘debilitating strike’ along this 600m stretch which is a central route. Hannibal is like, everything’s allowed.”
Israeli army planner

According to data from the Palestinian Human Rights Coalition, between 1 and 4 August 2,579 houses were destroyed completely or partially, with 2,201 houses on 1 August, 240 houses on 2 August and 138 houses on 3 August.