Human Rights Watch: Israeli raids on Gaza towers amount to war crimes

The Israeli air strikes that destroyed four high-rise towers in Gaza City during the fighting in May 2021 appear to have violated the laws of war and may amount to war crimes, Human Rights Watch said Monday.

In a lengthy report, the organization indicated that these attacks damaged nearby buildings, displaced dozens of families, and closed dozens of businesses that provided livelihoods for many people.

According to the report, between May 11 and 15, Israeli forces attacked Hanadi, Al-Jawhara, Al-Shorouk, and Al-Jalaa towers in the densely populated Al-Rimal neighborhood. The fourth building, Al Jawhara, was severely damaged and is due to be demolished.

According to the report, the Israeli authorities argue that the towers were used by armed Palestinian factions for military purposes, but did not provide any evidence to support these allegations.

“Apparently unlawful Israeli strikes on four towers in Gaza City have caused severe and lasting damage to the countless Palestinians who lived, worked, shopped, and profited from the businesses located there,” said Richard Ware, researcher in the Crisis and Conflict Division at Human Rights Watch. The IDF must publicly present the evidence it says it relied on to carry out these attacks.”

The Israeli army said that during the fighting with Palestinian armed factions in Gaza from May 10 to 21, its forces attacked about 1,500 targets with air and ground munitions, while the “United Nations” reported that the Israeli attacks killed 260 people in Gaza, at least 129 of them civilians, including 66 children, while the local authorities in Gaza said that 2,400 housing units have become uninhabitable, more than 50,000 units have been damaged and more than 2,000 industrial, commercial and service facilities have been destroyed or partially damaged.

According to the report, Palestinian armed factions fired more than 4,360 rockets towards Israel, killing 12 civilians in Israel, including two children and a soldier, according to the Israeli authorities.

Human Rights Watch noted that it has prepared a separate report on Israeli air strikes that killed dozens of Palestinian civilians and another on rocket attacks by Palestinian armed factions in violation of the laws of war. According to the organisation.

Between May and August, Human Rights Watch interviewed by phone 18 Palestinians who were witnesses and victims of the attacks on the towers, including residents, business owners, and employees, as well as those in nearby damaged buildings. Human Rights Watch also reviewed videos and photos taken after the attacks, and statements by Israeli officials. and Palestinians and Palestinian groups.

The towers included dozens of companies, offices of news agencies, and many homes. Jawad Mahdi (68 years old), owner of the Galaa Tower, who lived there with dozens of his family members, said: “All these years of hard work, it was a place to live and safety, children and grandchildren, all Our history and our lives were destroyed in front of us... as if someone was tearing your heart out and throwing it away.”

The long-term effects of the attacks go beyond the current destruction of buildings, Human Rights Watch said, with many jobs lost as businesses closed, and many families displaced.

Muhammad Qadada, 31, who is the head of a digital marketing company located in Hanadi Tower, said that the 30 affected employees, including people who “support their families, others who are newly married, and others who provide for their elderly parents, and who have relatives who have diseases and need financial support, will not find Another job because the equipment they had that enabled them to work, design and produce was completely destroyed, so how can they work?”

According to Israel, those high towers housed offices for Palestinian armed factions, including the headquarters of some units and military intelligence. In one of the towers, offices contained “the most valuable technological equipment for Hamas for use against Israel, but no information was announced to support these allegations.” As the human rights organization says.

Human Rights Watch found no evidence that members of Palestinian factions participating in the military operations had a current or previous presence in any of the towers at the time of the attack, even if such a presence did exist, and the attacks appear to have caused foreseeable disproportionate damage to civilian property. According to the organization's report.

Under international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, warring parties may target only military objectives, and in doing so, they must take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians and, unless circumstances permit, give effective advance warnings of attacks, and attacks are prohibited. The laws of war prohibit indiscriminate attacks, including those that do not target a specific military objective or do not discriminate between civilians and military objectives, and prohibit attacks in which the expected harm to civilians and civilian property is disproportionate to Expected military gain.

The organization indicated that on May 30 it requested permits for senior researchers to enter Gaza to conduct further investigations into the hostilities, but the Israeli authorities rejected the request on July 26, noting that since 2008 the Israeli authorities have refused to allow its international staff to enter Gaza, with the exception of one visit in 2016.

On July 13, the IDF spokesperson responded to a Human Rights Watch letter dated June 4 asking detailed questions about the attacks, saying that the IDF “strikes exclusively military targets after assessing that the potential collateral damage from the attack is not significant compared to the expected military gain.”

The army added that it was conducting investigations and investigating "various incidents" in order to "see whether the mandatory rules were violated, and draw conclusions."

Attacks on the towers

The strikes on the four towers investigated by Human Rights Watch were just a small part of the Israeli military attacks on Gaza during the fighting in May.

In each case, the IDF warned the residents of the impending attack by calling the building manager, the security guard, or one of the building’s occupants, waited for people to evacuate, and then fired smaller munitions that were either non-explosive or had a small explosive effect – what the IDF calls Knock on the roof” – then carried out airstrikes, three of the four buildings instantly flattened. Although no combatants or civilians were reported killed or injured, the attacks destroyed civilian property worth millions of US dollars.

Human Rights Watch's research into the attacks on the four towers found no evidence that members of the Palestinian factions involved in the military operations were in the buildings or had been there for an extended period of time.

A businessman said that Hamas had offices in Hanadi Tower, but he could not identify the occupants, what they were doing, or if they had any links to the movement's military wing. According to the report.

Under the laws of war, civilian officials not participating in military operations must not be attacked. Media offices are civilian objects unless they are directly participating in hostilities through the transmission of military information. According to the text of the organization's report.

Hanadi Tower

In the aftermath of the attack, the Israeli army released several statements and photos, as well as a video of the attack. The statements acknowledged the attack and said that Hamas used the building for “military research and development” and that it housed “Hamas military intelligence offices.” A statement posted on the IDF website stated that the building included “Multiple military units used by Hamas,” including a “headquarters” for research and development, military intelligence, and “more than that,” but he did not elaborate further.

The media reported that the building contained offices for the political leadership of Hamas. A journalist familiar with the tower, who asked not to be identified, said: “There are political meeting offices for members of the Hamas parliament and Hamas spokesmen in the tower,” while one of the business owners in the tower said that there are Hamas offices in the tower. , was not aware of its purpose. According to what was quoted by the International Organization.

Human Rights Watch says, “Hamas, the de facto authority in Gaza, is an organization that includes a political party and an armed wing. Mere membership or affiliation with Hamas is not a sufficient basis to identify a person as a legitimate military target, and the laws of war permit the targeting of military leaders in the context of armed conflict, provided That these attacks comply with laws protecting civilians, and political leaders not participating in military operations, as well as civilians, are not legitimate targets of attack.”

The buildings directly adjacent to Hanadi Tower, especially in the north, have sustained severe damage, and satellite imagery taken on May 14 shows damage to the southern and western facades of Handouqa apartments and the “Gaza International Hotel,” both of which are a few meters north of Hanadi Tower.

Jewel Tower

On the evening of May 11, the Israeli military contacted residents living next to the tower to inform the tenants of the 11-storey Al-Jawhara Tower that the building, which is primarily commercial, would be targeted, and that it had to be evacuated. The roof of the tower and the ground near it, and at around 2 a.m. on May 12, larger air-dropped munitions hit and severely damaged the building.

The building also housed “SMT Solutions,” an information technology company that provides internet to areas across Gaza. A post on the company’s Facebook page on May 13 said fiber-optic networks, the data center, and the company’s headquarters were destroyed in the attack and would take six months to repair.

The tower also housed the “Little Journalist Club,” the only children’s radio station in Gaza. Ghassan Radwan, 51, the owner of the radio club, said that eight people were working in the radio station and more than 20 children were managing programs and executing broadcasts, all of which were destroyed. It would cost about $70,000 to rebuild the network, but that would require overcoming restrictions on entry to communications equipment due to the Israeli shutdown and Egyptian restrictions.

Sunrise Tower

On the afternoon of May 12, the Israeli military called the guard of the 14-storey Al-Shorouk Tower, who informed the building’s occupants that the building might be under attack and that they should get out of it. Minutes, the Israeli warplanes bombed the tower with several large missiles from the air, causing severe damage to the building, causing the collapse of two parts of the building and leaving its middle part – the highest part of it – standing. After about ten minutes, the Israeli warplanes attacked the remaining part of the building with two large munitions units. It caused the collapse of the last part on the neighboring shops and homes.

No one was killed or injured as a result, but the owners of the tower and businesses in the building and in nearby buildings described destruction and damage to dozens of businesses and at least six homes.

After the attack, the IDF released a graphic of the building and a statement saying that “the building houses Hamas military intelligence offices, and infrastructure used by terrorist organizations to deliver tactical-military information.” According to the text of his statement as reported by the organization.

Ahmed Masoud al-Mughni, 60, chairman of the building’s board of directors, said that the building housed 50 offices, cafés, “doctors’ offices, lawyers and journalists,” and empty apartments. The singer estimated that the cost of rebuilding the tower ranged between 2 and 3.5 million. dollars and will take several years.

The attack destroyed the offices of a number of media outlets in the building, namely: “Al-Aqsa TV” and “Al-Aqsa Radio”; Palestine Media Production Company; Al-Quds Al-Youm TV, and Al-Hayat Al-Jadida newspaper, which is linked to the Palestinian Authority.

The Palestine Media Production Company was renting five apartments on floors 5, 9, and 13. Ismail Abdel Ghani Ismail Jabr, 27, whose father owns the company, said the company had been operating in the building since 1994, employing 17 people at the time of the attack.

Al-Jalaa Tower

On the afternoon of May 15, a man who identified himself as “Danny” from the Israeli army spoke in Arabic on the phone to Jawad Mahdi, 68, the nephew of Jawad Mahdi, the owner of the 14-storey Galaa Tower, and Danny’s voice was taped to a mobile phone threatening a retaliatory attack: “Because they are the Palestinian armed groups, they bombed Israel and they bombed Tel Aviv, we will hit the entire tower,” the phone was handed to Mahdi. “Danny” told Mahdi to inform the occupants that the building would be targeted and that they had to evacuate all floors.

Human Rights Watch sent questions to the Israeli military to inquire about the authenticity of the recording and whether the statements in it reflected Israeli military policy, but as of publication, it had received no response.

At about 3 p.m., Israeli planes fired submunitions at the building. Within minutes, Israeli planes attacked the tower using at least two munitions that they dropped near the base of the building on both sides and it collapsed immediately.

No one was killed or injured because everyone left, but residents and tenants said that in addition to destroying the building, they lost everything in their homes and businesses, including equipment and records. The building housed the offices of Al Jazeera English and the Associated Press.

Following the attack, the Israeli army published a photo and a video, and issued several statements that sought to justify the attack. Israeli military officials and politicians, including then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, issued statements or addressed the media on this subject, and these statements changed with time, describing the threats posed by The alleged military presence that its danger is increasing.

On the day of the attack, the IDF stated that the building “contains military equipment belonging to the intelligence offices of the Hamas terrorist organization.” Later that day, it said the building “had housed the Hamas research and development unit, responsible, among other things, for terrorist activities against the State of Israel.” The same statement added that this unit includes “material experts, who constitute a unique asset to the Hamas terrorist organization, and these experts operate Hamas’s most valuable technological equipment against Israel,” while the army spokesman at the time, Brigadier General Jonathan Conricus, later told Reuters that Today, the offices occupied by Palestinian armed factions were located on several floors.” As stated by the organization in its report.

On May 16, the Israeli army’s official Twitter account stated that the tower was an “important base of operations for Hamas’s military intelligence,” and that in addition to collecting intelligence, “weapons and equipment were manufactured to impede the operations of the Israeli army,” in a second tweet, minutes later, he said: Hamas and Islamic Jihad removed the equipment after the army warned the building's occupants and residents, though it did not specify what the equipment was.

On May 17, then-Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu stated on the American television network CBS that the building housed an “intelligence office of the Palestinian terrorist organization located in the building, which plans and organizes attacks against Israeli citizens,” while an unnamed senior Israeli military official said His name told the New York Times in an article published on May 21 that the building contained electronic jamming equipment, but that Israel provided no evidence to support any of these claims.

Tenants, residents, and the owner of the building rejected the Israeli allegations that there were armed groups in the building.

"We have no indication that Hamas was in or active in the building," Associated Press President and CEO Gary Pruitt said.

Mahdi, who is also a resident of the building, said that the value of the building was about $5 million, and the value of the furniture and appliances that were destroyed was about $2 million.

For his part, Faris Al-Ghoul (30 years old), who works in Al-Mayadeen Media Group, which had offices in Al-Jalaa Tower, said that he was in his office on the third floor with five of his colleagues when the building official ordered them to evacuate.

He added, "I didn't know what to do, imagine the situation, the building official comes to you crying, and he says: 'Hurry up! quickly! Get out! They will bomb the building.” So, the other five and I took what equipment we could and left $200,000 worth of equipment behind, because we didn't have time.

The equipment that was destroyed includes a satellite transmitter, which he said cost about $120,000, and is very difficult to replace due to the Israeli closure of Gaza.

The attack also damaged civilian buildings around the building, long-term effects “with repercussions” and the closure of Gaza

In addition to the damage and destruction of towers, offices, and residences, the attacks are expected to have various "ramifications", such as damage to civilians and civilian objects due to the indirect or immediate attack, and these effects include displacement, a reduced standard of living, and impeded access to Shelter, health care and basic services such as electricity, all affect basic human rights.

In Gaza, these effects are exacerbated by the comprehensive closure imposed by Israel on the Strip since 2007, which Egypt has hardly eased on the Gaza border from the south, as it maintains its restrictions, as the Israeli closure and restrictions on the Egyptian border have destroyed the Gaza economy, 80% of Gazans depend on humanitarian aid and more than half of them live below the poverty line, and in 2020, the unemployment rate exceeded 40%.

“The Israeli authorities justify the closure of Gaza on security grounds, but the ban on the movement of more than two million people, with narrow exceptions, on the basis of generalized threats, and blanket restrictions on the entry and exit of goods, violates Israel’s obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law, which require ensuring that the needs of the population are met.

The Israeli authorities, for example, continued to severely restrict the entry of so-called dual-use items that can be used for military purposes, such as building tunnels or fortifications, but the dual-use list includes very broad categories and items vital to meeting the needs of Gaza residents, including “communication equipment.” “Steel building elements or products,” “drilling equipment (wells),” and some medical equipment.

The organization indicated that these restrictions have significantly reduced the residents' access to construction materials and other commodities vital to rebuilding Gaza and its infrastructure.

The Israeli military says armed groups in Gaza use cement to build tunnels, and estimates that building one kilometer of tunnels requires a few hundred tons of cement, but people in Gaza need more than a million tons of cement annually to build and maintain homes, schools, health clinics, and a health system. Water, and other critical infrastructure.

The recent destruction and damage to tens of thousands of residential, commercial and infrastructure buildings due to Israeli strikes increases the need for building materials to repair and rebuild these buildings. As the organization says.

The human rights organization called on the Israeli authorities not to place restrictions on goods, most of which are civilian, and very necessary for reconstruction, under the pretext that armed groups may use a small part of them to build tunnels or for other military purposes.

“The general inability to obtain building materials means that any reconstruction efforts will take a long time to complete,” she says.

In interviews with investors and owners of three of the four towers, all said that because of Israel's closure, it would take years to rebuild the buildings, with many business owners who rely on specialized equipment whose entry is restricted, such as broadcasting equipment, worried that rebuilding would It will be complicated and slow.

On August 13, the Israeli army announced that, in light of the currently stable security situation, it would expand the list of goods allowed into Gaza, including allowing the entry of “goods and equipment for humanitarian projects.”

While the Palestinian authorities said on August 17 that, according to information they received from the Israeli authorities, “construction materials for the private sector and related to humanitarian projects only” would be among the items allowed into Gaza.

According to reports, Israeli authorities allowed in some items on August 19, but it remains unclear to what extent this represents a change in policy and for how long these measures will remain in place.

“The Israeli government should allow cement and other materials needed to rebuild civilian infrastructure into Gaza, subject to, to the maximum extent, narrow restrictions established on the basis of specific security assessments,” Human Rights Watch said.

"Unless the closure is lifted or eased significantly, the long-term effects, which carry other repercussions, from the destruction of towers and other civilian infrastructure will be exacerbated," she added.

The organization called on the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to monitor the situation in Gaza, and to include in its investigation into Palestine the apparently illegal Israeli attacks in Gaza, as well as Palestinian rocket attacks that hit population centers in Israel.

“Judicial authorities in other countries should credibly investigate and prosecute, in accordance with national laws, those implicated in serious crimes in the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel under the principle of universal jurisdiction,” she said.

"Warring parties should refrain from using explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas because of the indiscriminate harm to civilians that can be expected, and states should also support a strong political declaration that addresses the harm that explosive weapons cause to civilians and commits to avoiding the use of weapons with wide-area effects in areas," she added. inhabited population.

Personnel or equipment used in military operations can be attacked, but the justification for destroying an entire large building in which they may be located depends on the fact that the attack does not disproportionately damage civilians or civilian property, and the proportionality of the attack is more subject to doubt because Israeli forces have previously demonstrated their ability to strike certain floors or parts of buildings, but these attacks completely flattened three buildings by clearly attacking their structural integrity.”

It continued, “The deployment of armed Palestinian factions in the towers, if true, contradicts the requirements to take all possible precautions to minimize harm to civilians under their control and to avoid placing military targets in densely populated areas. Providing evidence, using them as “human shields” – the war crime of deliberately placing military forces with civilians to deter the targeting of those forces.”

She pointed out that the Israeli closure of Gaza 14 years ago, along with restrictions imposed on the Egyptian border, led to the destruction of the economy in Gaza.

The organization called on the Commission of Inquiry to Address Violations and Violations in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel to scrutinize unlawful attacks committed by Israeli forces and Palestinian armed factions during the May fighting, as well as analyze the broader context, including the Israeli government's discriminatory treatment of Palestinians.

“During the hostilities in May, unlawful Israeli strikes not only killed many civilians, but also destroyed towers, destroyed dozens of businesses and homes, and destabilized the lives of thousands of Palestinians,” Ware said. “Donor funding alone will not rebuild Gaza, the closure must end. The crushing impunity of the Gaza Strip and the impunity that fuels the continuing grave violations.”


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