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Bombing homes in Gaza: 'It was supposed to be their shelter'

Human rights group B’Tselem exposes — and protests to the Israeli government — home demolitions, Gaza style.

Palestinian school girls walk across a destroyed part of Shujayea neighborhood, Gaza city, November 4th, 2014. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Palestinian school girls walk across a destroyed part of Shujayea neighborhood, Gaza city, November 4th, 2014. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

They fled when the flyers fell from the sky, Israeli military orders dropped like confetti on the masses. Evacuate, they said, or else. Seek shelter now.

One week of sorties, and Ibrahim made the call: We leave now — my wife and I, our seven children, our children’s children.

But the Abu Shuqah family never found shelter. The closest they came was a cardboard factory — somewhere between Bureij and Nusseirat, two refugee camps along Gaza’s coastal flats.

“We stayed in the storeroom about two weeks,” Ibrahim recalled. “There were mattresses, water, gas, and electricity there. Things were good.”

Things were “good” — until the shelling began.

Read ‘Gaza’, +972’s story of the year for 2014

To internalize that familiar refrain about Gaza — that nowhere there is safe — consider the life-or-death moves of a father and his kin. That, in one sense, is the key takeaway of “Black Flag,” the latest in a slew of reports — this one by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem — about “Operation Protective Edge” and its lethal prosecution.

B’Tselem’s report, released today, explores “the legal and moral implications” of one particularly efficient Israeli tactic during this summer’s assault: targeting residential buildings. The group estimates that just over a quarter of Palestinian fatalities during the “fighting” owe to this tactic, which claimed 606 lives — 70 percent of them “either under 18, over 60, or women.”

B’Tselem investigated 70 such incidents, including the operation’s first. “On the first day of the fighting,” the report recounts, “the military attacked the Kaware’ family home. The house collapsed. Nine people, including five children aged 7 to 14, were killed.”

B’Tselem adds:

“Even if the Israeli cabinet thought this policy would bring an end to attacks on Israeli communities, it should not have implemented it because of its foreseeable, horrifying consequences as well as because of the black flag of illegality flying over it.”

Of course, B’Tselem’s report coincides with the recent Palestinian decision to sign the Rome Statute, a precondition for leveling war crimes charges against Israeli leaders at the International Criminal Court. B’Tselem, though, stops short of naming Israel’s actions “crimes” under international humanitarian law, or IHL. It concludes instead that, “at least in some cases, the military’s actions ran contrary to IHL provisions and, in other cases, there is grave concern that they did so.”

Read also: ‘IDF ‘double tap’ bombings hit first responders in Gaza’

At the same time, the report pulls no punches when describing Palestinian fighters’ actions, stating clearly B’Tselem’s blanket contention that “Hamas and other organizations operating in the Gaza Strip do not abide by IHL.”

That kind of across-the-board statement would seem to ignore a crucial fact about Operation Protective Edge — that it was, in fact, a war of one army. But B’Tselem Executive Director Hagai El-Ad, in a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released with today’s report, made clear that placing “responsibility for harm to civilians” solely on Hamas was a red herring.

“This interpretation is designed to block, a priori, any allegation against Israel,” wrote El-Ad. “This interpretation is unreasonable, unlawful, and renders meaningless the principle that violations committed by one party do not release the other party from its obligations toward the civilian population and civilian objects.”

Relatives walk amidst the rubble of the home of Zaki Wahdan in the city of Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza City, November 10, 2014. Eight members of the Wahdan family, mostly women and children were killed. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Relatives walk amidst the rubble of the home of Zaki Wahdan in the city of Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza City, November 10, 2014. Eight members of the Wahdan family, mostly women and children were killed. (Photo by Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

B’Tselem cites the military’s claim that residential buildings were legitimate military targets because they housed “terror infrastructure” — either in the form of materiel or operatives who purportedly hid them. But throughout the Israeli assault, “no official claimed that there was any connection between a house that was targeted and any specific military activity there,” recounts B’Tselem.

On a related point, B’Tselem takes issue with Israeli decision-makers’ definition of “proportionality.” The principle, according to the report’s authors, is that so-called “collateral damage” cannot be justified “when harm to civilians as a result of an attack is projected to be excessive in relation to its anticipated military advantage….”

As I read it, that’s legalese for a pretty simple point: If killing nine members of the Kaware’ family does nothing to shift the balance of military power, you can’t do it — at least not under international humanitarian law. And what combination of presumed military armaments — or battlefield knowledge — could so fill a Gaza home that it would constitute a threat to Israel’s US-backed military?

Even if that weren’t a rhetorical question, even if Israeli commanders actually believed that killing hundreds of women, children, and elderly was simply a means to a legitimate military end, they still had an obligation to at least try to avoid casualties, to warn civilians that deadly violence was afoot.

So did they? Let’s look at what happened when the ten members of the Abu Shuqah family heeded Israel’s warning. A week into Israel’s bombing campaign, we know, they left their home in the Bureij refugee camp and made it to the cardboard factory — this after a short waylay at Ibrahim’s brother-in-law’s house. (It was a two-hour waylay, in fact — just long enough for a bomb to fall nearby, prompting the family to keep moving.)

After two weeks in which things were “good” — with mattresses, gas, electricity, and water — the factory storeroom was hit by shrapnel. Again, the Abu Shuqah family made haste, this time to a relative’s house in the Nusseirat refugee camp (where the United Nations estimates that 90 percent of the available water is “unfit for human consumption”).

It was there that, on July 31, 2014 at 8:30 PM, Ibrahim Abu Shuqah’s wife, two of his daughters, and a granddaughter were killed in an Israeli airstrike that, in an instant and without warning, claimed the lives of 13 people, hunkered in a home in a refugee camp by the sea.

It was supposed to be their shelter.

Next door, ‘Abir al-‘Assar, who was nine months pregnant, her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, and her brother-in-law’s six-year-old daughter all perished, too.

None of the surviving family members of this bombing-among-many knows why their loved ones had to die — or what military advantage Israel derived.

Read detailed accounts of similar cases documented by B’Tselem.

Read also:
UN aid agency to Gazans: Sorry, but there’s no money
Report details IDF ‘double tap’ bombings that hit first responders in Gaza
War on Gaza: A promise Israeli politicians can keep

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    1. Tony Riley

      Does B’Tselem still employ Holocaust deniers?

      Reply to Comment
      • Bryan

        How many non-sequiturs does that brief sentence contain. (1) The hapless victims of the Gaza slaughter are an overwhelming young population who have absolutely no moral responsibility for a terrible event which occurred seventy years ago in Europe and had absolutely nothing to do with Gaza; (2) The entire rationale of groups like B’Tselem is to prevent any repetition of such atrocities by developing and applying the principles of international humanitarian law; (3) Their is no reasonable educated person in the world who denies the Holocaust – sure their fringe nutcases who talk utter nonsense, but there are also nutcases who insist the world is flat, or deny the theory of evolution, or insist that every single Moslem is a terrorist, but sensible discussion should simply ignore these lunatics; (4) Just as antisemitism is fueled by Israel’s oppression and occupation and absurd claims made on behalf of worldwide Jewry, so Holocaust denial is probably fueled by those who constantly and cynically exploit that awful tragedy as a sledgehammer to advance their own wicked agenda; (5) The state of Israel owes very little to the Holocaust, and far more, we are asked to believe, to the millennia-old association of Hebrews with the land of Palestine; (6) You are possibly running very short of justifications for the slaughter that occurred but a basic moral principle is no evil is justified by the mere fact that other evils exist.

        Reply to Comment
        • ICat

          You like to throw words, phrases and concepts around without knowing what they actually mean, you pretentious old turd. A ‘non-sequitur’ is a conclusion that does not flow from its premise. Because a question does not contain a premise and/or a conclusion, it a-priori cannot be a non-sequitur. Only arguments and statements can contain non-sequitur. Questions are neither arguments nor statements.

          Reply to Comment
          • ICat

            Bryan, I did not address the rest of your mumbo jumbo, because they are not worth responding to. In your psychotic anti-Semitic mind, you are in a very dark place where – considering your advanced old age – no one can rescue you from. You will probably die a very bitter, hateful old turd, whose mind is completely occupied by nothing other than Jews.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bryan

            Icat – you have never addressed any argument put forward apart from calling it “mumbo jumbo”, The product of a “psychotic anti-Semitic mind”, produced by someone of “advanced old age” who will hopefully “die a very bitter, hateful old turd”. Have you no conception of how utterly feeble your response is, and no concerns that your employers, who apparently lash out $2000 a month for bright young hasbarists, might realize how pathetic your performance is and finally remove you from the payroll.

            Reply to Comment
          • Bryan

            Don’t be so bl–dy stupid Icat – does the question “Does B’Tselem still employ Holocaust deniers?” not imply the statement “B’Tselem still employs holocaust deniers” – you self-righteous pedantic pr-ck?

            Reply to Comment
        • Tony Riley

          It sounds like you’re the only one making excuses here.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Bar

      B’Tzelem’s pretense:

      “But throughout the Israeli assault, “no official claimed that there was any connection between a house that was targeted and any specific military activity there,”

      So, since the IDF doesn’t want to share its intelligence, its mode of prioritizing targets and its decision-making process, B’Tzelem doesn’t get the answers it thinks it deserves to have and establishes accusations about war crimes or near-war-crimes.

      The dishonesty of doing this is beyond belief.

      Reply to Comment
      • mt noise

        They also consider all casualties to be civilians unless they are explicitly identified as fighters.

        Reply to Comment
      • Pedro X

        How dishonest are B’Tselem and 972mag? Take the case of the al-Kaware family in which 9 (?) family members were killed. Madhi al-Kaware was a major Hamas operative. In the house was also senior Islamic Jihad Al Quds battalion operative, Mohammed
        Ibrahim Oudah. The IDF fired a warning shot and Maannews reports what the Palestinians did:

        “A missile slammed into the house in Khan Younis after people had reportedly formed a human shield to protect it, killing seven people, including two children.

        Witnesses said an Israeli drone fired a warning flare, prompting relatives and neighbors to gather at the house as a human shield and that, shortly afterwards, an F-16 warplane fired a missile that leveled the building.

        The house belonged to the al-Kaware family.”

        So here is an example of Palestinians attempting to use human shields to protect military assets. The Palestinians ignored the warning and got blown up along with the terrorists.

        Obviously this was an important military target with unrelated senior terrorists from two different terrorist factions in it. The terrorists tried to protect their assets with human shields.

        Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        It doesn’t “establish” accusations, it renders those accusations unchallenged by opposing evidence or even by a mere claim of a connection between house and activity. There’s nothing dishonest about it.

        Reply to Comment
        • ICat

          Brian: “It doesn’t “establish” accusations,”

          Brian: “ it renders those accusations unchallenged by opposing evidence or even by a mere claim of a connection between house and activity”.

          Which one is it, Brian? “it doesn’t “establish” accusations”, yet “it renders those accusations…”? When you are not copying and pasting what is written in Haaretz or elsewhere, you prove to everyone that your are nothing but a mere rambling jackass.

          Reply to Comment
    3. Bruce Gould

      (off topic, feel free to IGNORE): “the Jews” – is there such an object? There are Jews – I’m one – but…”the” Jews? If there is, it doesn’t speak with one voice – here’s a piece on the situation in France from The National Bureau of the French Jewish Union For Peace”

      We are also conscious of the rise of a formidable anti-Semitism in France. But we seek to analyze it and understand its causes, because, like all racisms, it breeds blindness, hatred and bloodshed. For years, our association has been denouncing the trap set for French Jews and it is important to describe this trap again in the wake of this murderous attack….


      Reply to Comment
    4. Pedro X

      Again on topic:

      “B’Tselem’s absurd argument that Israel cannot target Hamas fighters at home will only encourage terrorists to store more weapons, launch more rockets, and conduct more military operations from within homes and mosques, knowing they can do so with complete impunity,” continued Ms. Herzberg.”



      Reply to Comment
      • andrew r

        As always, my response to this is that the Zionist paramilitaries did the same thing when they were fighting for control of Palestine. So the British could surely have destroyed any given house, school or farm built by the Yishuv and it would have been justified on the same grounds these people are arguing against B’Tselem.

        weapons store at Kibbutz Nahalal sliq.org.il/en/stories_en.asp

        commemorative plaque for weapons store at synagogue richardsilverstein.com/2011/01/27/israel-decries-militant-arms-caches-in-schools-mosques-pot-calls-kettle/

        Hebrew wiki page detailing different weapon stores (sliqim) he.wikipedia.org/wiki/סליק

        Reply to Comment
        • andrew r

          I’m not going to leave any comments with Facebook, so hopefully the deranged windbag Baruch Gottesman notices this. Newsflash: The Yishuv used child soldiers.


          “Even though I was only a teenager, the danger did not deter me. (…) During vacations, we underwent live fire training and ground exercises. The lessons took place in a kindergarten located in Tel Aviv’s Florentine neighborhood”


          “In late 1940 the Haganah High Command decided to establish youth battalions also in the form of Field Units (Heil ha-Sadeh, or Hish). The purpose was to absorb young people, both male and female, students and workers, who would receive training in preparation for entering active duty in the Field Units at age eighteen. The Gadna (Hebrew acronym for “youth battalions”) program itself, which had already been in existence since 1936, consisted of units between the ages of fourteen to seventeen where young men and women were trained in communications, signaling, etc.”

          Reply to Comment
    5. Mikesailor

      This thread is almost too silly. The Zionists don’t want anyone to go to Gaza and take statements, pictures and other physical evidence. Why not? Because every investigator is “antisemitic”. If anyone challenges the Israeli Zionist narrative, the majority of Israeli Jews will not only spout such nonsense, they even believe it. A blanket condemnation is made, disputing any evidence of possible wrongdoing even if the evidence is gathered by Israeli Jews and consists of statements by Israeli soldiers present at the dispute. It is all too easy. The Zionists have brainwashed their population to the extent that a majority are brain dead. They will believe anything as long as their government controls the narrative and the stories that the Zionists don’t want to “infect” their domestic population are studiously ignored. “Terror” tunnels never used to attack civilians, children killed playing soccer on the beach by what? Accident? Bombing residential buildings with no showing they were involved in any combat. Along with hospitals, UN schools etc. Shooting civilians holding white flags. Using “human shields’ against even Israeli Supreme Court rulings. Committing murder and thievery against a civilian population. All things the Zionists either proudly approve, or spend time denigrating the truth-tellers. Does anyone wonder why the Israelis tried to get countries to de-fund the ICC? What are they trying to hide? War crimes on a massive scale? If not, then why not cooperate with all investigations? Sorry, I forgot. If Israel cannot investigate itself, then all outside impartial investigations are automatically “antisemitic”.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Brian

      The indispensable Zeev Sternhell:

      …A radical change will not happen here as long as the present regime does not bring about a major national crisis. A failure such as Operation Protective Edge is not enough, since the heavy price of that conflict was paid primarily by the Palestinians.

      Therefore, the realistic alternative lies in external intervention that will be massive enough to shake Israelis out of the placidity of their comfortable lives.

      Only when everyone among us can feel the price of the occupation in their flesh, will the end to blue-and-white colonialism and apartheid come. Only when the economy is hit in a way that affects the overall standard of living, or when security is undermined as a result of a serious threat to American interests in the region, will the real treatment for eliminating the occupation and guaranteeing our future begin.


      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        Sternhell on Kahlon:

        Immediately on the day after the election it will be revealed that Moshe Kahlon is nothing but a completely regular Likudnik: Already now he is promising to preserve a “unified” Jerusalem, a term that is a well-known code word for denoting the continuation of the occupation. In addition, as can be remembered from his days in the government, his economic ideas are no different than Netanyahu’s.

        On Lapid:

        The other person wearing a mask, Yair Lapid, is a first-rate performer, but as a politician he is an overblown demagogue, lacking any ideology, a natural candidate for any deal. After two years in power everyone should have already understood this. He can certainly stand alongside Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog, or continue with Netanyahu, or with the two of them together. Herzog’s political views are vague enough that he can get along with just about anyone. Even his PR people are no longer talking about a new message. As far as is known, his peace plan promises a deep freeze for years to come, and that is why he is convenient for everyone.

        On Herzog and Livni:

        In addition, at decision time, Herzog and Lapid will prefer a coalition with Likud rather than linking up with the united Arab party. In other words: Israeli society is stuck deep in the mud, and it does not have the power to extricate itself on its own.

        It is reasonable to assume that these facts were, in part, behind Netanyahu’s decision to call for early elections, since for him a coalition with the Labor Party, Lapid and Kahlon — with or without the Haredim — is far more preferable to a government with Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett and Yisrael Beitenu chief Avigdor Lieberman. A center-right government will allow him to start over again from the beginning of the never-ending, foot-dragging ritual of the “peace process.” With Herzog in the Foreign Ministry, Israel will receive renewed credit in the international community; he and Tzipi Livni will conquer the television screens on five continents, an election campaign will start in the United States and in the meantime in the territories things will continue as usual, at a slower pace and maybe with less violence. Contrary to the hopes being cultivated in the center, Netanyahu has not had the last word yet and his party has not lost its traditional base of support.

        On Meretz:

        In this light, the demand that Meretz commit suicide in order to improve the chances of the Bougie-Tzipi couple is absurd. Indeed, the practical significance of the flow of voters from the left to the center — if it does take place — means the elimination of the only clear Jewish left-wing voice in the Knesset. Meretz serves the main human rights organizations, without which there will be very little left of Israeli democracy. The lost Knesset seats of Meretz will not turn Herzog into a daring prime minister, in the best case, but into a minister in another conservative government that will have one fancy name or another, but will be incapable of fundamentally altering the existing situation. Is it worth eliminating the left from the Knesset for this?

        Reply to Comment
        • ICat

          Another series of “cut, copy and paste” from an unemployed foreign imbecile with irrational fixation on- and compulsive obsession with Jews and Israel, who has no idea of what goes on in his own country, cares not about what goes on in his own country and never ever gets emotional about what goes on in his own country, but gets emotional and irrational when obsessing with Jews and Israel. Shouldn’t you be spending time on the affairs of your own country, Brian, and worrying about what is going on in your own country and how to make your own country better? What exactly got you so hooked on Jews and Israel, Brian, that you even neglect yourself and won’t go find a job to support yourself, but instead depend on food-stamps provided by the United States government with my tax dollars to survive, while 24/7 obsessing with Jews and Israel, visiting several websites “researching” on Jews and Israel and coming back here to paste the result of your “research? Something is wrong with you, Brian? You need to go see a psychiatrist for your own good, Brian.

          Now, Brian, cut, copy and paste something from Chemi Shalev or someone else. Get on with it. We are waiting…

          Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            American PsychoSniper, this is, ahem, a website about Israel/Palestine, but here’s an American article about what’s wrong with you; and what’s wrong with much else in the American political landscape besides. (I apologize to the rest of you for going off topic a bit, though it is related as you can see.) For your American reading pleasure:


            (I get tons of positive feedback about providing these clippings from Haaretz. You’re the only one who stews and steams about it. Greg Pollock, for example, nice guy, asked me to do this more not less. Can’t please everyone.)

            Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            And knowing you as I do, unfortunately, it’s also for your viewing pleasure. There’s hot hot pictures of snipers there. Whoowhee. Don’t get TOO excited now…

            Reply to Comment
          • ICat

            Brian, you are clinically fixated on- and compulsively obsessed with Jews and Israel. That’s a psychiatric problem, you know? What exactly got you so hooked on Jews and Israel, Brian, that you even neglect yourself and don’t know what goes on in your won’t country, don’t care about what goes on in your own country, don’t ever get emotional about the social ills that are destroying your own country and won’t go find a job to support yourself, but instead depend on food-stamps provided by the United States government with my tax dollars to survive, while 24/7 obsessing with Jews and Israel, emotionally and irrationally vexing about Jewish affairs that concern you not, visiting several websites “researching” on Jews and Israel and coming back here to paste the result of your “research”? Something is seriously wrong with you, Brian? You need to go see a psychiatrist for your own good, Brian.

            The above is what you need to address, Brian, while cooking and stewing in your own juice out of hate, envy and jealousy of Jews and Israel and hiding behind Jewish pundits to mask your hate. We are waiting, Brian. Maybe you can cut, copy and paste something from Zeev Sternhell or Chemi Shalev or someone else to cover up you incompetence to formulate your own original thoughts, you little imbecile? Btw. “Greg Pollock” is not “tons of people”, just so you know…

            Reply to Comment
          • Bryan

            You appear to be the idiot who has an “irrational fixation on – and compulsive obsession with Jews” – the rest of us are just human beings who seek human rights and justice. Try to realize that your petty tribal loyalties are a minority perspective – the rest of the civilized world simply wants justice – not discrimination, dispossession, displacement, dissimulation, disparagement, disproportionality and distortion.

            Reply to Comment
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