AL-ZEITOUN, Gaza Strip — Since the start of Operation Protective Edge, Israeli warplanes have not hesitated to target civilian houses under the pretext that “wanted” persons were allegedly present. Yet, the resulting death toll bears witness to the violation of international law, first, by striking military targets in civilian locations, and second, by hitting targets such as homes, where combatant status does not apply.
A few minutes is the window of opportunity that Israel gives for civilians to evacuate the homes of wanted individuals before it destroys them, turning them into rubble and memories of war, and risks annihilating anyone left inside them. Such attacks include the one on the Qaware family's home, which the Israeli military says was also the home of an Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades commander, who was present during the July 11 bombing. The Ghannam family did not receive a warning on July 11 before being bombed. To these one can add the Abu Kwik, al-Astal, Hamad, Hajj, and al-Munasira as families whose homes were bombed by Israel.
Al-Monitor visited one of several houses in eastern Gaza that had been targeted for belonging to a Hamas member. Only the bedroom, children's games and the closet remained after it was struck at dawn July 9. No one stayed in the area after the bombing except for the neighbors, who not finding other shelter, had fled to the end of the street during the air raid.
One neighbor, Umm Mohammed (a pseudonym), told Al-Monitor, “Following suhoor [the predawn meal during Ramadan before daytime fasting begins], we heard a neighbor repeatedly screaming in the street, 'Leave the house!' We, eight families living in the same house, rushed into the street and did not carry anything with us.”
Samir, a neighbor in the adjacent house, said, “I got a call from the house owner telling me to leave immediately, because there is a warning that it will be bombed in minutes.” He continued, “There were not many minutes between the warning rocket and the targeting missiles. We did not take anything with us. The children and women ran away without even covering their hair.” Samir concluded, “Had the people been at home, a massacre would have occurred at that location.”
When Al-Monitor arrived near the house to check on the details of the bombing, some residents warned that the location could be targeted again because Israeli reconnaissance aircraft continued to flying overhead.
After Israel began this latest military operation against Gaza, Hamas warned against its policy of targeting houses and cars. The firing of J-80 rockets at Tel Aviv and Bat Yam on July 12 came after such a warning, apparently in response to Israel’s bombing of residential housing. Nearly an hour after the rocket fire on Tel Aviv, the home of Tayseer al-Batsh, director general of the police in the Gaza Strip, was targeted in the Shaaf neighborhood, in eastern Gaza City. The bombing occurred without warning and resulted in the deaths of nearly 18 people and dozens of family members as well as worshipers leaving the adjacent mosque.
At al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza, 5-year-old Yazan (a pseudonym) and a female adult relative were resting after the targeting of a house where a resistance member was sitting with seven family members to congratulate a female relative for having returned safely from Umrah. According to the relative, “They were chatting and suddenly, without any warning, three rockets were dropped on the place. The children were playing and were seriously injured.” She asked, “If there is a wanted person, what guilt is there for the whole family that it must be killed? What is the guilt of the children?”
After Yazan had sufficiently recovered, the doctor gave him and his relative permission to leave. Yazan said, “I want to go home to mom and dad.” He did not know that the air raid in which he was injured had also made him an orphan.
According to Abdul Rahman Abu al-Nasser, dean of the Faculty of Law at al-Azhar University in Gaza, the pace of targeting houses during Operation Protective Edge is increasing. In a phone call with Al-Monitor, Abu al-Nasser said, “International law rejects the argument of targeting civilian houses [even] if military members are present there. International law removes the status of combatant from the combatant if he leaves the battlefield.” He continued, “He is a military combatant in the field only and a civilian in his house under all of international charters.”
Abu al-Nasser added that under international law, all places — including mosques, houses, universities and even government facilities — are considered civilian as long as “they are not directly related to the conduct of military operations.” He further said that when there is any uncertainty regarding whether a location is civilian or military, it should be categorized as civilian. Thus, suspicion alone does not provide justification for targeting a location.
Mustafa Ibrahim, an activist at the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR), explained to Al-Monitor, “Targeting civil houses represents a violation of the four treaties of the Geneva Conventions on the protection of civilians in times of war.” He also said, “Human rights institutions are today documenting the war crimes perpetrated by Israel in Gaza. In addition, the PA [Palestinian Authority] should call on the UN to send a fact-finding commission to the Gaza Strip.”
The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported on July 12 that 750 houses had been destroyed or severely damaged by Israel, resulting in the displacement of 4,500 people. Meanwhile, the al-Qassam Brigades tweeted that 300 houses were destroyed during the first seven days of the offensive.
Thus far, the war has only been conducted through air assaults. Israeli warplanes continue to pound agricultural lands and civilian targets in violation of international law, without deterrence, while civilians demand that the international community stop them before the tragedy worsens.