New evidence showing that Israeli forces carried out war crimes in retaliation for the capture of an Israeli soldier has been released today in a joint report by Amnesty International and Forensic Architecture. The evidence, which includes detailed analysis of vast quantities of multimedia materials, suggests that the systematic and apparently deliberate nature of the air and ground attack on Rafah which killed at least 135 civilians, may also amount to crimes against humanity.
The online report, ‘Black Friday’: Carnage in Rafah during 2014 Israel/Gaza conflict, features cutting edge investigative techniques and analysis pioneered by Forensic Architecture, a research team based at Goldsmiths, University of London.
Philip Luther, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty International said:
“There is strong evidence that Israeli forces committed war crimes in their relentless and massive bombardment of residential areas of Rafah in order to foil the capture of Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, displaying a shocking disregard for civilian lives. They carried out a series of disproportionate or otherwise indiscriminate attacks, which they have completely failed to investigate independently.”
“This report presents an urgent call for justice that must not be ignored. The combined analysis of hundreds of photos and videos, as well as satellite imagery and testimony from eyewitnesses, provides compelling evidence of serious violations of international humanitarian law by Israeli forces which must be investigated,” Luther added.
The massive amount of evidence collected was presented to military and other experts, and then pieced together in chronological order to create a detailed account of events from 1 August, when the Israeli military implemented the controversial and secretive “Hannibal” procedure following the capture of Lieutenant Hadar Goldin.
Under the “Hannibal Directive”, Israeli forces can respond to the capture of a soldier with intense firepower despite the risks to his life or to civilians in the vicinity. As the report illustrates, the implementation of the directive led to the ordering of unlawful attacks on civilians.
“After Lieutenant Hadar Goldin was captured, Israeli forces appear to have thrown out the rule book, employing a ‘gloves off’ policy with devastating consequences for civilians. The goal was to foil his capture at any cost. The obligation to take precautions to avoid the loss of civilian lives was completely neglected. Entire districts of Rafah, including heavily populated residential areas, were bombarded without distinction between civilians and military targets,” said Luther.
The ferocity of the attacks, which continued after Lieutenant Goldin was declared dead on 2 August, suggests they may in part have been motivated by a desire to punish the population of Rafah as revenge for his capture.
Shortly before Lieutenant Goldin’s capture on 1 August 2014, a ceasefire had been announced, and many civilians returned to their homes believing it was safe. Massive and prolonged bombardment began without warning while masses of people were on the streets, and many of them, especially those in vehicles, became targets. That day later became known in Rafah as “Black Friday”.
Eyewitness accounts described horrifying scenes of chaos and panic as an inferno of fire from F-16 jets, drones, helicopters and artillery rained down on the streets, striking civilians on foot or in cars, as well as ambulances and other vehicles evacuating the wounded.
One witness described the attacks that day as an attempt to pulverize Rafah’s civilians, likening the onslaught to “a machine making mincemeat out of people without mercy”.
Cutting edge forensic analysis
For this investigation, eyewitness accounts describing the carnage in Rafah were cross-referenced with hundreds of photos and videos taken from various sources and multiple locations, as well as new high resolution satellite imagery obtained by Amnesty International.
A team of researchers at Forensic Architecture used an array of sophisticated techniques to analyse this evidence. They examined time indicators within an image – such as the angle of shadows or shape and size plumes of smoke, which act as “physical clocks” – to pinpoint attacks in time and space (a process known as geo-synching).
The analysis reveals that on 1 August, Israeli attacks on Rafah targeted several locations where Lieutenant Goldin was believed to be located, regardless of the danger posed to civilians, suggesting that the attacks may even have been intended to kill him.
In one of the deadliest incidents researchers, with the help of military experts, were able to confirm that two one-ton bombs – the largest type of bomb in Israel’s air force arsenal –were dropped on a single-storey building in al-Tannur in eastern Rafah. Scores of civilians were in the immediate vicinity at the time making this a grossly disproportionate attack.
“The ferocity of the attack on Rafah shows the extreme measures Israeli forces were prepared to take to prevent the capture alive of one soldier – scores of Palestinian civilian lives were sacrificed for this single aim,” said Philip Luther.
The analysis of available photos, videos and other multimedia evidence from eyewitnesses was crucial for investigating possible violations since the Israeli authorities have denied Amnesty International staff access to the Gaza Strip since the 2014 conflict began.
“Forensic Architecture combines new architectural and media technologies to reconstruct complex incidents based on the traces that violence leaves on buildings during a conflict. Architectural models help us draw links between multiple bits of evidence such as images, videos uploaded on social media and testimonies to virtually reconstruct the unfolding of events,” said Eyal Weizman, the Director of Forensic Architecture.
Attacks on hospitals and medical workers
Satellite images and photographs analysed for the report show craters and damage indicating that hospitals and ambulances were attacked repeatedly during the assault on Rafah, in violation of international law.
A doctor described how frantic patients fled Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital after attacks on the area intensified. Some were wheeled out on beds, many had intravenous drips still attached. A young boy in a plaster cast dragged himself along the ground to get away.
An ambulance carrying a wounded old man, woman and three children was struck by a drone-fired missile, setting it alight and burning everyone inside including medical workers to death. Jaber Darabih, a paramedic who arrived at the scene, described the charred remains of bodies with “no legs, no hands… severely burned”. Tragically, he later discovered that his own son, a volunteer paramedic was among those killed in the ambulance.
“By attacking ambulances and striking near hospitals, Israel’s army displayed a flagrant disregard for the laws of war. Deliberately attacking health facilities and medical professionals amounts to war crimes,” said Philip Luther.
Ending the cycle of impunity
This investigation into Rafah provides some of the most compelling evidence yet of serious violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes, during the conflict.
In previous reports, Amnesty International has highlighted violations by both sides, including systematic attacks by Israel on inhabited civilian homes and its wanton destruction of multistorey civilian buildings; and Palestinian armed groups’ indiscriminate attacks and direct attacks on civilians in Israel, as well as summary killings of Palestinians in Gaza.
However, a year after the conflict, the Israeli authorities have failed to conduct credible, independent and impartial investigations into violations of international humanitarian law. Israel’s limited military inquiries into some of its forces’ actions in Rafah on 1 August have not held anyone accountable.
“Thus far, the Israeli authorities have proved at best incapable of carrying out independent investigations into crimes under international law in Rafah and elsewhere, and at worst unwilling to do so. This report’s findings add compelling evidence to an already large body of credible documentation of serious violations during the Gaza conflict, which demand independent, impartial and effective investigations,” said Philip Luther.
“Victims and their families have a right to justice and reparation. And those suspected of ordering or committing war crimes must be prosecuted.”