Press Releases

In focus: the targeting of civilians & their homes in the Gaza Strip

Al Mezan reiterates its call on the international community to immediately intervene to protect civilian lives and properties

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20 May 2021 |Reference 47/2021

Israeli forces continue their aggression on the Gaza Strip, aggression which has been ongoing since 10 May 2021 and is accordingly in its tenth day. Palestinian civilians have been targeted and their homes destroyed, sometimes whilst people are inside, and sometimes with no prior warning. Israeli forces use heavy ammunition and randomly attack residential areas, killing civilians and causing severe physical injury and psychological trauma, forcing civilians to flee their homes under heavy bombardment to seek shelter. This policy has been frequently adopted during Israel’s recent aggressions on the Gaza Strip and shows Israel’s indifference to its obligations to civilians under international law.


Al Mezan’s fieldworkers have documented the bombing of six residential towers during the aggression, three of which were completely destroyed; 437 residential units were completely destroyed. The fieldworkers also documented the deliberate use, by the Israeli forces, of destructive missiles, a practice which violates the principles of proportionality and discrimination. In addition, Al Mezan documented the bombing of 16 family homes without prior warning, killing 89 inhabitants, including 38 children and 31 women, and injuring dozens. Entire families have been wiped out: most notably, the  al-Masri, al-Tanani, al-Aloul, Abu Hatab, al-Hadidi, Abu al-Ouf, al-Kolak, Eshkontana, al-Talbani, Arafa, al-Rantisi and al-Attar families.


According to information obtained from the Ministry of Public Works and Housing, since the beginning of the aggression, Israeli forces completely destroyed 1,041 homes, whilst 768 others were severely damaged, and 13,500 partially damaged. Represented in terms of financial losses, these were estimated at $112 million as of Wednesday, 19 May 2021 at 7pm. The aggression compounded the already existing shortage of housing units, as there were already 96,000 homes in need of reconstruction before the current aggression.


Civilians in the Gaza Strip have been subjected to not only the bombing and destruction of their homes with missiles with enormous and unwarranted destructive capabilities, but also being intimidated and forcibly displaced. Forty-five thousand people have taken shelter in 53 UNRWA schools in various areas in the Gaza Strip, and the numbers are increasing.


Israeli warplanes have attacked homes, apartments, high-rise buildings and residential towers inhabited by hundreds of people: some people evacuate their homes after receiving a warning by a telephone call that their house will be attacked, some others are warned by preliminary drone missiles (known as the “roof knock”) or they are alerted to the danger by random artillery shelling in their neighborhood (this is especially the case in homes close to the separation fence) and some are attacked without any warning whatsoever. Israeli forces escalate their attacks on homes and civilian facilities with complete indifference to the rules of international humanitarian law, in particular, the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits the targeting of civilian population and facilities.


Attacks that are by nature unlawful, do not become lawful merely by issuing a warning. Further, Al Mezan has recorded cases of killings in previous aggressions, whereby a warning missile proved itself to inflict lethal injury rather than to avoid it. Under international law, a warning may come in many forms, none of which includes the use of lethal missiles.


The many tons of explosives that have been dropped on the Gaza Strip since 10 May and the new types of weapons used by the Israeli forces raise concerns about potentially catastrophic environmental and health impacts on the civilian population, soil, water, and the general environment in the Gaza Strip. The restrictions on the freedom of movement of people, goods, and the entry of essential materials mandated under Israel’s closure and blockade policy have already caused significant humanitarian problems that are now only likely to be exacerbated.


The continuous targeting of civilian homes and residential areas comes at a time when the residents of the Gaza Strip were already suffering from a severe housing crisis. The housing crisis worsened since the Israeli authorities tightened the closure and blockade on the Gaza Strip, which has led to the deterioration of the economic conditions, high rates of poverty and unemployment and an increase in power shortages. It also comes at a time when the Gaza Strip is facing extremely difficult conditions in dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic, given the limited and poor capacities to manage the pandemic. Food shortages also increased, especially of vegetables and meat, after it became impossible for farmers to reach their farmlands and harvest their crops due to the lockdown that was imposed as a result of the Coronavirus. Other factors contributing to food shortages include the Israeli systematic targeting of farmlands, poultry and livestock farms, the restrictions on fishing and the water and sanitation together with ongoing electricity shortages.


Al Mezan condemns the Israeli continued aggression against the Gaza Strip and the bombing and destruction of residential towers and buildings. International humanitarian law prohibits the targeting of civilians, residential areas, and other civilian facilities, and deems these acts, if systematically committed, to be war crimes and crimes against humanity.


Al Mezan stresses that the deliberate targeting, killing, and wounding of civilians, especially children, the continued targeting of civilian facilities and residential homes, the large-scale forced displacement, and the bombing of indispensable resources to the population, are practices that constitute serious violations of international humanitarian law and amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.


Accordingly, Al Mezan renews its call on the international community to take immediate action to stop the aggression and protect the civilian population, their homes, and their private and property as well as public facilities. Al Mezan renews its call on the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention to ensure respect of their legal obligations, activate accountability tools and prosecute all those suspected of committing war crimes.


Al Mezan commends all those who showed solidarity and took action to stop the aggression and invites those members of the international community who believe in the values ​​of freedom, justice, and human rights and who denounce war, to continue their efforts to ensure an immediate cessation of aggression.