29 Jul 2015

Israel accused of war crimes in Rafah ‘Black Friday’ attacks

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is evidence Israel committed war crimes by bombarding the Palestinian town of Rafah in August 2014 after a ceasefire had been announced.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) rejected the accusation it may have committed war crimes, saying it conducts “all its operations in accordance with international law” and denounced the Amnesty report as “fundamentally flawed” in its methodologies, facts, legal analysis and conclusions.

On 1 August 2014 a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire was announced and, believing it to be safe, many people in Rafah returned home.

Later on the same day Israeli soldier Lieutenant Hadar Goldin was captured. The Amnesty report alleges that the IDF then implemented the so-called “Hannibal Directive” which allows Israeli forces to use intense firepower in response to the capture of a soldier.

Massive and prolonged bombardment began without warning, while many people were on the streets.

‘Inferno of fire’

Amnesty says eyewitnesses described “horriying 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.”

The day became known as “Black Friday”.

Amnesty says that between 1-4 August 2014, at least 135 Palestinians, including 75 children, died.

Amnesty International’s Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme, Philip Luther, said “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.”

Lieutenant Goldin was declared dead on 2 August, and the Amnesty report claims that the continuation of the bombardment may have, in part, been “motivated by a desire to punish the population of Rafah” in revenge.

In a statement, the IDF told Channel 4 News that Amnesty had built a “false narrative” by claiming that “four days of military operations by the IDF were in direct response to the killing and kidnapping of one IDF soldier”

Read more: UN finds credible allegations of war crimes by both sides in 2014 Gaza conflict 

The statement continues: “It seems that Amnesty forgot that there was an ongoing conflict – during which the IDF was operating to stop rocket fire and neutralise cross-border assault tunnels, and Palestinian terrorist organisations were actively engaging in intensive conflict against the IDF from inside the civilian environment.

“The intensive combat that occured in Rafah – throughout the confict, and not just on the dates Amnesty focuses on – were no exception.”

Amnesty produced this video detailing some of the investigative techniques it used. Israel has called the report “fundamentally flawed in its methodologies, in its facts, in its legal analysis and in its conclusions”.

‘Forensic’ analysis

Amnesty claims to have used the “latest techniques” to analyse evidence including “hundreds of videos, photos and satellite images”.

Experts from the Forensic Architecture research team based at Goldsmiths, University of London, used a process known as geo-synching to analyse videos and match them to eyewitness accounts.

Geo-synching involves using the angle of shadows or the shape or size of plumes of smoke as time indicators to pinpoint the exact moment of an attack in time and space.

Director of Forensic Architecture Eyal Weizman said his team had used “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”.

The IDF made no specific comment on this method of analysis, but said “alleged incidents occuring in Rafah during the time period covered by the report are under examination by the IDF General Staff Fact-Finding Assessment Mechanism, and their findings will be used by the Military Advocate General when deciding whether to open a criminal investigation.”