Physicians for Human Rights has published a ‘First Experts’ report on Israel’s military assault on Gaza last summer, Gaza 2014: No Safe Place. It provides a much more detailed accounting of the attacks on the medical infrastructure of Gaza than I was able to do in Gaza 101 and subsequent posts. Here is PHR’s description of the mission:
On 8 July 2014, Israel initiated a military offensive in the Gaza Strip. Although accounts vary, most estimates put the number of residents of Gaza killed in the 50-day armed conflict at over 2,100, of whom at least 70% were civilians, including over 500 children. Over 11,000 were wounded and over 100,000 made homeless. According to Israeli official accounts, 73 Israelis were killed: 67 soldiers and 6 civilians, including one child and one migrant worker. 469 soldiers and 255 civilians were wounded.
Questions arose regarding violations of international human rights and humanitarian law in the course of the conflict. In July 2014, following discussions with Al-Mezan, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-Israel) commissioned a fact-finding mission (hereafter ‘FFM’) to Gaza, whose aim was to gather evidence and draw preliminary conclusions regarding types, causes and patterns of injuries and attacks; attacks on medical teams and facilities; evacuation; impact of the conflict on the healthcare system; and longer-term issues including rehabilitation of the wounded, mental health, public health and displacement.
PHR-Israel recruited 8 independent international medical experts, unaffiliated with Israeli or Palestinian parties involved in the conflict: four with special expertise in the fields of forensic medicine and pathology; and four experts in emergency medicine, public health, paediatrics and paediatric intensive care, and health and human rights.
The team made three visits to Gaza between August and November last year:
Meetings and site visits were held in medical facilities and in the community, and included interviews with victims, witnesses, healthcare professionals and human rights workers, officials from the Gaza Ministries of Health and Justice, and representatives of international health organisations in Gaza and the West Bank. Wherever possible, forensic, medical and other material evidence was collected to support oral testimonies.
They interviewed 68 patients, and the chart below (from p. 36 of the report) explains why there was indeed ‘no safe place’ in Gaza. As I argued previously, the Israeli military turned Gaza into a vast death zone extending far beyond the so-called ‘restricted areas’:
Here are the summary conclusions from the report [the emphases are mine]:
The attacks were characterised by heavy and unpredictable bombardments of civilian neighbourhoods in a manner that failed to discriminate between legitimate targets and protected populations and caused widespread destruction of homes and civilian property. Such indiscriminate attacks, by aircraft, drones, artillery, tanks and gunships, were unlikely to have been the result of decisions made by individual soldiers or commanders; they must have entailed approval from top-level decision-makers in the Israeli military and/or government.
The initiators of the attacks, despite giving some prior warnings of these attacks, failed to take the requisite precautions that would effectively enable the safe evacuation of the civilian population, including provision of safe spaces and routes. As a result, there was no guaranteed safe space in the Gaza Strip, nor were there any safe escape routes from it.
In numerous cases double or multiple consecutive strikes on a single location [“double tap“] led to multiple civilian casualties and to injuries and deaths among rescuers.
Coordination of medical evacuation was often denied and many attacks on medical teams and facilities were reported. It is not clear whether such contravention of medical neutrality was the result of a policy established by senior decision-makers, a general permissive atmosphere leading to the flouting of norms, or the result of individual choices made on the ground during armed clashes.
In Khuza’a, the reported conduct of specific troops in the area is indicative of additional serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.
Ha’aretz‘s English-language coverage of the report is here.