In late December 2008, the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) launched a major offensive, unprecedented in scope and brutality, against the Gaza Strip. The offensive was launched at approximately 11.30am on Saturday 27 December 2008, with a surprise airstrike campaign carried out by 80 warplanes. This attack targeted the majority of police stations and security premises throughout Gaza, in addition to numerous other targets. Lasting just five minutes, this attack was devastating, due to its timing, scale and types of weaponry used. It became clear in the first moments of the attack that the IOF intended to inflict a high level of destruction and killing. From the outset of the offensive, the IOF did not appear to pay any concern to the fate of civilians, such as the hundreds of police officers working inside their stations as the airstrikes were carried out. At the main police headquarters in Gaza City, many of these young men were just graduating from training. The attacks were carried out at the peak time of police activity, with many civilians attending police stations across Gaza to respond to summons or file complaints. Many civilians were therefore killed in these places.
The timing of the attacks also sparked a state of panic among Gaza's children as it coincided with school arrival and departure times when nearly all of Gaza's school students were in the streets or inside school grounds.(1) Several school children were killed in these attacks. The offensive continued with intense air, artillery and naval attacks on the Gaza Strip until 2am on 18 January 2009 after the Israeli Government had declared a unilateral ceasefire. Israeli military attacks concentrated primarily on North Gaza district and Gaza district although less intense attacks were carried-out across the Gaza Strip. This 22-day military offensive was unprecedented in terms of the scale of grave and systematic violations of the rules of international humanitarian law (IHL) and especially the Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilians at Time of War of 1949 (GCIV) and Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions of 1977 Relative to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts.
Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights and other national (Palestinian) and international organizations have collected evidence which demonstrates clearly that many of the IOF attacks qualify as grave breaches of GCIV and were carried out in a systematic and deliberate manner, rendering them war crimes and crimes against humanity according to international law. The IOF systematically targeted civilian objects without apparent military necessity, including residential homes; targeted groups of civilians gathered in one place; willfully killed civilians, even those trying to flee their area of residence after the start of the ground invasion which commenced in the early hours of 3 January 2009; and deliberately targeted internally displaced persons in their shelters. Three UNRWA managed shelters directly targeted are UNRWA schools that had previously notified the IOF of their exact locations, were flying the UN flag and had large UN flags painted on the rooftops. The IOF also targeted prayers in the mosques and at the entrance to the mosques and used civilians as human shields, forcing them to accompany them, and using them in operations in which residential homes were searched. In some incidents, civilians were forced to negotiate with Palestinian resistance fighters, placing their lives in grave danger.
Medical teams, ambulances and civil defense teams became the direct target of IOF attacks along with civilians attempting to rescue the injured and remove the bodies of their killed relatives and neighbors.
Journalists and media outlets were also targeted by the IOF in an attempt to obscure the truth of the crimes they were perpetrating. Several Palestinian journalists were killed. The Israeli authorities also imposed a blockade which prevented the entry into Gaza of foreign media teams. The following civilian objects became a direct target of IOF attacks on a broad scale: civilian infrastructure, water networks, sanitation networks and mosques. The IOF also used internationally prohibited weapons, or legal weapons in an illegal way, such as the widespread use of white phosphorus in residential areas.
This report presents documented statistical material on the damage inflicted on civilians and their property by the IOF during Operation Cast Lead. Information in the report is based on an extensive field survey in which interviews with victims and eyewitnesses were conducted and supporting evidence such as medical reports examined.