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‘Israel responsible for Gaza strikes on UN schools and shelters, inquiry finds’


“Israel was responsible for striking seven United Nations sites used as civilian shelters during the 2014 Gaza war in which 44 Palestinians died and 227 others were injured, an inquiry ordered by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon has concluded.

Releasing the report on Monday, Ban condemned the attacks “as a matter of the utmost gravity” and said “those who looked to them for protection and who sought and were granted shelter there had their hopes and trust denied”.

Ban insisted that UN locations were “inviolable”.

The issue is particularly sensitive as the locations of all UN buildings – including schools used as shelters – are routinely provided to the Israeli military and updated in times of conflict.

Ban’s criticism was contained in the published summary letter of a confidential internal report, commissioned by the secretary general in November, running to 207 pages.

In his letter Ban also hit out at Palestinian militant groups for putting some UN schools in Gaza at risk by hiding weapons in three locations that were not being used as shelters.

“I am dismayed that Palestinian militant groups would put United Nations schools at risk by using them to hide their arms.”

He added, however, that: “The three schools at which weaponry was found were empty at the time and were not being used as shelters.”

Israeli diplomats had exerted pressure on the UN to delay publication of the report until the completion of Israel’s own investigations into the attacks – conducted by the Israeli military advocate general Danny Efroni. Israel’s military in September opened five criminal investigations into its Gaza war operations, including attacks on some of the UN schools and an incident that killed four Palestinian children on a beach.

The UN inquiry, which examined both forensic evidence and testimonies of UN staff in Gaza during the 50-day war last summer, concluded seven incidents were attributable to the Israel Defence Forces.

Ban added: “I will work with all concerned and spare no effort to ensure that such incidents will never be repeated.”

Although the report has no legal status, the disclosure of the inquiry’s findings comes at a difficult time for Israel on the international stage, facing increasing international isolation over its policies and following the acceptance of the Palestinian Authority as a signatory to the International Criminal Court earlier this month.

The attacks on UN schools being used as shelters were among some of the mostcontroversial incidents of the war. International humanitarian law – while complex – requires attacking forces in areas where there are non-combatants to protect civilians and adhere to the principle of proportionality, safeguards even more stringent when civilians are under UN protection.

In one of the most serious incidents, the UNRWA school in Jabaliya was struck by Israeli fire, killing 20 people and wounding dozens.

In the aftermath of the attack Israel claimed – including in a report into the incident – that soldiers near the school were had come under fire.

In another incident that saw Israeli munitions strike a UN school in Beit Hanoun 15 Palestinians were killed in the playground as they awaited evacuation while dozens more injured.

Israeli sources had originally tried to suggest that the attack had been due to a Hamas weapon falling short.

The UN inquiry – separate form an inquiry launched by the UN Human Rights Council – was headed by retired general Patrick Cammaert, a former officer in the Dutch military and included military and legal experts.

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed during the Gaza conflict last July and August. Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were killed by rockets and attacks by Hamas and other militant groups.

The details of the contents of the board of inquiry are confidential and only Ban’s covering letter has been made public. Conceding that the report was of “considerable interest” he said he had taken the decision to release a summary of the inquiry’s findings.

The report was compiled from analysis of weapons, medical reports, photographs and video footage, and submissions and testimonies both by UN staff and other organisations.

Ban thanked Israel for its cooperation in preparing the report and allowing investigators to access Gaza.

Ban wrote: “I deplore the fact that at least 44 Palestinians were killed as a result of Israeli actions and at least 227 injured at United Nations premises being used as emergency shelters. United Nations premises are inviolable and should be places of safety, particularly in a situations of armed conflict.”

He added: “I note this is the second time during my tenure as secretary general that I have been obliged to establish a board of inquiry into incidents involving United Nations premises and personnel in Gaza that have occurred during the course of tragic conflicts in the Gaza Strip.

“Once again I must stress my profound and continuing concern for the civilian population of the Gaza Strip and Israel, and their right to live in peace and security, free from the threat of violence and terrorism.”

When Ban visited Gaza in October, he said the destruction was “beyond description” and “much more serious” than what he witnessed in the Palestinian territory in 2009 in the aftermath of a previous Israel-Hamas war.

Ban said on Monday he has established a group of senior managers to look into the inquiry’s recommendation. A number of questions remain unaddressed in the summary of the report, not least the issue of what communications there were between UN staff and the Israeli military in particular ahead of the attack on the school in Beit Hanoun when UN staff are understood to have communicated to Israeli forces their intention to bus out civilians who were waiting for evacuation at the time of the attack.

Also unaddressed is why Israeli forces fired on designated protected locations outside of the principle of immediate self-defence when they were aware of concentrations of civilians sheltering there.

Chris Gunness, spokesman for UNRWA, which runs Gaza’s UN schools said: “The inquiry found that despite numerous notifications to the Israeli army of the precise GPS coordinates of the schools and numerous notifications about the presence of displaced people, in all seven cases investigated by the Board of Inquiry when our schools were hit directly or in the immediate vicinity, the hit was attributable to the IDF.

“The board confirms the use by the IDF of weaponry such as 120 mm high explosive anti-tank projectiles and 155 MM high explosive projectiles on or in the surrounding area of UNRWA schools where civilians had taken refuge. In the incidents investigated at least 44 people were killed and 227 injured including women and children. In none of the schools which were hit directly or in the immediate vicinity, were weapons discovered or fired from. If it were confirmed that militants did fire rockets from our schools we would condemn it, just as we robustly we condemned other violations of our neutrality.”

“The findings of the secretary general’s inquiry are fully consistent with the statements made by UNRWA that we did not hand any weapons over to Hamas. The Board of Inquiry has not found any evidence that we did. The Board of Inquiry found that upon the first discovery UNRWA senior management notified local authorities in Gaza about the weapons and asked for their removal. Within days of the first unprecedented discovery, the UN had established a mechanism for dealing with the weaponry and by the time of the third discovery, international experts were on hand.”


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The International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion on the Wall – Nine Years Later

“2013, 9 July is the ninth anniversary of the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) Advisory Opinion on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. In its landmark opinion, the ICJ found that Israel is obligated to cease the construction of the wall in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), including East Jerusalem; dismantle the structure therein situated; rescind all legislative and regulatory acts relating to the wall; and make reparations for all damage caused by the construction of the wall (para. 163).

To mark the anniversary, UNRWA has chosen to tell the stories of two Palestine refugee families. One lives in the village of Qatanna, northwest of Jerusalem, where construction of the Barrier was completed in 2009. The other lives in Al Walaja, where the Barrier is under construction. These families are both experiencing dispossession and compromised freedom of movement. Their stories highlight the day-to-day impact on Palestinians of Israel’s ongoing refusal to comply with the ICJ ruling.
The Nijim family in Qatanna

The Nijim family has lived in their home on the outskirts of the village of Qatanna since 1967. Qatanna is one of the eight Palestinian villages comprising the ‘Biddu enclave’ in the oPt and surrounded to the north, east and west by the Barrier. Following the construction of the Barrier, the Nijim family found itself located on the ‘Israeli side’ of the Barrier, encircled on three sides and isolated from the rest of the village, and living in the “Seam Zone”. The ‘Seam Zone’ refers to West bank territory that is located between the 1949 Armistice Line (or “Green Line”) and the Barrier. Because they live in the Seam Zone, every member of the Nijim family is required to obtain permits from the Israeli authorities in order to reside in their own home.

In 2009, the Israeli authorities built an ‘enclosed,’ gated concrete bridge over the Barrier’s patrol road to allow the family access to the ‘West Bank side’ of the Barrier. Until 2011, the Nijim family held the key to the gate that locked them onto their property. However, that year, without any warning, the authorities replaced the lock with an electronic surveillance system, complete with five video cameras and an intercom system. Now, every entry and exit from the Nijim property is controlled remotely by the Israeli Border Police. On many occasions, the family is stuck waiting for hours for the Border Police to open the gate.

The isolation of the Nijim family has had significant impact on their daily lives. Because access to their home is prohibited by the Israeli authorities to anyone other than the 18 primary inhabitants, they are not able to celebrate even the most important of events, such as family weddings, in their home. With the holy month of Ramadan approaching, the family will once again be unable to host guests. Furthermore, their ability to come and go depends on the whims of the remote operators of the electronic gate that controls access to their home. In light of the access constraints, when the press team tried to interview the family, it could only do so by phone.

“We will remain here and keep fighting through the difficulties we face until the end,” asserts Mr Nijim when asked how much longer he believes he can live through these restrictions on his family’s movement. “My home has become a group prison for me and my family, but we are not going anywhere.”
The Hajajeh family in Al Walaja

The story of Omar Hajajeh of Al Walaja, a village between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, adds a counterpoint to that of the Nijim family in Qatanna. Mr Hajajeh, his wife and their three children are living in a house located along the route of the Barrier. Once the construction of the Barrier has been completed, the Hajajehs’ house will be completely isolated from Al Walaja. The only access point for the family between their home and the village will be through the tunnel built under the Barrier by the Israeli authorities.

The family has recently been told that a gate will be constructed to allow them access to their home. Mr Hajajeh fears that the introduction of a gate will further diminish his freedom of movement and increase his isolation from his ancestral lands. As with the Nijim family, access to and from the house will be completely in the control of the Israeli authorities. Once the construction of the gate is complete, the family’s guests will have to coordinate their visit with the Israeli authorities some 12 hours in advance of their arrival. Furthermore, no one other than the primary inhabitants of the Hajajeh house will be allowed by the Israeli authorities to stay in their household overnight.

Although construction of the Barrier was halted for several months, work resumed from April 2010 until early 2013 on the eastern, northern and western sides of Al Walaja. The Barrier is now in its final stages of construction.
Israel’s obligations to comply with international law

As the occupying power, Israel must take all measures to fulfill its obligations under international law, including: comply with the findings of the ICJ Advisory Opinion, namely cease the construction of the wall in the oPt, including East Jerusalem; dismantle the structure therein situated; rescind all legislative and regulatory acts relating to the wall; and make reparations for all damage caused by the construction of the wall.”




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