Like thousands of Gazans, Ayman al-Jaroucha had to flee his home with his family last month during an 11-day fighting between the Israeli military and Palestinian armed groups, primarily Hamas, which controls the blocked enclave.
The birds sing outside his office window as the father of three children explains what it’s like to leave the place where you’ve spent the last 12 years—without any of your belongings.
“All your memories are where our kids grew up, where we spent time with each other and shared happy moments and difficult moments. I was there all my life. “
But, he had to leave. The Israeli military called the caretaker of the apartment block on 14 May to warn the families to evacuate. They bombed it less than an hour later, destroying several flats and starting a fire that spread to the building.
He has since returned to assess the scale of the damage and “try to return to my normal life,” he says.
“The flats above the eighth floor were badly destroyed by the fire and it was very difficult to extinguish it for the civil defence. We have to do a lot of repairs and a lot of cleaning on and inside the stairs.”
‘Come back to normal’
It was one of several high-rise buildings in Gaza City that were targeted by Israeli airstrikes, including the Al-Jala building, which houses several media organizations such as Al Jazeera and The Associated Press Bureau.
The skyline of the metropolis, home to about 600,000 people, has changed significantly since 10 May when hostilities escalated.
At least 2,000 housing units were destroyed and more than 15,000 other units damaged, with Gaza’s already run-down infrastructure also badly hit.
The United Nations reported that six hospitals, nine health centers and a water desalination plant were damaged during the fighting.
Al-Jaroucha, who serves as project coordinator in Gaza for Doctors Without Borders (Medicines Sans Frontires, or MSF), says his burns and trauma clinic were damaged by the airstrikes.
“Not only was the entire waiting area affected, but there was also a main sterilization room, which we use to prepare ingredients and sterilize equipment used in all our outpatient departments. So it is important that we get back to normalcy at the earliest.”
Roads leading to Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest medical facility in the Gaza Strip, were also damaged, as well as the only COVID-19 testing laboratory in the enclave.
Israel’s military claims it was only targeting buildings linked to Hamas and other armed groups. However, Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Human Rights Center in Gaza, denies this.
“It was not Hamas that was targeted; It was not PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] targeted; It was not targeted at Islamic Jihad. I believe it was civilians who were targeted,” he says.
“From the first hour of the first day” [of the recent escalation]Of course, civilians were the target of these most high-tech airplanes – the F16 and F35 – with rockets designed for military targets and you see these things aiming precisely. Dozens of children and women were killed. Nothing can justify this,” he added.
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, accused Hamas of using civilians as “human shields”. But, in an address to the United Nations Human Rights Council last week, the UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, said she did not see evidence to support Israel’s claims that the buildings they bombed in Gaza were owned by “armed groups”. were hosting or were being used for military purposes”. .
Even before violence broke out recently, the International Criminal Court (ICC) had opened an investigation into past bouts of ongoing conflict, and last month the ICC’s chief prosecutor said it was closely monitoring what happens on the ground Used to be.
Both sides have been accused of committing war crimes; Hamas to fire rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas in Israel – although of the more than 2,000 rockets, about 640 fell short in the Gaza Strip and 90 percent of those crossing the border were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system – and Israel The populated civilian areas within Gaza were subjected to repeated dense bombardments.
A legal attack?
At this stage, information is still being collected, but Yael Stein, research director at B’Salem, the Israel Information Center for Human Rights in Occupied Territories, believes the Israeli bombing of civilian structures within Gaza violates international law.
“For an attack to be legal, it must be directed at a military target and must be proportionate,” she explains.
For a building to be a military target, destroying it must give Israel a military advantage. To be proportional, you have to decide whether the military benefit you expect to get from the bombing outweighs the damage done to the civilian population.
Stein says that while some warnings were given about the evacuation, which saved lives, civilian property was demolished and it is “still part of the calculation”.
“I think the past proves that the Israeli military is interpreting this principle in a broad way that the drafters of international law never expected, and it is far from what can be considered proportionate, ” she says.
Netanyahu has accused the ICC of investigating the attacks of being “purely anti-Semitism” and said that Israel does not accept the ICC’s jurisdiction, however, it is not required to do so. Stein says the court can act without Israel’s approval.
But, it will be a long time until anyone – whether Hamas leaders and/or Israeli officials – is held accountable by the ICC for their actions.
“We are just starting the process which will take years until the investigation is done and then another year until someone is charged and until someone is in jail.”
She says the lack of enforcement mechanisms within international humanitarian law is a problem. “So the states can violate basic norms of international law and nothing will happen.”
Eric Goldstein, executive director for Middle East and North Africa at Human Rights Watch, says there has been a shift in international awareness and willingness to see Israel war crimes.
The United Nations Human Rights Council’s recent decision to launch an ongoing investigation into human rights abuses in Israel and Palestine is a “welcome step” in which they urged Israel to cooperate.
“We’re going to work hard on the ICC to look at war crimes committed by all sides,” Goldstein says.
But, long-term peace will not be possible unless “the underlying root causes are addressed”, the main one being that Gaza is seen as the world’s largest open-air prison – enclave imposed by Israel. Has been under an unforgivable siege for more than 14 years since Hamas occupied Gaza.
“It leaves people there with no future, no hope and their rights being violated on an almost daily basis,” Stein says, adding that the international community needs to pressure Israel to stop it.
“You have to treat those people as human beings, as equal people who deserve the same rights as every other people in the territory under Israeli control.”
Goldstein links the persecution of Palestinians, which is “equivalent to apartheid conditions”, feeds into the conflict and gives “some political support” to Hamas. They say, in particular, that the United States needs to “take a close look at its unconditional support for Israel”, and those helping Hamas “commit, logistically or materially, its war crimes”. The parties should stop, they say.
Israel and Hamas both declared victory at the end of 11 days of fighting, with Israel saying they had killed about 30 senior Hamas commanders and destroyed 340 of their rocket launchers, as well as 130 km (60 mi) of underground tunnels. destroyed.
But at what cost?
The number of Palestinians killed in Gaza last month is 256, including 66 children. 13 people, including two children, died in Israel.
Sourani of the Palestinian Human Rights Center, who has gone through three previous wars, says he has never experienced violence like this latest one. “I am honestly telling you that for 11 days I never thought that dawn would come and I would see the sun rise again.”
Every family in Gaza has been affected: many loved ones lost, livelihoods destroyed and homes torn to rubble, Saurani says.
“What did you do al-hadidi family Tax [to deserve this]?” he asks, referring to the family that lost 10 members in an Israeli airstrike – only the father and child survived.
Accountability, he says, as the call of prayer echoes in the background, “meaning it will never be repeated”.
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