Like tens of thousands of Gazans, Aymen al-Djaroucha had to flee his home with his family last month during eleven days of fighting between the Israeli military and Palestinian armed groups, mainly Hamas, which controls the blocked enclave. .
The birds sing outside the window of his office while the father of three explains what it feels like to leave the place where you have spent the last twelve years, without your belongings.
“You have all your memories, it’s where our children grew up, where we spent time with each other and shared happy moments and difficult times. He was there all my life. “
But, he had to leave. On May 14, the Israeli army called the caretaker of the apartment block to warn families to evacuate them. It was bombed less than an hour later, destroying several floors and causing a fire that tore the building apart.
Since then, he has reassessed the extent of the damage and “trying to get back to my normal life,” he says.
“The floors above the eighth floor were badly destroyed by the fire and it was very difficult for the civil defense to extinguish it. We have a lot of repairs to do inside and in the stairwell and a lot of cleaning. “
“Return to normal”
It was one of several high-rise buildings in Gaza City, the target of Israeli airstrikes, including the al-Jalaa building that housed several media organizations, including the offices of Al Jazeera and The Associated Press. .
The horizon of the metropolis, home to nearly 600,000 people, has been significantly altered since May 10, when hostilities increased.
Along with at least 2,000 destroyed housing units and more than 15,000 other damaged units, Gaza’s already dilapidated infrastructure was also badly affected.
The United Nations reported that six hospitals, nine health centers and a water desalination plant were damaged during the fighting.
Al-Djaroucha, who works as the project coordinator in Gaza for Doctors Without Borders (MSF), says his burns and injuries have been damaged by an air strike.
“Not only was the entire waiting area affected, but also one of the main sterilization rooms, which we use to prepare materials and sterilize the tools we use in all our outpatient clinics. So it is vital that we can get back to normal as soon as possible. “
Roads leading to Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest medical facility in the Gaza Strip, were also damaged, along with the enclave’s only COVID-19 testing laboratory.
The Israeli military says it was only targeting buildings with connections to Hamas and other armed groups. However, Raji Sourani, director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights based in Gaza, refutes this.
“It was not aimed at Hamas; it was not PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine] directed; it was not intended for Islamic Jihad. I think they were targets of civilians, ”he says.
“From the first hour of the first day [of the recent escalation], civilians were the targets of these more technological aircraft (F16 and F35) with rockets designed for military purposes and you see these things point accurately. Dozens of children and women murdered. Nothing can justify it, “he added.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Hamas of using civilians as “human shields.” But addressing the UN Human Rights Council last week, UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet said they have seen no evidence to support Israel’s claims that the buildings who bombed Gaza “hosted armed groups or were used for military purposes.”
Even before the recent eruption of violence, the International Criminal Court (ICC) had opened an investigation into previous episodes of the ongoing conflict, and last month the ICC chief prosecutor said he was closely following what it was happening on the ground.
Both sides have been charged with war crimes; Hamas for firing rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas in Israel, although of more than 2,000 rockets, about 640 fell in the Gaza Strip and 90% that crossed the border were intercepted by Iron Dome’s missile defense system. Israel, and Israel for repeatedly bombing densely populated civilian areas within Gaza.
A legal attack?
At this stage, information is still being gathered, but Yael Stein, director of research at B’Tselem, Israel’s Information Center on Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, believes the Israeli bombing of civilian structures in Gaza violates international law.
“For an attack to be legal, it must be aimed at a military target and be proportionate,” he explains.
For a building to be a military target, its destruction should give Israel a military advantage. To be proportionate, you must judge whether the military advantage you expect to receive from the bombing is greater than the loss to the civilian population.
Stein adds, even when a warning was received from civilians about when to evacuate, which saved lives, civilian property was still demolished and that “is still part of the calculation.”
“I think the past shows that the Israeli military is interpreting this principle in a much broader way than international law drafters never expected and that it is far from what can be considered proportionate,” he says.
Netanyahu has accused the ICC of “pure anti-Semitism” to investigate the attacks and said Israel does not accept ICC jurisdiction, but it is not necessary. Stein says the court can function without Israel’s acceptance.
But it will be a long time before anyone – whether Hamas leaders and / or Israeli officials – is held accountable for their actions by the ICC.
“We just started the procedure, which will take years until the investigation actually takes place and then more years until someone is charged and then more years until someone is in jail,” he says.
The lack of enforcement mechanisms within international humanitarian law is a problem, he adds. “That way states can violate the basic rules of international law and nothing will happen.”
Eric Goldstein, acting Middle East and North Africa executive director of Human Rights Watch, says there has been a shift in international consciousness and a willingness to look at Israeli war crimes.
The recent decision by the UN Human Rights Council to launch an ongoing investigation into human rights abuses in Israel and Palestine is a “welcome step” with which it urged Israel to cooperate.
“We will give strength to the ICC to analyze war crimes committed by all parties,” Goldstein says.
However, long-term peace will not be possible without addressing the “underlying root causes”, with Gaza being considered the world’s largest open-air prison: the enclave has been under an unforgivable siege. by Israel for more than 14 years, since Hamas took control of Gaza.
“This leaves people there with no future, no hope and with the violation of their rights almost daily,” says Stein, who adds that the international community must pressure Israel to stop it.
“You have to treat these people as human beings, as equal people who deserve the same rights as the rest of the people in Israeli-controlled territory.”
Goldstein adds Palestinian oppression, which “amounts to an apartheid situation,” fuels the conflict and gives Hamas “some political support.” The United States, in particular, must “examine more closely its unconditional support for Israel,” and parties that help Hamas “commit its war crimes, logistically or provide material,” should stop, he says. .
Both Israel and Hamas announced victories at the end of the eleven days of fighting, and Israel said they killed about 30 senior Hamas commanders and destroyed 340 rocket launchers, as well as 130 km (60 miles) of underground tunnels.
But at what cost?
The number of Palestinians killed last month in Gaza is 256, including 66 children. In Israel, 13 people died, including two children.
The Sourani of the Palestinian Human Rights Center, who has lived through the previous three wars, says he has never experienced anything like this latest period of violence. “Honestly, I tell you that for 11 days I never thought dawn would come and I would see the sun rise again.”
Sourani says all the families in Gaza have been affected: many loved ones lost, livelihoods destroyed and houses reduced to rubble.
“What did he do the al-Hadidi family do [to deserve this]? ”He asks, referring to the family that lost ten members in an Israeli air strike: only the father and baby survived.
Accountability, he says, as the call to prayer resounds in the background, “means that this will not be repeated again.”