Israeli troops shot and killed fleeing civilians

In a post on July 25, I mentioned early reports of a possible massacre by Israeli troops in the town of Khuza’a near the Israeli border, with social media providing gruesome stories. In a new report, Human Rights Watch confirms it, saying that between July 23 and 25, Israeli troops deliberately targeted civilians, killing them as they walked with their hands up or carrying white flags or were running away.

Israeli forces in the southern Gaza town of Khuza’a fired on and killed civilians in apparent violation of the laws of war in several incidents between July 23 and 25, 2014. Deliberate attacks on civilians who are not participating in the fighting are war crimes.

Khuza’a, which has a population of about 10,000, was the scene of fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups during an Israeli ground offensive in the area on July 23, Israeli news media reported. Israeli forces provided general warnings to Khuza’a residents to leave the area prior to July 21. While the laws of war encourage “advance, effective warnings” of attacks, the failure of civilians to abide by warnings does not make them lawful targets of attack – for obvious reasons, since many people do not flee because of infirmity, fear, lack of a place to go, or any number of other reasons. The remaining presence of such civilians despite a warning to flee cannot be ignored when attacks are carried out, as Israeli forces have done previously.

“Warning families to flee fighting doesn’t make them fair targets just because they’re unable to do so, and deliberately attacking them is a war crime,” Whitson said.

Human Rights Watch investigated several incidents between July 23 and 25 when, local residents said, Israeli forces opened fire on civilians trying to flee Khuza’a, but no Palestinian fighters were present at the time and no firefights were taking place.

On the morning of July 23, Israeli forces ordered a group of about 100 Palestinians in Khuza’a to leave a home in which they had gathered to take shelter, family members said. The first member to leave the house, Shahid al-Najjar, had his hands up but an Israeli soldier shot him in the jaw, seriously injuring him.

Israeli soldiers detained the men and boys over age 15 in an area close to the Gaza perimeter fence. Based on statements from witnesses and news reports, some were taken to Israel for questioning. Israeli forces released others that day, in small separate groups. As one group walked unarmed to Khan Younis, Israeli soldiers fired on them, killing one and wounding two others.

Two older men whom Israeli forces briefly detained near the perimeter fence had been seriously wounded in earlier Israeli bombardments and died soon after being released, two witnesses said. The laws of war provide that wounded civilians and combatants should be given necessary medical care to the fullest extent practicable and with the least possible delay.

In another incident on July 23, Israeli soldiers fired on a group of civilians who had been told to leave their home in Khuza’a, killing Mohammed al-Najjar, a witness said.

One case illustrates the dangers facing civilians both who remain in place and who heed Israeli orders to leave. On July 25, an Israeli strike killed three civilians – Motassem al-Najjar, 5; Kamel al-Najjar, 62; and Salim Qdeih, around 70 – who were among 120 people sheltering in the basement of a home, witnesses said. Another 15 people were wounded. The local Red Cross had difficulty reaching people wounded by shellings in the town. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) reported that on July 25, a Red Crescent volunteer was mortally wounded in an Israeli attack in Khuza’a, and other volunteers who tried to rescue him were fired on. Under the laws of war, medical workers are civilians who may not be targeted for attack.

Those who had survived the attack on the basement fled after the strike and walked to Khan Younis, carrying white flags and raising their hands when they came across Israeli soldiers. An Israeli missile strike hit one group of them, killing a man and wounding his cousin, the cousin told Human Rights Watch.

The Palestinian authorities seem to be on the verge of taking Israel to the International Criminal Court on war crimes. The Israeli prime minister has turned to his most loyal supporters in the US, members of Congress, for help to avoid being put on trial for war crimes.


  1. says

    Armed Israelis are deliberately killing unarmed Palestinian civilians? That’s nothing new. What is new is that the events are being reported instead of the media voluntarily silencing them.

    Reports of the Israeli military shooting unarmed, fleeing civilians were common during the ethnic cleansing of the 1940s and 1950s (e.g. the Beir Daras massacre), and intermittently in smaller numbers in the intervening sixty years.

  2. says

    rq (#1) –

    I hope they manage to take them to the ICC. It would be the least that should be done.

    Or Nuremberg. It should happen, but it won’t, not as long as the US has a UN veto.

    Israel could use one of its illegally obtained nuclear weapons or build death camps, and the US would still veto any UN resolution.

  3. says

    Really just confirmation of what was already pretty clear. Horrific.

    If I had a chance, and literally thought I’d get out alive, I’d ask Netanyahu how exactly what they’re doing is different from Warsaw 1944. The Jews penned into the Ghetto, starved, lacking medical care and supplies, and having no contact with the outside, rose up, using pathetically small numbers of small weapons to try and break out to survive. The Nazis responded with overwhelming force, and purged the Ghetto entirely, killing civilians and resistance members wholesale.

    And fuck Godwin, because I think the question is a fair one at this point. How different are they? A difference of degree, at best.They’re pushing for Lebensraum in the West Bank, eliminating the subhumans there; think of Gaza as the Sudetenland.

    It’s utterly sickening, and completely inhumane.

  4. florian says

    @CaitlinCat Easy: No rockets came out of the Warsaw Getto, no peace negotiations were rejected.

  5. says

    And fuck Godwin, because I think the question is a fair one at this point. How different are they?

    I was stumbling around the internets and found a little student handout about what was appropriate or inappropriate to say regarding Gaza and Israel. I.e.: how to be a good propaganda mouthpiece. One point it made, that I thought was interesting, is that one should not equate Israel’s actions with nazi actions because it’s offensive. Why? Because the nazis were racists. Well, that’s actually an important point!! So we can clarify and answer your question: the nazis did what they did because they were racist assholes, and the Israelis are doing what they are doing because they are ordinary assholes.

  6. says

    Everyone seems to have forgotten Sabra and Shatila and Lebanon. It’s not like there isn’t a clear pattern here.

    Israel has demolished an area that is about 500 meters from the border of Gaza, which it appears to be prepping as a “no man’s land” or free-fire zone. So, in effect, Israel has just taken another 6 square kilometers of Gaza (the border is 12km long) The border is already a no-man’s land, Israel will just keep extending that – it’s the same strategy they are using in the West Bank – all the roads need “safety zones” on either side, which keep enlarging … and will enlarge indefinitely.

  7. says

    Interesting, Marcus, but I’m not sure it’s accurate at this point. A great deal of the rhetoric and apparently thinking in the Israeli higher-ups is of a clearly racist bent, insofar as Palestinian is a race. Bigoted, in any case.

    Unless you’re being snarky, and I missed it, in which case I apologize.

    I love Jews and Jewish culture, I always have. There’s stuff I admire in the long history of their culture and practices – the pragmatic approach to abortion, for instance (health of the mother comes first, end of), and the strong cultural emphasis on education and hard work. A previous partner of mine is Jewish, and I went much of the way to a conversion to make things smoother with her family (didn’t help; they were as anti-me as my mother was anti-Semitic, to the point where her father and my mother sat us down, together, to tell us how awful the other was, in so many words – it was surreal). Literally my best friend since high school is Jewish.

    But I cannot abide the Israeli assault on Gaza and the settlements in the West Bank and there, and I cannot but condemn it for what it is: bigoted violence that borders on eliminationism. And I’m horrified that it’s Jews who are doing that, because who should know better what happens when this kind of thing gets rolling? I cannot imagine how awful it is right now to be a peace-oriented Israeli, whether Jewish or Arab. It’s such a small country, nothing and no one is truly far away from anyone in it.

    I just hope this ceasefire holds. And that someone can hold up a mirror that Israelis can look into, because I don’t think they’d be proud of what they saw. Or I hope they wouldn’t. 🙁

  8. florian says

    @Marcus Ranum: You can´t be serious. May I humbly introduce the fact that the Nazis wanted to kill the Jews, no matter what; while Israel is a state surrounded by enemies, who want to wipe them out and is defending themselves? I won´t justify Netanyahus´s politics, and I won´t say that this war is justified – but whoever criticizes it should come up with a better solution to keeps Israel safe. And to be sure – None of the (promising) negotiations failed because of Israel. Hamas doesn´t want peace, so what Israel does is make sure their enemies don´t ever become powerful – just like the US or any country in the world. As an Israeli Prime Minister who has to protect his People – what would you do?

  9. kraut says

    The first rule of critique of Israle:
    any critique on Israel or Zionist policies is antisemitism.
    That was easy.
    Israel cannot do wrong, it was a victim once, it always is a victim without blame.
    If Israelis shoot, it is ALWAYS in self defense.
    If Israel levels city blocks – they have the right to defend themselves against … add anything you want in here.
    I hope you get it now. So stop those inflammatory posts blaming Israel. You only prove your antisemitism.

  10. says

    As an Israeli Prime Minister who has to protect his People – what would you do?

    First, I would lift the blockade on Gaza so the people there could work for themselves and meet their material needs without having to work around endless punitive restrictions from their occupiers. That would remove most of the incentive Gazans currently have to retaliate against Israelis.

    Second, I would stop punishing Gazans for not electing the “right” people. It sucks that they voted for Hamas, but if they do, that could give Hamas even more incentive to do what they’ve already been doing: going legit and transitioning from terrorism to responsible governance.

    Third, I would encourage Egypt to do the same for Gaza — with the understanding that they would get bombed if they chose to support terrorist activities on Gaza soil.

    You got a problem with any of that?

  11. kraut says

    “Whoa, I had to check that ‘nym twice to be sure it wasn’t StevoR.”

    some just don’t get it – you figure out what It is

  12. AsqJames says

    florian (@12):

    Israel is a state surrounded by enemies, who want to wipe them out and is defending themselves

    Things change. Israel was a state surrounded by enemies who wanted to wipe them out.

    Israel’s neighbours are:
    Egypt who signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 (35 freaking years ago) and now have full diplomatic relations as well as intelligence, security & military cooperation with Israel.

    Jordan who signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 (20 years ago) and now officially considers Israel an ally. Even before that, although Jordan gave lip-service to anti-Israel policies, it’s actions betrayed a more pragmatic attitude.

    Lebanon was the first Arab state to move towards an armistice with Israel after the war which followed Israel’s establishment. Subsequently Lebanon was not a party to either the 1967 or 1973 wars against Israel. Hezbollah may be virulently anti-semitic and its leaders & members may want to destroy the state of Israel, but no-one with half a brain thinks that’s a remote possibility. In truth anti-Israeli sentiment is most useful for Hezbollah (and others) domestically to unify and shore up their support.
    There is no realistic possibility of the state of Lebanon going to war with Israel, the worst that could happen would be Hezbollah terrorist attacks or border raids. While such attacks are a genuine and serious concern for Israel, they are emphatically not an existential threat to the country.

    Iraq and Syria you may have noticed have their own internal problems. Neither is likely to be in any position to seriously threaten the state of Israel for the next decade or two.

    Quite frankly, the only thing Israel realistically needs to defend itself against is terrorism. The largest motivator by far of that terrorism is Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians – principally the blockade of Gaza and the West Bank settlements. If those two issues are resolved (the blockade lifted and stolen land in the west Bank returned), 90% of the threat Israel faces is removed at a stroke and the remaining issues (for Palestinians the “right to return” and sovereignty over East Jerusalem, and for Israel the safety and security of its citizens and Jerusalem as their capital) can be negotiated slowly and over time in a much cooler (i.e. safer) atmosphere for everyone.

    As a bonus, each side will need to spend less on bombs and bullets, and fewer people will be killed, injured or have their home destroyed. The biggest losers would be arms dealers and manufacturers, but I doubt there’ll be much wailing and gnashing of teeth for them.

    Oh and the autocrats in the Arab world won’t be able to tell their downtrodden populaces to “look over there” either. That won’t solve any problems, but it will remove one propaganda tool from the dictators’ bag which can’t hurt.

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