Monday, June 15, 2015

The 2014 Gaza Conflict

From the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 14 June 2015:

The 2014 Gaza Conflict was a peak in the ongoing armed conflict waged against Israel for over a decade by terrorist organisations operating from the Gaza Strip. This Report provides information so that others may reach an informed understanding of the reasons for the Conflict and the actions of the parties thereto.


On July 7, 2014, the Government of Israel ordered the Israel Defense Forces to launch an aerial operation against Hamas and other terrorist organisations in the Gaza Strip. This operation, termed “Operation Protective Edge”, was launched in response to increasing rocket and mortar fire on Israel from the Gaza Strip during June and early July 2014, and despite Israel's continued efforts at de-escalation.

On July 17, 2014, as a result of Hamas's continued rejection of ceasefire initiatives, ongoing rocket and mortar fire and the execution of attacks in Israeli territory by sea and through cross-border assault tunnels, the Government of Israel authorized the entry of ground forces into a limited area of the Gaza Strip. These ground forces were tasked with identifying and neutralizing the cross-border assault tunnels, which originated from the outskirts of the urban areas of the Gaza Strip. The ground forces withdrew from the Gaza Strip on August 5, after locating and neutralising 32 cross-border assault tunnels, and despite ongoing rocket and mortar attacks against Israel. The 2014 Gaza Conflict concluded on August 26, with an unconditional ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

The Full Report comprises official documents concerning factual and legal aspects of the 2014 Gaza Conflict. These documents provide information on the following topics:

  • background to the armed conflict that Hamas has waged against Israel for over a decade; the circumstances that led Israel to launch Operation Protective Edge;
  • the effect of Hamas's attacks on Israel's civilian population and Israel's civil defense measures;
  • the tactics of Hamas and other terrorist organizations during the conflict and their violations of international law;
  • detailed factual and legal information concerning the actions of the IDF during the conflict, including the steps taken before and during the conflict to ensure Israel's compliance with the Law of Armed Conflict; and
  • Israel's examination and investigation mechanism for dealing with alleged misconduct by IDF forces.

Executive Summary - Introduction

The following Report - The 2014 Gaza Conflict (7 July - 26 August 2014): Factual and Legal Aspects - presents detailed factual and legal information regarding the intensive hostilities that took place from July 7 to August 26, 2014 between the State of Israel and Hamas and other terrorist organisations operating in the Gaza Strip ("the 2014 Gaza Conflict", also known as Operation "Protective Edge").

This Report is intended to provide information so that others may reach an informed understanding of the reasons for the 2014 Gaza Conflict and the actions of the parties thereto. Although the Report does not purport to provide complete coverage of the 2014 Gaza Conflict, it constitutes an unprecedented effort to present factual and legal aspects concerning the Conflict.

The Report includes an assessment of the events leading up to the 2014 Gaza Conflict, describing the overall objectives for Israel and the rationale behind Israel’s strategic decisions. The Report presents Israel’s legal positions concerning the conduct of hostilities, examples of military targets and individuals targeted by the Israel Defense Forces ("IDF") during the Conflict, statistics concerning the amount of humanitarian aid that entered the Gaza Strip with Israel’s facilitation, details regarding the costs borne by Israel’s civilian population as a result of the 2014 Gaza Conflict, and information revealing the unlawful activities of Hamas and other terrorist organisations. The Report also discusses Israel’s justice system, and its procedures for examining and investigating possible violations of the Law of Armed Conflict.

The 2014 Gaza Conflict was another peak of hostilities in the ongoing armed conflict that has been waged against Israel for well over a decade by terrorist organisations operating from the Gaza Strip. The nature of the hostilities between the IDF and these terrorist organisations in the summer of 2014 was characterised by the following two interrelated elements.

First, the conflict occurred primarily in an urban environment. Hamas combat manuals and training materials recovered by IDF forces in the Gaza Strip demonstrate that Hamas’s strategy was to deliberately draw the hostilities into the urban terrain, and to use built-up areas and the presence of the civilian population for tactical advantage and political gain. This strategy was obvious during the 2014 Gaza Conflict in view of the sheer scope of military activity that Hamas and other terrorist organisations embedded within the urban environment.

Second, the conflict involved non-state actors who defy international law, including the Law of Armed Conflict applicable to the hostilities within the Gaza Strip. More than just drawing the fighting into the urban terrain, these organisations often unlawfully intertwined their military operations with the civilian environment. IDF airborne and ground forces faced militants disguised as civilians and as IDF soldiers, residential homes converted to military command centres, multistory buildings used as pre-prepared surveillance positions, mosque minarets employed as sniping posts, schools utilized as weapons caches, civilian structures extensively booby-trapped, and tunnel openings and infrastructure hidden in and under civilian areas.

This exploitation of civilian surroundings - which often constituted war crimes and crimes against humanity - posed significant operational, legal and ethical challenges for the IDF. The IDF is committed to conducting all its operations in accordance with international law and makes efforts, including beyond its legal obligations, to mitigate the risk of harm to civilians when doing so. Despite the IDF’s commitment to the rule of law and efforts to protect civilians, an unfortunate result of the complex realities described above is that during the 2014 Gaza Conflict numerous civilians were caught in the hostilities.

It is against this background that the harm to civilians and civilian objects in the Gaza Strip that resulted from the 2014 Gaza Conflict should be assessed. 

In all armed conflicts, the application of military force almost inevitably causes residual and incidental harm; this is even more so when the hostilities occur in the urban environment. The 2014 Gaza Conflict in particular involved high intensity, protracted hostilities, including close-quarter combat and intensive urban warfare, exacerbating the risk of harm to civilians within the combat arena. Such harm was also the direct result of rockets and mortars that were launched towards Israel from within the Gaza Strip but that fell short. 

Furthermore, much of what may have appeared to external parties to be indiscriminate harm to civilians or purely civilian objects was in fact legitimate attacks against military targets that merely appear civilian but were actually part of the military operations of these terrorist organisations. Many allegedly "civilian" casualties were in fact militants. 

Harm to the civilian population also occurred as the result of unfortunate - yet lawful - incidental effects of legitimate military action in the vicinity of civilians and their surroundings, and as a result of the inescapable constraint of commanders not being infallible, intelligence not being perfect and technological systems sometimes failing.

As stated repeatedly by the IDF and the Government of Israel’s highest representatives, Israel did not intend, and deeply regrets, the harm caused to the Palestinian civilian population and surroundings during the 2014 Gaza Conflict. 
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