On July 23, 2014 the UN Human Rights Council convened a special session to discuss Israel’s military operation in Gaza.  Barring a handful of exceptions, UN officials, diplomats (many from dictatorial governments and/or aligned with the Arab bloc), and NGOs all condemned alleged Israeli “war crimes” and denied the legitimacy of its self-defense measures.

The session resulted in a resolution to “dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry” – creating another Goldstone-like mission. As with Goldstone, NGOs will likely play a central role in providing the accusations and narrative for the final report.

And, as with Goldstone, NGOs played a central role in campaigning for the creation of another fact-finding mission. A number of NGOs made statements during the session. The vast majority, many of which are funded by European governments, called for a Goldstone-like investigation and condemned Israel for legitimate responses to terror attacks from Gaza targeting Israeli civilians.

These NGO accusations were echoed in the Council’s resolution, which alleges Israel’s “deliberate targeting of civilians” and “systematic, flagrant and widespread violations of applicable international humanitarian and human rights law,” and condemns Israel for “violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms,”  “disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks… and targeting of civilians,” and “collective punishment” that “may amount to international crimes.”

In addition, like the UN resolution, these NGOs did not condemn Hamas’ systematic violation of all legal and moral norms by operating from within populated areas; locating command centers in hospitals, mosques, and other protected areas; and extensive use of human shields.


The following NGOs submitted written statements:

Excerpts from NGO statements:

Khiam Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture (Lebanon)

“…Khiam Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture consider what is happening in the Gaza as a war crimes against humanity, and with the high number of civilian victims, where the women and children and the elderly are the majority, and the way that leaves no doubt as to the behaviour intentional by the occupation State to the rhythm of the largest possible number of casualties among civilians as part of a collective punishment in flagrant violation and the Organization of international law, and emphasizes that what is practiced by the occupation state of grave violations against the Palestinian people it is only the crimes against humanity as a wholecommits the crime of genocide against the unarmed civilians and violation of the international humanitarian law and all agreements and international conventions…

…the Center emphasizes the need…to set up committees to investigate the facts of what is happening in the Gaza of massive and flagrant violations of Palestinian human rights and the investigation of the massacres committed against innocent people and isolate also subject to strikes on their homes to end their lives and the lives of their children, without the slightest respect for the human right to life and security of person and property.”

International Youth and Student Movement for the United Nations

“…The ongoing Israeli acts of aggression, occupation, war crimes and crimes against humanity are taking place at a time of weakening of international solidarity with the People of Palestine, despite that the UN General Assembly has declared 2014 as the International Year of Solidarity with the People of Palestine.

…Throughout the year the aggressor and occupier has been sent a signal of impunity through increased military, economic and other forms of collaboration by many states. The UN Human Rights machinery has been bullied to inaction and reduced attention has been given to the grave crimes committed by Israel.

…A commission of inquiry into the crimes committed by Israel in Gaza, in all the occupied territories and against the Palestinian People as a whole should be established by the Human Rights Council, which could include the Special Rapporteur.”

International Association of Democratic Lawyers

“War crimes in the Gaza Strip

…Under the declared pretext of annihilating Hamas’ resistance, on June 8th the Israeli forces launched a new large-scale offensive against the Gaza Strip and its 1.8 million inhabitants (the third in the last six years) inflicting heavy civilian casualties and further devastation on a long besieged and impoverished territory

…By indiscriminate attacking highly populated areas, inviting civilians to evacuate even though they don’t have any place to go, the Israeli forces engaged in a massive campaign of collective punishment in disregard for international humanitarian law, which ensure protection for civilians in times of war, and in violation of the principles of necessity, proportionality and distinction.

…The Israeli forces engaged in punitive destruction of houses in the Gaza Strip, causing a huge number of civilian deaths. The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, and that the targeting of homes inevitably results in significant collateral damage to individuals and property nearby. Many of the civilian victims were killed in their houses, or while evacuating. Entire families have been exterminated.

…The military offensive included attacks on hospitals, ambulances, disables’ center, media workers, radio stations, mosques and other protected infrastructures protected under international humanitarian law. On July 14th, UNRWA denounced that 47 of its facilities including schools, clinics and warehouses have been damaged by Israel air raids and other fire in violation of international law. The public health sector is nearly collapsed.

…The humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is quickly deteriorating due to the continuous indiscriminate Israeli shelling of populated areas, the threats to expand military operations and the continued tightened closure of the Gaza Strip.

Such a brutality doesn’t have any justification. Israel cannot claims to act in “self-defense” because, as also recognized ten years ago by the International Court of Justice in its “Advisory Opinion on the “Legal Consequences of the Construction of the Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”, the Palestinians constitute a people under Israeli occupation and are therefore not a “foreign” threat for the purposes of Article 51 of the UN Charter.

During its 47-years occupation, Israel has consistently and systematically violated international human rights law and humanitarian law but until now has not been held accountable for its crimes. This impunity has resulted in Israel continuing – and escalating- its violation of international law.

Graves breaches of international humanitarian law are war crimes and must be investigated and those responsible must be held accountable.”

Joint written statement submitted by the Union of Arab Jurists, the General Arab Women Federation, the Indian Movement “Tupaj Amaru”, the International Educational Development, Inc., the World Peace Council (as well as the following NGOs without consultative status: Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ), BRussels Tribunal, Arab Lawyers Association- UK, Association of Humanitarian Lawyers)

“Israel should face war crimes trials over Gaza”

“This report…describes the crimes committed by Israel against the civilian population in Gaza during the Operation Protective Edge…The disproportionate use of force amounts to war crimes and must be brought to justice as it seriously violates international humanitarian law

…Contrary to allegations of self-defense, it was the Israeli PM’s calls for vengeance on Hamas after the murder of three Israeli teens in July 2014 that set of the avalanche of violence. Without proving concrete evidence Israel blamed Hamas for the murders and promised to wreak vengeance on the movement in Gaza.   From the outset on “Operation Protective Edge” thus carried the characteristics of retaliation campaign, targeting Palestinians as a whole and the new unity government in particular. Such a campaign stands in opposition to the principle of necessity, in serious violation of the UN Charter and fundamental international law principles and thus falls under the definition of aggression.

…“Operation Protective Edge” further totally undermines all principles of proportionality. Israel has to fully respect its obligations under international law including the protection of civilians and civilian infrastructure, the horrific developments in Gaza have reached intolerable heights: Israel is bombing civilian houses with people in them entire families have been buried under rubble, and streets lie in ruins. Any perceived link to Hamas serves as justification for an attack, even if it includes firing at densely populated civilian areas, with deadly results on a shocking scale.  The horrifying reality on the ground makes it impossible to further countenance the cynical use of legal terms such as “proportionality”, “discriminate” and “duty of care”

…According to the IDF it is enough for a person to be involved in military activity to render his home (and his neighbors’ homes) legitimate military targets, without having to prove any connection between his activity and the house in which he and his family live. This interpretation is unfounded and illegal. International humanitarian law provides that a legitimate target is only a legitimate target when damaging the structure can provide a military advantage. Treating homes as legitimate targets is an unlawful, distorted interpretation of the concept amounting to war crime. The gravity of the violation is compounded when uninvolved civilians are injured.

…Throughout the operation Protective Edge the harm to civilians has become excessive. Although “Israel claimed that bombings were being carried out with the “knock on the roof” procedure (whereby the military warns inhabitants previous to the attack) many times the inhabitants were not given sufficient time to leave. In other cases they refused to leave despite the warning given. In such cases, the military must not treat the houses as empty. In order to protect civilians international humanitarian law furthermore requires the military to ensure that warning are “effective”. An ineffective warning breaches the military’s legal obligations, with lethal results: if civilians are not given enough time to leave their homes, or if the military ignores their decision to stay, it is as though they were not warned at all. Throughout the operation Protective edge Israel has persistently been found guilty of this crime.

Israel rejected a 3 hour humanitarian ceasefire requested by the ICRC on Sunday 20 to allow help to injured & deaths in Shujaia. Ambulances that did eventually brave the shelling to try and rescue people came under fire. One of them took a direct hit, killing the paramedic inside. A TV correspondent was also killed. Such indiscriminate attacks are in serious violation of international law, amounting to war crimes. A hospital is not a military target and may not be targeted even after it is evacuated.

Israel has been guilty of war crimes. The overwhelming evidence supports basic Palestinian allegations that Israel is guilty of aggression in violation of the UN Charter and in flagrant violation of its obligations under the Geneva Conventions to protect the civilian population. Israel is further guilty of using excessive and disproportionate force against a defenseless society. Such crimes amount to crimes against humanity and must be brought to justice.

…The Israel policy of collective punishment violates the fundamental rules of international law and contravenes the basic customary moral standards by punishing people for the misdeeds of others. No country in the world should get away easily with slaughter, destruction and repression such as the war crimes systematically committed by Israeli against the people in Gaza and the West Bank. The world must stop being a mute spectator in view of these crimes, daunted by the cynical exploitation of continuing guilt about the past.”

Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights

“Israel’s on-going assault on the Gaza Strip continues to result in mass destruction, displacement and mounting loss of civilian life.

…On 7 July 2014, the State of Israel launched Operation Protective Edge (OPE) comprised of a brutal onslaught of violence by land, air and sea against the Gaza Strip.  We are urging the Council to consider two matters of urgent concern: An Occupying Power may not resort to the right to self-defense as the occupier is the initial aggressor…Once hostilities begin, IHL rules must be respected. Al Mezan’s documentation confirms the persistence of a consistent trend throughout OPE, which also applies to the past decades: Israeli forces are directing attacks at civilian targets

The numerous deliberate attacks on houses evidence outright war crimes. The indiscriminate bombardment of the Shejai’ya neighbourhood in the east of Gaza City – in stated aim of covering the evacuation of Israeli combatants according to the Israeli Defence Minister, Moshe Ya’alon  – killed dozens of Palestinian civilians in their homes and in the midst of fleeing, is yet another example of the disregard Israel shows to civilian life as well as IHL rules…

During the humanitarian ceasefire, Israeli forces directly targeted the house of the Iskafi family…Israeli forces – equipped with the most sophisticated surveillance technology in the world – are not observing the principle of distinction.

…The vague and sometimes lethal ‘warnings’, often carried out by missile ‘roof knocking’ attacks, disregard human life and in their ineffectiveness violate standards of international law. These purported ‘warnings’ should not give Israel the free rein that it has taken to target the civilians left behind.

The ground invasion continues to intensify and while civilians flee their homes for safety, Israeli forces aim and shoot. Infants, children, women, people with disability, older people and other civilians have largely been the targets. Just before dawn on 20 July 2014 Israeli forces carried out a heinous mass attack …Many people are still under the rubble of houses destroyed that day.

Israel’s targeted attack on facilities for people with disability has exemplified its callous disregard for the lives of those who need protection the most. The death of two people with impairments, both within Mebarat Palestine for the Disabled when Israeli forces destroyed the building, is a blatant violation of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disability, which Israel ratified in 2012.

…As in Shejai’ya, ambulances continue to be targeted and denied access to casualties and wounded civilians despite the relentless efforts of the ICRC to coordinate. As in the Radwan case, where four men slowly bled to death while Israeli smoke bombs prevented paramedics from gaining access to the casualties, Israel violates IHL rules that necessitate medical access for civilians at all times.

States supporting Israel’s claims of self-defense in the context of illegal occupation of Palestine are complicit in Israel’s war crimes. Furthermore, past military operations by Israeli forces are proof that military escalation and violence won’t bring stability, security and peace to the region; it will strengthen radicalism and further antagonize the parties.

…To put accountability on hold because rockets are fired from the Gaza Strip is to exercise gross oversight of Israeli forces’ actions against minors, resulting in torture, ill treatment and death, in the context of demonstrations in the West Bank, and runs counter to the inviolable IHL rule that violations never justify further breaches in response. Seeking justice for these breaches of IHL will be a slow process; however, failing to take legal action to address these heinous crimes grants the perpetrators with immunity to continue such atrocities.

Israel’s continued egregious violations against the people of Gaza during OPE amount to war crimes. The Council is called to urge the Security Council to swiftly refer the situation in the Gaza Strip to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.”

Joint written statement submitted by Adalah – Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel and the Arab Association for Human Rights (including: Al Tufula Center, The Association for the Defence for the Right of the Internally Displaced in Israel, Aswat – Palestinian Gay Women, Baladna – Association for Arab Youth, The Galilee Society – The Arab National Society for Health Research & Services, Hamleh: The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media, I’lam Media Center for Arab Palestinians in Israel, Kayan Feminist Organization, Mada al-Carmel – Arab Center for Applied Social Research, Mossawa Center – The Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel, The Regional Council for the Unrecognized Villages in the Negev (Naqab), Women Against Violence, NGOs without consultative status, also share the views expressed in this statement)

“We strongly condemn Israel’s unlawful targeting of civilians, civilian objects, and civilian property. These acts constitute grave violations of international humanitarian law and international criminal law and may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute.

…Due to the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure and calls on the civilian population to evacuate large areas, although there is no safe place to go, there are more than 100,000 internally displaced persons in shelters and with relatives; over 1.2 million people with no or very little access to water or sanitation services; 80% of the population receiving electricity only four hours a day; a dire shortage of medicine and medical aid and assistance; and tens of thousands of people requiring food and other kinds of humanitarian assistance. Thus, the entire Palestinian population in Gaza is being subjected to collective punishment.

…The Palestinian Arab community in Israel has mobilized in protest at the horrific increase in Israeli military attacks on Gaza. These demonstrations have been met by racially-motivated nationalistic attacks on Arab individuals and anti-War demonstrators by Israeli Jewish extremists, some of whom claim that hating Arabs is not racism, but a value. The police have failed to intervene and arrest these protestors who are also calling for “death to Arabs.” The security forces have used excessive force and violence against Palestinian protesters, and have conducted mass arrests and detention, including that of minors.

We call on the UN Human Rights Council to: …Call for an immediate end to the War, and the targeting of civilian populations by all the parties; …Condemn the deliberate, systematic and widespread targeting of Palestinian civilians and civilian objects in Gaza, including family homes, medical facilities, mosques, among others, as well as attacks on the water supply that constitute a grave humanitarian danger to the entire population; Call for an immediate end to racial incitement and physical attacks against Palestinian citizens of Israel, the end to brutal and violent treatment by the police against demonstrators, and to respect the right for freedom of expression in Israel.

FIDH- International Federation for Human Rights, Al-Haq, Al Mezan, Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI), Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) 

“The imbalance of power in favor of Israel cannot be overlooked, nor can the fact that the population bearing the overwhelming brunt of these hostilities, in terms of physical, emotional and infrastructural damage, is the Palestinian civilian population. …Nevertheless, the Israeli military has deliberately attacked such houses and other ostensibly civilian objects and public spaces including hospitals, schools, mosques, sports clubs, and cafes….In light of the above-mentioned information, and in the interest of preventing further harm to civilian populations, we call on the UN Human Rights Council, during its upcoming Special Session, to: …Strongly condemn the failure of Israel to abide by international humanitarian law, including the underpinning principles of military necessity, proportionality and distinction

International Commission of Jurists 

Gross violations of international human rights law and grave breaches of international humanitarian law during Israeli military operations in Gaza …Sustained aerial bombardment and ground incursions have also resulted in the destruction of basic infrastructure and civil facilities. Many of the attacks have been directed against civilian objects….Such attacks by both parties constitute crimes under international law and their perpetrators must be held criminally accountable…”

Joint written statement submitted by the Defence for Children International, Terre Des Hommes Federation Internationale and World Vision International

“…So far, more children have been killed by Israeli fire than Palestinian militants. These numbers do not reflect the psychological trauma of Palestinian children in Gaza and their families, who live under constant fear in the midst of heavy bombings and without access to safe places or shelters.

…Israel’s military offensive on the Gaza Strip has so far been characterised by attacks on directed at government and civilian infrastructure, residential neighbourhoods, and individual civilians.

Civilian homes, schools, hospitals and places of worship are presumed to be civilian objects. Any attacks on these structures raise serious concerns about whether Israeli strikes and shelling have been in accordance with international humanitarian law. The violence has left the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza, particularly children, traumatized and in need of psychological support. This violence is exacerbated by the blockade on the Gaza Strip imposed by Israel since 2007, which has led to a humanitarian crisis for the 1.7 million Palestinians that live in the Gaza Strip.

…Over the course of Israel’s military offensive on the Gaza Strip, Israeli strikes have carried out direct attacks on civilian homes causing a large number of civilian casualties, including children. The military offensive has seen heavy artillery fire and constant airstrikes batter the Gaza Strip, severely impacting the civilian population of the Gaza Strip. Sunday July 20 became the bloodiest day of the military offensive, with at least 100 civilians killed, including at least 20 children as Israeli troops advanced into Shujai’iya, a crowded residential neighbourhood of Gaza City.”

Action Contre la Faim (ACF International) 

“… The situation in Gaza is not just an unprecedented humanitarian and protection crisis, but it is further compounding the chronic state of emergency under which Gaza has laboured since restrictions were imposed by Israel in 2007.

…In what appears to be a widespread policy of targeting civilian objects including livelihood-related structures, the homes of 3,050 families’ have been destroyed or severely damaged, and a total of 135,500 people are in need of shelter assistance due to damage to their homes.

…Civilians in Gaza are bearing the brunt of this recurrent conflict. Israeli conduct of hostilities has destroyed homes and resulted in significant damage to livelihood-related structures, community assets (schools and health facilities) and water and sanitation infrastructure essential for the provision of basic services.

attacks on homes cannot be justified under international humanitarian law unless such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations, and confers a distinct military advantage. The parties are to be reminded that reprisals against civilian property are prohibited. We are concerned with reports of misuse of civilian structures for military purposes, rendering them objects for military attack, and remind all parties that distinction between civilians and combatants must be strictly adhered to.

…Even before the resurgence of hostilities, the on-going restrictions imposed by Israel on Gaza had resulted in a dire humanitarian situation…In working with the parties to reach a ceasefire, third States should implore Israel to lift the long term restrictions imposed on Gaza.

Attacks on homes cannot be justified under international humanitarian law unless such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations, and confers a distinct military advantage. The Council should undertake through its Special Procedures, a prompt, independent, thorough and effective investigation into missile strikes on civilian infrastructure, including medical facilities and WASH.  All parties are to be reminded that reprisals against civilian property are prohibited by international law.”

Human Rights Watch had documented eight airstrikes on civilian targets before the ground offensive had begun on July 17. Neither the Israeli nor Palestinian authorities had taken the necessary steps to prosecute violators, who existed on both sides. The Council should mandate the Office of the High Commissioner to form a fact-finding mission, which should establish accountability and issue recommendations to the UN and the parties.

Amnesty International regretted that once more the Council was intervening after the catastrophe, and said the UN must find ways to intervene in crises sooner. The Council was recommended to build on the analysis and findings of the Goldstone report and back measures to find accountability for victims.

BADIL Resource Centre for Palestinian Residency and Refugees Rights said that 76% of the Palestinians killed by Israel were civilians. Testimonies from the ground described attacks by Israel as indiscriminate and disproportionate and directly aimed at civilians. In the past seven years, the Council had failed to act decisively to ensure that Israel abided by international law.

Norwegian Refugee Council said that 44% of the Gaza Strip had been declared a no-go area, making Gaza even more of an open-air prison than before. In Gaza, the internally displaced persons could not find safety as they were not allowed to leave, and no place in Gaza was safe. Returning to the status quo ante was not enough.

CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation said it was appalled by the nightmare of rocket bombings of civilians, including children and soldiers alike, during the third war in Gaza in less than six years. Above all, CIVICUS was appalled that Israel, after its Holocaust history, had turned from a victim into a victimizer. Authorities in Gaza must recognize that they would lose support if they used Palestinians cynically as human shields.

Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development said the Council was today considering a catastrophic situation which was a result of Israel’s reaction to the kidnapping of three Israeli citizens; this was collective punishment against the citizens of the Gaza Strip. More than 83% of victims were civilians, killed in an area where there was no option to flee death as the aggression of Israel was all encompassing.

Save the Children International said the number of casualties in the Gaza Strip was unprecedented. One out of every five people killed by the recent strikes was a child. Around 80,000 children had experienced death or injury in their families, or lost a home. Children were being denied access to healthcare and schooling. Save the Children International called for the protection of school facilities and respect for their integrity.

Caritas International expressed deep concern about the renewed tension in the Holy Land and the grave violations reported in the Gaza Strip. During the special prayers for peace in Israel and Palestine, convened in the Vatican on June 8, Pope Francis had asked for courage, strength, and tenacity to say no to conflict. Caritas called on both parties to the conflict to agree to an immediate ceasefire to enable humanitarian relief.

Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l’homme was concerned by the systematic violations of international humanitarian law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Israel, as the occupying power, had to protect civilians during its offensive security operations against Hamas. Both parties were invited to declare an unconditional ceasefire in order to save human lives.

International Institute for Peace, Justice and Human Rights said the Special Session took place three weeks after the execution, torture and murder of a Palestinian teenager in East Jerusalem, and three weeks of Israeli aggression against Gaza. The Institute condemned the attacks against the Palestinian people, their hospitals, and their schools, and made several recommendations for a fact-finding mission.

The following NGOs made statements in support of Israel:

Amuta for NGO Responsibility (NGO Monitor) regretted the rockets being fired at Israel’s main airport, an artery for the nation, which had led to its partial shut-down and many major airlines suspending their flights to Israel. The representative said that cement given to Gaza to help Palestinians build hospitals and schools was instead used to build kilometers of ‘tunnels of terror’ to murder Israeli civilians.

UN Watch said that the draft resolution denied Israel’s right to self-defense. If in the past year, the Council had not cried out when thousands had been killed in street protests in Turkey, Egypt, Libya, and Afghanistan, why did it hold a Special Session on Israel now? The Assad regime in Syria had killed 1,800 Palestinians, yet the Council had remained silent over that.

World Jewish Congress said that by firing hundreds of rockets at Israeli civilians, Hamas had launched an armed attack against a UN Member State. Hamas was the violator of human rights, as it used children as human shields and violated the sanctity of mosques, hospitals and schools. The Council should reject the resolution and sanction Hamas for its wanton violation of human rights.

Coordinating Board of Jewish Organizations; B’nai B’rith said Hamas had fired some 1,700 rockets at Israel, and it used its own people as human shields. Israel made attempts to warn Palestinian civilians to flee areas where terrorist military installations were, by sending text and telephone messages. The Coordinating Board said they were here today for peace.

International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists believed that the draft resolution was contrary to the Council’s mandate and did great injustice to Israel. It made no reference to violations of humanitarian law perpetrated by terror organizations. Hamas had declared on several occasions that any Israeli was a legitimate target to its attacks. The Council should condemn Hamas and its terrorist methods.

European Union of Jewish Students said an entire nation, towns, villages, and cities, was under brutal and relentless attack from over 2,000 rockets and long-range missiles fired from Gaza across the holy land. Israelis were forced to run for shelter, day and night, when air-raid sirens went off. The world should salute the terrorized and embattled nation of Israel which was showing such strength of spirit in resisting such massive aggression.