In recent months, the Israeli army has continued to deny charges that its soldiers and officers allegedly committed war crimes during Operation “Cast Lead” on the Gaza Strip (27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009). The military and its spokespersons have responded to all allegations directed against them as overly broad and unspecific, and consequently difficult to investigate.
On 4 June 2009, Adalah sent a detailed letter to the Military Advocate General (MAG) and the Attorney General (AG), demanding that they open a criminal investigation into suspected war crimes in relation to specific incidents involving two families from the Abed Rabbo neighborhood, east of the Jabaliya town. In the letter , Adalah Attorney Fatmeh El-‘Ajou relied on testimonies and affidavits gathered by the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in the Gaza Strip and Al-Haq.
The incidents in question began after the Abed Rabbo family – the father, Khaled (32), mother, Kawther (30), grandmother, Suad (54), and daughters, Suad (9) Samar (5) and Amal (3) – responded to the army’s orders, conveyed to them via loudspeaker, to vacate their homes. From the testimonies gathered, it is clear that the father, mother, grandmother and eldest daughter exited first, waving white flags.
Upon leaving their home, the family members saw a military tank standing a few meters away with two soldiers in it. There was no barrier between the soldiers and the family that could have obscured the soldiers’ vision. The family members stood still for a short period, waving white flags, so that the soldiers would allow them to pass by the tank on their way to the center of Jabaliya. Suddenly, a third soldier exited the tank and aimed his machine gun at the family and opened fire. The shooting continued for several minutes, and resulted in the injury of the grandmother and the three girls. The grandmother retreated inside the house, while the father and mother moved the injured girls, who were bleeding, into the house. The parents then discovered that two of their daughters had been killed and that the third had life-threatening injuries. The parents screamed for help, but none arrived.
Ambulance driver Mr. Samih El-Sheikh lives in the house adjacent to the Abed Rabbos’ home. When he heard the screams that followed the shooting, he and his son Saeb put on their medical uniforms and attempted to gain access to the Abed Rabbos’ home with an ambulance. However, the soldiers prevented them from doing so and ordered them to leave the area with their families without the ambulance.
After pleading with the soldiers for two hours to allow them to take the injured to the hospital, the parents, with the help of neighbors, carried the three sisters and their grandmother, who had sustained wounds to the hand and lower back, to the hospital on foot.
Some neighbors went ahead of those who were carrying the injured to find a car in which to transport the injured. A short time later, a horse-drawn cart in which Zakaria Suleiman Khalil Naseir (57), his son Musa (18) and another relative, Adham Khamis Mohammad Naseir (37) were riding, passed by. Naseir steered the cart towards the injured. When it drew close to them, the soldiers opened fire on the cart, shooting Adham in the neck. The witnesses to the incident called an ambulance, but it was unable to get close to Adham because the medics were met with heavy fire every time they attempted to approach him. Zakaria then carried Adham on his back to the ambulance, which then took him to hospital for treatment. Due to the severity of his condition, he was transferred for treatment abroad and later died.
After numerous attempts, the family succeeded in moving the three girls and their grandmother to the hospital separately. There, the deaths of Suad and Amal were officially pronounced and Samar was transferred for treatment abroad, suffering from serious injuries and hemiplegia.
Following the end of the military campaign, the Abed Rabbo and El-Sheikh families returned to their homes to find them completely destroyed. According to records kept by Al Mezan, a total of 174 homes were completely destroyed in the Abed Rabbo neighborhood.
A list of full names and personal details of the witnesses to the shootings, the injury of members of the Abed Rabbo family, and the killing of Adham Naseir, as well as witnesses to the actions of the army in preventing medics from conveying the injured to hospital has been appended by the human rights organizations' complaint to the MAG and the AG.
These testimonies confirm the allegations of war crimes amounting to grave breaches of international humanitarian law (IHL), namely targeting and killing civilians not taking part in the hostilities. Further, the soldiers also prevented the wounded from receiving medical assistance and being removed from their homes and the streets which resembled a battlefield. In addition, the attack resulted in the extensive destruction of private property not demanded by military necessity, which is a war crime, amounting to a grave breach of IHL. Therefore, Adalah argued, the Israeli authorities must immediately open a criminal investigation into these incidents and bring those responsible to justice.