Palestinian armed groups in Gaza violated the laws of war during the November 2012 fighting by launching hundreds of rockets toward population centers in Israel.
About 1,500 rockets were fired at Israel between November 14 and 21, the Israel Defense Forces reported. At least 800 struck Israel, including 60 that hit populated areas.
The rocket attacks, including the first from Gaza to strike the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem areas, killed three Israeli civilians, wounded at least 38, several seriously, and destroyed civilian property. Rockets that fell short of their intended targets in Israel apparently killed at least two Palestinians in Gaza and wounded others, Human Rights Watch said.
“Palestinian armed groups made clear in their statements that harming civilians was their aim,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “There is simply no legal justification for launching rockets at populated areas.”
Under international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, civilians and civilian structures may not be subject to deliberate attacks or attacks that do not discriminate between civilians and military targets. Anyone who commits serious laws-of-war violations intentionally or recklessly is responsible for war crimes.
During and after the November fighting, Human Rights Watch interviewed witnesses, victims, and relatives of people killed and injured by rocket attacks in Israel, as well as Israeli officials from two communities struck by rockets, and a spokesperson for the Israeli emergency medical services.
Human Rights Watch research in Gaza found that armed groups repeatedly fired rockets from densely populated areas, near homes, businesses, and a hotel, unnecessarily placing civilians in the vicinity at grave risk from Israeli counter-fire.
The Palestinian armed groups that are known to have launched rockets at Israel – Hamas’ Izz el-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Islamic Jihad’s Saraya al-Quds Brigades, and the Popular Resistance Committee’s Nasser Salahaddin Brigades – at times said that their attacks targeted civilians or they sought to justify the attacks by calling them reprisals for Israeli attacks that killed civilians in Gaza.
On November 18, for example, the al-Qassam Brigades announced that it had launched a Fajr 5 at Tel Aviv “as a response for the ongoing aggression against Palestinian people.” The Nasser Salahaddin Brigades stated on November 10 that it had launched four rockets at Israeli communities close to Gaza as a “revenge invoice” for Israeli shelling that had killed four Palestinian civilians.
The laws of war prohibit reprisal attacks against civilians, regardless of unlawful attacks by the other side, Human Rights Watch said. Statements by armed groups that they deliberately targeted an Israeli city or Israeli civilians are demonstrating their intent to commit war crimes.
Hamas, the ruling authority in Gaza, is obligated to uphold the laws of war and should appropriately punish those responsible for serious violations, Human Rights Watch said.