UN finds Israel killed dozens at Gaza schools but ducks call for accountability

A Palestinian baby injured in the 24 July 2014 shelling of a UN school serving as a shelter in Beit Hanoun, Gaza, receives treatment at Kamal Adwan hospital. A UN inquiry says that Israel was responsible for attacks on seven UN schools, killing and injuring hundreds.

Ali Jadallah APA images

An official board of inquiry has found that Israel killed and injured hundreds of Palestinians in seven attacks on United Nations-run schools in the Gaza Strip last summer.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sent a published summary of the report to the Security Council on Monday. But notably lacking in his letter conveying the report was any call for Israel to be held accountable for the atrocities it details.

“I deplore the fact that at least 44 Palestinians were killed as a result of Israeli actions and at least 227 injured at United Nations premises being used as emergency shelters,” Ban writes.

Chris Gunness, spokesperson for UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees that ran the shelters, tweeted that his organization “welcomes” the report and would “study” its recommendations.

But by once again failing to call for accountability for the perpetrators of these attacks, Ban is all but ensuring that Israel will kill again – both Palestinian civilians and UN personnel.

There is no need to speculate about this; Ban notes in his letter that this is the second time that he has had to call for an inquiry into Israeli attacks on UN schools and premises in Gaza.

The previous report into Israel’s 2008-2009 attacks led to no consequences or accountability for Israel, freeing it to carry out even more brutal attacks.

More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed during Israel’s 51-day air bombardment and ground assault last summer.

Israel knew where schools were

The report details the attacks on seven schools run by UNRWA between 21 July and 26 August 2014, in the north, central and southern regions of Gaza. In no case was there credible evidence of any military necessity that could remotely justify attacks on known places where civilians were sheltering.

It confirms that UN personnel repeatedly informed Israeli military authorities of the exact locations of all UN facilities, including twice-daily updates of the GPS coordinates of every facility being used as a shelter.

Nonetheless, Israel launched direct attacks on schools. On 21 July, for instance, shelling increased in the vicinity of the UNRWA Maghazi Preparatory Girls school in central Gaza. UNRWA urged people sheltering at the school to relocate to another school in what it deemed to be a safer area.

Many had done so by late afternoon, but hundreds remained in the school when at about 4:50 a.m. “the school was struck at roof level by direct fire” from an Israeli army tank shell, injuring a man and a child.

Ban’s summary states that “none of the witnesses who had testified to UNRWA had been aware of any activity by militant groups in the school or in its vicinity.”

The inquiry board notes that the school was well guarded at all times and that all persons who entered were registered.

And yet, the summary states, Israel claimed that its army “had identified significant enemy presence in the area around, and apparently also within, the school.”

The very next day, the UN coordinated a two-hour window with Israel so that its experts could examine the damage to the school.

While one expert was on the roof in a clearly marked vest, the school was hit again by two mortar rounds. The team member ran and was able to escape without injury but more damage was done to the school.

Based on photographs of the explosive remnants provided by the UN, Israeli army munitions experts claimed that the munitions could be of a type that is used by Hamas.

But the board of inquiry “however, found that the school had been hit by 81 MM mortar rounds fired by the IDF [Israeli army],” the summary states.

Premeditated attacks

Other incidents documented by the report and described in the summary leave no doubt that attacks on schools were premeditated.

On 24 July, for instance, “UNRWA’s Gaza Field Office received a call from an IDF field commander indicating that the IDF was going to target a cluster of four other schools in Beit Hanoun, 800 metres away from the Elementary Co-educational ‘A’ and ‘D’ School” in northern Gaza.

Local officials immediately set about trying to evacuate the elementary school, which was within an Israeli-declared “buffer zone,” with help from UNRWA and the Red Crescent. Sheltering civilians gathered in the schoolyard to await evacuation.

At approximately 3 p.m., the school was hit by artillery fire: “At least two 120 MM high explosive (HE) mortar projectiles struck the school, one hitting the middle of the schoolyard and a second hitting the steps in front of the school’s entrance. Between 12 and 14 residents were killed and 93 injured, some severely.”

“The Board found that the incident was attributable to the IDF,” the report confirms.

According to the report, Israel admitted that there existed “grounds for a reasonable suspicion that the incident involved a deviation from IDF regulations” and that it had launched a “criminal investigation.”

But eight months later, no indictments have been announced and based on long precedent, there is little reason to expect Israel to hold itself accountable.

Spike missile

On 29 July at approximately 1:30 a.m., seven people were injured when a projectile struck a building where dozens were sleeping at the UNRWA Zaitoun Preparatory Girls “B” School in a crowded section of Gaza City.

Israel claimed that it “had not been possible to identify any IDF operational activity on the date in question that could be connected to the incident, including any aerial strike on the school or in its vicinity.”

But the board of inquiry independently found that “the school had been hit by a missile, possibly a ‘Spike’ missile, launched from the air by the IDF.”

The Spike, manufactured by the Israeli arms company Rafael, is marketed as a sophisticated missile designed to “hit the target at its most vulnerable part with pinpoint precision.”

Jabaliya school massacre

At the height of the Israeli assault on Gaza, hundreds of thousands of people were displaced from their homes. By 30 July, more than 3,000 were sheltering at the UNRWA Jabaliya Elementary Girls “A” and “B” School located in a heavily built up area of the Jabaliya refugee camp.

The board of inquiry confirmed that the school is enclosed by a three-meter-high wall, has only one gate and was carefully guarded against any unauthorized entrance. “Weapons were prohibited inside the school and witness testimony appeared to the Board to confirm that this rule was strictly observed,” the summary states.

Although there was no fighting in the area of the school, early on 30 July, “the school was hit by a barrage of four 155 MM high explosive (HE) projectiles,” killing between 17 and 18 people, including a UN guard and his son, and injuring 99 others.

“The Board found that the incident was attributable to the actions of the IDF,” the report states, “and that no prior warning had been given by the Government of Israel of the firing of 155 MM high explosive projectiles on, or in the surrounding area of, the school.”

Weapons storage at UN schools

The report does not substantiate frequent claims that UNRWA schools are routinely used for weapons storage or armed activities by resistance fighters.

It examined three incidents in which weapons were found stored in unused UNRWA schools, and determined that UNRWA moved very quickly to deal with them. Contrary to Israeli claims at the time, in no case did the UN hand the weapons over to Hamas.

Ban’s letter states that in two cases, Palestinian fighters “probably” fired weapons from unused facilities.

Given the catastrophic situation in Gaza, and the fact the the understaffed and underfunded UN agency was struggling to deal with a massive humanitarian emergency, the report found that it would not have been possible to ensure absolute security at unused facilities.

Despite this, UNRWA instituted daily inspections of its hundreds of unusued buildings in order to ensure that they were not being used for armed activities.

At one of the schools where a mortar was found, the UN guards had had to flee due to “life-threatening circumstances” in the area.

No call for accountability or justice

Ban’s summary of the unpublished 207-page full report details some of the recommendations of the board of inquiry for both UNRWA and Israel.

The tenor seems to be that Israel and the UN should work together to make Israeli attacks on Gaza just a little bit more “coordinated.”

The only mention of “accountability” relates to UN personnel, not to Israel which was found responsible for all of the school attacks.

The word justice does not appear at all.

The UN should publish the full report so that its findings are not filtered by a secretary general who is widely seen by Palestinians and international human rights defenders as too willing to bend to Israeli pressure.

In the coming weeks Ban must decide whether to add Israel’s army to an official UN list of serious violators of children’s rights.

In light of this inquiry’s findings, his decision will be telling.

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Comments

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Nobody uses the spike from the air. The spike has a man-portable variant and a version for mounting on land vehicles, and moreover, it is an anti-tank/anti-armor guided missile, not something used on buildings.

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The manufacturer claims that the weapon can be fired from a helicopter:

"The SPIKE-ER is a stand-alone anti-armor weapon system that is designed for mounting on various platforms, including helicopters, fast boats and combat vehicles." (taken from the link supplied in this article)

As to your other point, that this weapon is not designed to be fired at buildings, you probably know as a combat veteran yourself that armaments get used expediently and in novel ways by soldiers. But really, does it matter all that much which Israeli weapon destroyed which shelter, hospital or home?

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You could almost build a new house out of the UN reports finding Israel at fault over the years- pleas, investigations, resolutions- the tons of paperwork. Almost. But not quite. Because in all the stacks of findings, there's no glue, no mortar, nothing binding. Condemnation, rather than spurring action, becomes a substitute for it. And there's no more fitting figure to represent that posture than Ban ki-Moon.

The spectacle last year of the UN Secretary bleating and wringing his hands impotently over the slaughter in Gaza evoked disgust around the world. Of course, this was not the first time Israel shelled UN facilities. They've done it systematically in Lebanon. But there was something particularly horrifying about the repeated, deliberate bombing of UN shelters and schools in Gaza crammed with civilian refugees, as there was an equally unsavory quality to Moon's refusal to act in any way against Israel. His own delegations, employees and staff were being targeted and bombed by the IDF, and he did nothing to stop it. Chris Gunness and the other UN personnel do their very best to stand by the victims of Israeli aggression, but their organization is headed by an oily sanctimonious stooge.

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The UN seems often to be an instrument of US-ISRAELI policies. Often its
statements (read "statements") cry for action according to an agreement made
(with a number). However, the only action is when the beneficiary of the action
or intervention is Israel or the US. Examples are Libya and Afghanistan. Whatever
the proclamations, many are never acted upon. These include wars and criminal activities by Israel, murder and massacre in Egypt, actions of US-Israeli-"ally" Saudi Arabia, violence by the fascist groups in the name of "the legitamate government of Ukraine" put in power by the US and provided with "leaders" by and from the US. And, as always, of "democracy" and "stability".

As observed above, when it comes to Israel something is said .Perhaps. Nothing is ever done.

Ad the Mideast Nuclear Free Zone? Shh! !! And Israel's "capacity " to make nuclear bombs and other WMDs such as drones (Israel sells 60% of alldrones, the US 23%).

I started a simplified study of the UN and international law once. More and more
it seemed that major powers do what they want when they want to, regardless
of international law. International law is as powerful as a last-minute endorsement
of one political candidate over another the day before an election!

There must be many excellent things the UN does, especially in Palestine.
But when people are murdered, their homes demolished etc. they are not
there. A bomb just, well, fell. From somewhere.And homes and families
are eliminated. Many people are dead. Does this require more than diplomatic "shock" after the fact?

----Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

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Everybody did already know Israel did it. It's not hard to believe they did it on purpose. And of course they lied about it by making up a fantasy story about stored weapons. Israel doesn't care if they kill innocent in protected areas because the UN only protest in words. There never are any actions to stop these cowards from committing war crimes. Stop talking and take action! Put pressure on this disgusting Apartheid State. Ban Ki-moon, if you are to weak to do it just step down!

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.