(Jerusalem) - One year after the start of major hostilities in Gaza, both Israel and Hamas have failed to punish members of their own forces for laws-of-war violations during the fighting, Human Rights Watch said today. Israel's ongoing blockade of Gaza has also created massive humanitarian need and prevented the reconstruction of schools, homes, and basic infrastructure.
On December 27, 2008, Israel began "Operation Cast Lead," a 22-day military operation in Gaza with the stated aim of suppressing rocket fire into Israel.
Palestinian armed groups have slowed, but not stopped, their indiscriminate rocket attacks from Gaza into civilian areas of Israel.
"One year later, both Israel and Hamas have failed to punish those responsible for serious violations during the fighting," said Fred Abrahams, senior emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Some rocket attacks continue and the Israeli blockade of Gaza has prevented basic reconstruction. The only things getting built in Gaza are desperation and despair."
The fighting in Gaza resulted in 762 Palestinian civilian deaths, according to the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said 295 Gazan civilians had died. Rockets launched from Gaza during the fighting killed three Israeli civilians and wounded dozens.
Human Rights Watch documented serious laws-of-war violations by Israeli forces during their military operation, including drone-launched missile attacks that killed 29 civilians, the killing of 12 civilians holding white flags, and the use of white phosphorus munitions in densely populated areas.
Israeli forces also deliberately destroyed, without lawful military justification, many homes and other civilian property, including farms, factories, and much of Gaza's water and sanitation network. Most of this property remains unrepaired.
Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups launched hundreds of rockets into populated areas in Israel during the fighting. Hamas authorities also took advantage of the conflict to kill, torture, and arbitrarily detain Palestinian political rivals and critics in Gaza.
In September, the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict determined that both Israel and Hamas had committed serious violations of the laws of war, some amounting to war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. Neither side, the report said, has conducted adequate, impartial investigations. The UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly endorsed the report.
Israel has so far punished only one soldier, a sergeant, for wartime abuse, sentencing him to seven and a half months in prison for stealing a credit card. Human Rights Watch does not know of any investigations by Hamas authorities in Gaza into laws-of-war or human rights violations during the fighting.
Reconstruction in Gaza remains at a standstill due to the ongoing Israeli blockade, which restricts the entry of materials, goods, and fuel required by the civilian population. Israeli inspections of goods entering and leaving Gaza should be for specific security reasons, Human Rights Watch said, and should not block basic goods and civilian necessities.
The scale of the destruction in Gaza one year ago was extensive: 3,540 homes, 268 factories and warehouses, as well as schools, vehicles, water wells, public infrastructure, greenhouses and large swathes of agricultural land.
According to the UN, the fighting created roughly 600,000 tons of concrete rubble, but Israel has allowed only 41 truckloads of reconstruction materials into Gaza over the past year - about four truckloads a month. An average of 7,400 truckloads of construction materials entered Gaza each month during the five months before the blockade was imposed in 2007.
One hundred-sixty-two families are living in tents or makeshift shelters next to their demolished or damaged homes, the UN said, and thousands more are enduring the winter with broken windows in their homes. The majority of Gazans experience power cuts up to 32 hours a week, and more than 40,000 people remain without electricity.
"One year on, most Gazans are still struggling to rebuild their lives," Abrahams said.