The Israeli government has engaged in a pattern of deadly attacks against residential homes in Gaza, carrying out bombing raids without giving the innocent men, women, and children inside any time to escape, Amnesty International charged on Monday.
The strikes, which show a “shocking disregard” for Palestinian civilians, “may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity,” the human rights group said.
For over a week, Israeli forces have bombarded the Gaza Strip, a densely populated Palestinian territory controlled by the Hamas militant group. Israel has said its strikes are intended to stop indiscriminate rocket fire – itself a war crime – that has killed 10 of its citizens, including two children.
At least 212 Palestinians have been killed, including 61 children and 36 women, according to Gaza health authorities, prompting widespread criticism that the Israeli response has been disproportionate.
In one attack, carried out after 1:00 a.m., Israeli airstrikes leveled two residential buildings, killing 30 people.
“There was no warning, so people were inside their home sitting together, and this is a lively, bustling area,” a medic, Yousef Yassin, told researchers with Amnesty International.
Another strike, just before midnight, hit a three-story residential building that 20 people called home.
“We eventually found my daughter, a mother of three, with her children, one of whom was a baby, under one of the cement pillars of the house; all of them were dead,” Hassan al-Atar, a civil defense officer, told the group.
Saleh Higazi, Amnesty’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, said it was “hard to imagine” how bombing such buildings could be considered a proportionate response under international law.
“By carrying out these brazen deadly attacks on family homes without warning Israel has demonstrated a callous disregard for lives of Palestinian civilians who are already suffering the collective punishment of Israel’s illegal blockade on Gaza since 2007,” Higazi said.
The findings come days after Amnesty warned that Israeli authorities “have an obligation to choose means and methods of attacks that would minimize risks posed to civilians,” and amid increasing calls for and end to the fighting.
The White House, however, had resisted such calls, with President Joe Biden insisting that the Israeli response – made possible, in part, by more than $3 billion in US military aid – is not in fact a “significant overreaction.”
The US has also reportedly blocked efforts at the United Nations Security Council to issue a statement demanding a cessation of hostilities.
By Monday night, however, Biden was echoing his party. In a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Biden “encouraged Israel to make every effort to ensure the protection of innocent civilians,” according to a White House statement. He also “expressed his support for a ceasefire.”
Israeli airstrikes have targeted and leveled multiple apartment buildings in Gaza amid escalating violence in the region this week, and top human rights groups have warned these actions could amount to war crimes.
“Deliberate targeting of civilian objects and extensive, unjustified destruction of property are war crimes. Destroying entire multi-storey homes making tens of families homeless amounts to collective punishment of the Palestinian population and is a breach of international law,” Saleh Higazi, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, said in a statement.
“Even if part of a building is being used for military purposes Israeli authorities have an obligation to choose means and methods of attack that would minimize risks posed to civilians and their property,” Higazi added.
Similarly, B’Tselem, a leading Israeli human rights group, in a tweet said, “Bombing apartment towers, which are not a military target and leaving dozens of families homeless, is a war crime.”
Israel has said it’s targeting buildings where Hamas stores weapons or has offices, and the Israeli military said it warned civilians to evacuate before the strikes.
As the Israeli military has pummeled Gaza with airstrikes, Hamas has fired rockets toward civilian areas in Israel. Rights groups also say this can qualify as a war crime.
“Firing rockets which cannot be accurately aimed into populated areas can amount to a war crime and endangers civilian lives on both sides of the Israel/Gaza border,” Higazi said.
Higazi said the recent escalation of violence is “reminiscent of horrific hostilities from 2008, 2012, and 2014 where civilians bore the brunt of the suffering, with massive death and destruction in Gaza, which has been under an illegal blockade amounting to collective punishment since 2007.” She added that both Israeli and Palestinian forces have “carried out war crimes and other violations with impunity.”
“Israel has a deplorable record of carrying out unlawful attacks in Gaza killing and injuring civilians including war crimes and crimes against humanity,” Higazi said. “Palestinian armed groups have also committed violations of international humanitarian law with impunity.”
Human Rights Watch, which has referred to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as a form of apartheid, has also condemned Hamas for firing rockets at areas populated by civilians.
“Such attacks, which are inherently indiscriminate and endanger the lives, homes, and properties of tens of thousands of Israeli civilians, are war crimes,” Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch, wrote on Tuesday. Shakir also warned that Israel’s targeting of residential buildings in Gaza, where more than 2 million Palestinians live in a relatively small strip of territory, is “likely to harm civilians.”
Human Rights Watch has documented the “regular use of excessive and vastly disproportionate force by Israeli authorities,” including “deliberately targeting civilians or civilian infrastructure,” over the past decade and even before, Shakir said.
The International Criminal Court’s top prosecutor has warned that she’s monitoring the fighting for potential war crimes, on top of continuing investigations into possible violations from previous flare-ups in the conflict between Israel and Palestinian militant groups.
As of Thursday evening, the death toll from this week’s fighting has risen to 103 Palestinians, including 27 children and 11 women, Gaza’s health ministry said, per the Associated Press. Seven Israelis have been killed, including a soldier and child.
The Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been transferred to a penal-colony medical unit because of possible respiratory problems and fever, Reuters reported on Monday, citing the Russian newspaper Izvestia.
Navalny received a COVID-19 test in the medical facility, according to the report, but the result remains unclear.
In his most recent Instagram post, Navalny said three people in his prison ward were in the hospital being treated for tuberculosis. Navalny added that he had a severe cough and high temperature.
“If I have tuberculosis, then maybe it’ll chase out the pain in my back and numbness in my legs. That’d be nice,” Navalny said.
The anti-corruption campaigner and top critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin recently announced he was going on a hunger strike over claims he was being denied proper medical care in prison. Navalny has complained of acute back and leg pain while in prison and said prison guards repeatedly wake him up at night as a form of sleep deprivation. The Russian opposition figure’s legal team has alleged a “deliberate strategy is underway to undermine his health.”
“There is a real prospect that Russia is subjecting him to a slow death,” Agnès Callamard, the secretary general of Amnesty International, told Voice of America. “He must be granted immediate access to a medical doctor he trusts and he must be freed.”
Navalny was poisoned with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok in August and subsequently taken to Germany for medical treatment. Upon his return to Moscow in January, the Kremlin critic was promptly arrested. His detention sparked mass protests in Russia as world leaders called for Navalny’s immediate release.
He was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison on charges of violating parole for a 2014 fraud conviction, including while he was in Germany for five months receiving medical treatment. The sentencing was broadly viewed as political retribution and condemned by leaders worldwide. Europe’s top human-rights court previously characterized the 2014 conviction as politically motivated.
Putin has been accused of ordering Navalny’s poisoning, an allegation the Russian president has vehemently denied.
As shocking videos and images began to emerge showing the inside of various Border Patrol facilities where migrant children are being held in Texas, human-rights groups are calling out the crowded conditions.
These organizations say the holding facilities are inappropriate for children, and they’re urging the Biden administration to find different solutions to temporary migrant housing.
These government-produced and -released videos showed that dozens of children are being held in crowded conditions that lawmakers believe will evolve into a humanitarian crisis. Many children are seen sleeping on mats just inches off the floor. Groups of them sit in plastic-enclosed spaces, clutching foil blankets as they sleep. There are few adults in each space.
It’s these conditions that human-rights organizations are calling inappropriate.
“Border Patrol stations are not an appropriate place to hold children and asylum seekers,” Clara Long, associate director at Human Rights Watch, told Insider.
Former President Donald Trump has been out of office for two months now. But experts say his administration has had a lasting impact on how the Biden administration is navigating immigration policy.
“What we’re seeing is the consequence of dedicated negligence from the previous administration – a lack of planning and resources invested in facilities to welcome children seeking safety, who were already arriving,” said Denise Bell, Amnesty International’s researcher for refugee and migrant rights.
“And that is where we must focus: the children who are seeking safety,” Bell added. “The conditions need to be much better and much faster.”
During the 2020 presidential election, Biden positioned himself as a pro-immigration candidate focused on bettering the system for incoming migrants.
These key changes put forth by the Biden administration, however, have led to thousands of migrants – and many unaccompanied children – traveling to the US-Mexico border from Central America as they flee persecution, violence, and poverty in their home countries.
According to senior administration officials, CBP had approximately 4,500 unaccompanied minors in holding as of Thursday, while the Department of Health and Human Services has more than 9,000 children in its care.
In an attempt to mitigate the surge of migrants, the Biden administration has opened up various Border Patrol facilities for temporary housing.
“The Biden administration inherited a broken, diminished system,” Long said. “It’s not surprising that things are taking a while to get in to hand. What we need to see from the Biden administration is consistent progress toward the goals it has articulated: humane and dignified border reception, holistic policy responses to migration and access to protection for those who need it.”
For its part, the Biden administration is taking steps to limit immigration to the border.
The State Department has created more than 17,100 ads since January 21 to discourage people from migrating. These ads have reached about 15 million people, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during a Monday briefing.
It’s not clear whether this approach to limit immigration to the United States is working.
“This is just part of our effort to send a clear message,” Psaki said. “But there is no question that funding is needed to address the root causes in these countries.”
White House officials and immigration experts have so far refrained from calling the surge a crisis. But the Biden administration recognizes that the facilities are not meant for long-term accommodations.
“These Border Patrol facilities are not places made for children,” Psaki said. “They are not places that we want children to be staying for an extended period of time. Our alternative is to send children back on this treacherous journey – that is not, in our view, the right choice to make.”
Detention is psychologically damaging to children
The children are held in border facilities as they await transfer to other federal agencies. The government is required to transfer migrant children to Health and Human Services custody within 72 hours. But with the influx of unaccompanied minors coming to the US-Mexico border, nearly 3,000 children have been held beyond that limit, CBS News reported.
“Even short stays in detention centers have the potential to be traumatic experiences,” said Kathryn Humphreys, assistant professor of psychology and human development at Vanderbilt University.
“We know from our research on orphanage care that children fare best when they have reduced exposure to group-based care and long-term family-based placements when they form relationships with those that are their parents or parent-figures,” she added.
CPB and HHS custody and detention centers qualify as group-based care. Such environments normally do not allow children to form the type of relationships with adults that help them grow and develop, Humphreys told Insider.
Adults help “co-regulate children, both emotionally and physiologically,” she said. Going without these trusted adults, even for short periods of time, can lead to stress in children and them falling behind developmentally, socially, and academically.
The Biden administration is “obligated to hold children in conditions that meet United States and international standards that support their best interests,” Bell of Amnesty International said. “Children must be held in conditions that meet their best interests and safely reunified with families and sponsors much more quickly.”
“This is a time for transformation – as the administration adapts right now, it must also set in motion the changes needed for a new system where detention is not assumed and children are with their parents and sponsors,” Bell added.
It’s a dark trend for new, post-9/11 US heads of state: Usually, within the first weekend, the new president, having inherited a global war on terror, orders the military or an intelligence agency to end someone’s life with an airstrike. To adversaries, it demonstrates resolve; to allies as well as critics, it demonstrates that there will be continuity, no matter which party controls the White House.
President Joe Biden, it appears, has been different. Under his watch, there has been just one declared US airstrike: a February 9 attack in Iraq that, the military claims, “resulted in the deaths of two Daesh terrorists.”
And in stark contrast to his immediate predecessors, there have been no immediate reports of civilian casualties – this, following months of escalated US attacks, from Central Asia to Africa, during his predecessor’s last couple months in office.
Clandestine operations, by their nature, cannot be ruled out. What we know for sure, though, is that “there have been zero local or official reports of US drone or other strikes in Somalia, Libya, Yemen, or Pakistan so far under Biden,” Chris Woods, director of the monitoring group Airwars.org, told Insider.
Biden’s forerunners, Republican and Democrat alike, both carried out US military operations that were both well-publicized and fraught, the demonstration of American power resulting in the death of innocents.
Former President Barack Obama ordered his first drone strike within 72 hours of taking office; that attack, aimed at the Taliban and carried out by the CIA, missed its mark, killing three Pakistani civilians and gravely wounding a child. The tactic would come to define Obama’s legacy, boots on the ground replaced by unmanned aerial vehicles, American lives protected at a cost borne by others.
Former President Donald Trump oversaw his first drone strike on January 20, 2017, the day he was inaugurated. A spree of attacks took place in Yemen, culminating a week later in a botched raid that killed an 8-year-old girl and other civilians. Over the next four years, Trump would go on to bomb the country more often than any of his predecessors combined – not counting ramped up US support, just rescinded, for the Saudi-led war against the nation’s Houthi militants.
Biden is no peacenik. In the US Senate, he backed the 2003 invasion of Iraq. And there is no reason to believe a lull amid a pandemic and other domestic crises will evolve into a policy of unilateral disarmament.
Nicholas Grossman, a professor of international relations at the University of Illinois and author of a book on drone warfare, wonders if the apparent pause in most US military operations is the aftermath of his predecessor’s outgoing escalations.
“Under Trump, the US ramped up drone strikes in Somalia, though that escalation was already happening in Obama’s final year,” Grossman told Insider. According to data from the New America Foundation, a think tank in Washington, there were 43 airstrikes in Somalia targeting the extremist group al-Shabaab, during Obama’s two terms in his office, including 16 in his last year. During Trump’s single four-year term, where a focus on rhetoric led many falsely to label him a principled isolationist, there were 208 such airstrikes, including 14 in his final six months.
There have been previous gaps in US strikes, Grossman noted; a lot or a little can happen in three weeks. It’s also possible, he said, that this is something more: “the Biden administration is pausing while reviewing the strategy.” Relatedly, “it’s possible the US military and intelligence agencies launched a few strikes at the end of Trump’s term in anticipation of that pause.”
Alternatively, “it’s also possible that those January strikes did real damage to al-Shabaab as intended, and for that reason there either isn’t a need or a good opportunity at the moment,” Grossman said.
Critics of the US-led war on terror hope the apparent moratorium signals something greater.
“If there is a pause in airstrikes overall, we hope it’s due to a reassessment of the United States’ strategy,” Daphne Eviatar, director of the Security With Human Rights program at Amnesty International, told Insider, “and a recognition that past strikes have not succeeded in ending attacks by armed groups, but have instead killed and injured thousands of civilians.”