Widespread destruction of homes


Donatella Rovera, Amnesty International researcher, takes testimonies on the site of Israeli attacks. ©Amnesty International

29 January 2009: As we have travelled about Gaza in recent days, compiling information about the circumstances in which unarmed civilians were killed, we have become exposed to the tragedies of so many families whose homes were destroyed and who are now homeless. The UN, quoting figures from the Palestinian Bureau of Statistics, says more than 4,000 homes have been completely destroyed while a further 17,000 others have been damaged and partially destroyed.

We have not ourselves tried to count each destroyed house that we have seen, but the figures quoted by the UN do not seem to be excessive compared to what we have observed on the ground. Entire neighbourhoods that I visited only a few months ago have now been reduced to rubble.

Homes listed as “partially destroyed” were struck or damaged by shells fired by artillery or from tanks or by missiles fired from aircraft: they typically have several massive jagged holes in the walls and/or roofs and many have one or two rooms that were burnt out, usually as a result of white phosphorus shelling.

Other homes have been completely destroyed as a result of bombardment by F-16 aircraft or were blown up with explosive charges by Israeli forces. In some cases, Israeli forces also used D9 armoured bulldozers to flatten houses.

Today, Wednesday, at a house in Atatra where 20 people formerly lived we found one of the anti-tank mines that was used by Israeli soldiers to blow up the house on 4 January; it was damaged but had failed to explode. The family told us that they had found another such mine, wholly unexploded, which had been removed by the local police.

At first, when we found the remains of one of these anti-tank mines close by some demolished houses, we questioned whether they had been laid by Palestinian armed groups to impede advancing Israeli troops. However, it rapidly became clear that this was not the case and that the mines had been laid by Israeli troops as we found remnants bearing Hebrew writing and serial numbers.

Though designed for use against tanks, these mines are easily adapted to other purposes through the addition of an explosive charge and fuse. Israeli soldiers have previously confirmed to us that these anti-tank mines have long been used to destroy Palestinian houses, most often in the West Bank but also in Gaza.

All over Gaza, we find families camping out on the shattered wrecks of their homes, as though they cannot bear to tear themselves away from their past – or because they simply have nowhere else to go. The few who can afford to do so have moved to rented apartments, but these are not easy to find in Gaza, which has long had a housing shortage.

Most, though, cannot afford to pay rent even if they could find an apartment for rent available. Many are now living in shelters made of cardboard and drapes on or beside the rubble of their homes.
“You work for 25 years to build a home,” said one man in Khuza’a, “and then it is destroyed in a few minutes.”

The entire neighbourhood where his home stood was flattened less than a week before the ceasefire came into force. Local residents told us that Israeli forces had used eight large armoured bulldozers, protected by tanks, to destroy this area of well-built homes.

Today, some foreign journalists asked us look at a house, a mosque which had been completely destroyed by the Israeli army and a school which had been severely damaged. They had been told by the Israeli army that these buildings had been destroyed or damaged because they had been used as weapons stores.

They wanted our military expert to identify any evidence of this. The semi-basement of the house, which had been home to the elderly parents (the four sons of the family and their wives and children had lived on the ground and upper floors) and the basement of the mosque, which had apparently been used as a youth club, were still accessible and we could sift through the rubble.

At both locations, it was evident there had been no secondary conflagration. As well, there was no indication that anything had been removed from the rubble. The only explosive that we found was one of the Israeli anti-tank mines, which bore Hebrew marking and was damaged but unexploded. It appeared to have been used as part of an effort to blow up the house.

As for the school, it had sustained severe damage in one place, seemingly by an F-16 strike, and lesser damage, which appeared to have been caused by shelling, in several other places on the upper floors. Here too, we saw no evidence that the school had contained anything other than what would be expected to be found in a school – desks, blackboards and the like.

To date the Israeli army has not provided any evidence to substantiate the claim that these locations contained weapons or explosives; we will follow up these cases later to see if they do so in future.

In many areas where large numbers or houses were destroyed, residents had fled their homes when the Israeli tanks approached and shelled the area, fearing for their lives. After the ceasefire, when people returned, some found that their homes had been reduced to a pile of rubble or had been damaged, to a greater or lesser extent, mostly by tank and artillery shelling.

In some areas that we visited, we were told that Palestinian armed groups had fired rockets from nearby open spaces – but it was hard to see how this could warrant the destruction of entire residential neighbourhoods. At al-Mughraqa, to cite just one example, a quarter of the town was razed to the ground by Israeli forces one day before the ceasefire.

“What should we do?” said one man. “If we rebuild they may destroy it again? And there is no cement in Gaza, no building materials to be had.”

There is no doubt that the principles of distinction and proportionality, cornerstones of international humanitarian law, were severely violated during the three-week Israeli offensive in Gaza.

Posted in Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories | 17 Comments

  1. Jonathan says:


    What sense would it make to destroy a home for no reason, the IDF like any army uses it resources wisely. If a building is no being used as a Hamas position, ammo dump or a place to draw fire on innocent civilians then it is not a target and was not fired upon.

    I do beleive that the figures you have stated for the numbers of buildings destoyed or damaged is exaggerated by the Palestinians as is the number of dead and wounded – (remeber the numbers used and retracted in Jenin). Don’t submit to Propoganda !!!


  2. Trevor says:

    The world needs more photos, more video, more visual understanding of the proportionality…one photo per blog does not do this justice.

  3. Pat Bryden says:

    Amnesty needs to shout this from the rooftops and insist that the world powers hear and DO something to make the perpetrators accountable: and there is overwhelming evidence that these are the Israelis.

  4. Wednesday’s London Times: “Fire on anything that moves in Zeitoun” – that was the order handed down to Israeli troops in the Givati Shaked battalion, who reduced the eastern Gaza City suburb to little more than rubble in a matter of days.
    According to Israeli soldiers who took part in the three-week offensive, the destruction of the area was designed to send a wider message to Gazans. “We pounded Zeitoun into the ground,” an Israeli soldier who was deployed in the area, told The Times.

    So don’t worry, Jonathan, about propaganda, we Israelis listen every day to soldiers on the radio here saying what they did. It’s no secret. Why? As The Times says: To deliver a message. (Did the message get through? No. It is acknowledged here that we have not got Shalit back, we haven’t stopped the rockets, and we have increased the extremism on the other side because of the trauma and carnage we caused. Yet another really dumb war. Talk about a dance of death.)

  5. Ofer says:

    Jonathan, how about “massive punishment ,of innocent people too, for intimidation” as a reason? Despicable , but not in my name at least, Ofer in Israel

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  7. Deborah says:

    There must be accountability for what happened in Gaza. I think it’s racist to assume that Palestinians do not tell the truth as to what they see or experience. Do not believe “propaganda” suggests that Israeli Jews are honest, while Palestinians are not. And Jonathan’s suggestion is bizarre, as the sources for what happened in Gaza are Israeli soldiers. They are speaking up, because the state has promised them immunity if they are found guilty of war crimes. When Israel would not allow Western journalists in to Gaza as far back as Oct., becuase it was clearing the crime scene, so to speak, that was the first clue that something like this was going to happen. If you have nothing to hide, you don’t keep out independent observers.

  8. A.Watson says:

    This destruction is no less than ethnic cleansing. It is obvious that the Israelis want Gaza for more of their settlers.When will the world wake up to this Israeli genocide against the Palestinian people?

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  10. Irene says:

    What about all the homes destroyed by Hamas rockets in southern Israel? No one cares.

  11. Josiane says:

    Hello Irene, you ask about the homes destroyed. If you can tell us, we’ll be happy, because we know that almost no home was destroyed, if they were even reached by the rockets. But do you know exactly what is the situation, the every day life of the neighbour of the Israelians ? They have no right, the politicians they choised were rejected by all the States, they have to ask permits to travel, work, visit friends and family, their country is full of more than 600 check-points, they have no water at the home top, they have some hours electricity per day, they can’t receive anything without control of Israel’s customs officer and often forbidden of entry these things, they are continually arrested and detained for a long time. Meanwhile, the Israelians, their neighbours have all the right as us the people of the “democratic” countries. Why are these so great differences and injustices. One State colonize one other State in 20 century and more in totally impunity and finally destroy this people, women and children and all his homes and we’ll no react. We like justice, but for all people in the world, not only who has the greatest army. All people merit justice and right.

    P.S. No geografic atlas, even Amnesty doesn’t speak about Palestine, this NGO mentions Israel and the territories occupied !!!. This country and this people doesn’t exist for our world. It’s clear, but injust. Let them live as they want.

  12. Ed says:

    That mantra does not work anymore. It is not about the palastines but hamas. This will not end until hamas is destroyed, dead and annihilated. Time for talks is over. The good palastines will suffer no longer.

  13. Den says:

    Hey Amnesty…when all of you someday grow a brain consider this…
    Maybe the Palestinians should think twice about launching rockets into Israel killing innocents.
    Maybe then and only then will Israel not have a reason to go into Gaza and slap the idiots around.
    If you play with fire, you will get burned.
    If anyone is guilty of a crime it’s the residents of Gaza for allowing terrorists to fire rockets into Israel KNOWING any response from Isral AFTER being attacked always results in Palestinian deaths…
    therefore the solution lies with the Palestinians not Israelis.
    They allow these groups like Hamas to operate and attack Israel over and over again…the responsibility lies with the people who started this…the Palestinians.
    Get your facts straight Amnesty…put down the pot pipe and wake the hell up!

  14. Den says:

    A Watson…you are just another idiot…you will sit by and allow Israel to be attacked repeatedly but then call any response to protect itself genocide?…moron.
    Your concentration should be on Darfur in Sudan …example: this is genocide not, in Gaza not even close.
    If Hamas launches any more rockets, I hope Israel goes back in and wipes them all out for good.
    If Israel was out to take over land in the middle east they could’ve kept the entire Sinai for themselves since they won it from Egypt in 1967 after they kicked some butt after being attacked simultaneously by all of their neighbors…Israel in the hopes and aspiritions of peace, gave the land back..you forgot about that didn’t you?…put the potpipe down and step away.

  15. Teri says:

    Time for war crimes trials starring Shimon Peres, Olmert,and the generals who committed genocide in Gaza. International law must mean what it says, or it means nothing. Humanity as a whole cannot be jeopardized by such incredible inhumanity as the Israelis committed in Gaza. And if they are allowed to avoid punishment for it, or to continue it, their abuses will worsen and become more aggriegous.
    Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International have a duty to humankind not to allow this to happen.

  16. Moad says:

    It’s because such comments I lost all faith in mankind…

    I can’t believe that there are people defending Israel!! Still!! True what they say the best mechanism of defence is to attack but come on people you have to be more subtle than that! ‘Propaganda’, ‘facts’, ‘no one cares about Israel’ and my personal favorite ‘sense’! Its comical coming from some one who supports Israel!! You are a product of mass media and propaganda by the way and in case you didn’t know that I suggest seeking professional therapy to get treated of mythomania…
    But I agree in one point! What we need is more pictures and visuals! We need to put faces behind the Palestinian children dying! We need to see the blood flow maybe that will remind us that they are humans too!!We need to personalize the daily suffering of the Palestinians maybe that would clarify how terrorist become!!!

    Don’t get me wrong I still think Israelis suffer too… I cant imagine having to re paint my house wall because of Hamas ‘rockets’.. I can’t think of any man to endure such suffering…

  17. Those poor miners are so lucky to be alive. My thoughts go out to them and their loved ones. I do hope they make it out alive and don’t go crazy while locked so deep underground.I can’t imagine what they are going through.

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