Ramallah, October 29, 2014—Eight members of the Wahdan family, the youngest only two years old, were killed in an Israeli airstrike on their home in Gaza after Israeli forces confined them inside and used their home as a military base.
On July 17, Israeli soldiers raided a home where 15 members of the Wahdan family were sheltering in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun during a period of intense Israeli artillery bombardment. Israeli forces detained and removed seven male family members from the home including, Rami Hatem Zaki Wahdan, 30. The eight remaining family members, including three children, were confined to the ground floor of the home by Israeli forces as they used the house as a military base for over a week, according to evidence collected by DCI-Palestine. On August 4, following his release, Rami returned to find Beit Hanoun destroyed and the family home flattened to the ground.
The charred remains of Su’ad Wahdan, 67, and her grandchildren, Zeinab, 27, Sumoud, 22, Ahmad, 14, and Hussein, 10, were found under the rubble. The remains of Zaki Wahdan, 70, his daughter-in-law, Baghdad, 51, and his great-granddaughter, Ghena, 2, have not yet been recovered.
“Israeli military offensives have been consistently characterized by disproportionate force directed at civilians,” says Rifat Kassis, executive director of DCI-Palestine. “In this incident, Israeli soldiers deliberately attacked a house while fully aware there were people inside. Targeting civilians is strictly prohibited under international law and this tragedy must be investigated as a possible war crime.”
In a sworn affidavit collected by DCI-Palestine, Rami said he was able to have limited contact with his sister, Zeinab, 27, via mobile phone. She told him that the situation in Beit Hanoun was very dangerous, and Israeli soldiers held them captive on the ground floor of their house. In Rami’s last contact with Zeinab on Friday, July 25, she explained that the Israeli soldiers had withdrawn from the house in anticipation of an upcoming humanitarian ceasefire, but ordered the family to stay in the home.
Rami, his father, three brothers and two uncles were bound and blindfolded and taken from the home for interrogation on July 17. Having no connection to Hamas or information on tunnels, Rami and the other men were released three days later from an interrogation facility near the Erez border crossing in northern Gaza. Continued fighting and shelling prevented them from returning to Beit Hanoun so they took shelter with relatives and at a school in the nearby Jabalia refugee camp.
Rami and his brothers returned to Beit Hanoun on August 2, but failed to locate their grandparents’ home before Israeli forces moved back into the area. On August 3, Rami learned that his father and three other members of his family, including his four-year-old niece, were killed in a separate incident when Israeli drones targeted a house in Jabalia refugee camp where they had sought refuge.
On August 4, Rami returned to Beit Hanoun with his brothers and uncles to continue their search but instead found complete destruction. The family’s house was one of a group of homes completely destroyed in an hour of continuous airstrikes just minutes before the humanitarian ceasefire began on July 26.
Rami and the other men started sifting through debris and rubble for any sign of their family that they believed had been forced to remain in the home. They discovered severed limbs and body parts of brothers Ahmad and Hussein, their sisters Zeinab and Sumond, and their grandmother Su’ad. No remains of their grandfather, his daughter-in-law or his two-year-old great-granddaughter were found.
Speaking to DCI-Palestine, Rami said, “I feel like my family is cursed. Those who stayed in the house were murdered, and those who fled the area were also murdered. And those who have survived are still struggling. I keep remembering the incident. I will not forget it.”
International humanitarian law prohibits indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks and requires that all parties to an armed conflict distinguish between military targets, civilians and civilian objects. Directly targeting civilians is a grave violation of international law and amounts to a war crime. Israeli forces confined the family to the home and therefore were aware that eight civilians were inhabiting the house. The circumstances of the attack strongly suggest conduct amounting to a war crime under international law.
The civilian population of the Gaza strip, particularly children, paid a heavy price during Israel’s seven-week military offensive known as Operation Protective Edge. The UN estimates over 2,000 Palestinians, most of them civilians and including 501 children, lost their lives. DCI-Palestine has independently verified 475 child deaths as of October 29, 2014.
Reflecting on the loss of twelve members of his family, Rami said, “I cry a thousand times a day. I cannot and will not forget what Israel did to us in this war and how they executed my family in two different incidents. They murdered my little brothers, my two sisters, my mother and my grandparents in Beit Hanoun. And they murdered my father, my niece, my brother's wife and my uncle's wife in Jabalia refugee camp.”
A video posted online by Al Arabiya News on July 29, 2014 captures the destruction of the Beit Hanoun neighborhood in one hour.
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