Are Israeli airstrikes only bombing military targets?

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Claim: In an Oct. 26 interview about the 2023 Israel-Hamas conflict, Israeli Ambassador to the UK Tzipi Hotovely said: “We are not bombing civilians. We are bombing military targets according to Geneva Convention, we have absolutely right to do that.”

Rating: This claim is FALSE. In the 2023 Israel-Hamas conflict, bombs from Israel’s military have hit both Palestinian civilians and military objectives. Israeli bombs have killed thousands of Palestinian civilians, so Israel is indeed “bombing civilians”.

On Oct. 7, 2023, motivated by Israel’s violence and settler activity against Palestinians, Hamas conducted an attack that killed over 1,000 Israeli civilians and 300 soldiers. Israel has responded by dropping thousands of tons of bombs on the Gaza Strip. The Gaza Strip is a territory that is governed by Hamas but partly controlled by Israel and is one of the areas in which Palestinians live. Israel’s airstrikes killed Hamas militants while also killing thousands of non-combatants in Gaza. Homes, shops, hospitals, places of worship, and other civilian buildings have also been destroyed.

Below is a summary of several airstrikes conducted by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) on the Gaza Strip. In each case, civilians were killed and the IDF has either claimed or not denied responsibility.

  • The Jabalia refugee camp was hit by multiple airstrikes between Oct. 9 and Nov. 4. The airstrikes destroyed apartment buildings, damaged schools people were sheltering in, and struck a crowded marketplace. Gaza officials say that the strikes on Oct. 9, Oct. 12, and Oct. 22 killed dozens, while over 195 people were killed between Oct. 31 and Nov. 1. The IDF claimed these airstrikes targeted Hamas infrastructure, militants, and leaders.

  • Between Oct. 7 and Oct. 17, entire neighborhoods of the Rimal district of Gaza City were destroyed, including the destruction of multi-story residential buildings, shops, hospitals, restaurants, and grocery stores. Three journalists were among the civilians killed during these airstrikes. The IDF said this area had Hamas headquarters, weapons storage facilities, and a bank involved in transferring funds to Hamas.

  • On Oct. 9 and 12, Israeli airstrikes destroyed four mosques in the al-Shati refugee camp. Gaza witnesses say that one of the mosques was hit without warning while boys played soccer outside. The IDF said it struck Hamas targets and infrastructure inside the mosques.

  • In mid-October, Israeli airstrikes hit multiple residential buildings, killing civilians, in the Southern city of Khan Yunis. An interviewee for The Associated Press said one building hit by airstrikes was sheltering around 100 civilians, including evacuees from Gaza City in the north. The BBC reports that an Israel spokesperson advised civilians in neighboring areas to go to Khan Yunis as recently as Oct. 8. However, airstrikes hit the center of Khan Yunis as early as Oct. 10. The IDF said it was targeting Hamas members. Hamas confirmed two of its political leaders were killed.

  • Israeli airstrikes hit civilian buildings in the al-Nuseirat (Oct. 18) and al-Maghazi (Oct. 25) refugee camps, including bakeries that residents depended on for food. Gaza authorities and interviewees say twenty bakeries have been destroyed, and that the bakery destroyed in the al-Maghazi refugee camp was the only one remaining in the area. Gaza residents accuse Israel of deliberately targeting the bakeries to starve civilians.

  • On Oct. 19, the St Porphyrius Church was hit by IDF airstrikes, killing 16 civilians. The IDF said it was targeting a nearby Hamas command center.

  • On Oct. 24, airstrikes hit Abu Dalal Mall, killing civilians who were shopping inside. PBS reports that the target appears to be a home above the mall.

  • On Oct. 25, airstrikes in Deir Al Balah killed the wife, children, and 12 other family members of Wael Al Dahdouh, Al Jazeera’s bureau chief in Gaza. The IDF claimed these strikes targeted Hamas infrastructure in the area.

  • Al Jazeera reported several strikes on Nov. 3. Bombs hit ambulances near al-Shifa Hospital, killing fifteen people. The IDF said it targeted Hamas fighters inside the ambulance, while a Palestinian Health Ministry spokesperson said it was only being used to transport patients. Israeli strikes also hit civilians en-route to evacuation, and a school sheltering displaced people. Both of those attacks killed at least a dozen people.

Israel blames Hamas for using civilians as “human shields”

Representatives from Israel claim that the IDF airstrikes only target Hamas, not Palestinian civilians. Israel leaders blame civilian deaths on Hamas, saying that because Hamas operates in civilian areas, Hamas uses Palestinians as “human shields,” putting them at risk of death from IDF bombing. Tunnel entrances and rockets have been discovered in UN-run schools in Palestine before, and the human rights organization Amnesty International has documented evidence that Hamas militants have employed abandoned areas of al-Shifa Hospital in the 2014 conflict. However, in other locations, Amnesty International found no evidence of Hamas personnel or equipment where Israeli airstrikes hit.

The IDF also operates within civilian areas. Its headquarters is in a central area of Tel Aviv next to apartments, a mall, an art museum, and the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center. In the past, the IDF has also used Palestinian civilians as human shields. In the 2008-2009 conflict, two IDF soldiers forced a Palestinian child to search bags thought to be booby-trapped. The IDF military court convicted the soldiers in 2010, but they did not go to jail.

Gaza residents say there is “no safe place”

Daniel Hagari, an IDF spokesperson, has said that “the emphasis is on damage and not on accuracy.” Several bombs dropped on the Jabalia refugee camp weighed 2,000 pounds. Other Israeli representatives have condemned the Palestinian population as a whole. On Oct. 13, Israeli President Isaac Herzog stated: “It’s an entire nation out there that is responsible. It’s not true this rhetoric about civilians not aware, not involved. It’s absolutely not true. They could have risen up, they could have fought against that evil regime which took over Gaza in a coup ‘d état. But we are at war.”

The IDF sometimes gives warnings for the airstrikes. However, Amnesty International says they have documented several airstrikes that hit without warning between Oct. 7 and Oct. 12. Gaza residents have said that even when warnings are given, the timeframe and shelter locations for the evacuation are often unclear. In one case, only one person was warned about an entire street being put under evacuation order. Gaza does not have bomb shelters. Israel’s cutting off of electricity and communications to Gaza also hinders the delivery of warnings. Airstrikes have also hit locations that IDF officials previously recommended for evacuees, such as the Rafah crossing and a road evacuees were using to head south. Palestinians in Gaza have said there is “no safe place in the Gaza Strip,” and due to Egypt’s border and Israel’s blockade on Gaza, very few are able to leave.

Israel has previously killed Palestinians and then denied doing so

In 2021, an Israeli soldier killed prominent Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. She wore a blue press vest at the time. Israeli officials initially blamed Palestinians for killing her, but later investigations by The New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post, and Forensic Architecture concluded she was killed by an Israeli sniper, leading Israel to admit a “high possibility” of killing her. Israel has not investigated the soldier who killed Abu Akleh. The Committee to Protect Journalists has said that between January 2000 and June 2023, at least 20 journalists were killed by the IDF, while nobody has been charged or held responsible.

In another incident, an Israel Border Police officer shot and killed two teenagers during a 2014 protest in the West Bank. Israeli representatives initially denied responsibility, but after video and forensic evidence were presented they admitted responsibility and convicted the Border officer who killed them.

Israeli bombing has extensively damaged Gaza

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that about 1.4 million in Gaza are displaced from their homes. 45% of all Gaza housing units and over 200 educational facilities, including over 20 run by the UN, have been destroyed or damaged. Hundreds of humanitarian and UN workers have also been killed.

The Gaza Ministry of Health reports that over 10,000 Palestinians have been killed in the current conflict, including over 4,000 children. US President Biden and the National Security Council’s Coordinator for Strategic Communications, John Kirby, have expressed doubts about this death count because Hamas runs the Ministry of Health. But in a press conference on Oct. 26, when a correspondent noted that independent journalism shows thousands of Palestinians have been killed, Kirby replied, “We would not dispute that.” In past conflicts between Israel and Hamas, the Gaza Ministry of Health’s death count has proven accurate.

The Geneva Conventions do not allow attacks that are expected to cause disproportionate damage to civilian life, even if the target is a military objective. A spokesperson for the UN human rights office has expressed concerns that several Israeli airstrikes violate this rule. It remains to be proven whether Israel’s airstrikes violate the Geneva Conventions or not.

These airstrikes follow a conflict between Israel and Palestine that has gone on for over seventy years. Throughout this conflict and in both Israel and Palestine, most people who have died were civilians. Viet Fact Check has summarized the history of this conflict in a previous article.