Fact Check: Israeli Claims About the Assault on Gaza
The Claim: Israel ended its occupation of Gaza in 2005.
- Although in 2005 Israel removed approximately 8000 Jewish settlers who had been living in illegal colonies in Gaza under then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s so-called “disengagement” plan, Israel continues to exercise "unconsented-to effective control," the legal definition for qualifying as an occupying power. Israel continues to control Gaza’s airspace, coastline, and all of its entry and exit points except for one controlled by Egypt, which has cooperated with Israel in maintaining the siege and blockade of Gaza.
- The international community, including the United Nations, the United States, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch all consider Gaza to be under continued Israeli military occupation. According to an October 2004 Human Rights Watch statement:
“The Israeli government’s plan to remove troops and Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip would not end Israel’s occupation of the territory. As an occupying power, Israel will retain responsibility for the welfare of Gaza’s civilian population.”
"Under international law, the test for determining whether an occupation exists is effective control by a hostile army, not the positioning of troops... Whether the Israeli army is inside Gaza or redeployed around its periphery and restricting entrance and exit, it remains in control."
- In 2004, Dov Weisglass, a senior advisor to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, told an interviewer that the Gaza withdrawal was designed to put the peace process and efforts to create a Palestinian state in “formaldehyde,” stating:
"The significance of the disengagement plan is the freezing of the peace process… And when you freeze that process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, and you prevent a discussion on the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda. And all this with authority and permission. All with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress.
"The disengagement is actually formaldehyde... It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so there will not be a political process with the Palestinians."
- In reality, after withdrawing its settlers in 2005 Israel laid siege to the territory, effectively locking the door and throwing away the key to what many have described as the world’s largest “open-air prison.”
The Claim: Tunnels dug into Israel by Hamas were designed to carry out terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians.
- On July 29, The Times of Israel newspaper quoted a senior Israeli intelligence official stating that the Israeli military believes that recently discovered tunnels into Israel were intended to carry out attacks against military targets, not civilians, contradicting strenuous allegations made publicly by Israeli officials.
- The Israeli government has yet to provide any evidence to support their claims that so-called “terror tunnels” were actually designed to be used in attacks against civilians.
- To date, there have been no recorded attacks against Israeli civilians emanating from tunnels, while there has been at least one documented attack against an Israeli military target by Palestinian fighters using a tunnel.
The Claim: Hamas is to blame for the massive number of civilians killed and injured by the Israeli military in Gaza because Hamas uses Palestinians as “human shields.”
- While it’s true that Hamas and other armed groups operate in populated areas in Gaza, a tiny, densely populated strip of land under tight Israeli siege with few open areas, there is no evidence that Hamas or other Palestinian groups deliberately use Palestinians as human shields.
- According to a July 25 Amnesty International Q&A on the ongoing violence in Gaza:
“Amnesty International is monitoring and investigating such reports, but does not have evidence at this point that Palestinian civilians have been intentionally used by Hamas or Palestinian armed groups during the current hostilities to ‘shield’ specific locations or military personnel or equipment from Israeli attacks.”
“Reports have also emerged during the current conflict of Hamas urging residents to ignore Israeli warnings to evacuate. However, these calls may have been motivated by a desire to minimize panic and displacement, in any case, such statements are not the same as directing specific civilians to remain in their homes as ‘human shields’ for fighters, munitions, or military equipment. Under international humanitarian law even if ‘human shields’ are being used Israel’s obligations to protect these civilians would still apply.”
- Regarding similar claims made by Israeli officials during Israel’s devastating assault on Gaza in the winter of 2008-2009, Operation Cast Lead, which killed approximately 1400 Palestinians, Amnesty stated in a 2009 report:
“Amnesty International, for its part, did not find evidence that Hamas or other Palestinian groups violated the laws of war to the extent repeatedly alleged by Israel. In particular, it found no evidence that Hamas or other fighters directed the movement of civilians to shield military objectives from attacks.”
By contrast, Amnesty International did find that Israeli forces on several occasions during Operation ‘Cast Lead’ forced Palestinian civilians to serve as ‘human shields’. In any event, international humanitarian law makes clear that use of ‘human shields’ by one party does not release the attacking party from its legal obligations with respect to civilians."
- While there's no evidence that Hamas and other Palestinian groups deliberately use civilians as human shields, the Israeli military has a long and well-documented history of using Palestinian civilians as human shields, a practice officially known as the "neighbor procedure."
The Claim: Hamas was responsible for the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in the occupied West Bank in June, which sparked the current outburst of violence.
- Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials immediately blamed Hamas and promised to hold the group accountable for the disappearance of the teenagers, launching a massive crackdown in the occupied West Bank in response, they offered no evidence and many experts were skeptical of the claim from the start. For their part, Hamas officials denied responsibility.
- Shortly after the teens disappeared, an Israeli security official in the West Bank told a reporter:
“What we do know, is that this was likely an opportunistic move. The men behind this may have ties to a larger terror group, but this does not have the markings of a well-planned, complex operation.”
- On July 25, police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld was quoted by BBC reporter Jon Donnison saying that Israeli officials did not believe the Hamas leadership was involved in the murders, and that they had been carried out by a lone cell operating on its own, contradicting the official position of the Israeli government. Although Rosenfeld later backtracked after the comments made headlines, saying he was misquoted, Donnison stood by his report and Rosenfeld’s initial statement is consistent with all available evidence and the opinions of many observers.
- The murders were not consistent with Hamas’ history of kidnappings, which have been designed to capture soldiers to exchange for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, not to murder civilians.
- Many analysts believe the Israeli government exploited the teens’ disappearance in order to justify cracking down on Hamas and to undermine the recently formed Palestinian Authority unity government, which Hamas supported and which had been recognized by the United States and the international community despite Israel’s fierce opposition. According to reports, the Israeli government deliberately misled the public for weeks, concealing evidence that the teens had been killed while continuing a massive military operation in the West Bank, ostensibly to search for them while still alive.