Dispatches: In Gaza, Another Death From School Attacks

Human Rights Watch, February 18, 2015

In Gaza last week, another person died from an attack that hit a school.

Methad Rada, 31, an unemployed man with physical disabilities, was at a UN-run school in the southern town of Rafah last August, during intense fighting with Israel, when a missile struck across the street, killing 12 people in and around the school courtyard, eight of them children. Now the death toll has risen to 13.

The attack outside the Rafah Preparatory “A” Boys School on August 3 was one of three strikes that killed displaced people using schools as shelters that Human Rights Watch documented during the 50 days of fighting. Together, these strikes killed 45 people at the time, including 17 children.

The schools had all been marked with UN flags. The Israeli military had known their coordinates. And the UN had repeatedly warned that they were housing civilians. But Israeli forces fired nevertheless.

All three attacks appear to have violated the laws of war. Two of the schools – in Beit Hanoun on July 24 and Jabalya on July 30 – did not appear to have a military target in or around them at the time. But even if a few Hamas fighters had been there, it would have been unlawful to strike these schools because of the likelihood of disproportionate harm to civilians sheltering there.

In Rafah, Israel said it targeted three militant members of Islamic Jihad who were riding a motorbike near the school. But it has not explained why the military chose to target the three men at the precise moment they passed a school with about 3,000 displaced people.

The weapon Israel apparently used in that attack – an optically guided Spike missile – allows the operator to divert the munition up to the last moment if civilians appear at risk.

Rada was just inside the school gate, an area crowded with children buying ice cream, when the missile struck. Fragments pierced his stomach and back, and he broke his arm in two places, his family said. He appeared to be getting better but returned to the hospital recently with complications from the injury, apparently an infection. He died on February 7.

Rada’s death brings the total number of people killed during the fighting in Gaza to 2,220. According to theUnited Nations, more than 1,580 of those killed were civilians, including 551 children and 299 women.

The chances of justice for Rada and other civilian victims in Gaza are slim. Israel has a long record of failing to investigate properly unlawful attacks that kill civilians, let alone the policies that have led to high numbers of civilian deaths. (Hamas does even less.)

Palestine’s recent decision to join the International Criminal Court may eventually change that for victims on all sides. But for now, Rada’s family members are not expecting anyone to be punished for their loss.