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The War Report - 2012 (1/12/2013)

Part II Situations of Armed Conflict in 2012, Situations of Armed Conflict in 2012, Armed Conflict in Gaza in 2012

Stuart Casey-Maslen

From: The War Report: 2012

Edited By: Stuart Casey-Maslen

Armed conflict, non-international — Military matters — Armed attack

(p. 110) Armed Conflict in Gaza in 2012

Key Conflict Statistics for 2012

Palestinian civilian deaths:


(Source: OCHA)

Palestinians injured:

1,269 (est.)

(Sources: UN; IDMC)

Palestinian children deaths:


(Source: OCHA)

Israeli civilian deaths:


(Source: OHCHR)

Israeli civilians injured:


(Source: OCHA)

Palestinian militant deaths:


(Source: OCHA)

Israeli military deaths:


(Source: OHCHR)

Israeli military injured:


(Source: OHCHR)

Civilians displaced:


(Source: IDMC)

Classification of the Conflict

Israeli armed forces were involved in an armed conflict of a non-international character (NIAC) with Hamas and Islamic Jihad for eight days in November 2012. This characterization is controversial. Some might characterize the conflict as international.1

Summary of Applicable International Law

All parties to the conflict were bound by, inter alia: Common Article 3 to the 1949 Geneva Conventions; the customary international humanitarian law (IHL) rules of distinction, proportionality, and precautions in attacks; the obligation not to recruit and use children as soldiers; and the duty to respect, at a minimum, fundamental human rights. This includes the duty to respect the rights to life and to freedom from (p. 111) torture or other forms of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. In addition, Israel is bound extraterritorially by its human rights obligations.2

Israel has not adhered to either the 1997 Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC) or the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM).

History of the Conflict3

In early 2006, Hamas won legislative elections in the Palestinian territories challenging Fatah’s leadership of the Palestinian national movement. Tensions over control of Palestinian security forces soon erupted into the 2007 Battle of Gaza, after which Hamas retained control of Gaza while its officials were ousted from government positions in the West Bank. Israel and Egypt then imposed an economic blockade on Gaza, on the grounds that Fatah forces were no longer providing security there.

In June 2008, as part of an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire, Hamas ceased rocket attacks on Israel. After four months of calm, the conflict escalated and Israel launched Operation Cast Lead (27 December 2008–18 January 2009), stating that the three weeks of air and ground assaults were in response to repeated rocket and mortar fire into Israel. After the Gaza War, Hamas continued to govern the Gaza Strip and Israel maintained its economic blockade over the area.4

The beginning of 2012 was marked by an increase in violence and tension in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel. Palestinian militants fired rockets into southern Israel, while Israeli military forces responded with strikes in the Gaza Strip. On 14 November 2012, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) launched Operation Pillar of Defense in response to an increase of Hamas rockets following the killing, by the IDF, of Ahmed Jabari, chief of Hamas’s Gaza military wing.5 The aims of the military operation, according to the Israeli government, were to ‘halt rocket attacks against civilian targets originating from the Gaza Strip’6 and ‘to disrupt the capabilities of (p. 112) militant organizations’.7 According to the Israeli government, the operation began in response to Palestinian groups launching more than 100 rockets at Israel over a 24-hour period,8 an attack on an Israeli military patrol jeep within Israeli borders by Gaza militants, and a tunnel explosion caused by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) near Israeli soldiers on the Israeli side of the fence.9 Palestinians blamed the Israeli government for the escalation of violence, accusing the IDF of attacks on Gazan civilians in the days leading up to the operation, and citing the blockade of the Gaza Strip, and occupation of West Bank and East Jerusalem, as the reasons for rocket attacks.10

During Operation Pillar of Defense, the IDF struck more than 1,500 sites in the Gaza Strip, including rocket launch-pads, weapon storages, government buildings, and apartment blocks.11 Gaza officials claimed that 133 Palestinians had been killed in the conflict, of whom 79 were fighters, 53 were civilians, and one was a policeman; they also estimated that 840 Palestinians were wounded.12 Eight Palestinians were executed by members of the Ezzeddeen al-Qassam Brigades for alleged collaboration with Israel.13 During the eight-day conflict, Hamas, the al-Qassam Brigades, and Islamic Jihad intensified their rocket attacks on Israeli cities, in an operation code-named Operation Stones of Baked Clay by the al-Qassam Brigades. According to the records, more than 1,456 rockets were launched into Israel, and an additional 142 fell inside Gaza itself.14 By the end of the operation, six Israelis had been killed and 240 injured.15 The United Nations (UN) Security Council held an emergency session on the situation, but could not reach a (p. 113) decision.16 On 21 November, after days of negotiation mediated by Egypt, a cease-fire was announced between Hamas and Israel.17

Parties to the Conflict

Israeli Defense Forces

According to its website, the IDF:

…are the State of Israel’s military force. The IDF is subordinate to the directions of the democratic civilian authorities and the laws of the state. The goal of the IDF is to protect the existence of the State of Israel and her independence, and to thwart all enemy efforts to disrupt the normal way of life in Israel. IDF soldiers are obligated to fight, to dedicate all their strength and even sacrifice their lives in order to protect the State of Israel, her citizens and residents. IDF soldiers will operate according to the IDF values and orders, while adhering to the laws of the state and norms of human dignity, and honoring the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.18

Hamas → Ezzeddeen al-Qassam Brigades

Hamas was formed in late 1987 in the midst of the first Palestinian Intifada. Its roots are in the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood.19 The group’s charter calls for establishing an Islamic Palestinian state in place of Israel, and rejects all agreements made between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel.20 More recently, Hamas has publicly expressed a willingness to accept a long-term cessation of hostilities if Israel agrees to a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital. Hamas’s strength is concentrated in the Gaza Strip and areas of the West Bank.

Hamas has a military wing, the Ezzeddeen al-Qassam Brigades (EQB), which was established in the 1990s and has, since then, conducted many anti-Israeli attacks in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Attacks on civilian targets have included rocket attacks and, from 1993 to 2006, suicide bombings. Military targets included Israeli (p. 114) outposts and border crossings, and rival Palestinian militias in the occupied territories. While the group receives some support from foreign countries and movements, it remains independent.21

Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) → al-Quds Brigades

Islamic Jihad was formed by militant Palestinians in the Gaza Strip during the 1970s. The group is committed to the creation of an Islamic state in all of historical Palestine and the destruction of Israel through attacks against Israeli military and civilian targets. The group’s central leadership resides in Syria, but PIJ maintains small regional offices in Beirut and Tehran. PIJ receives financial assistance primarily from Iran.22 PIJ refuses to participate in the Palestinian Authority’s political process and rejects all negotiations with Israel. The group’s paramilitary wing—the al-Quds Brigades—has conducted numerous attacks, including large-scale suicide bombings.23 PIJ’s most recent suicide bombing was in January 2007 in the southern Israeli city of Eilat, killing three people. Since then the group has conducted numerous rocket attacks against Israeli targets near the Gaza Strip using indigenously produced rockets. The group actively participated in the 2012 eight-day conflict against Israel.


Data from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) identified a total of 174 Palestinians killed during escalation of conflict in Palestine (Israel v. Hamas and Islamic Jihad) on 14–21 November 2012. Of these, 100 were said to be civilian: 94 Palestinian civilians were killed as a result of Israeli military action (including 36 children and 14 women); another six Palestinian civilians, including three children and one woman, were reported killed by Palestinian rockets falling short. Additionally, 74 Palestinian militants were killed as a result of Israeli military action.24 Hundreds of persons were reportedly injured.25 An earlier account identified approximately 1,269 Palestinians as having been injured.26

(p. 115) In the context of the crisis, four Israeli civilians were reportedly killed and 219 Israeli civilians were injured. Two Israeli military were reportedly killed and 20 Israeli military injured.27

Attacks by Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) on media offices and journalists in Gaza City were said to have killed two cameramen and injured at least eight journalists.28


The Israeli military offensive in Gaza in November 2012 temporarily displaced 12,000 Palestinians. Most returned soon after the end of hostilities. However, almost 2,500 people whose homes were destroyed during the offensive were still living in displacement at the year’s end. The firing of rockets into Israel by Palestinian armed groups during the hostilities caused the temporary displacement of hundreds of Israelis.29

War Crimes Allegations, Investigations, and Prosecutions

In December 2012, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that Palestinian armed groups launched hundreds of inherently indiscriminate rockets against Israeli population centres in violation of the laws of war.30 HRW research in Gaza:

(p. 116) …found that armed groups repeatedly fired rockets from densely populated areas, near homes, businesses, and a hotel, unnecessarily placing civilians in the vicinity at grave risk from Israeli counter-fire.31

In February 2012, HRW claimed that at least 18 Israeli airstrikes during the fighting in Gaza in November 2012 were in ‘apparent violation of the laws of war’, after a detailed investigation into the attacks.32 These airstrikes reportedly killed at least 43 Palestinian civilians, including 12 children.33 According to HRW, its field investigations:

…found 14 strikes by aerial drones or other aircraft for which there was no indication of a legitimate military target at the site at the time of the attack. In four other cases, attacks may have targeted Palestinian fighters, but appeared to use indiscriminate means or caused disproportionate harm to civilians.34

HRW has declared that it sent detailed information about the cases to the IDF on 14 January 2013, requesting further information. At a meeting on 24 January and in subsequent phone conversations, the military spokesperson’s office told the organization that the military chief of staff had ordered a general (aluf) to conduct an ‘operational debriefing’ (tahkir mivtza’i) concerning ‘dozens’ of Israeli attacks during the conflict, including the cases HRW investigated, which would be completed by late February 2013.


1  Views differ as to the legal qualification of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. One view would be that the entire conflict, including the armed conflict in November 2012 in the Gaza Strip, is an international armed conflict (IAC). According to the late Antonio Cassese, for example, ‘An armed conflict which takes place between an Occupying Power and rebel or insurgent groups—whether or not they are terrorist in character—in an occupied territory, amounts to an international armed conflict:’ A. Cassese, International Law, 2nd edn, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2005, p. 420. The view of the War Report for the purposes of this entry, however, is that the conflict in Gaza in November 2012 was an armed conflict of a non-international character (NIAC) between Israel and Palestinian non-state armed groups. This NIAC took place within the context of a broader military occupation by Israel, which is generally governed by the law of IAC.

2  See e.g. International Court of Justice (ICJ), Wall Advisory Opinion, 2004, §106; ICJ, Armed Activities on the Territory of the Congo (Democratic Republic of the Congo v. Uganda), Judgment, 19 December 2005.

3  Unless otherwise stated, this section is based on ‘Palestinian territories profile’, BBC, 28 February 2013, <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-14630174>, and Council on Foreign Relations, ‘Backgrounder: Hamas’, 27 November 2012, <http://www.cfr.org/israel/hamas/p8968>.

4  ‘Palestinian territories profile’, BBC.

5  Robert Wright, ‘Who started the Israel–Gaza conflict?’, The Atlantic, 6 November 2012, <http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/11/who-started-the-israel-gaza-conflict/265374/>.

6  Nidal al-Mughrabi (Reuters), ‘Hamas leader defiant as Israel eases Gaza curbs’, Chicago Tribune, 24 November 2012, <http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-11-24/news/sns-rt-us-palestinians-israel-hamasbre8ad0wp-20121114_1_gaza-curbs-gaza-fishermen-hamas-leader>.

7  Yaakov Lappin, ‘IAF strike kills Hamas military chief Jabari’, Jerusalem Post, 14 November 2012, <http://www.jpost.com/Defense/Article.aspx?id=291779>.

8  Yaakov Lappin and Tovah Lazaroff, ‘Gaza groups pound Israel with over 100 rockets’, Jerusalem Post, 12 December 2012, <http://www.jpost.com/Defense/Article.aspx?id=291300>.

9  Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ‘Operation Pillar of Defense—selected statements’, 20 November 2012, <http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Government/Speeches+by+Israeli+leaders/2012/Operation_Pillar_of_Defense-Statements.htm>.

10  ‘Israel warns Hamas of “heavy price” for Gaza rockets’, Agence France-Presse, 11 November 2012, <http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jRUtS7PreKQztfBnueg5yNep0ROg?docId=CNG.eceda380b55ad442c0c0b524c5263e34.61>.

11  ‘Factbox: Gaza targets bombed by Israel’, Reuters, 21 November 2012, <http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/21/us-palestinians-israel-gaza-idUSBRE8AK0H920121121>.

12  ‘Israeli strikes kill 23 in bloodiest day for Gaza’, News International, 19 November 2012, <http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-13-18932-Israeli-strikes-kill-23-in-bloodiest-day-for-Gaza>.

13  Jodi Rudoren and Fares Akram, ‘Mistaken lull, simple errand, death in Gaza’, New York Times, 16 November 2012, <http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/17/world/middleeast/in-gaza-tragic-result-for-misplaced-hopes-of-cease-fire.html?hp>.

14  ‘Tel Aviv, 21 November 2012—Secretary-General’s remarks to the Security Council’, UN Secretary-General’s statement, 21 November 2012.

15  Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, ‘Israel under fire—November 2012’, 22 November 2012, <http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Terrorism-+Obstacle+to+Peace/Hamas+war+against+Israel/Israel_under_fire-November_2012.htm>.

16  ‘Gaza toll rises as UN calls for end to the bloodshed’, The Telegraph, 15 November 2012, <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/israel/9679500/Gaza-toll-rises-as-UN-calls-for-end-to-the-bloodshed.html>.

17  Paul Owen and Tom McCarthy, ‘Israel–Gaza: truce talks ongoing in Cairo—as it happened’, The Guardian, 19 November 2012, <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/middle-east-live/2012/nov/19/israel-gaza-hamas-rocket-fire-idf-bombing>.

18  IDF website, ‘Doctrine’, <http://www.idf.il/1497-en/Dover.aspx>.

19  National Counterterrorism Center, ‘Hamas’, 31 December 2012, <http://www.nctc.gov/site/groups/hamas.html>.

20  Hamas Charter 1988, available at The Jerusalem Fund, <http://www.thejerusalemfund.org/www.thejerusalemfund.org/carryover/documents/charter.html>.

21  Ezzedeen al-Qassam Brigades-Information Office, <http://www.qassam.ps/index.html>.

22  National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, ‘Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)’, 31 December 2012, <http://www.start.umd.edu/start/data_collections/tops/terrorist_organization_profile.asp?id=82>.

23  Council on Foreign Relations, ‘Palestinian Islamic Jihad’, 10 April 2008, <http://www.cfr.org/israel/palestinian-islamic-jihad/p15984>.

24  Data provided by OCHA on 24 April 2013.

25  ‘Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories: report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the implementation of Human Rights Council resolutions S-9/1 and S-12/1’, Human Rights Council, UN doc. A/HRC/22/35/Add.1, 6 March 2013.

26  ‘Tel Aviv, 21 November 2012—Secretary-General’s remarks to the [UN] Security Council [as delivered]’, <http://www.un.org/sg/statements/index.asp?nid=6452>. During the November conflict, among casualties, five Palestinian civilians, including three children, were reportedly killed by armed drones: ‘Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories: report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the implementation of Human Rights Council resolutions S-9/1 and S-12/1’.

27  ‘Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories: report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the implementation of Human Rights Council resolutions S-9/1 and S-12/1’. According to a news article cited by the UN, the IDF estimated the number of Palestinians killed at 177, including approximately 120 fighters, and the number of injured, including an unspecified number of civilians, at 900. Gaza’s Ministry of Health estimated the number of Palestinians killed at 189, and persons injured at 1,526. The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs also reported six Israelis killed ‘by rockets and mortars’ in ‘Behind the headlines: ceasefire ends Operation Pillar of Defense’, <http://new.mfa.gov.il/MFA/ForeignPolicy/Issues/Pages/BTH_Ceasefire_Pillar_of_Defense_21-Nov-2012.aspx>.

28  ‘Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories: report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the implementation of Human Rights Council resolutions S-9/1 and S-12/1’.

29  Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), ‘Global overview 2012’, April 2013, p. 58.

30  HRW, ‘Gaza: Palestinian rockets unlawfully targeted Israeli civilians, residents describe deaths, destruction from attacks’, Jerusalem, 24 December 2012, <http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/12/24/gaza-palestinian-rockets-unlawfully-targeted-israeli-civilians>.

31  HRW, ‘Gaza: Palestinian rockets unlawfully targeted Israeli civilians, residents describe deaths, destruction from attacks’.

32  HRW, ‘Israel: Gaza airstrikes violated laws of war, Israeli attacks killed civilians, destroyed homes without lawful justification’, 12 February 2013, <http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/02/12/israel-gaza-airstrikes-violated-laws-war>.

33  HRW, ‘Israel: Gaza airstrikes violated laws of war, Israeli attacks killed civilians, destroyed homes without lawful justification’.

34  HRW, ‘Israel: Gaza airstrikes violated laws of war, Israeli attacks killed civilians, destroyed homes without lawful justification’.