The Gaza war fought last summer made 2014 the deadliest year for Palestinians since coming under Israeli occupation after the 1967 Mideast War, a United Nations report released Thursday said.
In an annual review titled “Fragmented Lives,” the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, surveyed the humanitarian situation of Palestinians and called last year a “traumatic” one for Palestinians in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
“2014 was a devastating year for the Palestinians,” the agency’s humanitarian coordinator, James Rawley, said in a news release Thursday.
In a separate report published Thursday, meanwhile, Amnesty International charged Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza with killing both Israeli and Palestinian civilians in what the organization said “amounted to war crimes.”
In its report, the U.N. agency found that the 50-day war fought in July and August was particularly devastating to 1.8 million Palestinians living in Gaza. The conflict resulted in the deaths of at least 1,500 civilians out of a total 2,200 fatalities, injured more than 17,000 people and left 100,000 others without a home, the agency said.
Aimed at curbing rocket fire and tunneling into Israel by Gaza's ruling Hamas movement, Israel’s military assault in 2014 killed more than twice the number of people as the previous massive campaign in 2009 and marked “the worst escalation of hostilities since 1967,” the report said.
Palestinians in the West Bank did not fare well either, as clashes with Israeli troops resulted in the deaths of 58 residents -- the highest annual toll in eight years -- and injured 6,000 more. The agency noted increases in Israeli soldiers’ use of live ammunition and the number of child victims. The report called the displacement of more than 1,200 Palestinians by home demolitions a “record high."
While the circumstances of the killing of civilians and the damage of their property differ, the report cited what it called a “pervasive crisis of accountability” on Israel’s part, as well as “no effective remedy for the vast majority of alleged violations of international law” to prevent them recurring.
The agency noted a marked increase in the number of Israeli casualties during 2014 as well, as a result of the Gaza conflict and a rash of attacks in Jerusalem. More than 70 Israelis were killed in the Gaza war; most were soldiers, others civilians killed by rockets fired from Gaza.
The report urged all parties to take extra precautions to avoid civilian casualties and ensure accountability for violations of international law. The U.N. urged Israel to refrain from disproportionate military actions that could put civilians at risk, and Palestinians to refrain from indiscriminate rocket fire into Israel and placing their own civilians at risk.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International, which in November faulted Israel for “brazenly flouting the laws of war” by massive targeting of civilians, turned its attention to Palestinian armed groups.
Hamas and other militant groups showed “flagrant disregard for international humanitarian law” with indiscriminate rocket fire into Israel, as well as for the consequences of these violations on both Israeli and Palestinian civilians, said Philip Luther, who heads Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Program.
More than 4,800 rockets and 1,700 mortar shells were fired at Israel during the conflict, according to U.N. figures.
In addition, the organization also took to task Palestinian militants for putting their own population in danger and urged them to take all possible steps to protect civilians, including refraining from positioning militants and weaponry within or near densely populated areas.
“The devastating impact of Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians during the conflict, but violations by one side in a conflict can never justify violations by their opponents,” Luther was quoted in the report.
Amnesty’s report cited a number of fatal incidents, including the death of a 4-year-old Israeli child who was killed when a mortar struck outside his home on a kibbutz about five miles from the border with Gaza.
In another incident, a rocket hit the crowded Al-Shait refugee camp in Gaza, killing 13 Palestinians, 11 of them children who were playing in the street on the first day of a Muslim holiday. The attack had been blamed on the Israeli military, but Amnesty International found that the explosion was caused by a Palestinian rocket.
Sobelman is a special correspondent.