Three years ago this week, on 16 July 2014, at approximately 3:30 pm, four boys were killed on the beach in the Gaza City harbor, an incident that brought worldwide condemnation. Using a lull in the fighting, a group of kids went out to play football on the beach, not far from where they lived. The Israeli forces fired three missiles in short succession. The first explosion hit a fishermen’s storage shack, killing Ismail Bakr instantly. The rest of the group began running along the beach towards the Al Deira Hotel, where international journalists were filing their afternoon reports, when the second explosion directly targeted the children moving along the shoreline, killing three, and injuring five people. The international news reporters, who witnessed and photographed the attack, confirmed that there were no armed activities taking place in the immediate area at the time. The following four children, all cousins, were killed in the attack:
- Ahed Attaf Bakr, 9;
- Zakariya Ahed Subhi Bakr, 10;
- Mohammed Ramiz Izzat Bakr, 11; and
- Ismail Mohammed Subhi Bakr, 9.
Among the five persons injured were also children Muntasir Ahed Bakr, 10, and Hamada Bakr, 11.
The Bakr family still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused by the event. The killing of the Bakr boys on the beach is one among many incidents that exemplify the serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law carried out by the Israeli military during the 2014 military campaign in Gaza. During the seven weeks of constant bombardment, 556 Palestinian children were killed; 30,838 children had their homes completely destroyed; and 66 schools were damaged or completely destroyed. Three years on, the children who witnessed the extensive destruction, shelling, killings and injuries are still in shock, with PTSD and similar mental health issues being among the most common ailments for Gaza’s heavily young population.
While Al Mezan and partners, Visualizing Palestine and Adalah- The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, continue to publish a series of data visualizations that highlight war crimes committed during the 2014 attack and Israel’s impunity for these violations of international law, Al Mezan recalls the significance of the Bakr boys’ case. Despite the Israeli forces’ use of indiscriminate bombing in an area where no hostilities were taking place, the Israeli investigation, which was neither impartial nor independent as required by international law, was swiftly closed on 12 June 2015. No charges were filed against those who ordered and carried out the attack that killed the four children.
The brief and rare criminal investigation that was conducted failed to identify the attacks as indiscriminate in nature, even though the attacks were not directed at specific military objectives. The claim by military officials that the targets were presumed to be fighters is illogical and evades important standards set out in the laws of war. The Israeli military’s technological capabilities—which enable the smallest details to be seen on the ground in Gaza—enabled those who carried out the attack to identify the small children playing as such. In case of doubt, according to treaty and customary international humanitarian law, a presumption of civilian status should have been made. The perpetrator of the attack either failed to distinguish between civilians and combatants, or where the perpetrator was unsure, failed to issue a presumption of civilian status. This case shows that Israel's rules of engagement, which is deeply flawed, and its investigation system, which fails to abide by norms of investigation, contradict international law.
Al Mezan submitted more than 100 complaints to the Israeli Military Advocate General, and additional complaints concerning 28 incidents were filed jointly with Adalah. The complaints concern incidents of suspected war crimes carried out during the 2014 operation and include the attack on the Bakr children. Three years on, no independent investigations have been conducted although three criminal investigations were launched by the Israeli military, and not a single indictment has been submitted by the Israeli authorities in any of these cases.
Photos of the Bakr family can be found here.