Time: 7pm (local time)
At 5:40pm on Thursday, 9 August 2018, Israeli drone operators fired six missiles at the building that houses the Said Al-Mis'hal Institute for Culture and Science. About 35 minutes later, Israeli warplanes were used to bombard the building with three large missiles, which resulted in the total destruction of the five-story building. At least 24 persons were injured in the airstrikes; of them are four children, four women, and one a journalist. Doctors at Al Shifa hospital in Gaza City described their injuries as light. Tens of houses and apartments in the vicinity of the building also sustained substantial damages.
The Al-Mis'hal Institute was founded in 1996 to promote cultural development by providing space, resources, and opportunities for creative children and young people in Gaza. Built on 400 square meters in the west of Gaza City, the cultural center was opened in 2004 with a theater, conference hall, library and digital library, research and study center, and computer labs. It also has halls to host fine art exhibitions. The building hosted the office of the Egyptian delegation.
Al Mezan recalls that a cultural center is civilian property enjoying protection under international humanitarian law, as in Article 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The multiple airstrikes on Al-Mis'hal Institute are also prohibited under Article 27 of the Hague Convention (1907), which provides that “In sieges and bombardments all necessary steps must be taken to spare, as far as possible, buildings dedicated to religion, art, science, or charitable purposes, historic monuments, hospitals, and places where the sick and wounded are collected, provided they are not being used at the time for military purposes.”
Cultural sites are assigned further protection under Additional Protocol I (1977) to the Geneva Conventions, whereby making cultural property the object of retaliatory attacks is prohibited, and under the principles set out by UNESCO. The unnecessary destruction of the cultural center, which affords Israel no military gain, points to an act of retaliation.
Al Mezan condemns the targeting of Al-Mishal Institute and the unnecessary harm and trauma caused by the attack. The destruction of the center points to persisting concerns over patterns of attack that run blatantly counter to basic obligations under international law. Attacks on civilian targets have become a feature of Israel’s military engagement in the Gaza Strip: in the summer of 2014, the Israeli military caused massive destruction to 18,000 homes and other civilian property, and around 70 percent of Palestinians killed were civilian. The targeting of civilians and civilian objects must not become normalized, but instead must be investigated to international standards and perpetrators of breaches of the laws of war and human rights must be held to account.
Al Mezan urges the international community to take prompt and effective steps to seek a de-escalation in the situation in Gaza. The international community must insist on the effective protection of civilians as a prime legal obligation and take firm action to ensure that violations of international law are not tolerated.