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Israeli attack on Gaza cultural center possible 'war crime'

Aug. 22, 2018 3:43 P.M. (Updated: Aug. 25, 2018 4:26 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel along with the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza, said that the Israeli airstrike attack on the cultural center in the besieged Gaza Strip, which injured at least 18 Palestinians, could be categorized as a war crime and demanded an immediate criminal investigation into the attack.

Earlier this month, Israeli warplanes fired a total of nine missiles, targeting and completely destroying the Mishal Center for Culture and Science in Gaza, and injuring 18 Palestinians, including women and children.

The airstrike attack caused extensive damages to dozens of residential apartments and other commercial buildings surrounding the area.

Adalah’s lawyer, Fadi Khoury, sent a letter to the Israeli Defense Minister, Israeli Military Advocate General, and Israeli Attorney General, demanding an immediate independent criminal investigation into the Israeli attack on the Mishal Cultural Center, due to violation of international humanitarian law, human rights law, and criminal law.

Khoury added in the letter than this attack could amount to a war crime and stated Adalah and Al Mezan demanded that those responsible for the attack be prosecuted and held accountable.

According to international humanitarian law, militaries are forbidden from attacking or destroying civilian institutions.

“Article 52 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits attacks on civilian objects, and Article 53 of the First Protocol of the Geneva Conventions prohibits the occupying power from destroying property belonging to individuals or groups unless military activities occur there. Further, these articles – which are likewise mirrored by similar prohibitions from UNESCO – also specifically ban revenge attacks on cultural properties.”

Additionally, Article 27 of the Hague Convention states 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.”

Adalah stressed that “international humanitarian law prohibits attacks that do not rely on internationally-defined distinctions between military and civilian targets and such attacks amount to war crimes.”

In 2004, the Said Mishal Association, which was started to promote creative cultural development for children and youth in Gaza, established the Mishal Center for Culture and Science in a five-story building covering an area of 400 square meters.

Theatre practitioners, who worked closely with artists in Gaza, condemned the attack on the Center in an open letter, which was published in The Guardian, stressing the Center’s great significance in the Gaza Strip.

The open letter read, "Since its establishment in 2004, Al-Mishal served as a home for hundreds of plays, ceremonies, exhibits, musical performances and national ceremonies. It was the venue of choice for theatre companies in Gaza and a space for Gaza’s top musical acts. It is a devastating loss for the already isolated community.”

It stressed "We are deeply shocked that this act of destruction has not been widely reported in the British press. We urge the UK government and the international community to take prompt and effective steps to seek a de-escalation of the situation in Gaza, to insist on the effective protection of civilians as a prime legal obligation and to take firm action to ensure that violations of international law are not tolerated."

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