Israel’s Supreme Court ruled Sunday the army must uphold international law and make sure civilians have access to medicine, food and water during military operations in Palestinians towns.
But the court did not explicitly accuse the army of violating international law, said Fatmeh El-Ajou, a lawyer for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, one of the petitioners.
The human rights groups filed the petition during Israel’s weeklong incursion into Gaza’s Rafah refugee camp in an effort to force the local military commander to protect civilians’ basic rights.
Israeli forces entered the camp May 18 after five soldiers were killed when militants attacked their armored vehicle and two more soldiers were killed in sniper attacks. The Israeli raid left 45 Palestinians dead, destroyed dozens of homes and earned Israel harsh international condemnation.
The three-judge panel ruled that during combat the military was bound by “international law and custom, international conventions that Israel is a signatory to and the basic laws of Israel.”
Geneva Convention cited
The ruling quoted the Fourth Geneva Convention on the rights of occupied peoples but did not say the army violated the treaty.
The army has insisted it did not violate international law and did its utmost to ensure the basic rights of the Rafah residents were protected during the operation. A military spokesman said the army would abide by the court’s decision.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel welcomed the ruling.
“These are important decisions about the obligations of the army to provide different services to citizens in theaters of operations,” said spokesman Yoav Leff.
The ruling said that during combat operations military commanders were obligated to ensure sufficient medical supplies for soldiers and civilians, alternate water supplies if water systems were damaged, and to fix electricity lines and ensure that civilians had food.
‘Honorable’ burials mandated
The ruling also ordered the army to allow “an honorable” burial for the dead, saying that troops had not taken into consideration the need for immediate burial.
During the Rafah raid, many bodies lay in a makeshift morgue for five days because residents were not allowed out of their besieged neighborhood to bury the dead. The army should “avoid this in the future,” the court ruling said.
The court rejected a demand that a delegation of Israeli doctors be allowed into Rafah to treat the wounded. The court accepted the army’s position that the entry of Israeli doctors would be dangerous, but said foreign doctors must be allowed to enter.