On May 18, 2021, Israeli armed forces executed an airstrike targeting a building containing facilities used by the Islamic University of Gaza.
On May 10, fighting broke out between Israeli forces and Palestinian militant groups, notably Hamas, following weeks of heightened tensions in East Jerusalem. In the lead-up to the fighting, Israeli forces raided the al-Asqa mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam. Tensions also stemmed from Israeli settlers’ efforts to evict Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. Hamas fired rockets into Israel while Israeli forces mounted airstrikes targeting Hamas and other armed groups in Gaza, one of the most densely populated parts of the world.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported 253 Palestinians killed and over 1,900 injured, and 12 Israelis killed and over 710 injured. Palestinian higher education institutions in Gaza were forced to temporarily suspend academic activities during the fighting. The Islamic University in Gaza announced that its academic and administrative operations would be suspended due to the fighting on May 16.
Amidst the fighting, on May 18, Israel forces carried out an airstrike on a building in Gaza known as the “Kahil Building” (“عمارة كحيل”). The building, which is situated in close proximity to the Islamic University and other local higher education institutions, contained educational centers and libraries used by and affiliated with the Islamic University. A prominent book shop and publishing house, reportedly frequented by members of the Islamic University community, was also housed in the Kahil Building.
Israeli forces reportedly ordered tenants to evacuate shortly ahead of the airstrike. Sources do not indicate the Israeli forces’ official basis for targeting the Kahil Building, including what military targets, if any, were contained in the building. No one was killed or injured in the airstrike, but the entire building was destroyed.
Scholars at Risk is gravely concerned about a targeted attack on a building housing facilities used by and affiliated with a higher education institution. Parties to a conflict may only attack legitimate military targets. When a party suspects that a civilian facility is being used for military purposes, that party has a duty to take every action practicable to verify that this suspicion is correct before initiating an attack. In the event of such an attack, parties must take all practicable precautions to avoid or minimize damage to civilian facilities. Likewise, parties must refrain from using higher education facilities for military purposes during active conflict. Further, parties must refrain from launching attacks which may be expected to cause disproportionate damage to civilian facilities.