According to the report, 11 civilians, including five women and four children, were killed and another eight were injured in the said incidents. The IDF refused to cooperate with the rights' group's investigation and did not respond to questions the group submitted to it in writing.
The authors of the report visited the sites of the attacks, examined ballistic evidence, collected medical records, and interviewed multiple witnesses – at least three people separately for each attack. In one case, forensic pathologists examined a survivor.
"Civilians shot intentionally in some instances" (Photo: AFP)
In each of the incidents, it was claimed in the report, the victims were standing, walking, or driving slowly in their vehicles along with other unarmed civilians while at least one of them waived an improvised white flag that was unmistakably visible to the IDF.
According to the testimonies on which the report is based, the IDF was in control of the areas in which the incidents occurred. No fighting was taking place in these areas at the when they occurred and no armed people traveled among the civilians. As such, according to them, firing at them is in violation of international humanitarian law as well as the laws of war.
"Civilians lose their protection from attack only during the time they directly participate in hostilities," said HRW.
HRW accuses the IDF in each case of failing to take "feasible precautions" to distinguish between civilians and armed fighters prior to attacking. In worse allegations, the rights group claims that in some of the cases fire was opened on civilians with premeditated intent.
"Civilians are immune from attack with or without a white flag; in these cases they undoubtedly waved the flags to communicate that they were not engaged in hostilities and posed no threat, reaffirming their civilian status," the report said.
The report pointed an accusatory finger at the Israeli government and the IDF for not investigating reasonable allegations of wrongdoing during the fighting, something that is also obligatory under the laws of war.
"When Israeli soldiers who fought in the operation spoke publicly about attacks on civilians and other violations, the IDF dismissed their claims as hearsay and exaggerations, and criticized the soldiers for speaking out," said HRW.
'We looked at them, waived flags, and they shot us'
In one of the incidents detailed in the report, on January 7 in east Jabliya two women and three children from the Abd Rabbo family were shot at the entrance to their house. At least three of them were holding pieces of white cloth when an Israeli soldier opened fire at them, killing two of the girls, aged two and seven, and wounding the third girl and their grandmother.
The grandmother, who was shot twice, told HRW: "We spent seven to nine minutes waving the flags and our faces were looking at them (the soldiers), and suddenly they opened fire and the girls fell to the ground.”
On January 13 in the village of Khuza’a, the HRW report claimed that an Israeli soldier shot and killed Rawiya al-Najjar, 47, and wounded her relative, Jasmin, 23.
According to witness accounts, the women were walking in a small group on a straight road during daylight, with Rawiya holding a white flag, in an attempt to leave their neighborhood after it had come under Israeli control. Soldiers had occupied a house down the street but apparently fired no warning shots to deter the group.
The report criticized the IDF's manner of warning civilians of impending military action by using leaflets dropped from above, phone calls, and local radio and television broadcasts. The report claimed that the warnings were often "too vague" and did not instruct civilians where to find safe-haven after leaving their homes.
"Just because an attacking force has issued a warning does not mean it can disregard its obligation to minimize civilian harm," said HRW in their report.
HRW also criticized the UN Security Council's resolution that called to investigate allegations of violations of international law only on Israel's part, and not on the part of Hamas and the Palestinians.
The IDF rejected claims made in the Human Rights Watch report. The IDF responded, "The report is based on the testimonies of a few Palestinian civilians whose credibility has not been proven."
The IDF reported that its forces "are instructed to honor whoever waves a white flag as a sign of surrender and to avoid hurting them." The military also commented that the organization did not take the care to send the report to the IDF before publishing it in the media in order to afford the military the opportunity to examine the allegations in depth.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak's office issued a statement in response to the report: "Hamas is responsible for any civilian casualties in Gaza Strip. Hamas chose the fighting venue and made cynical use of civilians as human shields," it said.
Reuters contributed to this report