This fact sheet is based on information provided by the researchers from Forensic Architecture and excerpts from their report.
On 1 August 2014, Israel and Hamas agreed to a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire that would take effect at 8 am that day. Three weeks after Israel launched its military offensive on Gaza, thousands of Palestinians who had sought refuge in shelters or with relatives prepared to return to their homes during the anticipated break in hostilities.
Shortly before the ceasefire came to effect an Israeli unit proceeded to circle an area south-east of Rafah in which, they believed, a tunnel was located. According to a testimony of an Israeli soldier given to the Israeli organisation Breaking the Silence, the purpose of the incursion was “to destroy the entire tunneling infrastructure that still remains there. If you think about it, that really means every house and agricultural structure in the area.” A fire fight ensued, resulting in the death of two Israeli soldiers and one Palestinian fighter. The Hamas fighters captured an Israeli officer, Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, and took him into a tunnel. It is not clear whether clash took place before or after 8 am. What followed became one of the deadliest episodes of the war; an intensive use of firepower by Israel, which lasted four days and killed scores of civilians (reports range from at least 135 to over 200), injured many more and destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes and other civilian structures, mostly on 1 August.
Breaking the Silence report, based on soldiers’ testimonies, provides additional important details on Black Friday in Rafah. One Israeli soldier testified that a thousand shells were fired that morning [BtS, testimony 60, p. 145], another – that for three hours his unit was firing artillery at maximum capacity into populated areas [test. 90, p 202-203].
The Hannibal Directive was a secret Israeli army operational order designed to deal with the capture of an Israeli soldier by armed forces of non-state organizations.
The Israeli army drew up the Directive shortly after Hizbullah, a political party with an armed wing based in Lebanon, captured two Israeli soldiers in southern Lebanon in June 1986. The Israeli army exposed the existence of the Directive in 2003 and some of its guiding principles have since been discussed in Israeli media.
In the event of a situation in which one or more Israeli soldiers are captured, the Directive authorizes Israeli army field commanders to activate artillery fire and air force strikes around the entire area where the capture occurred, without seeking permission from headquarters, which would be required in other circumstances. “The kidnapping must be stopped by all means even at the price of hitting and harming our own forces”, Israeli media have reported the Directive as stating. The Directive apparently does not, however, acknowledge the potential increased risk to civilians posed by such an approach.
Beyond the Directive’s official wording, the Israeli army appears to have developed an “oral tradition” whereby soldiers have been made to understand that the death of captured soldiers is preferable to them being taken alive. According to this interpretation of the Directive, the damage that a captive would cause is considerably higher than the death of a soldier. In 1988 an Israeli officer was recorded briefing his soldiers as follows: “‘an IDF [Israel Defense Forces] soldier was kidnapped’ no longer features in our lexicon; we must stop the kidnapping at any price even if it means targeting our soldier. We prefer our soldier hit than in their hands”. In 1999 Shaul Mofaz, then chief of staff of the IDF, explained: “In certain senses, with all the pain that saying this entails, an abducted soldier, in contrast to a soldier who has been killed, is a national problem.”
On 28 June 2016, the local and international media reported that the Israeli Army Chief of General Staff Gadi Eisenkot had revoked the Hannibal Directive and given orders to formulate alternative policy.
Forensic Architecture’s Black Friday report
The Black Friday report is a collaboration between Forensic Architecture and Amnesty International. It aims to provide a detailed reconstruction of the events in Rafah, Gaza, from 1 August until 4 August 2014, based primarily on material found on social media. Learn more about their work here: