A senior UN official has confirmed that the Israeli military turned a school in the Gaza Strip into a military base during July's ground offensive. Thecomments last week by Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Leila Zerrougui corroborate a report that was published in The Times on August 5 ('Invaders turn abandoned school into command base').
Addressing a Security Council debate on children and armed conflict, Zerrougui said 244 schools, including 75 UNRWA schools, "were shelled by Israel's armed forces", adding that "one school was used as a military base by the IDF." Although she did not name the school, it has been confirmed to me this was a reference to Hani Naim Agriculture Secondary School for Boys in Beit Hanoun.
The piece in The Times which appeared early August describes in detail the scene after the soldiers had left, when residents "discovered that in the past four weeks the school had been turned into a command centre for the Israeli army".
Dozens of grenade shells and bullet casings were scattered amid brick dust and rubbish under desks pushed up against a window. Spent ammunition littering the classroom floors told of the ferocity of the battles waged from there...The shells found scattered in classrooms were for launchers that could fire 300 grenades per minute. The casings were from a machinegun that can cut through a house. The remains of what looked like a 155mm Howitzer artillery shell was left in the playground.
The "destruction from this heavy weaponry had ripped through [Beit Hanoun]", while "heaps of rotting Israeli bread, tinned food, sun lotion and piles of toothbrushes showed that soldiers of the Nahal infantry brigade had spent some time there". Israeli soldiers had even "scrawled the name of their battalion, 931 Nahal, on the walls with pastel-coloured chalk."
The military's use of a Palestinian school as a base was referred to by Human Rights Watch, who commented that "national armed forces and armed groups should refrain from using schools for military purposes". The NGO made the remarks in the context of a wider report on Israeli attacks on Gaza schools, with a focus on three incidents that killed 45 people, including 17 children.