UN probe accuses Israel of extermination, sexual violence, other crimes against humanity

AFP , Ahram Online , Wednesday 12 Jun 2024

A UN investigation concluded on Wednesday that Israel has committed crimes against humanity during its war on Gaza, including that of extermination, starvation, and sexual violence.

An injured youth is brought to the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah, after the Israeli bombardment in the area of al-Maghazi in the central Gaza Strip, June 2024.AFP

The independent Commission of Inquiry's report is the United Nations' first in-depth investigation into the events of the war that erupted on October 7.

It found that Israel had committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, and violations of international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL).

The report noted "a widespread or systematic attack directed against the civilian population in Gaza."

"The commission found that the crimes against humanity of extermination; murder; gender persecution targeting Palestinian men and boys; forcible transfer; and torture and inhuman and cruel treatment were committed," it added.

The report also concluded that the frequency, prevalence and severity of sexual and gender-based crimes perpetrated against Palestinians since 7 October across the Occupied Palestinian territories, indicate that specific forms of such crimes are part of Israel's operating procedures. 

The Commission further concluded that the immense numbers of civilian casualties and widespread destruction of civilian objects and vital civilian infrastructure were the “inevitable results of Israel’s chosen strategy for the use of force” during these hostilities, undertaken with intent to cause maximum damage, disregarding distinction, proportionality and adequate precautions, and thus unlawful.

“ISF’s intentional use of heavy weapons with large destructive capacity in densely populated areas constitutes an intentional and direct attack on the civilian population, particularly affecting women and children,” the Commission said, adding that this was confirmed by the substantial and increasing numbers of casualties, over weeks and months, with “no change in Israeli policies or military strategies”.

The unprecedented Commission of Inquiry was established by the UN Human Rights Council in May 2021 to investigate alleged violations of IHL and IHRL in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Since October 7, the three-member commission has focused on the Gaza war.


Israel's sexual violence, torture, starvation of Palestinians 

In their war on Gaza, the commission found the Israeli forces committed acts of sexual torture and abuse, sexual humiliation and harassment, and inhuman or cruel treatment and outrages upon personal dignity, including through forced public nudity, forced public stripping, "all of which are war crimes."

Sexual acts were carried out by force, including under threats, intimidation and other forms of duress. The Commission found that sexual violence has been perpetrated throughout the occupied Palestinian territories during evacuation processes, prior to or during arrest, at civilian homes and at a shelter for women and girls. 

"Palestinians were also made to watch members of their family and community strip in public and walk completely or partially undressed while subjected to sexual harassment."

It concluded further that Israel is "responsible for the war crimes of starvation as a method of warfare, murder or wilful killing, intentionally directing attacks against civilians and civilian objects, forcible transfer, sexual violence, torture and inhuman or cruel treatment, arbitrary detention and outrages upon personal dignity".

"Through the siege it imposed, Israel has weaponized the withholding of life-sustaining necessities, cutting off supplies of water, food, electricity, fuel and other essential supplies, including humanitarian assistance."

Starvation will affect the Gaza population, particularly children, "for decades to come", the report said, while "the siege it imposed... constitutes collective punishment and reprisal against the civilian population, both of which are clear violations of IHL."


The occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem 

In the West Bank, Israel's government and forces "permitted, fostered and instigated a campaign of settler violence against Palestinian communities" in the territory, the commission added.

Between 7 October and 31 December 2023, 308 Palestinians, including 80 boys, were killed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, 300 of them by Israeli forces and eight by settlers. The fatalities in the West Bank within this period exceeded any annual fatality toll since OCHA began collecting data on casualties in 2005, the report added.

From 7 October 2023 to 30 April 2024, 457 Palestinians, including 112 boys, had been killed by Israeli forces and ten by settlers, including two boys, across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

The report is based on interviews with victims and witnesses conducted remotely, and in Turkey and Egypt, and through studying thousands of verified open-source items, satellite imagery and forensic medical reports, the commission said.

"Israel obstructed the commission's investigations and prevented its access to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory," it added.

The report is due to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council next week.

The commission aslo found that in the Hamas October 7 operation on Israel, members of the military wings of Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups and Palestinian civilians committed war crimes, as well as violations and abuses of IHL and IHRL.


End the occupation

It added that the 7 October attack in Israel must be seen in context. "These events were preceded by decades of violence, unlawful occupation and Israel’s denial of the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, manifested in continuous forced displacement, dispossession, exploitation of natural resources, blockade, settlement construction and expansion, and systematic discrimination and oppression of the Palestinian people."

It calls for "ending the unlawful Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, discrimination, oppression and the denial of the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people and guaranteeing peace and security for Jews and Palestinians. "

The Israeli army launched a devastating offensive on the Gaza Strip, killing more than 37,000 people, the majority of them children an women.

"It is imperative that all those who have committed crimes be held accountable," said the commission's chair Navi Pillay, a former UN rights chief and an ex-International Criminal Court judge.

"Israel must immediately stop its military operations and attacks in Gaza.

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