Five takeaways from the UN report on Israel and Hamas war crimes

A new UN report published on Wednesday cites acts such as starvation, siege warfare, sexual violence, and collective punishment being carried out since the 7 October surprise Hamas-led attack and Israel’s brutal and ongoing war on Gaza.

The report is formed of two investigations, one focusing on the Hamas-led attack which rocked Israel and the other on Israel’s ferocious war on Gaza, which has now entered its eighth month.

They are one of the most detailed examinations of the ongoing war on the enclave so far, which has killed over 37,000 people, including legal analysis, and will be submitted to the UN’s human rights council next week.

It includes hours worth of interviews with victims and witnesses as well as medical reports and open-source information. Although the report itself does not contain any provision for sanctions and penalties, it could be used in a potential future prosecution of Israeli or Hamas officials.

The report accuses both Hamas and Israel of war crimes and concludes that the colossal number of people killed in Gaza amounts to a crime against humanity.

Israel, which refused to co-operate with the investigation, has already rejected the report, saying it is “systematic anti-Israeli discrimination”, while Hamas is yet to comment on the allegations.

The International Court of Justice often refers to reports such as this in its decisions.

Here, The New Arab looks at five key takeaways from the report.

Collective punishment by total siege

The report found that Israel’s total siege on Gaza, imposed after 7 October, has worsened an already dire humanitarian situation.

With an already struggling economy due to Israel’s blockade, which has been in place since 2007, the total siege has only accelerated already grim conditions in the Palestinian enclave.

The report notes Israel cut off essential resources, limited the movement of goods, and access to food, water, fuel and electricity for civilians. All crossings between Israel and Gaza were sealed, which stopped aid from going into the Strip.

The cutting of water supplies affected over 650,000 people, the report says.

Several public statements from Israeli officials and ministers are citied as examples of the siege being used as retribution against Gaza’s civilian population.

“Statements from Israeli officials show their intent to instrumentalise the provision of basic necessities, including food and water, to hold the population of the Gaza Strip hostage to political and military objectives,” it states.

The commission found that these measures amount to the “collective punishment of the entire population for the actions of a few”, which it states it is a clear violation of international humanitarian law.

Sexual and gender-based violence

The commission highlighted there are indications that members of Hamas and other Palestinian groups committed gender-based violence in several locations on 7 October.

“The acts documented by the Commission reflected clear abuse of power by male perpetrators and a disregard for the special considerations and protection of women’s integrity and autonomy granted by international law,” it states.

It notes that Hamas’ military wing rejected all accusations that its forces committed sexual violence against Israeli women, but they documented cases where images of victims’ bodies showed them undressed and in some cases with exposed genitals.

It adds that there is digital evidence concerning the restraining of women, with the victims’ hands and feet restrained prior to their abduction.

The Commission states it reviewed testimonies obtained by journalists and the Israeli police concerning rape but has not been able to independently verify such allegations, partly due to the obstruction of its investigations by the Israeli authorities.

“The Commission found some specific allegations to be false, inaccurate or contradictory with other evidence or statements and discounted these from its assessment,” it says.

In Gaza, Israeli forces were responsible for systematically subjecting Palestinians to forced public nudity, stripping, sexualised torture, abuse, and sexual humiliation and harassment, which occurred during ground operations, as well as during arrests and evacuations.

This also included blindfolding civilians and forcing them to strip, interrogation while partially dressed, being made to watch their families strip in public while being sexually harassed.

Impact on children

As of 30 April, over 7,300 Palestinian children have been confirmed as killed, 12,332 wounded, the report states with the figures increasing greatly since then, Gaza’s health authorities have said.

Israeli bombardments have had significant and life-altering physical, emotional and cognitive impacts on children, with the commission documenting many cases of children being wounded from Israeli air strikes or shelling.

Israeli attacks on densely populated area have caused thousands of children to have their limbs amputated after being trapped under collapsed buildings.

The investigation states that health, education, and societal effects for children will be lifelong and impact generations of Gazans.

Based on the investigations carried out, the commission concluded that evacuation orders from the Israeli army to Gaza civilians and families were “at times insufficient, unclear and conflicting, and did not provide adequate time or support for safe evacuations”.

Longest, largest bloodiest operation since 1948

The immense damage and killing of Palestinians makes this the Israeli military’s “longest, largest and bloodiest [operation] since 1948”, the commission concludes, and has triggered Palestinians’ traumatic memories of the Nakba and other Israeli attacks.

The examples cited in the investigation also found that Israel has committed war crimes, crimes against humanity, and violations of international humanitarian laws.

As part of Israel’s ongoing bombardment, tens of thousands of children have been killed and maimed, the report states, adding that Israel has the obligation under international law to ensure that the needs of all children are prioritised and address.

Violence in the West Bank

Aside from atrocities in Gaza, the commission notes that Israeli forces have killed hundreds of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank since October.

The fatalities, they say, exceed any annual death toll since the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) began collecting data on casualties in 2005.

It emphasises there has been an uptick of settler attacks on Palestinian communities immediately after 7 October.

Some of the most large-scale Israeli search and arrest operations have been concentrated in Tulkarm, Nablus, and Jenin.

The report concludes with a list of recommendations to Israel, including immediately ending attacks, implementing a ceasefire and ensuring rules of engagement for the military and security adhere to international standards.

It also calls on Israel to ensure that age and gender-specific harm is assessed and to stop the practice of forced public stripping and nudity as well as intimate body searches.

Addressing the government of the State of Palestine and authorities in Gaza, it says they must ensure the release of all captives, stop the firing of rockets towards civilian populations, and take urgent measures to investigate and prosecute individuals responsible for any forms of sexual violence.

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