Over 100 experts on international law issued a statement Sunday assessing that the Hamas terror group committed multiple war crimes in its massive assault on Israel last week and that its actions in slaughtering 1,300 people likely amounted to genocide.
“These acts constitute gross violation of international law, and, in particular, of international criminal law,” declared the document, signed by academic figures and legal authorities in Israel and abroad.
“Videos, released mostly by Hamas, posted on social media, document acts of torture, sexual violence, violence towards children and molestation of bodies,” the document specified.
“As these widespread, horrendous acts appear to have been carried out with an ‘intent to destroy, in whole or in part’ a national group – Israelis – a goal explicitly declared by Hamas, they most probably constitute an international crime of genocide, proscribed by the Genocide Convention and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,” it added.
Among those who signed the document was Prof. Irwin Cotler, the former justice minister and attorney general of Canada.
Dan Eldad, who served as Israel’s acting state attorney from February to May 2020 and who helped put the letter together, told The Times of Israel that it may have key diplomatic value should Israel seek to persuade other countries or international organizations that remain on the fence to come down on its side, and in confronting those who express support for the Palestinian position.
“They can go to them and say, ‘Look, it was genocide,'” he said.
On October 7, over 1,500 Hamas terrorists stormed Israel’s border around the Gaza Strip and murderously rampaged through southern areas, taking over communities and killing the men, women and children they found, as well as overrunning military sites with similar deadly results. The toll from the bloody assault, which came alongside a widespread barrage of 5,000 rockets fired indiscriminately at towns and cities across Israel, has swelled to more than 1,300, the vast majority of them civilians. Thousands more were injured, hundreds of them seriously.
Among the dead were dozens of babies. Some of the victims, including entire families who were butchered, were reportedly beheaded. At an outdoor music festival, surrounded by the attackers, 260 people were systematically mowed down. In addition, the terrorists abducted around 150 people of all ages, including children and elderly women, dragging them to Gaza as captives. Hamas has continued to indiscriminately rain rockets on civilian areas of southern and central issues since the attack started.
The legal opinion released Sunday was organized by the Hostage and Missing Families Forum, a volunteer-based organization that was formed after the attack and is striving to secure the return of the hostages held in the Gaza Strip.
Eldad said the document was composed by a number of professors in Israel who then distributed it to their peers across the world.
“The taking of hostages is defined as a war crime,” the statement said, clarifying that laws regarding the right to hold prisoners of war do not apply to terrorist organizations.
“Thus, holding both civilian and soldier hostages constitutes a war crime,” the document continued. “The circumstances surrounding the kidnapping of all hostages, civilian and soldiers, reveals that they were taken with the purpose of holding them hostage. Hamas must release all hostages immediately.”
Further, “the abduction of people without provision of information regarding their whereabouts constitutes the [war] crime of enforced disappearances.” Available information indicates that “many abductees were tortured by their captors” and as those acts were committed as part of Hamas’s policy to attack civilians they “constitute crimes against humanity, for which perpetrators must bear full accountability,” the experts said.
Until the hostages are released, Hamas is obliged under international law to provide information about the captives including their medical condition, as well as providing medical care, they stressed.
They called for the International Committee of the Red Cross and “all relevant UN agencies” to demand Hamas grant access to the abductees.
“These organizations must also do their utmost to ensure that essential foodstuff and appropriate medical treatment are provided,” they said.
The international community and organizations have a duty to use all means to pressure Hamas to give precedence to the immediate release of protected groups, such as “children, women, older persons, people with disabilities and those in need of medical treatment,” the document urged.
Israel has retaliated to the attacks with artillery and airstrikes, and officials from the Hamas-controlled health ministry estimated more than 2,000 Palestinians dead. Israel says it is targeting terrorist infrastructure and all areas where Hamas operates or hides out while issuing evacuation warnings to civilians in regions it plans to attack.
A coded document found in a vehicle used by Hamas terrorists in their shock assault on Israel showed they were instructed to massacre civilians and take captives, according to a television report Saturday.
The Kan public broadcaster reported that the document was recovered at Kibbutz Re’im, outside of which at least 260 people were killed and an unknown number taken hostage at a music festival.
The report came a day after Kan revealed a different document left behind by a Hamas terrorist in southern Israel that ordered terrorists to kill as many civilians as possible in their takeover of Kibbutz Alumim.
On Saturday, NBC News reported on additional documents recovered from terrorists showed extensive Hamas plans to target an elementary school and a youth center, kill “as many people as possible” and take hostages quickly into Gaza from Kibbutz Sa’ad.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.