UN reports accuse Israel of ‘extermination,’ crimes against humanity; Hamas of war crimes

Israel rejects findings that ‘outrageously and repugnantly attempt to draw a false equivalence between IDF soldiers and Hamas terrorists,’ accuses UN commission of systematic bias

Chairwoman of the 'The United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel,' South Africa's Navi Pillay speaks during a briefing to UN member states about ongoing investigations of the Commission at the UN offices in Geneva, on April 16, 2024. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)
Chairwoman of the 'The United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and in Israel,' South Africa's Navi Pillay speaks during a briefing to UN member states about ongoing investigations of the Commission at the UN offices in Geneva, on April 16, 2024. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP)

GENEVA — Both Israel and Hamas committed war crimes in the early stages of the Gaza war, a UN inquiry alleged on Wednesday, saying Israel’s actions also constituted crimes against humanity because of the immense civilian losses, and that they included acts of “extermination.”

The findings were from two parallel reports by “independent experts,” one focusing on the October 7 Hamas assault on Israel and another on Israel’s military response, published by the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI). The commission has an unusually broad and open-ended mandate to collect evidence and identify perpetrators of alleged international crimes committed in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Regarding Israel’s actions, the commission alleged “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.

Israel bitterly rejected the allegations and accused the commission of systematic bias.

Sexual violence

The reports also alleged that both Israeli forces and Palestinian terrorists engaged in sexual and gender-based violence during the first months of the Israel-Hamas war.

The alleged sexual violence carried out by Israeli forces apparently referred to incidents where dozens of terror suspects detained in Gaza were publicly stripped. Israel said the acts were necessary to search the suspects for weapons and suicide vests, but acknowledged that the pictures should not have been published.

The commission said Palestinian men and boys were forced to strip naked in public in moves “intended to inflict severe humiliation.”

A group of Palestinians detained by the IDF in northern Gaza on January 8, 2024. (Screen capture/12)

The commission also said it identified “a pattern of sexual violence” by Palestinian terror groups but could not independently verify reports of rape.

This comes despite the fact that UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten, in a report after her visit to Israel, found that rape likely occurred during the Hamas attacks, and said there was convincing evidence hostages were facing sexual abuse in Gaza.

Israel’s diplomatic mission in Geneva responded that the commission “outrageously and repugnantly attempts to draw a false equivalence between IDF soldiers and Hamas terrorists with regards to acts of sexual violence” and reiterated longstanding claims of anti-Israel discrimination.

The statement also noted that the commission decided to release its findings on the Jewish festival of Shavuot.

“Hamas terrorists attacked Israel on October 7 during a Jewish High Holiday. Today, on the Jewish High Holiday of Shavuot, the Pillay Commission of Inquiry chooses to publish its latest biased reports, attacking Israel,” the embassy said.

“This decision is reflective of the systematic anti-Israeli discrimination of this Commission of Inquiry, which was born in sin, in 2021, while Hamas was raining down rockets on Israeli civilians,” it said.

The Foreign Ministry also strongly rejected the UN findings, casting them as “ridden with lies and blood libels against IDF soldiers.

“The report describes a fictional reality in which decades of terror attacks have disappeared, there are no continuous rocket attacks on Israeli civilians, and this is not a democratic country defending itself from a terror assault,” the ministry charged.

“This is another example of the low the organization has stooped to under UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.”

Allegations against Israel

Israel also committed additional war crimes including starvation as a method of warfare, the commission claimed, saying Israel not only failed to provide essential supplies like food, water, shelter and medicine to Gazans but “acted to prevent the supply of those necessities by anyone else.”

Some of the war crimes such as murder also constituted crimes against humanity by Israel, the COI statement said, using a term reserved for the most serious international crimes knowingly committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against civilians.

“The immense numbers of civilian casualties in Gaza and widespread destruction of civilian objects and infrastructure were the inevitable result of a strategy undertaken with intent to cause maximum damage, disregarding the principles of distinction, proportionality and adequate precautions,” the COI statement charged.

Starvation will affect the Gaza population, particularly children, “for decades to come,” the commission said, while “the siege [Israel] imposed… constitutes collective punishment and reprisal against the civilian population, both of which are clear violations” of international humanitarian law (IHL).

Volunteers prepare food for displaced Palestinians in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 19, 2024. (AFP)

Israel completely rejected the accusations.

“Israel rejects the abhorrent and immoral accusations leveled against the IDF, both with regards to the military operation in Gaza and its initial response against Hamas terrorists in Israel. Hamas is a lawless terrorist organization. Israel is a democratic country that is committed to the rule of law. The IDF conducts itself in line with international law, including IHL, and has robust and independent mechanisms to monitor and investigate its actions,” the Israeli embassy said.

“The reports disregard the abhorrent use of human shields by Hamas, the deliberate Hamas strategy of placing civilians in the line of fire. Regarding Israel however, the report has no problem placing blame for supposedly not defending its population on October 7,” the Israeli statement said.

The UN commission also slammed Israel for its actions in the West Bank, asserting that Israeli forces committed acts of sexual violence, torture and inhuman or cruel treatment and outrages upon personal dignity, “all of which are war crimes.”

Israel’s government and forces “permitted, fostered and instigated a campaign of settler violence against Palestinian communities” in the territory, the commission added.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 37,000 people in the Strip have been killed or are presumed dead in the fighting so far. Of these, some 24,000 fatalities have been identified at hospitals or through self-reporting by families, with the rest of the figure based on Hamas “media sources.”

The tolls, which cannot be verified, include some 15,000 terror operatives Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Israel says 299 soldiers and one police officer have been killed during the ground offensive against Hamas and amid operations along the Gaza border. A civilian Defense Ministry contractor has also been killed in the Strip.

Hamas atrocities

Some 3,000 attackers burst through the boundary with the Gaza Strip to rampage murderously through southern Israeli communities killing some 1,200 people, most of them civilians killed in their homes and at a music festival amid widespread gang rape, torture and mutilation of victims, according to numerous witnesses and robust evidence. Terrorists also abducted 251 people of all ages who were taken as hostages in Gaza.

Among the findings in the 59-page report on the Oct. 7 attack, the commission verified four incidents of mass killings in public shelters which it said suggests terrorists had “standing operational instructions.”

A public bomb shelter where Israelis were murdered at the October 7 massacre, on a road near the Gaza border, southern Israel, April 7, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

The commission concluded that members of Hamas, other Palestinian groups and civilians participating in the October 7 attack “deliberately killed, injured, mistreated, took hostages and committed sexual and gender-based violence.”

These acts were committed against civilians and members of the Israeli security forces.

“These actions constitute war crimes and violations and abuses of IHL and IHRL,” it said.

The commission further said it found “significant evidence on the desecration of corpses, including sexualized desecration, decapitations, lacerations, burning, severing of body parts and undressing.”

“Women were subjected to gender-based violence during the course of their execution or abduction. Women and women’s bodies were used as victory trophies by male perpetrators,” the report said.

Many children who witnessed their relatives being killed were “also filmed for propaganda purposes,” with the commission finding it “particularly egregious that children were targeted for abduction.”

A woman holds a mask depicting the faces of Shiri Bibas and her sons Kfir and Ariel, Israelis who are being held hostage in the Gaza Strip by the Hamas terror group, during a protest demanding the release of the hostages from Hamas captivity, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, February 21, 2024. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Hamas did not respond to requests for comment.

The report also said Israeli authorities “failed to protect civilians in southern Israel on almost every front.”

Longstanding UN bias against Israel

The report is due to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council next week. Sometimes, the evidence gathered by such UN-mandated bodies has formed the basis for war crimes prosecutions and could be drawn on by the International Criminal Court.

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 expert panel was commissioned in 2021 by the UN-backed Human Rights Council to look into rights violations and abuses in Israel and the Palestinian areas it controls. Led by Navi Pillay, a former UN human rights chief, they are considered independent experts and do not speak for the world body itself. Israel has refused to cooperate with the team of experts.

“It is imperative that all those who have committed crimes be held accountable,” said Pillay.

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

“Hamas and Palestinian armed groups must immediately cease rocket attacks and release all hostages. The taking of hostages constitutes a war crime.”

Israel has in the past branded Pillay and the other members “famous antisemitic and anti-Israel people.”

UN commissioners Chris Sidoti, left, Navi Pillay, center, and Miloon Kothari, right, discuss their probe into Israel and the Palestinians at the United Nations in New York, October 27, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

The commission’s other leaders are Miloon Kothari from India, the first UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing, and Chris Sidoti from Australia, an international human rights consultant and an expert in national human rights institutions and international human rights law and mechanisms.

All three have made statements in the past that Israel has deemed to be incorrect, offensive, or defamatory regarding the Jewish state or the global Jewish community, or both.

The report and Israel’s response marked the latest sign of the growing gulf between the UN and its affiliate institutions and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government over its response to the deadly Oct. 7 rampage and hostage-takings in Israel by terrorists.

On Tuesday, the UN human rights office — which is separate from the panel of independent experts — cited possible war crimes by Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups in connection with a deadly raid by Israeli forces that freed four hostages over the weekend and killed scores of Palestinians.

Israel is also accused by South Africa of conducting genocide in Gaza and the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has recommended war crimes charges against Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

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