Israel/occupied Palestinian territory: UN experts deplore attacks on civilians, call for truce and urge international community to address root causes of violence

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GENEVA (12 October 2023) – UN independent experts* today unequivocally condemned targeted and deadly violence directed at civilians in Israel and violent and indiscriminate attacks against Palestinian civilians in Gaza and a further tightening of the unlawful blockade, which will have devastating impacts on the whole civilian population. 

“We strongly condemn the horrific crimes committed by Hamas, the deliberate and widespread killing and hostage-taking of innocent civilians, including older persons and children. These actions constitute heinous violations of international law and international crimes, for which there must be urgent accountability,” the experts said. 

“We also strongly condemn Israel’s indiscriminate military attacks against the already exhausted Palestinian people of Gaza, comprising over 2.3 million people, nearly half of whom are children. They have lived under unlawful blockade for 16 years, and already gone through five major brutal wars, which remain unaccounted for,” they said. 

“This amounts to collective punishment,” the UN experts said. “There is no justification for violence that indiscriminately targets innocent civilians, whether by Hamas or Israeli forces. This is absolutely prohibited under international law and amounts to a war crime.” 

The experts also expressed concern about reports that journalists and media workers reporting on the conflict had been targeted, with seven Palestinian journalists and media workers reportedly killed in Israeli airstrikes. 

At dawn on 7 October 2023, Palestinian armed groups from Gaza fired more than 5,000 rockets indiscriminately towards Israel, and breached the heavily fortified Gaza barrier to launch ground attacks in multiple locations in Israel. The attacks indiscriminately targeted both civilians and security forces. Hamas stated that its actions were taken in response to Israel’s continuous violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank including east Jerusalem. More than 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals, the majority of whom were civilians, were reportedly killed, and more than 3,000 wounded. Reports suggest that more than 100 Israelis and foreign nationals, including children and older persons, and some known human rights defenders, have been taken hostage in Gaza by Hamas. 

“Taking hostages in the context of hostilities constitutes a war crime. The civilians taken by Hamas must be immediately released, pending which their fate and whereabouts must be disclosed,” the UN experts said. 

As a result of the Israeli attacks against Gaza, by air, land and sea, at least 1,100 Palestinians have been killed, including older persons and 290 children, and more than 5,000 injured. The airstrikes appear to have targeted densely populated areas, including markets, two hospitals, destroyed residential buildings and damaged 20 United Nations Reliefs and Works Agency (UNRWA) facilities, including schools sheltering displaced civilians. As of 11 October, the UN estimated that at least 340,000 people have been displaced within Gaza, and nearly 218,600 people are sheltering in 92 UNRWA schools across the Gaza Strip. 

“Indiscriminately killing civilians in the context of hostilities, with no regard for the principles of distinction, precaution and proportionality, is a war crime,” the experts said. 

They also stressed that indiscriminate rocket attacks, bombing of civilian infrastructure and shelling densely populated areas constitute grave breaches of international humanitarian law, whether committed by Palestinian armed groups or by Israeli Defence Forces. 

On 9 October, the Israeli Defence Minister announced that authorities would completely cut essential supplies to Gaza, stating they are fighting “human animals.” The Minister threatened to bomb those attempting to provide humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip. On 9 and 10 October, Israel reportedly bombed the Rafah crossing at the Gaza-Egyptian border, disrupting movement in and out of Gaza, rendering the crossing closed and the enclave completely blockaded.

“Besides this appalling language that dehumanises the Palestinian people, especially those who have been unlawfully “imprisoned” in Gaza for 16 years, we condemn the withholding of essential supplies such as food, water, electricity and medicines. Such actions will precipitate a severe humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where its population is now at inescapable risk of starvation. Intentional starvation is a crime against humanity,” the experts said. 

The experts reminded the international community of its responsibilities to address the root causes of the current conflict, including the 56-year-old occupation and the annexation pursued by Israel. They urged the international community to identify viable paths to prevent further violations of international law, human suffering, and bloodshed. 

A peaceful solution is imperative in view of the dehumanising language that is increasingly being used against both Palestinians and Israelis, the experts said. 

“As the civilian death toll from the violence mounts, we call for an immediate de-escalation of tensions in the region and an effective response by the international community premised upon international law and the protection of equal rights and dignity of all,” they said. 

In the short term, the experts urged:

  1. An immediate end to violations of international humanitarian law and human rights, in particular the right to life. To this effect, support the investigation launched by the Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel, into all violations reported since 7 October, including unlawful deaths and enforced disappearances, and the investigation by the International Criminal Court;
  2. The agreement of a ceasefire, to be monitored by an independent, international body;
  3. The release of hostages taken by Hamas and Palestinians arbitrarily detained by Israel, particularly women, children, older persons, persons with disabilities and those who are gravely ill;
  4. The establishment of an international protective presence in the occupied Palestinian territory;
  5. The provision of all necessary financial and humanitarian aid and the creation of humanitarian corridors that allow people to leave Gaza and return as soon as the hostilities cease; and
  6. The dignity of the dead from the latest violence be respected and that they are swiftly handed over to mourning relatives. 

“Breaking the cycle of violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory is paramount,” the experts said. “Armed attacks and military responses have already proven incapable of leading to security and respect for human rights of all. Restoring international legality, accountability and respect for humanity and dignity of all must prevail, including an end to Israel’s 56 years of military occupation.”

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Disclaimer: Israel/occupied Palestinian territory: UN experts deplore attacks on civilians, call for truce and urge international community to address root causes of violence - Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect point-of-view

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