Independent Rights Probe Highlights Israeli ‘Destruction and Dislocation’ Tactics in Gaza

High-level independent human rights investigators reiterated serious concerns on Wednesday about the legality of the Israeli army’s conduct in Gaza and pushed back at claims that their inquiry has done too little to highlight the ongoing ordeal of hostages captured by Palestinian militants.

“People from the north of Gaza move south and suddenly they get attacked in the south. We read all those contrary instructions as pointing to an attitude of not caring for their lives, destruction and dislocation,” said Navi Pillay, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory including East Jerusalem and Israel.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Human Rights Council after presenting the Commission’s report on the initial months of the conflict, Ms. Pillay insisted that in accordance with the laws of war: “You cannot kill civilians, you have to protect them. With this occupation, based on all the information we gathered, it’s pretty stark to us. There’s a very clear intention of forcible dislocation of people just to force them out.”

‘Third party’ support

Asked about the role of “third party” countries in both the large-scale bombing and the occupation of Gaza, Ms. Pillay replied that “again and again, thousands of people are telling us that had it not been for the help of powerful countries, Israel would not have been able to carry out this perpetual occupation”.

And in response to the discrepancy between the panel’s findings that war crimes have likely been committed by the Israeli Defense Forces and the current government’s representations of its soldiers as among the most “morally responsible” in the world, Ms. Pillay said that she remained extremely concerned about the widespread killing and destruction of public buildings including hospitals and one university “razed to the ground”.

“I don’t know whether it’s one of the most moral armies in the world or not, but what I do have expertise in and what I do have authority to do is make assessments of criminal conduct,” said fellow Commissioner Chris Sidoti. “And we’ve done that in relation to the recent events and you can see that in the report. And the only conclusion you can draw is that the Israeli army is one of the most criminal armies in the world.”

Massive human cost

Since Hamas-led terror attacks on multiple sites in southern Israel on 7 October claimed some 1,250 lives and left more than 250 captured as hostages, Mr. Sidoti noted that “thousands of children, women and men had been killed and injured – Palestinians, Israelis and citizens of other States”.

“They are denying the victims on the ground there from getting these voices, the authentic voices heard,” the independent rights investigator insisted, comments echoed by fellow Commissioner Mr. Sidoti: “There are hostages that have been released. We would like very much to talk to them when it’s appropriate to do so, taking into account the physical and psychological conditions…Our first rule in evidence-collecting is do no harm. So, at an appropriate time for them, we want to talk to them.”

Responding to allegations that the Commission of Inquiry had done too little to investigate allegations of serious sexual abuse against hostages, Ms. Pillay highlighted the lack of cooperation and access by the Israeli authorities to victims of the 7 October attacks.

Accountability principle

The search for transparency is standard procedure in human rights investigations and rooted in a desire to address the causes of unresolved conflicts – like the one in Gaza and the wider Middle East – and pursue accountability for the sake of the victims, the Commissioners explained.

“We’ve got to understand why this has occurred if we are interested in stopping it from happening again”, Mr. Sidoti said. “This is the highest death toll ever in this protracted period of warfare…There must be accountability for every specific act of criminality.”

Hostage horror continues

Presenting their report earlier to the Human Rights Council, the Commission asserted that Israeli authorities had been responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity and that Hamas militants had also carried out war crimes – intentionally directing attacks against civilians and through “patterns” of sexual abuse, primarily against Israeli women.

This is the highest death toll ever in this protracted period of warfare…There must be accountability for every specific act of criminality.
— Commissioner Chris Sidoti

A representative from Israel who also spoke at the Council introduced herself as the mother of 23-year-old Romi Gonen, whose car carrying three other passengers was shot at by Hamas fighters who captured her on 7 October.

“As the only survivor, she was brutally dragged by her long, beautiful hair from the car, along the road. I was a witness to this reality while speaking with her on the phone, hearing her helplessness and frustration…That was 257 days ago, and 119 hostages were still being held incommunicado in the Gaza Strip to this day.”

About the Commission of Inquiry

The Commission of Inquiry was established by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate all alleged violations of international humanitarian law and abuses of international human rights law leading up and since 13 April 2021.

Its members are not UN staff and do not draw a salary for the work.

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