Israel in Gaza, Palestinian fighters in Israel, what the UN accuses them of

Commission of Inquiry accuses Israel and Palestinian groups of war crimes. Here’s a breakdown.

Palestinian men walk along a narrow street past destroyed buildings in Khan Yunis
Israeli forces have committed crimes against humanity of extermination, murder, gender persecution, forcible transfer, and torture and inhuman and cruel treatment, a UN-backed inquiry has reported [File: Eyad Baba/AFP]

A United Nations-backed inquiry has concluded that war crimes have been committed by Israel and by Hamas as well as other Palestinian groups, during the now eight-month conflict.

The independent Commission of Inquiry report, released on Wednesday, cover the period from the Hamas-led attack on southern Israel on October 7 and Israel’s subsequent war on Gaza, with the period of investigation ending December 31, 2023.

Israel is still waging its vicious war on Gaza.

The report is unflinchingly graphic, including details of sexual violence, torture and mutilations carried out on unarmed citizens.

Here is what it said:

Who does the report accuse, Israel or Palestinian groups?

Both, it accuses both Israel and Palestinian groups.

It found the Hamas-led Palestinian fighters who attacked Israel on October 7 committed war crimes, failing to make a distinction between Israeli combatants and non-combatants during their attack.

It also found that Israel and its army are committing “crimes against humanity” in Gaza, including “extermination; murder, gender persecution targeting Palestinian men and boys; forcible transfer; and torture and inhuman and cruel treatment”.

Israel has killed more than 37,000 Palestinians in Gaza in an assault that shows no sign of stopping.

The report also found an explosion of violence across the occupied West Bank since October 7 and Israeli government efforts to arm and mobilise an already radicalised settler movement.

What did Palestinian groups do on October 7?

According to the report, the Hamas-led fighters, including members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, carried out waves of attacks against Israeli civilians, including sexual and gender-based violence as well as murder and torture.

Children, teenagers and the elderly were also targeted. The report notes the subsequent “desecration of corpses by burning, mutilation and decapitation” as well as “the sexualized desecration of both male and female corpses”.

Investigators could not determine if rape had been carried out during the attack due to their inability to access and interview witnesses and victims.

So Israel wasn’t at fault at all on October 7?

Israel’s response to the attack was also criticised, the report finding that the Israeli army used its Hannibal Directive – a military that allows the army to do anything to stop the capture of Israelis, even kill them.

The Israeli military killed at least 14 Israeli civilians because of the directive, the report found.

What did Israel do in Gaza?

Israel initially said it would assault Gaza to retrieve the captives taken there and to destroy Hamas’s ability to govern.

Instead, soon a total siege was imposed on the enclave as collective punishment of the people Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant called “human animals”, the report said.

“Given Israel’s repeated assertion that militants are ‘embedded’ within the civilian population, the Commission considers these statements indicate that the Israeli Government has given [the Israeli Security Forces] blanket authorisation to target civilian locations widely and indiscriminately in the Gaza Strip,” it continued.

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The report also found that widespread sexual and gender-based violence, as well as torture, have all been characteristic of the Israeli response.

Men and women were repeatedly forced to strip in public, with the men and boys’ experience filmed and posted online, the Commission concluding that “forced public stripping and nudity and other types of abuse by Israeli military personnel were either ordered or condoned”.

What Israel touted as its efforts to “minimise civilian casualties” were also heavily criticised.

Instructions to civilians on how to reach “humanitarian zones” were unclear and the time given was insufficient as thousands of starving, injured, and elderly people were forced to walk carrying their entire lives from one spot to another, trying to follow unclear Israeli calculations.

Evacuation routes were chaotic, with evacuees stopped and harassed at checkpoints by members of the Israeli military.

There are 1.7 million Palestinians displaced within Gaza.

How easy were the Commission’s attempts to investigate this?

According to the report, requests for information were sent to both Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

The PA responded positively and provided the Commission with extensive comments on the report’s contents.

The Israeli government was uncooperative and failed to respond to six requests for information.

The Israeli government has also blocked the Commission’s investigators from accessing medical staff within Israel.

What has the official reaction been to the report?

Hamas military wing has rejected all accusations that its forces committed sexual violence against Israeli women on October 7.

Israel’s diplomatic mission to the UN in Geneva denied the charges in the report in a social media post saying that the Commission of Inquiry “has once again proven that its actions are all in the service of a narrow-led political agenda against Israel”.

The Israeli government is considering taking measures against UN agencies operating in Israel and the Palestinian territory, including the possible expulsion of staff, the Financial Times reported on Tuesday.

It is not clear if this is in response to Wednesday’sreport, or UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ move last week to add Israel to the list of countries and organisations that fail to protect children in conflict.

Source: Al Jazeera