Contrary to Israel’s own findings during an internal investigation, the UN report by a special commission of inquiry determined that the clear majority of the 2,251 Palestinians killed were civilians, 551 of them children. Some 18,000 homes in Gaza were destroyed in whole or part, it said. “This devastation had a severe impact on the human rights of Palestinians in Gaza, and will for generations to come,” the report said.
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The report held top Israeli political and military leaders responsible for the high death toll, a finding that bears significance given the intention of the Palestinian Authority to use it in its effort to persuade the International Criminal Court that Israel is guilty of war crimes. “The fact that the political and military leadership did not change its course of action, despite considerable information regarding the massive degree of death and destruction in Gaza, raises questions about potential violations of international humanitarian law by these officials, which may amount to war crimes,” it said.
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The commission said evidence suggested that the 4,881 rockets and 1,753 mortars fired at Israel by Hamas, which killed six civilians and injured as many as 1,600, were intended “to spread terror among the civilian population, in violation of international humanitarian law”. The commission said it had serious concerns about the indiscriminate nature of most of the fire at Israel as well as the targeting of civilians.
The report added that Palestinian armed groups sometimes increased the risk to civilians in Gaza by using civilian buildings and densely populated areas to conduct military operations. But it added that this “questionable conduct” did not absolve Israel of its own obligations under international law. It said that it was “concerned” that Hamas authorities in Gaza had encouraged residents not to heed Israeli warnings to evacuate areas about to be targeted, something that could violate the obligation to protect civilians under international humanitarian law.
The UN panel said that Hamas executions of 21 alleged “collaborators” with Israel, some of whom Hamas claimed had been giving information on the whereabouts of fighters, amounted to extrajudicial executions in violation of the 1949 Geneva Convention and were a “war crime”.
A Palestinian looks over destruction in Gaza City as a fragile ceasefire entered a second day (AFP/Getty)
The commission investigated 15 Israeli air strikes on residential buildings. It said that in six of them, and in most cases reported to it by non-governmental organisations, there was “little or no information to explain why residential buildings were considered legitimate military objectives.’’ A “reasonable military commander would have been aware that these attacks would be likely to result in a large number of civilian casualties,” it said. Israeli warnings to the civilian population to evacuate targeted buildings, delivered by firing small missiles without explosive charges at their roofs, were inadequate, the report found.
“In one case... a 22-member family, including nine children, were given just a few minutes to evacuate their home after a ‘roof knock’ in the early hours, while they were asleep. Nineteen of the 22 people present died.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “Israel defends itself in accordance with international law against terrorists who fire at civilians and hide behind civilians. Israel does not carry out war crimes, it defends itself from an organisation that calls for its destruction and perpetrates many war crimes.” Ghazi Hamed, a Hamas leader, said the report created a false balance “between the victims and the killers”. He added that Hamas rockets were aimed at Israeli military sites, not civilians.