Both sides of the Israel-Hamas conflict may be committing war crimes, according to Ravina Shamdasani, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). During a press conference in Geneva, Shamdasani was asked if the Israeli bombing of Gaza in response to the surprise attack by Hamas on October 7 could be described as “genocide”. While she did not directly answer the question, she expressed concern that war crimes may be taking place, particularly the collective punishment of Gazans in response to the attacks by Hamas.
Shamdasani emphasized that the UN could not make a definitive judgment on whether war crimes have occurred and that it was up to an independent court of law to determine the qualifications of such actions. The ongoing conflict has seen the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) relentlessly bombarding Gaza since the infiltration by Hamas fighters, resulting in the deaths of approximately 1,400 people and the hostage-taking of over 230 others.
The Health Ministry in the Palestinian enclave has reported that Israeli airstrikes have already claimed the lives of 7,028 individuals, including 2,913 children. Philippe Lazzarini, the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), stated that the ministry’s figures have consistently been regarded as credible. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Turk, called on all sides of the conflict to prioritize peace in a statement read by Shamdasani. The statement condemned Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, the blockade of the enclave, and the calls for Palestinian evacuation.
The statement expressed concerns about forcible transfer, which is considered a war crime, as civilians are being compelled to evacuate in unsafe circumstances while under a complete siege. The Israeli bombardment in densely populated areas has resulted in extensive damage to civilian infrastructure and loss of civilian lives, which appears to contradict international humanitarian law, according to the statement.
Israeli officials have denied allegations of unlawful conduct in Gaza and have accused Hamas fighters of using civilians as human shields. Israeli Energy Minister Israel Katz, a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, defended their military’s actions, claiming that they are humane and the most moral in the world. He stated that Israel’s goal is to overwhelm Hamas and not to harm the Palestinian population.
It is vital for an independent court to examine the actions of both sides in the conflict and determine if war crimes have been committed. The ongoing violence and loss of life in Gaza call for a peaceful resolution and respect for international humanitarian law. Both Israel and Hamas must be held accountable for their actions and prioritize the safety and well-being of civilian populations.