Alleged war crimes in Gaza during May clashes

A man waving the Palestinian flag A man waving the Palestinian flag © Photo by Ahmed Abu Hameeda on Unsplash

This article is a brief presentation of the Human Rights Watch’s report on the alleged war crimes occurred in Gaza

The international non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) conducted an investigation on the relentless armed clashes between Israel and Palestine which plagued Gaza in May. The investigative process consisted of extensive on-field research, such as witnesses’ interviews, inspections of attack sites and remnants of munitions and the careful survey of satellite imagery, video footage and photographs. According to the findings flagged up by HRW, both Israeli and Palestinian fighters perpetrated acts which may allegedly amount to war crimes under the Rome Statute, underscoring the urgent need for the International Criminal Court to carry out an inquiry on the atrocities committed by both parties throughout those days of intense and deplorable violence. According to the United Nations’ sources, May fighting cost 260 Palestinians -including at least 129 civilians- and 12 Israelis their lives. In addition to this dire toll of deaths, thousands of people from both sides remained injured in the aftermath of the armed attacks. Amongst these high rates of civilian casualties, several hundreds were women and children.

Against this backdrop, Human Rights Watch has brought to the fore the grave violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) apparently committed by both the warring parties. More precisely, the investigation focused on three Israeli strikes culminating in the death of 62 Palestinian civilians. According to the NGO, the area stricken by the attack had no military targets in the vicinity, highlighting how the Israeli fighters fell foul of the basic principles of distinction and proportionality. Likewise, Palestinian armed groups perpetrated several indiscriminate attacks against civilians as they launched thousands of unguided rockets and mortars against Israeli population centres. 

However, it must be clarified that Israeli authorities do not recognize these findings to mirror the truth. Indeed, on 13 July the Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson declared that whereas Israeli armed forces usually strike exclusively military targets, sometimes it is impossible to properly distinguish between enemy fighters and civilians. Nonetheless, the Spokesperson added that also in these cases there were no infringements of IHL rules at all, as the military advantages expected from the attacks were proportional to the potential collateral damage for the civilian people and objects situated in the targeted area. Anyway, despite such a presumed claim of innocence, on 26 July Israeli authorities rejected the HRW’s request to conduct further investigations on the alleged war crimes and human rights abuses that occurred within the territory of Gaza.

In light of these premises, it is paramount for the International Criminal Court to take action and trigger an official investigation. This scenario is nowadays far more realistic than it was in the past, as on 5 February 2021 the Pre-Trial Chamber I established that the Court’s jurisdiction extends to the territories occupied by the Israeli forces since 1967. A prompt and adequate intervention of the International Criminal Court in relation to the May fighting would show the entire international community how the legal machinery can effectively provide for a response to the cycle of violence which has characterized Gaza in decades.




Author: Gianpaolo Mascaro; Editor: Jasmina Saric

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