U.N. report accuses both Israel and Palestinian groups of war crimes

Archaeologists and Israeli soldiers search for human remains on Nov. 1 among hundreds of burned cars collected from the areas near the Gaza border after a Hamas attack, near Netivot, Israel. (Avishag Shaar-Yashuv/The New York Times)

GENEVA — A United Nations commission investigating the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel and the subsequent conflict in the Gaza Strip has accused both Palestinian armed groups and Israel of committing war crimes, and the panel said that Israel’s conduct of the war included crimes against humanity.

In a report released Wednesday, the three-person commission — led by Navi Pillay, a former U.N. human rights chief — provided the most detailed U.N. examination yet of events on and since Oct. 7. The report does not itself carry any penalties, but it lays out a legal analysis of actions in the Gaza conflict that is likely to be weighed by the International Court of Justice and in other international criminal proceedings. Israel did not cooperate with the investigation and protested the panel’s assessment of its behavior, the panel said.


The report said that Hamas’ military wing and six other Palestinian armed groups — aided in some instances by Palestinian civilians — killed and tortured people during the Oct. 7 assault on Israel in which more than 800 civilians were among the more than 1,200 killed. An additional 252 people, including 36 children, were taken hostage, the report said.

“Many abductions were carried out with significant physical, mental and sexual violence and degrading and humiliating treatment, including in some cases parading the abductees,” the report said. “Women and women’s bodies were used as victory trophies by male perpetrators.”

The commission also reviewed allegations by journalists and Israeli authorities that Palestinian militants had committed rape, but it said that it had “not been able to independently verify such allegations” because Israel had not cooperated with the inquiry. The report cited “a lack of access to victims, witnesses and crime sites and the obstruction of its investigations by the Israeli authorities.”

Hamas has rejected all accusations that its forces engaged in sexual violence against Israeli women, the commission noted.

The commission also cited significant evidence of the desecration of corpses, including sexualized desecration, decapitations, lacerations, burning and the severing of body parts.

But Israel, during its monthslong campaign in Gaza to oust Hamas, has also committed war crimes, the commission said, like the use of starvation as a weapon of war through a total siege of Gaza.

It said Israel’s use of heavy weapons in densely populated areas amounted to a direct attack on the civilian population and had the essential elements of a crime against humanity, disregarding the necessity of distinguishing between combatants and civilians and causing a disproportionately high number of civilian casualties, particularly among women and children.

The conflict had killed or maimed tens of thousands of Palestinian children, a scale and a rate of casualties that were “unparalleled across conflicts in recent decades,” the commission said.

Other crimes against humanity committed by Israel in Gaza, the commission said, included “extermination, murder, gender persecution targeting Palestinian men and boys, forcible transfer of the population, torture, and inhuman and cruel treatment.”

The panel said Israeli forces used sexual and gender-based violence, including forced nudity and sexual humiliation, as “an operating procedure” against Palestinians in the course of forced evacuations and detentions. “Both male and female victims were subjected to such sexual violence,” the report said, “but men and boys were targeted in particular ways.”

“The treatment of men and boys was intentionally sexualized as an act of retaliation for the attack,” it added, referring to Oct. 7.

In a statement responding to the report, Israel’s mission to the United Nations in Geneva denounced what it called “systematic anti-Israeli discrimination.” It said the commission had disregarded Hamas’ use of human shields and “outrageously and repugnantly” tried to draw a false equivalence between Hamas and the Israeli military in relation to sexual violence.

A spokesperson for Israel’s foreign ministry, Oren Marmorstein, later called the report “another example of the cynical political theater called the U.N.” in a post on social media. “The report describes an alternate reality in which decades of terrorist attacks have been erased, there are no continuous missile attacks on Israeli citizens and there isn’t a democratic state defending itself against a terrorist assault,” he wrote.

The commission — which includes Chris Sidoti, an Australian expert on human rights law, and Miloon Kothari, an Indian expert on human rights and social policy — said Israel had refused to cooperate with its investigation and denied the group access to Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. Israel also did not respond to six requests for information, the panel said.

The group based its findings on interviews with survivors and witnesses conducted remotely and in person in visits to Turkey and Egypt. It also drew on satellite imagery, forensic medical records and open source data, including photographs and videos shot by Israeli troops and shared on social media.

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