A widely-anticipated United Nations inquiry into the 2014 attack on Gaza released Monday suggests that the Israeli government may have deliberately targeted Palestinian civilians during the assault, while the report concludes that both Israel and Hamas may be guilty of war crimes against humanity.
"The extent of the devastation and human suffering in Gaza was unprecedented and will impact generations to come," the chair of the UN-appointed commission, former New York Supreme Court Justice Mary McGowan Davis, said during a Monday press briefing. Davis was joined on the commission by Dr. Doudou Diene of Senegal, who formerly served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
The report notes that during the 51-day war, 6,000 airstrikes and approximately 50,000 tank and artillery shells were fired by Israel into Gaza, killing 1,462 Palestinian civilians, one third of them children. In the West Bank including East Jerusalem, 27 Palestinians were killed and 3,020 injured between June and August 2014.
"Hundreds" of Palestinians—mostly women and children—were killed in their homes, the commission found. The report notes that during a single attack on a residential building, 742 people lost their lives, while "at least 142 families lost three or more members."
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The commission explicitly reproached the Israeli government for the overwhelming loss of civilian life. "The fact that Israel did not revise its practice of air-strikes, even after their dire effects on civilians became apparent, raises the question of whether this was part of a broader policy which was at least tacitly approved at the highest level of government," it states.
The report adds that "Israel’s extensive use of weapons with a wide kill and injury radius" further raises concerns about the deliberate targeting of civilians.
"Though not illegal, their use in densely populated areas is highly likely to kill combatants and civilians indiscriminately. There appears also to be a pattern whereby the IDF issued warnings to people to leave a neighbourhood and then automatically considered anyone remaining to be a fighter. This practice makes attacks on civilians highly likely."
The UN commission also said that it is "disturbed by" the Israeli government's decision to close its investigation into the killing of four Palestinian children on a Gaza beach on July 16, 2014.
Meanwhile, during July and August 2014, the inquiry states that Palestinian armed groups fired 4,881 rockets and 1,753 mortars towards Israel, killing 6 civilians and injuring at least 1,600.
This "indiscriminate firing" of weapons at Israel "appeared to have the intention of spreading terror among civilians there." Further, the discovery of 14 underground tunnels from Gaza into Israel, which were reportedly used to attack IDF soldiers, "traumatized Israeli civilians who feared they could be attacked at any moment by gunmen bursting out of the ground."
The commission notes that while it received "full cooperation" from the State of Palestine, "the Israeli authorities did not respond to repeated requests by the commission for information and direct access to Israel and to the Occupied Palestinian Territory." Investigators said they obtained the "harrowing first hand testimony" through more than 280 confidential Skype and telephone interviews and 500 written testimonies.
The commission is advocating for governments to actively support a bid for the International Criminal Court to investigate the situation in occupied Palestinian territory. It is scheduled to formally present the findings to the UN Human Rights Council on June 29 in Geneva, Switzerland.
"We were deeply moved by the immense suffering and resilience of the victims," the commissioners stated, "we just hope our report contributes in some small way to ending the cycle of violence."