An aerial view showing destruction of Gaza City by Israeli airstrikes.

This October 10, 2023 aerial photograph shows a vast swathe of destruction wrought by Israeli air and artillery strikes on Gaza CIty.

(Photo: Al Araby/Wikimedia Commons)

UN Experts Warn of 'Grave Risk of Genocide' in Gaza

"Time is running out to prevent genocide and humanitarian catastrophe," the special rapporteurs stressed—while other experts said such conditions already exist in the pulverized Palestinian enclave.

As the death toll from over three weeks of relentless Israeli bombardment of Gaza from air, land, and sea topped 9,000 on Thursday, a group of United Nations human rights experts warned that "time is running out to prevent genocide and humanitarian catastrophe"—conditions that others argue already exist in the besieged Palestinian strip.

"The situation in Gaza has reached a catastrophic tipping point," the seven U.N. special rapporteurs said, noting the "dire need for food, water, medicine, fuel, and essential supplies and the risk of looming health hazards."

"We remain convinced that the Palestinian people are at grave risk of genocide," the U.N. special rapporteurs said. "The time for action is now. Israel's allies also bear responsibility and must act now to prevent its disastrous course of action."

The experts—Pedro Arrojo Agudo, Michael Fakhri, Tlaleng Mofokeng, Paula Gaviria Betancur, Irene Khan, Francesca Albanese, and Ashwini K.P.—expressed "deepening horror" at multiple Israeli bombings of the Jabalia refugee camp, Gaza's largest, in recent days. Palestinian officials said hundreds of people were killed or wounded in the strikes.

"The Israeli airstrike on a residential complex in the Jabalia refugee camp is a brazen violation of international law—and a war crime," they wrote. "Attacking a camp sheltering civilians including women and children is a complete breach of the rules of proportionality and distinction between combatants and civilians."

While the experts welcomed a nonbinding resolution passed on October 27 by the U.N. General Assembly calling for an "immediate, sustained humanitarian truce" in Gaza, they stressed that every day that passes without a cease-fire brings untold new misery to Palestinians.

"We received the resolution with hope, but the need for action is now," they asserted. "All signs are that we have reached a breaking point."

The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) reported "people desperately grabbing flour and other essentials from a U.N. warehouse... alarming news of children being forced to drink sea water in the absence of clean water, distressing reports of patients including children undergoing surgery without anesthetics, and persons with disabilities and older persons displaced and living in tents because houses have been turned to rubble."

"The Palestinian people in Gaza—particularly women, children, persons with disabilities, youth, and older persons—have endured decades of hardship and deprivation," the U.N. experts said. "We call on Israel and its allies to agree to an immediate cease-fire. We are running out of time."

According to OHCHR:

An estimated 1.4 million people in Gaza are internally displaced, with approximately 629,000 seeking refuge in 150 U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) emergency shelters. The UNRWA reports that 70 U.N. workers have died as a result of Israeli bombardment in Gaza.

UNRWA said Thursday that four of its shelters in Gaza have been destroyed or damaged in the past 24 hours, including a school in the Jabalia camp where 20 people died in an Israeli strike.

Numerous experts say Israel is already perpetrating genocide in Gaza, including Israeli Holocaust scholar Raz Segal and former longtime U.N. official Craig Mokhiber, who recently resigned from his OHCHR post while calling out "the current wholesale slaughter of the Palestinian people, rooted in an ethno-nationalist settler-colonial ideology, in continuation of decades of their systematic persecution and purging."

Both Segal and Mokhiber called Israel's attacks and deprivation in Gaza a "textbook case of genocide."

Many Jewish peace activists in diaspora nations and even Israel itself have accused Israeli forces of genocide in Gaza, while also condemning genocidal statements by Israeli leaders including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his far-right Cabinet and ruling Likud Party.

U.S. President Joe Biden, on the other hand, has vowed his "rock-solid and unwavering" support for Israel—which includes requesting $14 billion in military aid for Israel, atop the nearly $4 billion already given annually—while drawing accusations of genocide denial for casting aspersions on casualty figures published by Palestinian agencies his administration previously cited as reliable.

Responding to the U.N. experts' warning of a "grave risk" of genocide, prominent Palestinian rights advocate Sarah Wilkinson wrote on social media: "Grave risk? What's over 9,000 murdered?"

In addition to at least 9,025 people killed by Israel's assault on Gaza—including over 3,700 children—Palestinian officials said Thursday that upward of 22,000 people have been injured and nearly 178,000 homes have been destroyed since October 7, when Israel began bombarding the densely populated strip of 2.3 million people in retaliation for Hamas-led attacks that left over 1,400 people dead in southern Israel and around 240 others taken hostage.

Meanwhile, in the illegally occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israeli soldiers and settlers have killed at least 134 Palestinians, while wounding around 2,100 others. The emergence in recent days of videos showing Israeli troops torturing bound, blindfolded, and often naked men in the West Bank sparked fresh war crimes allegations against occupation forces and settlers.

While taking a more cautious approach, over 800 legal scholars earlier this month signed a public statement in which they "sound the alarm about the possibility of the crime of genocide being perpetrated by Israeli forces against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip."

Gustavo Petro, Colombia's leftist president, earlier this month accused Israel of committing genocide in Gaza. Colombia, Chile, Jordan, and Bahrain have recalled their ambassadors from Israel, while Bolivia on Tuesday became the world's first country to sever diplomatic ties with Tel Aviv, citing Israeli "crimes against humanity" in Palestine.

On Thursday, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), a Jerusalem-based advocacy group that for decades has opposed Israel's illegal settler colonization of the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, published a statement calling for "an end to Israeli genocide against the Palestinian people and the restoration of their national rights."

The group—which argued that Israel's conduct is consistent with the definition of genocide under the 1948 Genocide Convention—explained:

Genocide is often not a single event, but rather a series of deliberate events and processes over time whose ultimate intent is to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group. The Indian Wars in America lasted three centuries. If we step back from the war crime that is Israel's current assault on Gaza to the concerted effort since Israel's establishment to erase the country of Palestine and its Arab heritage, the picture that emerges is one of genocide, cultural as well as physical. Zionism's and later Israel's necessarily violent project to displace the country's Palestinian population, take its land, and replace it with a Jewish one constitutes deliberate destruction of the Palestinian people in part or in whole.

ICAHD "calls on the international community—the U.N., governments, and peoples—to hold Israel accountable for its decades of genocidal colonization," by "isolating and sanctioning Israel until its destruction of Gaza and its people ends, and the violent displacement of Palestinians from their lands and communities by Israeli settlers and soldiers cease."

"We call on the International Criminal Court to bring to trial for war crimes the responsible Israeli political and military leaders," the group added, while urging the U.N. "to enforce Article 3(e) of the Geneva Convention punishing for 'complicity in genocide' the United States, Canada, Europe, and other countries—including Arab and Muslim governments pursuing normalization with Israel."

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