UN Report Documents Israeli War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity

June 17, 2024

Permalink: https://revcom.us/en/un-report-documents-israeli-war-crimes-and-crimes-against-humanity

Explosion from Israeli bombardment of the Nur Shams refugee camp near the town of Tulkarem, Gaza, April 20, 2024.    Photo: AP

In a detailed set of reports released on June 12, a United Nations commission has documented and called out Israel and its military for major war crimes and crimes against humanity. The main Report1 summarizes an investigation that began on October 7, 2023, the day of the Hamas attack against Israel. (Two additional reports—on Hamas and on Israel—go much more fully into the evidence supporting the summary Report’s conclusions.)

These conclusions, though written in dry legal language, paint a vivid picture of the reality of Israel’s “war with Hamas”—that is, Israel’s one-sided genocidal slaughter of the Palestinian people. (As of June 16, at least 138,000 Palestinians have been killed, wounded or are missing in the Gaza Strip or the West Bank. This includes over 15,000 children killed.)

The Report also documents and condemns Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and others for crimes against civilians and other noncombatants, including murder and/or kidnapping. We will come back to this further on.

The UN Commission interviewed over 70 victims or witnesses, gathered 350 documents from various governments, organizations and individuals involved, and looked through thousands of pieces of “open-source” evidence such as online videos, using established scientific methods for sorting out real images from fakes of various kinds. 

At the same time, the authors are frank about the limitations they faced, both because of the chaos of war and the ongoing violence, and because Israel refused to cooperate with the investigation, even barring the Commission from entering occupied Palestine (the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip). Given the limitations, the Report is very careful to distinguish between what can be said to be true—on the basis of solid evidence, what is possible or even probable but not proven because of gaps in evidence; and what at this point are just rumors or allegations with no supporting evidence. 

Here are some key points from the Report:

  • Israel is conducting “An intentional and direct attack on the civilian population.” 

In blunt terms, the Report concluded that “the immense numbers of civilian casualties and widespread destruction of civilian objects [e.g., apartment buildings] and crucial civilian infrastructure [e.g., hospitals, schools, bakeries] are the inevitable results of Israel’s chosen strategy for the use of force during these hostilities, undertaken with intent to cause maximum damage…,” including “intentional use of heavy weapons with large destructive capacity in densely populated areas.” This “constitutes an intentional and direct attack on the civilian population.” 

In other words, when Israel drops 2,000-pound bombs on densely populated neighborhoods, the thousands of ensuing deaths are not “collateral damage.” From the start Israel consciously waged war on the civilian population, and continues to do so even as the whole world is witness to the terrible toll.

Palestinians search for bodies in the rubble at Al-Shifa Hospital, April 1, 2024.    Photo: UN
  • Israel has killed, crippled, orphaned, and traumatized tens of thousands of Palestinian children. 

“The ISF [Israeli Security Force] has killed and maimed tens of thousands of children, resulting in permanent physical impairment for thousands of children and long-term emotional trauma for all children.” The Report adds that “Around 1,000 children had had one or more limbs amputated by the end of November 2023, some performed without anaesthesia.” And that “Attacks also severely impacted infrastructure essential for children’s wellbeing, including hospitals, schools and basic services, resulting in an increased numbers of deaths and preventing adequate treatment for the injured. The health, educational and social effects for children will be lifelong and impact generations.” 

On top of this, “at least 15,173 children in Gaza have lost one or both parents since 7 October.”

Palestinian child wounded in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip is treated at al-Aqsa Hospital in Deir al-Balah, June 8, 2024    Photo: AP/Ismael Abu Dayyah
  • Israel “uses starvation as a method of warfare.”

The Report says that “Israel has used starvation as a method of war, affecting the entire population of the Gaza Strip for decades to come, with particularly negative consequences for children.” 

This again is not an accident—the Report quotes Israel’s Defense Minister boasting that it was enacting “a complete siege… no electricity, no water, no food, no fuel. We are fighting human animals, and we act accordingly.” For weeks after October 7, “[a]ll crossings between Israel and the Gaza Strip were sealed, blocking regular and humanitarian aid deliveries.” And even after the “complete” siege was lifted, Israel prevented anything close to the needed aid from getting through. 

The Commission reports that in Gaza “1.1 million people face catastrophic levels of food insecurity.”

And, “at least 28 [children] have died due to acute malnutrition and dehydration.”

Amidst widespread starvation, people lining up for food and water in Rafah, December, 2023.    Photo: AP
  • Israel uses sexual degradation and violence on Palestinian prisoners to break the spirit of the Palestinian people.

The Report says that: “The ISF forced public stripping and nudity [of detainees] in many locations, in humiliating circumstances, including when victims were blindfolded, kneeling and/or with their hands tied behind their back while in underwear;… and filmed or photographed by ISF” which then posted the images online. 

“Palestinians were also made to watch members of their family and community strip in public and walk completely or partially undressed while subjected to sexual harassment…. These acts were intended to humiliate and degrade the victims and the Palestinian community at large … [by creating] a sense of shame, subordination, emasculation and inferiority.” This outrageous treatment was so common that the Report concluded it “was either ordered or condoned” by Israeli military authorities.

Israeli truck in Gaza packed with Palestinian detainees, bound and blindfolded, December 8, 2023.    Photo: AP

The examples above only scratch the surface of the war crimes and crimes against humanity that the Report documents, such as shooting unarmed civilians carrying white flags; bombing designated safe zones; attacking aid organizations, convoys and refuge sites; and escalating violence against Palestinians in the West Bank which has already killed over 500 people, at least 112 of them boys. 

As to Hamas: the Report is gut-wrenching reading for anyone, and should be a shock-back-to-reality for any supporters of the Palestinian struggle who believe that Hamas is a “force for liberation.”  A toxic combination of Islamic fundamentalism, patriarchal oppression and “revengism,” Hamas carried out horrific crimes on and after October 7—murdering civilians (including children) and taking hostages to be used as bargaining chips.

There is also evidence of some sexual abuse of women.2 This is a controversial point and requires an honest and evidence-based assessment. While the most outrageous claims by Israel that Hamas systematically raped women were not proved in this report—and there is evidence that some of these claims by Israel are distorted or fabricated—there is verified evidence of Israeli women who were sexually degraded and assaulted in extremely ugly and demeaning ways.3

The Report’s documentation of these and other incidents is quite sickening. In one incident, Hamas fighters killed the mother of two small children in front of them, and then filmed themselves as one bragged, “Look at the mercy in our hearts. Here are the children, we did not kill them.” Hamas uploaded the video to their official website!

While reading this Report makes clear that Israel is the far greater criminal here, it is a fact that Hamas does not represent any kind of future that any decent person should be fighting for. Yet too many justify—or even celebrate—revenge as a necessary part of the process of “liberation.”

Such thinking led here—and has led in the past—to horrors that have nothing to do with anything emancipatory (even by forces who have claimed to be communist). Bob Avakian, the author of the new communism, has made clear that the goal of the struggle must be nothing less than all-out revolution. But he has also made clear as a core principle that:

the new communism thoroughly repudiates and is determined to root out of the communist movement the poisonous notion, and practice, that “the ends justifies the means.” It is a bedrock principle of the new communism that the “means” of this movement must flow from and be consistent with the fundamental “ends” of abolishing all exploitation and oppression through revolution led on a scientific basis. (From Breakthroughs: The Historic Breakthrough by Marx, and the Further Breakthrough with the New Communism, A Basic Summary)

 Bob Avakian on The Middle East, Israel And The Revolution—And World—We Need



1. The “Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel.” [back]

2. It should be noted that the Commission tried to investigate and to verify the most sensational allegations against Hamas, those of sexual torture and rape. But this effort ran up against severe obstacles. First, Israel apparently did not gather any forensic evidence of rape from any of the alleged victims. Second, Israeli authorities refused to let the Commission even enter Gaza, nor interview witnesses, visit crime scenes, or read unedited transcripts of survivor testimony. According to the Commission, Israel even went so far as to order medical professionals not to speak to them. All this made it effectively impossible for them to either verify or refute the allegations, which remain unconfirmed. Likewise, the Commission attempted to verify Israeli claims that some Hamas fighters were given written instructions from Hamas leaders to carry out sexual assaults. But it was unable to obtain any evidence of this charge (which Hamas vigorously denies). [back]

3. See the supplementary report covering October 7, section on “Gender-based violence,” starting on page 27.  [back]