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U.N. Expert Report Accuses Israel Of Genocide In Gaza

A detailed human rights report by a United Nations expert argues there are “reasonable grounds” to believe Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza — a major accusation as the war approaches six months of heavy fighting. 

Israel’s ongoing military offensive in Gaza qualifies as genocide on at least three grounds, according to the report by Francesca Albanese, the U.N. Human Rights Council special rapporteur for the occupied Palestinian territories. Albanese published her report, titled “Anatomy of a Genocide,” on Tuesday before presenting it to the greater Human Rights Council.

“History teaches us that genocide is a process, not a single act. It starts with the dehumanization of a group as ‘other,’ and the denial of that group’s humanity, and ends with the destruction of the group in all or in part,” she said before the council. “The dehumanization of Palestinians as a group is the hallmark of their history — of ethnic cleansing, dispossession and apartheid.”

The latest hostilities began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on Oct. 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking hundreds hostage. About half of the hostages were released during a temporary pause in fighting several months ago, and around 30 of the remaining captives are believed to be dead. Albanese’s report includes a condemnation of Hamas and its attack, and calls for the release of remaining hostages.

Since the October attack, Israel’s offensive in Gaza has killed more than 32,000 Palestinians in the territory and wounded about double that number, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. That death toll does not include those still buried under the rubble of structures that have been razed by soldiers. Much of the Palestinian population has been displaced, with many on the brink of starvation, as Israel has restricted how much aid can enter the enclave.

“By analysing the patterns of violence and Israel’s policies in its onslaught in Gaza, this report concludes that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the threshold indicating Israel’s commission of genocide is met,” the report stated.

Israel, which did not attend the Human Rights Council session on Tuesday, rejected Albanese’s findings, saying the report’s use of the word genocide was “outrageous.”

“Israel utterly rejects the report. It is simply an extension of a campaign seeking to undermine the very establishment of the Jewish State,” the Israeli mission to Geneva said in a statement. “Instead of seeking the truth, this Special Rapporteur tries to fit weak arguments to her distorted and obscene inversion of reality. It is yet another stain on her biased mandate, and only brings the Human Rights Council further into disrepute.”

By analysing the patterns of violence and Israel's policies in its onslaught in Gaza, this report concludes that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the threshold indicating Israel's commission of genocide is met.Francesca Albanese, U.N. Human Rights Council special rapporteur for the occupied Palestinian territories

The 1948 Genocide Convention — enacted after the Nazi’s genocide of Jews — codifies the term as an international crime committed “with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.”

In order for genocide to legally have been committed, an accused country or group has to meet two main criteria: It must have committed one or more of the specific acts mentioned in the convention, and there must be evidence of its intention to carry out said acts in order to destroy the targeted group.

In her report, Albanese claims that Israel has committed at least three acts of genocide as defined in the convention: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; and deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction, in whole or in part.

“The survivors will carry an indelible trauma, having witnessed so much death, and experienced destruction, homelessness, emotional and material loss, endless humiliation and fear,” the report states.

“Such experiences include fleeing amidst the chaos of war without telecommunications and electricity; witnessing the systematic destruction of entire neighborhoods, homes, universities, religious and cultural landmarks; digging through the rubble, often with bare hands, searching for loved ones; seeing bodies desecrated; being rounded up, stripped naked, blindfolded and subjected to torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; and ultimately, being starved, adults and children alike.”

Palestinians pray during the second Friday prayer of the holy month of Ramadan on the ruins of Al-Farouq Mosque, which was destroyed by Israeli air strikes on March 22, 2024 in Rafah, Gaza.
Palestinians pray during the second Friday prayer of the holy month of Ramadan on the ruins of Al-Farouq Mosque, which was destroyed by Israeli air strikes on March 22, 2024 in Rafah, Gaza. Ahmad Hasaballah via Getty Images

Israel has defended its actions by arguing that its military offensive complies with international humanitarian law. But one of the key findings in Albanese’s report says that Israel’s executive and military leadership and soldiers have intentionally invoked the IHL framework as “humanitarian camouflage” in order to legitimize genocidal violence against Palestinians.

“Israel has done this by deploying [legal] concepts such as human shields, collateral damage, safe zones, evacuations and medical protection in such a permissive manner so as to ... erod[e] the distinction between civilians and combatants in Israeli actions in Gaza,” according to the report.

Such behavior has “transformed an entire national group and its inhabited space into a destroyable target,” the report went on. “This illustrates a clear pattern of conduct from which the requisite genocidal intent is the only reasonable inference to be drawn.”

As proof of Israel’s intent, the special rapporteur laid out “genocidal rhetoric” in statements made by the country’s highest-ranking officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Isaac HerzogDefense Minister Yoav Gallant,Israeli Defense Force spokesperson Daniel Hagari,Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter, Heritage Minister Amihai Eliyahu and the right-wing Likud Party’s Revital Gottlieb.

“Vitriolic genocidal rhetoric has painted the whole population as the enemy to be eliminated and forcibly displaced,” the report stated. “Such calls for annihilatory violence directed at troops on duty, constitute strong evidence of direct and public incitement to commit genocide. Decades of discourse dehumanizing Palestinians have prepared the groundwork for such incitements.”

We cannot avert our eyes. We must confront genocide. We must prevent it and we must punish it.Francesca Albanese, U.N. Human Rights Council special rapporteur for the occupied Palestinian territories

Independent experts and academics, as well as nations — including South Africa, which petitioned before the International Court of Justice — have warned that Israel’s actions since Oct. 7 may amount to genocide.

On Jan. 26, the ICJ found a plausible risk of “irreparable prejudice” to the rights of Palestinians in Gaza, and ordered Israel to “take all measures within its power” to prevent genocidal acts and incitement and provide urgent humanitarian aid. Human rights groupshave since raised concerns that Israel is ignoring the ICJ’s order, even after the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire to last at least through Ramadan.

In her recommendations, Albanese called on countries to immediately impose sanctions on Israel and to enact an arms embargo. She also asked member states to, among other actions, back South Africa in its case before the ICJ, ensure an independent and transparent investigation of all violations of international law committed by Israel and Hamas and make certain that Israel and other complicit states acknowledge the harm already done by committing to not repeating it and ensuring reparations for Gazans.

“We cannot avert our eyes. We must confront genocide. We must prevent it and we must punish it,” Albanese told the council. “The catastrophic situation I investigated is known, as it has been broadcast to the world in real time by its victims.”

Albanese’s report, which could have legal implications for South Africa’s case before the ICJ,  triggered polarizing reactions from many members of the Human Rights Council. Countries alarmed at the humanitarian crisis expressed support for the report’s findings, while nations that continue to back Israel’s offensive voiced anger at both the report and at Albanese.

“Israel’s project to rid Palestine of Palestinians in defiance of international law, and the world’s failure to call Israel to account that has led to genocide laid bare in Gaza,” she told the council. “Denial of the reality and the continuation of Israel’s impunity and exceptionalism is no longer valid.”

“Especially in light of yesterday’s binding Security Council resolution, I implore member states to abide by their obligations.”

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