GENEVA, June 22, 2015 (WAFA) – An independent United Nations commission of inquiry Monday shared a report in which it said both Israel and Hamas have committed “war crimes” during the 2014 aggression on the Gaza Strip last summer.
The United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza conflict shared a press statement on the UN Human Rights website, saying it has gathered “substantial information pointing to the possible commission of war crimes by both Israel and Palestinian armed groups.”
The commission is scheduled to formally present its report to the UN Human Rights Council on 29 June 2015 in Geneva.
The chair of the commission, Justice Mary McGowan Davis described the destruction in Gaza as “unprecedented” and said that it “will impact generations to come.”
The commission reported, “The 2014 hostilities saw a huge increase in firepower used in Gaza, with more than 6,000 airstrikes by Israel and approximately 50,000 tank and artillery shells fired. In the 51 day operation, 1,462 Palestinian civilians were killed, a third of them children.’
Meanwhile, the ‘Palestinian armed groups fired 4,881 rockets and 1,753 mortars towards Israel in July and August 2014, killing 6 civilians and injuring at least 1,600.”
While ‘hundreds of Palestinian civilians were killed in their own homes, especially women and children,’ as the report found out, the injuries on the Israeli side were mostly psychological.
Palestinian survivors provided graphic testimony describing air strikes that reduced buildings to piles of dust and rubble in seconds.
A member of the al-Najjar family after an attack in Khan Younis on 26 July that killed 19 of his relatives said, “I woke up…in the hospital, and I later learned that my sister, mother and my children had all died.’
‘We all died that day even those who survived,” he said.
The report added that at least 142 families lost three or more members in attacks on residential buildings, during the summer of 2014, resulting in 742 deaths.
The commission said, ‘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 expressed concern “about Israel’s extensive use of weapons with a wide kill and injury radius; though not illegal, their use in densely populated areas is highly likely to kill combatants and civilians indiscriminately.”
Regarding the pattern whereby the Israeli army issued warnings to people to leave a neighbourhood and then automatically considered anyone remaining to be a fighter, the commission said, ‘This practice makes attacks on civilians highly likely.’
It added, ‘During the Israeli ground incursion into Gaza that began in mid-July 2014, hundreds of people were killed and thousands of homes destroyed or damaged.”
A witness in Rafah in early August where the Israeli army launched a major operation after they believed one of their soldiers had been captured said, “There was an explosion about every ten seconds.”
“When the safety of an Israeli soldier is at stake, all the rules seem to be disregarded,” commented Justice Davis.
While Palestinian witnesses spoke of murder and losing entire families, Israeli witnesses living near Gaza spoke of being disturbed by seeing the bombing from their sitting room windows and the struggle to reach shelters in time with their children when the sirens alerted them to incoming rockets.
As for the “war crimes” committed by Palestinian armed groups, the report said “the indiscriminate firing of thousands of rockets and mortars at Israel appeared to have the intention of spreading terror among civilians there.”
The report also said that the Israeli military discovered 14 tunnels extending from Gaza into Israel that were used to attack soldiers during this period.
Even though the tunnels targeted only soldiers who were taking part in the illegal siege and oppression of Gaza’s unarmed and helpless civilians, the report said that “the idea of the tunnels traumatised Israeli civilians who feared they could be attacked at any moment by gunmen bursting out of the ground.”
The war crimes committed by Israeli didn’t end at Gaza’s borders, the commission reported on 27 Palestinians who were killed and 3,020 injured between June and August 2014.
Concerned about the increasing use of live ammunition for crowd control by the Israeli Security Forces, which raises the likelihood of death or serious injury, the commission said, “The number killed in these three months was equivalent to the total for the whole of 2013.”
Impunity prevails across the board for violations allegedly committed by Israeli forces, both in Gaza and the West Bank. “Israel must break with its lamentable track record in holding wrong doers accountable,” said the commissioners, “and accountability on the Palestinian side is also woefully inadequate”.
The commission expressed further disturbance by Israel’s decision to close its criminal investigation into the case of the heinous killing of four children, who were playing football on the beach in Gaza on 16 July 2014.
It said that international journalists and many Palestinian eyewitnesses were not interviewed by the Israeli authorities, raising questions about the ‘thoroughness of their investigation’.
The commission was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in September 2014 to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the context of the military operations conducted last summer.
The commission comprises Justice Mary McGowan Davis (United States) and Dr. Doudou Diene (Senegal).
The Israeli authorities ignored repeated requests by the commission for information and direct access to Israel and to the Occupied Palestinian Territory. However the commission obtained harrowing first hand testimony by means of Skype, VTC and telephone interviews.
It also conducted face-to-face interviews with victims and witnesses from the West Bank during two visits to Jordan and spoke to victims and witnesses from Israel who travelled to Geneva. The commission conducted more than 280 confidential interviews and received some 500 written submissions.
The commission called on world countries to ‘actively support the work of the International Criminal Court in relation to the Occupied Palestinian Territory.’