Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Tuesday called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open an inquiry into alleged war crimes committed in Gaza in May by both the Israeli military and Palestinian armed groups, and urged the US government to condition its assistance to Israel on its commitment to improve its compliance with the laws of war and international human rights law.
HRW said that both the Israeli military and Palestinian groups have a long track record of failing to investigate war crimes committed in or from Gaza, and that both parties carried out attacks during the May 2021 fighting in the Gaza Strip and Israel that violated the laws of war and constitute war crimes.
HRW visited the site of four strikes, inspected remnants of munitions, and analyzed satellite imagery, video footage and photographs taken following the attacks. Noting that US-made weapons were used in at least two of the attacks, HRW urged the US, a significant provider of military assistance to Israel, to curtail further assistance to Israel until it commits to comply with international human rights law and laws of war.
HRW investigated three Israeli strikes in locations where there were no evident military targets in the vicinity and that killed 62 Palestinian civilians. HRW’s investigation also revealed that Palestinian armed groups launched more than 4,360 unguided rockets and mortars toward Israeli population centers, violating the prohibition against “deliberate or indiscriminate attacks against civilians.”
HRW said that it will separately release findings on rocket attacks by Palestinian armed groups, adding that several Palestinians also died when rockets fired by Palestinian groups fell short and landed in Gaza.
Focusing its investigation on three Israeli attacks in areas where there was no evident military target and that had high numbers of civilian casualties, the HRW has conducted in-person interviews of 30 Palestinians who witnessed Israeli attacks, were relatives of civilians killed, or were residents of areas targeted by Israel.
In May, HRW requested permits for senior HRW researchers to enter Gaza to conduct further investigation of the hostilities, but Israeli authorities rejected the request on Monday. Stating that Israeli authorities have refused access to Gaza for HRW international staff since 2008, except for a single visit in 2016, HRW also urged Israel’s other allies to push for access to Gaza so that human rights organizations can investigate and document human rights abuses.
Noting that Israeli military attacks in Gaza devastated entire families, HRW Associate Crisis and Conflict Director, Gerry Simpson, stated:
Israeli authorities’ consistent unwillingness to seriously investigate alleged war crimes, as well as Palestinian forces’ rocket attacks toward Israeli population centers, underscores the importance of the International Criminal Court’s inquiry…Israel and the Palestinian authorities have shown little or no interest in addressing abuses by their forces, so global and national judicial institutions should step up to break the vicious cycle of unlawful attacks and impunity for war crimes. … These investigations should also address the larger context, including the Israeli government’s crushing closure of Gaza and its crimes of apartheid and persecution against millions of Palestinians.
This report comes in the wake of the UN Human Rights Council’s appointment of three members to the Commission of Inquiry on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, and Israel. The Commission is tasked to investigate “all alleged violations of international humanitarian law and all alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law leading up to and since” April 2021, and submit annual reports on the Commission’s activities to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights starting June 2022.