Israeli campaign in Gaza meets genocide definition, says UN official

World body's special rapporteur Francesca Albanese says Israel's actions demonstrate intent to carry out ethnic cleansing in enclave

A Palestinian child wounded in the Israeli bombardment of Rafah. AP
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Israel has committed “at least three” of the five acts listed in the Genocide Convention, against Palestinians in Gaza, the UN special rapporteur on Palestinian rights has said.

In a report titled “Anatomy of a Genocide” released on Monday, Francesca Albanese said Israel's actions “have been driven by a genocidal logic”, and accused Israel of distorting international humanitarian law to “legitimise” its violence in Gaza.

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

The report details the Genocide Convention's definition of genocide, which is made up of two interconnected elements: any one of five actions against a group, driven by a general intent to carry out criminal actions and a more specific intent to “destroy the target group as such”.

UN expert says Israel has committed genocide in Gaza

UN expert says Israel has committed genocide in Gaza

Ms Albanese found that Israel had committed “at least three” of the five genocidal acts listed: “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”.

She also found that those actions had been driven by genocidal intent.

“In the latest Gaza assault, direct evidence of genocidal intent is uniquely present. Vitriolic genocidal rhetoric has painted the whole population as the enemy to be eliminated and forcibly displaced,” Ms Albanese said in her report.

'A destroyable target'

Ms Albanese said Israel has blurred the lines between civilian protection and military necessity as stipulated by international humanitarian law by transforming “an entire national group and its inhabited space into a destroyable target”.

Seventy per cent of the recorded deaths in the enclave since the Israeli campaign began have been women and children, she said.

“Israel failed to prove that the remaining 30 per cent, ie adult males, were active Hamas combatants – a necessary condition for them to be lawfully targeted,” the report read.

Israel assigned all adult men “active fighter status by default” in December last year when it said it had killed more than 7,000 “terrorists”, although men comprised less than 5,000 of the casualties at the time.

Israel was “thus implying that all adult males killed were terrorists”, the report said.

The report referred to inflammatory statements by senior Israeli officials, such as when President Isaac Herzog blamed “an entire nation” for the Hamas attacks on October 7.

Three days after the attacks, Israeli military spokesman Admiral Daniel Hagari said Israel should focus on causing “maximum damage”, which Ms Albanese said demonstrates “a strategy of disproportionate and indiscriminate violence”.

She said such messages of “annihilatory violence” constitute strong incitement by senior officials to commit genocide.

Israel has also characterised Gazan civilians as human shields on a macro level, Ms Albanese said, quoting a November report by the Israeli Foreign Ministry, in which it accused Hamas of using “the civilian population as human shields”.

She said Israel's all-encompassing use of “the” in reference to the enclave's residents shows intent to “transform the entire Gaza population and its infrastructure into a legitimate, targetable shield”.

By further linking churches, mosques, schools, UN buildings, universities, hospitals and ambulances to Hamas, Israel reinforces a view of the Gazan population as “complicit” and therefore “killable”, Ms Albanese said.

She said Israel had justified the destruction of tower blocks with civilians inside by arguing that “Hamas is everywhere” in Gaza. She pointed to an October 25 air strike on Gaza city's Al Taj tower, which killed 101 people, including 44 children and 37 women.

Israel has argued that a strike causing more civilian casualties than anticipated does not necessarily represent a breach of international law, because “compliance is conduct-orientated, not result orientated”.

However, Ms Albanese said that in strikes such as the one on Al Taj tower, carried out without warning, “extensive civilian harm has been anticipated as the main outcome”.

Israel's classification of such acts as “lawful” shows that it operates by “condoning mass killing” as a policy, she added.

In her report, Ms Albanese pointed to Israeli attacks on areas designated as “safe-zones”, where Palestinians were sent during the evacuation of northern Gaza.

She said that after ordering people to leave the north, Israel “illegally categorised” those who remained as human shields and accomplices of terrorism, including those who were unable to leave due to injury, illness or old age.

“This policy points to the intention by Israel to 'transform' hundreds of thousands of civilians into 'legitimate' military targets or collateral casualties through impossible-to-follow evacuation orders,” Ms Albanese said.

She also quoted Israeli officials who had called for Gazans to be displaced into Egypt's Sinai peninsula, western countries and elsewhere.

Strikes on “safe zones” and calls for forcible displacement make it possible “to reasonably infer that evacuation orders and safe zones have been used as genocidal tools to achieve ethnic cleansing”, Ms Albanese said.

Updated: March 27, 2024, 8:39 AM