Hamas’s brutal attacks on October 7 killed more than 1300 people in Israel. At least 150 civilians were reportedly taken hostage and forcibly transferred to Gaza. Hamas’s deliberate targeting of civilians and the numerous atrocities reported constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The Israeli military response has already resulted in the reported deaths of some 1900 people in Gaza. Israeli authorities’ decision to cut off all electricity, food, water, and medical supplies to the two million Palestinians living in the densely populated Gaza Strip threatens many more lives. This blockade constitutes collective punishment of Palestinian civilians and also constitutes war crimes and crimes against humanity.
There are already reports of at least 34 attacks on health care facilities in Gaza and the deaths of 11 health workers, according to the United Nations. Gaza’s 13 hospitals and health facilities, which already operated under severe constraints due to long-standing Israeli government restrictions, are now barely able to function due to shortages of vital supplies. In Israel, at least one hospital was reportedly damaged by Hamas rockets and health workers are among the dead.
Targeting of health facilities and other civilian infrastructure constitutes a war crime. Under international law, hospitals and other health facilities are sanctuaries, places of refuge even amid the horrors of war. Health workers must be safe to do their jobs and provide impartial care to all.
As an Israeli invasion of Gaza looms and this conflict risks escalating even further across the region, protecting civilians on all sides against illegal and inhumane actions must remain the paramount obligation for all parties to the conflict and the international community.
Hamas must release all hostages and all parties must protect prisoners of war, as well as ensure access to food, water, and medical services for besieged communities, such as by establishing humanitarian corridors.
International law and the experience of Physicians for Human Rights around the world are clear: Atrocities by one side can never justify atrocities by the other. Accountability and respect for international human rights and humanitarian law are the only ways out of this conflagration.
At this moment of deep crisis, PHR expresses its support to civilians caught in the crossfire, as well as to our partners and all health care workers who are doing everything possible to assure the treatment of the sick and wounded without discrimination.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.