The horrific attacks on civilians during the war in Israel and Gaza since October 7, including the unprecedented attacks on health care workers and facilities, demand independent verification and accountability, Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) said today.
Reports of an imminent deal between Hamas and Israel to release hostages in exchange for prisoners, along with a pause in Israeli attacks on Gaza, are promising and would facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza as well as allow neutral and impartial investigators and monitors into Gaza to begin documentation and investigation of the devastation.
Of particular concern are Israel’s massive attacks on health care in Gaza, which includes raiding and catastrophically damaging hospitals, killing health care workers and patients, and obstructing access to supplies and electricity to run equipment. Thousands of people, many of them wounded or sick, now lack access to safe, adequate health care services and cannot exercise their right to health, with devastating short and long-term impact on their health. At the same time, Israeli claims that hospitals and other health facilities have been used by Hamas or other Palestinian armed groups for military operations, which, if true, would constitute war crimes and should be investigated and documented by impartial and independent investigators.
In response, the following statement is attributable to Sam Zarifi, JD, LLM, executive director of PHR:
“The assertions that Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups have militarized hospitals by using them to shield combatants or as weapons depots, contrary to international humanitarian law, must be investigated and established by independent investigators with credibility. If it is possible for journalists to visit these sites, it must be possible for trained investigators to do so.
“Even if hospitals have been militarized, Israeli authorities are legally obliged to ensure that their military responds in a manner that is proportionate to military objectives and minimizes harm to civilians. The tremendous death toll among civilians in Gaza and the repeated attacks and intrusions on health care facilities raises very serious questions about the Israel Defense Forces’ adherence to international humanitarian legal principles of distinction, proportionality, and precaution. All efforts must be taken to avoid, and in any event to minimize, the loss of civilian life, to care for the wounded, and ensure the right to health for all people.
“Hamas’ brutal killing of more than 1,200 Israelis on October 7 and taking of 240 hostages, most of them civilians, and reported sexual violence, must be investigated as war crimes and crimes against humanity. Evidence of these atrocities must be collected and submitted to an independent, impartial investigative body that can establish the truth and produce a verdict based on credible evidence.
“Israel’s reprisal in Gaza resulting in the killings and deaths of more than 14,000 people so far, most of them civilians, must also be investigated as war crimes and crimes against humanity and must be documented, investigated, and brought to account. In particular, there have been more than 350 attacks on health in Gaza, including airstrikes and raids of hospitals and obstruction of health care delivery, that require both investigation and rapid reconstruction efforts.
“Those who are holding the hostages, who include women, children, and the elderly, have an obligation to treat them humanely and provide medical care to those who need it. All hostages must be safely returned safely and immediately.
“International law demands accountability for the innumerable violations in the Israel-Gaza war, and Israeli and Palestinian authorities must cooperate with independent international investigators and invite them to the region to carry out a systematic, impartial and credible documentation. The International Criminal Court, which has jurisdiction over this conflict and has been investigating alleged serious crimes there since 2021, is well-positioned to carry out this investigation. The UN-mandated Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory or other mechanisms can be used effectively to establish the truth and move toward some sense of justice that is necessary for peace.”
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.