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New United Nations Report Outlines The ‘Anatomy Of A Genocide’ In Gaza

Above photo: The remains of Al-Shifa Hospital and its surroundings in Gaza City, Gaza on April 1, 2024. Khaled Daoud/APA Images.

New report by UN Special Rapporteur Francesca Albanese.

Shows how Israel has subverted international law to provide a legal cover for genocide.

Last week, the UN Special Rapporteur on Occupied Palestinian Territories Francesca Albanese issued a report titled “Anatomy of a Genocide,” concluding that there are “reasonable grounds to believe” that the threshold indicating the commission of the crime of genocide has been met.

Such reports are not usually titled, but the title itself depicts the nature of what Albanese describes in her immaculate 25-page report. It not only outlines a textbook case of genocide, with clearly and widely expressed intent by leaders backed up by clear genocidal actions — it also describes how Israel has used the language and principles of International Humanitarian Law (IHL, the laws governing warfare) to conceal the act.

Albanese begins with the historical context of the genocide, even rooted in Israeli pre-state colonialist intents, and then charts out how Israel has committed three central facets under the crime of genocide — the killing of members of a particular group of people, causing bodily or mental harm, and creating destructive conditions of life. There is also a section concerning intent that chronicles some of the countless, unambiguous, genocidal expressions of Israeli leaders.

Then, midway into the report, and constituting almost half of it (points 55-92, out of 97 points), is a section dedicated to the idea of “Humanitarian camouflage: distorting the laws of war to conceal genocidal intent.”

This section is subdivided into five central themes:

  1. Human Shields and the logic of genocide
  2. Turning Gaza as a whole into a ‘military objective’
  3. Indiscriminate killing as “collateral damage”
  4. Evacuations and safe zones
  5. Medical Shielding

Albanese demonstrates how the three central principles of IHL — distinction, proportionality, and precaution — have been subverted by Israel in an attempt to obfuscate its genocidal acts and to provide a legal veil for illegal, indiscriminate acts.

“This has obscured one cardinal tenet of IHL,” Albanese writes. “Indiscriminate attacks, which do not distinguish military targets from protected persons and objects, cannot be proportionate and are always unlawful.”

Palestinians have become “decivilianized” in this way:

“A core feature of Israel’s conduct since 7 October has been the intensification of its de-civilianization of Palestinians, a protected group under the [Genocide] Convention. Israel has used IHL terminology to justify its systematic use of lethal violence against Palestinian civilians as a group and the extensive destruction of life-sustaining infrastructures. Israel has done this by deploying IHL concepts such as human shields, collateral damage, safe zones, evacuations and medical protection in such a permissive manner so as to gut these concepts of their normative content, subverting their protective purpose and ultimately eroding the distinction between civilians and combatants in Israeli actions in Gaza.”

It is chilling to think that Israel’s Defense Minister’s claim that “we are dealing with human animals and we will act accordingly” (October 9), has translated into reality in such a way that humans are reduced to conceptual rubble — dehumanized and decivilainized.

The analysis continues to outline Israel’s subversion of IHL norms, including concepts like human shields, military objectives, and collateral damage.

Human Shields

The history of the general usage of this term as a pretext for indiscriminate attacks is mentioned, particularly in the 2008-2022 aggressions. But on October 7 this rose to a new level:

“After 7 October, this macro-characterization of Gaza’s civilians as a population of human shields has reached unprecedented levels, with Israel’s top-ranking political and military leaders consistently framing civilians as either Hamas operatives, ‘accomplices’, or human shields among whom Hamas is ‘embedded’… International law does not permit the blanket claim that an opposing force is using the entire population as human shields en bloc… The accusation of using human shields has thus become a pretext, justifying the killing of civilians under a cloak of purported legality, whose all-enveloping pervasiveness admits only of genocidal intent.”

Gaza As A ‘Military Objective’

International law stipulates that attacks must be “strictly limited” to objects that “must offer a definite military advantage.” But, Albanese notes, “Israel has misused this rule to ‘militarize’ civilian objects and whatever surrounds them, justifying their indiscriminate destruction.” Thus, “Gaza’s civilian population and infrastructure are presented as obstructions positioned amongst, in front of and above targets… Israel has characterized the whole territory as a military objective… Israel considers any object that has allegedly been or might be used militarily as a legitimate target, so that entire neighbourhoods can be razed or demolished under fictions of legality.”

Indiscriminate Killing As ‘Collateral Damage‘

Israel seeks to conceal the widescale targeting of civilians as “collateral damage.” Invoking the concept of “proportionate collateral damage” to knowingly shell large numbers of members of the protected group, Israel asserts that when attacks result in more collateral damage than expected, this does not necessarily indicate a violation, since “compliance is conduct-oriented, not result-oriented.”In other words, Israel says that it doesn’t mean to kill many civilians — it just occurs despite precautions. “However,” Albanese writes,

“in all attacks launched against residential towers without warnings, extensive civilian harm has been anticipated as the main outcome. The Al-Taj building was full of families at the time of the 31 October strike, which must have been anticipated as certainly killing or injuring all the civilians living there. The fact that so many people were killed was entirely predictable — hence at least indirectly intended — as is evident from the images that the Israeli military itself published. The attack on the Jabalia refugee camp on 25 October killed at least 126 civilians, including 69 children, and injured a further 280. Israeli military personnel affirmed that the target was one Hamas commander in an underground base.”

Israel seems to assess “proportionality” not only as a question of military advantage but as a question of destroying Hamas politically:

“Israel’s proportionality assessments have flouted legal requirements by defining military advantage, in each attack, in relation to the destruction of the whole Hamas organization both politically and militarily. It is manifestly illegal to declare as a war aim the destruction of the other side’s political capacity (particularly in the context of a 56-year military occupation which deprives the occupied population of its right to self-determination)… In other words, Israel appears to represent itself as conducting a ‘proportionate genocide.’”

Evacuations And Safe Zones

Albanese writes:

“The mass evacuation order of 13 October – when 1.1 million Palestinians were ordered to evacuate northern Gaza in 24 hours to Israeli-designated ‘safe zones’ in the south… Instead of increasing safety for civilians, the sheer scale of evacuations amidst an intense bombing campaign, and the haphazardly communicated safe zones system, along with extended communications blackouts, increased levels of panic, forced displacement and mass killing.”

When the northern residents were evacuated to the south, “Israel illegally categorized the inhabitants of northern Gaza who had remained (including the sick and wounded) as ‘human shields’ and ‘accomplices’ of terrorism,” thereby “turning hundreds of thousands of civilians into ‘legitimate’ military targets or collateral casualties through impossible-to-follow evacuation orders.”

And the safe zones weren’t safe either:

“The erasure of civilian protections in the evacuated area was combined with indiscriminate targeting of evacuees and inhabitants of the areas designated as safe zones… Of the roughly 500 2,000-pound bombs dropped by Israel in the first six weeks of hostilities, 42 percent were deployed in the designated safe zones in southern areas.”

“Simply put,” Albanese summarizes, “safe areas” were “deliberately turned into areas of mass killing.”

This has been a tool of ethnic cleansing:

“The pattern of killings of civilians who evacuated to the south, in combination with statements of some senior Israelis declaring an intent to forcibly displace Palestinians outside Gaza and replace them with Israeli settlers, lead to reasonably infer that evacuation orders and safe zones have been used as genocidal tools to achieve ethnic cleansing.”

Medical Shielding

This point sends a chill down the spine, as Gaza’s largest hospital, al-Shifa has now been reduced to burned rubble, with bodies strewn across the area, following Israel’s recent two-week-long siege.

“A final layer of Israel’s ‘humanitarian camouflage’ concerns its efforts to provide legal cover for systematic attacks against medical facilities and personnel, causing the progressive collapse of Gaza’s healthcare sector,” writes Albanese.

This is not the first time Israel accused Hamas of using hospitals as “Hamas headquarters,” but “in the current assault, Israel has invoked this legal strategy to justify genocide through the complete destruction of life-sustaining infrastructure.”

Israel was widely challenged on its former assault on the al-Shifa hospital in November.

“Media reports challenged Israel’s allegations that Hamas were using hospitals as shields, asserting that there was no evidence to suggest that the rooms connected to the hospital had been used by Hamas; the hospital buildings (contrary to Israeli military 3D images) were found not to be connected to the tunnel network; and there was no evidence that the tunnels were accessible from the hospital wards. In addition, the Israeli army reportedly rearranged weaponry at al-Shifa before news crews visits, raising further suspicions of fabrication after the Israeli army had claimed that a “list of terrorists” it had found in another Gaza hospital–the Al Rantisi–turned out to be a calendar of the days of the week in Arabic.”

The level of the Israeli propaganda would be something to laugh about (and was widely mocked) if it weren’t so deadly serious. Even if one were to take these repeated allegations at face value, Israel behaved illegally:

“Whether or not Israel’s accusations of hospital shielding at al-Shifa were true – but still remain to be proven –, the civilians in the hospitals should have been protected and not subjected to siege and military attack.”

This lack of protection for civilians was itself genocidal:

“That the intent behind Israel’s ‘humanitarian camouflage’ in this instance can only be characterized as genocidal is clear for two reasons. First, Israel was aware of the large-scale destruction of the healthcare system since the World Health Organization had reported in mid-November that a ‘public health catastrophe’ was developing in Gaza, with 26 of 35 hospitals no longer operational due to Israel’s bombing and siege. Second, Israel knew that its military operation was resulting in a significant number of wounded. Physical trauma constitutes the most predominant cause of excess mortality in Gaza. It was predictable that forcibly suspending services at the largest hospital in Gaza would seriously harm the prospects for survival of the injured, the chronically ill and newborn babies in incubators. Therefore, by targeting al-Shifa Hospital, Israel knowingly condemned thousands of sick and displaced people to preventable suffering and death.”

Conclusions And Recommendations

“The overwhelming nature and scale of Israel’s assault on Gaza and the destructive conditions of life it has inflicted reveal an intent to physically destroy Palestinians as a group,” Albanese concludes.

“Israel has sought to conceal its eliminationist conduct of hostilities sanctioning the commission of international crimes as IHL-abiding. Distorting IHL customary rules, including distinction, proportionality and precautions, Israel has de facto treated an entire protected group and its life-sustaining infrastructure as ‘terrorist’ or ‘terrorist-supporting’, thus transforming everything and everyone into either a target or collateral damage, hence killable or destroyable”.

This goes back to the first Nakba of 1948:

“Israel’s genocide on the Palestinians in Gaza is an escalatory stage of a long-standing settler colonial process of erasure. For over seven decades this process has suffocated the Palestinian people as a group – demographically, culturally, economically and politically –, seeking to displace it and expropriate and control its land and resources. The ongoing Nakba must be stopped and remedied once and for all. This is an imperative owed to the victims of this highly preventable tragedy, and to future generations in that land.”

The last two points (96-97) of the report are about what we — the international community — can, and indeed must do, to avert this genocide.

“The Special Rapporteur urges member states to enforce the prohibition of genocide in accordance with their non-derogable obligations. Israel and those states that have been complicit in what can be reasonably concluded to constitute genocide must be held accountable and deliver reparations commensurate with the destruction, death and harm inflicted on the Palestinian people.”

The means at our disposal:

  • To “immediately implement an arms embargo on Israel… as well as other economic and political measures necessary to ensure an immediate and lasting ceasefire… including sanctions.”
  • Support South Africa’s case at the ICJ charging Israel with Genocide.
  • Ensuring a “thorough, independent and transparent investigation” of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including international fact-finding missions, referring to the International Criminal Court, applying universal jurisdiction.
  • That Israel and other states that are complicit in the genocide commit to non-repetition and pay the full cost of reconstruction in Gaza.
  • To address the root causes through the UN, also through reconstitution of the UN Special Committee against Apartheid.
  • In the short term, to deploy “an international protective presence to constrain the violence routinely used against Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory”.
  • To secure UNRWA, the UN Palestinian refugee agency (which has been under a defunding assault in recent months due to an Israeli propaganda campaign).

Finally, Albanese calls on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to “enhance its efforts to end the current atrocities in Gaza, including by promoting and accurately applying International Law, notably the Genocide Convention, in the context of the oPt as a whole.” That is, to see the genocide of Gaza not merely as a local matter, but as a genocidal assault on all Palestinians, also beyond Gaza’s geographical confines.

International Responses

Israel’s initial, knee-jerk response was to describe the report as an “obscene inversion of reality.” The problem is, that Albanese has used about half of her meticulous report to document how it is precisely Israel that is inverting reality — through the mentioned twisting of IHL terms — to justify and continue its genocide.

The U.S., for its part, chose to avoid the subject by shooting the messenger — hiding behind regurgitated, false allegations of Albanese as an antisemite — as State Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller did in response to a question on the matter:

“We have for a longstanding period of time opposed the mandate of this Special Rapporteur, which we believe is not productive. And when it comes to the individual that holds that position, I can’t help but note a history of antisemitic comments that she has made, that were reported.”

But many other countries, particularly Arab ones as well as other global south countries, rallied behind Albanese and affirmed the seriousness of her report. At the UN presentation of the report last week, Israel and the U.S. boycotted the event. The EU, for its part, called for “proper and independent investigations on all allegations,” alas recognizing “Israel’s right to self-defense.”

“Self-defense,” it bears mention, is no excuse for genocide, and the reason why one purportedly goes to war has no bearing on how one conducts it. So the EU is avoiding the issue, in a perhaps less visible manner than Israel and the U.S.

“Israel has destroyed Gaza,” said the Special Rapporteur. It’s not incidental, it’s not a natural disaster — it’s genocide. Now it’s only down to those who accept this awful truth and those who hide from it.

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