Israel's offensive on the 40-kilometre long Gaza strip has claimed nearly 800 lives so far, most of them civilians and one-third of them children. Israel is now strongly suspected of committing war crimes in Palestine, and the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has received support from 29 countries of its 49-member council to begin a probe into human rights violations.
The deplorable killings of Palestinians, especially children, are starting to put into perspective how Israel's 'self-defence' is bordering on 'war crimes'. War crimes are violations of the international laws of war. The Statute of the International Criminal Court defines war crimes as "serious violations of the laws and customs applicable in international armed conflict... Violations are in practice treated as serious, and therefore as war crimes, if they endanger protected persons or objects or if they breach important values".
The United Nations has already pointed to the possibility of Israel having committed war crimes.
"There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes," The Guardian quoted Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights.
Some of the grave breaches of the Geneva Convention which tantamount to war crimes include:
- making the civilian population or individual civilians, not taking a direct part in hostilities, the object of attack
- launching an attack in the knowledge that such attack will cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects which would be clearly excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated
- making non-defended localities and demilitarized zones the object of attack
- extensive destruction or appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly
Most of these violations are being blatantly committed in Gaza, as per reports. On Thursday, Israel bombed a United Nations-run school in Gaza where Palestinians were taking shelter, killing 15, including women and children, and injuring hundreds of others.
Last week, four children playing on the beach were killed when two Israeli missiles struck them, which sparked international outrage and led to a five-hour truce between the warring parties.
While several experts and nations, particularly the United States, support Israel's right to defend itself from rocket attacks by Hamas, Israel's self-defence is also being looked at as a "war against the civilian population", as told to Deutsche Well by a law professor.
However, Israel has blamed Hamas for using Palestine civilians as "human shields". Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Hamas' use of human shields "grotesque".
He even called Israel condemnation by the UNHRC as a "travesty of justice", adding "it will not prevent us from continuing to act to defend our people and protect them against rocket attacks".