The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, says the targeting of civilian infrastructure or the use of civilian structures for military purposes violate international humanitarian law and international human rights law. She warns both Israel and Hamas may be guilty of war crimes in breaching these humanitarian principles. U.N. figures show civilians, including many children and women, account for 74 percent of the more than 1,200 Palestinians who have been killed. Nearly 60 Israelis have been killed, including two civilians.
Civilians are bearing the brunt of the war in Gaza, which is now into its 24th day.
Hundreds of civilian structures have been damaged and destroyed in the Palestinian enclave. The U.N.’s top human rights official, Navi Pillay, says homes, hospitals, U.N. schools, and life-sustaining infrastructure, such as the power station, water and sewage services in Gaza are protected under international law.
She says attacks against objects which are being used exclusively for humanitarian assistance may amount to a war crime. She notes 250,000 Palestinians now are sheltering in schools run by UNRWA, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency. She calls the shelling by Israel of these schools and the killing and wounding of civilians sheltering there as unconscionable.
She also condemns Hamas’ use of U.N. premises as a repository for weapons, calling this a flagrant violation of the neutrality of U.N. premises.
“Locating rockets in schools and hospitals or even launching these rockets from densely populated areas are violations of international humanitarian law. But, it does not absolve the other party, that is Israel, from not itself observing its obligations under international humanitarian law," she said.
Pillay says Israel, as an occupying power, has certain obligations toward Palestinians. She says Israel must fulfill its obligation to provide people in Gaza with medical care. It must protect peoples' right to housing, food, and clean water.
While she is critical of Israel’s military actions in Gaza, she also finds grave fault with Hamas. She says she understands Israel’s concerns and its need to protect its people.
“I have condemned the rocket attacks because they are indiscriminate directed at the civilian population and it is a fact that Israeli children have as much right to life as do Gaza children,” she said.
Pillay says both parties to the war must respect the cardinal principle related to the conduct of hostilities. That she says is the principle of distinction, proportionality and precautions.
She says she joins the world in condemning the aggression that is taking place in Gaza and particularly the killing of civilians. She notes both Israel and Hamas present arguments justifying their actions. But, as far as she is concerned, she says what is going on in Gaza is wrong and will always be wrong.
Hajar Muharram, 5, sits in a classroom where the family of seven now live, at a U.N. school, in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip, Thursday, July 31, 2014.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) and Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon (L) attend a cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv July 31, 2014.
A woman carries a bag of food supplies that she received from a United Nations food distribution center in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip July 31, 2014.
People pray next to the bodies of Palestinians from the al-Silk family during their funeral in Gaza City July 31, 2014.
Heygar Jendiyah, left, points to where the family house kitchen once stood, partially destroyed by a previous air strike, as her children Ranin, 10, center, and Helmi, right, listen, in the Sabra neighborhood of Gaza City, northern Gaza Strip,
An Israeli soldier stands atop an armored vehicle at a staging area near the border with the Gaza Strip July 31, 2014.
Israeli soldiers carry cases at a staging area near the border with the Gaza Strip July 31, 2014
Israeli tanks at a staging area near the border with the Gaza Strip July 31, 2014.