United Nations experts are raising the alarm over what they say are credible allegations of “egregious” human rights violations by Israeli forces against Palestinian women and girls in Gaza and the occupied West Bank.

The human rights experts on Monday said that they received reports describing Palestinian women and girls being arbitrarily executed in the Gaza Strip, where Israel has for more than four months carried out a military offensive as retaliation for Hamas’ deadly Oct. 7 attack on the country, which reportedly killed around 1,200 people. According to Gaza health authorities, Israel’s assault on the territory has killed more than 29,000 Palestinians, most of whom are women and children.

“We are shocked by reports of the deliberate targeting and extrajudicial killing of Palestinian women and children in places where they sought refuge, or while fleeing,” the experts said in a statement released by the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, or OHCHR. “Some of them were reportedly holding white pieces of cloth when they were killed by the Israeli army or affiliated forces.”

The experts are part of what is known as the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Special Procedures. The group is the largest body of independent fact-finding experts in the U.N. human rights system, and is usually tasked with addressing either specific situations in a particular country or more thematic issues worldwide. Though the Human Rights Council is responsible for appointing the experts to the Special Procedures group, the experts are neither paid U.N. staffers nor associated with a government.

According to the experts, Israeli forces have arbitrarily detained hundreds of Palestinian women and girls since Oct. 7, including human rights defenders, journalists and humanitarian workers. Israeli forces have allegedly subjected many detained women from Gaza to “inhuman” treatment, such as keeping some “in a cage in the rain and cold.” Detained Palestinian women and girls also allegedly face severe beatings and are denied menstrual products, food and medicine.

Palestinians mourn relatives killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip at a hospital in Rafah, on Feb. 9, 2024.
Palestinians mourn relatives killed in the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip at a hospital in Rafah, on Feb. 9, 2024.

Fatima Shbair via Associated Press

The experts said that they were “particularly distressed” by reports of Palestinian women and girls experiencing “multiple forms of sexual assault, such as being stripped naked and searched by male Israeli army officers.”

“At least two female Palestinian detainees were reportedly raped while others were reportedly threatened with rape and sexual violence,” the experts said, adding that Israeli forces also allegedly took “photos of female detainees in degrading circumstances” and uploaded them online.

“An unknown number of Palestinian women and children, including girls, have reportedly gone missing after contact with the Israeli army,” the experts said, stressing that some missing children have allegedly been forcibly separated from their parents and, in at least one instance, an infant was reportedly brought into Israel.

“Taken together, these alleged acts may constitute grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and amount to serious crimes under international criminal law that could be prosecuted under the Rome Statute,” the experts said. The Rome Statute established the International Criminal Court for the purpose of investigating allegations of war crimes and prosecuting offenders.

“Those responsible for these apparent crimes must be held accountable and victims and their families are entitled to full redress and justice,” the experts added.

Separately, at the International Court of Justice, Israel is facing accusations by South Africa of committing genocide against Palestinians, with the Middle Eastern country fervently defending itself.

Meanwhile, an estimated 55,000 women in Gaza are pregnant, but the enclave has seen a 300% increase in miscarriage because of the severe lack of neonatal and maternal health care since Israel’s offensive began. More Palestinian women are also dying in childbirth due to the lack of prenatal care, while more babies are being born prematurely. Many newborns are dying without access to incubators.

In a statement on Monday, Israel said that it “forcefully rejects” the allegations cited by the Special Procedures, calling the claims “despicable and unfounded.” The statement accused the experts of ignoring allegations of Hamas militants engaging in sexual and gender-based violence on and since Oct. 7.

“It is clear that the co-signatories are motivated not by the truth but by their hatred for Israel and its people,” the statement read.

At the time of the sexual violence allegations against Hamas last year, the OHCHR said that the agency had requested access to Israel and the Palestinian territories so it could collect information from the October attack and conduct a thorough investigation. The OHCHR said that Israel did not respond to its request, and Israel said it would not cooperate with the body because it believed the OHCHR had preexisting biases against the country.

The OHCHR’s statement came one day before the U.S., for the third time, vetoed a resolution from the 15-member U.N. Security Council that called for a cease-fire in Gaza. The vote for the Arab-backed resolution was 13-1, with the United Kingdom abstaining.

The U.S., Israel’s top ally, has instead proposed a draft resolution that would support a temporary cease-fire linked to the release of more than 100 hostages who remain with Hamas after their capture from Israel, and would call for lifting all of Israel’s restrictions on humanitarian aid delivery.

“We don’t believe in a rush to a vote,” a senior U.S. official told The Associated Press on Monday, despite the some 1.5 million Palestinians forcibly backed into the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah facing a potential Israeli ground invasion.


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