There can be no doubt that Hamas committed war crimes in its surprise attack on Israel

“Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups flagrantly violated international law and displayed a chilling disregard for human life by committing cruel and brutal crimes, including mass summary killings, hostage-taking, and launching indiscriminate rocket attacks into Israel.”

This condemnation comes from Amnesty International, in response to Hamas’s attack on Israel on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of around 1,200 individuals, primarily innocent civilians, including children and the elderly. Additionally, a staggering 2,400 people were injured, and an unusually high number of hostages, at least 150, were taken. Among them are women and children.

Amnesty has been a severe and consistent critic of Israel’s actions toward Gaza, so its condemnation of this week’s massacre carries a lot of weight.

Since the conclusion of the initial battle to expel the terrorists from the country, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have been focused on neutralizing terrorists who remain concealed within Israel, checking for traps, rescuing and relocating survivors, and recovering bodies. The extent of the atrocities committed by Hamas is being revealed through a combination of security camera footage, cellphone videos, photographs from ordinary citizens, as well as professional journalists, physical evidence found at massacre sites, and the accounts of witnesses.

Numerous kibbutzim and farms were raided, and unarmed people were killed. Eyewitnesses saw Hamas terrorists intentionally shooting unarmed civilians who were trying to escape. Terrorists also started fires. Security camera footage shows hostages being taken and later lying dead in the street. Other footage shows a terrorist shooting and killing someone who is already lying on the ground, possibly from previous injuries.

At Kfar Aza, a farming community, the IDF found the bodies of civilians, killed in front of the burned wreckage of their homes. Babies were murdered, parents were murdered, and bodies were beheaded. Major General Itai Veruv told reporters, “I’ve never seen anything like this in my career, never in 40 years of service. This is something I never imagined.” As IDF personnel placed the bodies of women, children, babies and the elderly in body bags, soldiers said the dead had been “brutally butchered in an ISIS way of action.”

Eyewitnesses reported that heavily armed Hamas terrorists went house to house, room to room, killing families, “babies, mothers, fathers in their bedrooms.” One survivor said that “We got a security alert saying, ‘enter your safe room, lock the windows and doors, there are terrorists on the kibbutz.’”

Many families were not so lucky and were gunned down before they could find shelter. Others reached their safe rooms, but, when the terrorists found they could not break in, they poured gasoline and lit the homes on fire. A survivor described his family’s ordeal as “hell on earth,” like being trapped in a sauna for 12 hours, while his home burned around him. Some families baked to death in their safe rooms or were shot when they tried to run out.

Most Western countries condemned the attacks. Many Arab countries did not, and a senior advisor to Iran’s supreme leader praised it. Iran is believed to have influenced and possibly helped plan the attack. Tehran’s motive may have been to sink a possible US-brokered Israel-Saudi Arabia peace agreement. It is in Iran’s interest to prevent that agreement from succeeding, because it could signal the beginning of a coalition isolating Iran.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken travelled to Israel, and after seeing evidence of the carnage, gave a press briefing. He stated, “It’s hard to find the right words. It is beyond what anyone would want to imagine, much less see or God forbid experience… A baby infant riddled with bullets, soldiers beheaded, young people burned alive in their cars or in their rooms. I could go on, but it is simply depravity in the worst imaginable way.” He said that the horrors he saw reminded him of ISIS.

Guido Steinberg, a terrorism expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, told Deutsche Welle that he had always believed that ISIS and Hamas were very different, both in motivation and in tactics. But now, he has concluded, “We are fighting an organization much closer to ISIS than we had thought.” 

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The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia established legal precedent that can be used to analyse the Hamas attack on Israel. The attack meets the definition of an armed conflict. Therefore, according to the United Nations, Hamas must abide by the Law of Armed Conflict and International Humanitarian Law. Taking civilians hostage is prohibited under international humanitarian law and the International Convention against the Taking of Hostages. Targeting civilians, massacring civilians, and using civilians as human shields are all prohibited. At least one of the hostages seen in Hamas videos was a young female Israeli soldier who appeared to have been raped. The United Nations and the Geneva Convention both identify rape as a war crime. There are videos of bodies being beheaded and corpses being danced upon or otherwise desecrated. Under the Geneva Convention, mutilation of corpses is also a war crime.

That Hamas is guilty of war crimes is clear. And the world is planning a response.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that she is considering various sanctions against Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah. The EU initially said they would suspend aid to Palestine, but Brussels now seems to have backtracked a bit. Israel has asked the EU to follow Washington’s lead and impose sanctions. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has blamed Iran for backing Hamas. It remains to be seen how far Europe is willing to go and which country or entity they may be willing to impose sanctions on. In the meantime, Blinken has called on Hamas to release the hostages immediately and unconditionally.


Antonio Graceffo, PhD, China-MBA MBA, is a China economic analyst teaching economics at the American University in Mongolia. He has spent 20 years in Asia and is the author of six books about China. His writing has appeared in The Diplomat, South China Morning Post, Jamestown Foundation China Brief, Penthouse, Shanghai Institute of American Studies, Epoch Times, War on the Rocks, Just the News, and Black Belt Magazine.

Image: Aftermath of a rocket attack in Rishon LeZion / Wikipedia


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