Have war crimes been committed in Israel and Gaza?

As the war between Israel and Hamas escalates in Gaza, both sides have said they are adhering to international law.

Senior Hamas leader Moussa Abu Marzouk told the Economist this week that his group, which led the attacks that killed more than 1,300 people in Israel, “obeys all international and moral laws.” He said the operation targeted only “military posts,” despite clear evidence that hundreds of civilians were among those killed by Palestinian militants.

Israeli officials have also said that their punishing strikes against Hamas in Gaza — where entire neighborhoods have been turned to rubble — were in compliance with international humanitarian law. “We are working, operating militarily in terms according to rules of international law, period. Unequivocally,” Israeli President Isaac Herzog said at a media briefing Friday.

Herzog added that Gazans “could have risen up” against Hamas. “We are at war. We are defending our homes. We are protecting our homes,” he said. “That’s the truth. And when a nation protects it’s home, it fights. And we will fight until we break their backbone.”

The United Nations and other rights groups have criticized Israel’s military campaign as indiscriminate, saying it violates international humanitarian law by putting civilians at risk. The Israeli military’s alleged use of white phosphorus, an incendiary weapon prohibited under international law, and its warning Friday to Gaza residents to evacuate the northern part of the enclave, have raised fears of a humanitarian catastrophe.

In theory, the International Criminal Court at The Hague could bring charges if it suspects war crimes are being committed by either party. Israel is not a party to the Rome Statute that founded the court. The Palestinian territories joined the ICC in 2015, giving the court jurisdiction over crimes committed there — including in Gaza — or by Palestinian nationals in other territories.

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In practice, however, international calls for justice are rarely without controversy — especially within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has roots dating to the late 19th century.

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