Geneva – Israel has targeted dozens of mosques and churches in the Gaza Strip as part of its ongoing assault, which is now in its second month, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said in a new statement released today. Israel’s bombing of places of worship is in clear violation of international humanitarian law and the laws of war, the organisation said.
According to the Geneva-based human rights group, recent Israeli attacks have resulted in the total destruction of 66 mosques and partial damage to 146 others, accounting for approximately 20% of all mosques in the Gaza Strip. Additionally, three historic churches have suffered damage in various areas of the Strip.
Euro-Med Monitor has documented dozens of casualties due to Israeli attacks on mosques, including Ahmed Yassin Mosque in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, Salim Abu Muslim Mosque in the town of Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip, and Khalid bin Al-Walid Mosque in the southern city of Khan Yunis.
Approximately 20 Palestinians were killed and numerous others were injured in Israel’s 20 October airstrike on the Greek Orthodox church, which was providing shelter to displaced families, the majority of whom were Christians. According to the Euro-Med Monitor, Israel’s targeting of places of worship is a blatant violation of the right to freedom of religion and belief, which is guaranteed by international human rights law. Israel is prohibited from attacking places of worship in accordance with this right.
“Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” states Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. “This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, and teaching.”
Euro-Med Monitor warned that Israel’s repeated targeting of places of worship in Gaza during both its current and previous bombardments is evidence of repeated incitement by Israeli officials. The organisation contended that Israeli officials have consistently attempted to link the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict” to religion, and use religious symbols and texts to incite attacks against and expel Palestinians from their land and deprive them of their basic human rights.
These attacks, according to the human rights organisation, are part of the growing discourse of religious hatred that is being fuelled by the current far-right Israeli government, which has given attacks against Palestinians cover for impunity. Euro-Med Monitor also emphasised that international laws and conventions strictly prohibit targeting places of worship during war.
Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor called on the United Nations and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief to assume their responsibilities towards protecting places of worship and holy places in the Gaza Strip and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and to hold Israel accountable for its indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against civilians and civilian targets, which constitute war crimes and genocide.