Geneva - Israel has deliberately destroyed archaeological monuments in the Gaza Strip as part of its ongoing bloody war in an explicit targeting of Palestinian cultural heritage, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said in a statement issued on Monday.
Israeli air and artillery attacks have targeted many prominent historical sites important to the cultural heritage of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, said Euro-Med Monitor. This has included archaeological sites, historical buildings, places of worship, and museums, and has caused great destruction.
Euro-Med Monitor stressed that international humanitarian law prohibits in all circumstances the deliberate targeting of cultural and religious sites, which do not constitute legitimate military objectives nor an imperative military necessity. The Geneva-based rights organisation cited the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict as well as the Second Protocol to the Convention of 1999.
The Israeli army targeted the historic Al-Omari Grand Mosque in the centre of Gaza City, destroying its minaret, which dated back 1,400 years. With a total area of roughly 4,100 square metres—including 1,800 square metres of covered area—Al-Omari Grand Mosque is the largest and oldest mosque in the Gaza Strip.
Three historic churches in the Gaza Strip were also attacked by the Israeli army, one of which being the long-standing Church of Saint Porphyrius. Built atop a wooden pagan temple, the church dates back to 407 AD. Israel’s army has also destroyed most of the Old City of Gaza City, Euro-Med Monitor added, which contains 146 old houses in addition to mosques, churches, markets, and historically significant schools.
The Israeli army also destroyed the archaeological site of Al-Balakhiya and the ancient port of Gaza (Anthedon Archaeological Port) in the northwest of Gaza City, which dated back to 800 BC. Anthedon Harbour was regarded as one of Gaza’s most remarkable archaeological monuments, and is listed on both the Islamic Heritage List and the preliminary World Heritage List. Furthermore, the 400-year-old “Al-Saqqa House” in Al-Shuja'iya neighbourhood, in the east of Gaza City, has been destroyed by Israeli warplanes. The building spanned 700 square metres.
Several additional historic sites have been damaged by the Israeli attacks, such as the Monastery of Saint Hilarion at Tell Umm Amer, which was constructed over 1,600 years ago; the House of Al-Ghussein, a late Ottoman-era historical structure; and the Hammam of Smara, which was constructed at least 1320 years ago.
Various cultural institutions have also been targeted by Israeli attacks, said Euro-Med Monitor, including at least six cultural centres and five bookstores which are now destroyed; most notably, these are the Orthodox Cultural Centre, Al-Qarara Cultural Museum (which was built in 1958), and the Rafah Museum.
The headquarters of the Our Sons for Development Association, the Gaza Centre for Culture and Arts, the Milad Association, the Arab Social Cultural Centre, the Hakawi Theatre Association, and other culturally relevant institutions have all been destroyed as part of a horrific cultural cleansing campaign.
In successive military operations over the years, the Israeli army has destroyed numerous places integral to Gaza’s rich cultural ecosystem and architectural legacy, said Euro-Med Monitor. The current conflict, however, represents an intentional and deliberate diminishing of the enclave’s historical and cultural heritage, contended the rights organisation.
Israel is relentlessly chipping away at the humanitarian and cultural heritage of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, violently targeting landmarks that represent Gazans’ basic values as part of its genocidal war in the Gaza Strip. Israel’s aim, according to Euro-Med Monitor, is to forcibly displace Palestinians and obliterate their identity as a people.
Destroying and targeting historical and archaeological sites may amount to a war crime under the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court, and is a clear violation of the Hague Convention relating to the protection of cultural heritage during armed conflicts.
Gaza’s historical landmarks and cultural assets belong to all people who are curious about human history, said Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, not just to the nation in which they are situated. The rights group emphasised the urgent need for an impartial international investigation into Israel’s violations, in order to pressure Israel to stop its genocide of Palestinians and to ultimately hold it accountable for its abhorrent violence.