The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor said on Monday that Israel is carrying out systematic military attacks against historical sites and landmarks during its ongoing aggression against the Gaza Strip since the 7th of October. The Euro-Med expressed its deep concern about reports suggesting that the Israeli army might have seized thousands of rare archaeological artifacts from the Gaza Strip, which could amount to a war crime according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
The Euro-Med Monitor recalled that on January 17th, the Israeli army published a video documenting the explosion and demolition of the main campus of Al-Isra University in the southern city of Gaza, after more than two months of occupying the university campus and using it as a military base for its vehicles, a center for targeting civilians, and a temporary detention center for interrogation.
Furthermore, the Euro-Med mentioned that the aforementioned destruction operation also targeted the National Museum, which was established by Al-Isra University years ago. It was the first of its kind in the Palestinian territories and contained more than three thousand rare artifacts. The university said in a statement that the army looted those artifacts before blowing up the museum building.
In parallel, the Euro-Med followed the publication of a video by Eli Eskozido, the head of the Israeli Antiquities Authority, on his Instagram account, showing Israeli soldiers at a site containing hundreds of Palestinian archaeological artifacts inside Gaza, without clarifying their fate.
In early November, the Euro-Med received reports regarding suspicions of systematic theft operations by the Israeli army targeting all extracted archaeological artifacts at the Tel Amer site, Monastery of Saint Hilarion, one of the oldest monasteries in Palestine.
The human rights monitor affirmed that the looting of artifacts constitutes a war crime according to international law, as international conventions & agreements such as the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, Article 4, and its First Protocol prohibit the seizure of artifacts during conflicts. Illicit trafficking in cultural property, including artifacts, is a crime under the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export, and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.
It emphasized that the seizure and destruction of artifacts constitute a war crime under Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court of 1998, which confirms the protection of cultural heritage and the international criminal responsibility of violators of these rules. The Euro-Med stressed that removing archaeological discoveries from the area under control constitutes looting of cultural property and a violation of international human rights law, as detailed in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, of which Israel is a party.
The Monitor has warned that concerns about the possible theft of archaeological artifacts from Gaza come amid an Israeli campaign to systematically target historical and cultural sites, museums, and landmarks in the Gaza Strip since the start of Israeli military attacks on the region.
The Euro-Med states that this campaign is an attempt to erase the presence of Palestinians, obliterate their cultural, spiritual, and popular heritage, destroy their national and patriotic identity, and sever their historical connection to the land.
It highlights that Israel deliberately targets all historical buildings in the Gaza Strip, including houses, churches, mosques, shrines, and archaeological sites, in addition to cultural institutions, public libraries, theaters, publishing houses, museums, and public squares.
Euro-Med Monitor points out that Israel is pursuing a general and broad policy aimed at targeting all Palestinian cultural, historical, and religious landmarks in the Gaza Strip. It has targeted landmarks in Gaza City, including public squares, monuments, memorials, gardens, and artworks, as well as artistic works and memorials in public squares.
The Euro-Med pointed out that the Israeli bombardment and destruction have affected at least 10 historical mosques and churches, 12 museums, 9 archaeological sites, and around 200 ancient historical buildings, including houses, castles, and palaces.
It also highlights the Israeli bombardment of the Central Archive, building belonging to the municipality of Gaza, which resulted in the destruction and a massive fire in the building, leading to the destruction of thousands of historical documents that are over 100 years old and document the city’s architecture and its urban development stages.
The Euro-Med affirms that the heritage and historical sites in Gaza belong to humanity and to all those interested in human history, not just the country where these landmarks are located. It calls for an impartial international investigation into Israel’s violations, holding it accountable, and exerting real pressure to stop its destructive attacks.
The Euro-Med calls on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to fulfill its role in dispatching a fact-finding mission to uncover the fate of thousands of archaeological artifacts in the Gaza Strip, assess the conditions of historical sites, and hold Israel accountable for its violations targeting cultural and human heritage in the region.