(18 November) The escalating human toll in Gaza, reaching now a staggering 12,000 individuals, serves as a chilling reminder of the dire humanitarian crisis unfolding in the aftermath of the Israeli ground force assault. The Israeli bombardment has left a trail of destruction, with women and children bearing the brunt of the offensive in Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas in the world.
Another facet of this disturbing escalation of violence in the Middle East is the Israeli bombardment, which has ruthlessly targeted not only homes and infrastructure but also sacred places of worship. This destruction of mosques and churches in the ongoing conflict is not only a clear violation of international law but also a profound affront to the principles of humanity and religious freedom.
These sacred spaces, meant to be havens of peace and spiritual solace, have been reduced to rubble, leaving countless innocent worshippers displaced and grieving. The toll on human lives and the psychological trauma inflicted upon communities is immeasurable.
The wanton destruction of religious sites by the Israeli military is a clear violation of international law which expressly prohibit the targeting of civilian objects, including places of worship. The deliberate targeting of mosques and churches demonstrates a blatant disregard for the sanctity of religious spaces and undermines the very foundation of international humanitarian law.
In a recent statement, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor disclosed that Israel, now in its second month of an ongoing assault, has aimed at numerous mosques and churches in the Gaza Strip. The organization asserted that Israel’s bombing of places of worship unequivocally breaches international humanitarian law and the laws of war.
According to the Geneva-based human rights group, recent assaults by Israel have resulted in the complete destruction of 66 mosques and partial damage to 146 others, representing around 20% of all mosques in the Gaza Strip. Additionally, three historic churches in various areas of the Strip have suffered damage. Euro-Med Monitor has documented numerous casualties resulting from Israeli attacks on mosques, including those at the Ahmed Yassin Mosque in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, the Salim Abu Muslim Mosque in the town of Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip, and the Khalid bin Al-Walid Mosque in the southern city of Khan Yunis.
The Great Omari Mosque in Gaza, acknowledged as the oldest mosque in the region and situated in the Old City, is reported to have been struck by an Israeli air strike on Thursday, as per Al Jazeera Arabic.
Commonly referred to as Gaza’s Great Mosque, it boasts a history dating back to around 700 CE during the Umayyad period. Its architectural origins trace back to the earlier cathedral of John the Baptist, constructed in 406 CE.
In an October 20 Israeli airstrike, approximately 20 Palestinians lost their lives, and numerous others were injured at the Saint Porphyrius Greek Orthodox church, which was providing shelter to displaced families, the majority of whom were Christians. Saint Porphyrius, built circa 1150, is the oldest church still in use in Gaza, located in an historic neighborhood of Gaza City.
The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem voiced his “strongest condemnation” of the IDF strike. A statement issued by the patriarchate declared “Targeting churches and their institutions, along with the shelters they provide to protect innocent citizens, especially children and women who have lost their homes due to Israeli airstrikes on residential areas over the past 13 days, constitutes a war crime that cannot be ignored”.
According to the Euro-Med Monitor, Israel’s deliberate targeting of places of worship constitutes a blatant violation of the right to freedom of religion and belief, as guaranteed by international human rights law. Israel is expressly prohibited from attacking places of worship under the protection of this fundamental 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.”
Daily images and videos highlighting the brutality of the Israeli army continue to flood social media. A video circulating on on X (formerly known as Twitter), has unveiled a deeply disturbing incident that transpired yesterday, sending shockwaves through the region. The footage captures a solemn moment in the West Bank during the call to prayer when an Israeli soldier callously threw a stun grenade into a mosque. What makes this act even more reprehensible is the premeditated nature of the incident; the soldier had reportedly requested a comrade to film this inflammatory action. Such a deliberate and disrespectful act during a sacred moment highlights the pernicious mindset of the IDF perpetrators who have already violated Palestinian homes, hospitals and schools.
Beyond the immediate human suffering, the destruction of mosques and churches poses a severe threat to the cultural and historical fabric of the affected communities. These sacred sites are not only places of worship but also repositories of cultural heritage, embodying the rich history and traditions of the people who gather there. The irreversible loss of such cultural landmarks is a tragedy that reverberates through generations, compounded by the devastating loss of human life.
The destruction of mosques and churches also represents a direct assault on religious freedom. Every individual has the right to practice their faith without fear of persecution or violence. The targeting of religious institutions sends a chilling message, stifling the ability of individuals to express their beliefs freely and participate in communal worship. As the death toll in Gaza climbs, so does the urgency to protect the fundamental right to religious freedom.
The international community must unequivocally condemn the destruction of mosques and churches and call for accountability. Israel, as a member of the global community, is bound by international law to respect the rights of civilians and safeguard places of worship. The perpetrators of these attacks must be held accountable for their actions through transparent investigations and, if warranted, legal proceedings. The escalating death toll in Gaza only underscores the pressing need for accountability and justice.