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Gaza: UN experts deplore use of purported AI to commit ‘domicide’ in Gaza, call for reparative approach to rebuilding

15 April 2024

GENEVA (15 April 2024) – UN experts today deplored the purported use of artificial intelligence (AI) and related military directives by Israel in occupied Gaza leading to an unprecedented toll on the civilian population, housing, vital services and infrastructure.

“Six months into the current military offensive, more housing and civilian infrastructure has now been destroyed in Gaza as a percentage, compared to any conflict in memory,” they said. “Homes are gone, and with that, the memories, hopes and aspirations of Palestinians and their ability to realise other rights, including their rights to land, food, water, sanitation, health, security and privacy (especially of women and girls), education, development, a healthy environment and self-determination. And this comes on top of systematic demolitions of Palestinian homes over decades of occupation and previous bombardments.”

According to the experts, the systematic and widespread destruction of housing, services and civilian infrastructure represents a crime against humanity, a domicide, as well as numerous war crimes and acts of genocide as described by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territory in her recent report to the Human Rights Council. With Israeli public officials joining calls for Palestinians to leave Gaza, to “take back Gaza” to build settlements again, and ostensible enthusiasm expressed by prominent former US government officials for “Gaza beachfront” properties, there is little doubt that Israel’s intent goes far beyond the purposes of military defeat of Hamas, they noted.

“If proven true, the shocking revelations of the use of AI systems by the Israeli military such as “Gospel”, “Lavender” and “Where's Daddy?”, combined with lowered human due diligence to avoid or minimise civilian casualties and infrastructure, contribute to explaining the extent of the death toll and home destruction in Gaza,” the experts said.

More than 15,000 deaths, almost half of all civilian deaths so far, occurred during the first six weeks after October 7, when AI systems seem to have been largely relied upon for target selection.

“We are especially concerned about the alleged use of AI to target ‘family homes’ of suspected Hamas operatives, typically at night when they sleep, with unguided munitions known as ‘dumb’ bombs, with little regard for civilians who may be in or around that home,” they said.

They also expressed grave concern about the practice of bombing so-called “power targets” such as large, high rise residential and public buildings especially in the first weeks of the war. “Buildings that were not legitimate military targets were apparently bombed simply with the intent to shock the population and increase civilian pressure on Hamas,” the experts said.

Between 60-70% of all homes in Gaza, and up to 84% of homes in northern Gaza, are either fully destroyed or partly damaged. The World Bank, UN and EU estimate that damage to the Strip thus far is $18.5 billion or 97% of the total GDP of Gaza and West Bank. A staggering 72% of this estimate is the cost of housing, while another 19% is the cost of civilian infrastructure, including water and sanitation, power and roads.

According to the experts, the scale of destruction, with over 33,000 people killed and 1.7 million (75% of Gaza residents) displaced, makes it crystal clear that a reparative approach to rebuilding Gaza is essential.

“Such a reparative approach starts with Israel, the occupying power, which has destroyed Gaza, as well as the countries that supplied military, material and political support for the war and the occupation, all of whom bear both legal and moral responsibility,” the experts said.

The experts: Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing; Francesca Albanese, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967; Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences; Michael Fakhri, Special Rapporteur on the right to food; Paula Gaviria BetancurSpecial Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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