Last week, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted in favour of launching an international and independent inquiry into the Gaza conflict. Navi Pillay, head of the council and the UN’s ambassador for Human Rights, said that there is a “strong possibility” that international war crimes have been committed in the course of the conflict, and that the majority of these are likely to have been carried out by Israel. As the death toll in the region rises, and as civilians increasingly become caught up in the conflict, it is becoming clear that concerns over the violation of human rights are growing.
Increasingly, a consensus is emerging that Israel must be made more accountable for its actions against the civilians of Gaza. Why? Because the war in the Middle East is being questioned as unjust and immoral. Israel, which hides under a multi-million dollar blanket of US anti-missile technology, is using force which is not proportionate to attacks on its country by Hamas. Although Article 51 of the founding charter of the United Nations permits any state to use force against an armed attack, since 1968 Israel has been officially recognised as an Occupying Force in Gaza. This means the claim to self-defence is a false one, as it is the duty of the occupying authority to keep all citizens safe. Indeed, the loss of life experienced by Palestinians is excessive in comparison to Israel, clearing suggesting the Israeli army has been defying the ICRC’s protocol of proportionality and gaining a military advantage. Despite calls from the UN Security Council for a ceasefire, Israel seems intent on ignoring its international responsibilities, instead determined on causing more terror. This is not permissible. Israel continues to flout international attempts at peace, and, as the San Francisco University found, has ignored 38 resolutions since 1968 – more than any other country. This total disregard for peace and a willingness for war suggests that if action is not taken urgently to remind Israel of its rights and responsibilities to not only the UN, but also to the people of the region, then more blood will inevitably be shed.
Understandably, much anger exists against Hamas. Countless reports have indicated that the militant wing of the group are using civilian homes as launch pads for rockets, in direct contradiction of Article 8 of the Rome Statute. However, the urban density of the Gaza strip, which has been half evacuated after Israel imposed a no-go area, suggests the Palestinian group are left with no alternative. In addition, the New York Times reported on July 8th that even as people evacuated a house prior to bombing, others remained, intent on attempting to prevent a rocket launch by the Israeli Army. This by no means excuses Hamas, but clearly points towards the question that, for those individuals living in the strip, living in an untenable position – without regular supplies of food, water, aid, electricity or transport – at what point do you stop bombing them and start helping?
Unfortunately, evidence continues to emerge that suggests Israel is not upholding fundamental human rights, is removing the dignity and worth of thousands of fellow humans, and is failing to practice tolerance. These are all virtues of the preamble to the United Nations, and a set of aims that still demands we strive for better standards of living. In 2012, a United Nations investigation into conflicts in Gaza reported in the publication ‘Human Rights in Palestine and Other Occupied Arab Territories’ that Israel was failing to protect, respect and promote the civil, political and human rights of persons under its jurisdiction. By promoting discrimination in the form of settlements, and abandoning the rights of Palestinians to equality before the law, Israel is breaking international covenants, treaties and agreements. Promoting the creation of these settlements and violating the rights of Palestinians permits us now to act against Israel’s government or army. Whether through the International Court of Human Rights or other tribunal systems, or through intervention similar to Kosovo, the international community needs to act together to either intervene, or bring about a legal and moral argument against this conflict.
Unfortunately, the prospect of ending the current conflict and bringing about justice may be some way off. This is not about standing by Palestine or standing by Israel, but standing by victims of war and violence and the standards we set ourselves as civilised societies. The phrase ‘war crimes’ or ‘crimes against humanity’ may remind some of the horrific acts of the Second World War, but are designed quite rightly to give gravity to horrific actions where whole peoples are put under threat, and horrific situations that cause vast displacement, misery and humanitarian disaster. If action is the foundation key to all success, then now is the time to act.
By James Wand