Vienna, 24 July 2014
The international community, represented by the United Nations Organization, has a joint responsibility to stop the ongoing armed conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people in Gaza. The situation constitutes a serious threat to peace and security according to Article 39 of the UN Charter. Due to their political paralysis resulting from disputes among member states, neither the League of Arab States nor the Organization of Islamic Cooperation can play any constructive role for the ending of hostilities.
The disproportionate use of force by the State of Israel, the effective Occupying Power in Gaza, is in violation of the most fundamental norms of international humanitarian law. Under the provisions of Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which is applicable in the present conflict, the civilian population must under no circumstances become the target of attacks. Whatever the political and military reasons for operative military decisions may be, the numbers speak for themselves: a total of 3 civilians killed on the side of the Occupying Power stands in sharp contrast to hundreds of civilian victims, many of them children, on the side of the people of Gaza. According to a United Nations estimate, three quarters of the more than 700 Palestinians killed were civilians.
Deliberate attacks against civilian targets constitute war crimes under international humanitarian law and give rise to judicial responsibility under international criminal law. An especially tragic case occurred in the southern Gaza strip on 20 July. In its July 21, 2014, issue, the New York Times reported an Israeli air strike on a four-story house in Gaza where families had assembled for iftar, the daily fast breaking during the holy month of Ramadan. 25 members of four family households died, among them a suspected member of the Hamas military wing. 19 of those killed were children. It must be clearly stated that the presence of a military person in a family gathering or religious ceremony does not make the location a military target. In this and many other instances, each State Party, according to Article 146 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, is “under the obligation to search for persons alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed, such grave breaches, and shall bring such persons, regardless of their nationality, before its own courts.” While, at the present moment, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has no jurisdiction in the present case since neither the State of Israel nor the State of Palestine have acceded to the Rome Statute, each State signatory of the Geneva Conventions possesses (universal) jurisdiction to prosecute war crimes committed in the course of the present conflict.
The embargo imposed on the people of Gaza continuously since 2006 has constituted an act of collective punishment and a grave breach of international humanitarian law. The people of Gaza have been deprived of their basic human rights, namely their right to a decent life including the freedom of movement. As a result of the embargo, the infrastructure is in ruins and basic services, particularly in the medical field, have collapsed. Confining almost two million people to a prison-like situation will not only nurture a sense of desperation, but is a morally shameful act. As enforcers of the embargo, the State of Israel as Occupying Power and the Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt bear the joint responsibility for this morally outrageous situation.
Under these circumstances, a ceasefire between the State of Israel and the Authorities of Gaza will be a futile undertaking – unless the agreement addresses the root causes of the conflict. This means, first and foremost, that the cessation of hostilities must be accompanied by a mutual and comprehensive commitment to non-aggression between Israel and Hamas. This will have to include not only an obligation, on the part of the Gaza authorities, to desist from rocket attacks against Israel, but also a clear and unambiguous commitment, on the part of the State of Israel, to lift the illegal and inhumane embargo imposed on the territory of Gaza. Only this measure will do away with Israel’s status as de facto Occupying Power in Gaza, one of the root causes of the conflict.
It is to be hoped that the governments of the United States of America, on the side of Israel, and of Turkey and Qatar, on the side of the people of Gaza, will be facilitators of such a comprehensive agreement, implementation of which will have to be monitored by the United Nations Organization.