From one side, the highest number of Jewish civilians murdered since the Holocaust. From the other, yet another collective punishment ordered against the civilian population of Gaza. History repeats itself, and it repeats itself for the worse. There is still no attempt at negotiation, no ceasefire in sight. Instead, there is a risk of an escalation of the war. Those who work in human rights and seek to have an impartial view of what happens during the war must focus on the actions and not the actors. Those looking at the actors will always find a justification for the behavior of the side they support.
If we look at the actions, we see crimes under international law — namely, war crimes — perpetrated by both sides. There can be no other feeling but horror in seeing images of Palestinian militants landing with motorized parachutes at a rave, an equivalent of the Bataclan multiplied by three or four.
Nor does the artificial distinction between ‘civilians’ and ‘abnormal civilians,’ made by a spokesperson of Hamas, hold water, according to whom Israelis and foreigners killed or taken hostage would all be ‘armed settlers,’ hence legitimate targets. Among these, there were and are activists and pacifists known for their solidarity with Palestinians, as well as children and migrant workers. The term ‘abnormal civilians’ is related to that used by the Israeli Defense Minister on October 9, of ‘human animals’ against whom the military attack on Gaza would be launched shortly. Therefore, the actions are war crimes, full stop — both those of Hamas and those of the Israeli army. The announcement to suspend essential supplies (electricity, water, food, fuel) to Gaza risks condemning two million people, including many children, to starvation. International law calls it ‘collective punishment.’
In Gaza, the Israeli air force shatters building upon building in the city center. The population is trapped and has no safe place to go. They say, ‘The population is warned in advance to have time to evacuate them.’ Are we sure? Can children, the elderly, and people with disabilities make it in time? And due to the suspension of the power supply, mobile phones can no longer be charged; how will they receive the SMS warning of the imminent bombing?
Assuming the SMS arrives, and the building is evacuated in time, where will the residents live after their home is destroyed? Will they be parked indefinitely in another refugee camp, this time in Egypt, which doesn’t exactly seem like a friendly state?
Hamas’ and Israel’s responsibilities for what is happening these days must not make us ignore the ‘underlying causes’: the decade-long control of the occupying power, which is Israel, over Gaza (and the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem), enacted through oppression, repeated use of lethal force, dispossession, fragmentation, illegal land acquisition, a criminalizing narrative toward Palestinians including human rights groups, and accompanied by impunity for settlers and the armed forces. Israeli, Palestinian, and international human rights organizations define this system by one name: apartheid.
I speak of this only at the end of the article to emphasize that there is no ‘yes, but’ to raise these days. There is only to condemn the horror, to demand respect for international humanitarian law, to call for the protection of civilians on every side of the conflict. One thing is clear: the massacre of Israeli and Palestinian civilians will bring no security and peace to anyone.
Riccardo Noury is spokesperson for Amnesty International Italy.
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