Israeli airstrikes destroy buildings at Gaza Strip. Anadolu via Reuters

Immediate Action Needed from International Community to Protect Civilians in Gaza, Israel and the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem

In Arab Countries, International Advocacy Program by CIHRS

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights(CIHRS) is gravely alarmed by the continuing indiscriminate use of military force against civilians in Gaza, Israel and the occupied West Bank, now principally being carried out by Israeli forces in reprisal for Hamas attacks on Israel beginning on October 7, in which over 900 Israelis and foreign nationals  including civilians were killed and 1500 wounded. To date over 770 Palestinians including civilians have been killed in Gaza.  Indiscriminate attacks against civilians by both sides constitute war crimes under international law.

The United Nations Security Council should call for an immediate ceasefire and take necessary steps to safeguard the civilian population from further harm.  The United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the situation in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza (COI) should carry out a thorough investigation into violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by all parties, and into the contributory and root causes that have resulted in this horrific explosion of violence. The International Criminal Court should ensure that all parties implicated in crimes under international law are held to account. Israel should immediately cease any actions that undermine the mission of both institutions.

It cannot be overlooked that escalating violence against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza since the beginning of this century, which  has killed thousands of Palestinian civilians,[1] coupled with the expansion of Illegal Israeli settlements, increasing attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinian civilians and repeated threats by senior Israeli leaders to annex Palestinian territory and expel the existing Palestinian population from Jerusalem and the West Bank, has exacerbated tension in a situation where Palestinians have no path to realize their rights provided for in international law, including their right to self-determination.  For decades, Israel has been able to violate international law with impunity and to disregard United Nations resolutions often with the assistance of Western governments.

As highlighted by several UN reporting authorities: as part of an overarching policy of demographic engineering, and to maximize land and resources for the Israeli-Jewish population only, Palestinians including refugees have been dispossessed, forcibly separated, fragmented and denied their fundamental and inalienable rights, as enshrined in international law and UN resolutions.  These practices amount to the crime of apartheid as defined in international law.

In that regard, the statements from the United States, the European Union and major Western governments giving unconditional support to Israel to “defend itself” even as Israeli leaders speak of “revenge” and give clear indication that their attacks on Gaza will be indiscriminate and carried out without regard to the constraints of international law are irresponsible and counterproductive. Such brazenly biased statements will only fuel the perception that the rights of Palestinians will not be protected by the international community.

The international community should unite in recognizing that the only way to de-escalate the violence in Gaza, Israel and the West Bank, which threatens to develop into a catastrophic broader regional conflict, is through the impartial application of the protections of international law to all, including through the dismantlement of Israel’s apartheid.

The events of October 7 have exposed the illusory plans of authoritarian Arab leaders to normalize relations with Israel, while not even considering the rights of the Palestinian people. Unlike Arab leaders, people throughout the Arab region do not condone deprivation, humiliation, imprisonment, killings, occupation, colonialism and apartheid. The two-state solution has long been a dead letter to which western governments have paid lip-service in order to excuse their neglect of the unresolved issue of the denial of the rights of the Palestinian people.  The Palestinian Authority has devolved into a security arm of the occupation and has no legitimacy.

This most violent escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for over fifty years demands a new approach from the parties and from the international community. The priority for future actions by all parties must be the protection of the civilian population in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.

Israel should immediately end its indiscriminate bombardment of Gaza and lift its total siege, which is an act of collective punishment and a clear war crime.  Israel should abandon its failed security doctrine of responding to attacks by Palestinian groups with overwhelming violence, unconstrained by international law. After more than fifty years of this approach, Israel’s leaders must recognize that violent methods only produce a vicious cycle of violence in which civilians are always the most victimized.

The international community should unite to demand an end to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and to demand the dismantling of Israel’s apartheid regime.

The Palestinian people must play a full part in the just settlement of the conflict. This will require the holding of free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections for the Palestinian Authority, as well as guarantees for the independence of the press and civil society organizations throughout the Palestinian territory.  The international community should provide sustained support to this crucial process, which will take many months and even years to accomplish.

The right of the Palestinian people to resist illegal occupation and apartheid must be protected. However, that right does not include indiscriminate attacks against Israeli civilians, summary executions and abduction and kidnapping that Hamas fighters have engaged in over the past few days.  These violations of international law only feed the cycle of violence in which too many have already died.

[1] For example, from January 1 – September 30, 2023, the Israeli army and settlers killed 234 Palestinians, including 45 children in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Share this Post