‘Any humanitarian response is not sufficient’

Long-term solution still out of reach for Palestine

Palestinian volunteers and municipal workers clear the rubble of the Hanadi compound, recently destroyed by Israeli strikes, in Gaza City’s Rimal district, on May 25, 2021. (Photo: AFP)
Palestinian volunteers and municipal workers clear the rubble of the Hanadi compound, recently destroyed by Israeli strikes, in Gaza City’s Rimal district, on May 25, 2021. (Photo: AFP)
AMMAN — The spate of violence in Palestine and airstrikes against Gaza, which left hundreds of Palestinians dead, ended with a fragile ceasefire. But in the humanitarian sector, a real solution to the ongoing occupation and violence is yet to come. اضافة اعلان

For UNRWA, the international response to the episode is similar to other upticks in fighting that have occurred before. “The immediate response was very similar to previous conflicts in Gaza,” said Tamara Al-Rifai, UNRWA’s spokesperson in a message to Jordan News. “During every conflict, the international community offers a mix of funding for the humanitarian response (organizing shelters, distributing food, stepping up medical services) and positions (calls to stop the conflict, call for a ceasefire, for the protection of civilians).”

But the conflict is also unique in its effects. “This conflict, though, hit Gaza on top of many layers of hardship that the strip is already going through: 14 years of blockade, 4 conflicts with each leaving scores of dead and the infrastructure destroyed, and COVID19,” she went on. “This was no ‘ordinary’ conflict as the situation in Gaza is not ordinary at all. Any humanitarian response is not sufficient to face the immense destruction of lives and buildings, this conflict throws Gaza back several years.”

“We think that the international community should have a firmer, more strong position standing in the face of the Israeli aggression” and the “consistent infringement of international law,” said Alaa Armouti, Commissioner General of the National Centre for Human Rights (NCHR), in an interview with Jordan News

Armouti referenced an idea that has become increasingly common in discussions of Israel and Palestine: the argument that Israel is committing violations of international law and even war crimes that can be punished through international tribunals. Human Rights Watch has recently issued a report accusing Israel of committing crimes against humanity, apartheid and persecution, through its policies towards Palestinians.

The legal definitions of these crimes, and the supranational authority to prosecute them, derive from the Rome Statute. In 1998, a five-week long diplomatic conference led to the adoption of the Rome Statute, which created the International Criminal Court (ICC), the world’s first permanent international court. The statute defined four international crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity (including those of which Human Rights Watch accused Israel), war crimes, and the crime of aggression, and provided mechanisms for the court to prosecute states for these crimes.

Though Israel initially supported the idea of an international criminal court in the aftermath of the war crimes committed during the world wars, it voted against the statute, citing concerns that population transfers were listed as a war crime. However, eventually the country signed on. 

Early in 2021, the International Criminal Court announced that it would initiate a probe into alleged war crimes in Palestine.

Israel has said publicly that it will not cooperate with the investigation and does not recognize the ICC’s authority. The announcement took place before the recent events, which started with the pending expulsions of Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah and spilled into aggressive bombing of Gaza.

“Palestinians are gaining more support from the international community, but not equal to what is happening on the ground,” added Armouti. 

Similarly, “The international community is now talking about and planning reconstruction in Gaza,” said Rifai. “That too is what happens every time the fighting stops.”

Armouti argued that statements in support of Palestine or condemning Israel’s attacks have little effect. “The condemnation is nothing compared to the action on the ground,” he said. “People in the states surrounding Israel are not free to show the real angle and the real resistance to what is happening in the Palestinian territories. They are not free to gather in numbers that they wish to do because there are a lot of restrictions.”

“More can be done,” said Armouti. “Words are important, but not enough. Freedoms should be more respected in this climate, these circumstances. We find that it is more important to have your basic rights respected in such times of crisis, because they prove once and again that they are basic to life, to your way of existence, to your future. To everything that surrounds you.”

He described problems with the media’s portrayal of the conflict. “It should be mentioned more often, it should be mentioned more in the news,” he said. “Still we have many broadcast stations that don’t really show the real issue on the ground. They try to cover up the Israeli atrocities. They try to show only the Palestinian counter-actions or reactions. They do not put enough light on the Israeli infringements on human rights, of international law, of war crimes, such as apartheid, such as ethnic cleansing.”

For Rifai, a clear conclusion for the attacks of the last few weeks is yet to come. “The threat of forced eviction of Palestine refugee families from their home is a reminder of the continued displacement and unresolved status of millions of Palestine refugees, and a reminder of an unresolved conflict,” she said. “Until it’s resolved, the humanitarian community may respond and provide emergency assistance and rebuilding between one round of violence and the other.”

She called for longer-term, sustainable solutions. “Gazans live in a gripping fear that they will rebuild what they can then it will all be destroyed again at the next conflict,” Rifai said. “And that is when the international community should offer longer term options: There are root causes, there is an unresolved conflict, there are economic hardships that affect the entire population in Gaza and send unemployment rates to 60 percent.”

The consequences of not incorporating human rights into an analysis of Israel’s occupation of Palestine are serious, according to Armouti. “We miss out on a lot, because we will lose a lot of weapons that we have gained through the struggle of humanity, for better living, for better life, better planet, better relations between people,” he said. “The more you speak about human rights, you are stressing on the supreme ideas of justice, of coexistence, these barriers which are crystallized in the system of human rights. They are very basic to our existence.”

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