The recent atrocities taken by the Israeli colonial-apartheid regime against the Palestinian people, especially the ongoing genocidal war on Gaza, trigger the obligation of the international community to provide Palestinians with international comprehensive protection. Specifically, it is an obligation of the United Nations (UN), its member states and UN agencies to provide immediate physical and humanitarian protection.
At this time, approximately 1 million Palestinians have become internally displaced persons because they have been forced to flee from the northern and central parts of the Gaza Strip to the southern parts in search of safety and basic needs. It is necessary to remind the international community that more than 80 percent of the population in the Gaza Strip are Palestinian refugees and their descendants from 1948. This means that they should have already been receiving physical, humanitarian and legal protection. Ensuring international protection necessitates taking all activities necessary to ensure human dignity and rights in accordance with international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law.
The Israeli regime’s relentless and brutal attacks on Gaza that deliberately target civilians, civilian infrastructure including schools and hospitals, and others protected under international humanitarian law (such as humanitarian staff, paramedics, and journalists), along with its decision to cut off fuel, electricity, water, and food and other critical supplies from entering Gaza, are clear and blatant indications of genocide.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) emphasized that hospitals in Gaza “risk turning into morgues without electricity”, and that the evacuation orders given by Israeli authorities are “not compatible with international humanitarian law.” It stressed that civilians must be allowed to willingly evacuate from a besieged area, and that it is absolutely prohibited to attack civilians who are fleeing. The ICRC also emphasized that IHL prohibits the starving of a civilian population as a method of warfare.
Following the ultimatum given by the Israeli military, threatening civilians to flee to the south of Gaza, UNRWA relocated its central operations center and international staff to southern Gaza, and has stated that “UNRWA is no longer able to assist or protect” the Palestinian IDPs who remained in UNRWA schools in Gaza City and the North.
As of 16 October, UNRWA announced that, according to confirmed reports, 14 UNRWA staff members have been murdered by Israeli indiscriminate bombings, though the actual number is likely to be higher. At least 24 UNRWA installations have been impacted as a result of the airstrikes, and eight UNRWA health centers are operational throughout Gaza, with estimated supplies of less than one month. Most of the 13,000 UNRWA staff in the Gaza strip are now displaced or out of their homes, and of the estimated 1 million people that were displaced across the Gaza strip, at least 400,000 displaced persons are now in UNRWA schools and buildings, most of which are not equipped to be emergency shelters. UNRWA has also stated that Israel continues to bomb southern Gaza, despite its ‘evacuation’ ultimatum that ordered people to move south.
On 17 October, an UNRWA school in Al Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza, sheltering some 4,000 IDPs, was hit during an Israeli assault, killing at least six people.
But two days prior that, on 15 October, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini has stated that UNRWA in Gaza is “on the verge of collapse”, and that “this is absolutely unprecedented.”
On 17 October, UN Human Rights Chief, Volker Turk, in response to the bombing of Al Ahli Arab Hospital stated that “Hospitals are sacrosanct and must be protected at all costs. [. . .] Civilians must be protected, and humanitarian aid must be allowed to reach those in need as a matter of urgency.”
The UN and its members states have taken no measures to hold Israel accountable for the willful and deliberate destruction of UN facilities and infrastructure and the killing of UN staff. Instead of pressuring Israel for a ceasefire, the international community has been reduced to practically begging Israel for humanitarian corridors to allow the passage of tons of humanitarian relief aid that are currently just sitting on the borders of the Gaza Strip.
There have been no practical measures taken by the UN and member states to fulfill their obligations under international law to impose a cease fire, provide protection, or ensure access to humanitarian goods and services. Pursuant to the Draft Articles on State Responsibility for Internationally Wrongful Acts, the international community, comprised of the UN, its member states and agencies and other third parties are under a positive duty to “cooperate to bring to an end through lawful means any breach,” and a negative duty not to “recognize as lawful a situation created by a serious breach [...] nor render aid or assistance in maintaining that situation.”
Moreover, while witnessing (again) the forcible displacement of Palestinians within Gaza and the Israeli attempts to remove them to Egypt, the international community has taken no measures to establish safe places for Palestinian civilians, who are refugees and/or IDPs, in Gaza.
Therefore, BADIL calls on the international community, particularly the UN, its member states and agencies to:
- Call for an immediate ceasefire in order for UNRWA, and other UN agencies, to fulfill their mandates and provide humanitarian aid relief services for Palestinian refugees and IDPs in Gaza.
- Reject Israel’s renewed ethnic cleansing of Palestinians within or from Gaza rather than calling for humanitarian corridors for civilians to be forcibly displaced.
- Call on states to cease their unconditional support for Israel’s colonial-apartheid regime, including the call for sanctions and two-way arms embargoes on Israel.
- Undertake all necessary activities to provide international protection to ensure human dignity and rights according to obligations and international law.