By Francesca Albanese, International Lawyer, Coordinator of the Question of Palestine Program, ARDD
In the past 24 hours, the Israeli army has launched a barrage of airstrikes into Gaza, killing 28 people, including 9 children. The bombing is ongoing—the Israeli officials have stated that it would continue for “days, not hours.”
I suspect the rockets from Gaza somewhat have played in Israel’s favor – and Netanyahu’s in particular. In a matter of hours, it managed to divert the global attention from the brutal crushing of both protests in Sheikh Jarrah and even worshipping of thousands on the last day of Ramadan at the AL Aqsa Mosque, which was indefensible even by Israel’s staunchest supporters.
While the usual pundits have already resumed the argument of Israel’s right to self-defense, this bombing remains not only horrific, immoral but also against basic principles of international law. The overall situation in Gaza, the way Israel deals with it, and the way the world ultimately let it happen with no consequences, is problematic from a legal point of view, and I trust this will be eventually considered by the ICC Prosecutor who is investigating the situation in Palestine.
The situation of Gaza is complex and entails both the reality on the ground and something more metaphysical, made of perceptions around Gaza, and still extremely detrimental on Gaza and its inhabitants.
First, the reality on the ground is a small piece of land, inhabited by 2 million people (3/4 of whom are refugees). This piece f land in over a decade has been turned into an impoverished, resource-depleted, overpopulated, and essentially inhabitable place. The international community keeps on denouncing the humanitarian catastrophe but de facto no one raises a finger to protect the population within the perimeter in which Israel has trapped it.
Because this is what Gaza is for many: a trap, in which Israel has forced its population since 2007 with the justification of isolating Hamas. In fact, it has made the long-held dream of Israel to isolate Gaza a reality, transforming it into the largest open-air prison on earth, where the inhabitants are collectively punished and often faced harsh repression (think of the shoot to kill policy used by Israel to ‘contain’ the protests along the fence since March 2018: thousands have been injured, many permanently, hundreds lost their life –in what an UN-appointed commission of inquiry found to be recurrent instances of excessive use of force and possible war crimes.
And over the first 7 years of blockade, Gaza has also gone through three major wars, in 2008/09, 2012, 2014, during which the Israeli army killed almost 4 thousand civilians, many of them children. In all three instances, 3 major UN commissions of enquires found Israel allegedly responsible for massive violations of international law.
Second, part of the complexity is also the way Gaza is portrayed by international media and commentators which is inaccurate and mystified. Gaza is often reported as an alien entity, the ‘HQ of Israel’s prime enemy’. The fact is Gaza is not an alien entity, Gaza is part of Palestinian occupied Pal territory, where Israel controls air, land, and water within the narrow, suffocating perimeter of what is erroneously called ‘borders’ (and which they are not! They are just a demarcation line defined for the purpose of the Oslo agreement). Within this perimeter, Gaza stands as occupied and its inhabitants are protected persons under IL, as unanimously agreed by the UN, the ICRC, and a number of intl legal experts.
As the occupying power Israel is responsible to ensure the welfare of the occupied population, including by respecting public life and safety, the lives of persons and property, ensuring adequate hygiene and public health standards, provision of food and medical care as well as relief and humanitarian assistance, as well as the enjoyment of fundamental human right including freedom of movement,
Therefore, if international law were to have a meaning, there should be no bombing, the blockade should be immediately lifted and the population of Gaza allowed to resume a normal course of life.
Anything short of that will continue to cause widespread suffering and most likely increase criminal liabilities on Israeli officials.