Israel-Hamas conflict: Call on Canada to stand with international law


For an independent, impartial and concise summary of the situation leading up to the call by Brazil, the UN Security Council’s October President, for closed consultations on the situation in Gaza and Israel — scheduled for the afternoon of 13 October 2023 — click HERE.

Key elements of that summary include:

  • The 7 October large-scale attack on Israel by Hamas, which included the firing of thousands of rockets and the killing and capturing of Israeli soldiers and civilians;
  • According to Israeli figures, at least 1,300 Israeli and foreign nationals have been killed; more than 3,300 have been wounded and 150 hostages reportedly have been taken.
  • In response, the Israeli Defence Force launched “one of the largest air strikes ever against Hamas in Gaza,” reportedly killing 1,417 Palestinians and injuring over 6,200.
  • On 9 October Israel “ordered a full siege on the Gaza strip” with “no power, no food, no gas” allowed in.

hospitals cannot run without fuel, without electricity – World Health Organization

According to the “What’s in Blue” report, Security Council members

are expected to underscore the need to protect civilians and respect international humanitarian law… [as well as] to express concern at the conflict’s possible regional spillover.

For initial reporting on the outcome of the closed consultations (also discussed further below), click here.

Situation as of 13 October 2023

Aljazeera reports:

At least 1,799 Palestinians were killed and 6,388 wounded in Israeli air attacks on Gaza. The number of people killed in Israel has reached 1,300, with more than 3,000 wounded.

On the morning of 13 October, the Israeli army warned 1.1 million people living in northern Gaza to evacuate their homes ahead of an expected ground offensive, directing them to flee deeper south into the Gaza Strip, a narrow coastal territory, home to 2.3 million people.

Aljazeera elaborates:

The broad order for all of Gaza’s north also applies to all UN staff and to the hundreds of thousands of people who have taken shelter in UN schools and other facilities since Israel launched round-the-clock air strikes on Saturday.

In response, the UN Secretary-General’s spokesperson, Stéphane Dujarric, issued a Note to correspondents on Gaza which included the following:

The United Nations considers it impossible for such a movement to take place without devastating humanitarian consequences.

The United Nations strongly appeals for any such order, if confirmed, to be rescinded avoiding what could transform what is already a tragedy into a calamitous situation.

UN News also reports:

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) joined the call for Israel to rescind the relocation order, which amounted to a “death sentence” for many, said WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic.

He told journalists in Geneva, in line with the assessment of health authorities there, that it would be

impossible to evacuate vulnerable hospital patients from the north of Gaza.

That UN report continues with this tweet from UN Humanitarian Relief Chief Martin Griffiths:

Note that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres confirmed on Wednesday, 11 October that at least 11 United Nations employees have been killed in Israeli airstrikes in Gaza since the weekend, as well as thirty UNRWA students.

According to UNRWA’s Deputy Director in Gaza, Jennifer Austin:

Among the dead are five teachers, a gynecologist, an engineer, a psychological counselor and three support staff

Some were killed at home with their families.

In the meantime, the Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland, stated in a written communique:

The Israeli military demand that 1.2 million civilians in northern Gaza relocate to its south within 24 hours, absent of any guarantees of safety or return, would amount to the war crime of forcible transfer. It must be reversed….

My colleagues inside Gaza confirm that there are countless people in the northern parts who have no means to safely relocate under the constant barrage of fire.

Egeland outlines a further fear concerning Israeli plans:

We fear that Israel may claim that Palestinians who could not flee northern Gaza can be erroneously held as directly participating in hostilities, and targeted.

The statement ends with this call to action, which shockingly appears to have fallen on deaf ears:

The United States, the UK, the European Union, and other Western and Arab Nations who have influence over the Israeli political and military leadership must demand that the illegal and impossible order to relocate is immediately rescinded

USA finally calls for Israeli restraint

In a marked departure from earlier statements, the Biden administration — through Secretary of State Anthony Blinken — finally called on Israel to avoid civilian casualties, saying:

We have urged the Israelis to use every possible precaution to avoid harm to civilians…. We recognise many Palestinian families in Gaza are suffering through no fault of their own and that Palestinian civilians have lost their lives.

The Guardian reports that the statement was made by Secretary Blinken on 13 October while on a tour of six Arab nations in an effort to forestall a wider war sweeping the Middle East. It took place against the backdrop of an Arab League letter to the UN Secretary-General stating in part:

What Israel is doing is a horrendous vengeful act that [relies] on the brutal use of military force to punish helpless residents and civilians in Gaza through random targeting….

The Guardian also reports that,

speaking in Doha after meeting Qatar’s prime minister, Blinken said he was working with UN agencies, Israel and regional powers on a plan for safe zones in Gaza. comments:

Conspicuously absent from Secretary Blinken’s statement is any reference to the patently illegal Israeli evacuation order to desperate Palestinian civilians in Northern Gaza. Perhaps he can explain how newborn infants in incubators can be safely evacuated.

Statement by China

China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, said Friday that the cause of the Israel–Hamas conflict was “historical injustice” against Palestinians, as he met with the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, in Beijing:

The root of this problem lies in the long delay in the realization of Palestine’s aspiration to establish an independent state, and in the fact that the historical injustice suffered by the Palestinian people has not been corrected.

Russian ceasefire proposal put forward during Friday’s UN Security Council consultations on the situation in Gaza

Reuters is reporting that, according to a draft text it has seen,

During the meeting, Russia proposed a draft resolution for the Security Council that calls for a humanitarian ceasefire and condemns violence against civilians and all acts of terrorism.

It was not immediately clear when or if Russia would put the draft resolution to a vote. The United States has traditionally shielded its ally Israel from any Security Council action. It holds a veto along with Britain, France, China and Russia. comments again:

The Chinese statement on root causes and the Russian call for a humanitarian ceasefire are actions fully in accordance with international law and stand in stark contrast to America’s ongoing enabling of Israeli war crimes.

Israel–Palestine, international law and the question of impunity

Both Hamas and Israel are rightly accused of war crimes in the current fighting. To examine this question further, we turn now to an Aljazeera Inside Story interview with three international experts entitled Is international law to protect civilians ignored in Gaza’s war? (11 October 2023).

Note that this conversation took place before the Israeli evacuation order (discussed earlier) was issued.

The three experts are:

Geoffrey Nice – lawyer and former prosecutor at the International Criminal Court.

Omar Shakir – Israel and Palestine director at Human Rights Watch.

Michael Lynk – Canadian professor emeritus in the law faculty at Western University and United Nations special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories from 2016 to 2022.

Obligations of an Occupying Power

The discussion begins with questions to Michael Lynk on Israel’s obligations under International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and as an Occupying Power.

He replies:

The primary obligation of any Occupying Power is the protection of the people under Occupation…

Lynk continues:

Principle of distinction

In a moment of conflict, the standard rules of IHL wind up applying which means the Occupying Power and the military force must always make a distinction, a very clear distinction, between civilian and military objects. It is forbidden to target civilian populations either directly or through their property or their means of subsistence.

Collective punishment forbidden

And the other aspect of this is obviously the siege that is going on now. Gaza has been under a blockade since 2006. I have, as Special Rapporteur in one of my reports to the UN, stated that [the siege] amounted to collective punishment, which is absolutely forbidden under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The total siege which has been put in place on Gaza since the weekend, where they are cutting off water, sanitation, food and any kind of supplies getting into Gaza, is forbidden under IHL. It’s forbidden to use starvation or the deprivation of any kind of necessities of life that would support the civilian population.

So there are a number of areas of deep concern with respect to international humanitarian law.

What about violent resistance against the occupation? Is that legal?

The answer is yes but the answer is also that it must be done within very clear boundaries. People under occupation, under colonialism, have had for a number of decades the right to resist their subjugation but that must be done again within the rules of international law and, in particular, it means that, in using the right to resist, the right to use military force to end the occupation, you cannot target civilians; you cannot fire rockets into civilian areas; you cannot kidnap civilians or kill them.

Omar Shakir on war crimes

Recalling the “flagrant violations” of IHL by both sides, Shakir cites the attacks on, and the killing of civilians, and the taking of civilian hostages by Hamas as clear war crimes “without justification”.

“starvation as a tool of war”

He continues:

The Israeli army has been pounding the densely populated Gaza Strip over repeated days and evenings. This includes dropping explosive weapons with wide area effects into Gaza. We have already seen large numbers of civilians killed including children. We’ve seen high-rise buildings reduced to rubble. We’ve seen the cutting of electricity, of fuel, of water, of the entry of goods — humanitarian aid — this is a clear war crime as Professor Lynk noted which is not only collective punishment — 2.2 million people punished for the actions of individuals — but it’s also potentially starvation as a tool of war … the Israeli authorities have a long track record of committing serious war crimes in Gaza including deliberately targeting buildings, wiping out families, destroying high rise buildings without any apparent military target.

So we are seeing a real descent into darkness.

What about Israeli prior warnings of attacks?

First noting that Human Rights Watch cannot yet make definitive conclusions on the warnings, which require careful research, Omar then continues:

But let me be clear on the law. Even where warnings are provided, this does not make an air strike necessarily legal. … [the attacks can still be] disproportionate or indiscriminate. So warnings in and of themselves do not give you carte blanche to kill.

Michael Lynk on proportionality

It is important that militaries never use these rules loosely

It is permitted in international law to be able to choose a military target which might have consequences for civilians, either in their lives or their property, if the advantage militarily is overwhelmingly in favour of attacking that target.

All of that said, though, it is important that militaries never use these rules loosely and Israel has been cited on a number of occasions on reviews of its attacks, particularly in Gaza or in Lebanon, that it has a very flexible or elastic definition with respect to these strict rules under IHL and how you are to go about choosing particular targets.

We can see in virtually every one of the major conflicts or assaults on Gaza that have occurred since 2008-2009 that there are many credible instances where these rules have been disregarded [by Israel].

Omar Shakir on ending impunity

The ICC has a formal probe into serious crimes committed in Palestine. The court has set out that they have jurisdiction over crimes committed in Palestine. That would include obviously what is happening in Gaza with air strikes… total siege, and Hamas rocket attacks.

We know there is also, although not a criminal proceeding, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has been asked by the UN to issue an Advisory Opinion about the legal consequences not only of the Israel occupation but also of the discriminatory treatment of Palestinians.

What we have lacked is the political will to actually ensure that impunity ends.

Courts around the world have jurisdiction over crimes of this gravity, that we are seeing on the ground, to investigate and prosecute.

So we have the mechanism; it is there. What we have lacked is the political will to actually ensure that impunity ends.

…we are here precisely because we have seen unlawful attacks and systematic repression take place with impunity for years and decades. This needs to be addressed.

Michael Lynk on how to end impunity


What should the international community be doing?

Lynk replies:

We are here in another dreadful situation precisely because we haven’t married international law — which is very clear with respect to the obligations of Israel and of Hamas — with international resolve.

Israel learns the lesson that impunity is a reward for them.

I agree with Omar that we have mechanisms and a path to accountability through the investigations that have been going on since 2015 with the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.

Alas, justice moves slowly. And every several years we seem to have another huge file to the ICC with respect to what is going on in Palestine with no great movement through the formal investigation process.

A justice crisis in the Palestinian Occupied Territories

We have had three major Commissions of Inquiry — after the 2008–2009 conflict in Gaza, after the 2014 and after the 2018 Great March of Return. Each of these three major reports issued by the Human Rights Council pointed to the prevalence of impunity, the lack of accountability. One of the reports says: “We have a justice crisis in the Palestinian Occupied Territories”.

Professor Lynk concludes:

It is imperative that the international community learn the lessons that ignoring international law when it comes to Israel and Palestine only begs the repetition of these awful events.

Sir Geoffrey Nice on corruption of the legal process by big state players

And it is a tragedy not just concerning Israel but concerning many other countries that the lessons available to us after the Second World War where we learned how humans can behave toward humans and we set up a number of instruments in order to save us from it ever happening again.

It’s a tragedy that we haven’t learned that lesson, continuing to allow through one means or another the corruption of the legal process to be maintained by inactivity of the big state players.

Omar Shakir and double standards

The discussion ends with these words by Omar Shakir:

What we are seeing in Israel-Palestine is a challenge to the international rules-based order where we see the Western world rallying around international law, [and] accountability when it comes to Ukraine but that has too often been lacking in Israel-Palestine.

So long as the world accepts a situation in which impunity runs wild and in which we are not defending the fundamental international legal order in Israel-Palestine, it undermines that protection everywhere around the world.

Whither Canada?

While Prime Minister Trudeau echoed America’s full-throated support for Israel and shameful failure to condemn Israel’s total blockade of Gaza, Foreign Minister Melanie Joly, on 11 October, indicated Canada was worried about what will happen in Gaza, citing dire humanitarian conditions ahead of a potential Israeli ground assault against Hamas.

Reuters comments:

Joly’s comments were among the clearest expressions of concern so far by a major Western nation about the impact of an assault.

She is further quoted as saying:

My heart breaks for the deaths we have seen. And I share the anxiety about what will happen next.

Canada is urging all parties to respect international humanitarian law and grant access and will continue to support the humanitarian needs of Palestinian civilians.

What next? We all have a role to play

We turn now to a statement by Rideau Institute board member Robin Collins entitled The Horrors of Hamas-Israel War, and Our Priorities (, 12 October 2023).

It is a short statement, with which RI strongly agrees, and we include it in its entirety:

We must unequivocally condemn Hamas atrocities

We must unequivocally condemn the atrocities Hamas launched against Israeli civilians beginning on October 7. These were acts of terror. This was not resistance to occupation. Indiscriminate violence targeted civilians. Hundreds of innocents were killed, together with a handful of Israeli soldiers.

Destroying [Palestinian] means of survival is barbaric, illegal and a war crime.

Atrocity leads to atrocity and breeds cycles of violence. Israel has a right to defend itself when under attack but any response that is contemplated cannot then intentionally target Palestinian civilians. Destroying their means of survival is barbaric, illegal and a war crime.

The greater victims again will be Palestinian civilians who now face a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza from Israeli retaliation, a revenge triggered by Hamas atrocity. These developments also risk widening the conflict.

There is always a context to any conflict

There is always a context to any conflict. In this disaster there is clear influence from Iran which finances Hamas and wishes to sabotage any Israel-Saudi Arabia rapprochement.

There is also the backdrop of an unresolved occupation, and illegal settlements. We can acknowledge that decades of oppression, years of siege, and international complacency, have led to helplessness — and predictably to the mobilization of extremism and unjustifiable violence.

Canada must defend international law

In this period, Canada must defend international law, and stand against terrorism, but must also oppose vengeful excesses and escalation that could follow.

Support also the initiative of the International Criminal Court prosecutor to investigate all crimes committed.

Support emergency aid to Gaza and press all sides for a ceasefire

Most urgently support delivery of emergency medical, clothing, water and food aid to Gaza residents. This is a time to pressure all sides as soon as is feasible to reach a ceasefire so peace talks, and the long process of reconstruction can begin.

You can help:

RI President Peggy Mason comments:

This statement was published before the issuance by Israel of its “evacuation order” to Palestinians in Northern Gaza. I would therefore add to this statement a call on Israel to rescind that order.

We call on the Government of Canada to defend international law, support the ICC investigation into Hamas and Israeli war crimes, call for Israel to rescind its horrific evacuation order and lift the Gaza siege, and we call for Canada to contribute to emergency aid to Gaza and extend diplomatic support for ceasefire talks.

We all have a role to play.

Let Prime Minister Trudeau and other parliamentarians know what actions you wish Canada to take in defence of innocent Palestinian civilians:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: <  >;

Foreign Minister Melanie Jolie: < >

Leader of the NDP Jagmeet Singh: < >;

Leader of the Conservative Party Pierre Poilievre: < >

Leader of the Bloc Quebecois Yves-François Blanchet: <>

Green Party Critic Elizabeth May: < >

And find your local Member of Parliament HERE.

Photo credit: Ali Hamad \ apaimages Wikimedia Commons (2023 Israel-Hamas war) is a public outreach project of the Rideau Institute linking Canadians working together for peace. We depend on your donations as we accept no funding from government or industry to protect our independence. Thank you for your support…. 

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