ISRAEL- PALESTINE AND THE GAZA WAR
Editor’s note: the situation in Gaza has deteriorated significantly since we began drafting this post. Nonetheless, we think the evolution of events is important for a full understanding of where we are now.
The situation as of 7 am Friday, 27 October 2023 according to multiple news outlets:
At least 7,326 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli attacks since October 7…. More than 1,400 people were killed in the Hamas attack on Israel…. Children make up 40% of the Palestinian dead… 57 UN aid workers have also been killed.
UN Secretary-General addresses the UN Security Council
In his statement to the UN Security Council on 24 October 2023, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said, after unequivocally condemning the “7 October acts of terror by Hamas in Israel” and calling for the immediate and safe release of hostages,
It is important to also recognize the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum.
The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation….
But the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas. And those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.
International humanitarian law (IHL) must be upheld
The UN Secretary-General then demanded that all parties:
- uphold and respect their IHL obligations
- take constant care in the conduct of military operations to:
- spare civilians
- respect and protect hospitals
- respect the inviolability of UN facilities currently sheltering more than 600,000 Palestinians
After reminding that civilians can never be used as human shields, Guterres continued:
Protecting civilians does not mean ordering more than one million people to evacuate to the south, where there is no shelter, no food, no water, no medicine and no fuel, and then continuing to bomb the south itself.
The world has witnessed in real-time the issuance of the illegal Israeli evacuation order and the subsequent bombing in the very areas of Southern Gaza where Palestinian civilians were told to flee.
Wael Dahdouh, Al Jazeera Arabic’s bureau chief in Gaza, lost his wife, son, daughter, and grandson, in a 24 October 2023 Israeli air raid in the south, after they fled from Gaza City to the south, as ordered by the Israeli military.
Dahdouh commented, standing over his dead son:
This is the ‘safe’ area that the occupation army spoke of.
Humanitarian ceasefire needed
On the agreement finally reached to allow some humanitarian relief into Gaza starting on 22 October 2023, the Secretary-General stated:
it is a drop of aid in an ocean of need.
He also commented specifically on the urgent need for fuel deliveries before supplies completely run out:
Without fuel, aid cannot be delivered, hospitals will not have power, and drinking water cannot be purified or even pumped.
See also this explanation by Thomas White, head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza, on the fuel delivery issue:
The whole aid operation will come to a halt if fuel is not permitted to enter the besieged enclave. Hospital generators, water desalination plants and trucks to redistribute food and medical supplies — all stops.
What about Israeli allegations that Hamas is hoarding fuel?
Israel has variously claimed that UN aid convoys with fuel will be diverted by Hamas for military uses and/or that Hamas is hoarding oil and the UN aid agencies should ask them for it.
The UN has strenuously denied any diversion for military uses of the fuel that it brings into Gaza for humanitarian purposes, which it has done throughout the 16-year siege of Gaza, according to rigorous verification protocols.
RI President Peggy Mason adds:
It should also be manifestly clear that if Hamas is hoarding — or has hoarded — fuel for military purposes, this in no way justifies Israeli denial of humanitarian deliveries of fuel to civilians in dire need. In fact, this very argument demonstrates Israel’s blatant subjugation of humanitarian needs — and humanitarian law — to its perceived military objectives.
The only way to head off humanitarian catastrophe is a ceasefire
On the only possible way to head off an incalculable humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza, Guterres was clear, telling the UN Security Council,
To ease epic suffering, make the delivery of aid easier and safer, and facilitate the release of hostages, I reiterate my appeal for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.
UN Security Council fails to agree on ceasefire resolution
The UN Secretary-General’s statement was made to the Security Council on 24 October 2023. But Security Council efforts to pass a resolution began over a week earlier.
The first vote — held on 15 October 2023 — was on a Russian-drafted resolution calling for a “humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza. This resolution did not garner the required 9 votes to succeed, despite Council members agreeing that humanitarian aid must be provided to civilians in Gaza.
USA veto shocks fellow Council members
The most promising SC resolution to date was a Brazilian-led draft (Brazil is the current President of the UN Security Council) calling for humanitarian “pauses” in Gaza to get food, water, and fuel into the Hamas-controlled area.
On 17 October 2023, the resolution received 12 Yes votes and two abstentions (Russia and Britain). Having gained more than the requisite 9 votes for a majority, it would have passed but for opposition from the United States.
According to PassBlue:
the US wielded its veto, shocking fellow Council members.
For a detailed summary of the Brazilian efforts to amend the resolution to meet the concerns of all sides, including the US, see The US Vetoes a UN Security Council Plan to Get Lifesaving Aid Into Gaza (Passblue, Damilola Banjo, 17 October 2023).
Western hypocrisy laid bare
In a statement after the US veto, Louis Charbonneau, UN Director for Human Rights Watch, said:
If the U.S. and other Western governments want to convince the rest of the world they are serious about human rights and the laws of war, principles they rightly apply to Russian atrocities in Ukraine and to Hamas atrocities in Israel, they also have to apply to Israel’s brutal disregard for civilian life in Gaza.
US SC resolution vetoed by Russia and China
Amidst the growing global outcry over the steadily worsening humanitarian crisis and mounting civilian death toll in Gaza, on 18 October 2023, the US put forward a draft UN Security Council resolution.
A report by Al Jazeera states:
Russia and China on Wednesday vetoed a United States resolution that called for a humanitarian pause to allow humanitarian aid access, the protection of civilians and a stop to arming Hamas and other armed groups in the Gaza Strip.
Ten members voted for the resolution, while the United Arab Emirates voted no and [the SC President] Brazil and Mozambique abstained.
China and Russia both vetoed the resolution, with Russia alleging that the resolution
represented Security Council authorization of a ground offensive in Gaza by Israel while thousands of Palestinian children will continue to die.
In its 27 October 2023 discussion of the US resolution, Arthur Bassas of PassBlue lends credence to the Russian interpretation when he bluntly states,
The US text focused primarily on Israel’s right to self-defense.
China, in its explanation of vote, stated:
The draft does not reflect the world’s strongest calls for a ceasefire. At this moment, ceasefire is not just a diplomatic term. It means the life and death of many civilians.
Second Russian resolution also fails
A second Russian resolution, calling for a humanitarian ceasefire and withdrawal of Israel’s order for civilians in Gaza to relocate south ahead of a ground assault, received only four positive votes from Council members, underscoring Russia’s lack of diplomatic weight in the Security Council at this time.
UN General Assembly emergency session
Amid the Security Council deadlock, the UN General Assembly took action under the “Uniting for Peace” landmark resolution, adopted by the General Assembly in 1950, authorizing the General Assembly to convene an “emergency special session” within 24 hours should the Security Council “fail to exercise its primary responsibility” for the maintenance of international peace and security.
This latest emergency session is a resumption of the Tenth Emergency Session of the UN General Assembly under the Agenda Item: Illegal Israeli actions in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, first activated in 1997 and most recently reactivated and adjourned in 2018.
General Assembly resolutions are non-binding but have moral authority
General Assembly resolutions — with respect to which each UN member state has a vote and there are no vetoes — are non-binding (unlike UN Security Council resolutions) but carry moral authority as an expression of the will of the majority of the international community.
Non-binding resolution debated
Speaking first in the debate which began on 26 October 2023, Riyad Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine, stated:
If you do not stop it for all those who have been killed, stop it for all those who can be saved.
The General Assembly vote was set for 3 pm on 27 October 2023 on a Jordanian draft resolution that was introduced on the first day of the Emergency Special Session.
Jordanian resolution for immediate humanitarian truce
Jordan introduced its resolution with the backing of more than 40 Member States, including Egypt, Oman, and UAE.
Entitled “Protection of civilians and upholding legal and humanitarian obligations”, the resolution:
- Calls for an immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce
- Demands that all parties immediately and fully comply with their obligations under international law
- Also demands the immediate, continuous, sufficient and unhindered provision of essential goods and services to civilians throughout the Gaza Strip, including but not limited to water, food, medical supplies, fuel and electricity, stressing the imperative, under international humanitarian law, of ensuring that civilians are not deprived of objects indispensable to their survival
The resolution calls for the rescinding of the evacuation order by Israel and “firmly rejects any attempts at the forced transfer of the Palestinian population”.
It also calls for the “immediate and unconditional release” of all civilians held captive, as well as demanding their safety, well-being, and humane treatment in compliance with international law.
The resolution makes no specific mention of the Hamas terror attacks of 7 October nor of actions by Israel since then that could constitute grave breaches of international law.
Canada’s amendment condemns Hamas only
Before the vote on the main resolution, an amendment was proposed by Canada that “unequivocally rejects and condemns the terrorist attacks by Hamas” in Israel starting 7 October and “the taking of hostages”.
In introducing the amendment, Bob Rae, Canada’s Ambassador to the UN, talked about the “ongoing war crime of taking and holding hostages” but made no mention of the ongoing Israeli war crimes of:
- denying the basic necessities of life to 2 million Palestinian civilians in Gaza;
- massive, indiscriminate and disproportionate bombing of Gaza civilians which accelerated even further during the debating of the GA resolution; and
- its illegal evacuation order and continued bombing of civilians who complied with it.
Canadian amendment fails to get enough support
The votes on the Canadian amendment were 88 for, 55 against, with 23 abstentions, so it failed to get the required two-thirds majority.
Resolution unbalanced if only Hamas is condemned
In what the UN summary describes as a “powerful speech rebutting Canada’s explanation,” Pakistan’s ambassador Munir Akram said:
Not naming either side was the best choice … as the Jordanian resolution does.
Canada must have known that the Arab countries and many others in the global south would simply not support a rightful condemnation of Hamas’s October 7 atrocities while there was complete silence in the resolution about Israeli actions in circumstances where Israel is — and has been — killing thousands of Palestinian civilians with apparent impunity.
The Nation magazine has an editorial dated 26 October which contains this statement:
When Biden describes Hamas as a “terrorist group,” he isn’t wrong—the clear aim of the killings on October 7 was to terrify Israelis, to make it impossible for them to feel safe in their beds.
But then what label do we use to describe the Israel Defense Forces, which had brought death and destruction to Gaza on a far greater scale before October 7—and is now working assiduously, with American aid, to increase the body count?
RI President Peggy Mason comments:
It is hard to express the degree of betrayal of Canadian ideals that I feel in light of the role Canada played at the UN Emergency Session while terrified Palestinian citizens were at the mercy of Israel’s ferocious aerial bombardments.
A moment of truth
The UN Secretary-General issued a further appeal, which was read out by his spokesperson just before the voting on the Jordanian resolution began. It ends with these words:
Everyone must assume their responsibilities. This is a moment of truth. History is judging us all.
Resolution adopted with Canadian abstention
The Jordanian resolution was overwhelmingly adopted by the General Assembly, with 120 votes in favour, 14 against and 45 abstentions. Canada abstained, along with the UK and many other Western countries, because of the lack of a specific condemnation of Hamas. The United States voted against.
The US has ended up looking quite badly isolated after only 12 countries joined Washington and Israel at the UN general assembly in opposing a motion calling for a sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities.
Western countries who voted in favour of the resolution include France, Ireland, Norway, New Zealand, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain. Ukraine did not join the US in voting against the resolution but abstained.
As Canada made clear in its comments, and in its abstention, rather than negative vote, it supports the substantive provisions of the UN GA resolution, including the call for an immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce.
Heightened bombardment of Gaza by Israel as UN General Assembly debate continued
Starting at about noon on the second day of the UN debate for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, mainstream media outlets began to report a massively intensified Israel bombing in Gaza.
The Palestine Red Crescent Society said it has completely lost contact with all of its teams in the Gaza Strip following news that the mobile phone service and internet all over the territory has been cut off due to heavy bombardment.
We are deeply concerned about the ability of our teams to continue providing their emergency medical services, especially since this disruption affects the central emergency number “101” and hinders the arrival of ambulance vehicles to the wounded and injured.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has also lost contact with its Gaza staff.
We have lost touch with our colleagues in Gaza.
I’m extremely concerned about their safety and another night of unspeakable horror for 1M children in #Gaza.
All humanitarians and the children and families they serve MUST be protected.
— Catherine Russell (@unicefchief) October 27, 2023
The World Health Organization gave a similar report.
IDF: Israeli military to expand ground operations in Gaza Friday night
NPR reported in late afternoon on 27 October 2023 that
Ahead of a possible ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, the Israeli military announced that its forces were “expanding” ground activities in Gaza Friday night as the besieged territory was plunged into a communications and internet blackout.
Evacuation order to “safer” south also repeated
Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari announced that Israel’s ground forces also repeated Israel’s call for Palestinians to flee to southern Gaza where conditions, he said, would be safer.
It is hard not to recall Russia’s allegation, when vetoing the US Security Council resolution (the text of which is not available), that the focus on Israel’s right to self-defence (without qualifications) was intended to justify a ground invasion in Gaza.
Note that the GA resolution, to which Canada is now committed in substance, also calls for Israel to rescind the evacuation order, not double down on it.
Only 29% of Israelis support ground invasion at this time
Recent Israeli polling — on 25 and 26 October — indicate that, unlike a 19 October poll, only 29% of Israelis support an “immediate” escalation to a ground offensive, while 49% thought it would be better to wait and 22% were undecided.
The Israeli newspaper Maariv, which commissioned the poll, wrote that
it is almost certain that the developments on the matter of the hostages, which is now topping the agenda, have had a great impact on this shift (in opinion).
What Palestinians really think of Hamas
For a closer look at the low level of support for Hamas among ordinary Gazans prior to the latest conflict, see What Palestinians Really Think of Hamas (arabbarometer.org, 25 October 2023).
Authors Amaney Jamal and Michael Robbins summarize:
The findings, published here for the first time, reveal that rather than supporting Hamas, the vast majority of Gazans have been frustrated with the armed group’s ineffective governance as they endure extreme economic hardship.
Most Gazans do not align themselves with Hamas’s ideology, either. Unlike Hamas, whose goal is to destroy the Israeli state, the majority of survey respondents favored a two-state solution with an independent Palestine and Israel existing side by side.
The article warns, however, that while before the war, Gaza’s Hamas leaders were deeply unpopular, the Israeli crackdown could change all that, and further set back the cause of long-term peace.
Innocent Gazan civilians, including countless children, are being “strangled” for lack of aid, while being bombed in the dark, completely cut off from the outside world in circumstances where Israel accelerated its bombing — and now its ground incursions — even as the UN GA debated the non-binding call for a humanitarian truce.
Since 11 October 2023, federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has been calling for
an immediate ceasefire, the release of all hostages, respect for International Law and urgent and unimpeded humanitarian aid to save lives.
The Government of Canada, for its part, continues to use the terminology “humanitarian pause”, which is inconsistent with the UN General Assembly resolution Canada is now politically committed to support.
We call on Canada to unequivocally support the UN General Assembly’s call for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce” in Gaza and to do everything it can diplomatically and materially to support its establishment and continuation.
We also call on Canada to unequivocally support the other substantive provisions in the UN General Assembly resolution, including in particular the call for Israel to rescind its evacuation order for Palestinians in Northern Gaza to move south.
We also categorically condemn statements by Defence Minister Bill Blair supporting Israel’s aim of “eliminating Hamas” and its “right of self-defence” without any of the qualifications on Israel’s use of force that Canada is legally bound to uphold and promote under the laws of war.
A ceasefire is just the beginning
Crisis Group ends its 18 October statement calling for “A Ceasefire in Gaza,” with the observation that
world leaders need to put Palestinian national aspirations back on their agendas….
As the latest horrors in Israel-Palestine make starkly clear, the occupation and conflict cannot be contained in Gaza or anywhere else while the rest of the world turns the page.
Attempts to do so will doom prospects for durable peace and security in the Middle East and bring ever greater tragedy and violence.
“Not In Our Name” “Ceasefire Now”
Hundreds of mostly Jewish New Yorkers demonstrated at Grand Central Station in New York on Friday, traditionally a Jewish day of rest, wearing black sweatshirts with the words “Not In Our Name” and “Cease Fire Now” printed in white.
Rabbi May Ye released a statement reading in part:
The lives of Palestinians and Israelis are intertwined, and safety can only come from justice, equality, and freedom for all.
We all have a role to play:
Let Prime Minister Trudeau and other parliamentarians know you expect Canada to do everything it can to ensure the full implementation of the UN General Assembly resolution on “Protection of civilians and upholding legal and humanitarian obligations”.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: < firstname.lastname@example.org >;
Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly: < email@example.com >
Leader of the NDP Jagmeet Singh: < Jagmeet.Singh@parl.gc.ca >;
Leader of the Conservative Party Pierre Poilievre: < firstname.lastname@example.org >
Leader of the Bloc Quebecois Yves-François Blanchet: < Yves-Francois.Blanchet@parl.gc.ca>
Green Party Critic Elizabeth May: < Elizabeth.May@parl.gc.ca >
And find your local Member of Parliament HERE.
Photo credit: Peggy Mason (Al Jazeera split screen) Twitter (UN photos; Jewish Voices for Peace NYC).
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