By K.M. Seethi
More than two million people in Gaza have suffered the consequences of the ruthless attack by Hamas, including the killing of several foreign nationals on 7 October. Numerous analyses have already come elucidating the immediate reasons behind the Hamas attack. These factors include historical injustices against the Palestinian people, Israel’s ongoing occupation policy, the perceived indifference of Western Asian/Gulf regimes that engaged with Israel through the ‘Abraham Accords,’ increased external support from militant groups like Hezbollah and from countries such as Iran, besides the weakened position of the Benjamin Netanyahu administration in Israel due to nationwide protests covering various issues, including allegations of corruption and attempts to subordinate the judiciary.
While Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, Israel, Canada, the European Union, and several other countries—based on its history of employing violence and terrorism in pursuit of its goals—it gained control of the Gaza Strip through a combination of elections and other means since 2006, creating a political divide between the two territories. Evidently, Hamas would have received support from different countries and forces, over the years, for the kind of attack it launched against Israel. But the price is too heavy for the people of Gaza who were already suffering amid multiple crises.
Reports say that over the past ten days, the ongoing conflict has resulted in the loss of 4,200 lives, with over a million people compelled to evacuate their homes under Israeli authorities’ orders. Large sections of the Gaza Strip now lie in ruins, as reported by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). OHCHR expressed serious concerns about the wellbeing of civilians in the upcoming days. Military operations continue unabated, and Gaza remains under siege, affecting the availability of water, food, medicine, and other essential necessities. Daily breaches of international humanitarian law and human rights law persist.
In southern Gaza, where a humanitarian crisis is already unfolding, UN relief agencies reiterated their plea for a secure and reliable humanitarian corridor to deliver stockpiled aid into the Occupied Territory. Both Egypt and Israel have faced numerous calls from the UN and the international community to safeguard non-combatants affected by the conflict. UN World Food Programme (WFP) Regional Communications Lead for the Middle East and North Africa emphasized the urgent need for unhindered access and safe passage to deliver essential humanitarian supplies to Gaza. Approximately 300 tonnes of food are either stationed at or en route to the Egyptian border in Rafah, sufficient to sustain approximately a quarter of a million people for a week. The UN Human Rights Office reported that a significant number of casualties in Gaza include women and children, Palestinian journalists, medical personnel, and UN personnel.
In response to urgent warnings from the UN Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), regarding the dire situation in Gaza amidst intense Israeli airstrikes from land, sea, and air, humanitarian workers have expressed deep concern over the targeting of healthcare facilities. This has raised alarm about the medical care available to the injured, including pregnant women and those with chronic health issues. Furthermore, OHCHR reported that civilians attempting to relocate to southern Gaza have been tragically killed by explosive weapons, underscoring the need for an urgent and independent investigation.
The international community has called for an immediate humanitarian pause to facilitate the delivery of aid and mitigate further suffering. Adherence to the laws of war and the protection of civilians is of utmost importance in preventing further loss of life in this dire crisis, as emphasized by UN Agencies. Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths stressed, “History is watching,” as he highlighted the dire situation facing approximately one million Gazans who have been displaced in the past week. “Aid access is our top priority, and we are actively engaged in ongoing discussions with Israeli authorities, the Egyptian government, and the people of Gaza to facilitate this,” Mr. Griffiths emphasized. He expressed optimism about the potential for positive developments in resolving the political obstacles that have hindered aid convoys from crossing into southern Gaza from Egypt’s Rafah. The UN Secretary-General had recently characterized the situation as highly precarious.
Griffiths stressed that it is the responsibility of all Member States, not just those in the region, to help defuse what is one of the most significant Israeli-Palestinian conflicts in decades. He highlighted the obligations of the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and the Arab world to ensure the protection of civilian lives and adherence to the rules of war. He further emphasized the importance of refraining from attacking civilian infrastructure, safeguarding civilians during their movement, ensuring the delivery of much-needed aid, and establishing corridors to provide respite from the ongoing relentless attacks.
Meanwhile, diplomats were working to address critical issues, including the release of approximately 199 Israeli hostages taken during the Hamas raid. Griffiths underscored that this war began with the abduction of these hostages, although acknowledging the historical tensions between the Palestinian and Israeli peoples. Amid the ongoing airstrikes in Gaza and concerns about a potential regional escalation, particularly on the northern border with Lebanon, Griffiths reiterated the imperative for humanity to prevail. He emphasized that history is closely observing whether the consequences of this conflict will have lasting negative effects or if there will be swift efforts to rebuild and foster a sense of coexistence and neighbourly relations between these two troubled communities.
Meanwhile, the UN Security Council convened an emergency session in New York to discuss various resolutions related to the rapidly evolving crisis in and around Gaza. However, Security Council failed to adopt a resolution proposed by Russia, which called for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza. The draft received five votes in favour (China, Gabon, Mozambique, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates) and four against (France, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States), with six abstentions. The main point of contention was the lack of specific condemnation of the extremist group Hamas, which initiated the recent violence. The resolution aimed to establish a humanitarian ceasefire, secure the release of hostages, ensure aid access, and facilitate the safe evacuation of civilians. As usual, the role of the UN has been limited to ‘debates’ and post-conflict post-war ‘disaster management.’
Many wonder why the UN, which played a role in the partition of Palestine, did not establish a Peacekeeping force in the region over the years. Such a presence could have potentially prevented the loss of thousands of lives in the conflict zone. However, deploying a UN Peacekeeping force in Palestine within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is fraught with complexity and contention, according to some observers. Major obstacles include the need for the UN Security Council approval, the requirement for consent from involved parties (Israel and Palestinian authorities), intricate conflict dynamics involving political and historical issues, concerns about maintaining neutrality, the potential impact on peace negotiations, and significant resource and operational challenges. Despite occasional discussions, the idea has not been realized due to these complexities. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains deeply rooted and sensitive, necessitating solutions that address these challenges and garner support from key stakeholders, with diplomatic negotiations remaining the primary approach for resolution.
However, the decades-long diplomatic efforts have not yielded any result, resulting in an uncertain situation with the major stakeholders moving in for their own affairs. Nonetheless, despite decades of diplomatic endeavours, no tangible outcomes have been achieved, leaving the situation uncertain as key players pursue their own interests.