InternationalVOLUME 19 ISSUE # 1

Violation of international law in Gaza

It is now an open secret that Israel is violating international law by shedding the blood of innocent people in the Gaza Strip ruthlessly, incessantly and without any fear of punishment from international laws.

Last week, the Israel army destroyed Al-Shifa hospital, killing hundreds of innocent people, including children and doctors. Israel says Hamas operates from Al-Shifa, but it could not provide any evidence after demolishing and capturing the hospital. On 19 November, Israel attacked the Indonesian hospital in northern Gaza killing 12 people, including doctors and patients.

The world, including Western and Muslim countries, is silently watching this massacre and genocide. Since October 7, around 12,000 Palestinians, including 5,000 children, have been killed in Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 33 journalists and media workers have been killed. UNRWA, the multilateral body’s relief agency, states it has lost 70 staffers in the conflict. In its desire for revenge over justice, Israel and its leadership are vociferously announcing the annihilation of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s President Isaac Herzog has declared that the “entire nation” of Palestine “is responsible” for Hamas’s crimes. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, comparing the attacks to those of the Amalekites in the Old Testament, said: “Remember what Amalek did to you. We remember and we fight,”. The rest of the text he cited goes on to say: “You must destroy the Amalekites and erase their memory from under heaven. Never forget this.” Amichai Eliyahu, a suspended minister for heritage, has suggested the use of nuclear weapons in Gaza. He has also encouraged a soldier to commit more atrocities in these words: “Blow up and flatten everything. Simply a delight for the eyes.” Likud MP and a former minister demanded the “erasing of Gaza”, adding: “Revengeful and vicious IDF [Israeli Defence Forces] is needed here. Anything less than that is immoral.”

Israel’s “self-defence” justification for the indiscriminate bombing of Gaza, targeting hospitals, ambulances, schools, shelters, civilian buildings, cars, journalists, health workers, refugee camps and cutting off food, water and electricity to the people, as lawful, is clearly inapplicable under the laws of war.

International Humanitarian Law (IHL), commonly referred to as the laws of war or the law of armed conflict, is comprised of the four 1949 Geneva accords, their two Additional Protocols from 1977, the Hague Conventions from 1899 and 1907, and a few other weapons accords. A total of 196 countries, including the Holy See and Palestine, two non-member UN observer states, and the Cook Islands, have signed and ratified these accords following the second world war’s crimes against humanity.

Additionally, there is case law from other international tribunals. For example, the international criminal tribunal that convicted the people responsible for the 800,000 Tutsi genocide in Rwanda in 1994 was the first to determine that rape had been used as a weapon of war and genocide.

The set of these international rules specifies what is permissible and not permissible during conflicts. These are universal rules of war that safeguard all armed conflict victims, including civilians and combatants who have been hurt, taken prisoner, or have laid down their weapons.

An attack is forbidden by the laws of war if it does not distinguish between combatants and civilians or if it is anticipated to inflict disproportionate damage on the civilian population in comparison to the military advantage.

The laws of war, which include the standards of necessity, proportionality, and the sanctity of civilians and civilian structures, must be followed in any circumstances.

Clive Baldwin, Senior Legal Adviser, writes: “Israel has been occupying the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza, which collectively constitute the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), since 1967. Contrary to what the Israeli government claims, Israel’s withdrawal of its ground forces from Gaza in 2005 did not end its occupation of Gaza.… Israel has also engaged in the collective punishment of Gaza’s population through cutting off food, water, electricity, and fuel. This is a war crime, as is willfully blocking humanitarian relief from reaching civilians in need. In addition, the Israeli occupying authorities have committed and continue to commit other international crimes, including with West Bank settlements. If the occupying power transfers any of its civilian population into the occupied territory, either directly or indirectly, it is a war crime. Anyone who commits a war crime is criminally liable, as are those responsible for ordering, assisting in, or facilitating a war crime”.

Israel has already violated the International Humanitarian Law by attacking hospitals, including al-Ahli Hospital, the Turkish-Palestinian Friendship Hospital, Al-Shifa Hospital, the Indonesian hospital, the Jabalia refugee camp and Bureij refugee camp. It has destroyed hundreds of resident buildings and killed around thousands of people, including children and women.

The International Humanitarian Law, according to the UN, is broken by Hamas’s indiscriminate killing of hundreds of civilians, including children, and the kidnapping of almost 200 more as hostages or human shields in Gaza.

The UN secretary general also observed “the Hamas attacks did not happen in a vacuum”. Chas Freeman, a former US ambassador, has stated: “The Hamas attack on Israel was part jailbreak (from Gaza, the world’s largest prison since the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto) but more than that it was a revolt of the hopeless by the hopeless for the hopeless. Sometimes suffering becomes so unbearable that anything goes.”

Amnesty International said it has “documented unlawful Israeli attacks, including indiscriminate attacks, which caused mass civilian casualties and must be investigated as war crimes”.

Human Rights Watch said that “multiple war crimes have been and continue to be committed in Israel and Palestine, with grave concerns that Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups are carrying out unlawful indiscriminate attacks harming civilians”.

Accountability for international crimes is necessary. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has jurisdiction over war crimes prosecutions and other crimes against humanity, such as genocide. Palestine was admitted as a member of the ICC in 2015. Thus, the ICC does have jurisdiction in the West Bank, Gaza and occupied East Jerusalem.

The current ICC prosecutor, Karim Khan, has warned that “there should not be any impediment to humanitarian relief supplies going to children, to women and men – civilians”. “These rights are part of the Geneva conventions, and they give rise to even criminal responsibility when these rights are curtailed under the Rome statute,” he said.

It is very unfortunate that the OIC, especially Arab countries, have not severely criticised and condemned Israel’s immoral actions just to protect their own political and economic interests.

However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the only Muslim leader who has stated to bring Israel’s violations of human rights and war crimes to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Other countries, including China, Russia and Muslim states, should also raise this issue with the International Criminal Court if they want to halt the massacre in Gaza.

Human Rights Watch claims that Israel has already used white phosphorus bombs in Gaza. It can wipe out innocent Palestinians by using religion and nuclear weapons. Gideon Levy, Israeli author and journalist, has aptly written in Haaretz: “This is the dark time. The time of the barbaric attack by Hamas and the time of the lost conscience and sense of reason in Israel”.

Israel needs reason and a fear of accountability from international laws, as killing innocent people is not a solution to the problem. All the world organisations, including the UN, OIC, ICC, etc., play their role in stopping Israel from violating international law. Otherwise, they will lose their credibility and respect in the eyes of the world.