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In a statement on Friday, United Nations’ experts demanded a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, warning that Israeli airstrikes against Palestinians in Gaza could lead to a genocide.
“We remain convinced that the Palestinian people are at grave risk of genocide,” the experts said. “The time for action is now. Israel’s allies also bear responsibility and must act now to prevent its disastrous course of action.”
The current war between Israel and Hamas began after the militant group orchestrated a terror attack against Israeli soldiers and civilians. Hamas killed 1,400 people and took over 240 hostage.
World leaders have condemned the attack by Hamas. Meanwhile, Israel’s response has resulted in the deaths of over 10,000 people in Gaza, nearly half of them children.
“All parties must comply with their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law. We demand a humanitarian ceasefire to ensure that aid reaches those who need it the most. A ceasefire also means channels of communication can be opened to ensure the release of hostages,” the experts said.
International law makes it clear that Israel has a right to defend itself. However, UN experts warn the disproportionate killings of Palestinians could lead to genocide in Gaza if there’s no ceasefire.
United Nations experts condemn attacks on civilians
In its effort to eradicate Hamas, Israel has targeted UN schools, hospitals, public spaces, restaurants and refugee camps. Images of bloody children with missing limbs and shell shock continue to traumatize billions around the world.
Meanwhile, UN experts have accused Israel of enacting collective punishment against Palestinian civilians, which is a war crime.
“The Israeli airstrike on a residential complex in the Jabalia refugee camp is a brazen violation of international law – and a war crime. Attacking a camp sheltering civilians including women and children is a complete breach of the rules of proportionality and distinction between combatants and civilians,” the experts said.
The Oct. 7 Hamas attack against Israel represented the deadliest attack against Jewish people since the Holocaust. For decades, Israel has weathered attacks and threats from its Arab neighbors as various efforts at a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine have failed. Fears of a wider conflict are rising as Israel continues to trade rockets with neighboring Lebanon.
Meanwhile, Palestinians have been fighting for self-determination and independence ever since the UN approved a resolution recognizing the state of Israel.
Palestinians fear genocide, second “Nakba” in Gaza
After Britain took control of Palestine following World War II, it pushed for the establishment of the political state of Israel. Palestinians who supported the British against the Ottoman Empire expected to be given their own state in return. Yet the promise for a state instead resulted in 750,000 Palestinians being expelled from the land of their ancestors.
The Nakba, which means “catastrophe” in Arabic, refers to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were forcibly removed from their homes to make way for the new political state of Israel.
According to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, in the years since, Israel has continued to illegally occupy Palestinian territory. B’Tselem has described it as apartheid.
Hamas, a militant group that gained power in 2006, took over the Gaza strip a year later. Israel responded by enacting a 16-year blockade of the most densely populated region on Earth.
Israeli Prime Minister rejects calls for ceasefire in Gaza
Since the terror attack on Oct. 7, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ignored calls for a ceasefire. Instead, his administration has ordered over 1 million people to move from north Gaza to the south. He also cut power and internet to the strip. Only a sliver of humanitarian aid has been allowed in through Egypt’s Rafah border crossing in south Gaza.
Most of the population has no food, water or electricity as hospitals desperately try to save elderly patients and babies in incubators.
In the U.S. only a few progressive members of Congress have called for a ceasefire. Notably, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mi.), the nation’s only Palestinian-American member of Congress, has led the push for a ceasefire.
Pres. Biden has refused to support a full-on ceasefire, though he did call for a “humanitarian pause’ in the fighting last week.
“I think we need a pause,” Biden said on Nov. 1 during a campaign speech in which he was interrupted by protesters calling for a ceasefire.
Israeli cabinet member threatens nuclear war
For survivors of the Jewish Holocaust or the mass killings in Rwanda, the word “genocide” isn’t a word to be used lightly. As the Israel-Hamas war contributes to hate crimes against Jews and Muslims around the world, many are seeking a calming of tensions.
Yet, the rising death toll of Palestinian civilians in Gaza continues to inflame tensions around the globe. On Sunday, Reuters reported Prime Minister Netanyahu suspended a member of his cabinet for claiming Israel could use nuclear weapons in Gaza.
“A strong and disproportionate response to terrorism is definitely required, which will clarify to the Nazis and their supporters that terrorism is not worthwhile,” said Heritage Minister Amihay Eliyah.
The far-right member of the coalition government walked back his statement on social media. Yet, he appeared to defend the deaths of civilians.
Legal definition of genocide
The United Nations General Assembly first recognized genocide as a crime under international law in 1946. The 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines it as follows:
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
- Killing members of the group;
- Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
- Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
- Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
- Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
World calls for ceasefire in Gaza
At least 10,022 people have been killed in Gaza, and 4,104 of those deaths are children, according to the Gaza health ministry. Images on social media depict children with faces blown off, limbs torn off and shrapnel inside their bodies.
In a move that was condemned by human rights groups, Israel cut off access to food, water, electricity and fuel to Gaza, home to 2.2 million Palestinians. While a small amount of humanitarian aid is beginning to reach the south, those who remain in north Gaza are at immediate risk of starvation without a ceasefire.
Hospitals have been targeted by Israeli airstrikes, seeking Hamas while simultaneously killing babies. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 50,000 pregnant mothers reside in Gaza.
The vast majority of them are unable to access necessary medical care, including child birth. Roughly 420 children are killed or injured each day in Gaza since Oct. 7, according to figures from WHO.
It appears Israel has enacted at least some of the deadly measures required to classify an action as genocide. Yet one of the most important elements of the definition is “intent to destroy.”
Proving intention to commit genocide is a high bar to cross. UN experts haven’t yet gone as far as to call it genocide. However, in their warning, they note that the world is running out of time to reverse course.
“The Palestinian people in Gaza, particularly women, children, persons with disabilities, youth, and older persons, have endured decades of hardship and deprivation,” the UN experts said. “We call on Israel and its allies to agree to an immediate ceasefire. We are running out of time.”
Queen of Jordan urges ceasefire in Gaza
Ultimately, Israel and supporters of its military strategy have claimed a ceasefire in Gaza would only help Hamas and hurt Palestinian civilians.
The Queen of Jordan, which borders Israel to the east, disagreed. In an interview condemning the actions of Hamas, Jordan Queen Rania Al Abdullah, a Palestinian, called Israel’s attacks against civilians reprehensible and short-sighted.
“They are inherently dismissing the death, in fact even endorsing and justifying the death of thousands of civilians,” Queen Rania Al Abdullah told CNN. She said even if Hamas is eliminated, there’s no plan for what’s next as concerns of a genocide in Gaza escalate.
“The root cause of this conflict is an illegal occupation. It is routine human rights abuses, illegal settlements, disregard to UN resolutions and international law. If we do not address these root causes, then you can kill the combatant, but you can’t kill the cause,” Queen Rania said.
She warned another group more determined and more motivated to do what Hamas did will emerge from the rubble. “I think Israel needs to once and for all realize that if it wants its security, the surest route is through peace,” the Queen added. “Not the strongest military or the most capable intelligence services or the Iron Dome or the separation wall will safeguard Israel’s security as much as peace would. I think that is the track we need to pursue now.”
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