If there is hell on earth today, its name is northern Gaza.
– Jens Laerke, spokesperson from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Without a fundamental change, the people of Gaza will face an unprecedented avalanche of human suffering.
– Martin Griffiths, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator
The horrors, and the sorrow, unfolding right now in Gaza are overwhelming. Words can barely do justice to the pain and devastation.
In response to Hamas’ attack on October 7th, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), under the leadership of right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has dropped 10,000 bombs on Gaza in just over one month. Hundreds of bombs explode each day, in a narrow strip of land half the size of Canberra, causing destruction of nightmarish proportions. While Netanyahu claims to only be targeting Hamas combatants, the reality on the ground tells a different story.
Buildings are razed to the ground. Civilians, many of whom are children, are crushed under the rubble. If they don’t die instantly, they are trapped under slabs of concrete, covered in debris, maimed and afraid. Loved ones must dig them out with whatever tools they can find. Often just with their bare hands.
The wounded are rushed to hospitals that are on the verge of collapse. Doctors and nurses battling to treat a constant tide of patients – many with catastrophic injuries – describe power outages, shortages of water and medicine, and tell of live-saving operations they are forced to conduct without anaesthesia and by the light of their mobile phones.
Those who survive a bombing must live with the trauma of burying their friends, their families, their children. Mothers weep as they kiss their babies, who are wrapped in white, bloodied shrouds, before they are laid to rest in mass graves. Fathers collapse in shock after learning that the children they tried so hard to protect are gone.
More than 11,000 Palestinians have been killed so far and hundreds more die each day. In a population where half are children, the child death toll is unconscionable. According to reports, more than 4,000 children are dead. Every 10 minutes, another child is killed.
Even hospitals and refugee camps are under attack. The IDF has bombed three refugee camps in Gaza and there are frequent reports of hospitals, filled with patients including premature babies in incubators, coming under fire.
It is well-documented that Gaza, which has been under an Israeli air, land and sea blockade since 2007, is an open air prison where Palestinians have no freedom of movement. Nowhere is safe in Gaza and they have nowhere to flee.
UN experts, along with multiple other observers, have also warned of a “grave risk of genocide”, among the worst of all atrocities. This should shake us to our core.
Civilians should never be a target of war, terrorism or violence.
Not Palestinian civilians and not Israeli civilians.
Kidnapping and brutally killing Israeli civilians including children and entire families, as Hamas did on October 7th, are war crimes.
Incessant bombardment of Palestinian civilians, and depriving them of the basic essentials of life (such as water, food, fuel, electricity and medicine) and forcibly transferring them off their land are also war crimes.
As multiple legal and human rights experts have pointed out, war crimes by one party to a conflict do not justify war crimes by another. Palestinian and Israeli civilians alike should be protected in accordance with International Humanitarian Law.
Right Now joins the many organisations across the world – including the United Nations, International Committee of the Red Cross, Save the Children, Médecins Sans Frontières – who are calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, as well as the release of hostages.
The US Biden Administration deserves our scrutiny, too. It maintains (as of date of publication) that it has no ‘red lines’ for Israel’s conduct in this conflict, which is a position entirely at odds with international law. What are the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, if not a series of ‘red lines’ for conduct during conflict, drawn up in the aftermath of the World Wars by nation states shattered by their millions dead?
The Biden Administration’s refusal to even acknowledge Israel’s responsibility to adhere to the Geneva Conventions in Gaza is not only morally deplorable, it risks eroding International Humanitarian Law. Biden’s proclamation of ‘no red lines’ may give a green light to parties in other conflicts to disregard foundational humanitarian principles, just as we are seeing now in Gaza. This cannot be permissible.
I am dismayed that, here at home, the Australian Government has not yet unequivocally called for a ceasefire. So far, Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong has called for “steps towards” a ceasefire in Gaza. But we need stronger moral leadership than this and we need it now.
The avalanche of human suffering has been raging for more than one month and it gets increasingly dire by the minute. It cannot continue.
We are living in a decisive moment that will be judged by history. An immediate humanitarian ceasefire is the bare minimum that the Australian Government should be calling for.
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