Cordaid is deeply concerned by the increasing military violence between Israel and Hamas and the bloodshed in Gaza. Mutual shelling during the last week has taken over 160 Palestinian lives, mostly civilians. In order to stop the bloodshed all Israeli and Palestinian parties have to stop hostilities and to comply with rules of international humanitarian law. This means amongst other things that a clear distinction has to be made between military targets and civilians and that rules of proportionality and effectiveness have to be observed. To prevent an increase of bloodshed we call upon the Dutch government to urge Israel not to start a ground offensive and the Palestinian Authority to do everything it can to stop violence from the Palestinians’ side.
The bombing of Gaza has led to the closure of all NGO’s and organizations, says Majeda Al Saqqa of the Culture and Free Thought Association (CFTA), a Cordaid partner organization based in Gaza. “We are not able to work and to help our people any longer,” she reports from Khan Younis refugee camp. Like every other citizen in Gaza, Al Saqqa spends her days and nights hoping the shelling will not hit her house. “The destruction is massive, children, people with disability, youth and women we are all one meaningless target. In the last few hours three youths were killed here in the refugee camp of Khan Younis,” Al Saqqa reports. “We are tired of war,” she says, “we want to live and we want to live in dignity. We want the borders to open. We shouldn’t need humanitarian aid. We need safety so that we can produce our own food. To the international community I cannot say anything other than ‘Do not let this happen again and hold Israel accountable for what it is doing.”
“We are tired of war. We want to live and we want to live in dignity. We want the borders to open.”
For how long?
Development Center Maa’n is one of the largest local NGOs in GAza. Together with Cordaid they are doing what they can to promote safety and security for women and youth. Laila Said Al Bayoumi from Maa’n: “At the moment Maa’n has suspended its work due to the security situation, this includes stopping delivering services to unemployed workers, farmers, fishermen and people who live in the access restricted area. Despite this we coordinated efforts with UN to quickly respond to the needs of children, adolescents and women.”
When asked what she expects from the international community, Bayoumi’s answer is: “What Palestinians expect from the international community is only to take serious efforts to support the justice and freedom rights of Palestinians and to bring Israel accountable for its crimes against civilian Palestinians. For how long do Palestinian civilians need to pay the price of this denial of basic principles?”
Imbalance of power
Louis Frankenthaler from the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI), an Israeli NGO and Cordaid partner, strongly calls for an immediate cease fire. Frankenthaler: “PCATI is extremely disturbed by the most recent attacks on civilians, both on Gazan and on Israeli civilians. We are heavily concerned by the disregard for humanitarian law and extremely disturbed by Israel’s clear disregard for the lives of civilians in Gaza. The clear imbalance of power and the abuse of such power has resulted in such a high and unacceptable number of civilian deaths in Gaza. It is clear that there must be a cease fire now.”
Worst case scenario: ground operation
According to the 13 July situation report of the UN office for humanitarian affairs (OCHA) at least 168 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed since 7 July. 80% of the fatalities are civilians, of whom 21% are children. Indiscriminate rocket firing by armed groups in Gaza continues to target Israel, resulting in injuries but no fatalities to date. In Gaza 940 houses were destroyed or severely damaged, causing a displacement of 5600 people. In its latest reports OCHA maintains 600.000 people in Gaza are at risk of losing acces to water supply. In Israel thousands of civilians live with the constant fear of being hit by rockets from Gaza. Since June 12, when the current period of hostilities started, hundreds of rockets were fired from Gaza at Israeli towns and villages. On June 11 rockets targeting the Israeli city of Ashdod injured eight people.
Assessing the near future, Frankenthaler’s greatest fear “is more killing of Palestinian civilians which will be furthered if the bombings continue and if there is the opening of a ground operation, bringing direct friction and contact between Palestinian civilians and the Israeli security forces. PCATI foresees that a ground operation will result in more civilian deaths, arrests and illegal interrogations.”
The current wave of attacks is the fourth operation to quell Hamas rockets in 8 years, the last being Operation Cast lead which killed 1500 people. The military operations have only worsened the situation for the 1.8 million people in besieged Gaza and have not solved the security problem for the Israeli population.
In Gaza, just as in the Westbank, in Jerusalem and in Israel, Cordaid has worked and still works with partner NGOs to increase human security and people’s resilience and assist them in building up their lives in the most difficult situations. In Gaza many families have lived in refugee camps for generations and for the last 7 years had to cope with a blockade that cuts Gaza from the outside world. They lack basic services such as food, drinking water, electricity, petrol, to name just a few. Everything that was built and achieved with our NGO partners and with the Gazan population since the last war, risks to be undone again by this new wave of violence, especially if it is to be continued by a war on the ground.
“It is the first time the overpopulated refugee camp of Khan Younis has been bombed, killing entire families.”
New levels of fear
Meanwhile daily life in Gaza has reached new levels of distress and fear. Jan Willems, artistic director of Cordaid partner Theatre Day Productions (TDP) in Gaza and resident in Gaza for many years but currently in Amsterdam, says this wave of violence has new dimensions compared to previous attacks. “I am in daily contact with people in Gaza. This war frightens them even more than the previous ones. This time Israel bombs places that were left unharmed before like fruit and vegetable markets, farming plots and life stock. Clearly food provision is now a military target. It is also the first time the overpopulated refugee camp of Khan Younis has been bombed, killing entire families. Several TDP members have stated that they denounce the firing of rockets by Hamas as pointless political profiling and as harmful to Gaza. But they are certain that Israel is not only targeting Hamas and the statistics of civilian casualties coming from UN OCHA confirm this. It is the massiveness and the unpredictability of the bombings that fuel the fear. People cannot go in the street, as nobody knows where and when the Israeli army will strike. No one knows where a Hamas official is suspected to be living, visiting, or hiding, or whatever other excuse is found to strike at another house. Any house can be bombed at any moment. Besides this, Hamas is the official government and the population being extremely poor at least half the people have a job somehow related to the government or are financially dependent on them. So they feel a target themselves. And a deep fury is building up because of the big number of children who died a cruel death or will have to keep living as disabled people in a situation of siege and occupation.”
TDP’s team in Gaza has lost relatives themselves in the recent bombings. A brother of one of the TDP actors was killed, as well as a cousin of the artistic director’s wife. Willems: “Death lies around the corner every day.”
“Their chance of dying compared to a Palestinian in Gaza is 0:200.”
Impact in Israel
In Israeli society, in general, the violence has resulted in a very palpable loss of a sense of human security, says Frankenthaler. “Especially following the kidnappings and murders of the three young Jewish settler boys, the violence led to an increased expression of racism and violence mostly against Palestinians in Israel, and a lack of acceptance for dissent. There has been bitter mob violence against Palestinians and against leftists,” according to Frankenthaler. At the same time he notices that the unified Jewish-Arab voice is louder now. “The slogan ‘Arabs and Jews refuse to be enemies’ is more visible and there have been important actions to promote this. But at the same time we are not enough and until the Occupation comes to an end or comes crashing down we remain mired in the cycle of violence. As Israeli’s run for shelter they fail to realize that their suffering pales to the suffering in Gaza and their chance of dying compared to a Palestinian in Gaza is 0:200.”
“It matters that all parties understand that violence is the natural result of the violence of the oppression and the human rights violations of the Occupation.”
International humanitarian law
Cordaid believes that a first step towards a solution for the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is that all parties comply with rules of international humanitarian law. This means, amongst other things, that during hostilities a clear distinction has to be made between military and civilian targets and between civilians and combatants and that rules of proportionality and effectiveness have to be observed.
The current violence has to be looked at in the light of the decades-long occupation of Palestinian territory. Palestinians live their lives under an occupation that has robbed them of their basic human rights for over 60 years. Cordaid believes a peaceful solution can only be achieved by an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, which ends the occupation, gives security guarantees to Israel and offers a viable and independent state to the Palestinians.
Louis Frankenthaler: “There must be international pressure on Israel mostly to bring it to see the danger and futility of its military operations. Hamas too must be pressured to stop hostilities. It matters not ‘who started it’. It matters that all parties understand that violence is the natural result of the violence of the oppression and the human rights violations of the Occupation.”