ANC Today, Volume 8, No. 9 • 7 — 13 March 2008

Stop the collective punishment of the Palestinian people

Crisis in Gaza

The Israeli military attacks that have killed over 125 people in the Palestinian territory of Gaza over the last week are an outrage and should be condemned as war crimes. Most of the dead and injured are civilians, including women and children.

The collective punishment of the Palestinian people, long a practice of the Israeli government, is an unacceptable and inhuman response to a situation that calls for political solutions. It is a wholly disproportionate response to the rockets fired from Gaza into Israel, actions which themselves should be condemned. The Israeli offensive has only deepened the severe humanitarian crisis in which the people of the occupied Palestinian territories find themselves, now in a permanent state of siege, subjected to constant bombardment by the most powerful military machine in the region.

This week a number of humanitarian agencies said the situation in the Gaza Strip was the worst in 40 years, and called for an end to Israel's punishing blockade of Gaza. In a joint report, they said 80% of the territory's 1.5 million people depended on food aid and 40% are unemployed. Because spare parts cannot be imported, hospitals cannot keep lifesaving equipment working, while the virtual collapse of key infrastructure is causing up to 50 million tons of sewage to be dumped into the Mediterranean Sea every day, they said.

Earlier in the week, South Africa was one of the countries supporting a resolution urging the UN Security Council to take a strong stand on this matter. The draft resolution:

  • strongly condemned the killing of innocent civilians;
  • called for the immediate cessation of all acts of violence, including military incursions and rocket attacks;
  • called on Israel to abide by its obligations under international law, including international humanitarian law and human rights;
  • called on Israel to immediately open Gaza's border crossings and allow the delivery of humanitarian aid;
  • called on the international community to continue providing humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people.

While the Security Council could not reach agreement on this issue, the UN Human Rights Council condemned Israel's military assault on Gaza while also urging an end to rocket attacks which killed Israeli civilians. The 47-member council approved the motion calling for "the immediate cessation of all Israeli military attacks throughout the occupied Palestinian territory" by 33 votes to 1, with 13 abstentions.

Addressing a meeting of the UN Security Council on 1 March, Palestine's permanent observer, Riyad Mansour, said:

"In deliberate and flagrant breach of article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilians in Time of War, Israel continues to collectively punish the Palestinian civilian population in the Gaza Strip by means of the sealing and closure of the territory and the obstruction of the movement of persons and goods, including humanitarian access, as well as by means of military reprisals against persons and property and by acts of terror and intimidation. Such actions are clearly prohibited by international law and are being committed by the occupying Power on a scale and scope amounting to war crimes. The humanitarian calamity in the Gaza Strip continues to deepen as a result, and the carnage and destruction are perpetuating a vicious and bloody cycle of violence that threatens to completely destabilize the situation and derail the fragile peace process."

Addressing the same meeting, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: "I condemn Palestinian rocket attacks and call for the immediate cessation of such acts of terrorism, which serve no purpose, endanger Israeli civilians and bring misery to the Palestinian people. I call for an end to these attacks.

"While recognising Israel's right to defend itself, I condemn the disproportionate and excessive use of force that has killed and injured so many civilians, including children. I call on Israel to cease such attacks. Israel must fully comply with international humanitarian law and exercise the utmost restraint. Incidents in which civilians have been killed or injured must be investigated and accountability must be ensured.

"I am deeply concerned at the possibility of the violence escalating, and have offered our strong support for all efforts to bring about an end to the violence and a period of calm. I call on all parties to step back from the brink of even deeper and more deadly clashes.

"I am also extremely concerned at the impact of these developments on the negotiation process. I call on all members of the international community, important stakeholders and Security Council members to exercise their influence on the parties to stop the violence and to allow humanitarian relief. All parties should rededicate their commitment to the peace process."

At a time when all efforts should be focused on finding a negotiated settlement to this protracted conflict, the Israeli government has chosen the route of a military escalation. At the same time, it continues to pursue its programme of seizing Palestinian territory for building new Israeli settlements, deliberately diminishing the prospects for a future Palestinian state that is cohesive and viable.

The ANC this week called on the Israeli government to "halt the deadly military assaults on the people of Gaza" and respect international humanitarian law.

"We call on the people of Israel and the people of Palestine to cease hostilities and to resume meaningful dialogue towards a just and lasting peace," it said.


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