Friday, July 25, 2014

UN School hit in Gaza

Photo credit - EPA via the BBC 

Because of the work that I do, I read a lot about war, and sometimes I read about conflicts as they unfold, however the current situation in Gaza stands out for me because of the amount of comment that is being passed by officials from the UN, who are normally staunchly diplomatic and often silent (running the line that it is better to say nothing at all, than say the wrong thing).  This new willingness by UN officials to pass comment may be because Israel has been targeting hospitals and schools run by the UN (the UN even gave the coordinates to the Israeli Defence Force,).

The latest attack on a UN school was at the Beit Hanoun Elementary School, which had been designated as a UNRWA Emergency Shelter, so was full of families attempting to flee the fighting.  The UNRWA staff had given the coordinates to the school to the IDF on 12 occasions, the latest being 3 hours before the attack – they gave the coordinates to the IDF in attempt to protect the school and the civilians inside it, not for the IDF to use it as an aid for their targeting of the school.

Some other news
-          The UN Human Rights Council has established an “independent, international commission of inquiry to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory”.  The UNHRC also called to an end to “violence against civilians wherever it occurred”, in Gaza, in East Jerusalem, and in Israel (as a result of rocket attacks from Gaza).

-          There is no where for Palestinians in the Gaza strip to flee to for safety, especially when UN emergency shelters are being bombed.  Residents of the Gaza strip are unable to seek refuge in another country – because of the Israeli blockade of Gaza in 2010 British Prime Minister David Cameron called Gaza an “open air prison”.  Even during relatively peaceful times, it is almost impossible for Gaza residents to travel in to Israel, and the border with Egypt was only open for 17 days so far this year.  Residents are unable to leave by sea (as Israel restricts boats to three nautical miles from Gaza), and there is no airport in Gaza for residents to leave by air (and Israel controls Gaza airspace).  All trade across the borders are also severely restricted, making it most of the population in Gaza dependent on UN & Hamas food handouts, and making it difficult to get food, building supplies and other materials in Gaza.  this has led to the creation of the tunnel system across the border into Egypt.

Photo Credit : Alexander Gerst
-          German Astronaut Alexander Gerst has tweeted a photo he took of Gaza at night from the International Space Station, saying “my saddest photo yet.  From #ISS we can actually see explosions and rockets flying over #Gaza & #Israel

-          Israeli Channel Two has retracted false allegations of bias (& using a UN ambulance to transport militants) against the United Nations Relief and Works Agency -

-          the current death toll from Operation Protective Edge is
o   756 Palestinians (74% of which are civilians, including 3 UN workers)
o   32 Israelis (including 3 civilians)

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Serious concern about civilian casualties in Operation Protective Edge in Gaza

Photo by Danny-w (used under Wikipedia Commons)

Currently Israel is undertaking Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip.  This began on the 8th of July with airstrikes and artillery shelling, with the operation moving to a ground incursion on the 17th of July.  The Israeli and Palestinian situation is complex and controversial, and I do not wish to enter into that debate (but there is a short discussion of the situation on Wikipedia here ).  However, I did want to highlight the concerns about the high toll being taken by civilians (including children) as a result of Operation Protective Edge.
United Nations Relief and Works Agendy commissioner, General Pierre Krähenbühl (who is based in Jerusalem) issued a statement on the 14th of July, stating that “All indications are -and I find this particulary dramatic - that women and children make up a sizable number of victims of the current strikes. I am equally disturbed that people with disabilities are among the victims, reportedly as a result of Israeli strikes.”
This was again highlighted on the 16th of July in a statement issued by Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coorindator Valerie Adams, that she was “extremely concerned about the escalation of hostilities in Gaza and its impact on civilians.”

On the 21st of July The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs issued a statement on the humanitarian situation, that gave the statistics that were behind these statements*.......

448 Palestinian fatalities (8-20th July 2014, as a result of Operation Protective Edge)
348 (78%) civilians, including 111 children (25%)
75 members of armed groups (17%)
25 people unknown (5%)

 Israeli fatalities
2 civilians (10%)

The most disturbing thing about this situation is that it currently appears that the Israeli Defence Force is not applying any attempt at discrimination in their attacks in Gaza, and if they are attempting to limit civilian casualties (as is required under the Law of Armed Conflict, and International Humanitarian Law), then they are doing a particularly poor job of it.  If their goal is to make Israel a safer place, to reduce the number of terrorist attacks, then how can killing non-combatants such as children assist in that goal?  Their actions indicate that they are not interested in the long term aim of peace with their Palestinian neighbours (who they have held in blockade since 2007).

During Operation Protective Edge, Israel has encouraged civilians within Gaza to move to areas away from Hamas installations.   This has proven impossible for the people of Gaza for the following reasons :-
-          Gaza is one of the most densely populated places in the world,
-          the population of Gaza are not able to leave Gaza itself due to the blockade, which has been in place since 2007,
-          Israel considers any Hamas installation to be a legitimate target.  The problem with this being that Hamas is not just a military (or terrorist) organisation.  It is the freely elected government of the people of Gaza, and run hospitals, schools, the police force, orphanages, and food distribution centres (90% of the people  of Gaza rely on Hamas and UN food assistance, due to the blockade).
What will be interesting in the coming months, is if Israel is held accountable for their seemingly flagrant disregard for International Humanitarian Law, and the Law of Armed Conflict, or if the USA will again veto any action against them (especially since President Obama does not need to ge re-elected). 
*other UN agencies also released similar statistics in the days leading up to the release of this Humanitarian Situation Report.   UNOCHA 16 July 2014  UNRWA 14 July 2014

 A good place to read more about the Gaza situation and what is behind it, this piece on “11 Crucial facts to understand the Israel-Gaza crisis” is a good place to start -