Collective punishment and the right to self-defence – Gaza Context


Two weeks ago at the 26th session of the UN Human Rights Council, states and NGOs discussed the human rights situation in Palestine, condemning the Israeli aggression that had ensued in the oPt following the disappearance of three Jewish-Israeli settler teenagers in the West Bank. The states present for this discussion along with several NGOs who spoke about the current situation in the oPt urged the President and members of the Council to take immediate action to ensure that Israel upheld its obligations as a member of the Council and end the collective punishment of the Palestinian population.  Yet a fortnight later, Gaza is being pounded by missiles from Israel as part of ‘Operation Protective Edge’, the military occupation launched by Israel five days ago which it claims is to defeat Hamas and other Palestinian fighters.  In reality however the attacks have targeted the civilian population of the Gaza Strip.  Over the last few days these attacks have escalated and intensified showing no signs of slowing down.  The Israeli army has stated that it is making preparations for a ground attack.
Since the disappearance of the teenagers and the discovery of their bodies in the West Bank, Israeli politicians have manipulated the crisis for their own political gains.  Israel immediately embarked on a campaign to collectively punish the Palestinian population conducting mass arrests and military raids.  The Israeli army forced its way into hundreds of homes, terrorised their occupants and arrested approximately 500 Palestinians from across the West Bank, 77 of whom were placed in administrative detention without any charge or trial.  A further 51 who were released in a prisoner exchange deal in 2011, were rearrested and transferred to detention centres in Israel.  These arrests and detentions are a blatant violation of Article 33 of the Geneva Convention, which designates collective punishment as an international war crime; but this is only the beginning of Israel’s collective punishment of the Palestinian population.
It then turned to Gaza whose population already suffers immensely as a result of the blockade on the Gaza Strip, a form of collective punishment in itself and the current attacks have exacerbated its terrible situation.  Hamas has been responding to Israeli missiles in its territory by launching rockets into Israel.  The number of civilian deaths has now exceeded 100 with hundreds of others wounded including many children caught up in the conflict.
This week the UK Prime Minister David Cameron said that Israel has a right to defend itself.  What about Gaza’s right to defend itself from F16 missiles being fired by Israel targeting civilians and civilian facilities, including residential buildings, sports clubs and parks.  According to a recent Humanitarian Snapshot provided by UNOCHA, the destruction of homes is the main cause of civilian casualties.  Palestinians have naturally assumed their right to self-defence, however Israel with its overwhelming military strength and incomparable civil defence has the upper hand and continues to inflict more and more casualties every day.
There seems to be this naivety from the international community that whilst their homes are being destroyed and family members injured and killed, the Palestinians will not resist.  Earlier this week, during the US State Department’s daily briefing, spokesman Jen Psaki was unable to answer a question from a journalist who asked whether Palestinians in Gaza have the right to defend themselves against Israeli aggression.  Psaki referred to attacks from Hamas, which he said Israel has the right to defend itself from.  The journalist replied that there is a civilian population in Gaza, something conveniently ignored by members of the international community who insist that Israel has the right to defend itself and protect its population against terrorists.  The double standards and hypocrisy applied to the region by the international community is nothing new and no matter how much death and destruction is wrought on the people of Gaza, those countries that support Israel will never respect the population of Gaza’s right to defend and protect themselves against Israeli aggression.  They feign concern towards the civilian population choosing to turn a blind eye to Israel’s repeated violations of human rights law and international humanitarian law as they did in 2008 and 2012.
This morning Israeli missiles hit a sport club in Al-Maghazi refugee camp and a football playground in Nuseirat refugee camp both situated in central Gaza.  A park and two homes were also hit.  Targeting civilians constitutes a war crime.  In addition as Israel pounds the Gaza Strip, support for Hamas grows as more and more Gazan’s with no one else to defend them turn to the organisation to fight Israeli aggression as the number of dead rises.