War crimes

Hilal Cibik
Monday, Dec 04, 2023

Gaza has been enduring one of the most devastating massacres in this century. The strip has been under blockade for two decades, and the world has recently witnessed some of the bloodiest days in the region’s history. On October 7, following a horrific terrorist attack by Hamas on Israel that took some 1,200 lives and made over 200 people hostages, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared, “We are at war.” He initiated a “military operation” that, despite its putative targeting of the Hamas cadres, has had a much more severe impact on thousands of Palestinian civilians. He cut off potable water, electricity, fuel, and food.

Charges of war crimes against Israel have been discussed by the United Nations, as the Israeli military has thumbed its nose at International Humanitarian Law, which makes attacks on hospitals and schools off-limits under most circumstances. Additionally, Israel has bombed refugee camps, churches, and mosques, leaving Palestinian noncombatants with no safe place. If these actions by Israel raise important questions regarding its compliance with international law, they also raise concerns about the effectiveness of the United Nations in addressing the crisis. For decades, the Gaza Strip has been a hotbed of conflict and tension. A total of 2.3 million residents (about twice the population of Hawaii) live in this small 41 kilometers (about 25.48 miles) long and between 6- and 12-kilometers wide enclave. Already trapped in one of the most densely populated areas on Earth, its inhabitants have endured countless hardships.

Yet, despite countless resolutions, diplomatic negotiations, and the formation of international bodies dedicated to maintaining peace and security, nothing has changed for the people of Gaza. The international community’s response to the Gaza crisis has been a glaring example of the insufficiency and ineffectiveness of international law and peace and security institutions such as the United Nations. The current humanitarian pause is a mere Band-Aid on a potentially mortal wound.

The United Nations, which is the most important institution established for peace and security after the global horrors of WW II, appears to be powerless when it comes to the Gaza crisis. The countless past resolutions condemning the violence and calling for an end to hostilities have done little to change the situation on the ground. The Israeli government is vowing to start back up its devastating bombardment of the refugees later this week.

Even during the current pause, the delivery of humanitarian aid remains insufficient. Some 500 trucks of aid entered the strip daily before the current conflict, and less than 100 per day are entering these days. The people of Gaza, already dealing with the consequences of long campaigns of total war that have put noncombatants in the crosshairs, face additional suffering because of the inability of international institutions to ensure that aid reaches those in desperate need.

The Gaza crisis serves as a reminder of the limitations of international institutions and the pressing need for reform. It is time to question whether the current framework for maintaining international peace and security is equipped to address protracted conflicts in the 21st century. If the United Nations cannot even establish a reliable international aid corridor for one of the most vulnerable populations in the world, how can we expect them to address more complex global crises effectively?

The international community must acknowledge the reality that international human rights law and the United Nations has not lived up to its intended purpose in the Gaza crisis.

Excerpted: ‘The Gaza Crisis Reveals the Need to Reform International Institutions’.