The Meaning of Peace


Life is coming to a standstill in Gaza. Electricity has been cut off to the whole population in the freezing winter. Bakeries have stopped production. Water wells, hospitals and sewage treatment facilities are unable to function. UN food trucks, upon which 80 per cent of Gaza’s population depends, have been refused entry. Children on ventilators for asthma, patients on dialysis machines, babies in incubators – their lives are in danger.

Israel has justified its recent lockdown of Gaza as a response to the homemade rocket fire aimed at the Israeli town of Sderot bordering the Gaza Strip. One Ecuadorian volunteer on an Israeli communal farm was killed and three Israeli civilians injured.

Israel’s response is to punish 1.5 million Palestinians using the most sophisticated weaponry in the world with merciless ferocity.

As the occupying power, Israel’s disproportionate response is illegal. This is a crucial point. For if we are to retain any semblance of international law and order, and if the Israel/Palestine conflict is to ever have any hope of resolution, the international community must do more than merely pay lip service to international law.

Between 1967 and 2000 the UN Security Council passed 138 resolutions in relation to Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land. All of these have been ignored, the most significant being resolution 242 which referred to the "inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war" and called for Israel to "withdraw from territories occupied in the conflict."

Yesterday, after five days of consultations, the UN Security
Council ended efforts to adopt a statement on the humanitarian and security
situation in Gaza.

While it is comforting that strong statements of concern or rebuke have come from officials in Israeli human rights groups, the UN Relief and Works Agency, Oxfam, the European Commission, and governments of Egypt, Britain, France and others, words are no longer sufficient. We can no longer rely on an occupier to write the rules.

The common thread, from 1948 until today, is that Israel seeks to achieve its objectives outside the framework of international law. That is why the standards are fluid; they shift and sink because there is no accountability.

For years, Israel has implemented, as part of its ‘war on terror’, a declared policy of collective punishment against the Palestinian population. What it is doing in Gaza is a flagrant breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention which was specifically designed to protect civilians in time of war and focuses on the treatment of civilians in the hands of the adversary in occupied territories.

Except for Israel, the entire international community has unambiguously accepted the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention to those territories captured and occupied by Israel in the 1967 war, which include Gaza. Both the Security Council and the General Assembly have consistently issued resolutions calling on Israel to recognise the applicability of the Convention, a view that has been endorsed by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Israel refers to article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention to justify its measures on the basis of "military necessity". However, Article 27 requires that the measures respect the principle of proportionality. This is clearly not happening.

The catastrophic conditions in Gaza should provide the impetus for real action to finally be taken to hold Israel to account. UN Special Rapporteur John Dugard, has said that while "there are other regimes, particularly in the developing world, that suppress human rights, there is no other case of a Western-affiliated regime that denies self-determination and human rights to a developing people and that has done so for so long." According to Dugard, the West’s commitment to the human rights of the Palestinian people is a test by which its commitment to human rights is to be judged.

Israel has been likened to apartheid South Africa by many respected individuals, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South African Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils, Willy Madisha President Congress of South African trade Unions, Israeli academic Uri Davis and historian Ilan Pappe and former US President Jimmy Carter. South Africa’s apartheid regime was declared a crime against humanity by the UNO in 1994. It was not words that brought South Africa to its knees, but real international solidarity, sanctions and boycotts, despite the support South Africa was given by Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and, funnily enough, Israel.

There can be no security in warfare and illegal occupation. Israelis and Palestinians will only know security through peace. Yet peace means different things to different people and where there is relativity there is the danger that might becomes right; that humanity descends into chaos and cruelty; that almost 60 years of dispossession and oppression are allowed to go on as leaders define peace without an over-riding standard that holds them to account. We should be championing respect for international law which, if we allow ourselves any credit, aspires to recognise people’s intrinsic humanity and equal right to live with independence and freedom.

Israel must be brought to its knees and made to adhere to international law in the same way South Africa was: through sanctions and boycotts. Perhaps then it will learn that security is achieved through a respect for human rights, not the destruction of them.

Read Save the Children worker Rana Elhindi’s diary on the current crisis in Gaza on the BBC News website.

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