In Gaza today, we are sitting, waiting for the next phase of Israel’s offensive. For more than three days now, the attacks have relentlessly continued. The streets are deserted as people are too afraid to move. But still civilians are being killed and injured. The precise number is impossible to know at this stage, as our fieldworkers struggle to document past and current attacks.
Outside the borders of the Gaza Strip, the world watches their television screens. And waits.
We have been here before. Nearly four years ago, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, a 23 day offensive on the Gaza Strip that placed the civilian population firmly in the eye of the storm. In that offensive, 82 percent of the dead were civilians; 1,179 of international law’s so-called “protected persons” were killed as the world looked on.
As a result of Israel’s illegal closure of the Gaza Strip – now in place for an unimaginable five years – the destruction caused during Operation Cast Lead is still not fully repaired. As the bombs fall today, they add rubble to rubble; another generation of destruction. Already weakened infrastructure, particularly hospitals, makes it a struggle for people to cope.
After Operation Cast Lead, we believed that the world would respond. It had to. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), and other organisations, prepared countless well-documented cases containing concrete allegations of widespread war crimes perpetrated by Israeli forces. We presented them to, amongst others, the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, who concluded that Operation Cast Lead was directed at “the people of Gaza as a whole”. It held that Israel’s policies were premised on a “deliberate policy of disproportionate force” aimed not at the enemy but at the “supporting infrastructure”. In practice, this appears to have meant the civilian population.’ Based on these conclusions, the Fact Finding Mission recommended that the Security Council refer the situation in Gaza to the International Criminal Court, so that all suspected war criminals could be investigated and, if appropriate, tried and prosecuted.
This was not an unusual conclusion. It was a response to the clear requirements of international law.
For nearly four years, PCHR has fought for the implementation of this recommendation. As an organisation, we represent over 1,400 victims of Operation Cast Lead. These individuals have placed their faith in the rule of law, and in the promise of universal human rights.
Their faith has been met with realpolitik and an international community that is unwilling to live up to its international obligations. The international community has consistently prioritised political considerations above human rights, using peace and security as a pretext. They have turned their backs on the rule of law and the victims.
Today, these same victims, along with the entire population of Gaza, are once more subject to relentless attack. Once again, international law is being disregarded as Israel launches wave after wave of attacks on the Gaza Strip.
Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu tells us that this is only the beginning.
Our demand is not extravagant, or unreasonable. We simply want to be treated as equals. We ask that our rights be respected, that so-called universal human rights be extended to the Gaza Strip. We ask that the rule of law be respected, and that all those responsible for violations of international law be held to account.
We remind the international community of the last major assault on the Gaza Strip, when civilians bore the brunt of political inaction. We should not wait for the same atrocities to be committed again.
We demand justice and accountability. We dream of a normal life, in freedom and dignity.
Raji Sourani is Director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, based in Gaza.