A conflict that is threatening to become a background noise that readers will become familiar with, though the information currently is beginning to feel horrendously repetitive with the possibility of readers becoming used to this cycle of violence, it cannot be forgotten or go unreported. Casualties of these incidents are once again mainly innocent citizens that have nothing to do with the conflict between Israel and Gaza; much less are they the possible threat to its state. With a deadly attack on a school in the city of Rafah in the south of Gaza, at least ten people, including children, were killed and dozens more wounded due to a projectile that had struck the street outside the school gates on Sunday morning. The school was sheltering more than 3,000 people displaced by fighting in the area, this was the place that these citizens fled to for safety after the order to leave their homes. Children and adults were around the gates buying biscuits and sweets from set up stalls by locals when the projectile hit. The Israeli military has not commented but has been carrying out renewed strikes in Gaza.

This recent event may seem like déjà vu to the reader because this is the seventh UN school to have been attacked during the conflict. Only last week, there was an attack on a UN facility where a Jabaliya shelter was shelled, killing 16 people and consequently drew international condemnation as eyewitnesses claimed a missile struck as people queued for food. Robert Turner, director of operations for the UN Palestinian refugee agency in Gaza, said that, ‘the locations of all of these installations have been passed to the Israeli military multiple times. They know where these shelters are. How this continues to happen, I have no idea.’ The question will continue to be unanswered with this latest attack.

UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon denounced the act as criminal and a moral outrage and those responsible must be held accountable for the ‘gross violation of international humanitarian law’, arguing that the ‘Israel Defence Forces (IDF) have been repeatedly informed of the location of these sites.’ They have currently reported in the media that cabinet ministers have decided not to seek a further negotiated ceasefire agreement with Hamas, considering ending the military operation unilaterally. Yet while it seems Israel is withdrawing some of its troops, Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, has vowed to continue Operation Protective Edge, promising that Hamas would pay ‘an insufferable price’ for continued cross-border rocket fire.

With Gaza health officials saying 40 people have died on Sunday, these latest exchanges came after Israel’s military said that an officer was feared to have been captured and later it had become clear that Hadar Goldin was dead. This latest retribution has meant that the only people who have paid an insufferable price for this conflict are the citizens buying sweets from a stall on a Sunday, adding to the growing number of fatalities. At its 27th day, the latest official figures from Gaza’s health ministry say that 1,740 Palestinians have been killed and 9,080 injured since the conflict began. With Israel currently ignoring the possibility of negotiating a ceasefire, it can be argued that Israel is not prepared to tackle the underlying causes of the conflict, such as the economic blockade on Gaza, and Israel’s control of its airspace and most borders, suggesting that this cycle of violence will come round again. Delegations from Hamas, which control Gaza, and Islamic Jihad arrived in Cairo on Sunday for talks with Egyptian and US officials over a possible truce, with Israel stating it will not attend the talks.

Whilst the conflict has garnered international attention and sympathy, as well as condemnation from voices at the UN, one has to wonder why haven’t the United Nations done something to try and end the violence in Gaza, fulfilling what their body is designed to do – resolve and mediate matters. Mere words of condemnation or appeals pale in significance alongside inaction and interference. As demands for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire have gone unheeded, the UN is beginning to look helpless and ineffectual. This unproductivity is seen as a result of the deadlock from member states lacking in cooperation. It cannot be simply stated however, that the UN have done nothing: it is currently sheltering 180,000 people in schools. It cannot be expected to take the whole blame. The United States have used their vetoes, as with Russia, to protect their ally Israel, while Russia does the same for Syria. The assessment of UN’s efficiency, however, means that it cannot escape notice that they have failed in diplomacy, and have failed the citizens of Palestine.

Currently, The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) will be launching an international inquiry into violations that may have been committed during Israel’s latest military offensive in Gaza. Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, has warned that Israel may have committed war crimes in the Gaza Strip during the offensive and that Israel had not done enough to protect civilians. She stated that ‘there seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes.’ She additionally condemned Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules Gaza, and other armed Palestinian groups, for their ‘indiscriminate attacks’ on Israel as well as  also calling for an end to the blockade of Gaza, stating this as the underlying reason for the conflict and an issue that must be tackled if a long-term ceasefire is to endure.

This leads to a necessary consideration of whether war crimes are taking place. The key obligations of parties  during conflict include international humanitarian law which aims to protect civilians during times of war by regulating the conduct of hostilities by both state and non-state armed forces. States should be bound by their obligations under international human rights law during an armed conflict and be required to take necessary precautions to protect civilians. Yet, the population of Gaza have been bearing the brunt of collective punishment, both from the current conflict and Israel’s seven-year military blockade. Their attacks have been focused on densely populated residential areas as well as civilian holdings including homes, medical facilities, and non-military governmental buildings. Israel argues that these are legitimate targets, associating the homes of people with Hamas whilst noting that Hamas fires rockets from non-military buildings, using civilians as shields. Yet, direct attacks on civilians and civilian objects have also occurred; the tragic shelling of fishermen’s children on a beach is a searing memory, and constitutes a war crime.

As an occupying power, Israel since 2005 has continued land incursions into the Gaza Strip, regularly destroying farmland and agricultural assets, carrying out military operations and arresting ‘wanted’ men inside Gaza. It becomes increasingly clear that there needs to be both an immediate investigation and scrutiny into the occurring blockade and into the slaughter of Palestinian citizens during the conflict.

This conflict is a complex issue, with a huge background to consider. The deaths of citizens are continuing and even with the possibility of Israel’s forces withdrawing, there are many other issues at hand: the efficiency of the UN, and the possible war crimes committed by both Hamas and Israel during the ongoing conflict, while the current attack on the UN school simply adds to the exhaustive list. And as it stands, the argument that this can continue on the basis of a right to self-defence is beginning  to wane. There have just been too many senseless deaths for this right to be Israel’s moral compass. For those of us watching the events, it now largely seems as an unjustifiable excuse.

 

Sources:

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/03/israel-air-strike-un-school-gaza-rafah

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-28548469

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-28628682

http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/MDE15/017/2014/en/5b79b682-8d41-4751-9cbc-a0465f6433c3/mde150172014en.html

http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/1.608237