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Gaza: starvation and bloodbath

HR/VP Blog – The bloodbath in Gaza on 29 February is the direct consequence of limiting humanitarian assistance to a starving population. It has shown the absolute urgency to end the fighting, massively increase humanitarian aid and free the remaining hostages. The international community needs to take decisive steps to save Gazan civilians from both starvation and violence.

On 29 February, thousands of Palestinians rushed towards a convoy bringing aid into the ruins of northern Gaza. They hoped to finally get some food after days of starvation. Instead, more than 100 of them were added to the already devastating death toll of 30 000 Palestinians, mainly women and children, killed in the enclave. Another 700 were injured. This incident, a new chapter in a long list of horrors over the past five months, has shocked the world.

Accounts differ as to what exactly happened: whether the casualties resulted from Israeli gunfire or from a stampede triggered by Israeli soldiers firing warning shots. Regardless of the exact cause, this tragic event illustrates how desperate the situation has become in Gaza after five month of war and siege.

People in Gaza are starving
“People in Gaza are starving. The conditions are inhumane and our common humanity compels us to act,” is how US Vice-President Kamala Harris summarised it last Sunday. The Israeli armed forces are clearly failing to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure and the humanitarian aid flowing into Gaza is totally insufficient.
Across Gaza, civilian infrastructure is devastated. Almost the entire Palestinian population has been displaced. 1.7 million people are surviving in UNRWA shelters, the UN agency in charge of helping Palestinian refugees, of which 158 staff members have already been killed. Civil order is collapsing in Gaza and anarchy is spreading.

A recent health report from Johns Hopkins and the University of London predicts that unless there is a ceasefire and a massive surge in aid very soon, more than additional 60.000 civilians will die. UNICEF executive director Catherine Russel reported yesterday that at least 10 children have already died of malnutrition and dehydration and warned that one out of six children in northern Gaza are acutely malnourished. This should weigh heavily on the conscience of all parties involved in the conflict, as well as of the entire international community.

This situation is unacceptable. The ruling by the International Court of Justice last January is legally binding, and Israel has finally to abide to it. “The Israeli government must do more to significantly increase the flow of aid. No excuses”, as US Vice President Kamala Harris rightfully urged.

Jordan, some EU member states and the US have started airdropping food into Gaza. While better than nothing, airdrops are far from the most efficient way to provide the urgently needed amount of food to the 2 million people living in Gaza. Israel should allow massive aid to enter Gaza by land. There are airports at only 90 minutes by road from Gaza where aircrafts bringing humanitarian aid could land.

Obstacles to humanitarian aid transfer at the Kerem Shalom crossing must be urgently removed, and the Karmi and Erez crossings in the North of Gaza need to be opened for humanitarian aid. Additionally, maritime access should be granted immediately to bring much-needed relief. Airdrops can be a short-term emergency measure, but they cannot replace access by land and sea.

“After five months of devastating war, the actions of the Israeli government in Gaza give the impression that its objectives go beyond destroying Hamas.”

After five months of devastating war and destruction, the actions of the Israeli government in Gaza give the impression that its objectives go beyond destroying Hamas. As Major General Giora Eiland wrote last December in Yedioth Ahronoth there appears to be an effort to “turn Gaza into a place that is temporarily or permanently impossible to live in”. And indeed, almost everything that allows a human society to function has been destroyed: civil register, property register, cultural and health infrastructure, most of the schools built by UNRWA…

Additionally, in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, there has been a surge of demolitions, settlement construction, restrictions on movement and access, as well as settler violence since 7 October. All these measures makes the life of Palestinians in the occupied territories very difficult, if not almost impossible. For months, we have been calling on Israel to seriously confront settler violence, release much-needed revenues withheld from the Palestinian Authority, and refrain from actions that may aggravate an already explosive situation. So far, without success.

The Spanish and Irish governments have asked the European institutions to check whether the Israeli government’s current policy complies with the human rights clauses in our association agreement. We will carry out this work.

The responsibility of the international community
Under such circumstances, it is the responsibility of the international community to step in and enforce an immediate end to the fighting in order to stop the humanitarian catastrophe, free the hostages still held by Hamas and protect the civilian population. Now that everyone agrees on this urgent need, the UN Security Council should be able to take a resolution to this effect.

“There is only one viable and sustainable way to achieve peace: a sovereign, secure and peaceful Palestinian State, alongside a sovereign, secure and peaceful State of Israel.”

The international community will also have to shift from treating the symptoms to treating the root cause of the current escalation and solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict itself. Israelis, Palestinians, and all peoples of the region deserve to live in security, dignity and stability. We all know that there is only one viable and sustainable way to achieve these objectives: a sovereign, secure and peaceful Palestinian state, alongside a sovereign, secure and peaceful State of Israel. It is the sole guarantee for realising and protecting the rights of both peoples.

The EU is determined to advance on this path and US President Biden is also working in this direction. Despite the refusal of the Netanyahu government, the international community is united on the question of the two-state solution and will have to advance swiftly on its implementation.


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