On Tuesday, October 24, 2023, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres accused Israel for violations of international law in Gaza. He also called for an immediate ceasefire as Israel continued its attacks on the Palestinian territory in response to actions by Hamas.
Israel expressed its displeasure with the UN chief’s plea during a high-level session of the Security Council.
At the beginning of the session, Guterres expressed his concern about the violations of international humanitarian law in Gaza. He emphasized that no party involved in an armed conflict can disregard international humanitarian law, although he did not explicitly mention Israel. He also urges humanitarian aid for Gaza.
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Additionally, Guterres pointed out that the Hamas attacks on October 7 were not isolated incidents and should be considered in the context of 56 years of what he described as a suffocating occupation of the Palestinians.
In this context, In an effort to allow aid to enter Gaza, Guterres personally traveled to the Rafah gate between Egypt and Gaza, where he welcomed the passage of three aid convoys thus far.
“To ease epic suffering, make the delivery of aid easier and safer, and facilitate the release of hostages, I reiterate my appeal for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.”–António Guterres
Secretary-General of the United Nations
For this, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, called for Guterres’ resignation, claiming that the UN chief demonstrated an understanding of terrorism and murder. This statement was made on X, formerly known as Twitter.
International humanitarian law (IHL)
International humanitarian law (IHL) is a set of rules aimed at mitigating the impact of armed conflicts. It outlines the responsibilities of both states and non-state armed groups involved in such conflicts. These rules include ensuring the unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid, granting freedom of movement to humanitarian personnel in conflict zones, safeguarding the well-being of civilians, including medical and humanitarian workers, and protecting refugees, prisoners, and the wounded and sick.
IHL is crucial because it serves to safeguard civilians and those providing humanitarian and medical aid during armed conflicts worldwide. Without these rules, there would be no global standards in place for such protection. IHL is primarily rooted in the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, which focuses on the protection of civilians in conflict, and the Additional Protocols of 1977 and 2005.
Despite many aspects of IHL being recognized as customary international law, meaning they are widely accepted as binding practices, independent of specific treaties, these rules are increasingly violated by parties involved in conflicts. This results in attacks on relief organization facilities, hijacking of vehicles and convoys, and violence against staff, including murders and kidnappings. Such breaches have a detrimental impact on civilians and hinder the delivery of life-saving assistance to millions of people, making the enforcement of IHL a critical challenge.
Scenario of International Humanitarian Law Violation in Gaza
Due to the ongoing conflict between Gaza and Israel, the loss of human lives remains irreparable. The human rights violations committed by Israeli forces are notably high when compared to historical records.
Israel has continuously launched airstrikes on the Gaza Strip since October 7, following a surprise attack by Hamas in southern Israel, resulting in a death toll of at least 1,400 people in Israel, according to Israeli authorities.
In the aftermath of the attack, Israel ceased the supply of water, food, fuel, and electricity to the 2.3 million residents of the enclave, an action deemed a form of collective punishment by the UN. Since October 7, more than 6,546 individuals in Gaza and the occupied Palestinian territories have lost their lives due to Israeli air strikes and other assaults.
The health ministry in Gaza has reported that the death toll in the besieged territory since October 7 now exceeds 6,546, with 2,704 of the victims being children. Additionally, the ongoing conflict has left 17,439 people wounded. In the last 24 hours, 756 children, including 344 infants, tragically lost their lives.
Since the Israel-Gaza War started, at least 25 journalists have perished on both sides as of October 25.
Additionally, more than one million people have been forced to evacuate, as Israel ordered residents of northern Gaza to relocate to the south. Despite this evacuation, Israeli air raids have persisted throughout the entire territory.
The UN reports that in Gaza, 12 out of 35 hospitals and 46 out of 72 healthcare clinics have been forced to close due to damage from attacks or fuel shortages.
Gaza’s health ministry also issued a warning on Tuesday, stating that hospital generators will stop running within the next 48 hours due to a lack of fuel, while Israel’s ongoing “total blockade” has left life-saving facilities overwhelmed with thousands of injured individuals.
The extensive bombing campaign by Israel has not only resulted in the destruction of entire neighborhoods but has also pushed living conditions to their breaking point.
In the meantime, the UN reports that approximately 40% of the schools in the Gaza Strip have suffered damage as a result of Israel’s assault, keeping more than 625,000 children from attending class.
According to the UN, the Israeli attacks have destroyed almost half of the enclave’s dwellings, uprooting an estimated 1.4 million residents.
According to analysts, the international community must increase its efforts to prevent the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza.
Mahjoob Zweiri, a professor of contemporary Middle Eastern politics at Qatar University, emphasized the need for more effective and decisive diplomacy that focuses on achieving a ceasefire when speaking to Al Jazeera.
He stressed that any diplomatic endeavor lacking a ceasefire discussion or pressure on Israel and the US would be ineffective.
Zweiri also highlighted the importance of the UN pressuring Israel to allow fuel into Gaza, as this action could save thousands of lives. He urged the international community to remember that merely discussing casualties without taking immediate action could result in them being held accountable for insufficient efforts.
Previously, United Nations agencies fervently appealed for unobstructed access to emergency aid in Gaza, stressing the urgent necessity for more than a twentyfold increase in current delivery levels.
While a modest amount of humanitarian assistance has made its way into Gaza since Saturday from the Egyptian border, Guterres characterized this meager aid as “a mere droplet in an expansive sea of necessity.”
The Israeli diplomats responded to Guterres’s comments by expressing strong disapproval. Ambassador Erdan used social media, specifically on a platform formerly known as Twitter, to state that Guterres was “not fit to lead the UN” based on his comments. Erdan called for Guterres to resign and criticized his compassion for the atrocities against Israel and the Jewish people. Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen also criticized Guterres, pointing out graphic accounts of civilian deaths and canceling a planned meeting with him. Additionally, Cohen expressed the view that there was no room for a balanced approach after the events of October 7, stating that Hamas must be eliminated.