6,800 is the most up to date figure for the number of innocent human beings who have now been killed by Israeli airstrikes across the Gaza Strip over the past 20 days, with thousands more maimed and injured, and millions starving and suffering without sufficient access to food, water, electricity or medical and humanitarian aid.
In the six days up to 12 October, Israel dropped 6,000 bombs on Gaza, contributing to the damage and destruction of 42 percent of the housing stock, with those figures rising by the day. On Tuesday alone, 305 Palestinian children — equivalent to an entire primary school — were massacred. As I write, there are 130 babies in incubators who will die if power is not sustained.
However, Palestinians are so much more than mere numbers. The violence that is now being perpetrated against the people of Gaza, and which has been going on for more than 75 years — well before the beginning of this month — is nothing less than a grotesque crime against humanity, and one that must cease immediately.
It should not need to be said, but let me state it plainly for the sake of clarity: Palestinian civilians are in no way culpable for the actions of Hamas. Arguing to the contrary paves the way for expressions of genocidal intent. Take, for instance, Israel’s Minister of Defence Yoav Gallant who declared that he has ‘released all restraints’, and that the Israeli army is ‘fighting human animals and will act accordingly’ in order to ‘eliminate everything’ so that Gaza won’t return to what it was before.
International law is clear and is to be applied to all transgressors. The law applies directly to the Hamas attacks against Israeli citizens carried out on 7 October. As does it apply to the indiscriminate and disproportionate response of the Israeli army to those appalling atrocities.
The UN Secretary-General António Guterres was entirely correct when he stated at the Cairo peace summit last week that Israel ‘can never justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people. International humanitarian law — including the Geneva Conventions — must be upheld.’
Nevertheless, as dozens of esteemed legal academics and practitioners have explained, this is exactly what Israel is carrying out. A mountain of evidence is piling up of war crimes being perpetrated in Gaza. Yet, international humanitarian law is not being upheld. Israel continues to perpetrate these crimes without restraint and without those actions being called out for what they are by key political voices in the US and in the UK. All the while, it is Palestinian civilians who are paying the dearest price with life and limb.
Given Britain’s historic role in the region, and our nation’s position as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, it is imperative that those with a platform to call for an immediate cessation of Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip do so at once. The response from our government thus far has done nothing but cause harm. Instead of taking their lead from the rule of international humanitarian law, ministers have simply parroted bellicose lines pumped out by the US State Department.
Indeed, each time Rishi Sunak has been asked to confirm that the actions of the Israeli army contravene international law, he has robotically refused to give a straight answer. This failure to call out Israel’s collective punishment of the population of Gaza as a whole, only encourages further illegal acts. The advocacy group International Centre of Justice for Palestinians (ICJP) has warned government ministers of its intention to ‘prosecute UK government officials for complicity in war crimes’.
How on earth have we got to a place where such a thing is even being raised as a possibility?
Unless Israel’s bombardment and siege of Gaza is urgently brought to an end, I am gravely concerned that there will be devastating consequences not only for Palestinians and Israelis, but for people right across the region, as well as those of us further afield. If things are allowed to escalate, then I fear another Nakba, the eruption of full-scale war as third parties enter directly into the fray, and violence spreading to communities here in the UK. We have already seen a worryingly sharp rise in reported Islamophobic and antisemitic incidents across the country in the past fortnight.
So I implore those in power to rethink their support for Israel’s assault on Gaza, and join me and the vast majority of the British public in calling for an unconditional end to the hostilities. Those who are not currently taking this position undoubtedly soon will be, but how many more lives will be lost in the meantime? We are in truly perilous times, and must do all that we can to prevent any further descent into hell.