The laws of war exist to preserve humanity even in the midst of fighting, to give us a moral compass that limits the suffering of civilians.
A humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding in Gaza following the barbaric attack by Hamas on Israeli civilians. The lack of political action to stop the civilian carnage is astounding.
Since its deadly incursion, Hamas has continued to fire rockets indiscriminately at Israeli communities. The taking of almost 200 hostages, including children and the elderly, is unconscionable, and all civilian hostages should be freed immediately. But reciprocal crimes against humanity are a zero-sum game for civilians in the region, and only pave the way for more suffering and instability in Israel, the occupied Palestinian territories and beyond.
In the first six days following the Hamas attack, Israel reportedly dropped an estimated 6,000 bombs inside Gaza. As a comparison, NATO allies released 7,700 during the entire war in Libya in 2011. Israel has also tightened its siege on a community already in crisis, denying millions of people access to basic, life-saving services. The criminal actions of Hamas cannot be used to justify the collective punishment of 2.3 million Palestinian civilians in Gaza, the majority of whom are children. It cannot be a race to the bottom on upholding international laws.
All warring parties must exercise restraint and must not take actions that are contrary to the basic principles of the Geneva Conventions. These require that a distinction be drawn between civilian and military targets; that due precaution be taken to prevent harm to civilians and civilian objects; and that any such damage be proportionate to the anticipated military advantage gained. Israel’s actions arguably fail all of these tests. The laws of war exist to preserve humanity even in the midst of fighting, to give us a moral compass that limits the suffering of civilians.
It is critical to stem the bloodshed before it is too late. US President Joe Biden and other international leaders must unequivocally condemn the breaches of humanitarian law on both sides, and both Israel and Hamas must heed UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ call for an immediate ceasefire to stop the indiscriminate bombing of civilians and civilian objects. Urgently, to alleviate the suffering and stop the bloodshed, political leaders must also call for a humanitarian corridor to allow for safe access to essential medical, food and other supplies for Palestinian civilians, safe passage for humanitarian organisations and the safe release of all hostages. Without robust diplomatic efforts that prioritise restraint, there is a very grave risk that the violence will extend well beyond Israel and Palestine, with countless more lives at stake.