by Alex Emmons, co-coordinator*
This past week the world has looked on in horror as the Gaza Strip conflict has escalated, prompting a wealth of opinions and various criticisms from the international community. On Monday the death toll in Gaza officially rose to 91, quickly surpassing the 3 Israelis killed by Palestinian Rockets since Wednesday. Social media have been flooded with horrific images of Palestinians flocking to hospitals and family members caught in the collateral damage.
In the midst of such a terrible conflict, it is difficult for human rights activists to know what to think. Human life has been destroyed on both sides of the Israel-Gaza border. The Israel/Gaza debate also inevitably draws upon strongly held personal sentiments. When the situation is so complex, what can we expect from the international community, or more specifically the United States?
On Monday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon arrived in Cairo to try and support an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire. His efforts and the efforts of the Egyptian government to curb violence should be praised. A temporary ceasefire, however, is not a complete solution to a seemingly permanent sequence of human rights violations.
Since Israel’s horrific assault in 2009, Hamas has continued to bombard Israeli cities with rockets. After procuring long-range rockets that indicate Iranian supply lines, Hamas has fired rockets as far as Tel-Aviv and has injured more than 50 Israelis. However, Israel’s retaliatory response is certainly disproportionate to this violence. But I am somewhat sympathetic – Israeli leaders cannot turn a blind eye to their citizens’ continual bombardment.
As a human rights activist, however, I expect Israeli security operations to be carried out with the highest respect for human dignity. The IDF is one of the most sophisticated and modernized militaries in the world. The world thus expects the IDF to avoid widespread devastation of civilian life. The IDF has not lived up to this expectation.
Yesterday, 11 members of the Palestinian Daloo family were killed by a missile strike on their home, including five women and four children. More than ten houses in Gaza with supposed ties to Hamas have been leveled. An estimated 20 of 27 people killed were civilians. These strikes by the Israeli military are not merely reprehensible. According to the Fourth Geneva Convention, these attacks constitute war crimes.
Both the attacks by Hamas and the retaliation by Israel are horrific, unjustifiable, and illegal under international law. What can a human rights activist expect from the international community? Hamas is unlikely to adhere to the terms of an enduring ceasefire. The UN needs to discuss long-term solutions. In order to protect the rights of Israelis, the UN needs to support an enforceable arms embargo to keep rockets out of terrorist hands. The international community also needs to maintain a continual presence of monitors to ensure restrictions on military arms imports.
But the UN and the US need to engage another serious question. In 2009 and now in 2012 Israel has continued to repay violence with war crimes in the form of a disproportional response carried out by an unfettered military. The United States gives 3 billion dollars annually in military aid to Israel. It is true that Israel has been an ally and strong bastion of Democracy in the Middle East. Giving billions of dollars in aid to Israel, however, funds human rights abuses. The United States has a moral duty to use its relationship with Israel to encourage respect for civilian life. To be clear, the United States also has a weak record of respecting civilian life in Middle East conflicts. American drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, and contracted military groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, have caused unnecessary civilian casualties. Nonetheless, in addition to reforming its own policies, the United States has a moral duty to pressure Israel to respect civilian life, and, if those negotiations fail, to scale back its aid to Israel.
*Opinions in this blog do not represent those of Amnesty International USA or the Yale Amnesty chapter at large.