Civilians are paying the price for the failures of their political leaders
In a statement on the escalation of hostilities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel issued today, Oxfam says “civilians are once again paying the price for the failures of political leaders to negotiate a just and lasting peace for Palestinians and Israelis. Instead, we are witnessing yet another cycle of death and destruction that brings us no closer to addressing the root causes of the crisis and drives further human rights violations, poverty and suffering, particularly for a lost generation of children and young Palestinians.”
“Palestinians in Gaza have endured three successive wars just in the last 10 years,” said Laila Barhoum, Oxfam’s Policy Advisor, who describes the effects of fighting in Gaza. “We are tired. Day after day we watch the bombs fall on homes where our friends and family live and buildings where our colleagues work, wondering if we will be next. And day after day we wait in vain for the unequivocal condemnation from the international community that never comes. When a ceasefire is eventually declared, we will once again dig out from the rubble and begin to rebuild, only to wait for another cycle of bombardment to destroy what we have done.”
Oxfam is calling for an immediate end to all violence. All parties must comply and adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law and the principles of distinction, precaution, and proportionality in the use of force.
US can help seek a ceasefire and work for a just and lasting peace
President Biden campaigned on a platform of upholding human rights at home and abroad and restoring US leadership in the world. But his response to the escalating hostilities in the Gaza Strip and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel has come nowhere close to this lofty rhetoric.
With more and more civilians losing their lives, the US must use all diplomatic tools at its disposal to secure an immediate ceasefire. It should begin by taking meaningful action within the UN Security Council, where the other 14 Member States wish to speak with one voice to protect civilian life and promote a just and lasting peace, including by ending the nearly 14-year blockade of the Gaza Strip and 54-year military occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territory including East Jerusalem. This is the bare minimum needed to save lives now.
But the US must not stop there. A critical examination of the root causes of violence - and US complicity in them - is long overdue. With $3.8 billion in unconditional military support to Israel every year, the US cannot claim to be a passive observer to the systemic injustices that Palestinians face every day. Congress should hold Israel to the same standards as other security partners and ensure that US assistance is not used to violate international law. This is the only way to break the cycle of violence that brings us no closer to addressing the root causes of the crisis.
Struggle for survival in Gaza
Even before violence erupted, families in Gaza were preoccupied with daily survival as they observed the holy month of Ramadan during the Covid-19 pandemic and a 14-year blockade. Today, they are celebrating Eid under the shadow of ongoing aerial bombardment that has killed 83 Palestinians – including 17 children – and injured 487, including 115 children. Should the violence continue, many innocent civilians in Gaza will lose their lives; and thousands more will have their lives endangered by an economic and public services shutdown. Seven Israelis have died from rocket attacks – including two children – and 104 have been injured. Communities across Israel are living in fear of indiscriminate rockets, while alarming inter-communal violence is growing across several cities in Israel.
This escalation must not overshadow the underlying causes of the violence, but instead compel a renewed focus on addressing them. The violations the world is witnessing are the direct result of weeks of brutality and excessive force by Israeli settlers and police against Palestinian worshipers, medical staff, and demonstrators in occupied East Jerusalem as well as efforts to forcibly transfer residents of Sheikh Jarrah from their homes. They are also the result of years of impunity for Israeli human rights violations and a lack of international pressure on Israel to fulfill its international legal obligations as the occupying power to protect all civilians under its control.
Palestinians across the Occupied Palestinian Territory face daily and systemic oppression and discrimination as a matter of Israeli state policy. They are denied their basic rights to freedom of movement, freedom of worship, and freedom to assemble and express themselves peacefully. People in Gaza are trapped under siege with nowhere to flee for safety. In East Jerusalem and across many parts of the West Bank, they are at daily risk of being forcibly displaced from their homes, as part of a state-sponsored effort in support of settler organizations who seek to drive Palestinians off their land. These are all clear violations of International Law.
Words matter, but they are not enough. The international community has a duty to swiftly and unequivocally condemn all human rights and international law violations, wherever and whenever they occur. Governments must take bold action to end the impunity and hold those who violate international law to account. Their lack of political courage directly enables the escalating series of retaliations that puts civilians in the firing line of indiscriminate rockets and military airstrikes.
“When people tell me to ‘stay safe’ during these bombardments, I always think, how exactly?” said Barhoum. “I have no Iron Dome to protect me, no bomb shelter to take cover in, and no place to flee my home, because we are pinned in by concrete walls on three sides and the Mediterranean Sea on the fourth. This is the reality we need the world to understand, so we can stop applying a double standard when it comes to condemning the killing of our people and protecting our human rights.”
“Today we witness the international community’s longstanding failure to protect Palestinians’ dignity and human rights,” said Gabriela Bucher, Executive Director of Oxfam International. “It is long past time to break the cycle of war followed by truces and pledges of humanitarian aid that only represent bandages on deep wounds and, instead, to genuinely tackle the root causes of injustice and violence that is being perpetrated under the occupation.”
What Oxfam is doing in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel
In the Occupied Palestinian Territory (the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip) nearly a quarter of the people live below the poverty line. Their prospects for being safe, healthy, and able to work and learn is severely limited by the Israeli occupation. Fifty percent of the population rely on humanitarian aid, and almost two million people are trapped inside Gaza with little access to the most basic services.
Oxfam has been working in the region since the 1950s and established a country office in the 1980s. We work in the most vulnerable communities in Gaza, East Jerusalem, and Area C -- the 61 percent of the West Bank where the Government of Israel maintains full military and civil control under the 1993 Oslo Accords.