On October 7, 2023, Palestinian armed forces launched an unprecedented offensive on Israel, killing over 700 people, many of them civilians. The American president, followed by a multitude of other voices of authority and citizens around the world, declared that Israel had "the right to defend itself". This statement makes sense in the face of the terrible images of Israeli casualties in recent days, but it is based on a decontextualized vision of the present, and has paved the way for an unprecedented Israeli reaction against the people of Gaza.
The Palestinian offensive of recent days is not the starting point. Earlier this year, the Israeli army launched a series of raids in the West Bank to foil suspected terrorist attacks. What followed was a relentless succession of clashes between Israelis and Palestinians, resulting in the daily deaths of Palestinians and thousands of seriously injured, most of them civilians. Detailed reports of these clashes are available on the website of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
This renewed tension in 2023 cannot be understood without placing it in context. Of the 27 million refugees in the world today, nearly a quarter are Palestinians, according to figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR, 2022). Since the creation of Israel in 1948, the UN Security Council has adopted almost 250 resolutions, in addition to hundreds of other UN General Assembly resolutions violated by Israel, whether on the refugee question, the status of Jerusalem or the settlement policy, which has only intensified in recent times, with the number of settlers exceeding 700,000 in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In addition to colonization, numerous reports, including one by UN experts and another by Amnesty International, as well as by former Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, assert that Israel is imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinians: territorial fragmentation, segregation and control, dispossession of land and property, denial of economic and social rights. Apartheid is a violation of public international law, a grave breach of human rights guaranteed under international law, and a crime against humanity under international criminal law.
The specific context of Gaza must also be taken into account to understand the present. Between 2008 and September 2023, Gaza suffered 5 wars, resulting in almost 6,500 deaths and over 150,000 wounded, mostly civilians, compared with 300 deaths on the Israeli side, mostly military. For 15 years, Gaza has suffered the consequences of a near-total land, sea and air blockade. In 2015, the UN announced that Gaza would be totally uninhabitable by 2020. Today, 80% of the population, nearly half of whom are minors, depend on humanitarian aid. Many of these young people suffer from physical disabilities due to mutilation as a result of the wars, strokes or other neurological disorders not normally affecting young people. In terms of mental health, a UNICEF report states that 80% of children suffer from emotional disorders (depression, anxiety), compared with 55% 4 years ago, and that more than half of young people are contemplating suicide.
The people of Gaza are once again paying a heavy price for the consequences of 75 years of accumulated violations of international law: in addition to the massive bombardments, there is now a complete siege of the Gaza Strip, with water, electricity and gas supplies cut off, while the European Union is considering suspending its development aid to the Palestinians. The majority of victims are and will continue to be civilians, half of them children.
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