Monday, 06 November 2023 09:39

Gaza, a lose-lose situation for defying international humanitarian law

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Gaza, a lose-lose situation for defying international humanitarian law - AFP pic

WHEN emotions run high, as is the case where the carnage of Gaza has seen up to 8,000 fatalities to date, there is a need to stay focused on the observance of international humanitarian laws, ultimately, the Geneva Convention of 1959.

What happened on Oct 7 will defy the explanation of many. Some called it "pure and unadulterated evil", as did United States President Joe Biden, a committed defender of Israel, while those who believe that the circumstances leading to the military operations of Hamas "did not emerge in a vacuum".

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva also believes that the retaliatory measures by Israel was akin to actions consistent with a "genocide"— the systematic killing of a whole nation or a group of people.

The latter is the view of United Nations' Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, whose remark caused the supporters of the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to call for Guterres' "immediate resignation".

Indeed, others who root for blood and revenge against Gaza spoke of the need "to teach the UN a lesson".

Meanwhile, Dennis Ross, the former Middle East envoy of former American presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, wrote in the New York Times on Oct 28, that while he believed in a "ceasefire", he now does not believe in one.

The reason? As long as Hamas is in Gaza, Israel will always feel existentially threatened. For lack of a better word, Israel will never believe that it can exist in total harmony with its neighbours such as Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, plus Gaza.

Ross sought to further qualify his opinion by affirming that the leaders in the Arab world, whom he had spoken to, all claimed to believe in the ending of the likes of Islamic jihad and Hamas, without which they too could not feel the peace and security in the Middle East.

However, the likes of Ross, experienced as he may seem to be, do not understand that a sub-state actor cannot destroy another state completely.

Especially one that has the option of resorting to its nuclear weapons. This is precisely why many Western and Asian powers have never seen it proper to relinquish their nuclear weapons. No one wants to be destroyed completely.

More importantly, Ross seems to echo the view of the Biden Administration that there cannot be a "ceasefire" until all the 225 hostages are freed.

Yet, the majority of the member states in the UN General Assembly do want a "ceasefire". Even if the United Kingdom (UK) and France were to ask for a "humanitarian pause", the fact of the matter is that they believe that there is such a thing as going beyond all red lines.

While UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak once again called the attack of Oct 7 "sheer evil", one notes that French President Emmanuel Macron has announced in Tel Aviv that while there can be "no mercy, there cannot be no rules".

War is by implication the failure of diplomacy as the German military strategist Claude Von Clauwitz once said. But, war is also a total failure of humanity. The world, to be fair, was not paying that much attention to the issue of Israel and Palestine.

As recently as Sept 29, 2023, the National Security Adviser to the Biden Administration Jake Sullivan had penned an article in the printed version of Foreign Affairs, that "there has never been a time when the Middle East was more stable".

Although elsewhere, while being interviewed by Susan Glasser of The New Yorker on Oct 3, 2023, Sullivan added the word "for now" to clarify his view on the Middle East, the fact goes to show that no one cared about the Israeli-Palestine issue until it erupted again in all its fury.

Only when the conflict risks becoming global did the world sit up and listen.

In fact, despite the horrible conditions under which the Palestinians of all faiths and creeds live, there have been at least four countries in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) that have signed up on the Abraham Accords in Sept 2020.

This happened a mere two months before Donald Trump lost the presidential election on Nov 20, 2020.

What the world wants, especially Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim , is "a stop to the complete insanity" where the whole of Gaza is subject to the collective punishment of a war cabinet in Israel formed of only five people.

Whether this is ironic or otherwise, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has explained again and again that the "world is beyond five". Turkiye was referring to the absurd situation where world affairs continued to be run along the lines of what was agreed at the end of World War II in 1945.

This is the date when the likes of China, Russia, the US, the UK and France instituted the veto and continue to wield the veto on any important decisions in the UN Security Council according to their interests.

To be sure, the crux of the matter is that the fate of Palestine has been shut out to them since the creation of the League of Nations in 1919 and further reinforced in 1948 with the creation of Israel.

As things are, more than 7,000 targets have been bombed without any discrimination or proportionality that is so vital to the laws of war, and by extension, international humanitarian laws.

Be they schools, churches, mosques or medical centres, the bombing campaign over the last three weeks has not stopped. More ridiculously, the whole of Gaza remains deprived of food, water, electricity and fuel.

When Palestinians who live north of Khan Younis were asked to evacuate to clear the way for a ground invasion of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), up to one million people from a population base of 2.2 million, were asked to evacuate to the Rafah Crossing in the southern section of the Gaza Strip.

The deadline given by Israel was within 24 hours of Oct 10, 2023. As and when more time was given, the residents of Gaza, half of whom were children, were given barely half a day more — that is 12 hours extra — to get themselves out of the vicious Israeli bombing campaigns.

As things stand, the bombs that had been dropped on the northern sector of Gaza have now reached more than the total number of explosives and ordnance that had been put to use in the first year of the US-led coalition against the Taliban on Oct 3, 2001 in response to 9/11.

In rallying for the Palestinians, Malaysians of all backgrounds must not lose sight of the concept of just war and international humanitarian law.

The latter is non-reciprocal. In other words, if the likes of Israel had been raided, Tel Aviv cannot resort to its whims and fancies to consider civilians and combatants as one of the same as retaliation

Therefore, in allowing any street demonstrators or activists who disclaim the narratives of 9/11 altogether, this plot is trying to draw Iran into their own game.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation must ensure that all sides exercise self-restraint; leading to a ceasefire, and this is what Malaysia and its various counterparts in Asia want.

If anything, they must warn the Middle Eastern countries and all other actors, that all military campaigns must observe international humanitarian law — without which any outcome would present a lose-lose situation for all.

The writer is chief executive officer of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia.

Published in: The New Straits Times (online), Thursday 02 November 2023