The UK based churches' global development agency Christian Aid has been working with the poorest people in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory since the early 1950s, when it provided help to Palestinian refugees. Today, it works with more than 20 Israeli and Palestinian organisations to protect human rights, access to services and resources, and to build peace based on justice for all. Here is a statement from William Bell, Christian Aid’s Policy and Advocacy Officer for Israel and the Palestinians, calling for an end to impunity on both sides in the conflict through a framework guided by international law and justice.
Christian Aid believes that whilst the scale of destruction and suffering in Gaza is unprecedented, the current crisis should not be a surprise to anyone. It is the result of decades of political failure and continuous Palestinian displacement. We call for an immediate end to all violence against civilians and honest and concrete measures to demonstrate to all those who breach international law that they will be held to account.
This latest outbreak of violence is not about Gaza. The people who are now dying in their hundreds are paying the price for a lethal combination of international political impotence and indifference to decades of Palestinian dispossession and displacement. It appears from its actions that Israel disregards the most basic rights of Palestinians.
Those who have died deserve us to be honest about what is happening. The world cannot claim to be unaware, as it has been paying for the consequences of consistent political failure, weak Palestinian leadership and Israel’s actions since the first Palestinian refugees were forced from their homes in 1947. Billions have been poured into Palestinian ‘development’ aid, while Israeli actions have fuelled ‘de-development’ and undermined a viable Palestinian economy by occupying more land for illegal settlements in east Jerusalem and the West Bank and restricting access and movement for people and goods.
Israel controls and impacts on almost every aspect of Palestinian life. This includes forcing them through humiliating checkpoints; allowing settler violence to go unpunished; imposing a seven year blockade on Gaza; arresting and holding thousands without charge and demolishing homes and livelihoods.
Anyone bearing witness to these facts on the ground will no doubt conclude that any possibility of a two-state solution has all but failed. Despite the international community’s claim that it is the only solution, it has not acted to stop Israel usurping Palestinian land and natural resources and has allowed Palestinians to become the highest per capita recipients of donor aid in the world.
If there is doubt about the current Israeli Government’s intentions then Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments in the Times of Israel (13/07/14) clarifies things. “I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.” This clearly means not giving a Palestinian state full sovereignty.
For Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory to be truly secure, democratic and peaceful, then occupation must end and all within it must be treated equally. If the international community continues with the same approach to this conflict, then it is complicit in the current situation. Christian Aid believes that relationships must change between Israel, the Palestinians and third party states and be transformed into ones that centre on accountability.
Christian Aid believes that in order for there to be security for both peoples, the climate of impunity must come to an end and each individual and collective action be accounted for through a framework guided by international law and justice. This is the essence of peace: building new relationships founded on equity. If non-violent forms of justice, such as respect for international law, are routinely ignored, then the international community will continue to fund an unsustainable status quo.
Accountability mechanisms have been sidelined due to a lack of political will within the international community to demonstrate to Israelis and Palestinians that its commitment is to a just peace. States have consistently chosen politics over law in dealing with Palestinians and Israelis, subverting the possibility that applying legal standards to both parties could serve as a vehicle for peace and support efforts to end violence.
By holding Israelis and Palestinians to account for their actions, as so many of our Israeli and Palestinian partner organisation work towards, a new reality can emerge within a less asymmetric context. It creates a secure platform from which each party can then negotiate issues and attempt to come to terms with the reality in which they currently live: Palestinians and Israelis living side by side on the same land without peace and security. Until they are treated equally, any attempts at peace will continue to fail.
After the Israeli offensive on Gaza in 2008/9, known as ‘Operation Cast Lead’, a UN Fact Finding Mission to Gaza was deployed to investigate serious violations of international law perpetrated by Israel and Palestinians. The Mission warned that if the violations identified in their report were not addressed, the climate of impunity would ensure continued violence and disregard for civilian protection. What we are witnessing in Gaza today, the devastation of lives, is testament to the accuracy of this analysis.
What does accountability mean for Palestinians and Israelis? It means that those who carry out attacks targeting civilians, whoever they may be, are brought to justice. There can be no justification for continued lack of accountability and the unwillingness of the international community to act in the face of gross violations.
Of course, at the moment we are talking about Gaza. But this conflict is also about the occupied West Bank with all its illegal settlements and the refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the occupied Palestinian territory. It’s about the security of both Palestinians and Israelis. It’s about stopping more death and destruction and treating every life as sacred and of equal value. It’s about condemning and acting on the injustice that we are witnessing in Gaza.
The British Government has been clear in its condemnation of Hamas’s rockets, as are we. It needs to be equally clear in its condemnation of the killings of civilians and destruction of medical facilities and homes by Israel. Any imbalance, perceived or real, could undermine genuine efforts to achieve a ceasefire. Future attempts at peace will have to be inclusive and respect the rights and dignity of all if they are to stand any chance of success. Something that hasn’t happened so far.