In a tragic turn of events, on October 7th, the Palestinian group Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel, killing over 1200 people, mostly civilians. The timing of this assault found Israeli forces unprepared since neither the the Israel Security Agency, Shin Bet, nor the national secret services had anticipated such a large-scale assault from Gaza. Militants entered southern Israeli territory, broke into military barracks and houses, and caused many deaths and kidnappings. Currently, Hamas holds at least 150 hostages in Gaza. The Israeli response did not take long to arrive. On the same day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formally declared a state of war and authorised the launching of several airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, reportedly causing the deaths of at least 1,400 and injuring over 4,000 people, as per the Palestinian Health Ministry. In addition, Israeli troops have been deployed along the border, raising concerns about a potential ground offensive.
Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Agnès Callamard, voiced deep concern over the mounting civilian death toll in Gaza, Israel, and the occupied West Bank, urging all parties to the conflict to adhere to international law and prioritise protecting civilian lives. She further emphasised: “Under international humanitarian law, all sides in a conflict have a clear obligation to protect the lives of civilians caught up in the hostilities.” Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch, added that “Deliberate killings of civilians, hostage-taking, and collective punishment are heinous crimes that have no justification.” He also argued that the region’s ongoing turmoil would persist until human rights and accountability are taken seriously.
What remains evident is the glaring disregard for international law, as both parties have repeatedly violated humanitarian guarantees. Palestinian and Israeli civilians bear the heaviest burden of this brutal conflict. It is a fundamental principle of international law that civilians should never be targeted in any war; however, the warring parties seem to be ignoring this principle.
On the one hand, recent Hamas attacks targeted civilians, as it consistently propagated anti-Semitic messages and incited violence against Jewish people. Their intrusion into the Israeli territory quickly escalated into horrifying bloodshed, resulting in the killing of civilians, including children, and acts of sexual violence against women. These actions cannot be tolerated and are strictly inconsistent with international humanitarian law. Hamas’s holding of civilian hostages in Gaza constitutes a war crime, and Amnesty International has rightfully demanded their immediate and unconditional release.
However, Israel’s track record includes egregious humanitarian law violations as well, including the illegal blockade of Gaza and the military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Despite notifying the Palestinian residents of impending attacks, Israel has obstructed their ability to flee the Gaza Strip, thus leaving millions of Palestinians confined in 365 square kilometres, with thousands being internally displaced. Furthermore, Israel’s bombing of schools, universities, and Red Crescent facilities in Gaza breaches Article 19 of the Geneva Conventions. Similarly, Israeli counterattacks amount to collective punishment, which is unequivocally prohibited by international law and Article 33 in previous conventions. The actions of both parties have repeatedly infringed on international humanitarian law, and such operations must be strongly condemned.
The conflict between Israel and Palestine has dragged on for decades, with no sustainable solution in sight. This incessant struggle has culminated in several devastating wars, inflicting immeasurable suffering upon civilians. Palestinians have lived in fear, confined to refugee camps lacking basic infrastructures for decades, a condition that will always perpetuate conflict, as oppression rarely leads to peace. Too many lives have been lost in this protracted, brutal conflict, and the civilian population has had enough.
While peace remains elusive, both sides must promptly engage in open dialogue to find a durable solution. International mediators and diplomatic efforts should be encouraged to propose a ceasefire and lay the groundwork for peace talks. A two-state solution remains a widely discussed option that warrants further consideration. Ultimately, the path to peace lies in addressing the underlying causes of the conflict, ensuring the protection of civilians, and seeking a just and lasting resolution to this tragic and protracted struggle.
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