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    Gaza 2023: An attack on human dignity and international law, by Laurence Wilson, PhD Exeter University, LLM Essex University

    Posted by ccld201

    13 December 2023

    The crisis in Gaza post-October 7, 2023, has brought to the fore serious concerns about human dignity, human rights and the overall adherence to international law. The situation underscores that human rights and principles of human dignity which should apply to everyone according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,[1] are at stake in this ongoing conflict.

    Gaza has been subject to Israeli military occupation since 1967.[2] Military orders enacted in the West Bank and Gaza were considered the cornerstone of legislation and administration of the Israeli military occupation exercising full control over Palestinians.[3] Since 2005, following the Israel withdrawal from Gaza[4] and more specifically after Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, Israel has imposed a complete blockade of the territory.[5] This siege is characterised by continuing imposed restrictions on Palestinians’ movement and constitutes violations of the prohibition of collective punishment which triggers the breach of human dignity, human rights law, international humanitarian law and international criminal law.[6]

    Hence, this inherited context has played some role in setting the conditions for the 7 October attacks and as stated by the UN Secretary General, did not happen in a vacuum. Nevertheless, the ‘barbarous acts’ (UDHR preamble) perpetrated by Hamas in southern Israel on 7th October in contravention to the letter and spirit of the 1948 UDHR, resulting in the indiscriminate murder of civilians and the abduction of 240 civilian Israelis, have been condemned by a large part of the international community and constitute blatant violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws.

    In response to the acts of Hamas’ aggression, Israel’s choice of military means to ‘eliminate Hamas’ and the methods of attacks, have exposed again the long standing collective punishment of Palestinian civilians, continually victims of successive military offensives. Gaza has been subjected to an unprecedented aerial bombardment and ongoing ground offensive, inflicting horrendous loss of life.

    Displacement and destruction in Gaza have continued unabated since 7th October and resulted in the death of more than 14,800 Palestinians with more than 27,000 injured.[7]

    The massive destruction of Palestinian homes, businesses, schools, hospitals and places of worship undermines human dignity as the foundation of human rights and violates Palestinians’ entitlement to basic human rights. These attacks targeting civilians and infrastructure raise serious concerns under specific provisions of international law such as international criminal law.[8] To this end, on 17th November 2023, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim A. A. KC, has stated that the investigation conducted into the situation in the State of Palestine for crimes committed since 13 June 2014 in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, extends to the escalation of hostilities and violence since the attacks of 7th October 2023. 

    Palestinian civilians including the most vulnerable people, have been forced to flee to the southern part of Gaza like a fearful herd among debris and ruins, leaving behind their loved ones, missing or dead. What is the justification for the continuing collective punishment, inhumane, degrading treatment and attack on human dignity of Palestinians civilians? 

    In this regard, Israel’s use of force in Jabalia Refugee Camp, appears to be on the face of it, ‘excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated’.[9] The latter is a contentious and complex legal debate which is beyond the scope of this article, and raises as example, the question whether the prohibition on the use of force in Article 2(4) of the UN Charter is engaged in this conflict?[10] If so, it requires in part assessing whether Israel military action in Gaza is in conformity with the principles of necessity and proportionality.[11]

    In summary, what is striking, is the inability to offer civilian protection by the de facto Gaza authorities, whose civil defence and health services have been destroyed, and the fact that Israel in situation of military occupation, must abide by international human rights law obligations in its dealing with individuals in the territory under its control.[12] The current context shows a denial of the application of the system of protecting powers or substitute, in total violation of international humanitarian law.[13] The most blatant illustration is the closure of Gaza imposed by Israel to urgent humanitarian intervention in breach of international human rights and humanitarian law.[14] Furthermore, there are no safe zones and secured shelters in Gaza. Food, fuel, clean water and medical care are no longer available. As a reminder, UN Security Resolution 2417 forbids starvation as a ‘weapon of war’.[15] Starvation of civilians including through impeding humanitarian access is prohibited under international humanitarian law.[16]


    The international community needs to actively support the release of all Israeli hostages and alleviate by this the suffering of their families. However, we must also seek a halt to the endless collective punishment and the destruction of infrastructure, homes, businesses, schools and places of worship. It is a latest development that the UN General Assembly has, on 12 December 2023, voted overwhelmingly in favour of an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in which includes that ‘all parties’ must comply with their international obligations ‘notably with regard to the protection of civilians’. Humanitarian intervention premised on the foundation of human dignity and the principles of humanity, must transcend nations’ interests, security and calculated diplomacy.[17] All nations must push immediately for the deployment of humanitarian corridors to address the basic needs of Palestinian civilians and restore by this, some respect to the current failure of providing Palestinians protection due under international human rights law and humanitarian law.

    As Raji Sourani, Director of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza stated back in May 2021: ‘Palestinians are entitled to justice and dignity’.[18]

    Laurence Wilson completed her PhD at the University of Exeter, on Human Trafficking and International Law in Conflict Affected Situations with the case study of Palestine (January 2021). Laurence is currently the President of French NGO ‘RĂ©sonances Humanitaires’. Laurence works as a Judge Assessor for the French National Court of Asylum.

    [1] Preamble and article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted 10 December 1948) UNGA Res 217 A (III). Preamble of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (adopted 16 December 1966, entered into force 23 March 1976) 999 UNTS 171. See also<https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/nov/22/the-principle-of-human-dignity-must-apply-to-all-people> accessed 29 November 2023.

    [2] Israel argues that the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which it is signatory without reservation, does not apply. Israel’s argument is that the West Bank and the Gaza Strip do not fall under the sovereignty of a high contracting party, which is a precondition for the Conventions’ applicability. The UK Government, the EU, the UN, including the ICJ rejected this position. See UNSC Res 2334 (23 December 2016) UN Doc S/RES/2334; UNGA Res A/RES/70/88 of 9 December 2015; ECOSOC Res. 2017/10 of 7 June 2017; and Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Advisory Opinion (9 July 2004)  ICJ Reports (2004), para 101.

    [3] Mais Qandeel, Qandeel, Enforcing Human Rights of Palestinians in the Occupied Territory (Carl Grossmann Publishers, Daniel HĂŒrlimann and Marc Thommen (eds), Vol. 4, 2018) 48.

    [4] UNSC, S/PV.5181 of 18 May 2005.

    [5] A/HRC/15/21, Human Rights Council: ‘Report of the international fact-finding mission to investigate violations of international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law, resulting from the Israeli attacks on the flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian Assistance’ (27 September 2010), paras 30,37,38 p. 9,10.

    [6] Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, A/HRC/44/60 of 15 July 2020, paras 31,34,35, p.9.

    [7] Estimates in OCHA Flash Update # 50: ‘Hostilities in the Gaza Strip and Israel’: ‘…according to the Government Media Office (GMO), as of 18:00 on 23 November, more than 14,800 people have been killed in Gaza, including about 6,000 children and 4,000 women. This office, which is under the de facto authorities in Gaza, has been reporting casualties since the Ministry of Health in Gaza stopped doing so on 11 November, following the collapse of services and communications at hospitals in the north
Over 1.7 million people in Gaza, or nearly 80 percent of the population, are estimated to be internally displaced. Of them, nearly 896,000 IDPs are sheltering in 99 facilities in the south’ < https://www.unocha.org/publications/report/occupied-palestinian-territory/hostilities-gaza-strip-and-israel-flash-update-50> accessed 29 November 2023.

    [8] Articles 8(2)(a)(iv) and 8(2)(b)(ii) the Rome Statute of the ICC.

    [9] Article 51(5)(b) of Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977. See also Mark Schack, ‘In Defence of Preliminary Assessments: Proportionality and the 31 October Attack on the Jabalia Refugee Camp’(8 November 2023) < https://www.ejiltalk.org/in-defence-of-preliminary-assessments-proportionality-and-the-31-october-attack-on-the-jabalia-refugee-camp/> accessed 30 November 2023.

    [10] Marco Milanovic, ‘Does Israel Have the Right to Defend Itself?’ (14 November 2023) 3 <https://www.ejiltalk.org/does-israel-have-the-right-to-defend-itself/> accessed 30 November 2023.

    [11] <https://www.economist.com/is-israel-acting-within-the-laws-of-war-in-gaza?giftId=cb7e10e1-5cf4-40c4-8dde-4373d801702d> accessed 30 November 2023. See Luigi Daniele, ‘A lethal misconception, in Gaza and beyond: disguising indiscriminate attacks as potentially proportionate in discourses on the laws of war’ (7 November 2023) 2 < https://www.ejiltalk.org/a-lethal-misconception-in-gaza-and-beyond-disguising-indiscriminate-attacks-as-potentially-proportionate-in-discourses-on-the-laws-of-war/> accessed 30 November 2023. See also Dapo Akande, ‘ < https://www.ejiltalk.org/is-israels-use-of-force-in-gaza-covered-by-the-jus-ad-bellum/> accessed 30 November 2023.

    [12] Noam Lubell, ‘Human rights obligations in military occupation’ (2012) 95(885) International Review of the Red Cross 319.

    [13] Fourth Geneva Convention (12 August 1949) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.

    [14] Article 70 (2) of the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977.

    [15] UNSC S/RES/2417 (24 May 2018) para 5.

    [16] Rogier Bartels, ‘Denying Humanitarian Access as an International Crime in Times of Non-International Armed Conflict: The Challenges to Prosecute and Some Proposals for the Future’ (2015) 48,3 Israel Law Review 48.

    [17] G7 Foreign Ministers’ Statement on the Situation in Israel and Gaza (29 November 2023)

    < https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/country-files/israel-palestinian-territories/news/2023/article/g7-foreign-ministers-statement-on-the-situation-in-israel-and-gaza-29-11-23> accessed 30 November 2023.

    [18] Interview Raji Sourani (30 June 2021) Asharq Al Awsat News <https://www.arabnews.com/node/1885256/middle-east> accessed 29 November 2023.


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