Joint op-ed from Save the Children, Norwegian People’s Aid, Norwegian Church Aid and Norwegian Refugee Council. The op-ed was first published by Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) in Norwegian.
The 11 days of bombing took the lives of 253 Palestinians in Gaza, including 67 children, and 12 Israelis, including two children.
“If there is a hell on earth, it is the lives of children in Gaza” – UN Secretary-General António Guterres
Some people will now be able to sleep again at night. Israelis will largely be able to return to work, school and kindergarten and resume full lives that had been put on hold. Palestinians, on the other hand, return to a different daily reality.
Gaza, an area significantly smaller than the municipality of Oslo, lies in ruins: thousands of homes hit by bombs, 54 destroyed schools and kindergartens, as well as nine hospitals and 19 clinics that sustained damage. Everyday life here will be a new round of costly donor-funded reconstruction – for the fourth time since 2009 – and the continuation of the suffocating 14-year-old blockade and closure of Gaza. For all Palestinians, both in the occupied West Bank and in Gaza, “normal” is the continuation of an oppressive occupation that has now lasted for over half a century.
The occupation has far-reaching costs for the Palestinian people. It stands in the way of the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and violates the rights of Palestinians as an occupied civilian population, according to international law.
Seizure of Palestinian land and natural resources, house demolitions and forced relocation, damage to property and livelihoods, and restrictions on freedom of movement are closely linked to the approximately 250 Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory. These are settlements that both the UN Security Council and the International Court of Justice have ruled are in violation of international law. Threats of eviction of Palestinians from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah area of East Jerusalem helped trigger this latest round of violence.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, the impact of the occupation has continued unabated and there has been a marked increase in both house demolitions and settler violence. According to the UN, there was a significant increase in house demolitions and confiscation of Palestinian property in the West Bank in 2020. Last year, 854 buildings were destroyed and 1,001 Palestinians were rendered homeless. In the first four months of 2021 alone, 316 buildings were destroyed and 468 Palestinians made homeless.
The Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem has also reported a clear increase in settler violence during the Covid-19 pandemic, despite the introduction of movement restrictions, lockdown and rules for social distancing to deal with the pandemic. More often than not, the attacks take place without the Israeli military intervening and in many cases with the protection of soldiers. According to B’Tselem the attacks are part of a long-term strategy to encourage forced relocation from Palestinian land.
Norway should be commended for its efforts in the UN Security Council in recent weeks, initiating several Council meetings on the situation in Gaza and trying to rally Council members around joint statements calling for an end to the violence. Norway has also repeatedly pointed out that Israel’s construction of settlements undermines the possibility of a peaceful solution to the conflict. The Security Council’s press statement, finally issued on 22 May, welcomes the ceasefire and calls for emergency aid for Gaza, but does not mention the root causes of the conflict. Norway’s efforts in the Council were nonetheless crucial.
Conspicuous by their absence, however, are concrete measures by the Norwegian government to increase pressure on the parties, and especially on Israel as the occupying power, to address the underlying causes of the conflict. The cost to Israel of the status quo is too little, and the Israeli annexation of Palestinian territory continues unremittingly.
In his briefing to the UN Security Council in March 2021, Tor Wennesland, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, explained in detail how UN Security Council Resolution 2334 from 2016, far from being implemented, has been systematically violated with new settlements and continued violence against civilians. What is the international community doing to hold the occupying power accountable beyond routine statements in the wake of the worst incidents? What is Norway doing to ensure respect for international law and human rights, and to ensure that the illegal settlements do not receive any financial or economic support from Norwegian actors?
The UN Human Rights Council will establish a new commission to monitor and report on human rights violations in Israel, the occupied West Bank and Gaza. Norway can start by supporting this independent investigation and monitoring.
In the same way that a ceasefire does not lead to an end to the occupation, joint statements alone do not lead to a political solution to the conflict. Stronger measures are needed.
Birgitte Lange, Secretary General, Save the Children Norway
Henriette K. Westhrin, Secretary General, Norwegian People’s Aid
Dagfinn Høybråten, Secretary General, Norwegian Church Aid
Jan Egeland, Secretary General, Norwegian Refugee Council