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Gaza: six months of suffering and slaughter

By Minaz Kerawala, Communications and Public Relations Advisor

Gaza: six months
Gaza: six mois
With six months of war having devasted their health, road, power, communication, water, sanitation, food and education systems, the people of Gaza are reduced to a hardscrabble existence in camps, under the constant threat of Israeli bombs.

Six months. One hundred and eighty-three days. That is how long the people of Gaza have been enduring the ruthless, relentless, remorseless bombarding by the Israeli armed forces.

On October 7, 2023, Hamas launched a series of attacks, the unequivocal condemnation of which Development and Peace ― Caritas Canada reiterates today. Nearly 1,200 innocent Israelis died that day and up to 250 were taken hostage. Sexual crimes, too, were likely committed, and over half the hostages remain in captivity or unaccounted for.

Within hours, Israel responded with a military operation whose intensification persists to this day.

Gaza: six months of brutality

With 33,971 people dead and 75,750 injured in Gaza at last count, this is now the world’s deadliest ongoing conflict. Averaged over the six months, there has been one casualty every 2.4 minutes!

Among the victims are 103 journalists and 196 humanitarian workers, including Caritas Jerusalem staffers Issam Abedrabbo and Viola Al ’Amash, who was killed with her husband and infant daughter.

The toll on children is horrendous. Save the Children reports that 13,800+ children―over 2 per cent of Gaza’s child population―have been killed. Another 113 have died in the West Bank and 460 have been detained. At least 1,000 children have had one or both legs amputated.

Dr. Amber Alayyan, Doctors Without Borders’ medical program manager in Palestine, told the UN, “You have doctors faced with horrific decisions [about] having to intubate and amputate children and adults without anesthetics in emergency rooms.”

An average of 31 mothers have been killed every day, according to the International Rescue Committee, which also highlights the plight of Gaza’s estimated 60,000 pregnant women, 183 of whom are giving birth every day, without access to midwives, doctors or postnatal medical care.

The carnage is not restricted to Gaza. The United Nations has recorded 700 attacks by Israeli settlers in the West Bank that have claimed the lives of 428 Palestinians, including 110 children, since October 7, 2023 (see report in French).

To add insult to injury, Israeli soldiers have flooded social media with depraved displays, cavorting with the underwear of displaced Palestinian women.

Gaza: six months of starvation

The World Food Programme warns that famine is imminent in Gaza, with 1.1 million people―about of half the populace―facing catastrophic hunger. In northern Gaza, one in three children under 2 suffer from acute malnutrition according to UNICEF, and Oxfam estimates that people’s daily nutritional intake is down to 245 calories (less than a can of fava beans).

This deprivation is mostly attributable to Israeli blockades that have stopped 30 per cent of aid missions since March 1, letting in a daily average of only 159 of the required 500 aid trucks.

UN high commissioner for human rights Volker Türk lamented, “The extent of Israel’s continued restrictions on the entry of aid into Gaza, together with the manner in which it continues to conduct hostilities, may amount to the use of starvation as a method of war, which is a war crime.”

Save the Children’s Palestine country director Xavier Joubert feels this “human-made crisis… should be on the collective conscience of Israeli authorities and the international community.”

Gaza: six months of destruction and devastation

Gaza’s destruction is civilizational in scale. A UN Mine Action Service expert says it will take millions of dollars and years of efforts to simply clear unexploded ordnance.

The World Bank pegs the cost of damage to Gaza’s infrastructure at US$18.5 billion, equivalent to 97 per cent of Palestine’s gross domestic product. Over a million people are homeless and 75 per cent of the population is displaced. With 84 per cent of health facilities crippled; the water and sanitation system mostly wrecked; 92 per cent of primary roads razed; and power and communications infrastructure hobbled, people are suffering premodern privations. The education system has shut down, and no child is in school.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres has criticized Israel for exacerbating poverty by withholding Palestinian tax revenues and stifling employment by restricting workers’ movements.

The United Nations Development Programme fears that the accumulation of solid waste, including medical waste, poses a grave long-term risk to public health, agriculture and water quality.

Gaza: six months of widening violence

“The present conflict in Gaza further destabilizes a fragile and tension-filled region,” Pope Francis had noted early this year. This week, he implored, “Let us avoid all irresponsible attempts to broaden the conflict in the region….”

The Holy Father’s worries are not unfounded. The aggression of Israel and its allies and that of their various opponents has rapidly expanded further afield. The International Crisis Group has documented the violent and/or disruptive repercussions of the conflict in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Iran and several Gulf Arab states.

And now, Iran is vowing to avenge Israel’s deadly April 1 attack on its consulate in Damascus, which was an egregious breach of long-established diplomatic conventions.

Gaza: six months of denunciation

From early on, Israel’s conduct has been condemned widely and vigorously.

Just a week into the conflict, UN special rapporteur Francesca Albanese cautioned that it had “reached fever pitch” and Israel was seeking to justify what might “amount to ethnic cleansing.”

Two weeks later, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said it was “highly concerned about the sharp increase in racist hate speech and dehumanization” against Palestinians.” It cited Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant’s portrayal of Palestinians as “human animals,” as an example of “language which could incite genocidal actions.” Equally reprehensible is the global surge in antisemitic speech and acts, including in Canada.

In December, our executive director Carl Hétu described the war as “madness” and Pope Francis said, “Unarmed civilians are targets for bombs and shootings…. Some say: ‘this is terrorism and war’. Yes, it is war, it is terrorism.”

In her opinion on the International Court of Justice (ICJ) order that required Israel to take measures to protect Palestinians from the risk of genocide, Judge Xue Hanqin wrote, “The gravity of the humanitarian disaster in Gaza threatens the very existence of the people in Gaza and challenges the most elementary principles of morality and humanity.”

Judge Aharon Barak, the Israeli appointee to the ICJ bench who disagreed with the crux of the order, opined, “Even when fighting a terrorist group like Hamas that does not abide by international law, Israel must abide by the law and uphold democratic values.”

This week, Norwegian Refugee Council secretary general Jan Egeland tweeted, “The conduct of this conflict is a race to the bottom, and it’s happening with American, German, and other western-supplied arms.”

UN deputy high commissioner for human rights Nada Al-Nashif flagged “growing evidence” of Israel’s “systematic violation of international humanitarian law” and “smear campaigns” against artists, pacifists and rights defenders, while UN special rapporteurs Tlaleng Mofokeng and Albanese spoke of “witnessing the first genocide shown in real time to the world by its victims.”

Gaza: six months of impunity

None of the denunciation has dented Israel’s intransigence.

Since the ICJ ordered Israel to curb the killing of civilians on January 26, the death toll has mounted by over 8,000. Even since March 28, when the ICJ ordered additional provisional measures on South Africa’s request, 1,348 more people have been killed.

Israeli authorities often counter criticism by insisting that their army takes more precautions than any other to prevent civilian harm. But, as a BBC investigation has just revealed, many of the purported precautionary measures are ineffective, erroneous, confusing or contradictory.

The dismissive attitude goes to the highest level. On April 1, Israeli forces struck an aid convoy, killing seven World Central Kitchen workers, including a Quebecer. Guterres called the attack “unconscionable” and “an inevitable result of the way the war is being conducted.” Even as he expressed regret, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “This happens in wartime.”

His flippancy prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to retort, “No, it doesn’t just happen. And it shouldn’t just happen when you have aid workers… risking their lives every day… to deliver food to people who are experiencing a horrific humanitarian catastrophe.”

Earlier, Netanyahu had vowed to defy allies on his Rafah invasion plans and assured sympathetic American senators that the war in Gaza would continue.

There is faint hope, however, that a subtle shift in the stance of its most abiding apologist and largest arms supplier may change Israel’s behaviour.

When the United States abstained instead of using its habitual pro-Israel veto, the UN Security Council passed a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire on March 25. On April 5, after President Joe Biden reportedly told Netanyahu that continued U.S. support would hinge on some compliance, Israel announced the opening of the Erez crossing and Ashdod port to aid shipments.

Gaza: six months of keeping the faith

How can such sustained sorrow not overwhelm? How can despair be kept at bay?

Cardinal Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, had provided the answer late last year, when he urged Canadians to pray and advocate for peace.

People of faith are asked to go “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2,3). The conviction that “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37) leaves no room for despair.

But we are also told that “just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead” (John 2:26). This why the Holy Father has called the faithful to “pray and work tirelessly for weapons to be silenced and for peace to reign once again.”

Gaza: six months of advocacy and support for a beleaguered community

From the beginning, Development and Peace ― Caritas Canada has maintained a consistent, principled advocacy position. We are still asking for:

This advocacy position is informed by our Palestinian partners, who represent the last stand of Gaza’s small but resilient Christian community in the face of Israel’s assaults. Having been providers of quality social, health, educational and entrepreneurial services since before the present conflict, they are now sharing their meagre food and medicine supplies with their Muslim neighbours.

Writing to the Catholics of the Holy Land over Easter, Pope Francis told them, “You are lamps shining in the night, seeds of goodness in a land rent asunder by conflict.”

Gaza: six months on, what you can do

One way to do the work Pope Francis calls for is to join Christians around the world in the Gaza Ceasefire Pilgrimage, an ecumenical prayer initiative being led in this country by KAIROS Canada. Contact your local animator to learn more about the pilgrimage in your region.

Support and promote our advocacy, including by conveying it to your MP in writing or in person. Find your MP online and read our guide before you meet or contact them.

Make a generous donation to help our partner Caritas Jerusalem provide the aid and support the people of Palestine so desperately need.

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