Mr. Ban Ki-moon
New York, NY 10017
I am writing with some important recommendations as you embark on your trip to address the crisis in Gaza. We see an urgent need for measures and mechanisms that will protect civilians, provide long-term as well as short-term humanitarian relief and rehabilitation, and ensure accountability and deter future violations of international humanitarian law. We therefore urge you to give priority to these areas in your discussions in the region and your public calls for action.
Protection of Civilians
Given the exigency of protecting civilians in Gaza, we urge you to send several clear messages to both parties to the conflict and neighboring states. In particular, we would urge you to:
- a strong statement, underscoring the importance of both parties' full and stringent compliance with international humanitarian law. All those who violate the laws of war must know that they will be held accountable in the future for their actions; a firm warning from you now can help save lives.
- Insist that Egypt and Israel do the maximum to permit the evacuation of civilians through their borders as there is no safe place for civilians within Gaza. As the UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres told the Security Council on January 8, Israel and Egypt must respect the universal right of those fleeing war to seek safety in other states, as well as their right to return upon the conclusion of hostilities.
- Urge that Israel take all feasible precautions to avoid indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks, cease attacks that assume that political entities are valid military targets, and not use white phosphorus "obscurants" in densely populated areas.
- Urge that Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups in Gaza cease firing rockets at population centers in Israel, and avoid to the extent feasible deploying forces or storing weapons in populated areas;
- Urge Israel and Hamas to support efforts by the United Nations to create areas that have an enhanced capacity to protect civilians from the ongoing hostilities. Take all feasible measures to avoid military operations in or near such areas, such as UNRWA schools and other places accommodating displaced persons.
- Urge Israel to allow access to Gaza for media and human rights monitors.
- Make clear to Israel that any plan to raze homes in Rafah along the Philadelphi route in order to destroy tunnels violates two fundamental principles of international humanitarian law, distinction and proportionality. The destruction of another swath of houses will only make tunnels longer; it will not stop the tunneling. As described in Human Rights Watch's 2004 report Razing Rafah, technologies are widely available for the detection and destruction of tunnels that do not involve the destruction of civilian homes.
The Humanitarian Crisis
Gaza faced a humanitarian crisis prior to the latest hostilities as a result of Israel's 19-month blockade, reinforced by Egypt. The blockade has had a disastrous impact on the health and well-being of the civilian population, depriving them of food, medicine, fuel, and other essential supplies, and constitutes the unlawful collective punishment of the civilian population. Now the fighting has greatly compounded the crisis, with electrical transformers, water pipes, and sewage treatment facilities further damaged or destroyed.
As the humanitarian crisis deepens, we recommend you make several crucial points:
- The current daily three-hour "humanitarian pause" is woefully inadequate to deliver and distribute aid. Israel and Hamas should be urged to support humanitarian corridors and other measures to greatly expand access of humanitarian assistance to the entire population at risk.
- Throughout Gaza, hundreds of civilians are trapped because of the fighting, and the Israeli forces are still not allowing medical crews and humanitarian agencies to do their job. Israel should be urged to facilitate the work of humanitarian agencies, in particular medical crews, so they can access the wounded and dead.
- Israel should be urged to dramatically expand the humanitarian effort with more trucks allowed into Gaza every day, more crossings opened, and much more internal distribution within Gaza. Specific recommendations by humanitarian agencies to Israel include:
- Prioritize increased wheat grain, fuel (industrial and regular), cooking gas, and cash.
- Open the Karni crossing for the delivery of wheat.
- Allow the unimpeded flow of fuel through Nahal Oz, including industrial diesel for the power plant, as well as ordinary diesel, petrol, and cooking gas.
We welcome your calls for an investigation into alleged serious violations of international humanitarian law. However, the records of Israel and Hamas show little willingness to conduct impartial investigations of their own forces. We therefore believe an impartial international investigation is required to look at violations by both sides.
An international investigation would be an important way of demonstrating that the United Nations is deeply concerned about the fate of victims of this conflict. The investigation should look at not only the recent intensification of fighting but also the conduct of both sides over the past year and a half, including Hamas's rocket attacks on Israeli civilians and Israel's blockade of Gaza. Because Israel has blocked the media and human rights groups from entering Gaza, only an international investigation stands a chance at this critical moment of uncovering key facts and thus encouraging both parties to cease abuses.
We see your office as the best route to establishing such an investigation. Other United Nations bodies and departments cannot give the investigation the high stature and unshakeable credibility with which you could endow it.
While we recognize that the focus of your visit will be to secure a speedy end to the violence and an alleviation of the humanitarian crisis, we believe that your announcement of an international investigation is equally important and, if postponed due to political factors, would hinder protection of civilians and accountability for crimes committed. By calling on the parties to respect international humanitarian law and warning them that an international team will investigate violations, you would send a crucial signal that the international community is watching and, in so doing, may deter future violations.