The latest hostilities in Israel and Gaza were the most destructive and deadly in recent history. Human Rights Watch has documented abuses including unlawful attacks on Israeli population centers by Palestinian armed groups, and our staff in Gaza documented unlawful Israeli attacks that killed scores of civilians there, and damaged or destroyed homes, hospitals, schools and crucial infrastructure.
Like other international rights organizations, we have not been able to increase the number of our researchers on the ground in Gaza, because both Israel and Egypt have prevented their entry. Israel has said that its forces obeyed the laws of war. If it has nothing to hide, it should stop barring our entry.
The establishment of a Commission of Inquiry by this Council was a positive step toward impartially investigating all parties’ conduct of the recent hostilities. Documenting violations, including war crimes, is important but it is only a first step toward accountability.
Based on Israel’s poor record of internal investigations, and the lack of any investigations by Hamas, the chance that victims and survivors of unlawful attacks will ever see justice done by the parties to the conflict is small.
To begin to end the cycle of impunity, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas should immediately grant jurisdiction to the International Criminal Court.
Meanwhile, people in Gaza cannot afford to return to the status quo ante – life under a crippling and punitive Israeli blockade, with essential support by Egypt, and a mass of new destruction from the recent hostilities. The “temporary mechanism,” recently announced by the UN, created to increase imports of construction materials to Gaza while avoiding their military use is a small step in the right direction, but it is no more than that, and far from enough. Israel should immediately lift its blanket prohibition on Gaza residents moving or even traveling to the West Bank, which has denied them educational and job opportunities, and even the ability to live as families. Egypt should lift restrictions on goods and people at Rafah beyond those clearly necessary to avoid the shipment of weapons and military supplies. And Israel should lift the near-total ban on exports from Gaza to its traditional markets that has contributed to an economic collapse.
The international community should insist not only on humanitarian access, but that Israel and Egypt end unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions on the movement of goods and people once and for all. The rights of Gaza residents are not bargaining chips in a negotiation, but obligations that the international community should respect and press the parties to uphold.