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PHROC Open Letter to UN Secretary-General on Hostilities in the Gaza Strip

Mr. Ban Ki-moon,
United Nations Secretary-General

Mr. Secretary-General,

In the context of Israel’s ongoing
military attack against the occupied Gaza Strip, you recently stated in your
address to the distinguished members of the UN Security Council that
"[o]nce again, civilians are paying the price for the
continuation of conflict."
The Palestinian Human Rights
Organisations Council (PHROC), a coalition of twelve Palestinian human rights
organisations in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), is gravely concerned
about Israel’s ongoing indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against
Palestinian civilians and civilian objects in the Gaza Strip. It must be noted
that the
population of the Gaza Strip has been living under an
Israeli imposed closure for the past seven years, constituting a form of
collective punishment. As a result, 70 per cent of Palestinians in the Gaza
Strip are dependent on humanitarian assistance and  have been hindered to recover from damage and
destruction caused during previous Israeli offensives, including ‘
Cast Lead
’ and ‘Operation
Pillar of Defense

Protective Edge’ erupted in the context of an already on-going armed conflict
and belligerent occupation. As such, Israel cannot rely on the self-defence argument
within the meaning of Article 51 of the UN Charter. Hence, Israel must act in
accordance with the laws regulating the conduct of hostilities and occupation. Furthermore,
considered against the backdrop of Israel’s wide scale punitive military campaign
across the West Bank following the disappearance, and eventually the regretful
death,  of three Israeli settlers, the
recent hostilities in the Gaza Strip indicate that a larger political agenda
fuels Israel’s actions.

of 15 July 2014 at 1 p.m.,  Palestinian
human rights organisations have documented the killing of 194 Palestinians,
including 37 children and 28 women, in the context of ‘Operation Protective
Edge’. According to Al Mezan’s initial investigations,
141 (i.e.
of the killed Palestinians
are to be considered civilians. Furthermore, at least 1.
218 Palestinians have
sustained injuries and 1.
489 houses have been destroyed or damaged; 276 of which from direct attacks on houses. At
least 76 of the casualties resulted from direct attacks on houses. Al Mezan
further specifies that
23 schools, 34 mosques, an ambulance
centre, 13 NGO offices, 38 fishing boats and 5 hospitals were damaged or
destroyed. The United Nations Office for Humanitarian Assistance in the OPT has
announced that over 17.000 Palestinians have taken shelter in UNRWA schools and
another 6,500 found shelter with families or friends.

emphasises that international humanitarian law must be  adhered to by all parties engaged in
hostilities during armed conflict. The principle of distinction requires all
parties to distinguish between civilians and combatants, as well as between
civilian objects and military objectives. 
Furthermore, the principle of proportionality dictates that launching an
attack, which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury
to civilians or damage to civilian objects, which would be excessive in
relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated, is
prohibited. Failure to abide by these principles of international humanitarian
law may result in the commission of war crimes.

Palestinian civilians in the OPT are protected under the Fourth Geneva
Convention.  As an Occupying Power,
must ensure the well-being and safety of the occupied
population and respect Palestinians’ right to life and dignity. As such,
prior to launching a military attack
Israel is obliged to provide “effective advance warning” of attacks that “may
affect the civilian population” and take precautions in the choice of means and
methods of attack with a view of avoiding and minimizing civilian casualties.
The ‘roof-knocking method’ currently and previously employed by Israel, in
which Israel warns Palestinian civilians of an upcoming airstrike by bombing
their home, must be considered unlawful in and of itself due to the intentional
and unnecessary damage caused to civilians’ homes and the unjustified threat to
civilian lives that it poses. Worse even, Palestinian civilians have been
killed by ‘warning missiles’ during the recent round of hostilities, including
at least three women and one child. Today, a mother and her 5days old baby were
injured from a similar attack. 

their own admission, Israel has thus far intentionally targeted Palestinian
civilians and homes. For example, on 8 July, the Israeli army spokesperson
announced that the Israeli military had deliberately bombed four homes of
persons defined by Israel as senior Hamas activists.[1] According to international
customary law, a permissible military objective is “limited to those objects
which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution
to military action […or] or offers a definite military advantage”[2]. In these instances, the
punitive targeting of the family homes of persons that may have links with
armed groups and that are additionally not taking active part in hostilities, cannot
be considered permissible.

the Secretary-General’s engagement on the matter of Israel’s occupation of the
OPT, and his ability to bring to the attention of the
Security Council any matter which in his opinion may threaten the maintenance
of international peace and security, PHROC calls on Mr. Ban Ki-moon to:

· Clarify Israel’s obligations as an Occupying Power engaged
in hostilities in Palestine;

· Immediately and unequivocally deplore Israel’s
indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks against Palestinian civilians and
civilian objects;

· Demand that all parties comply with their international
humanitarian law obligations, including the principles of distinction,
proportionality and military necessity;

· Take the position that the root cause of the ongoing
hostilities is Israel’s belligerent occupation and accompanied violations of
international law, including the Palestinian inherent right to

· Actively support the deployment of a United Nations created
international protection force with the mandate of bringing Israeli violations
against the occupied Palestinian people to an end;

· Continue to bring to the
attention of the Security Council violations of Palestinians’ rights;

· Request the High Commissioner for Human Rights to join the
Secreatry-General in firmly condemning Israel’s persistent violations of
international law


[2] ICRC, International Customary Law Rule 8