Gaza and the Responsibility to Protect

The situation in the Gaza Strip is dire.

The United Nations has warned that the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt is making Gaza “uninhabitable”. Food is becoming scarce and increasingly expensive. There is 40% unemployment. Water supplies are intermittent, because pumps are not operating for much of the time due to lengthy power-cuts. Sewage is flooding the streets in some areas, because the pumps are shut down more often than not. There is a fear that water supplies may become contaminated and people’s health is already suffering.

This is not a natural disaster. It is man-made. (Well, I suppose a few women might have had a hand in it.)

Much of Gaza’s supplies used to come through tunnels under the southern border with Egypt. But the military government of Egypt has destroyed or blocked or flooded all the tunnels. Some supplies are allowed into Gaza from Israel, but only about half of what is needed.

Restrictions on the import of construction materials are being relaxed, because the Israeli government recognises that the laying off of thousands of construction workers, when unemployment is already high, would not be good for security.

What would really make a difference is a resumption of fuel supplies, so that the power station can start up again and people can run generators. Until that happens, people are being denied access to water and proper sanitation.

This is a humanitarian disaster which calls for humanitarian intervention.

Why does no-one mention the “Responsibility to Protect”, which has been used to justify military intervention in Iraq and Libya?

I’m not suggesting that there should be military intervention. That would only make matters worse. I am suggesting that there should be concerted humanitarian intervention by the international community. If that means paying for the fuel which Gaza needs, then the international community should do that. The U.S. should stop all military aid to Israel and divert the money to humanitarian aid instead.

Israel, as the occupying power, is failing in its responsibility to protect the inhabitants of Gaza. Although it may not have any soldiers on the ground inside Gaza at the moment, Israel effectively controls the territory and can invade at any moment. Israel controls the borders and patrols the coast. Israel is responsible for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

According to the UN doctrine of “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P), when a state fails to protect its citizens, the international community has a responsibility to intervene to protect people. An occupying power is responsible for the welfare of the inhabitants of territory which it occupies. Israel is failing in its responsibility to protect the inhabitants of Gaza, so the international community should step in.

If the Western powers thought it necessary to launch a military expedition, I’m sure the ships and equipment and personnel could be found. So they could surely be found for a humanitarian expedition. But where is the flotilla of ships bringing supplies to the people of Gaza? Would Israel dare to hinder them from delivering humanitarian aid, if the US and European governments were behind it? I doubt it. If they did, they would find themselves totally isolated.

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