The International Rescue Committee calls for protection of the civilians and upholding of International Humanitarian Law

Since October 7, horrific violence that violates fundamental norms of humanity has claimed the lives of over 1,200 in Israel and 1,400 Palestinians, including 447 children. These figures will rise as the violence continues. With nowhere to flee, more than 338,000 Palestinians are now displaced with two-thirds seeking refuge in 92 UNRWA schools – the largest displacement in Gaza since 2014.

13 October 2023// International Rescue Committee

Violence, compounded by constraints on humanitarian access and aid delivery, is triggering an unimaginable humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt). Gaza has been under a strict blockade for 16 years. Eighty percent of the 2.2 million people living there (50 percent of whom are children) already rely on humanitarian aid for survival. This population is now under siege with no electricity, fuel, food, or water allowed in, or movement of people either in or out. Hospitals in Gaza are already struggling to cope with the level of injuries and shortages of supplies. When fuel reserves expire, doctors and nurses will be powerless to treat the sick and injured. Parents will run out of food and water for their children.

International humanitarian law demands civilians have access to humanitarian support. Occupying powers have a responsibility to ensure adequate provision of the survival of the civilian population. The siege must be lifted. Hostages must be released. Human lives are not bargaining chips.

On the evening of October 12 the UN reported that it had received an order from Israel calling for the evacuation of over a million Palestinians from northern Gaza in less than 24 hours. An order it has described as impossible. If enforced, this order will only exacerbate humanitarian suffering. Civilians’ decisions to move must be voluntary. Those who are unable, or unwilling, to leave their homes must remain protected. 

The way war is conducted matters. The laws of armed conflict establish unequivocal protections for civilians, aid workers and civilian infrastructure in all conflict zones. It protects access to humanitarian aid for civilians. These rules are not optional; there is no justification for stepping back from these obligations. The international community must not normalize attacks against civilians and civilian objects. We call for an urgent diplomatic process to ensure adherence by all parties to these fundamental obligations – for the protection of the civilian populations in Gaza and Israel and to halt the unraveling of norms and rules that protect civilians everywhere.

Stepping back from these obligations and turning a blind eye to attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure will normalize the abnormal and the abhorrent.