Wednesday, 01 November 2023 16:22

The Killings in Gaza Should Stain Our Moral Conscience

A five-year-old boy holds up his cat amidst the wreckage of his home in Gaza. Credit: UNICEF/Mohammad Ajjour

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 01 (IPS) — In an address to the UN Security CouncilThank you for your presence here with us in New York, and for the special dedication that Brazil has given to peace in our region.

I also pay special tribute to our briefers, and to their teams’ dedicated work in the most unimaginable circumstances on the ground in the Gaza Strip.

Commissioner-General Lazzarini, I was very shaken by your recent words to your staff over the weekend, in which you said, “I am constantly hoping that this hell on earth will soon come to an end.” I want to extend the UAE’s deep condolences for the 64 UNRWA workers killed in this war.

They paid the ultimate sacrifice for the lifesaving work the United Nations does every day around the world, and we have failed to protect them.

Last Friday, 121 countries – representing an overwhelming majority of the world – issued an unambiguous call for an immediate, durable, and sustained humanitarian truce in Gaza.

They stood up for the humanitarian imperative, for human rights, for international law, and most importantly, for the self-evident truth that Palestinian life is precious, equal, and deserving of the full protection of the law.

We have heard many say that the 2.2 million Palestinians in Gaza are not Hamas, that this is not a war against them. And while these are welcome words, it is time that action reflected them.

The more than 8,000 people that have been killed in Gaza, and as we heard today, 70 percent of whom were women and children, were surely not all Hamas.

Nearly 1,000 children are missing and may be trapped or dead under the rubble. They are not Hamas. Will we help them?

The number of Palestinian children killed in just three weeks of Israel’s bombardment of Gaza exceeds the total number of children killed in conflicts worldwide in each of the last four years.

As Ms. Russell has so eloquently said, that should stain our moral conscience, if nothing else does. Children do deserve our special protection, and are entitled to it today. If we lean on the General Assembly’s moral authority in other settings, we must also respect it in this one.

Indeed, members of this Council have repeatedly expressed their concerns about the fraying of the international order. This Council ignoring the expressed will of the majority of the world may be what breaks it.

Colleagues, we need a ceasefire now. As Foreign Minister Vieira said, we need to ensure that safe, sustained, and at scale humanitarian aid reaches Gaza, now. And that access to electricity, clean water, and fuel is restored now.

The shutdown of cellular and internet services over the weekend as part of the offensive meant that wounded civilians were searching for help in the dark. As we have heard today, there have been 76 attacks on healthcare, including 20 hospitals and clinics damaged or destroyed. More than 650,000 people are sheltering in UNRWA facilities.

Let me be absolutely clear on this point: these sites are protected by international humanitarian law. Announcements that they are targets or warnings for them to evacuate do not, I repeat, do not alter their protected status. We need to see the rescission of dangerous unrealistic evacuation orders.

On Saturday, the Palestinian Red Crescent reported warnings from Israel to immediately evacuate al-Quds Hospital which hosts hundreds of patients, including new-born babies in incubators.

Around 12,000 civilians are also seeking refuge there right now as we sit here in this chamber in New York speaking to each other again and again, and debating the language of our humanitarian resolution and response.

An evacuation order in these conditions is cruel. It is reckless. And so is our delay as a Security Council. All of Gaza’s civilian population is at risk by the escalating hostilities, as are the Israeli and international hostages taken by Hamas. Wrongly taken by Hamas.

While our eyes have been trained on Gaza, the occupied West Bank has not been spared from violence either. Israeli settlers are escalating their attacks against Palestinian civilians, and forcing their displacement. These attacks must be prevented by the State of Israel.

Across the region, there have been several credible warnings of a wider escalation. The drums of war are beating.

Colleagues, taking these warnings seriously begins with stopping this war in Gaza. We do not serve Israel’s security by enabling it to go on. We cannot reverse the heinous October 7th attacks by condoning this war in which civilians are paying the price.

Ignoring what could happen day after day, will have devastating consequences, not only for Israelis and Palestinians, but for the prospects of peace and stability in our region.

As we work on responding to the General Assembly’s clear call on this body to live up to its responsibilities under the UN Charter, we should also keep in mind, always, the dying words of the dead so that their memories are a blessing to us.

I’d like to speak today of an Arab poet, Heba Abu Nada, a Palestinian woman killed in Khan Yunis several days ago.

“My friend circle diminishes, turning into little coffins scattered everywhere. As missiles launch, I can’t grasp the fleeting moments with my friends. These aren’t just names, they are reflections of us, each with a unique face and identity.”

Colleagues, we may have failed the dead, but we must channel our sorrow into saving the living. The time to reverse course is running out. What we, and 121 countries, are advocating for may be the harder road, but history warns us of the consequences of not taking it.

Lana Nusseibeh is Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to the United Nations.

IPS UN Bureau