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On October 7, 2023, Hamas – the Palestinian militant group and political party governing Gaza – launched a surprise attack targeting southern Israel. Killing over 1,400 people and taking an estimated 240 people hostage, Israel has declared war on Gaza in retaliation as a result. Leaving Gaza in a striking humanitarian crisis, the international community at large has echoed calls and cries for a ceasefire and ultimate justice.
The Committee on the Exercise of Inalienable Rights for the Palestinian People (CEIRPP), founded on November 10, 1975, by resolution 3376, is a committee mandated by the UN General Assembly, established initially to promote the peace process and support the rights of the Palestinian people. Making clear that the rights of the Palestinian people pose a challenge and cause for concern to the international community as a whole, resolution 3376 fervently states in paragraph 2 the lack of progress towards the inalienable rights of Palestinians towards self-determination and calls on the Committee to recommend a program of implementation for said inalienable rights. Since its inception, the Committee has met yearly on November 29, the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, and reports annually to the General Assembly.
In its latest iteration, the Committee hosted a panel conference on December 9 of 2023, 62 days into the war, titled “2023 War on Gaza: The Responsibility to Prevent Genocide.” Held on the 75th anniversary of the ratification of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Crimes of Genocide (1948), inviting key panelist speakers and opening up the floor to a Q&A discussion for all those in attendance, the talk was opened by the Vice Chair of the Committee, emphasizing the humanitarian crisis that has been unfolding in Gaza and imploring dedication to a peace process and a two-state solution by both the Committee and the international community at large.
The first to speak was Mr. Jehad Abusalim. Executive Director of the Jerusalem fund, PhD student in the Hebrew and Judaic Studies program at NYU, and native Palestinian, Mr. Abusalim began by drilling the numbers and the statistics of those killed in Gaza: more than 20,000 Palestinians killed, 9,000 of them children, 48,000 injured, 148,000 displaced, 153,000 homes destroyed, and 300 industrial facilities destroyed.
In continuation, he gives context to the cause since the Gazan and Palestinian Question arose in 1948, believing that to understand Gaza is to understand the Nakba. In attempts to emphasize that the October 7th attacks and the subsequent suffering of the Palestinian people after the fact cannot be considered an isolated event, but rather, are a result of the ongoing process of cultural, political, and spiritual erasure of the Palestinian existence since the Nakba 1948, Abusalim recounts of Israel’s history. Stating that from the 1950s onward, Israel’s approach to Gaza has been violent and always remained so, he visualizes the deterioration of the Gaza Strip, from 1,100 to 365 square kilometers, through means of Israel’s military closures, restrictions, permit systems, blockades of land, air, and sea, and multiple strategies of war, Abusalim finishes his statement, not with a plead for peace, but a reflection of the Palestinian struggle where “every day in Gaza is another chapter in a story filled with dread.”
Next to speak is Raz Segal, a standing Associate Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies and an Endowed Professor in the Study of Modern Genocide at Stockton University. As an acting professor, he provided a plethora of direct quotes from Israeli officials to coincide with his historical examples of genocidal tactics. By stating that Israel has fallen under the first three acts in the Genocide Convention, Dr. Segal utilizes carefully collected proof to establish both actus rea and means rea – the physical act as well as the intent.
Dr Segal cites the quotes by selected Israeli officials, which he understands and makes clear the intent to destroy Palestine and Palestinians. He recalls the loaded language that Yitzhak Herzog, Israeli President, utilizes in a press conference, framing this war as “a war intended to save Western civilization.” He gives reference to Yoav Gallant, the Israeli Defense Minister, when he stated they are fighting “human animals,” a genocidal tactic commonly used to define an entire civilian population as an enemy. Segal continues in his assessment when he goes through a comparison of colonial powers in times of war – Germany suppressing the Herero uprising in Southwest Africa and the Hutu authorities identifying all the Tutsis leading to the Rwandan Genocide; he states, “history is instructive.”
Hannah Bruinsma, a member of the non-profit organization Law for Palestine and the third speaker, frames her statement using the grounds of international law and based on legal research conducted by Law for Palestine on the crimes of genocide occurring. Bruinsma defines the actus rea of the first three acts of genocide – killing individuals, inflicting severe physical and psychological harm, and intentionally creating living conditions designed to destroy the group either in whole or in part – through indiscriminating bombings, lack of medical services, water, food, supplies, and total siege measures of displacement.
She goes on to say that genocide not only requires the physical act but the intent – the mens rea, of which the quotes and statements provided by Dr. Raz Segal, prove just. Bruinsma finishes her statement, giving us insights into the legal framework, with a staunch call for justice, making it obligatory for all members of the international community to build a case for justice.
Last but certainly not least on the panel is Katherine Gallagher, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. Focusing her statement on the state responsibility and the duty of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Gallagher re-emphasizes the three acts of genocide being witnessed and discusses actions and solutions that can and should be taken for its betterment. By calling out the United States, the largest military, political, and economic provider and assistant to Israel, Gallagher suggests that hardening on the US’s stance not only makes them a witness to genocide, but complicit, and as an active component, can take just measures to remedy such liability. In urging member states to consider legal remedies, the statement ends in a poignant call to “please take action now.”
In its final hour, a Q&A session poses the severe inquiry: “What more can the international community do.” Since October 7th, we have witnessed protests erupt across the globe on both sides of the story, such debate not unknown to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There have been calls for Hamas to return the hostages and for Israel to continue in its efforts; there have been protests in support of Gaza and the Palestinian people, chanting the much-revered quote “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”; there have been pleading for a ceasefire in which both, the hostages are returned and the people of Gaza receive humanitarian aid. In the Committee’s ending discussions, what is agreed upon is the need for accountability by the international community to ensure there is no more prolonged bloodshed or loss of Palestinian life and for this cycle of violence to end. However, 81 days have passed since, and war in the region continues to rage on, many questioning if an end is in sight.
For More Information, Please Read the Following:
Amnesty International. “Damning Evidence of War Crimes as Israeli Attacks Wipe out Entire Families in Gaza.”
Burga, Solcyre. “Is What’s Happening in Gaza Genocide? Experts Weigh In.”