UN Officials Mobilize International Opinion, But Go Unheard in Brussels

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has insisted time and again that he will not yield to the “heavy opposition” from around the world, but if the United States, in particular, indicates it will withdraw its until-now unconditional support, the Israelis will have to accept compromises.

Thus, Netanyahu’s allies are very worried about the growing protests inside the U.S., especially among Jewish organizations that refuse to be silenced. Even more worrying for them, however, is the crack that has appeared in the near-monolithic support for Israel in the Congress.

Indeed, four Jewish members of Congress (one senator and three representatives) came out last week, in separate statements, strongly criticizing the human toll of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, while supporting the need to destroy Hamas. As Sen. Ossoff said on Nov. 17: “The extent of civilian death and suffering in Gaza is unnecessary. It is a moral failure, and it should be unacceptable to the United States.”

From the United Nations, the distress signals have increased. “This war is having a staggering and unacceptable number of civilian casualties, including women and children, every day,” UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement Nov. 19, according to a UN News report. “This must stop. I reiterate my call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.”

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Volker Türk, was even blunter: “The horrendous events of the past 48 hours in Gaza beggar belief”, he said on the same day. “The killing of so many people at schools turned shelters, hundreds fleeing for their lives from Al-Shifa Hospital amid continuing displacement of hundreds of thousands in southern Gaza are actions which fly in the face of the basic protections civilians must be afforded under international law.” He cautioned that failing to adhere to these rules may constitute war crimes.

The head of the UN Relief and Works Agency, Philippe Lazzarini, warned for his part: “This vicious war is reaching a point of no return when all rules are disrespected, in overt disregard for civilian lives”. He appealed “once again for humanity to prevail and for a humanitarian ceasefire right now”.

Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation, issued an urgent call to Israel to allow clean water and fuel into Gaza to activate the water supply network and desalination plants in the besieged enclave before it is too late. “Israel must stop using water as a weapon of war”, he said, adding that “Under Article 7 of the Rome Statute, intentionally depriving the civilian population of conditions of life, calculated to bring about their destruction, is an act of extermination and classified as a crime against humanity.”

So far, the response of the European Union to such calls of despair has been totally insufficient. Following Washington’s lead, it has simply called for “humanitarian pauses” to provide some relief for the civilian populations.

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