Israel / Do Everything Possible to Avoid Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza

Operations that attack civilians or put residents in situations where they have no water or food violate international law. Israel should carefully handle the situation so as not to let its self-defense measures go too far.

Israel has been intensifying its attacks on the Palestinian Islamist organization Hamas. This is a response to the Oct. 7 surprise attack on southern Israel by Hamas, in which the group killed civilians and took them hostage.

It goes without saying that Hamas’ attacks targeting civilians and its tactic of trying to use hostages as human shields should be condemned. Israel has a legitimate right to counterattack, and it is understandable that it seeks to neutralize the military capabilities of Hamas.

The problem is that about 2.2 million people live in the Palestinian territory of Gaza, which Hamas effectively controls, and it is difficult to distinguish between Hamas fighters and residents. Israel has warned the about 1.1 million residents of northern Gaza to evacuate to the south.

The Israeli military is poised to conduct a large-scale ground operation in Gaza. Will the Israeli forces deem the people remaining in Gaza after the evacuation warning to be Hamas fighters and attack them all?

In the first place, it is quite difficult to evacuate more than 1 million people in a short period of time as they have no place to move to. Even after fleeing to southern Gaza, many people are staying in the open, and there have been reports of people being hit by airstrikes while evacuating.

It is only natural that U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres expressed concern about the relocation of the residents, saying that it is extremely dangerous and in some cases, simply not possible.

In Gaza, electricity, water and fuel supplies have already been cut off, putting many people, especially inpatients, the elderly and infants, in danger of losing their lives. If this situation continues, it could lead to a severe humanitarian crisis.

Israel’s excessive retaliatory attacks and the growing civilian casualties in Gaza may redirect the blame that should be aimed at Hamas, and instead anti-Israel public opinion may rise in the international community as a whole.

Such a situation would be exactly what Hamas wants, and is not in Israel’s best interest. Western countries need to urge Israel to abide by international humanitarian law.

There is a long and complicated history behind the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and while it cannot be resolved overnight, there is likely room for compromise while adhering to the universal norm of protecting civilians.

The top priority should be humanitarian assistance to Gaza. Diplomatic efforts must be intensified so that the United Nations and other concerned countries, including Egypt, will cooperate to ensure that the delivery of supplies will resume as soon as possible.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 16, 2023)