In an interview with UN News, UN Human Rights Council-appointed expert Francesca Albanese, said it was “impossible to describe the pain and suffering that Israelis are going through because of what happened to them…because there are not only those who were killed, those who were taken hostage, but there is an entire population that was completely shaken”.
But describing the UN chief’s words to the Security Council last Tuesday when he noted that the brutal attacks by Hamas fighters of 7 October “did not occur in a vacuum” as “brave”, she stressed Gazans have “already suffered five deadly wars…during the period Israel has declared an unlawful blockade over the Gaza Strip, entrapping 2.2 million people.”
And since 7 October “they have been recklessly bombarded with an average of 6,000 bombs launched per week,” she added.
Over 7,700 Palestinians have been killed since the Israeli bombing campaign began, with more than 19,740 injured, said the UN aid coordination office (OCHA) on Saturday, according to the Hamas run Ministry of Health in Gaza.
“All schools have been targeted one way or another”, said Ms. Albanese.
“Schools have been hit by the bombings, hospitals have been hit by the bombings” and there has been a tightening of the blockade. “Israeli leaders, one way or another, are blaming and holding all Palestinians in Gaza responsible and are punishing all Palestinians in Gaza for what Hamas and other military groups have done”, she added.
The independent human rights expert also criticised Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian lands and the mistreatment of Palestinians.
“We are talking of an occupying power. Israel is an occupying power vis a vis the Palestinians. There is no independent and sovereign Palestinian state,” said Ms. Albanese.
“The occupation has been the vehicle to colonise, brutalise, arbitrarily arrest and detain and to carry out summary executions against the Palestinian people.”
The occupation has been the vehicle to colonise, brutalise, arbitrarily arrest and detain and to carry out summary executions against the Palestinian people.
She criticised the international community for not doing more to end the illegal occupation.
“Has the international community ever stopped this protracted illegality? No. This is why I keep on saying the international community has a huge, huge responsibility in the catastrophe that is now unfolding.”
Right to self-defence
The rights expert highlighted that both Israel and Palestine maintain the right to defend themselves militarily, although this response must remain proportional to the perceived threat.
“There was an incursion in Israeli territory that resulted in the killing and brutalization of Israeli civilians so that incursions had to be repelled,” said Ms. Albanese.
She argued that, once the attack was successfully repelled, however, the subsequent bombings of targets in Gaza represent violations of international law.
“What Israel is doing is considered by some Member States legitimate self-defence, which it is not. Because how can it be self-defence, the bombing, the carpet bombing of an entire population under a very opaque and vague objective of eradicating Hamas?”
Right to resistance
The right to resist is guaranteed under international law, although this resistance does have limits. The rights expert emphasised that, despite Palestinians’ right to resist Israeli occupation, Hamas’ attack on civilians violated the right to resistance.
“Resistance has rules and limits, and they are the same that apply to any warring parties. So, each actor engaging as part of the resistance becomes responsible for the choice of actions and methods of engagement. And killing civilians is never permitted under international law.”
Ms. Albanese criticised the Israeli government’s continued dehumanisation of Palestinian civilians.
How can you hold a newborn responsible?
“It manifests in the statements of various Israeli political leaders who have referred to the Palestinians as human animals, as deserving the treatment they are receiving because they are all responsible for what Hamas is doing, otherwise they would have revolted against Hamas. As if that hadn’t happened,” she said.
“[Israeli politician] Naftali Bennett has inferred that there are no civilians in Gaza, that even babies become a legitimate target. How can it be? How can it be? How can you hold a newborn responsible?”
The international community has failed to provide adequate support for ending hostilities between Israel and Palestine, argued Ms. Albanese.
“What the international community had an opportunity to do, for once, was to show support to both the Israeli and Palestinian people. It was horrific what the Israelis have suffered as of the 7th of October, and at the same time, the international community missed the opportunity to act wisely and even-handedly, vis a vis both in a way that could be seen as leading to peace.”
She also criticised Western countries for their unwavering support of Israel despite its human rights violations.
You can stand in solidarity with the Palestinians and still condemn the atrocities that Hamas has committed. This is necessary.
“Western countries have, with a few exceptions, rallied around Israel, basically supporting what Israel is doing, self-defence. What Israel does should be in line with international [law]. But it’s not.”
Ms. Albanese also called on the Arab world to condemn Hamas’ targeting of civilian targets while still expressing their support for Palestine.
“There is a huge mobilisation in the Arab world in solidarity with the Palestinians. At the same time, I want to say to those in the Arab world, you can stand in solidarity with the Palestinians and still condemn the atrocities that Hamas has committed. This is necessary.”
‘Many more people are going to die’
The Special Rapporteur lamented the situation, claiming many more would die if more was not done to immediately end the conflict.
I feel for their present, but I also fear for the future, for the Palestinians and Israelis.
“Many more people are going to die in Palestine, in the occupied Palestinian territory, for sure. This is not going to stop, and genocidal intentions have to be addressed.
“I really fear for what the Palestinians are going to face, and I also fear for the future of these two people. I feel for their present, but I also fear for the future, for the Palestinians and Israelis.”
Special Rapporteurs and other independent rights experts are part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, work on a voluntary and unpaid basis, are not UN staff, and work independent of any government or organisation.