The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) is deeply pained by the resumption of conflict, after a period of relative peace, between Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
Reflecting on the first clause of IHEU’s Oslo Declaration on Peace — namely that, “All wars are started by human beings and war can be ended by human beings working together” — we regret that opportunities to calm tensions and initiate talks have been foregone on both sides.
We echo the stance and concerns of outgoing United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, who in her statement of 23 July notes both that:
— “Gaza has been subjected to daily intensive bombardment from the air, land and sea, employing well over 2,100 air strikes alone” since Israel’s operation “Protective Edge” commenced on 7 July, killing over 600 Palestinians of which “around 74 percent of those killed so far were civilians”; and that:
— “indiscriminate firing by Hamas and other armed groups of more than 2,900 rockets, as well as mortars, from Gaza continues to endanger the lives of civilians in Israel” and “that it is unacceptable to locate military assets in densely populated areas or to launch attacks from such areas”.
Arbitrary terror attacks and the use of “human shields” is an affront to common dignity and universal human rights, as is the indiscriminate targeting of civilians and any use of asymmetric force which creates such unacceptably high levels of civilian fatalities.
The situation between Israel and Palestine is not reducible to a simple equation of rockets and a response to those attacks, nor to occupation and a response to that circumstance. The history of Israel’s founding, prior war by other states on Israel, occupation and blockading of Palestinian territories by Israel, and the violence and threat to civilian life on both sides, means there is no simple blame game.
That said, the current offensive in Gaza, despite some precautions by Israel, clearly fails to minimize casualties (on both sides) and to the contrary risks entrenching and prolonging violence and increasing the risk of casualties (on both sides). As such the ongoing bombardment operation must be abhorred as a human rights tragedy.
We note that, in addition to the real tragedy for each individual affected by the current conflict, the ideological and regional context also inflates the risks of prolonging the violence.
We urge the United Nations and all regional players to recognise this complexity and to intervene only with a sense of balance and compassion.
To conclude, again with reference to the Oslo Declaration on Peace, “Peace is more than just the absence of war. Peace requires respect for the worth and dignity of our fellow human beings, tolerance among individuals, and harmony within each person.” The current conflict, coming as it does after a period of relative calm, will we hope swiftly subside into non-violence. When this happens we hope the authorities and people of both Israel and the Palestinian Territories will reflect that they then have a new opportunity to talk, to find mutual understanding of the others’ point of view, and to work for lasting peace.