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The international system is failing, yet again, in Gaza and beyond

‘We need a system change for global peace, equality, and a shared prosperity.’

An Israeli military vehicle stands in a position, while Palestinians fleeing north Gaza move southward during a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas, near Gaza City November 27, 2023. Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters
An Israeli military vehicle in the background while Palestinians flee north Gaza near Gaza City to the south during a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas on 27 November 2023.

For almost two months, our efforts have been converging with that of civil society organisations and movements across the world to stop the death, suffering, and destruction in Gaza, and to bring humanity and dignity in this crisis.

Our staff and volunteers have been moved daily by the stories and testimony of women, men, and children trapped in a spiral of bombardments, shelling, and military attacks. Our urgent aim is to stop the relentless attacks that are rapidly transforming the Gaza Strip into a shattered piece of land on the shoreline of the Mediterranean. 

As a rights-based federation, ActionAid condemns all violations of international law and all forms of violence, attacks on civilians, and kidnapping. But we emphasise two points.

Firstly: Israel’s response has been disproportionate, claiming the lives of over 6,000 children and totally destroying the infrastructure of a functioning society in the name of self-defence. 

Weeks of widespread shelling and airstrikes are killing civilians as they hit refugee camps, schools where internally displaced people are sheltering, hospitals, and residential buildings. Around 60% of housing units in Gaza have been destroyed, left uninhabitable, or damaged since the start of the conflict. Gazan officials indicated on 27 November that more than 14,800 people have been killed in Gaza, including about 6,000 children and 4,000 women. UN Secretary-General António Guterres said recently that Gaza is becoming a “graveyard for children”. This is happening amid Israel’s tightening of its 16-year unlawful blockade of Gaza – a move described by the UN’s human rights office, OHCHR, as a form of collective punishment – which has left Palestinians without food, water, medicine, and fuel for weeks.

The second urgent point is accountability, and the lack of meaningful engagement from influential states on alleged Israeli violations of international humanitarian law throughout the occupied Palestinian territory. 

For example, growing allegations of war crimes by Israeli forces in Gaza have been met with effective silence by a range of third states and international organisations, including the United States, Britain, and the EU. Indeed, these and others have continued to offer Israel political, financial – and, in some cases, military – assistance in its assault on Gaza and in the occupation of Palestinian territory generally.

The international economic and peace and security institutions need urgent reform. These spaces are currently dominated and blocked by Western states that defend Israel’s occupation and right to self-defence, and tacitly accept the unconscionable killing and maiming of thousands of women and children.

Since 2008, Gaza has endured five wars, two major escalations, and other attacks from air, land, and sea – on top of the suffocating blockade. Yet, the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into alleged war crimes and other atrocities in the context of the occupied Palestinian territory opened in 2021 has made painfully slow progress, undermined by inadequate resources and a lack of political support. This silence and inaction stand in stark contrast with Ukraine, where an unprecedented number of mostly European ICC member countries asked to open an investigation soon after the Russian invasion. 

Toward a decolonial and feminist approach to global prosperity, security, and peace

ActionAid partners with women-led and youth-led organisations that work for social, gender, and climate justice in several emergencies where there are authoritarian repressive regimes, political violence, and war. They tell us that without justice for past events, there will not be lasting peace – even if the violence stops. This is relevant now in Gaza and the West Bank, but also well beyond.

Many of the military officers and politicians responsible for violence and atrocities in Sudan in the 2003 Darfur war remain at large and unaccountable. Sudan has plunged, since April 2023, into another catastrophic civil war, which is sending refugees as far as Ethiopia. Darfur is again facing ethnically motivated violence, which is causing unimaginable horrors to civilians. The Rohingya people have been displaced from their homes in Myanmar for decades. In 2017, unprecedented numbers were displaced and almost a million of them now live in refugee camps in Bangladesh – the majority women and children. The Rohingya are calling for accountability, justice, and a safe return to their country. Myanmar has recently seen intense fighting, including in northern Rakhine, from where hundreds of thousands were violently expelled to Bangladesh years ago. 

A permanent ceasefire in Gaza must be the first step for addressing the end of Israel military occupation, and the fulfilment of the Palestinian right to self-determination.

The process to pursue a just and durable solution must go hand in hand with thorough investigations by qualified and independent bodies, including the ICC, of all credible accusations of current and past atrocities. The silence of most Western governments is unsettling. 

On 26 October, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for an “immediate, durable, and sustained humanitarian truce” in Gaza. However, EU members such as Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, and Germany abstained. The United States voted against it, and had previously vetoed a similar resolution in the Security Council. This status quo requires a rethinking of the current global representation and governance. 

The international economic and peace and security institutions need urgent reform. 

These spaces are currently dominated and blocked by Western states that defend Israel’s occupation and right to self-defence, and tacitly accept the unconscionable killing and maiming of thousands of women and children. More voices from Africa, Asia, and the Americas – especially from women and young people bringing a decolonial and feminist approach to global prosperity, security, and peace – are needed at these multilateral institutions.

These new voices would bring dialogue and negotiation as the first option – over militaristic and violent solutions, and shortcuts. They would be the guardians of a durable and inclusive peace in Gaza, as well as to the two billion people, or quarter of the world’s population, who are living in fear amid political repression, unrest, and violent conflict.

We need a system change for global peace, equality, and a shared prosperity. 

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