October 30, 2023
In a heartfelt plea on October 30, 2023, South Africa has called for the immediate establishment of a rapid protection force to shield the civilian population in Palestine from further devastation. This urgent call comes as Save the Children, an international humanitarian organization, reported that the number of children killed in Gaza over the past three weeks has tragically exceeded the annual number of children killed in all conflict zones worldwide since 2019.
Child Casualties Soar
Disturbingly, since October 7, more than 3,257 children have lost their lives. This tragic toll includes at least 3,195 children in Gaza, 33 in the West Bank, and 29 in Israel. The sheer number of children’s lives lost accounts for over 40% of the total 7,703 casualties in Gaza. Save the Children also estimates that these numbers could rise as over 1,000 children are missing, with many trapped under the debris caused by Israel’s indiscriminate airstrikes in Gaza.
All the children who have tragically perished since October 7 are non-combatants, and those responsible for their deaths must be held accountable for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and, given the scale of the tragedy in Gaza and the West Bank, even the crime of genocide must be thoroughly investigated.
Clarification of Legal Status
South Africa’s stance aligns with the majority of countries who expressed their views at the United Nations General Assembly on October 27, 2023. During the assembly’s debate, more than two-thirds of its members responded affirmatively to a call for an immediate ceasefire. This response reinforces the assertion that, under the laws of occupation within the framework of the law of armed conflict, Israel does not possess the ‘right to defend itself’ through military means, as it is the occupying power. This assertion has been confirmed by the International Court of Justice.
As an occupying power, Israel is expected to utilize legal tools, including policing powers, to address criminal actions. Occupying states cannot simultaneously exercise control over the occupied territory and militarily attack it, claiming that it poses an external national security threat. The concept of Israel’s right to self-defense through military means, used by some erroneously and by others deliberately, has been employed to justify the unlawful use of force in Gaza and the West Bank.
Calls for Accountability
South Africa insists that those who have encouraged and materially supported the unlawful use of force by Israel should be investigated for aiding and abetting violations of international law. The high number of non-combatant casualties, particularly the children’s casualties, underscores the urgency of global accountability. The International Criminal Court (ICC), which has charged Russian President Vladimir Putin with unlawfully moving children from Ukraine to Russia, is urged to use its independent powers to initiate prosecutions urgently in response to the willful killing of children in Gaza. Failure to do so could intensify the growing perception that international criminal law is selectively applied for political purposes.
Tragedy Beyond Numbers
While numbers serve as a grim illustration of the scale of the atrocities, it’s crucial to remember the human tragedy behind these statistics. Entire families in Gaza have been decimated over the past three weeks, with estimates suggesting that over 80 entire families have suffered due to Israeli actions. The victims are not just numbers; they are mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters. South Africa extends its deepest condolences to the families affected by this tragedy.
Condemnation of Disinformation
South Africa also strongly condemns the unethical dissemination of disinformation related to these events. In particular, the Deputy head of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, Mr. Zev Krengel, was criticized for spreading discredited information concerning the beheading of children in Israel. Such disinformation is used to dehumanize and justify extreme measures against groups like Hamas, contributing to the immense casualties we witness today. Mr. Krengel’s misleading statements about Minister Naledi Pandor’s engagement with Hamas and her official visit to Iran are also a cause for concern. Given the potential libelous nature of his remarks, further commentary on this matter will be addressed at a later stage. These views are out of step with the opinions of most South Africans and people worldwide, including scores of Jewish individuals who have denounced the actions of both Hamas and the Israeli government.
Global Calls for Ceasefire and Accountability
Millions of people, including members of the Jewish Voice for Peace, have taken to the streets in cities such as New York, London, and Turkey to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and investigations into international law breaches. One grave concern is the possibility of genocide, as stated by President Lula da Silva of Brazil. Minister Pandor echoes this concern, emphasizing that the international community must not stand idly by while another genocide unfolds.
South Africa’s Plea for Action
South Africa echoes the United Nations General Assembly’s resolution, which called for an immediate ceasefire and the opening of a humanitarian corridor to deliver food, medical supplies, and fuel. South Africa further calls on the United Nations to deploy a rapid protection force to safeguard the civilian population from further bombardment. In the face of these distressing events, all countries genuinely committed to a rules-based system rooted in international law must act immediately to end the suffering and protect innocent lives.