EU Fabian Scheidler Gaza

War on Gaza: How Germany Is Isolating Itself From the World and International Law

Pro-Gaza Together for Palestine rally in Rotterdam, the Netherlands on 19 November 2023. Someone Not Awful, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Fabian Scheidler / Substack

Some Western governments, in particular the US, the UK and Germany, are still unconditionally supporting the Israeli government in its bombing of the Gaza Strip, which, according to the Palestinian authorities, has now claimed the lives of more than 11,000 people, including around 4,600 children. About 1,200 people died in the previous bloody Hamas attacks on Israel.

However, as the destruction of Gaza continues, Germany and its Atlantic allies are becoming increasingly isolated internationally. The UN General Assembly had already called for a ceasefire on October 26 with a large majority of 120 votes, only 14 states, including the USA, Israel and some tiny island states such as Tonga, voted against, Germany abstained. Outrage at Israel’s military actions is growing in Latin America, Africa and large parts of Asia. Bolivia has broken off diplomatic relations with Israel, South Africa is preparing to take this step, while others such as Chile, Colombia, Turkey and Chad have withdrawn their ambassadors.

Opposition is also stirring in Europe. French President Emmanuel Macron called on the Israeli government to stop killing civilians, the governments of Spain and Ireland have issued similar statements. In London, an estimated 300,000 people took to the streets last Saturday to demand a ceasefire.

Jewish voices against the war are also increasingly being heard. In New York, for example, thousands of people occupied the city’s largest train station, Grand Central Station, on the initiative of the organization “Jewish Voice for Peace”. Their slogan “Not in our name!” clearly states that the Israeli government is not acting on behalf of Jews around the world with its current actions.

Meanwhile, images of the military siege of the largest hospital in Gaza, al-Shifa, are going around the world. After Israel had already cut off the supply of energy, food and medicine to Gaza for weeks, the situation in all of Gaza’s hospitals has become increasingly critical, in some cases to the point of collapse. With the military advance into the al-Shifa hospital, the situation there has worsened dramatically, according to local doctors. Hundreds of patients are in a life-threatening condition, including dozens of premature babies who are no longer receiving care. A doctor at the hospital reports that following Israeli shelling, 29 intensive care patients in his department can no longer be cared for and are doomed to die. The hospital has also become one of the last refuges for civilians in northern Gaza, with thousands seeking shelter here. Israel claims that Hamas is using the hospital as a military base, but has so far provided no evidence of this.

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Despite all this, German chancellor Olaf Scholz is not backing down from his unconditional support for Israel’s actions and insists that the Netanyahu government is abiding by international law and human rights. He even denounced accusations that Israel is violating these rights in Gaza as “absurd”. However, he is rather alone in this assessment. The central principles of international law in the event of war are the protection of civilians, the distinction between civilian and military targets and the proportionality of means. Attacks on purely civilian targets are war crimes, as is the killing of disproportionately high numbers of civilians when attacking real or suspected military targets. The reason given by an Israeli military spokesperson for the bombing of the Jabalia refugee camp on November 3 was that one Hamas commander was “in that area“. Whether he was actually killed remained unclear. Several dozen civilians died as a result – a clearly disproportionate number of civilian casualties and therefore a suspected war crime.

Hospitals are subject to special protection. The Director of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, strongly condemned Israel’s actions on Thursday: “Israel’s military incursion into Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City is totally unacceptable. Hospitals are not battlegrounds. Under international humanitarian law, health facilities, health workers, ambulances and patients must be safeguarded and protected against all acts of war. Not only that, they must be actively protected during military planning.”

Even if it turns out that Hamas maintains military facilities under the hospital, it would still be Israel’s duty under international law to protect the staff and patients rather than expose them to death. The Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, to which Israel is also a signatory, obliges all parties to put the protection of civilians above military objectives in the case of mixed military-civilian targets.

The convention also stipulates that children under the age of 15 must be subject to special protection by all parties to the conflict and that their access to food, medicine, safe havens and educational facilities must be ensured. Israel has already violated this convention by imposing a complete blockade on October 9. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant formulated the goals unambiguously, in clear violation of international law: “There will be no electricity, no food, no water and no fuel. Since then, Israel has also bombed dozens of schools and attacked several hospitals, including neonatal wards. Thousands of children have died as a result of the bombings.

In this situation, the only ethically justifiable position in line with international law is to join the demand for an immediate ceasefire and a lifting of the blockade. The German government’s unconditional support for Israel’s actions, on the other hand, amounts to complicity in serious human rights violations, war crimes and, potentially, genocide. Politically, a ceasefire is the only sensible next step as well. After all, there is no military solution to the decades-long conflict. The example of the “war on terror” that George W. Bush proclaimed after September 11 has shown that more war can only create more terror and ultimately destabilize entire regions of the world. Bombs generate nothing but trauma, hatred and anger. The solution can only be a just peace that respects the security interests, human rights and future prospects of Palestinians and Israelis alike. The Jewish-American political scientist Rosalind Petchesky, born in 1942 and a member of “Jewish Voice for Peace”, recalls the Jewish tradition of justice: “I believe,” she says at the sit-in at Grand Central Station, “that Judaism and Jewish ethics — this is how I grew up thinking — are about justice.”

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Fabian Scheidler

Fabian Scheidler is the author of the book “The End of the Megamachine. A Brief History of a Failing Civilization,” which was translated into several languages (www.end-of-the-
). His most recent book is “The Stuff We Are Made Of. Rethinking Nature and Society”. Fabian Scheidler has written as a free lance journalist for the Berliner Zeitung, Frankfurter Rundschau, Wiener Zeitung, Taz, Blätter für deutsche und internationale Politik, Jacobin, The Progressive, Radio France and others. In 2009, he received the Otto Brenner Media Prize for critical journalism.

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