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  • Writer's pictureIrungu Houghton

Kenya must demand civilians are protected

Images of holy lands desecrated by abductions, bullets, bombs, and blockades flooded our world this week. Since the war between the Hamas armed group and the Israeli army broke out last weekend, 2,800 human beings have died, 10,000s injured and over 300,000 rendered homeless. As solidarity protests in favour of the Palestinians or Israelis take place in over 150 countries, what must Kenya and the world's citizens and states press for now?

My 5 February 2022 column outlined gross human rights violations across Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. For several decades, apartheid-like policies have reduced Palestinians to second-class citizens or refugees. Amnesty’s 2022 “Israel’s apartheid against Palestinians” report graphically documents the horror of 6.8 million Palestinians living in Israel and the the Israeli occupied territories of Gaza, West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Military blockades and checkpoints along 700-kilometre fences, relentless encroachment of Palestinian land by Israeli settlers and the lack of equality has produced political and humanitarian crises for several generations of Palestinians.

These tensions boiled over into a crisis with international dimensions this week. A lightening attack by the armed group Hamas led to summary killings, hostage-taking and indiscriminate rocket attacks into Southern Israel. With over 1,200 Israelis killed, 2,400 injured including those 260 civilians at the Nova Music Festival, it represents the most serious attack on Israel in decades.

In retaliation, the Israeli army has killed over 1,200 Palestinians, most of them unarmed civilians in the Gaza Strip. Among them UNICEF has verified, are 500 children bombed in or near their homes. Defence Minister Yoav Gallant racist reference to “fighting human animals” while announcing the total siege of the Gaza Strip and the denial of food, fuel, and water for the 2.3 million residents has been rightfully condemned.

A humanitarian disaster may soon claim the lives of millions, if the proposed ground operation proceeds and humanitarian organisations fail relocate civilians before the 24-hour notice lapses. Collective mass punishment could twist very quickly into genocide. The Kenyan Government, citizens and states globally must remind all parties that massacring civilians is a war crime. There is no justification for these reprehensible attacks.

All civilians who have been abducted must be immediately released. Indiscriminate aerial bombings must now stop to avoid further loss of innocent life. There can be no justice in a civilian bloodbath either in Gaza or Southern Israel.

While the world is sharply divided in support for the Palestinians or Israelis, it is critical that international and national media remain truthful, evidence based and call out war crimes by all parties. States must stop the arbitrary arrests and disruption of non-violent protests.

It is also worth remembering that Israel and Gaza are not two countries at war. Gaza is a territory under siege by a far more superior military state with decades of oppressing the Palestinian people. The 2021 international agreement for an International Criminal Court investigation into gross human rights abuses must be accelerated.

Kenya must avoid associating itself with the small number of African countries siding with Israel. It must re-align itself with the African Union position calling for an end to military hostilities by all parties while reminding the world of the historical injustices against the State of Palestine.

Kenyan citizens and the state must demand the protection of all civilians, the immediate opening of safety corridors and the urgent provision of humanitarian and medical services for those affected. Without this, even hospitals will soon become graveyards.

Jews and Palestinians have an equal right to self-determination, to be called Jewish and Palestinian states and to govern under international human rights law. There must be no space for mass collective punishment or the blood of the innocent to stain the grass and olive trees that grow on lands that prophets once walked.

It is time to silence the guns and the bombing to stop. It is time for the hatred to end, the healing and rebuilding to begin and a lasting political solution to be found.

This article was also published in the Saturday Standard 14 October 2023


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