We were initially excited to see that the UK’s foreign secretary David Cameron and his German counterpart, Annalena Baerbock, had published an article entitled “why the UK and Germany back a sustainable ceasefire”. War Child has been calling for a ceasefire in Israel and Gaza for weeks; seeing the UK government come round to this call would have been a huge step forward.
However, reading beyond the headline soon revealed that there had been no genuine change in the policy of either country, both still supporting the continuation of violence and refusing to call for an immediate ceasefire. Here are the three main ways in which the arguments made in their article simply make no sense.
- Continuing the violence doesn’t make a lasting peace more likely
Mr Cameron and Ms Baerbock say in their article that they don’t want ‘to see this conflict last a moment longer than necessary’. Yet within a few paragraphs, they then write that “our goal cannot simply be an end to fighting today. It must be peace lasting for days, years, generations”.
This implies that the continued bombing and violence, which is killing over a hundred children a day, is somehow “necessary” to achieve a lasting peace. The article doesn’t explain why Mr Cameron and Ms Baerbock think that continuing a bombardment that is robbing thousands of civilians of their homes, their families, their physical and mental health, and often their lives, is going to make a peace more, rather than less, likely.
- Aid is impossible as long as the current violence continues
The authors state that “we must get more aid to ordinary Palestinians”. We agree. However, as the Association of International Development Agencies recently stated, the current rate of Israeli air and ground attacks has effectively made aid provision impossible. The UK and Germany have committed more funding to aid, but this will only help if aid can actually get into Gaza – and this won’t be possible on any meaningful level without a ceasefire.
As an alternative to a ceasefire, Mr Cameron and Ms Baerbock say that they “saw at the end of November that pauses [in the violence] work”. However, this is, at best, only partially true.
It is the case that, as part of the terms of the most recent pause, some of the hostages and detainees held by Israel and Palestinian armed groups were released. War Child welcomed this first step, having repeatedly called for all parties to release all hostages and detainees.
However, in aid terms, it is simply false to say that the pause was a success. War Child staff and partners worked hard to get blankets, winter clothing, hygiene kits and psychosocial support to hundreds of children during the pause. But with over a million children in urgent need of aid in Gaza, it was always going to be impossible for aid organisations meet anything more than tiny fraction of that need. It is deeply concerning the UK and German governments consider this a success.
- The UK and Germany are not acknowledging accusations that international law is being violated.
The article says “Israel has the right to defend itself but, in doing so, it must abide by international humanitarian law (IHL)”. What the authors do not mention is that the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights has already concluded that BOTH Israel and the Palestinian armed groups that committed the attacks on 7 October have committed war crimes. A recent report by the independent and highly-respected Diakonia International Humanitarian Law Centre provided detailed evidence to support their conclusion that Israel continues to violate IHL on an ongoing basis. It is simply empty rhetoric by the UK and German governments to repeatedly state that Israel must abide by IHL, without addressing the evidence and conclusions presented by these independent experts.
Recent UN resolutions show that the international community is increasingly supportive of an immediate ceasefire, along with the release of all hostages and detainees, as an essential first step towards protecting the civilians of Israel and Gaza. Rather than reassuring us that the UK and German governments are committed to peace in the region, this article instead both as outliers against this growing international consensus. History will judge the current governments of both countries even more harshly unless they join the calls for a genuine and immediate ceasefire soon. The children of Gaza cannot wait any longer.