Gaza: From ceasefire to searching for a just lasting peace
Ben Phillips Previously the Campaigns Director
26th Sep 2014
Campaigns Director Ben Phillips gives a personal reflection on the ongoing challenge to bring lasting peace to Gaza.
When I visited Gaza last year, I met a widow who had benefited from an Oxfam project that helped her buy food for her children. Struggling to find work, she had earned some money from collecting rubble - the result of some missile strikes. But after the debris had been cleared, that source of cash ceased.
"Don't worry," joked her friend, "there will be more rubble soon."
Unfortunately, her friend was right. The summer surge of violence in Gaza and southern Israel has taken a terrible human toll and left yet more rubble. More than 1,500 civilians in Gaza and six in Israel have been killed. In Gaza, over 100,000 Palestinians have been left homeless and vital civilian infrastructure worth billions of dollars has been destroyed. In Israel, many lives were disrupted and put on hold.
civilians have paid a bloody price for the failure of the international community and the warring parties to address the underlying causes of the conflict.
Tragically, we've been here before: 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008-09, 2012 and now 2014. Each time, disputes and miscalculations have triggered a surge in violence. Each time, civilians have paid a bloody price for the failure of the Palestinian and Israeli leaders as well as the international community to address the underlying causes of the conflict.
The recently agreed ceasefire is great news and much-needed so that grieving families can rebuild their shattered lives, homes and communities. But unless long-term solutions are implemented, history tells us this will merely be the calm before the next fiery storm.
Essential steps - outlined in Oxfam's latest report Cease Failure: Rethinking seven years of failing policies in Gaza - include lifting the restrictions on the movement of people and trade in and out of Gaza. This is needed to help civilians achieve their basic rights and for Gaza's economy to grow and prosper. On the political front, the Israeli government's policy of physically and politically separating Gaza from the West Bank fuels divisions and disunity - as well as poverty - making the task of negotiating a resolution of the Israel-Palestine
conflict even harder and more complex.
The international community has an important role. The ceasefire needs to be effectively monitored and any violations reported. Both parties need to be held accountable to the current Quartet principles (renunciation of violence, acceptance of previous agreements signed by the PLO, and recognition of the State of Israel), and not only on commitments to security. The last ceasefire, in 2012, was followed by the calmest 12 month period in decades - but restrictions remained in place and life for civilians in Gaza did not improve. The ceasefire eventually collapsed.
"The ongoing fighting emphasizes the need to finally end the 47-year-old occupation and the chokehold on Gaza, ensure security based on mutual recognition, and achieve a viable two-state solution by which Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace and security, side by side," said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on 25 July.
I mourn for every Israeli and every Palestinian that has been killed and weep with their families for their irreplaceable losses. In Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, I've seen how the conflict is hurting ordinary Israelis and Palestinians, traumatising families, and crushing the hopes of the young. That is why Oxfam is working not only to meet immediate humanitarian needs but to press authorities in the region and worldwide to tackle the causes of conflict.
The two-state solution and lasting peace depends on a reinvigorated approach to Gaza. We should all, therefore, urge world leaders to change an approach that for decades has, quite transparently, simply not worked, and intensify their efforts to end this conflict once and for all.
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Header Image: Families search the rubble of their homes, destroyed by Israeli airstrikes and shelling. Credit: Iyad al Baba