Gaza Unfolding Part I: History, Context and International Law 

Since the Hamas attacks in Israel on the 7 October 2023 and the subsequent military response in Gaza, the peace and justice community in the Hague expressed the need have dialogue about the situation and not succumb to, what felt like, a deafening silence. This led to the Humanity Hub launching the Gaza Unfolding series in December 2023. 

The aim of the Gaza Unfolding series is to convene professionals in the peace and justice community, including practitioners, researchers, and policy makers in a safe space to allow for reflection, connection, and discussion with experts on the unfolding situation in the Gaza Strip and the wider region.  

The first event in this series took place on 8 December 2023 under the title Gaza Unfolding: History, Context and International Law and brought together 130 professionals from the peace and justice community. The objective was to contextualize the situation and scrutinize it through the lenses of international law as well as provide an overview of the humanitarian situation. The discussion was enriched by questions and dialogue initiated by the audience. The interactive component of the event was conducted under Chatham House rules and was not documented.  

The panel consisted of the following speakers:  

  • Francesca Albanese, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory 
  • Marc Lassouaoui, Senior Manager of UNRWA Outreach Europe Office 

The conversation was moderated by Nada Kiswanson, MENA Programme Manager, Impunity Watch.  

A video recording of the panel discussion is available

The context and the legal framework 

The UN Special Rapporteur, Francesca Albanese, began by denouncing the Hamas October 7th attacks. She stated that there is no question that the killing of civilians and hostage taking by Hamas amounts to war crimes. Ms. Albanese emphasized that deafening silence seen can lead to complicity with the developments, like prior to the October 7 attacks, but that the current international response is worse because it is enabling. The explained that the West is enabling and sustaining Israel’s campaign not only through inaction but by continuing to channel means and supply weapons to the Israeli army.  

Ms. Albanese provided an account of the legal grounds for self-defence using the definition under article 51 of the UN Charter as the legitimate use of military force. She stated that Israel has the right to protect its citizens and its territory, but not against Palestine as its population is under belligerent occupation by Israel. Therefore, she continued, the Israeli government is framing the declared military operation against Hamas to target “a hostile entity”, and Western governments have accepted this. However, this is controversial as this concept and other interpretations do not exist in international law.  

Further, Ms. Albanese explained that even if there would be a right to self-defence against the Gaza Strip, this would still need to comply with the fundamental norms and rules of international humanitarian law, which categorically prohibits the indiscriminate killing of civilians and targeting of their infrastructures.  

She also highlighted that article 49 of the Geneva Convention calls for occupation to be a means of last resort due to military necessity, but had been used for the mass-displacement of Palestinians recently most evident through the order of mass displacement framed as an evacuation order.  

The Special Rapporteur strongly stated that the situation is no longer a conflict, but settler-colonialism, which is premised on the denial of the right to self-determination of the Palestinian people – the subject of Ms. Albanese’s first report. Within this matrix, she also mentioned that the Oslo Agreements serve as a numbing factor deceiving the international community that the two state solution was actually materializing; instead, it provided at best municipal authority to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.     

“The 8th of October could have been the time to recognise the joint suffering of Israelis and Palestinians”

Francesca Albanese, UN Special Rapporteur

The Special Rapporteur highlighted that the erosion of the system of international law currently taking place is bad for the entire international community, and that realising that the international community has failed Palestinians should be the greatest call to action.  

Humanitarian situation – listing some numbers  

Mr. Marc Lassouaoui, Senior Manager of UNRWA Europe, acknowledged that the UN in Gaza is at a crossroads, unable to effectively operate due to the challenging environment which is not conducive to humanitarian operations. Mr. Lassouaoui stressed that UNRWA is the largest UN agency, operating in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the occupied Palestinian territory. It is vested with the responsibility of providing basic support to the 6 million Palestinian refugees in UNRWA’s areas of operation, under normal circumstances. In Gaza, UNRWA is the primary organization having a substantial impact on the lives of the whole population, not just Palestinian refugees.  

UNRWA used to be prepared to deal with conflict-like situations in Gaza because of the 16 year blockade against the Gaza strip. Yet, Mr Lassouaoui emphasised that the mass displacement since October is unprecedented. In fact, UNRWA shelters are currently hosting half of the Palestinians in Gaza (1.1 million), with one toilet every 400 people and one shower every 1,200. Among these poorly hygienic conditions, diseases, such as skin and respiratory diseases, and even hepatitis, are dramatically increasing. Health facilities are also significantly depleted and thus unable to provide proper medical care to both the wounded and the sick, medical supplies to treat non-communicable diseases and diabetes, are scarce if not impossible to find.  

Mr. Lassouaoui strongly deplored that the humanitarian aid coming in Gaza is not sufficient to meet the needs of 2.3 million people, nor was it during the “humanitarian pause” at the end of November. Before October 7th, 500 trucks of humanitarian aid would enter Gaza daily – now, and during the pause, only an average of 100.  

“No place is safe in Gaza, and no one is safe in Gaza now. And the space for the people is shrinking more and more”

Marc Lassouaoui, Senior Manager of UNRWA Europe

Since we launched the Gaza Unfolding series, the situation continues to evolve. The content above reflects the discussions held during the events, based on the information available at the time. You can find more information about the series as well as links to resources and other activities by the peace and justice community related to these developments on this page.