As the violence between Israel and Hamas escalates, proponents for both sides are travelling the world to spread their message. Francesca Albanese, the UN Special Rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories, is in Aotearoa and not pulling her punches
“Over 12,000 people killed over a month now by Israeli bombs and military operations, 5,000 of these are children. Over 1.6 million people forcibly displaced, 30,000 injured and there is no measure to rescue them,” Albanese says.
“It was an illegal blockade already prior to October 7 - a collective banishment of 2.2 million people living in the Gaza Strip, half of whom are children and on top of it half of the civilian infrastructure has been destroyed, 40,000 homes and churches and mosques, entire residential buildings, refugee camps and schools, bakeries, universities.
“There is very little on where to restart life after a ceasefire is declared. And I am really appalled that the international community and each member state has not powerfully stood up to see a ceasefire declared,” Albanese says.
On Monday the UN revealed the latest attack by the Israeli military was on the Al Fakhoura school run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in a refugee camp, north of Gaza.
Footage of the dead and those hurt can be seen across social media. One social media video shows a little girl in another part of Gaza seen trying to wipe away her tears as she bids farewell to her dead brother. In her native tongue she says, “It’s okay, it’s okay, he’s with my dad.”
Albanese, who is visiting Aotearoa for the next two days, has said in her latest report that the Palestinian people have had endless suffering. The atrocities by Hamas on October 7 against Israelis have started a new page for the long conflict between Israel and Palestinians, she says.
‘Rehumanise the discourse’ - both sides are suffering
“Since the beginning of this new crisis which has thrown us into the ground zero of humanity, this is a moment for the international community to play wisely and even-handedly to work both with the Palestinians and Israelis to be in solidarity with them because what the Israelis has suffered is horrible and surely it has brought back memories that shouldn’t have.
“But at the same time what the Palestinians have been suffering prior to October 7 and what they are going through deserves condemnation, solidarity and action. It’s important to rehumanise the discourse because this has gone too far,” Albanese says.
She’s referring to Nakba (“catastrophe” in Arabic) when thousands of Palestinians were killed and tens of thousands expelled during and after the creation of the Israeli state in 1948.
“While Israel has never formally admitted being responsible for the Nakba, meaning the catastrophe that has befallen the Palestinians in 1947-49, which translated into the dismemberment of the Palestinian nation and the forced displacement of 750,000 people, now Israeli leaders are calling for a second Nakba, so they never acknowledge the first but they are calling for one now, and it’s happening for those who have not familiarised themselves what Nakba means - it’s happening on our watch and it’s being televised. That’s the mass destruction of civilian infrastructure and the violence directed at Palestinian civilians, forcing them to leave the little that remains their homelands.”
Israel cannot claim right of ‘self-defence’
Albanese says Israel cannot claim the right of ‘self-defence’ under international law because Gaza is a territory it occupies. She is calling for all governments to support a ceasefire.
“I would like to hear any government saying what’s happening is unacceptable, that there is a need to be close to both Palestinians and Israelis in this tragic hour and enough is enough,” Albanese says.
At the weekend 12 Palestinian rallies were held across the country. On Sunday, Labour leader Chris Hipkins announced Labour favoured a ceasefire but broke protocol as caretaker Prime Minister to do so.
Hipkins says, “It has become untenable for me and it runs against Labour Party values to stand by and watch the horrific scenes without calling for a cease-fire.”
Meanwhile, the NZ Jewish Council says there can be no ceasefire in Gaza before more than 200 hostages taken from Israel are released.
Albanese also didn’t hold back on talking about the reporting of the western media, “the responsibility of the media, in particular of western media, and the dehumanisation of the Palestinians.
“We know the media have also been responsible for not taking a principled, objective and impartial stand in connection with the commission of other atrocity crimes and I wish it could be different here, although in the west both political leaders and the media are playing incredibly dangerous and irresponsible roles and not presenting facts as they are and in often confusing their legal qualifications.”
Albanese wouldn’t go into detail on which western media she is referring to.
Her latest reports to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 - https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/documents/countries/palestine/a-78-545-auv.pdf