International aid agency Oxfam calls for urgent protection of civilians

A new report by Oxfam International today calls for the protection of Israeli and Palestinian civilians to be put at the top of the international agenda.

The report calls for the Government of Israel, the Palestinian National Authority and the international community, through the Quartet (EU, Russia, UN, US) to act urgently to reduce the impact of conflict on Palestinians and Israeli civilians. The international community has a legal obligation to ensure respect for international humanitarian law.

According to the Oxfam research, the humanitarian situation has become critical and it is civilians on both sides who are suffering most.

The report calls for the Quartet to convene an emergency meeting of all parties to consider possible new ways that the international community can step up its involvement, including:

• The deployment of a strong protection or observation force for civilians.

• An international force to work as a verification and implementation mission.

• A mechanism for settling disputes.

• A UN mandated international peacekeeping force.

It also calls for an end to the culture of impunity – with those who commit inhuman and criminal acts being brought to justice, and for the Government of Israel to stop the construction of the separation barrier because of its devastating effect on Palestinian civilians.

Oxfam director Barbara Stocking says:

"Recent events in Gaza constitute appalling violations of international law. The reality is that ordinary Israelis and Palestinians cannot wait for a peace settlement – they need protection now.

"The international community is a like a rabbit caught in the headlights, paralysed by events as they unfold. It can and must do more to protect people on both sides – and start to ease the suffering."

The new Oxfam report shows that the Government of Israel is failing to fulfil its legal obligations as the Occupying Power. As well as killing civilians it is also destroying infrastructure indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, even water tanks and pipes that Oxfam has built. Oxfam research shows that the most vulnerable Palestinian people are now totally dependant on charity, having sold everything they can to stay alive.

Israeli civilians are also living in constant fear from brutal attacks by Palestinian extremist groups, activities which the Palestinian National Authority and Israel as the occupying force, have so far failed to stop.

Oxfam director Barbara Stocking says:

“Immediate action by the international community is needed to protect civilians. The gravity of the situation demands real engagement and fresh thinking. The protection of civilians should not be bargained for – it must be guaranteed. Every delay by the international community is another day that the suffering of civilians increases.”