This past week, there has been a growing chorus of politicians in Europe and North America speaking out about the need for a “humanitarian pause.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau voiced support for humanitarian pauses, a position echoed by the Conservative opposition.
At the time of writing this, over 7,700 people in Gaza have been killed by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), with well over 2,000 of them being children. Gaza’s communication infrastructure has been almost completely cut-off. Water, fuel, electricity and food are running out. Nearly half of all the buildings in Gaza have been damaged. There are over 1 million displaced Gazans. The IDF is only escalating its attacks. This is nothing short of genocide.
With a growing international movement demanding a ceasefire, a ‘humanitarian pause’ has been put forward as an alternative to a ceasefire by governments that have firmly backed Israel.
A “humanitarian pause” is an ill-defined term that essentially means a temporary cessation of fighting, purely for humanitarian reasons. A pause could be for a very short duration, hours or days, and could cover only parts of Gaza. It could simply mean an agreement to halt the bombing where humanitarian activity – delivering of aid or the moving of wounded – is being carried out.
As Jeremy Corbyn noted “A humanitarian ‘pause’ is not good enough. How long should Palestinians be given to mourn the dead before the bombs restart?” NDP MP Heather McPherson made a similar point about the limitations of the pause, “It’s a temporary pause to get aid in — and then bombings resume and more innocent civilians die.”
A humanitarian pause is window dressing. It is not about addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, it is about appeasing the growing worldwide outrage at the brutal siege on Gaza. It is public relations and that is why defenders of Israel support it. A temporary pause in the bombing in reality is about facilitating the ongoing assault on Gaza, not about stopping it.
Civil society groups in Palestine are calling for a ceasefire and a restoration of sufficient humanitarian aid. This has been echoed by anti-war groups, labour unions, and faith groups around the world. A ceasefire means a formal agreement by all parties to halt the fighting. It also allows for sufficient humanitarian aid without the prospect of bombings immediately resuming.
Of course the ceasefire is a limited and by itself an insufficient step. But it a ceasefire is necessary to stop the genocide and destruction of Gaza. It is also necessary to address wider issues.
There can be no peace with occupation and apartheid. The hundreds of hostages in Gaza and the thousands of illegally detained Palestinian prisoners (hostages) must have a fair resolution. Justice, equal rights and self-determination for Palestinians are the only path forward. But this requires the global community to win a ceasefire to stop the genocide.
The push for a humanitarian pause is about forestalling this possibility.
Running cover for Israel’s genocide
When Defence Minister Bill Blair was asked about a ceasefire he responded, “I think they (Israel) have a right to defend themselves against that terrorist threat. And quite frankly, Hamas has to be eliminated as a threat not just to Israel but to the world. They are a terrorist organization.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also stated that “humanitarian pauses must be considered.” Another official described the US position: “While we remain opposed to a ceasefire, we think humanitarian pauses linked to the delivery of aid that still allow Israel to conduct military operations to defend itself are worth consideration.”
The US has vetoed two motions at the UN security council calling for a ceasefire. But even the US and Canada’s commitment to humanitarian pauses has proven to be nothing but PR. On Friday, the US voted against a UN resolution calling for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce.” Canada abstained from the vote. This shameful stance laid bare for all the world to see that the US, Canada and the UK are using the rhetoric of humanitarian pauses to run cover for the IDF’s butchery.
We need to build mass movements with hundreds of thousands calling for a ceasefire now to force the government to end its support for Israel’s crimes in Gaza. The genocide in Gaza is escalating and threatening to break out into a wider regional war. The people of Gaza and the rest of the world can’t afford humanitarian pauses, there needs to be an immediate ceasefire and end to the occupation.
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