The United Nations Middle East peace process envoy implicitly blamed Palestinians for the death of an 8-month-old in Gaza during his address to the Security Council on Wednesday.
“Palestinians in Gaza, who have lived with closures and under the control of Hamas for more than a decade, are particularly vulnerable,” the envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, stated, omitting mention of Israel as the party responsible for the closures.
“The ending of civilian coordination will not allow them to receive life-saving treatment,” Mladenov added, in reference to the Palestinian Authority curtailing its dealings with Israel in protest over the latter’s plans to formalize its annexation of occupied West Bank land.
“Already, an 8-month-old infant has lost his life due to this situation,” Mladenov said.
The UN envoy was referring to the case of Omar Yaghi, a baby with a heart condition.
The child died on 18 June while his family awaited an Israeli permit to travel outside Gaza for surgery.
“Surely there must be a red line when it comes to the lives of children!” the indignant Mladenov said, adding that the UN cannot replace the PA in its role in coordinating with Israel.
By pointing blame in the Palestinians’ direction, Mladenov is letting Israel off the hook for its legal obligations.
International law holds that Israel, as the occupying power, is ultimately responsible for the Palestinians’ right to health – not the Palestinian Authority.
Mladenov’s misdirection of responsibility is hardly surprising. His role as UN envoy has been to enforce the failed paradigm of a negotiated two-state solution instead of upholding Palestinian rights.
His remarks on Israeli annexation at the UN Security Council are revealing.
Instead of condemning annexation because it would violate Palestinian rights, Mladenov pointed to it potentially altering “the nature of Israeli-Palestinian relations.” He also said it would jeopardize “more than a quarter of a century of international efforts in support of a future viable Palestinian state.”
In other words, Israeli annexation is bad because it threatens the two-state paradigm, not because it pushes Palestinians off their land and subjects them to even more extreme violations of their rights.
Meanwhile, Mladenov has failed to unequivocally demand an end to Israel’s siege on Gaza.
Instead, he has treated Palestinians’ most basic rights as bargaining chips while mediating indirect talks between Israel and Hamas authorities in Gaza.
Instead of championing Palestinian human rights and upholding international law, Mladenov has prioritized preserving the status quo and raison d’être of the Palestinian Authority as serving as an enforcement arm of the Israeli occupation:
Notwithstanding Mladenov’s framing, there is little ambiguity that when it comes to health in Gaza, the buck stops with Israel.
Last week, several human rights groups intervened with the Israeli defense ministry, calling on it to allow travel from Gaza “irrespective of coordination with the Palestinian Authority.”
Israel controls the crossings along its boundary with Gaza, and therefore the freedom of movement of Palestinians living in the territory, the groups stated.
“So international humanitarian law, human rights law and Israeli law all obligate Israel vis-à-vis this population,” they added.
The Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights stressed this week that Israel is legally responsible for the protection of Gaza Strip patients.
The group called on “the international community to pressure Israeli authorities … to ensure proper and safe mechanisms” for medical patients in Gaza.
PCHR said that at least 8,300 cancer patients are affected by the suspension of travel coordination.
Hundreds more patients “need urgent surgical intervention” that is not available in Gaza hospitals, the capacity of which has been greatly diminished by 13 years of Israeli siege and successive military offenses.
Medicines and medical supplies are chronically lacking, and hospitals lack “equipment used for radiotherapy for cancer patients which the Israeli authorities stopped supplying to the Gaza Strip.”
“Israel is responsible for the Palestinians”
Health experts have warned that Gaza’s medical system would not be able to cope with an outbreak of COVID-19 in the densely populated and impoverished territory.
“The Israeli authorities [are responsible for] this territory as well when it comes to international law, so they need to look into that very carefully,” Yves Daccord, former head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, recently told an Israeli newspaper.
“Israel is responsible for the Palestinians,” he emphasized in relation to the economic impact of pandemic restrictions.
In addition to baby Omar, Joud al-Najjar died in June after only two months of life while her family awaited permission from Israel to access epilepsy treatment.
As did another Gaza child, Anwar Harb, who had a heart condition.
They are the victims of a myopic insistence on a nonexistent peace process and the privileging of a hypothetical two-state solution over the rights of actual living – and dying – people.