UN General Assembly votes overwhelmingly for Gaza ceasefire

A Palestinian man carries a family member killed in an Israeli strike at al-Najjar hospital in Rafah, southern Gaza, on 12 December.

Abed Rahim Khatib DPA

The UN General Assembly overwhelmingly voted in favor of a resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza for a second time on Tuesday.

More than 150 countries voted in favor, gaining 33 supporters since the last vote on 27 October. Ten countries voted against the ceasefire call, including the US, Israel and Austria, and 23 abstained.

The General Assembly resolution is nonbinding but reflects a more global view than the Security Council, where the US vetoed a ceasefire call on Friday.

The resolution passed on Tuesday notes “the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip and the suffering of the Palestinian civilian population.”

In addition to demanding an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire,” the resolution calls on all parties to comply with their obligations under international law and for the “immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, as well as ensuring humanitarian access.”

Riyad al-Maliki, the Palestinian Authority foreign minister, said during a separate UN event on Tuesday that Israel was deliberately starving Palestinians in Gaza “as a weapon of war.”

Widespread hunger in Gaza

Inadequate food consumption is virtually universal in Gaza right now.

Around half of all households surveyed by the World Food Program in the northern half of Gaza during a temporary truce in late November reported severe levels of hunger. Around 40 percent of households reported the same in southern Gaza.

A majority of households throughout Gaza – 90 percent in the north and 66 percent in the south – reported spending at least one full day and night without food. Eighteen percent of households in the north reported experiencing this more than 10 days in the past month and 13 percent of households reported the same in the south.

A convoy of trucks carrying aid to Gaza arrived at the Kerem Shalom commercial crossing on Tuesday. After international pressure, the crossing is now being used to inspect relief for the first time since it was shut by Israel on 7 October.

Israel imposed a complete siege on Gaza on 9 October, cutting off the supply of electricity, food, fuel, medical supplies, water and other life necessities.

A trickle of aid deliveries resumed on 20 October but the quantity falls far short of meeting the massive need in Gaza, where most people have been displaced from their homes and most of the housing stock has been damaged or destroyed.

Israel has required that all aid be delivered to Gaza via Rafah crossing, which is a pedestrian crossing not equipped to facilitate the delivery of goods like Kerem Shalom.

Until Tuesday, aid brought in via Rafah has been inspected at the Nitzana crossing – “a process that has caused bottlenecks and delays,” according to Reuters. The addition of Kerem Shalom – also known as Karem Abu Salem – will in theory expedite the inspection process but Israel will still exercise full control over what gets into Gaza and when.

Israel is still requiring that aid be brought to Gaza via Rafah and will not allow transfers via Kerem Shalom.

Aid agencies previously brought assistance to Gaza via Israel and Kerem Shalom crossing. Having to go through Egypt and shipping through the Sinai Peninsula has proven costly to aid organizations in terms of both time and money.

Civilians detained and disappeared

As Israel continues to massacre Palestinians throughout the Gaza Strip, where more than 18,200 people have been killed since 7 October, troops are being accused of arbitrarily detaining and torturing civilians in the territory.

Israel’s propaganda organs have attempted to pass off videos and photos of civilian detainees as surrendered Hamas fighters.

Three prominent Palestinian organizations – Al-Haq, Al Mezan and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights – have published harrowing testimony from people who were rounded up by Israeli troops in Gaza.

The rights groups called for “an end to the enforced disappearance of hundreds of Palestinian detainees, including dozens of women,” and the immediate revelation of their names and whereabouts.

They also demanded an end to “the ongoing torture and abuse” of people arbitrarily detained in Gaza.

A woman staying at an UNRWA school in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza, testified that Israeli troops had ordered women and children to gather in the schoolyard as they took away all men and boys as young as 14 to an unknown location.

Another eyewitness said that Israeli forces ordered everyone in a residential area of Beit Lahiya to leave their homes “and threatened to burn homes with their inhabitants if they disobeyed.”

The eyewitness added that the military ordered women, children and people over the age of 60 to go to Kamal Adwan Hospital and everyone else to strip to their underwear.

The latter group of people remained seated on the ground with their hands tied for hours before they were loaded into trucks and taken to the coast. There, they were divided into three groups.

The witness testified that one of the groups “was subjected to violent, coercive interrogation, another wasn’t interrogated, and the rest were taken by a truck to an undisclosed location.”

“I was in the group they decided to release,” the witness said.

Women tortured and abused

A photograph shows that at least one woman was taken in a truck with dozens of stripped men in what the Palestinian rights groups said was “a blatant violation of the woman’s dignity.”

Israel is holding some 142 Palestinian women and girls, “including infants and elderly women” who were arrested in Gaza during the ground invasion, according to the Palestinian Commission of Detainees Affairs and the Palestinian Prisoners Club.

“Our teams received information and testimonies about detainees from Gaza, including women, who were subjected to torture and abuse for no reason other than being from Gaza,” the rights groups added.

A recently released detainee from the West Bank told the human rights groups that four women were brought into the detention facility where she had been held with their “hands and legs bound, blindfolded and their headscarves removed.”

The women were wearing prison uniforms marked with a Hebrew letter indicating they were from Gaza and were mocked and insulted by prison guards.

The released detainee testified that one of the women from Gaza said she was from Jabaliya and was arrested while she was moving from the north of the territory to the south.

The released detainee said “I also met another woman who recounted leaving her four children because of her arrest with an unfamiliar person among the displaced. Another woman had her baby with her.”

The Gaza women “recounted the brutal experiences of other female detainees, describing how soldiers forced them to sleep on the ground, deprived them of food and subjected them to humiliating naked searches by female soldiers,” the released detainee from the West Bank testified.

The hundreds of Palestinians detained in Gaza since 7 October are being transferred under the orders of Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s extreme-right national security minister, to a notorious section of the Nitzan prison in Ramla, “known as the worst and oldest prison,” the Palestinian rights groups said.

“Until now, no lawyer has been able to ascertain the identities of the detainees or inquire about the conditions of their detention,” the groups added. “Concerns and evidence strongly suggest that they may be subjected to systematic torture.”

The detention of residents of occupied territory such as Gaza in prisons outside of that territory, like the one in Ramla, which is located in Israel, is a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. This is also “recognized as a war crime under Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,” according to Addameer, the Palestinian human rights and prisoner advocacy group.

Five days of torture

A 14-year-old boy interviewed by Al Jazeera said that he and his father, who were among hundreds of Palestinians rounded up near Gaza City, “endured five days of torture and degradation before they were released – without any explanation.”

The father and son were among a group of men, women and children who were blindfolded and put on a truck before the men and teenage boys were separated from the women and taken to a warehouse where they were “beaten, interrogated and verbally abused,” according to Al Jazeera.

The teen, named Mahmoud, told Al Jazeera that “one of the soldiers said I looked like his nephew and that this nephew was killed in front of his grandmother who was taken hostage by Hamas and that the soldiers will slaughter us all.”

Another 14-year-old boy, named Mohammed, was taken by Israeli troops in the same area as Mahmoud. Both of the boys’ families had been trapped in their homes without food for days as Israeli forces advanced on the area.

“They hit me in the back where my kidneys are and my legs. They took my family, and I don’t know where they are,” the boy told Al Jazeera, adding that female soldiers spat on the men while they were held in the warehouse.

Troops would beat one of the detainees while the others were forced to listen. “Some people didn’t return from the torture sessions,” Mahmoud’s father, Nader, told Al Jazeera. “We would hear their screams and then nothing.”

Nader and Mahmoud were among a dozen men who were taken to Nitzarim, the location of a former settlement south of Gaza City, on the fifth day. They “were released there and told to head south,” according to Al Jazeera.

After walking for two hours, they met a group of Palestinians who gave them clothes and water and they were evacuated by ambulance to Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital.

Omar Shakir, a program director for Human Rights Watch, said that the Israeli military’s “publication of shocking photos of detained Palestinian men in Gaza stripped and blindfolded constitutes ‘outrages upon personal dignity’ – a form of inhumane treatment that amounts to a war crime.”

“Perpetrators should be held to account,” Shakir added.

Patient dies after Israel delays aid convoy

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday that two Palestine Red Crescent Society workers were detained when a UN convoy was stopped at the Wadi Gaza checkpoint where troops are controlling movement between the northern and southern Gaza Strip.

The World Health Organization said that one of the Red Crescent workers was “made to kneel at gunpoint and then taken out of sight, where he was reportedly harassed, beaten, stripped and searched.”

A truck carrying medical supplies and an ambulance were hit by bullets when the convoy entered Gaza City.

When the convoy was heading back south and carrying patients evacuated from al-Ahli hospital, one of the two Red Crescent workers who had been detained earlier was detained and interrogated again.

WHO said that mission attempted to secure the Red Crescent worker’s release but after 2.5 hours, made “the difficult decision to leave the highly dangerous area and proceed, for the safety and well-being of the patients and humanitarian workers.”

One of the patients died of his untreated wounds during the transfer process and the detained Red Crescent worker was released later that night “after joint UN efforts.”

“He said he was harassed, beaten, threatened, stripped of his clothes and blindfolded,” WHO stated. “Once released, he was left to walk towards the south with his hands still tied behind his back, and without clothes or shoes.”

The UN health organization noted that six health ministry and Red Crescent personnel were detained during a mission to transfer medical patients on 18 November.

Four of them remain in detention with “no information on their well-being or whereabouts,” WHO said on Tuesday.

The agency said that it is increasingly difficult for humanitarian actors to operate in Gaza and that “the humanitarian support system is on the verge of falling apart.”

“The only viable solution is a sustained ceasefire,” WHO said, so that the agency and its partners can “prevent disease, hunger, and further suffering in the Gaza Strip.”

The Palestinian health ministry said on Tuesday that Israeli troops were storming the Kamal Adwan Hospital in northern Gaza and had detained its director, Ahmed al-Kahlout, and all the medical staff.

The ministry spokesperson told media that Israeli troops were rounding up men and boys in the Beit Lahiya hospital’s courtyard. Thousands of displaced people were sheltering at the facility when it was stormed.

The hospital and its surroundings had been under Israeli attack for several days before it was raided on Tuesday. Two mothers were killed when the maternity department was hit on Monday, according to the UN.

Twelve children were being cared for in the intensive care unit and six newborn babies were in incubators at the hospital, the UN said.

The Israeli military left several Palestinian babies to die when it raided al-Nasr Pediatric Hospital in November. More than two weeks later, the babies were found dead and decomposing in their hospital beds, still connected to ventilation and intravenous tubes.


Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.