Speech at the public discussion “The Humanitarian Catastrophe in Gaza”, held on 6 June 2024 at the Rector’s Office of the Sofia University Kliment Ohridski.

My understanding of why we are here today is to state what we are against and what we are for, what we reject and what we support. What we call the ‘humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza’ is something that every person of conscience cannot help but reject clearly and categorically.

What do we mean by the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza? In the Report of 25 March 2024 by the Special Rapporteur of the UN Human Rights Council on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, we read:

‘After five months of military operations, Israel has destroyed Gaza. Over 30,000 Palestinians have been killed, including more than 13,000 children. Over 12,000 are presumed dead and 71,000 injured, many with life-changing mutilations. Seventy percent of residential areas have been destroyed. Eighty percent of the whole population has been forcibly displaced. Thousands of families have lost loved ones or have been wiped out. Many could not bury and mourn their relatives, forced instead to leave their bodies decomposing in homes, in the street or under the rubble. Thousands have been detained and systematically subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment. The incalculable collective trauma will be experienced for generations to come….. One of the key findings is that Israel’s executive and military leadership and soldiers have intentionally distorted ius in bello principles, subverting their protective functions, in an attempt to legitimize genocidal violence against the Palestinian people.”

World-renowned human rights activist Arieh Neier specifically highlights Israel’s persistent policy of obstructing the provision of humanitarian aid to Gazans and quotes the now infamous words of War Minister Yoav Galant:

I ordered a full siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed. We are fighting human animals and we are acting accordingly.

And Nyer concludes:

It is evident that Israel has done itself as well as its Palestinian victims long-term harm.

Participants in the discussion at the University of Sofia (photo: Michaela Vatcheva)

It can be concluded that this is a process combining various acts of persecution and destruction: from physical destruction to the forced dismantling of a people’s political and social institutions, its culture, language, national spirit and religion.

For the third day, the Israeli cabinet has been torn apart by clashes over the supposedly Israeli plan to end the war in Gaza, announced by US President Joe Biden. Finance Minister Betzalel Smotrich is threatening to topple Netanyahu “with all force and aggression” if he accepts the (Israel’s own?) plan because it is dangerous and non-binding on the government. It is obvious who is blocking the ceasefire.

What to do, what do we support? Here are the suggestions of a longtime Israeli diplomat, Alon Liel, who served as spokesman and later director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and member of the Israeli delegation to the UN:

“The announcement by Norway, Spain, Ireland and, most recently, Slovenia to recognise Palestine as a state has created new momentum. A potential recognition of the State of Palestine by Germany in the near future – ideally in coalition with France – could further ignite this momentum, possibly leading to broader European and UN recognition as well as the long-awaited two-state solution..”

Hopefully, the international conversation about the “day after” will force a strategic outcome to this war that will lead to an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement based on the two-state paradigm.

When the fighting is over, immediate and large-scale humanitarian assistance will be needed, as will long-term planning. Beyond the loss of life and material damage, the hostilities currently intensifying the enmity and hatred between the two peoples with each passing day makes an end to the fighting all the more urgent.

In addition to the end of hostilities and the reconstruction of Gaza, there is the imperative need to create the conditions for a sustainable peace based on principles conducive to a political solution.

The goal of a peace agreement must be strategic coexistence between the parties, based on the two-state solution and consistent with all relevant UN resolutions.

Relations between Israel and Palestine must be built within the framework of international law and with respect for human rights. These principles are non-negotiable and should be the defining framework of the political endeavour to transform the historic enmity between Israelis and Palestinians into a viable coexistence.

Let that be our message from this discussion today.

Photo: Georgi Pirinski (source: YouTube)

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