Open Letter on the Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza from Oxford Researchers


“We implore you to call for an immediate cessation to Israel’s morally disastrous attack on Gaza, and for Israel to allow the free passage of humanitarian aid into Gaza, in addition to continuing to call on Hamas to release the Israeli hostages.”

A group of scholars of political science, political philosophy, ethics, history, geography, law and the Middle East at the University of Oxford have published an “Open letter on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza“, addressed to the UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and the Leader of the Opposition Keir Starmer.

It reads, in part:

The attack by Hamas on 7th October was a horrific and morally abhorrent act of mass terrorism, one that indiscriminately targeted Israeli civilians, including children. According to international law, Israel has the right to take defensive measures against Hamas. But this right does not extend to or justify Israel’s current onslaught on the civilian population of Gaza. Indeed, to think that the atrocities perpetrated by Hamas justify the humanitarian crisis currently unfolding in Gaza is to indulge a central tenet of terrorism—that all citizens must pay for the misdeeds of their governments—as well as terrorism’s central practice: collective punishment.

The letter, dated October 20th, 2023, concludes with a “call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.”

You can view the letter and its list of signatories here.

Horizons Sustainable Financial Services
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

11 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Michael Ezra
6 months ago

The philosophers who signed the letter

note that “According to international law, Israel has the right to take defensive measures against Hamas.” (I note the philosophers do not say they agree with this measure – perhaps they disagree with it). Request that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, United Kingdom,”call on Hamas to release the Israeli hostages.”Demand that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, United Kingdom “call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.”These philosophers – who have probably never been outside the ivory tower let alone in a war zone – do not state what these defensive measures Israel can take to get over 200 hostages back and to stop Hamas and Islamic Jihad firing rockets from Gaza into Israel deliberately targeting citizens.
The philosophers also do not comment upon the fact that Hamas terrorists

Do not wear uniforms to distinguish themselves from civilians.Fire rockets from civilian areasUse public buildings including hospitals and schools to store weapons.
As someone else put it far more succintly than me: if Israel laid down its weapons the country would be wiped out whereas if the Palestinans laid down their weapons there would be peace.

Last edited 6 months ago by Michael Ezra
Mark S.
Mark S.
6 months ago

The call for allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza is commendable.

But the call for an immediate cease fire seems incompatible with the claim that ‘Israel has the right to take defensive measures against Hamas’. How can Israel take such defensive measures during a cease fire?

Michel
Reply to  Mark S.
6 months ago

Why would either side need to “defend” itself from the other _during a ceasefire_?

Mark S.
Mark S.
Reply to  Michel
6 months ago

Because a cease fire can be broken at any moment and with no warning.

If by ‘cease fire’ you meant ‘Israel takes no action to weaken Hamas and just awaits the next time Hamas sends terrorists to murder and kidnap hundreds of civilians’ then there hasn’t really been any defending taking place…

Louis F. Cooper
Louis F. Cooper
Reply to  Mark S.
6 months ago

Cease fires can be designed or agreed to last for a specific length of time.

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Louis F. Cooper
6 months ago

There is a scenario in which that would make sense, but it seems very far from anything realistic here.

If Hamas said: “We’ve just checked the Geneva convention; turns out it’s a war crime for us not to separate our forces from civilians. Our bad; can we have a short pause in hostilities while we evacuate the civilian population of Gaza city?” then I think there would be a strong humanitarian case for granting it, even for someone who thought Israel’s attack on Hamas was justified. (And there are somewhat-more-plausible scenarios involving third-party-mediated humanitarian moves.)

But the open letter signatories don’t seem to have in mind a fixed-term ceasefire to achieve a delineated humanitarian goal, after which fighting can continue. They appear to be using ‘ceasefire’ synonymously with ‘cessation of Israel’s attack’; by ‘ceasefire’ they mean ‘the fighting is causing unacceptable harm and needs to stop’. That’s defensible, but of course Israel isn’t going to be moved by it, because – this is Mark S.’s original point – it prevents them taking the ‘defensive measures against Hamas’ that they feel they need to take.

Louis F. Cooper
Louis F. Cooper
Reply to  David Wallace
6 months ago

Two points.

First, the open letter is short (as such letters go) and I don’t think it’s completely clear what kind of cease fire (humanitarian pause for aid delivery etc. or indefinite cessation) the letter is calling for. Probably the latter, but it’s not as clear on this point as it could be.

Second, not directly reIated to the letter: I understand that Israeli decision makers are in a difficult position, but I don’t think it’s acceptable to tell civilians in northern Gaza to evacuate to the south of Gaza and then proceed to bomb Khan Younis in the south. Challenged about this on the NewsHour this evening, a top adviser to Netanytahu (and former Israeli ambassador to the UK) said (I’m paraphrasing): we’re doing that because there are Hamas military targets in the south, but it’s safer for civilians in the south than in the north and we want them to move to where it’s safer. Note he didn’t say safe, he said safer. There is really no area of the Gaza Strip that is safe for civilians, as even a cursory following of the reporting makes clear. And there is no way for the vast majority of them (if any) to leave, and the amount of aid getting in is very insufficient. In these circumstances I think a humanitarian pause, at the least, is definitely indicated.

Last edited 6 months ago by Louis F. Cooper
David Wallace
Reply to  Louis F. Cooper
6 months ago

I don’t necessarily disagree (though I read the Open Letter more unambiguously than you) – I wasn’t trying to state a first order position on the war. (For many reasons, not least that I don’t think a philosophy blog is a good place to do it.)

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  Michel
6 months ago

Because the way Isrends dfends itself is by destroying Hamas. Ceasefire prevents that.

Just a reaction
Just a reaction
Reply to  Mark S.
6 months ago

There are many conceivable defensive measures during a ceasefire, though not necessarily efficient. But the point is that just allowing aid without stopping bombing and other attacks as they currently are does little to help the catastrophe in Gaza. Allowing that seems to be an incredible indifference to the innocent lives in Gaza. This is shockingly cold-blooded for me.

Mark S.
Mark S.
Reply to  Just a reaction
6 months ago

I was interperting the call as David Wallace did above – namely calling for Israel to hault all military attacks in Gaza, rather than as calling for a very targted short-term cease fire. It would have been good if the letter had clarified what was intended.