Jan Egeland, a Norwegian diplomat and Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), asserted that Israel lost the moral high ground by engaging in indiscriminate and counterproductive military campaigns.
In a recent interview with British news outlet Channel 4 News, Mr Egeland acknowledged initial sympathy and empathy for Israel after the 7 October attacks but criticized Israel’s subsequent actions in Gaza.
“The initial reaction on the 7th of October and on the 8th of October when it dawned upon us how horrific it was, how widespread it was.”
“The great solidarity with Israel that was expressed in so many parts of the world was equal to the one with the United States on the 11th of September,” Mr Egeland added.
However, Mr Egeland lamented Israel’s deviation from a just cause against terrorism, likening it to the moral pitfalls observed in the United States’ war on terror.
“You went from having a just course in fighting terror and fighting massacres inflicted upon your civilians, to engaging in some mud wrestling where you lose completely the moral high ground.”
Predicting the consequences of the military campaign on Gaza, he emphasized the indiscriminate, gruesome, and counterproductive nature of the operations, especially in densely populated areas with limited escape routes.
“I haven’t seen in my many years as a humanitarian worker anywhere where so many people have been so trapped with no escape in such a densely populated area, with such an indiscriminate bombardment for so many days.”
Mr Egeland has 30 years of experience in international work with human rights, humanitarian crises and conflict resolution, and was among the initiators of the peace negotiations that led to the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLA) in 1993.
Mr Egeland expressed concern about the lack of a unified international response.
He mentioned a near-unanimous call for an immediate ceasefire but criticized the U.S.’s support for Israel’s actions, making Western positions on other conflicts, like Ukraine, appear hypocritical.
“If occupation is wrong in eastern Ukraine, it must be wrong in the West Bank; if Siege and cutting off electricity, water supplies is wrong in Ukraine, it must be wrong in Gaza; if not, our part of the world look like industrial hypocrisy producers,” Mr Egeland stressed.
The urgency of an immediate ceasefire
Mr Egeland conveyed his deep concern and sorrow for the loss of innocent lives, specifically mentioning the 36 children killed by militants from Gaza on 7 October.
“My heart equally bleeds for the over 11,000 children that have been killed in Gaza. It’s disproportionate beyond belief this response, and there are rules in combating Terror as there are rules in any armed action in the world.”
Mr Egeland criticized the international response, stating that the support for military action in Gaza has led to a loss of moral high ground for countries that usually support international law and its promotion.
He expressed concern about the besiegement and collective punishment imposed on Gaza over the last 20 years.
He argued that the international community, especially the United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom, should play a crucial role in pressuring Israel to address issues such as settlements and atrocities.
Diplomatic challenges before the Oslo Accords
In the interview, Mr Egeland recalled the conditions that led to the Oslo Accords in the early 1990s, emphasizing the desperate situation with full Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza since 1967.
At that time, the PLO was considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States, the United Kingdom, and many Western countries.
Despite these challenges, Norway saw the potential for confidence-building measures and initiated discreet contacts between the PLO and Israel. This eventually led to the Oslo agreement, with the PLO recognizing Israel’s right to exist, and Israel accepting a Palestinian Administration.
Regarding resolving the conflict in Gaza, Jan Egeland proposed the need for strong international efforts, particularly from the United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom.
He emphasized the importance of pushing for an immediate ceasefire, rejecting the Israeli argument for a comprehensive military approach, and addressing issues such as settlements and atrocities.
“The urgency to have agreements is even greater now, with 25,000 dead Palestinians and 1,000 dead Israelis in a single day in a small country. This cannot continue as it is now,” emphasized Mr. Egeland.
Cautions against illusions of lasting peace through military means
He believed that in Israel, the understanding would eventually dawn that making Gaza unlivable is not a path towards moderation.
“It’s counterproductive to continue to believe that the military way is the one that will bring lasting peace, ” he cautioned.
Channel 4 News journalist Krishnan Guru-Murthy pointed out the challenging situation, with Israel having a right-wing government led by Netanyahu, who shows no desire for peace, and a relatively weak but long-standing Palestinian Authority not in control of Gaza.
Mr Krishnan raised doubts about who could represent Palestine in potential peace talks.
In response, Mr Egeland quoted the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat, saying, “if there is a will, there is a way,” expressing belief in the existence of many credible Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and Gaza, who are not currently politicians, military leaders, or movement leaders but have credibility.
He called for international actors to encourage Palestinians to unite around a position recognizing Israel’s right to exist and bring them to the negotiation table as a coherent and rational actor.
Gaza death toll surpasses 25,000 in ongoing Israeli assault
The death toll in Gaza due to Israel’s assault has now exceeded 25,000 and more than 63,740 injured in the enclave since the war began.
The UN has reported “famine-like” conditions in Gaza, where one in four of the 2.3 million population faces extreme hunger.
However, the delivery of aid has been severely hampered by ongoing fighting and stringent Israeli restrictions on shipments.
The UN also highlighted that women and children are the most significant victims of this conflict.
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