News | 11 June 2024

For full respect for international law and the human rights of all in the Middle East conflict

The Middle East conflict affects the core objectives and work of Germanwatch in various ways, even if we do not work on this conflict specifically. Our deep shock at the unchecked escalation of the Middle East conflict and the humanitarian catastrophe that ensued have prompted us to comment on this conflict again after our comments of October and November 2023. With this text, we want to answer how we feel about the conflict and what we expect and demand from those responsible in Germany in terms of foreign and domestic policy.

Our baseline

As a human rights, development, and environmental organisation, we condemn all violation of human rights and international law, regardless of who commits it, when, and where. Human rights are universal.

We empathise with all victims of conflict and terror, and urge respect for human rights and international law, as well as exploring routes – based on human rights and international law – that lead to peace. We endeavour to empower those citizens on either side of a conflict who are committed to a peaceful and fair resolution of the conflict.

Applying this baseline to the conflict in the Middle East

The events and developments in this war are highly dynamic and we cannot comment on them daily. However, we are horrified to see that the massacre of well over 1,000 people and abduction of hundreds of hostages by Hamas and other armed groups on 7 October 2023 has accelerated a spiral of violence in the course of which over 30,000 people have now been killed by the Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip, including many children. Another more than 80,000 people have been seriously injured (for casualty figures, see appendix).

In view of this situation, we express our solidarity with all people – especially civilians – who are affected by terror and war. We call for respect for international law, in particular international humanitarian law, and the protection and observance of human rights, as well as the granting of access and support for humanitarian organisations. 

During and after the conflict, it is crucial that the human rights violations and war crimes committed by both sides be assessed impartially. International law provides institutions and mechanisms for this, such as the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. We are committed to upholding the independence of these judicial bodies and to respecting and complying with their decisions.

Specific criticism on this foundation

As a human rights organisation that also works on the right of everyone to sufficient food, we are particularly concerned about famine as one central human rights violation. The situation in Gaza must also be deemed a humanitarian disaster in the context of other human rights, such as the right to water, housing, and health (see appendix).

After the Hamas massacre on 7 October, Israel had the right to defend itself. Nevertheless, this right is restricted by international humanitarian law and human rights obligations. Like any party to a conflict, Israel is obliged to review any response for proportionality, to protect the civilian population and to always ensure basic humanitarian provision. We employ this yardstick when condemning the ways in which the Israeli government has conducted the war, just as we condemn Hamas’s serious violations of human rights and international law.

We are particularly concerned about the following aspects, based primarily on various United Nations research, documented in the appendix:

On the side of Hamas:

  • UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk describes Hamas’s terrorist attacks on Israel as the indiscriminate firing of missiles at Israel and military action from civilian facilities as human rights violations (source).
  • Hamas’s brutal terror on 7 October was a deliberately staged massacre. Around 100 hostages are still being held by Hamas, a serious violation of international humanitarian law. According to the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, massive sexual violence, including rape and gang rape, happened in the context of the terrorist attack and hostage-taking. She says that it may be continuing against those still being held (source).
  • Hamas is partially responsible for making it more difficult to provide urgently needed supplies to the people in the Gaza Strip. For example, multiple Hamas rocket attacks on the Kerem Shalom border crossing have led to it being closed by Israel and aid supplies no longer being able to pass through (source).

On the side of the Israeli government:

  • In January 2024, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk already saw signs of war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity in Israel's actions in Gaza (source) and in February described the ongoing attacks in Gaza as a 'carnage' (source). In particular, he points out that the collective punishment of an entire population and the targeted killing of civilians are war crimes (source).
  • The UN High Commissioner also emphasised that forcibly resettling hundreds of thousands of people in areas that have already been razed to the ground and lack the most basic necessities must be deemed inhumane. The evacuation and a major offensive on Rafah would make it impossible to supply the population with relief supplies and medicine. This would be a violation of international humanitarian law (see link and link). The supply of clean water is particularly affected by this (see appendix). 
  • For months, the Israeli army has been committing serious human rights violations and breaches of international humanitarian law. This is mainly related to repeated attacks on civilian and medical facilities, imprecise bombardment, the inadequate protection of Gaza residents, aid workers, and journalists, and the destruction of civilian infrastructure (see appendix). There are also reports by UN experts on sexualised attacks, violence against women and girls, and at least two instances of rape, as well as extrajudicial executions.
  • Over two million people in the Gaza Strip are suffering from acute food insecurity (source), and the severe famine (source) threatens to escalate further in the coming months (see also appendix). Since October, Israel has been blocking large parts of basic supplies and urgently needed aid deliveries. This blockade has intensified further following Israel’s seizure of the Rafah border crossing (source). It is also concerning that right-wing extremist sections of Israeli society are taking part in such blockades (source, see also appendix).
  • Violent attacks by militant settlers in the West Bank have increased dramatically in recent months. In the wake of the current conflict, radical Israelis are trying to accelerate the illegal land grab there and are also using violence, with hundreds of West Bank residents being killed in the process. Benjamin Netanyahu’s radical right-wing government allows these actions to remain unchecked, and in some cases they are even being supported by Israeli security forces (source).

Human dignity and human rights as underpinning and limitation of solidarity

In view of the systematic extermination of Jewish people in the Holocaust and the anti-Semitism that still exists worldwide, including in Germany and Europe, recognising and supporting Israel’s right to exist is crucial. In our 28 November 2023 statement, we pointed out that the 'protection of human dignity is the basis for Germany’s steadfast solidarity with the state of Israel, and it is therefore also the yardstick for any criticism of the specific actions of the Israeli government'. 

Those who speak of a 'German Staatsräson', that is matter of State, should also make it clear: solidarity with the people of Israel must not be confused with solidarity with the government in Israel, especially when it violates human rights and international law.

The protection of human dignity, human rights and international law also underpin and limit our solidarity with the Palestinians. They too have a right to a peaceful and self-determined life based on human rights in a democratic state with secure borders.

For an end to the spiral of violence and counter-violence

Hamas’s brutal terror has not promoted peace and security for the Palestinians, but has made it even more difficult.

It is also highly questionable whether the brutality of the Israeli military offensive actually serves the security of the people of Israel, as the Netanyahu government claims as justification. Can a strategy promote security and peace if it is based on inappropriately severe actions that claim tens of thousands of lives, destroy the basis of future life and traumatise countless people?

It is high time to devise a way out of this spiral of violence through a ceasefire and to resume talks to find a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. A peaceful solution must promote the protection, security, and well-being of all people in the region. International law and human rights norms should form the basis for this. All people in the region have the right to live in peace and within secure borders.

On 25 March, the UN Security Council called for the immediate release of all hostages and an immediate ceasefire as a first step (source).

Effects of the conflict on German society

We are shocked to see the rise in anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim, anti-Israeli, anti-Palestinian, and racist incidents in Germany because of the conflict.

We would like to say to people of Palestinian origin in Germany, whom we are pleased to have  as fellow citizens, that we have seen in great pain the suffering of their people over the past decades, how horrified we are by the constant stream of new images and reports of civilian casualties; and that it is high time that an agreement is finally sought again openly between Israel and representatives of the Palestinians in order to pave the way for a just solution that also secures the existence of the Palestinian people within secure borders.

We would like to tell the Jews and Israelis in Germany how shocked we are about the massacre on 7 October and how deeply we sympathise with the unbelievable suffering of the people affected and their families. We support Israel’s right to exist within the borders accepted under international law unconditionally. We are pleased that Jewish life in Germany has become possible again – there must be no doubt about this. It must be possible as a matter of course and without fear, and it must also be protected if necessary.

For us, it goes without saying that the constitutional fundamental rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression apply in Germany. Solidarity with the suffering of the Palestinians and criticism of the way Israel is fighting the war – as well as solidarity with the victims and hostages of Hamas and criticism of their terror – must be possible without fear of repression. We have particular respect for those who use the freedom of expression and assembly to dare to change their perspective and recognise the suffering of the other side instead of just following anger, however understandable this may be. Freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, too, are grounded in human dignity and human rights, but they are also subject to limitations that must always be checked for proportionality. Slogans and symbols that glorify violence or are inhumane are not acceptable. In case of doubt, independent courts must determine the exact limits of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly on the basis of the German Constitution. 

We would like to express our sympathy and solidarity with all people in Germany who are experiencing attacks, discrimination or hateful messages in the context of this conflict because of their origin, appearance or religion, and we will continue to campaign for their protection and for a society in which such protection is no longer necessary.

Demands on the German government and the EU

Humanitarian aid

The conflict between Hamas and Israel has led to a humanitarian catastrophe. 2.2 million people in the Gaza Strip are currently in greatest trouble and danger. More than half of the population is acutely threatened by hunger and 1.9 million children, women, and men have been driven from their homes – all of them urgently need support, especially in view of increasingly widespread hunger. The drinking water and healthcare infrastructure has been largely destroyed. We urge the German government and the EU to do everything in their power to contain and manage the humanitarian situation and to continue working to ensure that aid actually reaches those affected as quickly as possible.

Commitment to international law and human rights

We call on the German government to place the protection of the human dignity and rights of all those affected and compliance with international humanitarian law at the centre of its efforts and to work towards ending the man-made, forced famine, towards an immediate ceasefire, towards the release of all hostages and towards a lasting, just peace. 

Weapons exports

Israel has been under military threat since its foundation. Without international – and military – aid, Israel would probably no longer exist today. In view of the acute threat to Israel, particularly from Iran, support for Israel’s defence remains essential to secure its existence. At the same time, there is a clear obligation under international law not to supply military equipment to a government if it is used to commit serious violations of human rights and international law. 

We recognise that in Germany there are regulations for weapons of war that subject these arms exports to strict restrictions. We also recognise that, after a massive increase in arms exports, these have recently fallen sharply again and that weapons of war account for only a small proportion of overall military exports (see appendix). We expect the German Federal government to address the conflict that has arisen with its own obligations under international law – and to use the associated option of completely stopping the supply of weapons of war together with other exporting nations to exert diplomatic pressure for a ceasefire.

Sanctioning support for terrorism

Several states in the region are major financiers of the Islamist terror of Hamas and Hezbollah. Only this support for terrorism enables the bombs flying from the Gaza Strip and Lebanon at Israel’s civilian population, covering ever longer distances. We demand that the German government contribute to increasing international pressure to end this support for terror.


Victims of the war

  • As of 1 June 2014, the UN states that over 36,000 people have been killed and over 81,000 injured in Gaza (source). 
  • The UN largely uses data from the Hamas-controlled Palestinian Health Authority, which cannot be independently verified. There are serious concerns about the quality of the data, yet the order of magnitude of the number of victims and a relatively high proportion of women and children is plausible, see source

Possible violations of human rights/international law by Israel

  • Attacks on civilian facilities, including hospitals, which enjoy special protection under international humanitarian law. 20 out of 22 hospitals in Northern Gaza had already been damaged or destroyed within the first two months of the war, as CNN satellite image and video analysis shows. 14 hospitals were hit directly, the others indirectly (source). In April 2024, UN representatives expressed alarm at the discovery of hundreds of bodies in the vicinity of destroyed hospitals in Gaza and called for a international investigation (source). Israel denies responsibility for the mass graves. 
  • Imprecise bombing and reports of families killed or injured in the resulting collapse of apartment blocks. In the first month of the conflict, Israel used hundreds of so-called 2000-pound bombs with an enormous potential for injury in the surrounding area. The fact that almost half of Israel’s bombs were dropped on Gaza without guiding equipment is probably another reason for the massive impact on civilians (source).
  • Inadequate protection of Gaza residents and aid workers – for example, attacks on aid workers, sometimes despite previously agreed safe routes, such as on the three World Central Kitchen vans, as well as a total of over 180 UN staff killed (source and source).
  • Since the beginning of the war in Gaza, more than 100 journalists have been killed in Gaza, according to the International Federation of Journalists (source). The Gaza state media office even estimates the number of those killed to be more than 140 (source); Reporters Without Borders put the estimate at at least 112 on 8 April 2024 (source).
  • Much other information from whistleblowers and media articles that we cannot verify reinforces our concern (for example about the Sde Teiman detention centre, where, according to these reports, Palestinians are being illegally detained and tortured) (source).
  • In late February 2024, a panel of UN experts reported that there were also 'credible allegations' that Palestinian women and girls in Gaza, as well as in the occupied West Bank, had been subjected to sexual assault, including rape. In addition to other sexual humiliations and attempted rape, there is evidence of two instances of rape. The experts also pointed to existing information that Palestinian women and children were arbitrarily shot, often together with family members. They were shocked by reports that these people had been deliberately targeted in places where they sought refuge. The experts are also urging an independent, impartial, swift and thorough investigation in this case and Israel’s co-operation in this (source).
  • The UN Human Rights Office has received reports that several Palestinians were unlawfully killed and that the ISF has used unarmed Palestinians as shields for their troops and killed others in apparent extrajudicial executions. Dozens were reportedly detained and ill-treated (source). Palestinian women and girls in the Gaza Strip were reportedly arbitrarily executed, often alongside family members, including their children (source).

Supply of clean water

  • The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to water and sanitation, Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, has warned since November 2023 that the use of water as a weapon in Gaza violates a number of humanitarian and human rights principles (source).
  • Back in October, Dr Rick Brennan from the WHO pointed out the catastrophic consequences of the lack of access to clean water. In the Gaza Strip, between one and three litres per person are available every day, while the absolute minimum is 15 litres, he said. People are forced to consume contaminated water and the spread of infectious diseases is 'just a matter of time' (source).

Humanitarian situation in Gaza

  • In two urgent rulings on 26 January (source and source) and 28 March, Israel has already been ordered by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to fulfil its obligations under the Genocide Convention. In particular, this involved taking immediate measures to prevent genocide and to allow more humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip, including through the (longer) opening of border crossings (source). 
  • On 24 May, the ICJ called on Israel to immediately halt the military operation in Rafah and southern Gaza and to open the border for urgently needed humanitarian aid (source).
  • Since March 2024, several UN organisations, the UN Security Council, international organisations and even the UN Secretary-General have been warning of a catastrophic food situation that is spreading in Gaza and could soon develop into an acute famine (level 5 and thus the most serious phase as per the internationally used IPC classification).
  • On 18 March 2024, following an initial warning in December 2023, several UN organisations and international NGOs issued an even more urgent warning that famine was now imminent in northern Gaza. This famine would manifest itself – without possible countermeasures – by May 2024: 'All evidence points towards a major acceleration of death and malnutrition.' The authors used a globally recognised method for assessing crisis situations, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (source). According to this method, an acute famine is recognised when the following criteria are met: At least one in five households is experiencing an 'extreme shortage' of food; one in three children is acutely malnourished and two in 10,000 people die every day as a result (source).
  • Seven days later, on 25 March 2024, the UN Security Council expressed its 'deep concern about the catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip' (source). It emphasised the urgent need to expand the flow of humanitarian aid and protect civilians throughout the Gaza Strip. UN Secretary-General Guterres then urged the international community at the end of April to 'do everything possible to avert an entirely preventable human-made famine' (source).
  • On 5 May 2024, Israeli authorities closed the Kerem Shalom border crossing following a Hamas rocket attack. On 7 May 2024, they also seized the Rafah crossing as part of their incursion into the region. This blocked aid at the two previously most-used crossings. While Israeli authorities had allowed more aid trucks to enter in the weeks prior and had opened both an additional crossing and port for aid deliveries, the increase in deliveries was modest and, according to UN and humanitarian NGO spending, far from sufficient to meet the huge needs (source).
  • After almost seven months of Israeli bombardment, 'people cannot meet even the most basic, food needs. They have exhausted all coping strategies, like eating animal fodder, begging, selling off their belongings to buy food. They are most of the time destitute and clearly some of them are dying of hunger,' WFP Director Gian Carlo Cirri said (source).
  • From an average 500 trucks per day before the escalation, 150 of which were carrying food, only 90 trucks per day entered the Gaza Strip between 7 October 2023 and 24 February 2024, of which only 60 were carrying food. Households are skipping meals every day and adults are reducing their meals so that children can eat. (Source)
  • UN Secretary-General Guterres said in March that Gaza has the highest number of people ever affected by catastrophic hunger ever recorded by the IPC. (Source)
  • According to estimates by the World Bank, the United Nations and the EU, the damage in the Gaza Strip so far amounts to US$18.5bn or 97% of the total GDP of Gaza and the West Bank. 72% of the damage of military destruction in Gaza is accounted for by damage to housing, according to a UN estimate, with a further 19% accounted for by damage done to civilian infrastructure, including water and sanitation, power and roads. … Between 60–70% of all homes in Gaza, and up to 84% of homes in northern Gaza are either fully destroyed or partly damaged. (Source)

Scope of German arms deliveries

  • The International Court of Justice has rejected Nicaragua's urgent application to stop Germany's arms deliveries to Israel. The Court also pointed out that the value of arms exports from Germany to Israel had fallen significantly after October 2023 – from around €200m to €1m in March 2024 and that only two per cent of the authorised exports were weapons of war, while 98% of exports related to other military equipment, such as helmets and protective clothing (source). Nevertheless, arms exports to Israel had increased almost tenfold in 2023 compared to 2022 by the beginning of November, six per cent of which were weapons of war (source and source).

Zuletzt geändert