Open letter from eight NGOs to Federal Councilor Ignazio Cassis on the occasion of the World Day for a Ceasefire in Gaza
Mr Cassis, please support an immediate and lasting ceasefire in Gaza
Dear Federal Councilor,
We, humanitarian, development and human rights organisations in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, make a clear and urgent appeal to the Swiss government for an immediate and lasting ceasefire. This is the only way to put an end to violations of international humanitarian law, including the protection of civilian lives and infrastructure, the treatment of the wounded and the delivery of humanitarian aid. Switzerland has a legal responsibility to oblige the parties to the conflict to protect civilian populations.
In Gaza, the basic necessities for survival are no longer available. The health system has collapsed: in overcrowded health centres and hospitals, exhausted medical staff step over patients lying on the floor and perform surgeries without anaesthesia. Health workers and the people they look after are threatened by direct attacks. Eating once a day and drinking brackish water has become a daily routine for the population. 1.9 million civilians have been displaced and forced to flee the bombardments, often several times. Many families have to sleep in the streets, on the beach, in cars or in overcrowded shelters. Soon epidemics and famine could claim more victims than the bombings. Children, pregnant and nursing women, the disabled, the elderly and the chronically ill are the most affected. We cannot stand by and watch this human catastrophe unfold: it is our responsibility to act. And yours.
We warned that the total siege imposed by the Israeli government since 9 October and the restrictions on humanitarian aid would have catastrophic consequences. But the physical and psychological impact on the entire civilian population, especially children and the most vulnerable, is worse than we could have imagined. An entirely man-made disaster is unfolding before the eyes of the world.
International Humanitarian Law is clear: even wars have rules. And these rules are being flouted with impunity in Gaza. The fact that more than 18,000 people have been killed, 70% of them women and children, shows that respect for these rules is incompatible with the continuation of military operations in Gaza. How many more civilians must die before Switzerland mobilises for a lasting ceasefire? We do not accept that these deaths and the massive destruction of residential areas, refugee camps, hospitals, schools and places of worship should be considered mere collateral damage.
2.2 million civilians need an immediate ceasefire to survive. The war has forced millions of people to move from the north to the south. They are now crowded into unsanitary areas with no guarantee of safety. We insist that no place is safe in Gaza: the so-called "safe zones" are under constant attack and provide no shelter for the displaced. The seven-day pause imposed at the end of November was a respite for the population. However, it was not enough to allow humanitarian and human rights organisations to respond to the enormous needs of the civilian population. The pause also underlined the need for a cessation of hostilities to allow the immediate and unconditional release of the hostages.
The total Israeli siege is preventing basic supplies of water, food, fuel and electricity. In this situation, we cannot deliver humanitarian aid under continuous bombardment. It is illusory to think that an adequate humanitarian response can be provided when the bombardment is continuous, when distributions cannot take place, when only a minimal amount of aid is allowed through a single crossing point.
We call for all crossings, including Kerem Shalom and Erez, to be opened for the entry of humanitarian aid and supplies.
The hostilities in Gaza have a direct impact on the security situation in the West Bank, which is deteriorating dangerously, with an unprecedented rise in Palestinian deaths and settler violence. Continued clashes in Gaza increase the risk of a conflagration throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories and also risk regional destabilisation. The establishment of an immediate and lasting ceasefire is not only essential to save civilian lives: it is the first step towards resuming a dialogue for peace. The new cycle of extreme violence triggered by the murderous attacks of Hamas and its allies leaves no doubt that the international community can no longer afford to neglect its efforts to find a just and lasting solution for Palestinians and Israelis.
As the depositary of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, Switzerland must unequivocally defend international humanitarian law. The political interests of the parties to the conflict cannot take the place of the protection of the 2.2 million civilians whose lives are directly threatened by the ongoing hostilities. Switzerland must learn the lessons of the seven-day ceasefire at the end of November: a ceasefire is by no means sufficient to provide a humanitarian response that meets the needs of the civilian population of Gaza. Ignazio Cassis, we urge you to make a firm commitment to uphold international humanitarian law by forcing the parties to the conflict to implement an immediate and permanent ceasefire.
To respect and save international humanitarian law, we need a ceasefire.
To deliver humanitarian aid, we need a ceasefire.
To save lives, we need a ceasefire.
Association pour l’Aide Médicale Centro America - Dr. Francesco Ceppi, President
Foundation Terre des hommes – Barbara Hintermann, Director
Frieda - Die feministische Friedensorganisation – Andrea Nagel, Director
Handicap International Switzerland- Daniel Suda-Lang, Director, and Christophe Wilhelm, President
Gerechtigkeit und Frieden in Palästina (Justice et Paix en Palestine) – Margrit Dutt, President
Ina autra senda Swiss Friends of Combatants for Peace
Médecins du Monde – Morgane Rousseau, Director
Medico international schweiz – Maja Hess, President