UK lawyers raise ‘significant concern’ over Israel’s conduct in Gaza

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A former president of the UK’s Supreme Court and seven other eminent lawyers have urged Israel to remember its obligations under international law, saying they had “significant concern” about aspects of its actions in Gaza.

The leading legal figures, including Lord David Neuberger, president of the UK’s highest court in 2012-17, and Philippe Sands KC, said they were speaking both as Jews and as lawyers.

In a letter to the Financial Times, they wrote that, though the “vile crimes perpetrated by Hamas in Israel have shaken us to our core”, the laws of war “apply irrespective of the level of outrageous conduct of an enemy”.

They noted that Gaza was home to 2mn people, almost half of whom are children: “It would be a grave violation of international law to hold them under siege and whilst doing so deprive them of basic necessities such as food and water.”

The lawyers added that “collective punishment is prohibited by the laws of war”.

They further warned that it was unlawful to intentionally cause “indiscriminate damage” and said “politicians and commanders” should not use language that implies the laws of war can be disregarded or “whose effect is to dehumanise a civilian population”.

“In these times of pain and terror, the notion that there are laws that we must all live by is challenging but essential. Jewish history teaches us that we cannot give up on them,” they wrote.

Their intervention came amid diplomatic efforts involving US president Joe Biden to prevent wider conflict in the Middle East. King Abdullah of Jordan said on Tuesday that the region was at the edge of an “abyss”.

The UN has warned that a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding in the enclave. International efforts to open the Rafah crossing between southern Gaza and Egypt to humanitarian aid have not been successful and Israel has cut supplies to the territory, including fuel for electricity.

The lawyers strongly condemned the “despicable actions” of Hamas, which killed more than 1,400 Israelis on October 7, describing them as an “egregious violation of all norms of international law” and “crimes against humanity” that amounted to the “most grave” breaches of the Geneva Conventions.

They said there was “no room for legal, let alone moral, equivocation when it comes to (for example) the slaughter of hundreds of young people enjoying a party”, adding that Israel has a “clear right” in international law to respond in self-defence.

But international law also provided a “framework” for governing how Israel must respond, said the lawyers. They said it was not “insensitive or inappropriate” to remind Israel of its obligations even though “emotions are so understandably raw”.

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