- Jan Egelandsecretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council.
As the United Nations human rights chief warns Israel may have committed war crimes in Gaza, we look at how Israel killed 12 Palestinian children being treated for trauma from past Israeli bombings. Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, says Gaza has become “the home of hopelessness,” particularly for young people in the besieged territory. “We humanitarian workers are sick and tired of building and rebuilding and see it all torn down again,” Egeland says of Israel’s repeated attacks on Gaza. “We are accumulating rubble, we’re accumulating dead children, and we’re accumulating hopelessness, if it continues like this.”
AMY GOODMAN: The United Nations human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, the former president of Chile, says Israel may have committed war crimes during its 11-day bombardment of Gaza, which killed at least 253 Palestinians, including 66 children. Bachelet spoke before the United Nations Human Rights Council.
MICHELLE BACHELET: Such strikes raise serious concerns of Israel’s compliance with the principles of distinction and proportionality under international humanitarian law. If found to be indiscriminate and disproportionate in their impact on civilians and civilian objects, such attacks may constitute war crimes.
AMY GOODMAN: The U.N. Human Rights Council approved a resolution Thursday to launch a sweeping international investigation into war crimes committed in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The resolution was drafted by the Organization of Islamic States.
KHALIL HASHMI: Regrettably, the self-professed global champions of human rights continue to shield the occupier from global accountability and literally provide arms and ammunition for its widely reported war crimes and crimes of apartheid against the Palestinian people. Let us be clear: There is no legal and moral equivalence between the occupier and the occupied.
AMY GOODMAN: The Biden administration has vowed to help rebuild Gaza, but at the same time it’s moving ahead with a plan to sell $735 million worth of bombs to Israel despite congressional opposition.
Earlier this week, I spoke to Jan Egeland, the secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, which works in Gaza. Last week, the council revealed 11 of the children killed in the Israeli bombing of Gaza were taking part in a program to help them deal with trauma from previous Israeli attacks. Egeland is the former humanitarian relief coordinator at the United Nations. He spoke to us from Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where tens of thousands have evacuated fearing another volcano eruption. We also talked about the crisis in the DRC, but I began by asking him to talk about the situation in Gaza.
JAN EGELAND: Well, Gaza has become the home of hopelessness, where people are crammed together, 2 million people, in a tiny place. It’s smaller than the municipality of Oslo, where I normally live. There is no way people can leave the place. Israel and Egypt control the borders, and they don’t let anybody out, really. They let only a bit of humanitarian aid in.
During this onslaught, we didn’t only have the 11 ones you talked about, Amy. There was a 12th little girl killed. All of those, we were trying to treat for trauma from the previous conflicts. There’s been five wars since 2006. So, a child would have grown up with nothing but violence, nothing but hopelessness. That’s why we need Blinken and Biden and the leadership of the U.S. now to lead to a solution to this senseless repeat of conflicts where Palestinian children die.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you have the United States providing the weapons for Israel to bomb Gaza and now committing to the rebuilding of Gaza. Can you talk about the problem with this?
JAN EGELAND: Well, it seems futile, really. There seems to be a logical third path — namely, for the U.S. to lead the international community — the U.S., Europe and the Arab countries — to have some kind of an arbitration, when you have an Israeli leadership and Palestinian leaderships incapable of solving the underlying conflicts that lead to repeat violence and insecurity for both peoples. So, could the U.S. lead us, please, in reaching, you know, political solutions, an end to the occupation and so on? We just had an earthquake here in Goma. That’s why it’s shaking.
We need in Gaza to have an end to this serving hopelessness to children, who will grow up with more and more bitterness and chaos. And I’m telling you, we humanitarian workers are sick and tired of building and rebuilding and see it all torn down again.
AMY GOODMAN: You co-signed a letter with 11 other heads of international humanitarian organizations to Secretary of State Blinken about the situation in Gaza. Talk about the issues you’ve raised. I mean, you had this constant bombardment, where the president of the United States, President Biden, would not demand of Netanyahu a ceasefire, said he might like one, he would urge one, but not make that diplomatic demand, particularly important since Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. military aid in the world.
JAN EGELAND: Yeah, we, the 12 nongovernmental organizations serving Palestinians on the ground, the civilian population, especially children, women and the most vulnerable — we urged, in our letter, the United States to take the lead in ending the occupation, getting humanitarian access to all consistently, to all in need, ending the underlying injustice that means that we have this confrontation. But we’re also trying to tell that we need help to be able to be active for all Palestinians, irrespective of where they are in Gaza. Too often the borders close in our face, and we cannot then even help the people in need.
AMY GOODMAN: Secretary General, last week, you tweeted, quote, “We are devastated to learn that 11 of the children we help in #Gaza with trauma from previous violence are now killed by Israeli missiles. Israel must stop this madness: children must be protected. Their homes and schools must not be targets.” We also spoke with the head of UNRWA, the U.N. agency in Gaza, about the devastation and the number of schools and hospitals that were attacked. Tell us more about these children and what it means that you’re funding trauma help for them.
JAN EGELAND: Well, we’ve been to Gaza for a very long time. I personally also visited it regularly over the last 30 years. So, during all of my visits to Gaza, where we have 50 humanitarian workers now working around the clock, as they have been for a very long time, the strongest impression is this hopelessness, this bitterness, this sense that the youth do not believe it will become better, it will become worse. So, it’s bitterness. They’re giving up.
We also then saw that too many children were having learning problems in school. I mean, they are having so much nightmares at night that they cannot really follow education. So we started a Better Learning Program, as we call it, which is an excellent psychosocial program, and these children then started to learn better. They were making progress in school. And the Palestinians are like their neighbors, the Israelis — very diligent, very talented, very organized.
So, we were a bit optimistic before this last repeat violence. And through these 11 days of madness, we got news every single day, nearly, of new children killed, 12 now in total, who were in our, you know, psychosocial program. They were then killed with their families, with their dreams, and their nightmares, that we were treating them for.
I think that’s a very strong symbol also of it cannot continue like this. The United States has to get the parties out of this repeat cycle of violence. Would we want to come back every three, four, five years, for eternity, with more bombing of urban areas? We’ve seen that — our estimate is that 13,500 homes have been either damaged or even destroyed. We are accumulating rubble, we’re accumulating dead children, and we’re accumulating hopelessness, if it continues like this.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what Israel, in a lot of the mainstream media, at least in the United States — you’re based in Norway — the equivalency of the Hamas missiles and the Israeli bombardment that killed over 250 Palestinians, a quarter of them — it’s what? Something like 66 children dead?
JAN EGELAND: Well, this is disproportionate warfare. There is one occupier, and that is strong. And there are people then having also now extremist organizations among themselves, trying to inflict as much damage on the other side as they can. But, of course, there were more than five times the number of dead Palestinian children as total fatalities, military and civilian, of all ages, on the Israeli side.
So, again, the U.S. military might that is given to Israel makes it be so much stronger than the other, and therefore we feel they should now reach out and try to make peace with their neighbors. It’s not going to be easy, because there’s a lot of extremism now. And there will be more extremism, because there is more bitterness and more hatred each time you have these kind of military campaigns.
AMY GOODMAN: Jan Egeland, the secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, speaking to us about Gaza earlier this week from Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where tens of thousands have fled their homes fearing another volcanic eruption. We also talk about the crisis in Yemen and vaccine apartheid, when we come back with him.