It’s been 83 days since the attack by Hamas on Israeli soil. The attack triggered the immediate and justified condemnation from the international community with leaders from all over echoing their full support of “Israel’s right to defend itself”.
The EU was no different.
As expected, Israel’s response was immediate and has not relented since.
The terrorist attack marked the beginning of a major escalation in the Israel-Palestine conflict which now developed into a destructive war in Gaza that shows no sign of reprieve. Israeli missiles have been launched into Gaza practically daily, killing men, women, and children.
There have been at least 20,915 people killed in Gaza, almost 10,000 of which are children – according to Gaza’s Ministry of Health which is run by Hamas, and around 1,139 Israelis or people in Israel killed, of which around 14 are children – according to the Israeli government.
Let that sink in… 83 days and 22,054 deaths.
When looking at these numbers one can easily notice the heavy disparity. An overwhelming majority of the casualties have been Palestinian people.
The IDF maintains that they are only targeting Hamas terrorists with the aim of rescuing hostages from Gaza, however, satellite imagery and footage from the ground shows that the result of the military intervention is a lot more widespread.
In fact, reports show that hospitals are being bombed, refugee camps are being ravaged, homes are being destroyed, and necessities are increasingly scarce.
However, despite Israel’s military campaign being recognised as among the deadliest and most destructive in recent history by experts as well as illegal according to international law, EU leaders have remained relatively quiet.
With that being said, one cannot negate the devastation caused by Hamas’ attack on Israel on 7th October which killed many and captured many more.
Yet, when this harrowing attack occurred, leaders from across the union banded together to show support and solidarity with Israel.
And yes, there have been calls for and provision of humanitarian aid, visits by key figures to areas bordering Gaza, and efforts to push for humanitarian ceasefires but it seems as if there is a line that those at the top do not want to cross.
Leaders are walking on eggshells and a population is being wiped out.
So, let’s take a look at the last seven days of attacks on Gaza and union leaders’ social media responses.
But wait, why social media?
One may argue that social media is unimportant in the grand scheme of things which I wish were true, but really, social media is the place where news is posted, tragedies are documented, and public figures share their sentiments.
Social media has given many Palestinians in Gaza the avenue to share with the world what’s going on. Journalists on the ground are taking to TikTok and Instagram to show the devastating results of the Israeli incursion. Social media has a ground-up impact, it is powerful.
This, in turn, makes it the platform through which a large portion of the public forms its opinions – it’s where people get information, follow figures they admire, and keep up to date with global news.
So, what major institution leaders say or do not say on social media is extremely important because it sets a normative precedent within the public that eventually reaches major international and institutional decisions. As we know, and as the EU likes to remind us, public opinion and pressure do hold value in politics.
Now let’s take a more detailed look at some of the events that took place in Gaza over the last seven days
This article is basing the information on reports on the conflict from reputable news portals like Associated Press, ReliefWeb, CNN, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, and CBS. It considered public posts by the leaders of the EU institutions on Twitter and Facebook.
28th December 2023
50 Palestinians were killed by Israeli strikes in Gaza’s Beit Lahiya, Khan Younis, and al-Maghazi areas, the Gaza Health Ministry said.
The Palestinian Red Crescent says at least 10 people have been killed and 12 injured in an attack near al-Amal Hospital in the southern city of Khan Younis.
The Israeli army chief confirmed the next phase of the war, moving further into Gaza. They’ve focused mainly on the north; now, they’re focusing on Khan Younis.
Journalists have said that this more targeted approach is due to the mounting pressure to decrease civilian casualties.
27th December 2023
Residents reported heavy bombing in the built-up Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza, and in the southern cities of Khan Younis and Rafah, areas where tens of thousands have sought refuge.
The Gaza health ministry said a strike hit a house near Al-Amal hospital in Khan Yunis, killing 22 people. Heavy firefights also raged again around Gaza City in the north.
The WHO warned of acute hunger in Gaza after having their convoys stopped by people hoping to find food multiple times.
26th December 2023
Around 195 people were killed in 24 hours and another 325 injured, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.
The Israeli military says the air force hit 100 targets in the south of the Gaza Strip in 24 hours.
25th December 2023 – Christmas Day
Palestinian authorities reported that 250 people were killed in a wave of strikes over 24 hours included in central Gaza’s Maghazi refugee camp, as well as Bureih and Nuseirat.
The bombs fell on homes and buildings, and destroyed important infrastructure.
Over 500 more were injured.
24th December 2023 – Christmas Eve
Heavy bombing and shelling of Jabaliya, in the north of the Palestinian territory, overnight continued into Sunday morning.
166 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers were killed.
384 were wounded in Israeli attacks and the journalists’ death toll rose to 103.
23rd December 2023
Two internally displaced persons (IDPs) were killed when two United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees schools sheltering IDPs in An Nuseirat were hit.
In Jabalya, airstrikes reportedly hit the vicinity of schools sheltering IDPs, killing and injuring tens of Palestinians.
Airstrikes on two homes kills more than 90 Palestinians.
U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday, calling it a long and private conversation. Biden assured he did not call for a ceasefire and Netanyahu said the war will continue until Israel achieves its goals.
22nd December 2023
The U.N. Security Council adopted a watered-down resolution Friday calling for immediately speeding up aid deliveries to desperate civilians in Gaza.
Israel ordered tens of thousands of residents to leave their homes in Burej, an urban refugee camp, and surrounding communities in central Gaza.
21st December 2023
Israel bombed the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom crossing several days after it reopened it to increase the flow of aid.
The Israeli military said it was targeting militants.
Partial restoration of internet and telecommunications services was achieved in the southern and central parts of the Gaza Strip in the evening.
Israel indicated Friday that it is widening its military operation, ordering residents in the central part of Gaza to seek safety in shelters. On Thursday, the White House said Israel has assured the US of its plans to pivot to a lower-intensity operation as its objectives shift.
Here are the social media posts related to Gaza by the leaders of the main institutions within the EU in the last seven days:
President of the Commission Ursula von der Leyen
“I welcome the UNSC resolution calling for swift, safe, and scaled-up aid delivery to the people of Gaza and for laying the groundwork for a cessation of hostilities. The EU Commission is working with partners in the region and beyond. To address the humanitarian emergency and prepare for the day after, already today,” she said on X on 22nd December.
European Parliament President Roberta Metsola
In a short video posted on 24th December, she called for a future where we “live in peace” however did not refer to anything specific.
On 22nd December, Metsola wrote:
“It is hard not to think of the children of Gaza, who have seen more than their years should allow. Who have been killed. Who have lost families. Who have lost homes. Who have lost hope. It is also for them that Europe must and will keep looking for ways to find a lasting, sustainable peace and rebuild hope.”
“It is hard not to think of the Israeli children kidnapped and all those murdered. How will they and their families recover? What future will they create? Europe will keep helping to bring all remaining women and men back home.”
“Europe will leave no one behind. We will keep pushing to end intergenerational struggles, address poverty, and ensure equality of opportunity.”
On December 20th, she wrote “the number of journalists killed in Gaza continues to rise every day. We must do more to ensure their safety and their ability to report the facts on the ground. Journalists must be able to exercise their work without fear.”
This statement was posted on X and while it didn’t make the seven-day time frame it is still notable to mention.
President of the European Council Charles Michel
Michel wrote nothing about the conflict in the last seven days.
High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission Josep Borrell Fontelles
“The adoption of the UNSC resolution on scaling up humanitarian assistance in Gaza is crucial first and foremost for the civilians on the ground. I welcome the emphasis on the need to respect IHL and move towards a sustainable cessation of hostilities,” he wrote on X on 22nd December.
“I spoke to Antonio Guetteres to reassure him of the EU’s steadfast support for the UN’s vital role in providing assistance to civilians in Gaza. I commend the UN’s efforts to bring about this Resolution and call on the parties to respect their legal obligations and ensure implementation,” he said that same day.
Guetteres is the UN Secretary-General and he invoked the rare Article 99 to push the Security Council to call for a humanitarian ceasefire between Israel and Palestine.
“Europe is in danger. If we don’t change course rapidly; if we don’t mobilise all our capacities; if we let Putin win the war in Ukraine; and if we are not able to stop the tragedy that is happening in Gaza, I think our EU project will be very much damaged,” he said on 21st December captioning a video.
“We need to use our leverage and engage more in the Middle East for a two-state solution.”
In this video he said: “The 100 Years’ War in the Middle East for two peoples fighting for the same land, both having legitimate rights to occupy these territories. And since the tragedy of 7th October, we are witnessing the failure of the status quo that was untenable, even if we didn’t want to acknowledge it.”
“Hamas represents an idea, and one cannot kill an idea with bombs. The only way to kill an idea is to present another one that is better, that is superior and that provides hope that offers a future and instills confidence in a future where peace is possible.”
“That’s the whole challenge of the two-state solution. The entire international community seems to agree, within the European Union as well but there is a problem. the Israeli government says it is vehemently against it. Peace will never come without the principle of two states. There is no military solution to the problem. The solution must be imposed from the outside by the international community.”
He further said that the EU is the largest provider of humanitarian aid to Palestine as well as the largest trading partner of Israel. He explained that while the EU has the capacity to influence, it does not want to use it.
“There is an absolute necessity for European society to understand what these risks are and for political leaders to act accordingly.”
There has been more public pressure in the international arena for Israel to ease the civilian casualties, and one cannot ignore that these leaders are probably seeking solutions and attempting to negotiate behind closed doors.
One also has to understand that there are strategic interests that are stopping the EU from taking their action a step further. Just last year, the EU signed a tripartite natural gas export deal with Israel and Egypt in an attempt to diversify away from Russian energy which has been a major obstacle for the continent. The situation is tricky.
That being said, leaders are not completely ignoring Gaza as seen through calls for increased humanitarian aid, cessation of hostilities, and fewer civilian casualties.
But these words and urges are broad. There is little-to-no specific condemnation, disapproval, or mere mention of the hospitals, homes, and refugee camps’ destroyed.
Because these statements lack strength.
The weight of their words does not match the weight of the tragedies endured hour after hour within Gaza.
For instance, while sympathy was shown for the deaths of children in Gaza there was no mention of whether there should or will be consequences for these deaths.
Such broad calls minimise the horrific events happening daily, events that, in more ‘straightforward’ conflicts would have garnered an appropriate global response – the way the attack by Hamas did.
These are events that touch the heartstrings of the public and trigger a fervent reaction. They make people passionate about the cause. So ignoring these in public statements helps the destruction fade into the background.
So, the words spoken by our leaders to us are important and they cannot be ignored.
Not only this, Israel is not being publicly and fiercely warned, challenged, or condemned and that is an issue. It sets a dangerous precedent that not everyone or every state is subject to the same moral rules used to justify sanctions.
This puts into question whether the EU’s core principles really are democracy, freedom, and equality. Of course, it’s more complicated than that, there are other considerations that need to be made including those related to the war in Ukraine, tensions with a growing China, and a threat posed by Iran.
But the fact that innocent people who have already been subject to decades of oppression and discrimination by the Israeli government are now being essentially wiped out of their home is not complicated and it requires an appropriate response. Like Hamas’ attacks, these are war crimes.
Gaza cannot continue to be ravaged so mercilessly, children cannot continue to be martyred, and leaders cannot continue to tread so lightly in the name of strategic interests.
It would be nice to see the EU take a principled stand against the actions of Netanyahu’s government, the same way it has done in other violations of international law.
Ultimately, Europe needs to be consistent. It must take a conscientious stand against war crimes, regardless of who is breaking the law, and uphold the values it is so proud to possess.
Europe’s words matter, so please, pick them well.
This action was co-financed by the European Union in the frame of the European Parliament’s grant programme in the field of communication. The European Parliament was not involved in its preparation and is, in no case, responsible for or bound by the information or opinions expressed in the context of this action. In accordance with applicable law, the authors, interviewed people, publishers or programme broadcasters are solely responsible. The European Parliament can also not be held liable for direct or indirect damage that may result from the implementation of the action.
Do you think that the EU needs to take a stronger public stance against Israel’s actions in Gaza?