Call it whatever you want – just stop the killing

UNSG and Knotted Gun-UN7930019

Armistice Day is approaching, 11 November, the day that guns fell silent marking the end of the First World War in 1918. As we know, that was not the end of all wars, as much as the millions who suffered from it might have hoped. Wars did not even end after World War II and the bigger carnage and destruction that brought about, including letting the nuclear genie out of the bottle. So Armistice Day and its message are always en vogue, because of one or the other war unfolding somewhere in the world.

Fast forward to our days and hope keeps stumbling on dead bodies and destroyed lives, cities and livelihoods, but manages to live on. It is a desperate hope, that the carnage of warfare may end and people may live in peace with each other, resolving their disputes through negotiations, court cases, or other peaceful means. This was and remains the ultimate objective of the United Nations, “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our life-time has brought untold sorrow to mankind” (Preamble to the UN Charter – “twice” refers to the two World Wars). Speaking of the huge gap between lofty pronouncements and actual deeds…

The failures of humanity and its leaders are once again laid bare for everybody to see: Last year, in November 2022, the FOGGS family to which belongs and the Peacemaking Reflection Group of former UN system staff (PRG) that FOGGS supports were focusing the Armistice Call they issued on the Russia-Ukraine war. This year, in November 2023, the war in Ukraine continues, along with many other wars around the world, but the main focus of attention is the new war that is raging in the Middle East.

This latest episode of the Israeli-Palestinian saga that is lasting for decades (or is it millennia?) started with a horrendous attack on Israel by Hamas militants, who unleashed a barrage of missiles and fighters on the ground, killing hundreds of civilians indiscriminately and taking a large number of hostages on 7 October 2023. The subsequent stage that we are now witnessing is a biblical act of vengeance and collective punishment that is costing the lives of thousands of Palestinians and is pushing the entire Gaza population into internal displacement, dispossession and hunger.

While all this is happening, the world’s major powers, including the US and the Europeans that generally support Israel, are apparently caught up in endless Orwellian discussions on whether Israel should be asked to abide by a humanitarian “pause”, or a series of “pauses” of a few hours each for humanitarian purposes, staying away from even mentioning a ceasefire that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu does not want to hear about. At the same time, civilians are asked at very short notice to leave areas targeted by Israel as presumed Hamas strongholds, the death toll is rising in Gaza (and the West Bank), and humanitarian provisions are only allowed in grossly inadequate quantities for addressing the mounting needs of the Gaza population. Not to mention the broader Middle East region that is close to boiling point.

A lasting “humanitarian truce” has, however, already been requested by a large majority of countries through their 27 October 2023 vote for a resolution to that effect in the UN General Assembly (the veto-plagued Security Council could not agree on a resolution, of course). As another monument to double standards, might is right, and “the international community is me” attitudes, the resolution is ignored by Israel and its Western allies, like Russia ignored the General Assembly resolutions passed against its invasion of Ukraine in 2022. In both cases there is a long history of conflict that could keep the respective war going on for ever, but who would gain out of it, except for the arms industries and some shortsighted, extreme and megalomaniac leaders? Certainly not the people on either side of each conflict.

Human lives, though, do matter and that should be recognized in word and deed. A ceasefire, in both the Russia-Ukraine and the Israel-Palestine cases should not be considered as lack of courage or disrespect for one’s own dead people and unfulfilled national aspirations. Combined with temporary international administration of disputed territories, International Criminal Court (ICC) proceedings for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity by actors on all sides, and a respected negotiation process, it should become the standard way disputes are treated. This way precious lives would be spared, infrastructure preserved, and the big picture / context within which the root causes of the dispute may lie could also be discussed, in addition to the specific incident(s) that re-ignited the dispute.

Let us use the power of conviction and the reason of true leaders, of state and non-state actors and of individuals, each one of us, to push for the above standard to be broadly adopted and upheld in practice by all belligerents and their respective supporters. On this Armistice Day 2023 let us demand a permanent cessation of hostilities on all fronts, coupled with systematic and quick steps towards disarmament, globally. To be credible and have a chance to succeed in the quest for lasting peace, humanity and its leaders should finally commit to respecting the value of human life and dignity irrespective of skin colour, ethnicity, religion, gender, age or other diversifying characteristics, and should act accordingly in all circumstances, containing outbreaks of violence that otherwise will continue to pile more and more suffering all around.

Happy Armistice Day 2023!

[Text revised as of 10 November 2023, noon CET]
Georgios Kostakos

Dr Georgios Kostakos is Executive Director of the Brussels-based Foundation for Global Governance and Sustainability (FOGGS). He has been extensively involved in global governance, sustainability and climate-related activities with the United Nations and beyond. The starting point for the work of FOGGS is the need for a new Grand Narrative for a fair, human-centred and inclusive globalization. One of its projects is the UN2100 Initiative for UN reform, which includes the proposal to establish a Global Resilience Council to effectively address non-military threats to human security like climate change and pandemics.

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