US could end Israeli offensive in Gaza ‘in five minutes’, says Palestinian human rights chief

Countries trading with Israel ‘are complicit in the genocide’, says Shawan Jabarin of Palestinian human rights group Al-Haq

Shawan Jabarin, director of the Al-Haq Palestinian human rights organisation: 'In Gaza, [Israel kills]... people in their hundreds each day, in the West Bank it’s five or six people... They bulldoze roads, they destroy infrastructure.' Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy

The United States has the power to end the Israeli offensive in Gaza “in five minutes”, the head of a leading Palestinian human rights organisation has said.

“If the US really wanted to stop the Israelis, they can do it,” said Shawan Jabarin, director of the Al-Haq human rights group which is based in Ramallah. “The Israeli [defence forces] still feel they are supported by the superpowers. The US could stop them in five minutes by making a clear statement that an end is an end, stop means stop, and that they cannot continue to send funding or military arms. But the US hasn’t reached that conclusion yet.”

A graduate of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the University of Galway, Mr Jabarin spoke to The Irish Times shortly after arriving in Ireland to receive an alumni award from the university. The director of one of the oldest human rights organisations in the Middle East, Mr Jabarin has advocated for the protection of Palestinians’ human rights since the mid-1980s, focusing on international law to promote peace, justice and accountability in the West Bank.

His comments follow US president Joe Biden’s decision to pause the supply of thousands of large bombs to Israel last week in an attempt to prevent a full-scale assault in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. Earlier this week, the Israeli army seized the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, cutting off most international aid into the territory.

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While the US wields the greatest geopolitical control over Israel, European countries also have the ability to influence Israeli decision-makers, said Mr Jabarin.

“Germany and other European countries are still trading with Israel, they’re assisting them. So they are complicit in the genocide happening in Gaza. They’re not looking for peace,” he said.

“The ones paying the heaviest price are the Palestinian children, women and men. This is not a war against Hamas, it’s a war against Palestinian people.”

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A letter sent by US Republican senators to the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court this week, warning that if they “target Israel, we will target you”, threatens the values and principles of international law, said Mr Jabarin. “This goes against all modern values, all democratic values. International law is based on the lessons that were learned from the horrors of the second World War. But now they want to destroy those values and principles.”

Meanwhile in the West Bank, raids and killings continue on a daily basis, he said. “In Gaza they kill people in their hundreds each day, in the West Bank it’s five or six people. Every day and every night in villages, towns, refugee camps and cities, they raid houses, they arrest people. They bulldoze roads, they destroy infrastructure. They want to break down the Palestinian effort, they want to humiliate Palestinians, they want to push into their minds that occupation will continue forever.”

‘This is not a war against Hamas, it’s a war against Palestinian people’

—  Shawan Jabarin, director of the Al-Haq human rights group

The Al-Haq organisation was designated a terrorist organisation by Israel in 2021 for alleged connections to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine group. However, the group continues to challenge these allegations.

“They’ve never provided evidence for this designation. They’re trying to silence us and threaten us. We’ve faced these threats for years. Palestinian journalists know this well – around 140 of them have been killed because they were speaking the truth. Israelis are trying to disseminate fear among journalists, academics and human rights defenders.”

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After seven months of war, Mr Jabarin is pessimistic about the outcome of the ongoing ceasefire negotiations. “This isn’t just about [Israeli prime minister] Binyamin Netanyahu, the extreme-right groups in the government do not want a ceasefire.”

In all his years spent documenting human rights violations, Mr Jabarin “never imagined” the killing of Palestinians “would reach this level”.

“I know the occupation, I know how they treat Palestinians, but I didn’t expect this would happen in my life, never. They have no limits now, they want to push all Palestinians out and clean their country of Palestinians. Killing children like this is unprecedented in history. And these children are being killed with US weapons. They’ve eliminated families.”

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast