The mitigation of events brimming with life or death implications in Gaza lies in the potential consensus over two terms by both Israel and Hamas: humanitarian pauses. Emanating from western diplomacy spearheaded by the United States, the concept of humanitarian pauses falls shorter than the ceasefire demand echoed by Arab countries, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Russia, and China.
The vital difference between humanitarian pauses and ceasefire lies in their lifespan and implications: a humanitarian pause is a brief break in conflict, allowing the provision of aid, whereas a ceasefire rings the bell for longer-lasting peace negotiations.
Despite escalating pressure from humanitarian organizations, Arab nations, and the United Nations for a ceasefire, Israel remains steadfast in its siege of Gaza. Simultaneously, Hamas finds itself in control of over 200 Israeli and international hostages, according to The Associated Press, four of whom have been released.
Addressing a UN Security Council meeting, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen vehemently defended Israel’s retaliatory right following the loss of over 1,400 Israeli lives in an unforeseen attack on October 7. Cohen pointedly labeled Hamas, the militant organization holding over 200 hostages, as a “new breed of Nazis”, underscoring Israel’s bound duty to bring it down.
The United States, while backing Israel’s self-defence right, has proactively campaigned for humanitarian pauses rather than a ceasefire. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken highlighted the urgent necessity to protect Palestinian civilians, urging Hamas to halt their usage as human shields. Blinken also urged the UN Security Council to contemplate humanitarian pauses and ensure the smooth flow of necessary aid—such as food, water, and medicine—into Gaza and to those in need.
Several Western and European nations, including Canada, the U.K., Spain, and the Netherlands, support the call for humanitarian pauses. However, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has voiced his dissatisfaction over this Western support, insisting on a ceasefire and accusing the West of disregarding international law in Gaza because the bloodshed involves Muslims.
Since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas conflict, an exodus of more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million inhabitants has taken place, with nearly 600,000 individuals seeking refuge in UN shelters. Gaza’s population teeters on the brink of shortages of food, water, fuel, and medicine, with a mere dribble of humanitarian aid reaching them due to ongoing bombardments and Israel’s worry that aid might end up benefiting militants instead of civilians. Brief lulls in conflict parachute chances of aid reaching the needy and potential safe passages for foreign nationals to reach the border and cross over to Egypt sans the fear of artillery gunfire.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau drives Global Affairs’ stand, supporting humanitarian pauses while also condemning Hamas’s terrorist actions. Canada’s Defence Minister Bill Blair echoed similar sentiments without specifying how humanitarian pauses might be practically implemented.
Nevertheless, Jane Boulden, a Professor of Political Science at Queen’s University, suggests that-Israel is more likely to compromise with humanitarian pauses than with a ceasefire.
The concept of humanitarian pauses usually indicates a concise timeframe of 24 to 48 hours; it doesn’t stifle Israel’s defense initiatives, unlike a ceasefire. Consequently, pauses often result in temporary humanitarian corridors, restricting geographically and enabling Israel to persist in its mission to dismantle Hamas.
Today, as Israel mobilizes a record number of 300,000 reservists, hundreds of tanks, and armored vehicles at Gaza’s borders to prepare for a ground offensive, the danger of further escalation hangs like a Damocles sword over the region. Without a ceasefire, the entire population remains in the line of fire. As the fighting continues unhindered, the bodies piling ups reach numbers that are beyond alarming: over 7,000 Palestinians, and more than 1,400 Israelis, mostly civilians caught in the initial Hamas attack.
In a solemn reminder that pauses alone are insufficient, Oxfam Canada’s Fatuma Shideh underscores the urgency of a ceasefire to halt the dire situation in Gaza. As the horrifying scale of devastation unfolds, only a ceasefire can ensure the full reach of humanitarian aid to everyone in need. Without it, Shideh warns, we are looking at severe violations of humanitarian law, with starvation becoming a weapon of war.
The grim reality of the situation calls for swift, collective international action. The cost of inaction or delayed response is measured in innocent lives; a price too steep to even contemplate.