Excerpts of article by Richard Falk, an international law and international relations scholar who taught at Princeton University for forty years, and in 2008 was also appointed by the UN to serve as the Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights:
The civilian population of Gaza, estimated to be about 1.7 million with women and children comprising 75% of the total, are trapped in an overcrowded war zone with no apparent exit from terrifying danger.
Even if families are lucky enough to avoid direct physical injury, the experience of screaming jet fighters attacking through the night, targeting and surveillance drones overhead day and night, sustained naval artillery barrages, not to mention the threatened ground invasion combine to create a continuous horror show. It has been repeatedly confirmed by mental health specialists that these realities act as a trauma inducing phenomenon on a massive scale with prospects of lasting psychological damage, especially to children.
Very few residents of Gaza have the option of leaving, whether disabled, sick, elderly, or young. The civilian population of Gaza is denied the possibility of seeking refugee status by fleeing Gaza during this time of intense warfare, and there is no space available that might allow Palestinian civilians to become internally displaced within Gaza until Israel’s “Protective Edge” ends. At present writing, an estimated 17,000 Palestinians have obtained refuge in the 20 UN-run schools situated throughout Gaza. UNRWA is doing its heroic best to handle these desperate people but its buildings have limited space and lack the facilities to handle properly this kind humanitarian emergency–insufficient bathrooms, no beds, and not enough space to meet the demands.
The idea of fulfilling the basic objective of international humanitarian law to protect civilians caught in a war zone is being violated by Israel, although not altogether. Israeli officials claim that leaflets dropped on some intended targets are giving residents a few minutes to vacate their homes before they are reduced to rubble. The entrapment of the Gazan population within closed borders is part of a deliberate Israeli pattern of prolonged collective punishment that has for the past several years been imposed on Gaza. This amounts to a grave breach of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which qualifies as a potential Crime Against Humanity.
International refugee law avoids issues associated with any right to escape from a war zone or duty of the belligerent parties to provide civilians with an exit and/or a temporary place of sanctuary. International humanitarian law offers little more by way of protection to an entrapped people, despite the seeming relevance of the Fourth Geneva Convention devoted to the Protection of Civilians in Time of War.