As has become customary for the occupying Israel, once again it is brazenly targeting the Gaza Strip and its inhabitants with myriad ammunitions including the deadly white phosphorus.
Not only that, it is essentially massacring the people of Gaza in numerous other ways. These include the intentional cessation of water and food supplies, power shutdowns, communication blackouts, and halting of the supply of medicines and other vital necessities, basically inflicting genocide, purposefully.
What’s more, the unprecedented and continuous episodes of carpet bombing by the jets of the occupying forces of Israel coupled with land incursions, have unleashed a colossal humanitarian crisis on the people of the already suffering Gaza Strip who have been the victims of the Israeli atrocities.
Circumstantially, the recent recurrent employment of white phosphorus munitions in the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict, specifically in the densely populated Gaza Strip has unequivocally brought significant legal and humanitarian concerns to the fore.
The Gaza Strip is located between the territory occupied by Israel on the east and north, Egypt on the southwest, and the Mediterranean Sea.
It is approximately 10 kilometers wide and 41 kilometers long area and is undoubtedly one of the most densely populated places on the planet with a population of over two million people and an average of around 5,500 people per square kilometer.
As a result, the Israeli use of white phosphorus munitions in not only Gaza but also Lebanon has not gone unnoticed and has attracted condemnation from global human rights organizations, most notably Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
According to international laws, the utilization of munitions like white phosphorus poses a considerable threat to civilian lives along with violating international humanitarian law, necessitating a critical examination of the associated ethical and legal implications.
Along these lines, it may be noted that although white phosphorus is not prohibited for military use under the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) as long as it is not employed as a chemical weapon, its use in densely populated civilian areas is prohibited under international humanitarian law.
Moreover, one of the protocols; Protocol III to be precise, of the CCW prohibits the use of “incendiary weapons” even on military targets close to civilians.
By analyzing the previous Israeli military responses, it becomes evident that white phosphorus, a highly contentious weapon, has always featured prominently in its operations.
Notable instances include its use during the previous as well as prevalent conflict in the Gaza Strip and the contiguous Lebanon.
In this vein, the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict and the 34-day war on Lebanon in 2006, serves as tragic example, where Israel initially denied employing white phosphorus but later acknowledged its use for presumably creating smokescreens and target marking.
Israel’s military arsenal includes two primary types of white phosphorus munitions. One variety, containing minimal phosphorus content, serves primarily as a smoke bomb and is typically fired from 155mm shells.
The other variant is deployed in 81mm and 120mm shells and is fired from mortar guns. Both have been used by Israel in the Gaza Strip during the latest onslaught.
To understand the gravity of using such munitions it is imperative to appraise white phosphorus as a potent chemical agent.
It is an incredibly powerful chemical agent known for its ability to cause severe burns and long-lasting injuries when it comes into contact with human skin.
These injuries are marked by excruciating pain and are the result of both thermal and chemical effects, making them exceedingly challenging to treat.
Furthermore, white phosphorus burns the atmospheric oxygen making the victims inhale phosphorus instead of oxygen and burning them from the inside out, melting skin, muscles, and bones, subsequently, respectively.
The health implications extend beyond physical harm since ingesting even minimal amounts of white phosphorus can lead to organ damage and, in extreme cases, death.
In this regard, the humanitarian impact in densely populated areas like the Gaza Strip is intensified, with civilian casualties rising, contributing to a severe crisis in these conflict zones.
Eye injuries, including corneal damage and endophthalmitis; an infection of the tissues or fluids inside the eyeball which is a serious medical emergency that can lead to blindness if not treated promptly, are common among those exposed to this hazardous substance.
Environmentally, white phosphorus causes eutrophication; excessive enrichness of a lake or other body of water with phosphorous or nitrogen, and subsequent blooming of algae in aquatic environments, leading to the death of marine life. Besides that, it can also make the soil of the targeted area, unusable and infertile for months to come.
With such implications, it must be noted that the use of white phosphorus on the vulnerable civilians of the Gaza Strip certainly breaches international humanitarian law, especially the Geneva Conventions, and is subject to strict legal restrictions due to its devastating potential to harm both military and civilian populations.
It is pertinent to note that the long-standing conflict between Israel and Palestine took a dangerous turn when in the early hours of October 7, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades of Hamas launched ‘Operation Al-Aqsa Storm’ against Israel.
Subsequently, Israel launched the brutal Operation Iron Swords with complete backing from the United States (US), the United Kingdom (UK), and the West. Ever since, it has been indiscriminately targeting hapless civilians including women, children, healthcare workers as well as journalists with impunity.
Over 25,000 are wounded and more than 142,900 housing units and 164 schools have been completely or partially destroyed.
Additionally, 35 hospitals in Gaza have been destroyed with 16 being currently out of service due to indiscriminate Israeli bombing and the exhaustion of available fuel reserves, and as per the claims of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), 88 UN workers have been killed.
Protests broke out all across the world to condemn Israel’s genocidal actions and the unmistakable support of the West to stop the atrocities immediately.
Nevertheless, undeterred and unfazed, Israel and the West have continued to carry out massive attacks on the unarmed civilians of the besieged Gaza.
Furthermore, even though the legal instruments decree and mandate the parties involved in conflicts to employ every reasonable measure to prevent harm to civilians, Israel has continued to flagrantly violate international laws desecrating all the ethical, legal, and humanitarian concerns.