Both the Palestinians and Israel presented their arguments passionately at a rare emergency special session of the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday. The session was called to address the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian representative, stated that even as the assembly convened, Palestinian families in the besieged enclave were being killed, hospitals were ceasing operations, and neighborhoods were being destroyed.
“There is no time to grieve – more death is imminent,” Mr. Mansour warned.
Since Oct. 7, when coordinated Hamas attacks launched from Gaza resulted in the deaths of over 1,400 people in Israel and the hostage-taking of around 200, the Israeli military has been relentlessly bombing the Palestinian enclave. Prior to Mr. Mansour’s address, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza released a list of over 6,700 people allegedly killed, including more than 2,000 children, with an additional 280 unidentified remains. These numbers cannot be independently verified.
“Killing Palestinian civilians is not the answer to the killings of Israeli civilians,” Mr. Mansour proclaimed. “Likewise, killing Israeli civilians is not the answer to the killings of Palestinian civilians.” He criticized the double standard, questioning why more sympathy is shown towards Israelis than Palestinians.
“This selective outrage is unacceptable and must cease,” he emphasized. He highlighted that the people being massacred in Gaza have endured decades of military occupation, a 16-year blockade, and five wars.
“How can you abandon them to be killed once again?” he pleaded.
Israel’s representative to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, argued in his own speech that Israel is at war not with Palestinians but with Hamas, which he likened to the Nazis and the Islamic State.
Mr. Erdan vividly recounted the Oct. 7 attacks, describing a scene of killings, rapes, torture, and brutalization of civilians, labeling it a “pogrom.” He highlighted that over 220 individuals from various countries, including Holocaust survivors and even a nine-month-old baby, were taken hostage. At one point, he presented a graphic video allegedly taken by Hamas showing a Hamas member attempting to decapitate an agricultural worker using a hoe.
Mr. Erdan insisted that the war would end immediately if Hamas released the hostages, surrendered their weapons, and turned themselves in. He questioned the absence of U.N. resolutions demanding such actions. He rejected calls for a cease-fire on the ground, arguing that Hamas would use the opportunity to rearm and strike again. He also blamed Iran for arming, financing, and training Hamas.
Mr. Mansour, the Palestinian representative, directly responded to a speech by the Israeli foreign minister, Eli Cohen, made at the U.N. Security Council earlier this week. Mr. Cohen called for the return of Israeli hostages, but as Mr. Mansour pointed out, “for millions of Palestinians, there is no home to go back to… for thousands, there is no family left to embrace.”
“He spoke of how horrendous it is to kill civilians,” Mr. Mansour continued, “right before justifying the killing of thousands of Palestinian civilians. He mentioned the fear experienced by people during rocket attacks, but Israeli bombs have spared no part of Gaza.”
The special session commenced with Ambassador Dennis Francis of Trinidad and Tobago, the current president of the General Assembly, calling for an immediate cease-fire to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza. He condemned Hamas’s attacks on Israel while expressing deep concern over the relentless bombardment of the Gaza Strip by Israel.
Representatives from Jordan and Iran, among other nations, also addressed the emergency special session before it adjourned. The session is set to resume on Friday, when a vote on a draft resolution brought by Jordan and the Arab Group, urging an immediate cease-fire and compliance with international humanitarian law, is expected.
While General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, they carry significant symbolic weight.
Ayman Safadi, Jordan’s foreign minister, urged members of the assembly to “take a stand” and vote in favor of the resolution, even though he acknowledged that “we all know Israel will ignore it.”
“The right to self-defense does not grant immunity for killing. Collective punishment is not self-defense – it is a war crime,” he stated, adding that “Israel cannot be exempt from the law.”
Contributed reporting by Anushka Patil.
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