In recent months the ongoing conflicts in Gaza and eastern Ukraine have dominated the headlines. For months the world has helplessly watched on as the ordinary lives of civilians in these territories have been shattered completely with families torn apart and homes destroyed. Each day has brought a new horrific tragedy worse than the last and the civilian death toll in both of these conflicts has soared into the thousands. However, in the last few weeks both of these conflicts have seemingly been brought to an end by respective ceasefires- but how long for? Furthermore, even if these ceasefires do last (and in the case of Ukraine this is by no means a given), the crucial question is what happens next for those civilians whose ordinary lives have been ripped apart by these conflicts? What happens after the ceasefire?
The Gaza Conflict: Operation Protection Edge
The conflict in Gaza began in July after the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers in June in the West Bank which led to the suspected revenge killing of a Palestinian teenager in Jerusalem. The following week Israeli forces launched an offensive (Operation Protective Edge) against militant group Hamas whom it accused of firing rockets into Israel. In the months that followed Israeli forces subjected the people of Gaza to 5,226 air strikes.
Whilst both sides have incurred losses the suffering has been far from equal. At least 2,104 people were killed in Gaza during the conflict, an estimated 69% of which were innocent civilians. In comparison, an estimated 73 people were killed in Israel, of which only 7 were civilians. According to a UN Situation Report on 26 August at least 475,000 people have been displaced by the conflict and an estimated 17,200 homes have been destroyed or severely damaged. Both sides finally agreed to an indefinite ceasefire on 26 August 2014, bringing an end to this latest conflict.
Unrest in Ukraine
The conflict in Ukraine was sparked early this year due to a decision by the then President, Viktor Yanukovych, to turn his back on an association agreement with the EU in favour of closer ties with Russia. This resulted in huge protests in Kiev and other Western cities calling for closer European integration. After much bloodshed President Yanukovych was ousted from government and fled to Russia and a new government was elected in Kiev. However, unrest soon followed in eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian movements were underway, culminating in the annexation of Crimea by Russia in March. Pro-Russian separatists further strengthened their position in the east, creating the self proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic and Donetsk People’s Republic.
Since the conflict began an estimated 3,000 lives have been lost, including the 298 civilians killed by the downing of flight MH17 in July. According to the UNHCR some 2.2m civilians remain in conflict areas with very little access to food, water and basic necessities. A report by the OHCHR has documented “a wide array of human rights abuses” committed during the conflict. In recent days a ceasefire has been agreed by both parties which it is hoped will bring an end to the fighting.
The Future: After the Ceasefire
Now that the parties in both conflicts have agreed to a ceasefire the crucial question is what happens next? How can we expect the civilians whose lives have been destroyed by these conflicts to just rebuild and start again? A ceasefire agreement is a crucial first step towards peace but it is only the first step of many. Whilst the circumstances behind the conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine are wholly different, it is argued that the steps necessary to achieve peace in both conflicts are the same.
First, a ceasefire agreement must be seen as a means to an end, not an end in itself. If the victims of these conflicts are to rebuild their lives then the international community must aid them in this effort. New homes will need to be built, electricity and water supply restored as well as access to food ensured for those most vulnerable. We have an obligation to help provide access to such basic necessities.
Second, in both conflicts there have been allegations of war crimes and human rights abuses being committed by all parties involved. Such allegations must be fully investigated and the perpetrators promptly brought to justice. Such investigations are crucial to the healing process for the victims.
Finally, successful and meaningful political dialogue must be achieved in both conflicts so that a long term agreement between the parties can be reached. A ceasefire should be seen as a welcome but temporary measure. It will not guarantee long term peace.
BBC News, ‘Gaza-Israel conflict: Is the fighting over?’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-28252155
BBC News, ‘Ukraine Profile’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-18010123
CNN, ‘Misery in Ukraine as deadly conflict drives civilians from homes’ http://edition.cnn.com/2014/09/02/world/europe/ukraine-crisis/
The Guardian, ‘Gaza ceasefire: Israel and Palestinians agree to halt weeks of fighting’ http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/26/gaza-ceasefire-israel-palestinians-halt-fighting
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, ‘Report on the human rights situation in Ukraine, 17 August 2014’