Legal Agenda Statement on the War Against Gaza: Ethnic Cleansing is a Catastrophe for All Humanity

2023-10-18    |   

Legal Agenda Statement on the War Against Gaza: Ethnic Cleansing is a Catastrophe for All Humanity

This is a translation from Arabic of a statement published on Oct 17, 2023 prior to the attack on the Al-Ahli Arab Baptist hospital in Gaza.


This war is not the first that Israel has waged against Gaza or that has left thousands dead or wounded. It is, however, the gravest, given the announcement of plans to destroy Gaza and expel its people and the fact that it began with the imposition of a total blockade on the territory that can only be understood through the lens of these plans. With fears increasing of a new catastrophe (Nakba) resembling the mass expulsion of Palestinians in 1948, UN Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian Territories Francesca Albanese promptly delivered the correct legal description of this scenario, namely “ethnic cleansing”, and called upon major powers to shoulder their responsibility to prevent it.


This concern peaked on Friday night (October 13), when the Israeli army warned the more than 1.1 million inhabitants of Gaza’s northern half to abandon their homes and neighborhoods and head south before the ground offensive begins. However, the concern is also corroborated by the consistent discourse of senior Israeli officials. Israeli President Isaac Herzog went as far as to condone the killing and collective punishment of civilians, holding the people of Gaza (a whole nation, as he said) responsible for Hamas’ actions because they have not risen against the movement. Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant vowed to impose a total blockade on Gaza and went as far as to describe its inhabitants as “human animals”. A former official of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs spoke of a plan to build new cities for Gaza residents in Sinai once they have been expelled, along the same lines as what he says occurred following the displacement of millions of Syrians to Turkey. All these declarations have been translated into a total blockade on Gaza and the cutting of the supply of fuel, food, water, and medicine, to the point of causing starvation. An average of 19 Gazans continue to be killed per hour, at least a third of them being children. Ambulances have been bombed, and the directors of several hospitals have been warned to evacuate all patients.


Despite the gravity of these acts and statements, most countries of the Global North, particularly the European Union and the United States, continue to support the military operation in the name of Israel’s right to defend itself following Hamas’ attacks on October 7. A discourse has prevailed in these countries contending that Hamas must be categorically condemned because war crimes cannot be justified under any circumstances, showing no regard for the context in which the attacks occurred, including the reality of the occupation, apartheid, and permanent blockade. Meanwhile, these countries have turned a blind eye to the war crimes that Israel has committed, ignoring successive statements by UN officials, several international organizations, and, recently, European government officials, particularly in Spain. In other words, these countries seem unwilling to contextualize certain acts of violence committed by Hamas and deemed criminal under international law under any circumstance, while asserting that Israel’s “right to self-defense” trumps international law. This discourse of double standards has been exacerbated by public authorities and media outlets’ suppression of any contrary opinion through various means ranging from the firing of employees to the application of criminal law, including anti-terror legislation, in contravention of the principles of freedom of expression.


In response to the rapid developments of the war and crime being perpetrated against Gaza, the Legal Agenda would like to express the following positions:


  • We commend Special Rapporteur Albanese’s demand for an immediate ceasefire and end to the total blockade on Gaza, which would allow the survivors to access their basic needs. The top priority today is to prevent another crime of genocide or ethnic cleansing, which would inflame the conflict to free Palestinians from Israeli occupation in all its dimensions and further undermine the hopes that the region and humanity have for building a safe and just world. Here, we must recall that the crimes of genocide and ethnic cleansing occurring in full swing in Gaza are exactly the kind of crimes that the world pledged not to repeat following the Second World War. Article 8 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide obliges countries to intervene to stop genocide, making any support or facilitation of the crime tantamount to complicity in it.


  • All countries, especially the major and influential powers and donor states, have a duty to address the flagrant structural factors underpinning the aforementioned conflict, the most important being the continued occupation, apartheid across historic Palestine, settlement of the West Bank, and blockade of Gaza, as well as the near total denial of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination. Tolerating and normalizing this situation without making any effort to address it is tantamount to international collusion in the transformation of the Palestinian people into eternal victims. This clashes with the foundations of international law and exacerbates the conflict and the wars that will inevitably arise from it.


  • While we acknowledge that Palestinian resistance forces must abide by international law, which recognizes resistance to occupation as a natural right, we also totally reject the following trends, whether among public authorities or major media outlets:
    • The continuing attempts to demonize the resistance forces in a manner that denies the right of these forces, one after another, to exist after labeling them terrorists.
    • The use of acts imputed to Hamas to justify war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated against the entire Palestinian people in the name of self-defense – crimes that exacerbate the Palestinians’ situation and further inflame the conflict in its various dimensions.
    • The treatment of Palestinian civilians as inferior to other people, to the point of labeling them “human animals”, which is at complete odds with the principle of nondiscrimination.

Such attitudes turn international law into nothing but a tool for protecting colonialism from the colonized, occupation from the occupied, the usurper from the usurped, and apartheid from the peoples against which it is practiced. They turn it into more of a tool of hegemony than a tool for building world peace based on justice, thereby stripping it of its reason to exist. Major powers seem to be harnessing certain erroneous concepts and approaches to recast international law, after it failed to create a reality that accords with its provisions, to suit the reality of power. Of course, this can only happen when the histories and contexts of conflicts are obscured and ignored, which leads to contempt for the suffering of victimized peoples and international apathy toward their continued victimization.

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