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:
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.