If we want to live in a world with rules, they have to apply to Israel, too

By Lydia Polgreen

Over the past month, we’ve watched an astonishing, high-stakes global drama play out in The Hague. A group of countries from the poorer, less powerful bloc some call the global south, led by South Africa, dragged the government of Israel and, by extension, its rich, powerful allies into the top court of the Western rules-based order and accused Israel of prosecuting a brutal war in the Gaza Strip that is “genocidal in character”.

The responses to this presentation from the leading nations of that order were quick and blunt.

“Completely unjustified and wrong,” said a statement from Rishi Sunak, Britain’s prime minister.

“Meritless, counterproductive and completely without any basis in fact whatsoever,” said John Kirby, a spokesperson for the US National Security Council.

“The accusation has no basis in fact,” a German government spokesperson said, adding that Germany opposed the “political instrumentalization” of the genocide statute.

But on Friday (26), that court had its say, issuing a sober and careful provisional ruling that doubled as a rebuke to those dismissals. In granting provisional measures, the court affirmed that some of South Africa’s allegations were plausible and called on Israel to take immediate steps to protect civilians, increase the amount of humanitarian aid and punish officials who engaged in violent and incendiary speech. The court stopped short of calling for a ceasefire, but it granted South Africa’s request for provisional measures to prevent further civilian death. For the most part, the court ruled in favour of the global south.

Accusing the state created in the aftermath of the slaughter that required the coinage of the term genocide is a serious step. Scholars of genocide have raised alarms about statements from Israeli leaders and its conduct in the war while stopping short of calling the killing genocide. Some have welcomed South Africa’s application as a necessary step to preventing genocide.

The court was not asked to rule on whether Israel had in fact committed genocide, a matter that is likely to take years to adjudicate. Whatever the eventual outcome of the case, it sets up an epic battle over the meaning and values of the so-called rules-based order. If these rules don’t apply when powerful countries don’t want them to, are they rules at all?

“As long as those who make rules enforce them against others while believing that they and their allies are above those rules, the international governance system is in trouble,” said Thuli Madonsela, one of South Africa’s leading legal minds and an architect of its post-apartheid constitution. “We say these rules are the rules when Russia invades Ukraine or when the Rohingya are being massacred by Myanmar, but if it’s now Israel butchering Palestinians, depriving them of food, displacing them en masse, then the rules don’t apply and whoever tries to apply the rules is antisemitic? It is really putting those rules in jeopardy.”

Reading the document South Africa prepared, I wondered if the leaders of the Western world who dismissed the allegations out of hand had read the same evidence that I had. It is a harrowing chronicle of a charnel house of horrors that shows in detail how Palestinians in Gaza have endured relentless bombing and displacement. I was struck by how thoroughly documented the allegations were and how selective the jurists were in their sources of evidence. The document includes 574 footnotes that cite blue-chip sources, such as United Nations agencies, major nonpartisan humanitarian aid organizations such as Save the Children and mainstream news organizations including The New York Times, the BBC and Reuters.

The military campaign has “wreaked more destruction than the razing of Syria’s Aleppo between 2012 and 2016, Ukraine’s Mariupol or, proportionally, the Allied bombing of Germany in World War II,” the report quoted researchers as saying. The researchers, hardly some raving left-wing activists, are experts cited in one of the most respected news organizations in the world, The Associated Press.

Nor did South Africa seek to elide or obfuscate the atrocity of Hamas’ attack on Israel or the ongoing threat to Israel: In fact, the South African document explicitly condemns the Oct. 7 attack and notes the ongoing rocket attacks from Gaza and Lebanon.

It goes on to quote statements from top Israeli officials, including President Isaac Herzog, stating that “it’s an entire nation out there that is responsible,” making no distinction between civilians and Hamas fighters. Israel’s minister of defence, in the days after the attack, called for a “complete siege”, adding “there will be no electricity, no food, no water, no fuel, everything is closed.” He said that in fighting Hamas the country faced “human animals and we are acting accordingly”. A politician tweeted that the objective was “erasing the Gaza Strip from the face of the earth”. The minister of agriculture said Israel was “now rolling out the Gaza nakba”.

These are serious charges that will take years to investigate and untangle. The bar to proving that the Israeli government has engaged in genocide is very high, and appropriately so. It is the most heinous crime a nation can commit, and there is special resonance, given that the term “genocide” was coined by legal scholar Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jew, during the Holocaust to give a legal definition to the slaughter and ensure it never happened again.

Israel mounted a vigorous and detailed defence, arguing that the statements South Africa cited were not official government policy in prosecuting the war. (Hebrew-speaking American journalist Yair Rosenberg argued in The Atlantic that some of the statements from Israeli officials quoted in the South Africa referral have been taken out of context, truncated or mistranslated.) Hamas has explicitly and repeatedly stated it seeks to eradicate the state of Israel. Israel argues that Hamas is the force that would commit genocide if given the chance and that the country’s military campaign in Gaza against Hamas is one of self-defence. The court did not order Israel to stop fighting in Gaza, presumably indicating that its battle there is legal and legitimate in principle.

All of which is to say, this is exactly the kind of dispute the International Court of Justice was created to address.

The International Court of Justice is not some kangaroo court. It was established after the atrocities of World War II. It is made up of eminent jurists from countries across the globe, who are voted to nine-year terms by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council. By almost unbroken tradition, permanent members of the Security Council are always represented on the court, and the court is customarily balanced among continents. Its rulings are final, but it has no real mechanism to enforce them unless the UN Security Council chooses to press the issue, which is unlikely in this case, given the United States’ veto power. The International Court of Justice issued a nonbinding opinion in 2004 that the security barriers Israel was erecting in the West Bank violated international law, but that ruling has had no effect. The walls still stand.

But despite the International Court of Justice’s lack of enforcement mechanisms, this case matters a great deal because it speaks directly to the blunt challenges facing the U.S.-led global rules-based order that has endured, with some bumps along the way, since the end of World War II. The countries that defined the terms of that grand bargain — the rich, Western nations of the global north — are declining on multiple fronts as China’s global ambitions grow, Russia under Putin menaces Europe and liberal democracy is in retreat in many parts of the globe as governments in strategically vital emerging powers like Turkey and India tilt toward autocracy. All the warning lights are blinking as we risk tumbling headlong into a new era of might-makes-right realpolitik in which anything goes, international laws and norms be damned.

Indeed, what is a rules-based system if the rules apply only selectively and if seeking to apply them to certain countries is viewed as self-evidently prejudiced? To put it more simply, is there no venue in the international system to which stateless Palestinians and their allies and friends can go to seek redress amid the slaughter in Gaza? And if not, what are they to do?

For the cause of Palestinian statehood, every alternative to violence has been virtually snuffed out, in part because Israel’s allies have helped to discredit them. The most recent example is the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement that has, in many places, been successfully tarred as antisemitic or even banned altogether. Efforts to use the UN Security Council have drawn U.S. vetoes for decades. Is seeking redress at the appropriate venue for alleged violations of international law also antisemitic, as Israel’s defence minister said Friday? Does no law apply to Israel? Are there no limits to what it may do to defend itself?

The Biden administration has made the shoring up of the international rules-based order a centrepiece of its foreign policy but, unsurprisingly, has struggled to live up to that aspiration. Fair enough: A little bit of hypocrisy is the inevitable lubricant for the grinding of the gears of history. Only small children expect the hobgoblin of total consistency, and even they eventually grow out of it when confronted with the hard choices life imposes on us all. (Indeed, many have accused South Africa of hypocrisy for bringing this case given its close ties to Russia and its repeated refusal to condemn that nation’s aggression in Ukraine.)

Occasionally straying from your principles because circumstances require it is very different from being seen to have no principles at all, and that is precisely how much of the global south has come to regard the US.

It seems especially shortsighted in these times that the Biden administration elected to wave away the carefully documented case prepared by South Africa. One of the biggest threats to the rules-based international order is the growing consensus in the poor world that the rich world will apply those rules selectively, at its discretion, when it suits the powerful nations that make up the global north, such as when Russia invaded Ukraine.

“The kind of equivocation that we have been seeing about Gaza, the minimization of the scale of the humanitarian crisis, but also the cowardice in failing to call out the Israeli government for how it’s conducting itself, has sapped the United States of moral authority in the eyes of many people across the globe,” said Dan Mafora, a legal scholar in South Africa.

Hamas, of course, in this instance struck first, on Oct. 7, with an attack of such relentless brutality and cruelty that it seemed designed to elicit precisely the maximalist response the Israeli government has meted out. But two can play the game of who started it and who is to blame, rolling back the clock to biblical times to try to fix the ultimate responsibility for the catastrophe of Israel and Palestine. No history lesson will salve the present agony.

As far as the rules-based order is concerned, when it comes to crimes like genocide and ethnic cleansing, it simply does not matter who started it. They can no more be justified than Hamas’ wanton slaughter on Oct. 7. The best way to shore up the rules-based order is to be seen, in word and deed, as committing to the institutions and moral commitments of that order.

Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States do not need to affirm the charges from South Africa; they could indeed reject them while still giving credence to the process underway in The Hague as a legitimate and worthwhile exercise of oversight by a credible body charged with adjudicating exactly this kind of claim. After strong dismissals by top officials to the initial charges, the Biden administration had a more muted response to the court’s ruling on Friday, saying via a spokesperson that the US recognizes the court’s “vital role” and noting that the US has strongly urged Israel to take many of the steps the court ordered to protect civilians.

To my mind, the case is most important as a powerful reminder that any Palestinian state would be bound by the same rules and subject to the same kind of proceedings. Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing allies have reiterated their adamant opposition to a Palestinian state. The US has urged the creation of such a state as the foundation for peace in the region. In this, the Biden administration is absolutely correct. The only path out of this tragedy is bringing the Palestinian people into the family of self-governing nations that live, imperfectly, under the rules that have kept an uneasy but durable peace for generations.

-New York Times

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.

otc high blood pressure treatment blood pressure guidelines medications blood pressure pills that is safe for the liver high blood pressure medication levothyroxine blood pressure medication that reduces blood pressure is there any difference in blood pressure pills high blood pressure child medication blood pressure medication recommendation nose blue blood pressure medication blood pressure is 150 68 should i take my medication blood pressure medication while nursing taking a bunch of high blood pressure pills aerobic exercise and blood pressure medication good blood pressure medication acupuncture treatment for low blood pressure best over the counter pills for high blood pressure blood pressure pill amlodipine besylate high blood pressure signs and treatment moderna vaccine blood pressure medication which blood pressure drugs do not cause tinnitus blood pressure medication fights cancer blood pressure medication skin rash side effects of high blood pressure medication impotence medication to avoid on blood pressure medications high blood pressure rx medication peripheral neuropathy caused by blood pressure medication high blood pressure in pregnancy treatment nice runny nose do to blood pressure medication how to get off of blood pressure pills hiv medication and high blood pressure niacin treatment for high blood pressure two drugs for blood pressure that caused cancer high blood pressure causing medications high blood pressure medication names canada blood pressure medication side effects alcohol i take 3 blood pressure medication blood pressure pills that help with anxiety what iv drug raises blood pressure list of doctors who formulated blood pressure medications how to remember blood pressure medications sleeping pills blood pressure how fast does blood pressure medication take effect sweet n low high blood pressure medication home treatment for blood pressure high blood pressure medication matrocet high blood pressure medication doses blood pressure drug bystolic iberstaron blood pressure medication blood pressure medications st alphabetical celexa and high blood pressure medication does blood pressure pills irritation skin can i take combivent with high blood pressure medication blood pressure medications beta blockers list what to do if blood pressure medication does not work drugs to lower your blood pressure red beet pills for blood pressure taurine and blood pressure medications how ling for garlic pills to lower blood pressure blood pressure medication list and side effects can i take aspirin with high blood pressure medication blood pressure medication teaching about hot tubs water pills high blood pressure over counter what is an arb medication for blood pressure resveratrol high blood pressure medication high blood pressure medication and weight loss gum disease and blood pressure medication benzenesulfonic acid in blood pressure medication taking two blood pressure pills by mistake allergy pills for high blood pressure blood pressure prescription drugs safety blood pressure medication in pregnancy trazodone and blood pressure medication which blood pressure medication is linked to skin cancer list of blood pressure medications with the least side effects could blood pressure medication make blood thicker disadvantages of high blood pressure medication blood pressure medications ludipril typical drugs for high blood pressure otc water pills for high blood pressure blood pressure medications that do not doncause bowel blockage high blood pressure after corrosion treatment how soon does high blood pressure medication work blood pressure medication teaching amertyrine high blood pressure medication increased blood pressure and heart rate after drug overdose over the counter drugs high blood pressure blood pressure medication 25 is blood pressure medication a nitrate most effective blood pressure pills blood pressure medical does red yeast rice interfere with high blood pressure medication can apple cider vinegar pills lower blood pressure does blood pressure medication give you headaches high blood pressure medication and driving should you take blood pressure pills with food inn blood pressure drugs can you eat bananas if taking blood pressure medication popular high blood pressure medication blood pressure medication los blood pressure medication second drug low blood pressure and hypertension medication do water pills lower blood pressure high blood pressure pill aqunadine high blood pressure cholesterol medication how does medication lower blood pressure acetaminophen blood pressure medication blood pressure medication 30 mg that works around the heart what does grapefruit do to blood pressure medication can red yeast rice be taken with blood pressure medication pharmaceutical treatment for high blood pressure are blood pressure pills statins blood pressure pills that start with r blood pressure medication and male impotence taking baby aspirin with other high blood pressure medications what is the medical name for a blood pressure cuff leg cramps and blood pressure medication blood pressure pill name starts with p natural high blood pressure treatments blood pressure medication names losartan higher blood pressure with radiation treatment medical marijauna high blood pressure how to avoid medication for high blood pressure what time is best to take blood pressure medication medication for palpitations and high blood pressure latest news on blood pressure treatment what if i take two blood pressure pills does xanax interfere with blood pressure medication amlipan blood pressure medication vitamin e and blood pressure medication tell me the side effects of high blood pressure medication herbs pills to lower blood pressure blood pressure medication urge to urinate what medication will safely replace lisop as blood pressure medicine active ingredient in high blood pressure medication blood pressure medications cause adrenal tumors is biktarvy ok to take with high blood pressure medication alembic blood pressure medication sandoz blood pressure medication exercise high blood pressure medication grapefruit pills blood pressure treatment for high blood pressure at home blood pressure medication for patients with osa cycle on off blood pressure medication blood pressure drugs that do not cause heat sensitivity blood pressure medications that do not cause coughing what blood pressure medications do not cause rosacea pfizer blood pressure medication side effects do garlic pills really help lower blood pressure should i take medication for anxiety induced blood pressure treatment for uncontrolled blood pressure decongestant medication high blood pressure can stiff days be used with high blood pressure medication how long does it take medication to lower blood pressure what if i miss a blood pressure pill tribenzor high blood pressure pills law lawsuit 2023 treatment of sudden drop in blood pressure zoloft and blood pressure medication orange high blood pressure pill cancer blood pressure pill why cant people with high blood pressure take keto pills how long for blood pressure to go down mini pill should i get second opinion before taking blood pressure medication blood pressure erectile dysfunction medication high blood pressure medication m lot ben medical device lowers blood pressure puppy ate blood pressure pill are there medications for low blood pressure dod blood pressure medication is losartan a blood pressure pill combination drugs for blood pressure marijuana and blood pressure medication interaction blood pressure medication interactions with grapefruit can you eat bananas while taking high blood pressure medication steps before going on high blood pressure medication blood pressure medication when to cut down foods to avoid on blood pressure medication blood pressure medications depression blood pressure medication non beta blocker tattoos and high blood pressure medication what is the medications used to lower blood pressure quickly high blood pressure medication leg swelling blood pressure medication men in your 40s blood pressure medication wieight loss blood pressure medication hy can blood pressure medication lower blood sugar does blood pressure medication make you pee natural treatment high blood pressure during pregnancy can you take l arginine with high blood pressure medication what class of blood pressure medication can can blood pressure pills reduce appetite faa approved medication for high blood pressure high blood pressure medication during pregnancy best blood pressure medication for type 2 diabetes blood pressure and pain medication pain medication that does not affect blood pressure best high blood pressure drugs on the market if you take incorrect medications to lower blood pressure low blood pressure treatments does your body have to adjust to blood pressure medication why water pill for high blood pressure drugs for treatment of very high blood pressure during pregnancy can i drink grapefruit juice with high blood pressure medication can blood pressure pills make you feel cold high blood pressure medication that helps with weight loss amlodipine blood pressure drug blood pressure medication for infants varicose veins blood pressure medication life extension high blood pressure medication does tylenol interfere with blood pressure medication can i take diamox with other high blood pressure medications prestige medical blood pressure cuff calibration drugs used for high blood pressure chamomile tea and high blood pressure medication narcotics stored alongside blood pressure medications in does nutrigrove blood pressure pills work extremely low blood pressure treatment blood pressure medication for iga nephropathy blood pressure medication low side effects can i increase my blood pressure medication what is the best blood pressure medication to take drugs that cause increased blood pressure does biotin interfere with high blood pressure medication cani od on high blood pressure pills blood pressure medication that also helps with jerking blood pressure medication categories first line treatment of high blood pressure medication for low blood pressure in usa armour thyroid drug interactions blood pressure meds hepatitis c treatment high blood pressure high blood pressure arb drugs low blood pressure treatment with essential oils high blood pressure medication list for pregnancy blood pressure medication and snake venom blood pressure medication low dose liquid blood pressure medications ivf drugs and high blood pressure left my blood pressure medication does it matter when you take blood pressure medication can you take blood pressure pills twice a day privilin blood pressure medication how big are blood pressure pills once you start blood pressure medication can you stop diuretic in blood pressure medication what medication reduce blood pressure new blood pressure treatment prescribed home medications for high blood pressure blood pressure medication side effects forums taking blood pressure pills dizzy when bend over a lot blood pressure medication and nyquil cinnamon pills and high blood pressure temporary high blood pressure treatment single agent blood pressure medication blood pressure medication made in china fda approved medications to reduce blood pressure immediate treatment for high blood pressure at home best time to take blood pressure pills muscle loss on high blood pressure medication blood pressure medication when needed treat high blood pressure without medication blood pressure medication side effects for men cbd pills for high blood pressure blood pressure regulation without medication blood pressure medication and pre workout high blood pressure alzheimer disease and antihypertensive treatment miss blood pressure medication blood pressure pills suicide peaceful emergency drugs for low blood pressure common blood pressure medications in canada systolic blood pressure define medical viril and high blood pressure pills can statin drugs help lower blood pressure do you have to wean off blood pressure medication new drugs for blood pressure when is high blood pressure medication necessary drugs for hi blood pressure cold medications and blood pressure taking 2 blood pressure pills mistake why doctors stopped prescribing blood pressure medication common high blood pressure medication canada what side effects does blood pressure medication have ulcer medication high blood pressure can high blood pressure medication elevate alkaline phosphatase blood pressure medication warning getting blood pressure medication jamaica alkaline water and blood pressure medication blood pressure going up and down with medication drugs reduce systolic blood pressure treatment for rapid high blood pressure low blood pressure alternative treatment do all high blood pressure medications cause weight gain medication for increasing blood pressure blood pressure medication for african american males vitamins for high blood pressure treatment aleve with blood pressure medication how to lower blood pressure without pills blood pressure triple pill who blood pressure guidelines for hygiene treatment what drug reduces blood pressure blood pressure medications enalapril met blood pressure medication