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Opinion

In our names

28 Jan 2024 6 minute read
Palestinians look for survivors after an Israeli airstrike in Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip. Photo Anas-Mohammed

Ben Wildsmith

As figures within the UK military join the Secretary of State for Defence in warning the public that a full-scale war is all but inevitable in the next few years, we had a glimpse this week of how Westminster might respond to such a prospect.

On Friday, the International Court of Justice delivered its interim judgement in the case brought by South Africa against Israel of genocide in Gaza.

The headline was that the case was deemed ‘plausible’, in effect putting Israel on trial for the charge. Instead of ordering a ceasefire, the ICJ made six orders designed to prevent the crime of genocide occurring in the commission of Israel’s campaign. These are:

  • Israel must take all possible measures to prevent acts as outlined in Article 2 of the 1948 Genocide Convention. This entails not killing members of a particular group (in this case, Palestinians), not causing physical or psychological harm to members of that group, not inflicting living conditions which are calculated to bring about the end of the existence of a people, and not carrying out actions designed to prevent births within that group of people. 

Measure approved by a vote of 15-2. Dissenting judges: Judge Julia Sebutinde of Uganda and the Israeli representative, Judge Aharon Barak.

  • Israel must ensure its military does not carry out any of the above actions.

Measure approved by a vote of 15-2. Dissenting judges: Judge Sebutinde of Uganda and the Israeli representative, Judge Barak.

  • Israel must prevent and punish the “direct and public incitement to commit genocide in relation to members of the Palestinian group in the Gaza Strip.

Measure approved by a vote of 16-1. Dissenting judge: Judge Sebutinde of Uganda.

  • Israel must ensure the delivery of basic services and essential humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza.

Measure approved by a vote of 16-1. Dissenting judge: Judge Sebutinde of Uganda.

  • Israel must prevent the destruction of evidence of war crimes in Gaza and allow fact-finding missions access.

Measure approved by a vote of 15-2. Dissenting judges: Judge Sebutinde of Uganda and the Israeli representative, Judge Barak.

  • Israel must submit a report on all steps it has taken to abide by the measures imposed by the court within one month of the judgement. South Africa will have the chance to respond to this report.

Measure approved by a vote of 15-2. Dissenting judges: Judge Sebutinde of Uganda and the Israeli representative, Judge Barak.

Criminal prosecutions

You can see that the fourth measure, ensuring the delivery of humanitarian aid was not opposed by Israel.

The delivery and distribution of aid and basic services is predominantly undertaken by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. It has 13 000 employees in Gaza, including doctors, teachers, and engineers.

In an interview with the BBC on the day of the ruling, Israeli spokesman Mark Regev revealed that it had evidence of UNRWA teachers celebrating the 7 October Hamas attack.

He also alleged that a released hostage had claimed to have been held in a house belonging to an UNRWA employee. Israel subsequently provided 12 names of UNRWA employees whom it claimed to have been involved with the Hamas attack.

UNRWA has terminated the contracts of nine of these, another having died and there is confusion about the identity of two of the names.

It has pledged to bring criminal prosecutions against any it finds to have been complicit in terrorist activity.

International response

The international response to these claims has been swift. The United States immediately announced that it was suspending funding for UNRWA, followed by the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and Finland. France announced its suspension today.

Norway and Ireland have pledged continuing support, with a Norwegian government spokesman warning,

‘We need to distinguish between what individuals may have done, and what UNRWA stands for.’

The Turkish foreign ministry issued a statement today, seeking to contextualise the allegations against UNRWA more widely.

‘Working under very difficult conditions, UNRWA meets the vital needs of millions of Palestine refugees. Since 7 October, more than 150 UNRWA personnel have been killed by Israel in Gaza.’

This statistic merits some contemplation. Whilst allegations have been made against 12 UNRWA staff, it is undisputed that over 150 of them have been killed in the campaign.

Simply put, suspicions against 12 employees of acting against Israel have provoked an immediate international response, whilst the death of more than 10 times that number did not.

Defunded

The nature of that response is alarming. Within hours of the UN’s highest legal forum ordering that basic services and humanitarian aid be guaranteed to Palestinian civilians, the only agency equipped to implement this was defunded.

Israel’s allegations against UNRWA employees are yet to be tested by investigation, nor in law. Conversely, the charge of genocide against Israel has cleared the first legal hurdle and will proceed to a trial.

Whilst the trial of Israel will unfold over many years, the de facto rejection of the ICJ’s order to guarantee humanitarian aid will play out immediately and with fatal, possibly catastrophic, consequences.

The timing of Israel’s accusations stretches credulity as regards its intentions in making them. It was inevitable that the UN would eventually seek to intervene in a situation that offers no safe options for a stateless civilian population.

The response of the UK government was to lend its weight to delegitimising the UN and, by extension, its courts.

Global conflict

If, as we are told, the world faces imminent global conflict, respect for international law will be the only beacon towards which nations can travel to frustrate the ambitions of those who seek destruction.

The haste with which the UK and others have rejected the moral authority of the ICJ will be a stick with which hostile states can beat us. If it’s good enough for them…

The UN was set up after World War II precisely to address the potential of local conflicts becoming a threat to global security. One of its first actions was to guarantee Israel’s statehood in law.

In undermining the UN generally, and its legal orders specifically, the United States and its allies may have progressed from sin by omission to sin by commission.

As aid lies undistributed, and civilians perish, we should take a long, hard look at our democracy and demand to know what’s being done in our names.


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Annibendod
Annibendod
25 days ago

Democracy is nothing but a polite facade in the UK. A million people can march in opposition to stop a war but be condescendingly told that despite having respect for their opinion, the Govt will inflict violence by military means on another people if it wishes to and with the most transparently bogus evidence of threat. God, save our children.

David Zenati-Parsons
David Zenati-Parsons
25 days ago

and nobody comments on the genocide in Gazza.

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
25 days ago

Scary stuff. We are governed by a bunch of warmongers.

Riki
Riki
24 days ago

This should teach them – Don’t poke a bear when you encounter one! Don’t steel a Dragons gold either. We, the people of Cymru should 100% oppose a war with anyone, especially those who have never done anything to OUR (Wales) Country! No Russian ever called me….Insert typical insult Here >[….. …….]

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
24 days ago
Reply to  Riki

You could replace Russian with Iranian, Iraqi, Afghan, Syrian, Yemeni or indeed anyone from any country the government(s) of the uk/usa designate as “our enemy!” If you look back far enough through history you will find the uk/usa as the root cause of all the present conflicts! For example, Iran: news reports (TV & paper) only speak of events starting from 1979 with the “Islamic revolution” but go back further in time—not only did the west impose the Shah on the country but also the origins of today’s oil company BP, originally the Anglo-Iranian oil corporation. The british wanted to… Read more »

Riki
Riki
22 days ago
Reply to  Richard Davies

Couldn’t agree more with your reply. Up until you used the word British in regards to the Anglo. They are and have never been British! Doesn’t matter how long I’m in a stable, it doesn’t make me a Horse. So then….The English are geographically British but not culturally!

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
22 days ago
Reply to  Riki

It was shorthand for the british government, likewise usa, I mean its government. I didn’t mean the populations. I actually agree with you.

Riki
Riki
21 days ago
Reply to  Richard Davies

Alright bud, wouldn’t it be better to just refer to them as UK?

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
24 days ago

The uk, along with the usa and many other countries, are equally guilty of collective punishment of the Palestinians by withholding contributions from the ONLY UN humanitarian agency operating in Gaza (UNRWA)!

Israel still hasn’t produced any evidence to back up their allegations about the 12 UNRWA employees. 11 of them have been sacked—it would’ve been all 12 but 1 had been killed following israeli bomb strikes.

Karl
Karl
21 days ago

Well as an unpatriotic remain voter, best they not send me to a war they encourage then. History repeating, when its to hard work to do your job, have a war.

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