International law or rules-based order?

Two days after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in favour of South Africa’s prima facia case of genocide against Israel, Israel, and its primary sponsor the United States, along with the usual cohort of vassal states including Britain, all withdrew funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which provides food and aid to Gaza. The very same people deprived of food, water, medical supplies and all other life supporting mechanisms whilst being bombed into oblivion by Israel using US and British weapons, have had what meagre support they had withdrawn.

Whilst the withdrawal of UNWRA funding could be considered a war crime in itself, the action is in flagrant defiance of the ICJ’s ruling that found the charges of genocide brought by South Africa, plausible.

The ICJ ordered Israel to abide by six provisional measures to prevent genocide and alleviate the humanitarian catastrophe, one of which was for Israel to secure immediate and effective steps to provide humanitarian assistance and essential services in Gaza. This defunding is a retaliatory message to the ICJ that, by deciding that Israel was non-compliant with the present orders thus warranting further orders, Israel will not recognise the ICJ’s authority.

What does this say about the authority and influence of the highest international court in our world? What does it say about Israel’s acknowledgement of the court’s legitimacy when following its ruling, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responds with, “Israel’s commitment to international law is unwavering. Equally unwavering is our sacred commitment to defend our country.”

He said South Africa’s allegation that Israel was committing genocide was “not only false, it’s outrageous, and decent people everywhere should reject it“.

Well decent people the world over have made it clear what they think, and they reject Israel and Western support of its ongoing genocidal campaign. Whilst many may have no historical knowledge of the region and no understanding of the geo-political implications or US imperialist ambitions, they do know the difference between right and wrong. They know genocide when they see it on their social media feeds despite Western media’s intense campaign of propaganda and protestations to the contrary.

What we are witnessing is the rampant unravelling of two carefully constructed narratives that have run in parallel since 1945. One is the right of Israel to exist on any basis and the other is the pretence that we are all governed according to some democratic principles enshrined in international law.

Since 1945, international law has been centred on the United Nations and its Charter. 193 countries have acceded to the UN Charter as member states, declaring their wish to be part of the community of nations. As part of the deal, they are obliged to follow the fundamental principles and provisions that extend from that Charter, including its highest court, the ICJ.

Swedish diplomat Dag Hammarskjöld once stated, the goal of the UN was not to “take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell.” Well its courts and plethora of resolutions haven’t done much for humanity in Palestine!

Israel and its sponsors, the US and Britain, flagrantly disregard international law and the demands of millions of pro-Palestinian demonstrators worldwide, and they must be brought to account. It is time to delineate the words and actions of our leaders and to make them accountable for what they do. 

Words matter. Words are how we communicate, interpret and understand one another and our world. They are also how we are manipulated into accepting wars and injustices that if clearly articulated, we would fervently fight. Remember “weapons of mass destruction”? Our leaders and mass media constantly play with words to mould our thinking. Have you noticed how Israelis are ‘killed’ but Palestinians ‘die’?

A change in phraseology coming out of the US in recent years interchanged international law with rules-based order. Over time the rules-based order became the dominant phraseology despite it not having the same meaning.

The rules-based order flouted by American and British politicians is less about international law and more about international law as interpreted by the United States. It allows the US to flout the rules that govern other nations and in particular, to use it in support of its exceptionalist approach to Israel. This was clearly articulated in the joint declaration made during President Biden’s visit to Israel in July 2022.

The statement reaffirmed ‘the unbreakable bonds between our two countries and the enduring commitment of the United States to Israel’s security’ and the determination of the two states ‘to combat all efforts to boycott or de-legitimize Israel, to deny its right to self-defence, or to single it out in any forum, including at the United Nations or the International Criminal Court’.

This commitment clarifies the consistent refusal of the United States to hold Israel to account for its repeated violations of humanitarian law and condemn its policy of apartheid in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

The US and its allies have always been partial in their application of the moral imperative, particularly when applied to international law. Israel remains the most immune and regardless of sin, its brutal ethnic cleansing continues with the financial and military support of the US and Britain. Israel is America’s military base in the Middle East. It has ensured US domination of the region and its oil since WW2 and that is why Israel is supported regardless of its actions or world opinion.

Whilst from the perspective of the West, such actions are seen as consistent with their ‘rules-based order’ for the rest of the world, they violate the most basic rules of international law and of humanity itself.

The ICJ ruling in support of South Africa’s submission that Israel is committing a genocide against the Palestinian people is a positive step, but if the court has no teeth, and if the genocide continues, what is the point of the court? Of the United Nations itself? And if there is no legal imperative for stopping what we all see and know is a genocide, and our own governments are complicit, who is going to exert justice?

Israel and the UN system are both in the dock. If nothing is done to hold Israel accountable it will be because the US has a veto over the only body with any executive power – the UN Security Council. The US has used that position to protect Israel and green light its genocidal and apartheid activities with impunity for 75 years despite international outrage. The question is, how much longer will the world’s people allow that situation to continue?

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