On October 7, Israel announced that it was “at war.” After an attack on southern Israeli cities and settlements, the Israeli government said it would launch a “large-scale operation to defend Israeli civilians.” Two days later, his defense minister, Yoav Gallant, announced a complete blockade of Gaza, cutting off supplies of electricity, fuel, water and food. “We are fighting human animals,” he said.
Since then, more than 17,700 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli bombing of Gaza, more than a third of them children. More than 1.7 million people have been displaced within the enclave, and civilians have no safe zone to flee to.
Amid this death and destruction, the dominant narrative in Western media and political circles is that this is “a war,” that Israel has the “right to defend itself against “terrorism,” and that the plight of the Palestinians is a ” “humanitarian” issue. This depiction of events – underpinned by language borrowed from international law – completely distorts the reality on the ground.
Everything that is happening now in Israel-Palestine is taking place in the context of colonization, occupation and apartheid, which are illegal under international law. Israel is a colonial power and the Palestinians are the colonized indigenous population. Any reference to international law that does not take these circumstances into account is a distortion of history.
Israel: A Colonizer
Israel’s status as a colonizing state was clear in the early days of the United Nations. It is noteworthy that a large part of the peculiarity of the case of Palestine, and hence its vulnerability to misrepresentation and manipulation, is that the country was colonized at the moment when mass colonization of the Global South theoretically ended.
For example, during the hearings of the UN Special Committee on Palestine in 1947, Jewish Agency representative Ayel Weizman, one of the key players in making the Zionist project possible, described what was happening at the time as Jewish “colonization of Palestine.” , when the recognition of the State of Israel was discussed.
Resolutions passed by the UN General Assembly in the 1950s and 1970s tended to link Palestine with other colonized nations. For example, Resolution 3070 of 1973 declared that the United Nations General Assembly “condemns all governments which do not recognize the right to self-determination and independence of peoples, particularly the peoples of Africa still under colonial rule and the Palestinian people.”
Likewise, the case of Palestine was presented as a close relative of the case of apartheid in South Africa. For example, Resolution 2787 of 1971 states that the General Assembly “affirms the legitimacy of the people’s struggle for self-determination and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and alien oppression, particularly in southern Africa and particularly of the peoples of Zimbabwe and Namibia.”, Angola , Mozambique and Guinea [Bissau]and the Palestinian people by all available means in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.”
After the 1967 war, Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights led to UN Security Council Resolution 242, which stressed in the preamble “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war” and called for it “Withdrawal of Israeli forces from territories occupied in recent conflict”.
However, the deliberate ambiguity of the resolutions in the English version of the text when they speak of “occupied territories” has been used by Israel to justify its occupation and annexation for over half a century. It also paved the way for Israel to begin building settlements – something Francesca Albanese, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, defined as “colonization” of the West Bank in her report A/77/356.
With the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, which was presented to the international body as a “peace agreement” that put an end to the “Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” the context of colonization and occupation was pushed aside. Of course it didn’t do anything like that.
The oppression and dispossession of the Palestinian people by their Israeli colonizers continued.
The right to defense and the right to resist
The removal of the context of colonization and occupation has facilitated the portrayal of Palestinians as exclusively one of two categories: “victims” of a humanitarian crisis or “terrorists.”
On the one hand, portraying the Palestinians’ plight as a humanitarian concern obscures its root causes. As several United Nations reports and human rights organizations have pointed out, Israeli occupation and apartheid have devastated the Palestinian economy and plunged Palestinians into poverty. Focusing on the humanitarian element perpetuates aid dependence and crowds out calls for accountability and reparations
On the other hand, the narrative that portrays Palestinians as “terrorists” obscures the reality that the Israeli army’s goal has always been to eliminate the “Palestinian problem” by all possible means, including ethnic cleansing, subjugation and expulsion. It also denies the Palestinian people the right to resistance enshrined in international law.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights emphasizes in its preamble: “If man is not to be compelled to rebel against tyranny and oppression as a last resort, human rights must be protected by the rule of law.” In effect, this means that rebellion against tyranny and oppression is acceptable when human rights are not protected.
Similarly, many UN General Assembly resolutions from the 1950s and 1970s, the First Protocol of the Geneva Conventions and the jurisprudence of the International Court of Justice provide evidence of the legitimacy of people’s struggle for self-determination using all the means at their disposal.
Of course, the Palestinians are bound by the rules of conduct of international humanitarian law in their resistance in whatever form.
Denying Palestinians the right to resist goes hand in hand with Israel and its allies constantly invoking Israel’s “right to self-defense.” But Article 51 of the UN Charter, which legitimizes armed aggression in the name of self-defense, cannot be invoked when the threat comes from occupied territory.
The International Court of Justice reiterated this principle in its opinion on the legal consequences of building a wall in the occupied Palestinian territory (2004).
It is important to note that although Israel unilaterally withdrew its soldiers and settlements from Gaza in 2005, it still exercises effective control over the territory. This reality has become starkly apparent over the past two months as Israel has moved to cut off food, water, medical supplies, electricity and fuel – all of which are vital to the existence of Gaza’s population.
Under international humanitarian law, Gaza is occupied by Israel and Israel cannot invoke self-defense as a legitimate reason for its aggression against a threat posed by territory over which it has effective control.
In this sense, Israel commits war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide in Gaza not in the context of “self-defense” but in the context of the occupation. The Israeli army has carried out the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of explosive weapons, the forced displacement of over 1.7 million people in Gaza, and the disruption of fuel, electricity, food, water and medical supplies, amounting to collective punishment.
Unfortunately, these crimes are not an anomaly, but part of the ongoing systemic violence Israel has inflicted on the Palestinian people over the past 75 years.
Outdated laws of war
In attempting to justify the shocking toll of civilian deaths in Gaza, Israel and its supporters have frequently invoked martial law and used terms such as “voluntary human shields” and “proportionality.”
Aside from the flawed arguments and lack of evidence that these claims suffer from, they also rely on a set of norms codified by colonial powers that are completely outdated.
The laws of war were enacted during the colonial period to regulate the use of force between sovereign states. The colonies were clearly not considered sovereign equals, and the laws were designed to maintain dominion over indigenous peoples, territories, and resources.
These laws do not take into account the power asymmetry between the parties to the conflict. They do not respond to the technological changes in warfare. They are not designed to take into account the economic and political interests that shape the war. Significant efforts have been made to address these deficiencies over the past 75 years, but states in the Global North have systematically undermined them.
This is not surprising considering that most of today’s wars take place outside the Global North and the profits from the war business flow predominantly into the economies of the Global North.
It is not in the interests of powerful states to update these laws to reflect the reality on the ground. Instead of updating the laws of war to decolonize them, over the past 20 years the Global North has adopted a new framework to reflect its “war on terror.”
Therefore, it is not surprising that as Israel annihilates Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, the general response of international justice reflects a persistent colonial attitude that ignores distortions and misrepresentations and refuses to call a spade a spade – settler colonialism , resistance, and the people’s right to self-determination.
The only way out of the cycle of brutal violence is to fully and unequivocally recognize the colonial context in Palestine. Israel must end its colonization, occupation and apartheid in Palestine and work for reconciliation and reparations.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.
Source : www.aljazeera.com