GAZA CITY: Palestinians inspect the rubble of a building after it was destroyed in an Israeli strike the night before in the Rimal neighbourhood, on Saturday. The head of Israeli intelligence is expected to lead ceasefire talks in Qatar on Sunday in response to a new proposal from Hamas.—AFP

Six months on: The annihilation of Gaza

The Palestinian struggle for self-determination is now overshadowed by their need to simply survive. They are being starved to death by the only liberal democracy in the Middle East.
Published April 8, 2024

After half a year, the United States has finally managed to heimlich a promise out of the Israelis to open more aid crossings. What provoked this belated back-thwacking was not the 33,000 Palestinians subjected to Israel’s carnival of killing, but that seven (mostly foreign) aid workers were murdered by the IDF. Their deaths a tragedy, while those of the Palestinians, a mere statistic.

Six months on, we have an entirely ignored Security Council resolution calling for a two-week ceasefire while Palestinians are being starved to death in the worst man-made famine in the last 75 years. Oxfam reports that those in northern Gaza have been forced to survive on an average of 245 calories a day since January. We’re seeing a mass starvation unlike any other in recent history.

This may be the 13th war Israel has waged on Gaza since 1948, but the world has changed during this onslaught. Never before has the international community had dinner watching a deranged country take vengeance on defenceless children by forcing them to die a slow torturous death while a dystopian algorithm called ‘where’s daddy’ takes out their father when he returns home.

This nakba may undo all the old certainties; the world before and after October 7 is a different one.

The ‘rules-based international order’ is dead

In January of this year, I started teaching international criminal law at the Lahore University of Management Sciences to yawning law students who would turn up to my 8am class. I spent much of the four hours of classes on genocide talking about what wasn’t genocide.

Displacement is not genocide, ethnic cleansing isn’t genocide, open borders are usually a sign that it’s not genocide. When asked whether I thought what Israel was doing was genocide, I replied ‘probably not’. This was based on the very high threshold set by the law and the International Court of Justice’s past precedent. But a key fear was also that the ICJ would not hold that genocide had been committed, upholding this high threshold, and that everyone would treat this as an exoneration of Israel and a failure of international law, when it is neither. We have simply set the threshold for this crime that high in law.

Between January and now though, my opinion has changed. The starving of civilians and refusal to allow aid trucks in, places this — to my mind — now squarely as one of the acts of genocide; that of deliberately inflicting upon the group conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction with the intent to destroy them. It seems that the ICJ may now also be leaning this way. South Africa has asked for new provisional measures twice since January and the ICJ granted the second one on March 28, ordering Israel to allow in relief supplies saying that famine was now no longer looming over Gaza, it was setting in.

This is not as interesting though as the judge’s separate opinions, seven of whom said the court should have asked for a ceasefire and that Israel would not be able to comply with its obligations under the Genocide Convention without halting military operations and letting in aid. The notion being that the starving of Gaza was genocidal. The Somali judge, Yusuf, went further and said: “The alarm has now been sounded by the Court. All the indicators of genocidal activities are flashing red in Gaza.”

In the coming days, the Court will listen to the case brought by Nicaragua against Germany for co-authoring Israel’s genocide and war crimes. The largest supporter of Israel, the US, cannot be brought before the World Court because of reservations to its jurisdiction — nobody can try the US for genocide unless it has consented to being so tried. But Nicaragua may have picked Germany (over say, the UK, Canada or the Netherlands) because it has made Israel’s security its very reason for existing. Angela Merkel famously said in 2007 that Israel’s security is Germany’s Staatsräson, its reason for being a state. Outsourcing their guilt has resulted in Germany potentially being complicit in gross international crimes, the kind they ironically promised they would ‘never again’ commit.

South Africa and Nicaragua are trying these countries perhaps because their current governments — the African National Congress and the Sandinistas — had strong links with the Palestinian liberation movement when they themselves were rebel movements. In both cases, the Israeli state supported the overthrown apartheid government in South Africa and the brutal Somozan dictatorship in Nicaragua. Liberation movements, it seems, remember well those who supported them and those who supported their oppressors and in an act of bureaucratic kindness for their comrades-in-arms, they have picked up the Palestinian cause in memory of this support.

We don’t know how the Court will decide either of these cases. What we do know though is that both the victim and the perpetrator of the Holocaust — the most well-known genocide in history — have been dragged before the ICJ for committing and supporting another one against the Palestinian people. And the countries taking them there are both from the Global South.

Shifting blocs

Outside of the courtroom, the sands of power relations between states have shifted. The US has pushed China and Russia together, in what can only be explained as an act of hubris on the part of the superpower. It seems to believe it can take on both of them at once.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is aghast at the West’s hypocrisy. Acclaimed author and editor Adam Shatz calls the West’s janus-faced approach to the conflict compared to others — in which Russia’s occupation of Ukraine is egregious, but the Israeli occupation of Palestine is fine — similar to “the fractures of 1956, when people in the ‘developing world’ sided with Algeria’s struggle for self-determination, while Western countries backed Hungary’s resistance to Soviet invasion”.

After October 7, the term Zionist has become a slur in the Global South in much the same way as ‘jihadist’ became one in the West post-9/11. At the same time, the West continues to treat those shouting anti-semitism at the tiniest infraction akin to an oppressed minority group eligible for EU funding.

Much of the world has accepted that Palestine is the most moral issue of our time for reasons wrapped up in ideology, religion, and morality. For the West, these are the old, false gods that they have forsworn for their new gods of individualism and capital.

These new crusaders don’t clutch the Bible, but liberalism. The East though remains wary of this new religion; it has seen what liberalism has mutated into in the West, with its alienation, empty consumerism, and dismantling of community, the export of which led to the invasion of Iraq. It also remains the reason for the West’s continuing unflinching support in the face of genocide.

Israel is after all the only liberal democracy in the Middle East, the villa in the jungle, a civilised nation among Muslim primitives. Israel plays on this as being the last bastion between Europe and savagery with Naftali Bennett, former Prime Minister of Israel, saying in 2015: “Israel is in the forefront of the global war on terror. This is the frontline between the free and civilised world and radical Islam. We’re stopping the wave of radical Islam from flowing from Iran and Iraq all the way to Europe. When we fight terror here, we’re protecting London, Paris and Madrid.”

It’s also why Hamas is the quintessential barbaric enemy; after all, they pledge fealty to the old gods in their demand for Palestinian statehood.

Hamas’ resistance

Nationalism is perhaps one of the most powerful ideologies on the planet and Hamas is demanding a birth certificate for the nation-state of Palestine. It does so though through armed resistance, which, in both the intifadas and on October 7, has included the commission of war crimes against civilians. That is why the question of ‘do you condemn Hamas?’ so famously wielded by Piers Morgan for every pro-Palestinian on his show has become such a sticking point in the West.

Those advocating for decolonisation seem to think that all violence is justified in the goal of liberation, whether that be against combatants or civilians. International law does allow us to have some consistency on this — people fighting for their right to self-determination have the right do so through all means necessary, including armed struggle.

However, this right to resistance has to be exercised within the parameters of international law. That’s why the first phase of Al-Aqsa floods on October 7 when Hamas targeted IDF soldiers and military targets was a legitimate act of resistance and hence, legal. But afterwards, when they went after grandmothers in the kibbutzim or rave-goers, it was not.

But the demonisation of Hamas and its war crimes fulfils a much more insidious aim of denouncing the liberation group and its dogged resistance against the Israeli occupation as a whole. This is especially while the West trips over itself to designate them as a “terrorist organisation” — a moniker long given to liberation movements to delegitimise them.

The term ‘terrorism’ is a useless one. There is of yet no legal definition for this word owing to the international community’s inability to decide when freedom fighting is terrorism and when it is not — though likely it remains in the outcome; whether they win or not. National liberation movements. when successful, are no longer terrorists. The ANC and the Sandinistas are examples of this; once they became the state, the label can no longer be applied.

The notion that Hamas wants the destruction of Israel is also incorrect. The group pragmatically recognised the state of Israel in 2007 and the need for a Palestinian state to exist alongside an Israeli one. It is in line with Edward Said’s foresight that both Palestinians and Jews have a right to live in that area and that they are condemned to live there together. Hamas fights then for an end to occupation, the right of return for Palestinians expelled from their homes, and the creation of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital.

Collective punishment

The commitment to armed resistance is also why Hamas is such a polarising movement among Palestinians. The group has watched closely the trajectory of the PLO, which then became the Palestinian Authority, and how it has become a “corrupt, toothless, quisling leadership subservient to the Israeli state”.

The PA, by most accounts, is now essentially a security sub-contractor for Israel, allowing it to inflict an essentially burden-free occupation in the West Bank; an occupation of Palestinians by Palestinians. And the PA, despite being allowed into the corridors of power, has not been able to get Palestinians any closer to having their own state. Its path to pacification has been littered with too many promises that have enriched its leaders but not the Palestinians it represents.

Meanwhile, Hamas boasts that its armed resistance works. It forced the Israelis to disengage from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and is the only reason why the strip is not embroidered by Israeli settlements in the same way as the West Bank. This is also with limited support from the rest of the Muslim world; criticising the Arabs, a leader in Gaza said: “Hamas defends the Ummah’s honour with self-made weapons while all the weapons piling up in the storage warehouses of the Arab armies are rusting, and if they’re ever used, they’re used against their own people.”

The people of Gaza feel pride in the resistance. Researcher and author Tareq Baconi writes that “[i]n countless conversations, I was reminded that while the Israeli army can drive up to any house in the West Bank and arrest its members — even to the house of the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas! — it was unable to step foot in Gaza. At least not without incurring a beating. This strip of land is thought of as undefiled, Palestinian, sterile of Israel’s occupation.”

Hamas claims that “fighters’ trenches not negotiators’ hotels are what [will] resolve the conflict” and while support for it may waver, given the extent to which Palestinians are punished in its name, it was strong in opinion polls taken right after the October 7 attacks.

On the other hand, PA President Mahmoud Abbas is now ‘extraordinarily unpopular’ and 84 per cent of Palestinians want him to resign (going up to 93pc in the West Bank). That’s why it’s unwise to say the Palestinian people are not represented by Hamas and, therefore, should not be collectively punished for their actions. Hamas may in fact represent the Palestinian people and they still should not be collectively punished for them.

However, they have been and will continue to be. After Hamas was elected into power in 2007, an embargo was placed on the Gaza Strip, sanctions were imposed, and aid was frozen. This is the first time that such measures have ever been imposed on an occupied people as opposed to the occupier.

The only way Hamas could ensure the survival of those placed under this blockade was by creating a honeycomb of tunnels beneath the strip to ensure that food and supplies could be smuggled in. Israel now drops 2,000 pound bombs to destroy these tunnels, killing the refugees camped above them.

Golda Meir, Israel’s first female prime minister, famously said: “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children but we cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.” The gymnastics of logic in this response is shocking. The Palestinians have forced the Israelis to kill their children, to bury them in rubble, and to starve them to death.

The future is not yet written

Six months on, nothing and yet everything has changed. Over 33,000 Palestinians have been slaughtered, 12,300 of whom are children, by the IDF and their algorithmically overdosed killing machines. The death toll on the Israeli side, amid this casino of execution, is over 1,400 — including almost 1,200 killed on Oct 7 and another 251 since.

Both the perpetrator and victim of the Holocaust are on trial for collaborating to commit a genocide against the Palestinians. Meanwhile, the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, for their right to return, for their right to resist, is now overshadowed by their need to simply survive. They are being starved to death by the only liberal democracy in the Middle East.

At the start of Tareq Baconi’s seminally important book, Hamas Contained, he recounts an uncomfortable conversation which I want to reproduce in full:

“My fixer in Gaza told me a story. There was once a village whose men were all drafted to fight in some faraway battle. While the men were gone, enemy soldiers invaded the village and raped all the women who had been left behind, and went on their way. The women, shell-shocked and bloodied, mourned their fate as they congregated to comfort one another in the village square. One woman was missing. They went looking for her and found her lying under the soldier who had tried to rape her. With her own hands, she had managed to kill him and save herself from the lot of her fellow villagers. Joy at her safety soon soured. The raped women now worried they would be judged by their husbands for not similarly fighting for their honour and fending off their rapists. In no time, this undefiled survivor became a symbol of their shame. Swiftly, they conspired to kill her.

The storyteller turned to me and said, that woman, the survivor, is Gaza. She has refused to submit to Israel’s occupation and its rape and pillage of Palestinian land while other Palestinian and Arab leaders have succumbed. She has become a source of pride for Gazans who maintain their armed resistance against Israel. She is now a shameful reminder for those who have accepted their fate. Arabs and Palestinians elsewhere have looked away as she is bombarded, incessantly and mercilessly. Israel has focused all its efforts on shaming and breaking it. For she remains the only proud bit of Palestine that refuses to yield.“

If there is a chink of light that can be offered, my hope rests not with the institutions created in the wake of the horrors of a World War, but with the desire for liberation. If international law must fail, let nationalism win.

May we see a Palestinian state within our lifetime.

Header image: Palestinians inspect the rubble of a building after it was destroyed in an Israeli strike the night before in the Rimal neighbourhood. — AFP/ File