“Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of collective or individual self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by members in exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.”
Last Monday, spokesman for the US Secretary of State Ned Price fumbled his way through journalists’ questions on the rights of Palestinians to defend themselves and the appropriateness of Israeli tactics in the most recent flare-up of tensions in the Gaza Strip. While the right of self-defence is included in the UN Charter, anyone watching developments in the eastern Mediterranean over the past eight days can no longer accept Price’s argument that Israel is acting solely in self-defence. While innocent lives have been lost on both sides, Palestinian civilians trapped inside the Gaza Strip are being hit far worse, bombarded by one of the strongest military powers in the region. To ignore the fact that Israel is committing potential war crimes goes beyond political bias. It is a moral outrage to look away, a dehumanisation of Palestinians that reduces them to cannon fodder in the long battle for total supremacy of one people in the region over another.
Contrary to what the Biden administration says, Israel cannot be acting in self-defence because, as recognized by the UN, they are the occupiers of Palestinian land and so have no international right to defend themselves against the people they occupy. In contrast, as occupiers they have a certain duty of protection according to international law, a duty which, given the conditions of apartheid Palestinians live under, Israel has consistently failed to uphold. The right of Palestinian resistance is upheld by the United Nations, which ensures the legality of resistance against an occupying force including by means of armed struggle. Of course, the legalities of both sides become murky as soon as civilians start being indiscriminately bombed. When it comes to self-defence, Israel can of course prevent rockets from entering it’s territory through its Iron Dome missile defence system, which swallows up around 90% of rockets fired from Hamas. Israel, furthermore, have a certain right to root those rockets out from their source through bombing raids of their own. Nevertheless, retaliation for the initial round of rocket fire quickly abandoned proportionality when Israeli bombs began raining down on Palestinian civilians who themselves enjoy no defence system akin to the Iron Dome. The death toll in Gaza at the time of writing (18th May) is reported at 212, which includes 61 children and 36 women. In Israel, officials confirm 10 dead, including two children, despite over 3000 rockets having been fired by Hamas. This testifies to the divergence in military and defensive technologies which regularly goes unacknowledged in news reports by Israeli-leaning Western news outlets.
Western media regularly opens stories with accounts of the first Hamas rocket fire, but in doing so it misleads an uninformed public into assuming Palestinians constitute the initial aggressor. Coverage of the resettlements, where Palestinians are being removed from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah and elsewhere, has been limited. The current chapter in this long and bloody conflict did not begin with Hamas rocket fire, but with the expulsion of Palestinians, the blocking of the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem during Ramadan, and the storming of the al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, by Israeli police. If we were to place the shoe on the opposite foot, and imagine a synagogue stormed by Muslims during Yom Kippur, we can perhaps understand some measure of the Palestinians’ outrage. The prewarned rocket-fire from Hamas was a retaliation for these moves; the Israeli government was given an ultimatum from Gaza to remove their troops from Sheikh Jarrah and the Haram al-Sharif site, which it ignored. Civilian casualties are always a tragedy, no matter which side experiences them – but right now one side of the 1950 Armistice line is experiencing far more than the other. In any war the innocent are the real victims, but Israeli innocents are currently faced with far less of a significant threat than Palestinians in Gaza, no matter what terrors they may be experiencing.
To describe this as a tussle between two equally weighted forces, as many Western media outlets are keen to do, is a blatant misrepresentation of the situation. The citizens of Gaza are trapped beneath Israeli bombardments that are levelling apartment buildings, destroying homes and displacing thousands. Basic supplies are beginning to run out. Power outages are causing havoc in hospitals already underequipped and struggling with the Covid crisis. Foreign aid struggles to gain access because Israel has enforced a blockade on the Gaza Strip since its withdrawal in 2007. Palestinians are trapped in one of the most densely populated areas in the world (13,700 people/square mile) with no ability to flee. Israeli rockets have so far targeted refugee camps, international media offices, and have damaged schools and health facilities, all under the pretext that Hamas are using such sites as human shields, despite providing no evidence to back up such claims. While Israel and the US are quick to condemn terrorist activities that target citizens instead of soldiery, the people of Gaza are living in absolute terror themselves from Israeli rockets that rain down indiscriminately from above. The sense of claustrophobia they must be experiencing is something none of us could ever comprehend.
The aforementioned bombing of the al-Jalaa tower which housed the offices of AP and Al Jazeera represents a worrying step by Israel to try and silence on-the-ground reporting from Gaza. So far no evidence has emerged to confirm Israeli reports that Hamas were operating from inside the building. The President of AP, Gary Pruitt, reported that, despite holding offices in the building for fifteen years, there was “no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the building”. He went on to add, “[t]his is something we actively check to the best of our ability. We would never knowingly put our journalists at risk.” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also confirmed that no evidence has been released by the Israeli military to support their claims. Until such time as evidence does appear, we can only assume the targeting of the al-Jalaa tower was a cynical attempt on the part of Israel to silence international media coverage from inside Gaza itself.
Still, the prevalence of social media in online journalism and communications ensures that people throughout Palestine are able to film and report on the realities of what is taking place there – so long as American social media companies don’t block their attempts to do so. The shifting tectonic plates of media are the likely cause of increased international condemnations of Israel’s actions in Gaza. Of course, popular responses do not represent official government lines. As usual, the US leads the way in refusing to acknowledge the misdeeds of the Israeli military even as the evidence piles up around them. The portion of blame the US holds for the suffering of the Palestinian people is enormous. The Biden administration has spouted forth a weak rhetoric of Israeli self-defence that further tramples America’s already battered international reputation and puts lie to Biden’s campaign promise of being a humanitarian alternative to Trumpism. The reported third consecutive veto by the USA on the United Nations Security Council means that not even a joint statement calling for a ceasefire can be agreed upon. America refuses to call on a halt to the violence, instead assuring us that they are working backchannels to try and broker a ceasefire themselves. In the meantime, details are emerging of the Biden administration’s recent approval of a $735m sale of precision-guided weapons to Israel. As usual, the US carries full responsibility in granting Netanyahu free-rein to continue his settler-colonialist agenda and surreptitiously rid Jerusalem of the Arab families that have made it their home for centuries.
As Article 51 of the UN Charter proclaims, any state has a right to self-defence until such time as the United Nations Security Council can take steps to ensure a brokering of peace. While the Article is dubious in meaning and hard to enforce at the best of times, it is clear in the supremacy of responsibility it grants the UN in resolving international conflicts. Yet, as one of the five permanent members of the security council, the US continues to paint the UN as a flaccid and powerless force by thwarting any attempts at resolution with its all-too-predictable veto. As a result, little will change until the Israelis decide so. Mostly ineffective rockets will continue to pour from Gaza, and Israeli missiles will continue to rain down on Palestinians until such time as Netanyahu considers the job done. Casualties will increase, and judging by what we have seen in the past few days, it will not be the more prosperous citizens of Tel Aviv or Ashkelon who will suffer most, but the already impoverished Palestinians contained within the Gaza Strip. The right-wing, pro-military Israeli government will not stop until silence falls across the strip – the silence of an already oppressed people battered once and for all into absolute submission.
At the time of writing, it does not seem as though any ceasefire is coming soon. More innocent lives are being lost while Washington scratches its head and anxiously manipulates political spin. The blood of men, women and children grows thick on the Biden administration’s hands. Unless some radical change occurs, many more innocents lives will be lost as a result of cynical political games and shameless bullying by a settler colonial government in Israel, and its enabler-in-chief across the Atlantic.