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(en) Israel/Palastin: The human rights discourse has failed to stop the genocide in Gaza by Jonathan Pollak* (2024-02-13) (ca, de, fr, it, pt, tr)[machine translation]

Date Sun, 7 Apr 2024 08:11:00 +0300

We are now more than 120 days into an unprecedented Israeli attack on Gaza. Its terrible repercussions and our inability to end it should force us to reevaluate our perspective on power, our understanding of it, and, most importantly, what we need to do to combat it. ---- In the midst of the blood shed, the endless days of death and destruction, the unbearable scarcity, hunger, thirst and despair, the incessant nights of fire and brimstone and white phosphorus raining indiscriminately from the sky, we must face the harsh reality and reshape our strategies.

The officially recorded fatalities - in addition to the many Palestinians who remain buried under the rubble and who do not yet appear in the official count - already represent the annihilation of almost 1.5% of all human life in the Gaza Strip. As Israel intensifies its attacks on Rafah, there appears to be no end in sight. Soon the life of one in every fifty inhabitants of Gaza will be extinguished.

The consequences of the Israeli airstrikes on Rafah this week.

The Israeli military is inflicting an unprecedented number of suffering and death on Gaza's 2.3 million people, surpassing anything ever witnessed in Palestine - or anywhere else - during the 21st century . However, these staggering figures have not penetrated the thick layers of dissociation and disconnection that characterize Israeli society and Israel's Western allies. If anything, reducing this tragedy to statistics seems to hinder rather than improve our understanding. It presents a whole that obscures the specific: the figures hide the personality of the countless individuals who have suffered painful and particular deaths.

At the same time, the unfathomable magnitude of the Gaza massacre makes it impossible to understand it through the stories of individual victims. Journalists, street sweepers, poets, housewives, construction workers, mothers, doctors and children, a multitude too vast to recount. We are left with faceless anonymous figures. Among them there are more than 12,000 children. Probably many more.

Please pause and say this out loud, word for word: more than twelve thousand boys and girls. Murdered. Is there any way we can take it in and move beyond the realm of statistics to understand the horrible reality?

The cold, hard figures also hide hundreds of annihilated families , many of them completely erased - sometimes three, even four generations, wiped from the face of the earth.

These figures dwarf the more than 67,000 people who have been injured, thousands of whom will be paralyzed for the rest of their lives. Gaza's medical system has been almost completely destroyed; vital amputations are being carried out without anesthesia. The level of destruction of infrastructure in Gaza exceeds that of the bombings of Dresden at the end of World War II. Nearly two million people - approximately 85% of the Gaza Strip's population - have been displaced, their lives shattered by Israeli bombardments as they take refuge in the dangerously overcrowded south of the Strip, which the Israeli government declared falsely "safe", but continues to bombard with hundreds of 2000 pound bombs. The hunger in Gaza , created by Israeli state policy even before the war, is so severe that it amounts to famine. In desperation, people have resorted to eating forage, but now even that is ending.

About a month ago, an acquaintance of mine who fled to Rafah from Gaza City after his home there was bombed told me that he and his family had already been forced to move from one temporary shelter to another six different times in their attempts to to escape the bombs. Desperate, he told me: "There is no food, no water, no place to sleep. We are constantly thirsty, hungry and wet. I have already had to pull my children out from under the rubble twice: once in Gaza and once here in Rafah."

In December 2023, the Israeli military designated Al-Mawasi as one of the only "safe zones" in the Gaza Strip. Hundreds of thousands of refugees fled there, finding only a barren strip of land without food, water or sanitation. Now the Israeli army is also attacking the so-called "safe zones." This photograph shows the refugee camp on February 9, 2024.


These rivers of blood must break the walls of our apathy. I wish time would stop long enough for us all to process our grief. But it won't. It keeps happening as more bombs fall on Gaza.

Decades of injustice have paved the way for this. It has been 75 years since the Nakba, 75 years of Israeli colonialism, and its defenders continue to deny the facts. Even after the International Court of Justice (ICJ) affirmed that there is reason to fear that genocide is being committed in Gaza, the United States and many of Israel's other Western allies have remained silent.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the court's mere willingness to debate the case "a shame that will not be erased for generations." Indeed, the sentence is a shame. Even though everything was in plain sight, the court did not order Israel to cease fire. It is an embarrassment to the court itself and to the very idea that international law should protect the lives and rights of people who are crushed by the military force of nations.

It will undoubtedly be said that law, by nature, is meticulous and that it considers the forest not as a whole but as individual trees. To that we must respond that reality, the facts, common sense must be above the law, not below it. Israel devotes considerable resources to battlefield legalism, intended to provide cover for its murderous acts. This approach consists of slicing reality into thin slices of independent, legally approved observations and actions. In Block X there was a military objective, which justifies the death of more than two dozen uninvolved civilians; Block Y was the home of a firefighter employed by Hamas, which legitimizes, according to the principle of proportionality, the decision to annihilate three neighboring families. But this practice cannot turn genocidal water into legitimate wine. This is legal gaslighting that dismantles reality to hide a pattern of indiscriminate mass murder.

If the killing of 1.5% of the population in four months is not genocide; If Israel's acts are not considered serious enough for a court to order an immediate halt to the killing, even in light of open incitement to the extermination of Palestinians by prominent Israeli politicians and members of the press , not to mention the president and prime minister of Israel; when the lack of punishment for such incitements and such acts is accepted instead of calling them genocide in the simplest terms, then the words we use to describe reality have lost all their meaning and we urgently need a new language that goes beyond the confines of legal jargon.

Leaving the butcher's knife in the butcher's hand - leaving Israel unhindered and unhindered - means allowing the slaughter in Gaza to continue. This is the absolute and continuing failure of international law and the institutions charged with maintaining it.

This failure shifts the responsibility of forcing an end to the ongoing catastrophe onto the shoulders of civil society. This should force us to overcome the empty liberal paradigms of human rights, which have replaced liberation as the dominant discourse in left-wing politics.

The consequences of an Israeli attack on the al-Zawaida refugee camp on February 7, 2023.


The way to follow

The human rights discourse that has hijacked the political left in recent decades has distanced us from a framework of liberation and effective action. It is now clear that we must deviate from liberal thinking to reestablish strategies that disarm and deconstruct power. The moral complicity with Israel's crimes represented by the ICJ's refusal to order an immediate ceasefire forces us to do so. He makes a compelling argument that we must all break away from the current failed system.

On the other hand, reality won't wait for us to figure things out. We cannot simply take our time and wait to take action until we have developed and popularized new narratives and conceptual frameworks. We have to use all the means at our disposal to act right now.

Does the ICJ offer us any tools that we can use? The ICJ is considered the highest court of international law. Although it does not have enforcement mechanisms independent of the United Nations Security Council, its rulings and jurisprudence are considered the basis of the jurisprudence of international law, and are often incorporated into the rulings of national courts on these matters. Despite ordering very few measures against Israel or the ongoing genocide being carried out, the court did determine that there is considerable reason to believe that a genocide is occurring.

Since the court took no real action against Israel, it should be clear that the onus is on us and our movements to act. Fortunately, the ruling could also give us some tools to use here and now as we develop new liberation frameworks. An example of this is a recent lawsuit in federal court in California that sought to order the US administration to end military support for Israel. The case was dismissed on the grounds that US foreign policy is outside the court's jurisdiction, but the court determined that it is plausible that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza based on the ICJ ruling.

The legal argument that governments must refrain from complicity in genocide is not without foundation in US law, as well as in many other countries. A Dutch court has recently ordered the Netherlands government to stop delivering parts for the F-35 fighter jets that Israel is using to bomb the Gaza Strip. It might now be plausible to force more governments to impose arms embargoes, sanctions or other measures through national courts.

However, such strategies continue to reduce us to trusting supposed experts; They will not help us build movements. The genocide will not stop from within Israeli society. The pressure to do so must come from outside. Now is the time for direct action and bottom-up efforts, such as community-driven boycotts of Israeli products, sellers who trade in them, Israeli cultural and propaganda exports, and anything else that fuels the global boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. The blockade of the port of Tacoma or the actions of dock workers around the world who refuse to load Israeli ships and goods and transport weapons to Israel are examples of how we could move forward, building towards a proactive grassroots movement.

We must do everything in our power to stop the genocide taking place now, but it is important that we approach doing so as a step toward promoting Palestinian liberation and dismantling Israeli settler colonialism. The depiction of the Palestinian people as little more than victims at the mercy of Israeli repression is sometimes well-intentioned, but it erases their personality and agency. As we strive to end Israel's war machine, we must articulate that this is part of the fight to end Israeli colonialism, and center Palestinians as protagonists of that history.

The roots of the problem

Since before the creation of the Israeli state, Israel has been a racist and colonialist society, based on the idea that Israelis are fundamentally superior to Palestinians. This is the mainstream of Israeli political thought, both on its right wing and on the so-called left. This is the thinking that motivated the mass dispossession of Palestinian families that preceded the formation of the state, the ethnic cleansing of the Nakba in 1948, and various forms of apartheid and military rule since then. In fact, there has only been one year in Israel's history - 1966 - in which it did not impose a military dictatorship regime on at least part of its Palestinian population.

Since long before the current assault on Gaza, the daily reality of Palestinian existence under Israeli rule has been continuous and permanent terror amidst violence and uncertainty. Being Palestinian means going through a checkpoint without knowing if you will be taken out and detained; it means the violence of settler mobs; It means that they put you in jail under administrative detention, without knowing why or for how long; means a military raid in the middle of the night. It's all these things and worse, day after day, over a lifetime, over generations. One of the many things that happened on October 7 was that, for a brief period of time, Israelis, too, as a society, experienced that kind of existential terror, that disturbing uncertainty and lack of security.

The events of October 7 have had such an impact on Israeli society that, even today, the majority of Israeli citizens continue to focus on themselves as the main victim of the narrative. One of the effects of this is the Israeli obsession with contextualizing the Gaza genocide in relation to the violence of October 7. A common complaint about the ICJ decision among Israelis is that the court did not mention October 7 in its decision (in fact, it did mention it). At the same time, this demand for context is intended to suppress the broader context. Many people, even on the so-called left, express outrage when the current situation is put in the context of the Nakba, the 1967 occupation or the ongoing siege. According to this backwards logic, providing that context is perceived as genocide against Israelis.

Israeli racism was prevalent before, but since October 7, undisguised genocidal discourse and open calls for actual genocide have become the norm. Within Israeli society there is no truly significant movement against genocide. The protest movements that do exist are of negligible size and influence, or are primarily dedicated to demanding a hostage exchange deal, or focus on internal Israeli issues, reminiscent of the pre-October 7 pro-judicial movement .

The tiny isolated islands of resistance to the assault on Gaza and the broader aspects of Israeli rule are so small that they should be understood as a rounding error, not real strength. The idea that there is a movement against colonialism and for Palestinian liberation within Israeli society is an illusion. To play a role in forging a path toward a future of true freedom, those who come from this settler society will have to reject Israeli colonialism at its roots. We must keep in mind that as much as we want to be part of the solution, we will also inherently remain part of the problem.

As we address the post-genocide future, we must ask how egalitarian ideas will survive in a reality ravaged by war, death and destruction. It is unclear how we can foresee and create a future that can transcend the trauma of the recent past, especially given that, although the ruin and violence may subside once the assault has ceased, Israeli repression will continue.

There is still nothing clear about the post-genocide future, including what turns the Palestinian liberation movement will take. Only the Palestinians can decide that. What is obvious - and should have been clear long before - is that those who oppose colonialism must not bask in the privileges it grants. The exact details of the path to liberation are uncertain, but it is undeniable that those who want to help pave it can only play a role in it within the Palestinian movement. The responsibility to find ways to do this, to transgress the limits of forced national identity that exist precisely to prevent it, falls on those who wish to support the Palestinian people and break the confines of colonialism.

* Jonathan Pollak is a long-time participant in the Anarchists Against the Wall initiative

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