By Shaun Narine
The western world’s feeble response to Israel’s attack on Gaza has severely damaged the West’s already tenuous moral credibility in the Global South and undermined the foundations of the human rights regime and international law developed after the Second World War.
The West claims it champions a liberal rules-based international order and human rights on the global stage. This rhetoric now appears completely disingenuous to most of the Global South.
The West’s inability to rally the world against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine reflects the Global South’s rejection of what it views as western hypocrisy. Few states supported Russia, but fewer accepted the West’s claim that punishing Russia was a “moral imperative” when the western commitment to morality is so selective.
Russia condemned, Israel supported
The West’s position on Gaza has done even more consequential damage to the notion of western global “leadership.” Even as Russia escalates its violence against civilians and infrastructure in Ukraine, most Global South states find the American condemnation of Russia grotesquely hypocritical as the United States supports Israel’s war in Gaza and attacks on civilians that are even more devastating than Russia’s.
Hamas launched a brutal attack on Israel on Oct. 7, 2023. But one war crime shouldn’t justify another. What Israel has done to Gaza in response is exponentially worse in terms of the loss of human life and the widespread infliction of human suffering.
Long list of atrocities
American public health researcher Devi Sridhar projects that 500,000 Palestinians may die of preventable diseases in 2024 if the war continues. More than 400,000 Gazans are experiencing severe hunger now, with the entire population at risk of famine. Rates of diarrhea in children under four are 100 times the norm.
Israel is indiscriminately bombing civilians with an intensity not seen since the Second World War. It’s destroyed more than 70 per cent of the homes in Gaza and has bombed areas that it declared safe for refugees.
Gaza’s health-care system has collapsed. Children’s limbs are being amputated and pregnant women are enduring Caesarean sections without anesthetic. On average, Israel is killing 160 civilians a day, including journalists, and the cultural and intellectual elites of Gaza are being targeted.
This list of atrocities goes on and on. International aid workers say Israel’s attack on Gaza is the worst situation they have ever seen.
Violations of international law
The West’s failure to protect the rights of Palestinians under international law contributed directly to this disaster.
For decades, Israel has blatantly violated international law in its treatment of Palestinians. In contravention of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel settled occupied Palestine and employed progressively more violent and oppressive instruments of control to consolidate that settlement.
Israel kept Gaza under a 16-year illegal blockade that created mass poverty and left Gazan children malnourished and without access to potable water.
Today, Jewish settlers and the Israeli military are using the distraction of the Gaza war to displace Palestinians from large parts of the occupied West Bank.
If the West had held Israel to account, Oct. 7 might never have happened. Palestinians may have had their own state. Instead, the U.S. has used its veto in the United Nations 45 times since 1972 to protect Israel from the consequences of its actions.
The West’s leaders have effectively sided with the occupier against the occupied, leaving Palestinians at the mercy of an increasingly brutal apartheid state.
Valuing the rule of law
South Africa recently accused Israel of committing genocide in Gaza before the International Court of Justice (ICJ). South Africa’s turn to international law to stop the war illustrates that states in the Global South value the rule of law.
Most states understand their self-interest in maintaining the legitimacy of the international legal system. It’s the West, led by the U.S., that has most frequently abused the rules it claims to support.
Namibia has condemned Germany’s support for Israel at the ICJ, asserting that Germany has learned nothing from its genocide of the Herero and Nama peoples between 1904 and 1908. The Israel-Hamas conflict is presented in the West through a European, colonial mindset that rationalizes the history of the displacement of Palestinians.
In the U.S., Germany, the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the West, anti-Semitism has been weaponized to silence pro-Palestinian voices. Numerous reporters have been fired for offending pro-Israel sensibilities.
Nonetheless, protests against the war continue unabated and Israel is losing the youth of America. Eventually, this could have serious political consequences, but that won’t save Palestinians today.
Turkey’s foreign minister, Hakan Fidan, recently said:
“What happened in Gaza has caused the West and Europeans to suddenly lose all their reputation and all the credit they had accumulated. They have spent all their credit in the eyes of humanity, and especially our generation. It won’t be easy for them to get it back.”
The West no longer has credibility when it criticizes Russia, China, Iran, Myanmar or any other state for human rights abuses or breaches of international law.
Shaun Narine is Professor of International Relations and Political Science at St. Thomas University (Canada).
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