Palestinian struggle has been internationalised by Israel’s relentless assaults

Palestinian struggle has been internationalised by Israel’s relentless assaults
British jurist Malcolm Shaw and Yaron Wax look on at the ICJ, during a ruling on South Africa's request to order a halt to Israel's Rafah offensive in Gaza on 24 May 2024. (Photo: Reuters / Johanna Geron)

What is clear is that Israel did not break the law simply in passing. Israel and the United States consciously intended to sideline international law. It was a show of force to impress on the Palestinians and the world beyond Gaza their impunity.

In the aftermath of Israel’s latest legal defeat at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) last week after an application by South Africa, many are questioning whether there are ambiguities in the judgment and whether the enforceability of the order is negatively impacted by that. (See Franny Rabkin’s analysis of the judgment in the Sunday Times. This article may be behind a paywall.)

My sense, however, is that any wording is unlikely to deter Israel from flouting binding legal judgments, given its audacity and the protection it currently enjoys.

It is nevertheless crucial to win legal battles in this latest moment of Israeli aggression against Palestinians, which in Gaza has continued for almost eight months and is building up more and more evidence for the main genocide case still to be heard.

Immediately, we are thinking of genocide, which is the most important reason why the public at large – throughout the world – is outraged by what has been happening in Gaza and, to a significant extent, in the West Bank, and to some extent in East Jerusalem.

We can’t keep our eyes off the unfolding genocide. Although Israeli genocide – as a word – has spread into common parlance, what evokes horror and anger is simply to see the merciless pounding of people, destroying everything including buildings housing priceless artworks, archives, educational institutions, hospitals and human beings; parents, children, grandparents and others. Whole families have been wiped out. Some have not yet been found beneath the rubble.

Some may not use the word genocide, but it is visible the moment we turn to the media. It is astonishing in this day and age that Israel can be performing genocidal acts on this scale for this length of time without significant pushback from powerful states in the world (very many of whose citizens are outraged and seek a ceasefire. This is certainly true of the US, UK and Germany, from reported surveys).

It is these conditions and actions that need to be stopped, not only according to those who are analysing the situation as political actors or human rights workers but also according to the ICJ.

Sidelining of international law

There is, however, a less directly outrageous question. It affects the entire world and will have implications for a long time – that is the conscious sidelining of international law by Israel and its allies. 

Israel by direct defiance of ICJ decisions and by perpetrating genocide and other illegal acts that constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity, and whose very presence in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem is illegal, made even more so by recent attacks and murders of Palestinians by illegal Israeli settlers.

This has not been possible to explore fully before the ICJ because it has to be the result of the case proper – on whether or not Israel is found to have committed genocide. 

The court has already gone far along that route by referring to the allegation of genocide as being “plausible”. 

If confirmed in the case proper, then allies who have supplied arms and in other ways assisted in the commission of genocide could all be charged with complicity.  

What is clear is that Israel did not break the law simply in passing. Israel and the United States consciously intended to sideline international law. It was a show of force to impress on the Palestinians and the world beyond Gaza their impunity.

Why should that be so important? It is because despite many people having a cynical view of international law, it has basic principles that govern relations between states. 

The Israeli/US goal is to reduce the possibility of acts of aggression, meaning inter-state aggression or aggression by a state against individuals, leading to legal consequences.

The international legal system after World War 2, encapsulated largely in the Charter of the UN and developed later in various covenants and other instruments, has at its centre the prohibition of the use of force against other states and peoples, especially those under occupation.

Israel has been allowed, since its inception, to act lawlessly without any fear of consequences for its violation of international law. The UN Security Council may act very speedily on former Yugoslavia, Myanmar or Sudan. But it is unwilling to take steps against Israel. Not unwilling overall, but constrained by the US veto powers.

Israel has largely been given a free hand in the current war against the Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem (conflict has been of a lesser intensity in the latter territory).

Now once there is no counterweight to Israel, no counterweight to the superpower, the Global North led by the US – under whose auspices Israel acts – is free to do whatever it wishes. 

It becomes a far more dangerous world than was the case, paradoxically, during the Cold War, when there was a balance of power and mutual (nuclear) deterrence practiced by the US and the USSR, despite many deviations.

Nevertheless, it was a constraint and we no longer have a situation where the US, the sole superpower, faces a counterweight. 

The power of the Global South, if it may become a counterweight, will take time to develop and has various divisions that need to be addressed.

Awareness of Palestinian plight

One of the significant outcomes of the war against the Palestinians – the war of genocide against all inhabitants of Palestine – has been to highlight the plight of the Palestinians, which is merely, as some people say, one of the latest Nakbas (catastrophes) to occur against the Palestinian people.

But there has never been an internationalisation of the Palestinian struggle on anything like this scale before. 

The anti-apartheid Struggle was internationalised – that and the campaign against the US war in Vietnam are possibly the only comparable struggles of recent times. 

It’s very significant, for several reasons, how people have come to the side of the Palestinians in forming groupings. These have been drawn from politicised organisations, various professions, university students and staff and other formations all over the world – notably a number of Jewish pro-Palestinian groups and people from a range of other faiths organised in a variety of ways demonstrating solidarity with Palestinians and opposition to the Western-supported Israeli genocide.

Encampments in universities, including now in South Africa, have spread throughout the world raising crucial questions concerning democracy and accountability within higher education, especially for investments in Israel or Israeli-related products.

The clampdown against students and academic staff under the guise of combatting anti-Semitism has been very aggressive in the US and Germany and some of the discourse of some pro-Israeli academics in South Africa repeats debunked reports of mass rapes, beheadings and other alleged atrocities by Hamas on 7 October 2023.

Where to from here?

Given the continued intransigence of the Israeli leadership, how does one stop what is already a genocide? 

On Monday there were reports of a large-scale Israeli attack on Rafah showing clearly that, ambiguity or no ambiguity in the ICJ’s recent judgment, Israel will continue its bombardment.

The only power that one can count on at this moment is that of the movements, organisations and other national and international non-governmental organisations that oppose Israeli genocide. But they do not carry the weight of states.

Francesca Albanese, the distinguished UN Special Rapporteur, has said on social media that we must stop this: “Be sure: Israel will not stop this madness until WE make it stop. Member states must impose #sanctions, arms embargo and suspend diplo/political relations with Israel till it ceases its assault.”

I agree, but who is the “we” that can make it stop?

My sense is that the only “we” that can be counted on are the organisations – national and international – and people who have rallied against the genocide – but, again, they do not carry the weight of states.

If the power of popular anger can be rallied and intensified, it may help to bring the genocide to an end. DM

This article first appeared on Creamer Media’s

Raymond Suttner is an Emeritus Professor at the University of South Africa and a Research Associate in the English Department at Wits University. He served lengthy periods as a political prisoner. His current writings cover mainly contemporary politics, history, and social questions. He was originally a legal academic.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Noel Soyizwaphi says:

    Thank very much Professor Suttner. The way you describe the behaviour of Israel and its allies is sobering. Now is time for civilised nations of the world to agree that indeed, “what is clear is that Israel did not break the law simply in passing. Israel and the United States consciously intended to sideline international law. It was a show of force to impress on the Palestinians and the world beyond Gaza their impunity”. The world, north and south, must confront the bullies of the world wuth one voice. Now, as it happened to apartheid South Africa, Israel must be isolated by all civilised, humanitarian nations and we will soon witness current allies giving Israel their backs and withdrawing all their support. Already we are hearing good sound bites from the European union. Thank you Professor Suttner.

  • The Proven says:

    Its a tough one Professor Suttner – to call the rape and related acts of Hamas as items to be “debunked”, which negates the undisputable brutality of the hostages still being held. It cuts both ways – your article lists only one side, making its message near-irrelevant.

    • Vic Mash says:

      Your argument is tired….

    • Troy Marshall says:

      What about Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank? They have lived under a military occupation for decades, interred on their own land.
      Interred means imprisoned = hostage

      • Rolando MacJones says:

        Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

        The IDF literally physically removed all Israeli settlers from Gaza at the time.

        The only “military occupation” in Gaza since 2005 has been Hamas’s literally brutal anti-democratic take-over from the PA (Fatah, or ex PLO).

        I agree the west bank is a mess, but please be accurate.

        • John P says:

          Israel controlled the borders and everything that went in our out of Gaza and still does.

          • Rolando MacJones says:

            Every country controls its borders.

            Clearly Israel did not control the Gaza territory well enough to prevent fairly serious weapons crossing into Gaza.

            Be precise please John P.

  • Troy Marshall says:

    I don’t care for the ideology of Hamas, not at all. The oppression of the Palestinians, the stealing of land, the military occupation, this has been allowed to go on and on and on for decades.
    Hamas exists because decent people did nothing.
    The least we can do, is demand total sanctions against Israel – diplomatic, cultural, sporting, the whole works.

    • virginia crawford says:

      Interesting how quick the sanctions against Russia were implemented and yet Israel escapes any real consequence. I agree with sanctions against Israel, starting with the cancellation of visa-free travel to S.A.- do we welcome those barbaric settlers? Cancelling dual nationality might make people decide their true loyalties.

    • Mordechai Yitzchak says:

      The hating of Jews has been allowed to go on for thousands of years. Hamas is another iteration. So is Troy

    • Rolando MacJones says:

      > Hamas exists because decent people did nothing.

      Yes, for once you’re right Troy.

      Do you know that Hamas, like Zuma/MK are trying to do now in SA, took power from the PA or Fatah by firstly inserting cadres into the political and social bureaucracy, and then both eliminating political opponents and cancelling the democratic process. Yes, since Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, just two years after Israel voluntary withdrew from Gaza, there have been no further democratic elections.

      It’s good to be young and seek good in the world. I suggest you start with your own territory rather than somewhere way across the world.

      For example, in my own territory, Lavender Hill, I was recently threatened by the gangs. There are social ills here that you cannot believe. It’s true of most of South Africa.

      Why obsess about something going on half a world away?

      As a Muslim brother I have to conclude that you just do not like Jewish people, Troy.

      If so then please keep it to yourself. We preach the religion of peace.

  • Noel Soyizwaphi says:

    The Nakba of 1948 and that of today in Gaza are not two separate, distinct events. They exactly ghe same because they highlight Israel’s ongoing actions of all that time in between. The occupation and dispossession of Palestinian property, denial of rights, discrimination based on ethnicity, arbitrary arrests including of children, brutality of murders of women and children, the disproportionate use of brute force, has been ongoing since 1948. It is just that now Israel is doing all this with impunity, even brazenly defying international laws and orders and with the support of the big brother USA. It must stop and civilized people of the world must rebuke these repugnant acts. The ICC is issuing arrest warrants for both Israel and Hamas and that must be respected. The fact that you’ve been wronged can never justify wrong retaliation.

    • Rolando MacJones says:

      The 1948 Nabqa is a direct and mostly voluntary result of Israel’s Muslim neighbours invading Israel immediately after the declaration of the state of Israel.

      The expectation was that Israel would be immediately conquered, which is why many if not most wealthy Muslims fled at the time.

      The “Palestinians” on their land were mostly displaced by the war, not by Israel. The war was initiated by Israel’s Muslim neighbours.

      Again, I have no skin in this game.

      However if you are going to project your own sense of oppression onto somebody else’s problems then it’s good to understand the history properly.

      • Noel Soyizwaphi says:

        As for Nabqa, my God.

        • Mordechai Yitzchak says:

          Lose a war (that you initiated) and choose to call it a tragedy (Naqba) if you want to. Call it whatever you want. If you can get a gullible and sympathetic world to buy your narrative, even better. It nevertheless remains a war you initiated and lost, and by framing it in this language says much about you.

      • virginia crawford says:

        Are you kidding? What nonsense!

        • Rolando MacJones says:

          No Virginia, stated again:

          The 1948 Nabqa is a direct and mostly voluntary result of Israel’s Muslim neighbours invading Israel immediately after the declaration of the state of Israel.

          Now, if you know of a different history or different factual information then please educate us.

          Simply claiming “what nonsense” without any backing evidence is not useful to mutual education or understanding.

          How did your comment even get past moderation?

  • Lil Mars says:

    Complete disregard of the hostages and the brutal atrocities committed by Hamas. There is no shortage of evidence.
    No mention of the constant barrage of bombs and rockets into Israel.
    Francesca Albanese is one of the most antisemitic people on the planet.
    This author clearly does not know or understand the history of the region.
    The Israelis have also done some terrible things along the way. But genocide is not one is them.

    • Vic Mash says:

      What you are saying is that genocide only applies to Jews and Ukrainian’s because they are both white?

      • Mordechai Yitzchak says:

        Demographic of Israel = white? Tell that to the 55% of Sephardim who make up the population (preferably to their faces, lol)

    • Troy Marshall says:

      “constant barrage of bombs and rockets into Israel”
      Constant? Are you sure?

      • Rolando MacJones says:

        Yes, constant.

        Just yesterday Hamas fired rockets from Rafah into Tel Aviv.

        The rocket fire from Lebanon (Hezbollah) into Israel has been constant throughout.

        Iran fired it’s best long range missiles directly from Iran into Israel only recently.

        It is only because Israel retaliated militarily against Hamas (and Islamic Jihad and other Iranian friends) after the Oct 7 2023 atrocities that the constant (yes constant) rocket fire from Gaza into Israel was quieter for some time.

        This is all fact. Yes, Israel is under constant, yes constant rocket attack from its neighbours, which is why it developed the “iron dome” defense system. This is largely Israeli citizens playing video games to shoot down the incoming missiles. Constant game, sometimes at very high level, like recently when Iran raised the stakes with a direct massive long range rocket attack.

        So yes, constant. Every day. Every week. Rockets are being fired into Israel.

      • Rolando MacJones says:

        DM does not allow links but do your own research.

        Start with Google “how many rockets are fired at israel daily”

      • Mordechai Yitzchak says:

        Troy, with his full knowledge of Israel on show again

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      I suppose the Israeli Jew living and working in Israel called Gideon Levy .. et al, must also be “one of the most anti-semitic people” also ? ‘Evidence’ it seems according to you, is whatever YOU believe ? As for ‘hostages’ .. maybe you mean the thousands held in Israeli jails over at least the last 55 plus years ? (Only 8 thousand plus from the West Bank alone since Oct 7, ’23 ) ! ‘Genocide’ .. I presume you are the “expert” .. which some have defined as EX = a has been, and SPURT = a drip under pressure ! I’ll take my chances with Albanese and ICJ thanks … or even Bernie Sanders for that matter ! Time to convince those on Mars (without the lil), with your case !

  • Noel Soyizwaphi says:

    The Nakba of 1948 and that of today in Gaza are not two separate, distinct events. They are exactly the same as they highlight Israel’s ongoing atrocious actions of all that time and in between. The occupation and dispossession and destruction of Palestinian property, denial of rights, discrimination based on ethnicity, arbitrary arrests of Palestinians including of children, brutality of murders of women and children, the disproportionate use of brute force, has been ongoing since 1948. It is just that now Israel is doing all this with impunity, even brazenly defying international laws, orders and conventions, including genocide. In recognition that Hamas’s criminal acts are not condoned, ICC is issuing arrest warrant for its leaders too.

    • Mordechai Yitzchak says:

      You can’t make up history to suit yourself.

      • Noel Soyizwaphi says:

        What I’m saying is that Israeli war crimes are the violations of international criminal law, including war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of genocide, which the Israel Defense Forces, the military branch of the state of Israel, has been accused of committing since the founding of Israel in 1948. These have included murder, intentional targeting of civilians, killing prisoners of war and surrendered combatants, indiscriminate attacks, collective punishment, starvation, the use of human shields, sexual violence and rape, torture, pillage, forced transfer, breach of medical neutrality, targeting journalists, attacking civilian and protected objects, wanton destruction, incitement to genocide, and genocide. Obviously, you absolve Israel of any of these acts and that is one of the choices you have.

  • Rolando MacJones says:

    What is astonishing, Raymond Suttner, is that you carefully and deliberately ignore the 2023 Oct 7 atrocities, which were the trigger for the current Hamas/Israel conflict.

    I have watched the various videos of Oct 7. Have you?

    Hamas and friends have continued the conflict both by holding dead or maybe live hostages, and by conducting military action via rocket strikes into Israel and engaging in active urban warfare with the IDF.

    Your lack of conscience or even historical context frankly appalls me.

    Do you honestly think Israel (or maybe just Jews) should just take it’s or their fair punishment, just because of who they are?

    There is no genocide in Gaza. There never has been genocide in Gaza. In fact, the population of Gaza is, next to west central Africa, the fastest growing population of any territory on earth.

    Only yesterday, Hamas fired rockets out of Rafah into Tel Aviv – yes, long-range rockets.

    More than a hundred hostages, taken quite brutally on Oct 7 2023 are still believed to be in Rafah now.

    I have little skin in this game. I am South African and to some extent I could not care less what happens half way around the world. None of my family is impacted.

    But as a muslim brother I think your human radar is badly misguided.

  • Mordechai Yitzchak says:

    In answer to the learned Professors question “Given the continued intransigence of the Israeli leadership, how does one stop what is already a genocide?” – perhaps they could sent Hamas a strongly-worded e-mail and ask them to release the hostages? Plonker

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