West’s moral claim over a rules-based order lies in tatters - Hindustan Times
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West’s moral claim over a rules-based order lies in tatters

May 03, 2024 10:53 PM IST

Blind support for Israel’s action in Gaza is seen as western doublespeak on human rights and international law

A compelling scene in Richard Attenborough’s 1982 award-winning film Gandhi, is the relentless lathi attack by the colonial British-led Indian policemen on Indian volunteers who try to enter Dharasana salt works. The Indians neither retaliate nor give up when these lathis crack their bones. Witnessing this, Vince Walker of The New York Times reported in 1930: “They walked, with heads up, without any hope of escape from injury or death. It went on and on and on … Whatever moral ascendancy the West once held was lost here today. India is free, for she has taken all that steel and cruelty can give and she has neither cringed nor retreated.” The scenario in Gaza is eerily reminiscent of this episode and whatever little moral ascendancy the West once held, was lost here in Palestine.

TOPSHOT - A Palestinian man stands amid the rubble of a building destroyed by Israeli bombing in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 3, 2024, as the conflict between Israel and the Hamas movement continues. (Photo by AFP)(AFP) PREMIUM
TOPSHOT - A Palestinian man stands amid the rubble of a building destroyed by Israeli bombing in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 3, 2024, as the conflict between Israel and the Hamas movement continues. (Photo by AFP)(AFP)

At a time when the West is preaching the virtues of freedom, democracy, accountability, human rights, and rules-based international order, we only see their continued support for occupation, discrimination, impunity, and violation of international humanitarian and human rights laws in West Asia. For instance, the United States (US) Department of State has earlier “determined” that Israel is not in violation of international law either in the conduct of the war or the provision of humanitarian assistance. They said that they have received “credible” written assurances from Israel that they are not in breach. Israel has self-certified its actions as compliant. It effectively means that Israel’s war on Gaza complies with the 1949 Geneva Convention that especially protects civilians including in occupied territories, and with other international humanitarian laws. It means that “collective punishment,” expressly prohibited by the Geneva Convention, is not being imposed on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. It means that under their own National Security Memorandum-20 (NSM-20), the US is satisfied that Israel is not blocking US humanitarian assistance, even if Israel has brought the 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza to starvation through its blockade, and even if USAID’s own administrator, Samantha Powers, says there is now famine in northern Gaza. This is despite orders by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to prevent possible genocide and immediately allow aid into Gaza.

It also means that under Section 502B of the Foreign Assistance Act and Leahy Laws, the US arms assistance to Israel has not abetted any gross violations of human rights. The targeted killing of seven foreign aid workers from well-known NGO World Central Kitchen in addition to 190 not-so-well-known Palestinian aid workers killed earlier — the highest number of aid workers ever killed — becomes legitimate collateral damage. Also, Israeli use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) “The Gospel” and “Lavender” to kill Hamas, which ended up killing thousands of Palestinian children instead, becomes statistically acceptable as AI-inflicted collateral damage. How would you like your child to be killed by an algorithm?

The gruesome killing of 400 Palestinians at Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest hospital in Gaza, and the unearthing of mass graves in Khan Younus point at yet another violation of international humanitarian law which stipulates that hospitals, the wounded, and medical staff cannot be attacked in a war. When a mass grave of 400 was found in Izium, Ukraine after the Russian withdrawal, it was called out as a potential crime against humanity.

The escalation of killings and dispossession of Palestinians in the West Bank by Israeli settlers abetted by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) violated the 2016 United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution determining Israeli settlements as illegal. In anticipation of US sanctions, Israeli Prime Minister (PM) Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will fight against any sanctions imposed on Israeli military units for human rights violations in the West Bank.

The long and short of all this is that the US, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Canada, Australia and other arms suppliers to Israel are ensuring that they are not held accountable for giving a laissez faire to Israel in Gaza. The recent application of Nicaragua to the ICJ against Germany for abetment of Israeli violations, including possible genocide, is a pushback. Another straw in the wind is the International Criminal Court (ICC) possibly taking some action against the Israeli leadership. But with the ICJ stonewalled, so will the ICC. Israel threatens to dismantle the Palestinian Authority if the ICC touches them! It means that demanding accountability will be met with more violations! The rare aberration in the western narrative was the Dutch appeals court’s order of February 2024 to halt the Netherlands’ export of F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel for “clear risk” of serious violations of international humanitarian law. In the meantime, the US Congress allocated an additional $13 billion last week for arms to Israel.

Meanwhile, the Gaza war has reached the shores of the US. Student protests are spreading swiftly to universities across the US and are being met with strong police crackdowns and arrests. India has reacted by asking the US to practise at “home” what it preaches “abroad”.

More violations follow. When Israel hit the Iranian Embassy in Damascus in violation of the 1961 Vienna Convention on diplomatic immunities, it was met with silence. When Iran retaliated by saying it was exercising its right of self-defence, all hell broke loose. But when Israel claimed the right of self-defence against the Hamas terror attack and killed 14,500 Palestinian children and 10,000 women, it was proportionate and kosher. While the US and others rightly stopped the 300 Iranian drones and missiles from causing Israeli civilian casualties, they stood by for seven months to let Gaza be destroyed. Are Palestinian lives less important?

PM Netanyahu has proclaimed defiantly that he would attack Rafah with or without a ceasefire deal. And yet again, the West does not want to stop a potential carnage. The rules-based international order has hardly any rules or order left in West Asia.

TS Tirumurti, a former diplomat, was India’s first Representative to the Palestinian Authority and lived in Gaza for two years from 1996. The views expressed are personal

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