Gaza war marks a new low for the US

A young man salvages objects amid the rubble of a building destroyed by Israeli bombing in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on January 27, 2024, as battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas continue.

Photo credit: AFP

What you need to know:

  • President Biden is taking great risks in targeting leaders of popular groups who have every right to help their Palestinian brothers and sisters.

Two weeks ago, the International Court of Justice dealt a huge blow to Israel and its western backers by finding “plausible” genocide in Gaza and ordered its government to prevent its armed forces from committing banned genocidal actions, or “inflicting on the group (Palestinians) conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”

They also ordered Israel to immediately allow unimpeded humanitarian aid into Gaza, and for Hamas to release all hostages it took in its surprise assault on Israel which killed 1,200 people October 7.

The ICJ also prohibited statements inciting genocide and instructed Israel to allow unimpeded humanitarian aid into Gaza. The ICJ gave the Israeli government till 25 February to deliver a report detailing its compliance with its orders. The implications of these orders, if not the court’s legal findings, were clear: genocidal acts were taking place in Gaza.

This was something to almost celebrate, thanks to the heroic, courageous and superb case South Africa brought on behalf of humanity. But in a chilling act of ruthless cynicism abetted by much of western mainstream media right after the ICJ ruling, Israel turned the tables on the ICJ and Gaza’s Palestinians by accusing 12 staff members of UNRWA, the UN humanitarian agency that is central to Gaza’s relief effort, of having participated in the October 7 Hamas attack.

On American TV in particular, the ICJ decision on the genocide charge was drowned out by these Israeli accusations against an agency that has worked day and night to provide emergency humanitarian in the most fraught environment, with over 150 UN staff having died under Israeli fire. No conflict anywhere has ever taken such a toll on UN workers.

But the US and other top donors, in another bid to show their fealty to Israel, instantly suspended hundreds of millions of dollars of their yearly contributions to UNRWA, deepening Gaza’s already acute humanitarian crisis even though the agency had immediately fired the 12 even before starting full investigations.

But even if the accusations against 12 of the 13,000 staff were true, what justified this mass suspension of funds which could have a terrible impact on an already unacceptable horror? Everyone wonders what enables Israel to enjoy this extraordinary level of support from most western leaders.

It’s a huge puzzle but no one has ever written about this. But at the popular level, the totally unexpected outpouring of support for Palestine and condemnation of Israel’s brutality has shaken western leaders to the core. And it has also led to a huge onslaught on free speech at many institutions, companies and universities, which are limiting speech critical of Israel by labeling it anti-semitic.

The push at universities is led by powerful conservative pro-Israeli donors who have withheld tens of millions of dollars until they see changes in how the Palestine Israel conflict is addressed at their university. University presidents have been removed by these donors’ pressures.

In Germany, UK, France and other European countries, governments are trying to prevent demonstrations against Israel. How did we get here? The ICJ ruling did not come as a surprise. The unspeakable brutality of Israel’s assault on Gaza has no equal in recent history, prompting outrage on an unparalleled, global scale crossing all political, ideological and regional divides. But astoundingly, most western governments fully supported Israel’s tactics, although many are now urging Israel to moderate its punishing attacks on civilians. But none is condemning what Israel is still doing.

Never in our lifetimes have we seen such brutality, with a warring country relentlessly and indiscriminately bombarding every single city and settlement in a totally blockaded territory with an utterly unprotected and defenseless population, all covered live on television for the world to see.

Apartment blocks, homes, hospitals, schools and life sustaining infrastructure have been turned to rubble, while the entire civilian population, utterly defenseless, has been driven from its homes. Almost the entire population of 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza has been driven from their homes and about half a million are suffering from extreme starvation.

About 1.3 million are now packed and “sheltering” in the southernmost Gaza town of Rafah, whose normal population is about 180,000.  The death toll in blockaded Gaza has reached 30,000, with about 25,000 being unarmed civilians, an astonishing 21,000 of them children and women. That means an astounding average of 200 civilians has been killed every day by Israel, in a tiny, blockaded area that is smaller than New York City. And it’s now come to this: most media do not even report these horrific killings taking place daily.

On Thursday, Israel started hitting this packed town of Rafah in Southern Gaza with massive airstrikes, as a way to “soften” the resistance before the tanks and soldiers move in to finish the job. The NY Times reported that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that an Israeli offensive into Rafah would create a “gigantic tragedy”.

“Half of Gaza’s entire population is now crammed into Rafah,” he said. “They have nowhere to go. They have no homes — and they have no hope. They are living in overcrowded makeshift shelters, in unsanitary conditions without running water, electricity and adequate food supplies.”

Can we imagine what the response would be if 200 New Yorkers were being killed by an occupying army? Or 200 Israelis were being butchered this way daily? The very sad truth is it would not be allowed to continue. Palestinians, or brown and black people, are infinitely more expendable. There is deep dysfunction in a world which can see such horrors and has no way to stop them. The US, as the richest, most powerful and globally connected nation, has the most to gain or lose whichever way the world tumbles.

On Gaza, there is even greater urgency is seeking negotiations to settle the conflict, since the tensions have been flaring in wider concentric circles as a growing number of the Axis of Resistance groups are genuinely horrified by the destruction of Gaza. President Biden is taking great risks in targeting leaders of popular groups who have every right to help their Palestinian brothers and sisters.

Benjamin Netanyahu has remained aggressively defiant, dismissing the ICJ ruling and continuing to assert that he will not relent until he has completely eradicated Hamas. He also bizarrely insists that hostages will only be freed through maximum military force, even though the only hostages freed so far came through a negotiated deal with Hamas in November. A number of them died subsequently through Israeli action.

President Biden’s full throated embrace at the outset of Israel’s drive to “eradicate” Hamas and the genocidal incitement that accompanied it was a very risky venture. He then flew to Israel to publicly express his support for Mr Netanyahu, the most bellicose, right wing, and pro-settler president Israel has had in decades. With such actions, Mr Biden and other leaders became complicit in whatever the ICJ finally determines.