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Israel and Palestine: An Indictment of the Effectiveness of Human Rights Law?

The ongoing decades long conflict between Israel and Palestine has now reached new heights in destruction and violence following the Hamas’ attack on the 7th of October 2023. This attack has sparked an unprecedented level of oppression and violence from the IDF against the people of Palestine. This includes rampant, indiscriminate airstrikes on civilian populations, collective punishment as well as restrictions on vital resources for Palestinians, creating an open-air prison In the face of these wide-scale human rights abuses and war crimes perpetrated by the IDF, the question remains, has International Human Rights Law failed the Palestinian people, and if so, why? 


Origins of Human Rights Law

Human Rights Law has been constructed and built upon a single phrase; ‘Never Again’ following WW2, as a response to the atrocities committed by the Nazis during the Holocaust, the foundation of International Human Rights Law was created. This foundation was created when the international community came together to create the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to prevent further atrocities against innocent populations. Despite this intention, there has been countless human rights abuses since 1948, such as the use of child slavery by the Lord’s Resistance Army, the Rwandan Genocide, or more recently, the human rights violations committed against the Palestinian people by the IDF. 


IDF’s Human Rights Violations 

The human rights violations committed by the IDF following October 7th have been documented extensively. A poignant example is the IDF’s comprehensive deprivation of food, water, and fuel, as well as other vital resources for 2.2 million civilians in Gaza. This is the actualisation of official Israeli policy, evidenced by Defence Minister Yoav Gallant statement that “We [Israel] are imposing a complete siege on [Gaza]. No electricity, no food, no water, no fuel – everything is closed. We are fighting human animals, and we must act accordingly.” This policy has been devastating to the Palestinian people, as reflected by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) report that showed that by December 6th, 2023, 9 out of 10 households in northern Gaza and 2 out of 3 households in southern Gaza had spent at least one full day and night without food. International Humanitarian Law prohibits the starvation of civilians as a method of warfare, deeming this method of warfare a war crime. This action by the Israeli government is undoubtedly a war crime, as the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court provides that intentionally starving civilians by “depriving them of objects indispensable to their survival, including wilfully impeding relief supplies” is a war crime. Furthermore, starvation of civilians as a method of warfare is prohibited under article 54(1) of the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions and article 14 of the Second Additional Protocol. Although Israel is not a party to these Protocols, the prohibition of this form of warfare is still commonly recognised as reflective of established and customary International Human Rights Law in both international and domestic armed conflicts. 


Another key example of the IDF’s recent war crimes includes the indiscriminate bombings of Gaza, including the bombing of schools and hospitals, such as the deadly strike at Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City, killing over 470 civilians. Furthermore, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recorded over 136 attacks on health care services in the occupied Palestinian territory. This includes 59 attacks on the Gaza Strip, causing the death of an estimated 16 health workers since the 7th of October. This has caused approximately two-thirds of primary healthcare facilities and half of all hospitals in Gaza to be not functioning, according to the United Nations. This is a clear war crime, as it is a direct violation of Article 8 of the Rome statute, which contains definitions and an extensive list of potential war crimes, including “intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes, historic monuments, hospitals and places where the sick and wounded are collected”.


Failing the Palestinian People

In the face of these blatant injustices committed against Palestine, it is evident that the international community, and International Human Rights Law as a whole, have fundamentally failed the Palestinian people. This is because, despite many UN General Assembly and Security Council (UNSC) resolutions condemning Israeli policies, as well as many individual States condemning Israel’s actions, little tangible action has been done to help the Palestinian people. There has been a distinct lack of support for the Palestinian people to achieve their right to self-determination and put an end to any and all oppressive actions performed by the IDF. Furthermore, little has been done to hold Israel and its officials accountable for the continuous well-documented war crimes and violations of International Humanitarian Law. Furthermore, there has also been no meaningful action to halt Israel’s unlawful and colonial expansion into Palestinian territory. An expansion that has been performed primarily through settlements depriving Palestinian families of their homes, such as in East Jerusalem. As there has been extraordinarily little meaningful action by the international community to protect the Palestinian people, there has been a clear and consistent failing of International Human Rights Law. This is because, in the face of widespread oppression, and a blatant disregard for the most fundamental principle of Human Rights Law, the Palestinian people have been abandoned by the international community. The primary form of support or protection from the international community has arisen from statements and platitudes, and not from tangible action. This lack of tangible action also reflects a lack of enforcement of International Human Rights Law, which indicates this area of law is failing Palestine, as its inherent purpose is to prevent or rectify such injustices and forms of oppression. For this reason, one must conclude that both the international community, and International Human Rights Law has failed the Palestinian people.

 


American Influence

This failure of International Human Rights Law can be linked to the inherent connection between international legal systems and geopolitical expedience for international superpowers. Specifically, this failure is likely rooted in the inherent utility that Israel supplies the United States from a geopolitical perspective. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ever since it has come to prominence within both its regional and international dimensions, has been comprehensively and exclusively intertwined with the broad objectives of American foreign policy. Specifically, the conflict has been subject to the US’s position in the Middle East and its unwavering bias towards Israel, due to its importance to the US as a foothold into the region, as well as the US’s primary ally in the region. Furthermore, due to the US’s position as the dominant superpower of the international community, the voting pattern of the US in the Security Council when the matter at hand is relevant to Israel has imposed itself on the rest of the international community. This has caused the wider international community to have become highly complaisant in dealing with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, as a reflection of the U. S’s Pro-Israel stance. This complaisantly has led to the international community adopting a more lenient and less confrontational stance on the actions of the Israeli Government, specifically the blatant subversion of International Human Rights Law. Also, the U.S Government’s influence in rendering International Human Rights Law redundant in the context of the Israeli-Palestine conflict is reflected in the U.S Government’s statements declaring that the ICC has no jurisdiction and that any action by the Palestine National Authority to bring matters before the court would be viewed as an unhelpful “unilateral action.” This intervention from the U.S government in holding the Israeli government accountable predates this recent escalation in the Israeli-Palestine conflict, as the Trump administration imposed sanctions on ICC prosecutors and threatened legal action against them if there was an investigation of Israeli crimes. This reflects the US’s blatant bias towards Israel, which inherently hinders effective protection for the Palestinian people, as well as preventing accountability for the human rights infringements committed by the IDF during this conflict.


To conclude, it is clear that during this ongoing Israeli-Palestine conflict, the international community has been uncharacteristically timid on the Human Rights violations performed by the Israeli government. This meekness has arisen from the US’s foreign policy objectives dominating the actions undertaken by the international community. This has led to International Human Rights Law failing the Palestinian people at every turn, and acts as an indictment of the effectiveness of Human Rights Law when confronted by the geopolitical interests of global superpowers, such as the U.S.


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