Israel on trial: the lie of the West’s ‘rules-based’ order

“If we allow a big country to bully a smaller one, to simply invade it and take its territory, then it's going to be open season, not just in Europe but around the world.” In such terms did US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken denounce Russia’s invasion of Ukraine back in August last year. Yet on Thursday – as nuclear-armed, Imperialist Israel continued reducing a tiny impoverished enclave to rubble – Blinken stood side-by-side with Netanyahu at a joint press conference and solemnly vowed: “You may be strong enough on your own to defend yourself, but as long as America exists you will never, ever have to.” Yes, it is ‘open season’ in Palestine.

In Ukraine, the western imperialists pose as the defenders of a small nation. Today, in Palestine, the same ladies and gentlemen send aircraft carriers to stand guard over Israel as it slaughters a largely defenceless people. In Ukraine, every Russian missile that hits civilian infrastructure is denounced as a ‘war crime’. Today, the flattening of entire neighbourhoods in Gaza and the bombing of schools and hospitals is legitimate ‘self-defence’.

“Everything should be done within international law,” explained that lackey of the British ruling class, Sir Keir Starmer, “but I don't want to step away from the core principles that Israel has the right to defend herself.”

Ah yes, ‘international law’, the ‘rules-based international order’. These mark the thin line between the civilised West and our barbarous enemies – a line that Russia, we are told, violates flagrantly and often in Ukraine.

In that war, western politicians tallied up every violation by the Russians – real or imaginary – and compiled them in a charge sheet to be taken to the International Criminal Court. According to the Ukrainian prosecutor general, the number of such crimes exceeds 65,000.

Bourgeois law courts everywhere work on the basis of the so-called ‘doctrine of precedent’. Well, surely no upholder of ‘liberal values’ will object if we use the doctrine of precedent and the charge sheet drawn up against Putin to see where Israel stands in relation to their ‘rules-based international order’ and ‘international law’.

Or perhaps we will find, as we suspect, that all talk of ‘rules’, ‘international law’, ‘liberal values’ and the rest is mere hypocritical window dressing for the most vile, predatory policies of imperialism.

War crimes

Putin Image kremlin.ru Wikimedia CommonsWestern politicians and the press didn’t wait long to brand Putin a war criminal / Image: kremlin.ru, Wikimedia Commons

As the Ukraine war unfolded, western politicians and the press didn’t wait long to brand Putin a war criminal. First on the list of charges: that the Russians deliberately targeted civilians, a practice banned under the 1949 Geneva Convention. US Secretary of State listed the following alleged crimes:

“Russia’s forces have destroyed apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, critical infrastructure, civilian vehicles, shopping centres, and ambulances, leaving thousands of innocent civilians killed or wounded. Many of the sites Russia’s forces have hit have been clearly identifiable as in-use by civilians.”

That was one month into the Ukraine war.

Yet, within hours of Israel’s campaign, the second tallest building in Gaza city – a residential apartment block – was flattened. This was merely a prelude to the flattening of whole neighbourhoods.

According to the New York Times on 10 October – a mere two days into the bombardment – Israeli airstrikes had demolished mosques, hit at least two hospitals, two centres run by the Palestine Red Crescent Society, and two schools where refugees were huddled.

After just two nights of bombardment, 187,000 Palestinians had been displaced – nearly one in ten of Gaza’s 2 million population. 130,000 of them are staying in schools, the rest with friends. We do not know the latest figure.

Surely the numbers displaced would have been far, far higher if Gazans had anywhere to go. Netanyahu sickeningly advised Gazans to flee, but the IDF had already instituted a complete lockdown on the Gaza Strip, with nothing going in or out. Fuel, food and water have all been cut off.

And as people were attempting to flee through the Rafah crossing into Egypt, the IDF responded by bombarding the crossing.

“The depravity of it all is mind-blowing,” railed US ambassador Michael Carpenter. “[Firstly they] agreed to open a humanitarian corridor […] but then bombed the egress road just as civilians were in the process of fleeing. It is pure evil.”

Yes, he railed against the bombing of a humanitarian corridor… out of Mariupol last year. When Mariupol was under siege, when Ukraine’s Black Sea ports were under siege, western imperialism formed a single chorus of denunciation. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, the EU foreign policy chief, and many, many others all denounced these as ‘war crimes’.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen explained in one tweet that “Russia’s attacks against civilian infrastructure, especially electricity, are war crimes.” But a day after Gaza’s only power station has run out of fuel because of the blockade, and lights went out and food began to spoil… the EC President is on a trip of ‘solidarity’ with the Israeli people and has yet to tweet a word about the plight of Gazans. Not that she hasn’t had time to log on to Twitter, as she found time on 10 October to tweet to “strongly condemn any act of destruction of critical infrastructure”… referring to a leak in a gas pipeline between Estonia and Finland!

One would scour Twitter and the newspapers in vain for condemnation of the heinous crimes against Palestinians from US Secretaries of State, Ambassadors, EC Presidents.

And yet, legally speaking, the prosecutor’s task should be that much simpler in the case of Israel.

It is always more difficult to make charges stick when the accused party denies the allegations against it. The Russians have always denied that they have intentionally hit civilian targets or starved civilians. The Israeli government, on the contrary, has been quite plain about the fact: they are targeting all Gazans, and they make no apologies for doing so! As the Israeli energy minister explained:

“Humanitarian aid to Gaza? No electrical switch will be turned on, no water hydrant will be opened and no fuel truck will enter until the Israeli abductees are returned home. Humanitarian for humanitarian. And no one will preach morals to us.”

This is quite clear, is it not? Gaza is under siege, and all 2 million of its residents are hostages. Their lives are forfeit, and the minutes will tick down until they starve (if they are not first killed by missiles), until all 150 abducted Israelis are released.

The former Prime Minister Naftali Bennet put the thing in quite brazen terms in his rather fractious interview with a Sky News presenter. Referring to the cutting off of electricity to Gaza, his interviewer asked, “What about the babies in incubators in Gaza who’s life support has been turned off because the Israelis have cut off the power?”

Bennet hit back, “Are you seriously asking about Palestinian civilians? What’s wrong with you?”

Shouting over his interviewer, who dared even to pose the question whether we should consider sparing innocent Palestinian lives, Bennett compared the Israeli campaign to the notorious fire-bombing of Dresden, when the Royal Air Force deliberately used incendiary devices to create a firestorm that devoured the city and took 25,000 civilian lives.

And speaking of incendiary weapons, in the week passed, Israel has used white phosphorus on densely populated areas – and yes, that too is a war crime.

Later, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog made his attitude towards the Palestinians in Gaza very clear. They are collectively to blame, and will therefore face collective punishment:

“It’s not true this rhetoric about civilians not [being] aware, not involved. It’s absolutely not true. They could have risen up, they could have fought against that evil regime which took over Gaza in a coup d’état.”

As these lines are being written, the collective punishment being meted out against the Palestinian people is being escalated exponentially. Today, the Israeli government has given all 1 million residents in the north of Gaza – 50 percent of the whole enclave’s population – a deadline: evacuate to the south within 24 hours or risk your life. The US has given its full backing to the Israelis who are, you see, displacing a whole people only to save lives.

It is hard to find even a precedent for such crimes.

The worst war crime of all

In a 2001 essay, the Belgian historian Anne Morelli described what she called the ‘ten commandments’ of war propaganda. The third on her list reads as follows: “Our adversary’s leader is inherently evil and resembles the devil.”

When building public support for its proxy war in Ukraine, the West didn’t consider it enough to accuse Putin and Russia of ‘war crimes’. No, in conformity with this ‘commandment’, in order to make Putin look like a real devil, they accused him of committing the very worst war crime, the one that surpasses all others and invokes Hitleresque comparisons: genocide.

That particular accusation has featured heavily in the West’s propaganda. As Biden put it back in April 2022: “I called it genocide because it’s become clearer and clearer that Putin is just trying to wipe out the idea of even being Ukrainian.”

The claim of genocide is backed up by reference to Putin’s justifications for the war, in which he claims that Russians and Ukrainians are one people, that there is no separate ‘Ukrainian’ nation, which was a Bolshevik invention. According to Biden, this constitutes genocide.

More than this, Russian officials have been quoted as referring to Ukrainian government officials as “cockroaches”. This language, we are told, is ‘dehumanising’, and is thus, apparently, ‘genocidal’. Quite frankly, it would be hard to argue against the Russian description, which could be extended to describe western officials. The latter, meanwhile, seem to have no problem with the Ukrainian army and government describing Russian soldiers as “orcs”.

But if you want really colourful dehumanising language, we refer our readers to the Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, who on the first day of the Israeli bombardment of Gaza declared: “We are fighting against human animals.” And yet again, of course, not the slightest objection has been made in the West, where the ruling classes have reiterated their full and undying support for Israel’s rampage at every turn.

YG Image public domainYoav Gallant declared: “We are fighting against human animals” / Image: public domain

But let us leave harsh words to one side and look at intent, which in criminal courts represents the dividing line between manslaughter and murder, and between mass murder and genocide.

The Israeli regime has made quite clear what it is aiming at. This is about revenge: collective revenge against the whole Palestinian people. An official IDF spokesperson explained to Israel’s Channel 13 what this might look like: “Gaza will become a tent city.”

Meanwhile the Likud MK, Revital Gotliv, suggested using nuclear weapons to level Gaza. Where is the uproar among our democratic ladies and gentlemen in the West? Where is the concern for humanity that they expressed with such apparent feeling in Ukraine, when ruling party lawmakers propose to eliminate millions of people with nuclear bombs?

Let us listen to the colder, more carefully thought out plans for genocide from the present Israeli Finance Minister, Bezalel Smotrich.

In 2017, this charming gentleman proposed a “decisive plan” for dealing with the Palestinian problem – a plan that in all respects resembles the present government’s policy of the last year. Firstly, throw full support behind an aggressive settlement policy in the West Bank. Secondly, violently enforce this policy. On this basis, Smotrich made a prediction: “Arab terror efforts will only increase”. But these ‘efforts’ are to be welcomed, because Israel will crush the Palestinians ruthlessly, and despair will set in.

“The statement that the Arab yearning for national expression in the Land of Israel cannot be ‘repressed’ is incorrect.” The two state solution has failed, he explained, because “there is no room in the Land of Israel for two conflicting national movements.”

The national aspirations of the “Palestinian ‘people’” (the scare quotes are Smotrich’s) can, will and must be crushed.

By any standard, this is a call for genocide far more brazen than anything that has fallen from the lips of Putin, and it forms the core ideology of the far right and fascist elements that prop up Netanyahu’s government.

Whence the denunciation of ‘genocide’ from the civilised West? We won’t hold our breath.

A glance at Nagorno-Karabakh, which has seen a complete ethnic cleansing of its Armenian population by Azerbaijan in the past few months, tells us all we need to know about the attitude of western governments in the face of such crimes against humanity… when they are carried out by our ‘allies’.

On one thing, however, we have to agree with Smotrich: on the basis of capitalism, there can be no ‘solution’ to the Israel-Palestine question that does not involve ethnic cleansing and destruction for the people of Palestine. A significant section of the Zionist ruling class clearly wants a new Nakba and is working towards that end.

Only an intifada extending far beyond Palestine – a socialist revolution to establish a socialist federation of the Middle East, overthrowing the Zionist state and its regional allies and international imperialist backers – can safeguard the national rights of the Palestinian people.

A sick joke

We will drop the talk about the ‘rules-based international order’ here. It is a sick joke on the part of the western powers, and what is going on in Gaza presently is not a joke at all.

The whole thing stinks to high heaven of hypocrisy. The events that are unfolding in Gaza ought to make it clear to all but the willfully blind that the western imperialists are utterly unmoved by the violation of the rights of ‘small nations’ and the massacre of innocent civilians. All their righteous claims are merely fig leaves for their imperialist interests.

Their righteous fury towards Putin is of relatively recent date. There was a time when the western imperialists thought that they could manipulate the man in the Kremlin, as they manipulated his predecessor, Yeltsin. But Putin’s great ‘crime’ has been to assert the interests of the Russian ruling class against those of western imperialism: in Georgia, in Syria, and in Ukraine.

In that conflict, the Ukrainian regime is a mere puppet, and the Ukrainian people are mere cannon fodder – as the western imperialists themselves have explicitly stated. In the words of former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney: “Supporting Ukraine weakens an adversary, enhances our national security advantage, and requires no shedding of American blood.”

We will also drop the talk of any point of comparison between the Ukraine war and what is going on in Gaza. There is no comparison, although Zelensky inserted a sick joke of his own at a meeting of NATO on Monday: that there is an equivalence between Ukraine and Israel and between Russia and Hamas: “the essence is the same”.

Zelensky Image public domainZelensky inserted a sick joke of his own at a meeting of NATO on Monday / Image: public domain

In this fairytale story, Ukraine and Israel are engaged in a Manichean struggle of Good and Evil. The only thing that Ukraine and Israel have in common is that both are outposts of western imperialism: both armed to the teeth by the US and NATO – but whereas the one is engaged in a regular war with a powerful competitor of western imperialism, the other in a one-sided war of revenge against a defenceless, impoverished people, without an army, navy or airforce, without an economy to speak of, with only the most primitive means of self-defence at its disposal.

Israel has significance for the West as a secure bastion for the interests of US imperialism in a region of historical strategic importance. The imperialists have never ceased intervening in the region, as the US fought to establish a firm stranglehold, creating a living hell for millions of human beings. And yet, despite its bloody efforts, it has suffered setback after setback in recent years. Each setback forces it to rest ever more on its ally, Israel.

The struggle of the Palestinian people for liberation is therefore seen by the masses of the region as an extension of their own struggle against imperialism. That is why the Palestinian cause enjoys such overwhelming sympathy among the oppressed peoples of the Middle East and everywhere. A victory for the Palestinians would be a victory for all those who, for generations, have suffered oppression, death and destruction at the hands of the most reactionary force on the planet: US imperialism and its regional allies.

Rarely has human history known such asymmetrical barbarism as we are now witnessing. When the Russian army launched its initial offensive in February 2022, it did so with 200,000 troops spread out across a 1,000-km-long front. In Israel, 380,000 reserves have been called up in addition to the 200,000 soldiers already deployed, for a war against an enclave the size of Philadelphia.

This vast army – one of the most advanced in the world – faces 40,000 men, armed with small arms and primitive, improvised devices. In just six days, Israel has dropped 6,000 bombs on Gaza. That is as many as the US dropped in a whole year during the war in Afghanistan.

The western propaganda machine can try all it likes to twist this into a war of ‘self-defence’, but even it is not capable of miracles. Millions already see through it. Millions more will come to see through it as the IDF’s barbarism escalates in Palestine.

Before this invasion, a naive but perhaps well-meaning individual could talk about the need for ‘diplomacy’ to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict, for the ‘international community’ to bring ‘pressure’ on Israel to respect ‘international law’.

But now, the hypocrisy and falsehood surrounding the very words themselves leave a bitter taste in the mouth. As for the ‘international community’ of western imperialist governments: by now it ought to be quite clear that they are as much, if not more to blame for the present mayhem than the state of Israel itself.

For supporters of the cause of Palestinian liberation in the West, revolutionary struggle against our own ruling class represents the only means that can bring any aid to the struggle of the Palestinian people. It is up to the working class to pass sentence on our own criminal ruling classes.

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