UP EXPERT OPINION: Defunding UNRWA, international law and compelling Israel to compliance

Posted on February 12, 2024

Individuals with a deep sense of humanity find that the Gazan Genocide has fundamentally altered their perception, prompting a shift away from indoctrinated perspectives. South Africans, given their historical context, intimately understand the profound ‘question of humanity and human dignity’ that the Gazan Genocide evokes. This tragic event has sparked a heightened awareness among many about the moral shortcomings of political elites and the corporatocracies operating under the guise of democracies.

For global citizens, the preference is unequivocal: a rejection of war and violence. They cherish life, prioritize the well-being of their children, and maintain a profound love for their homeland, culture, and religion. The resistance against state-sponsored terrorism is rooted in a desire for personal autonomy – a refusal to allow external forces to dictate choices related to attire, voting preferences, or aspirational pursuits. In essence, individuals assert their right to make these decisions independently.

The assertion of freedom in democracies comes into question when it necessitates conformity or silent submission to imposed norms. This sentiment is at the core of the defund UNRWA campaign, initiated concurrently with the ICJ's provisional measures against Israel. The timing of Israel's accusations, announced at the time of the ICJ order, can be understood through a South African idiom: "Hulle gatte krap hulle lekker" (they are fuming at the South African victory at the ICJ).

Israel's assurance of steadfast support from the West, particularly the US, heightened after the US dismissed allegations of Israeli genocide on January 10, 2024. With the belief that European and American judges at the ICJ would align with US interests, Israel’s arrogance reached its zenith. Despite a supposed US assurance of a veto (US-controlled and decided outcome) at the ICJ, South Africa secured a victory, prompting Israel to resort to its next basket of lies. This time accusing UNRWA staffers of collaboration with Hamas. By February 5, 2024 Israel had still not provided any evidence for the accusations. The Gangster Club, comprising the US, Canada, Australia, Britain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Finland, Estonia, Japan, Austria, and Romania, swiftly announced aid cuts to UNRWA following Israel's accusations.

History of genocide

This situation unveils a compelling historical parallel of old alliances. On the one hand is the Axis powers’ alliance in World War II, including Germany, Italy, and Japan, with later additions of Romania and Finland. These follow each other’s behavior. The Allies, represented by Great Britain and the US, have a history of genocide. Churchill's historical stance on the Bengal Famine of 1943, dismissing it as a local issue, echoes the current approach of the US-backed Israeli state, refusing life-saving aid to Gaza and justifying it as a form of ‘collateral damage’ whilst it is forced starvation. In the entire history of the US, a morally deranged imperial empire, there has been only a total of 15 years in which it has not been at war with someone.

Austria, akin to Germany, grapples with lingering guilt over the Holocaust, a sentiment being strategically wielded to vilify Palestinians, critics of Israel, and position themselves as anti-Semitism champions. Estonian history reveals the establishment of Zionist youth organizations like Hashomer Hazair and Beitar, with Estonian Jews contributing to the creation of Kfar Blum and Ein Gev kibbutzim in Palestine during the 1930s. The Nazi occupation of Estonia led to the establishment of twenty-two concentration and labor camps for foreign Jews. Their actions are about weaponizing guilt.

Canada, Australia, Israel, and the US  are settler colonial states. They have histories marred by genocidal acts against indigenous populations. Settler colonial states do not have the moral integrity to take themselves to account for their despicable crimes. It is thus easier to pretend they do not exist, to stick together with other like-minded criminals, and to cover up for each other. The Netherlands, which coloniszed South Africa and Indonesia, now finds itself in a peculiar alignment as both South Africa and Indonesia have brought cases against Israel before the ICJ. The Netherlands voted for the UN Partition Plan in 1947 and between 1967 and 1992 Israeli interests were represented by Dutch embassies in Warsaw and Moscow because of the suspension of diplomatic ties between the Soviet Union and Israel. The various Dutch consulates also actively helped tens of thousands of ‘refuseniks’ (Jews who were denied permission to emigrate to Israel) by giving them a visa. Between 2006 and 2009 the Netherlands was  Israel’s top European trading partner.

The shared historical narrative of the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland in 1897, where Theodor Herzl proclaimed the founding of the Jewish State, binds these European nations supporting the US-backed Israeli actions in Gaza. This alignment underscores continuity in international alliances influenced by historical legacies and political interests, albeit conflicting with established principles of international law.

Revealing power dynamic

UNRWA stands as a manifestation of international law, being a UN agency established in 1949 by a resolution of the UN General Assembly with the mandate to provide relief to refugees affected by the Nakba. Its pivotal role becomes even more significant following the recent ruling by the ICJ. UNRWA, operates the critical infrastructure for basic services and humanitarian assistance in Gaza. The binding nature of the ICJ ruling imposes a legal obligation on all countries, including Western states, to facilitate the fulfillment of these measures. Refusal to comply highlights the clash between a rules-based system and international law.

Despite the claim of a Western commitment to a ‘rules-based order,’ the immediate defunding of UNRWA by the Gangster Club, mere hours after the ICJ ruling, underscores a blatant assault on international law. The underlying message is clear: those challenging the established order will face ruthless opposition. This power dynamic is revealing, as the US, in its response to the ICJ ruling, positions itself as an adversary to international law, signaling a shift from its historical role as the global enforcer.

In John Dugard’s analysis, the ‘rules-based order’ operates outside of international law, serving the interests of the US and its allies in a momentary context. The disregard for the ICJ verdict and the defunding of UNRWA represents an unprecedented attack on institutions designed to uphold international law. This irony is palpable, considering that many of these institutions were initially established within the framework of the rules-based order. However, as the geopolitical landscape evolves, adherence to international law has transitioned from being a responsibility for others to becoming a challenge for those who initially shaped these rules.

The West, attempts to maintain a narrative of defending a ‘rules-based order’ while engaging in actions that undermine it. This complex and evolving dynamic signals a global shift, with the former architects of the rules now finding themselves at odds with a multipolar world order they no longer fully control. And global citizens are cognisant of their double-speak.

Bullying on the global stage

The dystopian notion of humanity, freedom, democracy and rights, emanating from the US and its coalition of subservient states, is critiqued by Andrey Sushentsov. According to  Sushentsov, “American elites believe in democracy at home and dictatorship abroad; that’s why the world is so dangerous right now.” The professed values of human rights, equality, justice, peace, and dignity espoused by the US and its client states mask a darker reality of violence, greed, power, and domination. Sushentsov underscores Washington’s difficulty in acknowledging the sovereign equality and unique perspectives of other nations, illustrating an inherent arrogance.

It is this arrogance that manifests as bullying on the global stage. Settler colonial states, in particular, grapple not only with the concept of sovereign equality but also with the ‘audacity’ of those they consider inferior who refuse, revolt against, or resist their oppressive actions. This sentiment echoes South Africa’s case against Israel at the ICJ, where the refusal to submit to perceived superiority becomes a powerful act of resistance. It has now become another act of bullying as South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Corporation, Dr Naledi Pandor is being threatened by Israeli officials. According to Pandor, “The Israeli agents, intelligence agencies, [this] is how they behave. They seek to intimidate you. We must not be intimidated.”  Gangsterism and racism at its finest.

In this mindset, and despite the numerous expert opinions and overwhelming evidence, US officials described South Africa’s case as “meritless,” and expressed “disgust at this filing.” For the white supremacists who have been controlling the ‘rules-based order’ and its application to nation-states who need to be ‘reeled in’, South Africa’s actions were distasteful because a small African country dared to say “enough.” According to Pandor, “For the first time in 75 years, Israel is being held accountable by an institution and by the global community. We have now, as South Africa, broken a dangerous culture of impunity that has characterized the illegal occupation of Palestine.”

This constitutes a victory for International Law, signaling an impending shift where the ‘rules-based order,’ the US and Israel is likely to be compelled into compliance.

 

Dr Quraysha Ismail Sooliman is a National Institute of the Humanities and Social Sciences postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Political Sciences at the University of Pretoria.

This article first appeared in the The Palestine Chronicles on 12 February 2024.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the University of Pretoria.

- Author Dr Quraysha Ismail Sooliman

Copyright © University of Pretoria 2024. All rights reserved.

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