In the face of genocide and gross violation of human rights in Gaza, the West must take a moral check

Gideon Chitanga

Gideon Chitanga

Published Feb 15, 2024


Gideon Chitanga

The US has consistently sought to police human rights in countries as far apart as Iran, South Sudan, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Nicaragua and China just to mention a few, yet its policies in the Middle East, and direct support for Israel in its conflict with Palestine is fuelling unprecedented possible genocide.

A press release by South Africa’s Department of International Relations on January 26 2024 says the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has determined that Israel’s actions in Gaza are plausibly genocidal and has indicated provisional measures on that basis. Media reports on February 1, 2024 widely reported on findings by a US court indicating that Israel’s campaign in Gaza “plausibly” amounts to genocide.

Yet, two US Congressmen, John James and Jared Moskowitz, who are from the Republican and Democratic Parties, respectively sponsored a bill in Congress, condemning South Africa as an ally of Hamas, Iran, China, Russia and a threat to US interests. There is no debate about where South Africa stands with respect to issues related to the conflict between Israel and Palestine, and Russia and Ukraine.

In respect of Israel and Palestine, South Africa’s position resonates many voices, and the two judgments referred to in this article vindicates its calls for all countries to uphold international rule of law. On the Ukraine-Russia conflict, South Africa has consistently called for dialogue.

The John James and Jared Moskowitz Congress Bill represents the second attempt at dragging South Africa for debate, and possible sanctions before the US Congress, representing serious coercive threats against South Africa.

But is this posture not a vindication for those who have argued that the US, and the West, in general does not wish in any way to observe and uphold international law, that the West acts as hypocritical bully and big brother where its interests are concerned, even if it means brazen violations of the same values and norms that all of us should uphold and be accountable for.

In 2020, Washington passed the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, ostensibly to protect the human rights of a China’s Muslim minorities living in the Xinjiang region, yet the US is supporting the destruction of a whole community of Palestinians in Gaza, with 25 000 people, including women and children, reportedly killed in less than four months.

During the UN Human Rights Council review meeting at the end of January 2024, Western countries chided Beijing for its alleged treatment of Xinjiang Uighurs and restrictions in Hong Kong.

Beijing, which dismissed the allegations of abuses, spoke of progress, including securing the socio-economic rights of its citizens by lifting nearly 100 million people out of poverty, while fostering human rights development that is in keeping with the trend of the times and appropriate to China’s national conditions, including upholding “democratic elections”, and safeguarding freedom of religious belief, stability and law and order.

Many participating countries from the Global South back Chinas position. But if these cases are constituting serious human rights violations, are they anything closer to what we are witnessing in Gaza, even with the suggestion that Israel is at war, and has the right to defend itself? Why are the growing causalities of women and children, journalists and civilians, obtaining humanitarian crisis, not such a grave matter to warrant a discussion of Israel and the role of its partners in the US Congress.

Gaza is burning, and a nation, an ethnic group and human beings are facing the threat of being wiped out. Their cities, homes, schools, medical facilities and places of worship have been ruined.

And the unfortunate part is that, the US and much of the Western leaders, the self-claimed standard bearers of democracy and human rights, contemptuous of voices of sanity from the rest of the world, are complicity in the destruction of Gaza and the people of Palestine. Washington has fervently militarily backed Israel, funding the Israel war in Gaza, whose prosecution is violating international law.

Since October 7, the US has said its support for Israel was ironclad, characterised by intense co-operation and consultation. President Joe Biden gave a speech on October 10, 2023 backing Israel, followed by his subsequent visit eight days later, where he expressed support and solidarity with Tel Aviv.

The US dispatched the USS Gerald R Ford Carrier Strike Group, and then deployed the USS Dwight D Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group to the Persian Gulf, ostensibly as a deterrence measure, understood as protection for the security of Israel.

Since then, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin have shuttled between Washington and Tel Aviv, holding highest level discussions with Israel’s Emergency War Cabinet. Senior US military officers have been engaged with the Israeli military with regard to the war, and resupplying Israel with vital offensive and defensive military supplies, including bombs, war planes, ammunitions and other advanced military infrastructure used in the destruction of Gaza.

Media reports suggest that the US ramped up its military aid and transfers to Israel, while a new military support package for Israel’s defence” of $14.3 billion (R270bn) was passed by the House of Representatives on November 2, 2023.

In 2016, the Obama administration announced the biggest security assistance package to Israel, pledging $38bn for Israel over the next decade. Given this context, it is not surprising that despite its seriousness, Washington has frantically trivialised the South African case at the ICJ, probably unwittingly projecting its contempt to international law when it comes to its interests and those of its allies.

The crime of genocide constitutes the most extreme violations of human rights. As stated in the 1948 UN Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the crime of genocide is defined as acts committed with intent to destroy, either in part or in whole, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, including such acts as the killing of members of a group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about a groups or groups physical destruction, in whole or in part, imposing measures to prevent births and forcibly transferring children. The ICJ has made its interim findings, and, the West and the rest of the world do not need to wait until the worst has happened, and we don’t know what it could look like.

Submitting its case before the ICJ, South Africa accused Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians and pleaded with the UN’s top court to order an immediate halt to Israeli war on Gaza. Significantly, during opening statements at the ICJ, South African lawyers said the latest war was part of decades of Israeli oppression of Palestinians, denying the Palestinians their national sovereignty, self-determination and individual dignity.

South Africa made a compelling 84-page submission to the ICJ, arguing that Israel was violating its obligations under the 1948 Geneva Conventions on the prevention and punishment of genocide. The South African lawyers said the evidence brought before the court “shows incontrovertibly a pattern of conduct and related intention” that amounts to “a plausible claim of genocidal acts”.

While the US contemptuously dismissed the case, many countries firmly stated their support for South Africa’s case. Countries from the Global South, such as Namibia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Brazil, Turkey, Malaysia, Maldives and Pakistan, and the 57 members of the Organization of Islamic Countries, which includes Saudi Arabia, Iran and Morrocco voiced their support for South Africa’s case.

More than 1 000 grass-roots movements, political parties, unions, prominent individuals and civil society formations and various organisations worldwide have voiced their solidarity with South Africa’s genocide case against Israel, meaning the calls for peace, international justice and respect for the human rights of the people of Palestine resonates with world opinion, including in the US.

Gideon Chitanga, PhD is a research associate at the African Centre for the Study of the United States, Wits University.

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