‘Unbounded’ Impunity Emboldens Israel

By Anis Chowdhury
SYDNEY, Feb 27 2024 – Israel continues to reject calls for a ceasefire in Gaza and now readies itself for an assault on Rafah with a Ramadan deadline for the release of all hostages. It emphatically says, it will oppose any international attempt at creating a Palestinian State, regarded as an “unilateral recognition”. Its unrestrained bombings and ground assaults so far have resulted in close to 30,000 Palestinian deaths more than half of whom are women and children. they have brazenly ignored the International Court of Justice (ICJ) order to take all measures to prevent a plausible genocide. Many thousands are facing starvation and death even when the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) demanded unhindered aid flows to besieged Gaza. All these were possible due to Israel’s ‘unbounded’ impunity which emboldens it.

Anis Chowdhury

‘Unbounded’ impunity
This begins with accepting uncritically whatever Israel claims or does. Take for example, President Biden claimed that Hamas beheaded babies. Echoing a statement made that same day by a spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he even said that he had seen “confirmed pictures of terrorists beheading children.”

President Biden did not fully retract his assertion even after the Israeli government said it could not confirm the report made by Netanyahu’s office; it was left to a White House spokesperson to walk it back. Then President Biden repeated that Hamas “were cutting babies’ heads off”, without offering any evidence. Yet he had no sympathy or condemnation that babies were dying and their bodies rotting inside Gaza’s largest hospital, Al-Shifa, as Israel bombed it, shell it and cut off its essential supplies.

Israel justified its targeting of Al-Shifa claiming that it was Hamas’s command and control centre. Even when it failed to provide any credible evidence, the US claimed “confidence” in the Israeli intelligence authorities. An investigation by The Washington Post found among other things that “the rooms connected to the tunnel network discovered by the IDF showed no immediate evidence of military use by Hamas; none of the five hospital buildings identified by Hagari appeared to be connected to the tunnel network, and no evidence that the tunnels could be accessed from inside hospital wards”.

President Biden doubted Palestinian claims of the death tolls due to Israel’s “indiscriminate bombing” by his own admission. Then the White House downplays Biden’s remarks while the US continues to provide military assistance and diplomatic support, including repeated vetoes against cease-fire resolutions at the UNSC, the latest being on 21 February. The Guardian’s cartoonist, Fiona Katauskas, explained the US veto as “It’s not that we’re anti-ceasefire so much as pro-not standing up to Netanyahu”.

As of 19 February, Israel’s assault in Gaza has killed more than 29,000 Palestinians, making it one of the deadliest and most destructive military campaigns in recent history. Additionally, more than 69,000 Palestinians have been wounded, overwhelming the territory’s hospitals, less than half of which are even partially functioning.

All these are not sufficient to waver the US support for Israel. Thus, the US and its Western allies accept Israel’s claim that there is no “uninvolved Palestinians”. “It is an entire nation out there that is responsible,” Israel’s Isaac Herzog said as Israel ordered 1.1 million Palestinians to evacuate their homes.

Israel’s US-led Western allies were quick to sacrifice the most fundamental basis of justice, that is, the presumption of innocence until proven guilty when they suspended funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) responding to the Israeli accusation that some 10 UNRWA employees were involved in the 7 October Hamas attack. This puts the burden of proof on the accused, not on the accuser as the presumption of innocence requires to guard against “type I error” or “false positive” that an innocent is punished wrongly.

The action ignores the good work of thousands of UNRWA employees and the fact that hundreds of them sacrificed their lives in serving humanity in an extreme situation. The US and its Western allies have not restored funding even when “the allegations against staff remain murky”, and the UNRWA sacked the accused denying their fundamental right to justice, and promptly instituted an investigation.

Suspension of UNWRA funding reinforces Israel’s narrative that Palestinians deserve collective punishment as no Palestinian is innocent. It also serves Israel’s attempt to by-pass or scuttle ICJ’s order as well as the UNSC resolution to ensure uninterrupted flows of aid and essential supplies – food, fuel, water and medicine, in particular.

Expansionist Israel
The uncritical acceptance of Zionist narratives helped Israel expand its border beyond the 1947 (November) UN General Assembly Resolution 181 (II), recommending the creation of independent Arab and Jewish States and a Special International Regime for the city of Jerusalem and its surroundings. The Arab state was to have a territory of 11,100 square kilometres (42%), the Jewish state a territory of 14,100 square kilometres (56%), while the remaining 2% – comprising the cities of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and the adjoining area—would become an international zone.

In the 1948 war Israel expanded its territory to 77% of Palestine, including a large part of Jerusalem. Over half of the Palestinian population fled or were expelled which the Palestinians call “Nakba” or “catastrophe”. The official Zionist narrative asserted that the Yishuv (the Jewish community in Palestine before 1984) faced annihilation on the eve of the1948 war. It also portrayed the Arab side as Nazis.

However, Simha Flapan’s 1987 book, The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities, relying on declassified Israeli documents, debunked this narrative and showed that there was no such danger. The Jewish community easily won the diplomatic battle in the UN, backed by the US, the first country to recognise Israel, and was favoured by the balance of military power on the ground. Yet, the myth of annihilation became central in driving unconditional Western support for Israel.

The 1967 Six-Day War culminated in Israel’s absorption of the whole of historical Palestine, including the West Bank (from Jordan) as well as additional territory from, Egypt (Gaza Strip and all of the Sinai Peninsula up to the east bank of the Suez Canal) and Syria (Golan Heights). By the end of the war, Israel expelled another 300,000 Palestinians from their homes, including 130,000 who were displaced in 1948, and gained territory that was three and a half times its size.

Inconsistent, but mostly supportive, policies of the US and its Western allies towards Israel’s annexations of occupied Palestinian territories and settlements violating the international law allowed Israel to absorb all of Palestine – “from the River to the Sea”. At the recent ICJ hearing on Israel’s occupation of Palestine, the US argued that Israel should not be ordered to immediately and unconditionally end occupation, while the UK sought to block the hearing. Thus, the Western powers acquiesce with Israel’s claims of Jewish people’s “historical right to Judea and Samaria” hypocritically promoting a so-called “two-state solution”.

Emboldened Israel
Unsurprisingly, the US and its Western allies did not raise concerns when on 22 September Netanyahu brandished map of Israel that included West Bank and Gaza at his UN speech. Sadly, but understandably, the lone protesters were dispossessed Palestinians. Laith Arafeh, Palestinian Ambassador to Germany, tweeted, “No greater insult to every foundational principle of the United Nations than seeing Netanyahu display before the UNGA a ‘map of Israel’ that straddles the entire land from the river to the sea, negating Palestine and its people”.

Netanyahu’s new Middle-East map was spun as ushering a “new era of peace”; but ironically in less than a month the region exploded. Knowing fully that the US and its Western allies are firmly with Israel, Netanyahu defiantly declared, “We won’t capitulate to any pressure”.

Netanyahu rejects demands for a Palestinian state, winning overwhelming backing of Israel’s parliament. The emboldened Israel’s blue-print for “day after” is a smack on the face of the US and its Western allies, exposing their deceit and hypocrisies.

Anis Chowdhury is Adjunct Professor, School of Business, Western Sydney University. He held senior United Nations positions in the area of Economic and Social Affairs in New York and Bangkok.

IPS UN Bureau


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