Urgent Policy Brief by Palestinian civil society networks: States must uphold international law and stop Israel’s looming genocide in Gaza

Following Us Veto Unga Must Act 2

23 October 2023

Statements by Israeli officials demonstrate “genocidal intent,” as noted by prominent international scholars, including genocide scholars, as well as by US and Palestinian human rights organizations. Indeed, there is a growing demand on the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to issue arrest warrants and “an official public statement to deter the commission of genocide and other international crimes against the Palestinian people.” [Emphasis added] UN experts have also called for the “prevention of genocide” in Gaza. Israel’s unlawful actions in Gaza amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity, such as forced displacement and ethnic cleansing, indiscriminate bombing, and the cutting off of food, water, electricity, medicine, and fuel, prompted the prominent Israeli genocide scholar, Raz Segal, to warn of “a textbook case of genocide.” 

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide seeks to prevent and punish the crime of Genocide. It allows for no justification for genocide nor any extenuating circumstances with regard to actions that constitute genocide.

The Genocide Convention underlines the imperative of preventing or stopping an ongoing genocide and makes clear that inaction by States party to the treaty, including Third States, renders those states themselves responsible for breaching their duties under international law in relation to genocide. As such, any state that encourages and supports Israel’s actions, including the forcible transfer of civilians and other war crimes, may additionally incur legal responsibility. Invoking legal obligations and condemning “double standards” by some powers, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, representing 57 states, has called for halting Israel’s “heinous crimes, including the crime of genocide.” South Africa called on the international community and the UN Security Council to take “enforcement action to halt the unfolding genocide.”

Israel’s genocidal war on Palestinians, supported militarily and politically by the US and major European powers, is undermining the legitimacy of international law in the eyes of many states, and it is further widening the political divide within the international community. The President of Ireland warned that Israel’s conduct “reduces all that code that was there from the Second World War through the Geneva Conventions about the protection of civilians … to tatters.” The conduct of the US, UK, and EU further demonstrates what much of the world sees as “double standards” and “hypocrisy” with regards to the selective application of international law and widens the political chasm between the Global North and South. One senior official at the Group of 7 (G7) warned that the Global North has already “lost the battle in the Global South. All the work we have done with the Global South [over Ukraine] has been lost . . . Forget about rules, forget about world order. They won’t ever listen to us again.”

Despite large and ongoing demonstrations around the world and dissent of US and EU officials protesting Western support for Israel’s violations of international law, Western powers have effectively blocked a UN call for a ceasefire as a necessary first step to halt the looming genocide. But the position is not unanimous; the governments of the Netherlands and Belgium were the first within the Western bloc to call for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza. 

States have a legal and ethical responsibility to prevent the unfolding genocide in Gaza and end ongoing crimes under international law. Inaction will incur legal consequences and risks and undermine the integrity and credibility of international law. 

States must take urgent action at a national level and at the UN to ensure:  

  • An immediate ceasefire in Gaza, enforced and guaranteed by the UN. 
  • The entry and delivery of sufficient quantities of humanitarian aid and relief, including food, water, fuel, and medical supplies; for such aid not to be conditioned and to reach all areas across Gaza, and an end to the siege.
  • UN protection for the Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), most urgently the 2.3 million civilians trapped under siege in Gaza, including an end to the illegal siege and prevention of ethnic cleansing across the OPT, including the West Bank.
  • Immediate action by the Office of the Prosecutor of International Criminal Court to issue a warning about the possibility of acts of genocide committed by Israel, the occupying power, and advance the open investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity.
  • Activate effective UN mechanisms to end and punish the crimes against humanity of genocide and apartheid, to hold their perpetrators and enablers accountable. 
  • Impose a comprehensive military embargo on Israel.