What does Operation Protective Edge mean for Palestine? That depends on who one asks. At the U.N. General Assembly, the conversation turned toward Israel’s “right to defend itself,” but the Russell Tribunal on Palestine’s discussion took a very different course.
The aftermath of Israel’s colonial massacre of the Gaza Strip, dubbed “Operation Protective Edge,” featured strongly at the end of last month. It was a topic of conversation at both the U.N. General Assembly and the Russell Tribunal on Palestine — two arenas with very different conclusions about the operation’s implications for Palestine.
Unlike the awareness raised by the Tribunal, discourse at the U.N. revolved around Israel’s fabricated “right to defend itself” and the illusion of an equal conflict — an illusion intended to portray Hamas as the aggressor. Meanwhile, the role of imperialist-aligned countries in supplying Israel with additional means to implement genocide was conveniently absent from the conversation.
Speeches at the U.N. were aimed at obliterating the Palestinian narrative in order to accommodate the dominant one. By reiterating references to conflict instead of settler-colonialism, the U.N. provides a platform for imperialism to consolidate and maintain the imperialist two-state fabrication as a plausible solution – a trend that is also endorsed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Rather than examine the motives and consequences of Protective Edge as a colonial and imperialist strategy designed to facilitate and accelerate colonization through genocide, U.N. speeches continue to grant legitimacy to oppressive powers, including the U.N. itself, as a means of avoiding the conversation on Israel’s settler-colonialist project.
In his speech, Abbas denounced settlement construction from the perspective of “the reports of United Nations missions as well as by several Israeli institutions and civil societies” in order to evoke an image of destruction. His speech, however, is incomplete, as it doesn’t reference Zionist colonial ideology prior to the establishment of the Israeli state which, since the Nakba of 1948, has become the epitome of U.N. imperialist-supported colonial violence. Hence, any incomplete references, such as the ones articulated by Abbas — notably, the acquiescence to the two-state conspiracy and the disconnect between current settlement expansion and the historical Zionist settler-colonial project — only serve to highlight the imposed disassociation of the current Palestinian reality from history.
Departing slightly from the mainstream narrative disseminated by imperialist forces, U.N. Special Rapporteur Makarim Wibisono ventured closer to articulating humanitarian concerns within a political perspective following his visit to Gaza. The ramifications of Protective Edge, according to Wibisono, raise “serious questions about possible violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law.”
A press release imparting statistical details about the consequences of Israel’s colonial massacre is comprehensive, especially with regard to the severity of the humanitarian situation. Yet the political perspective is once again restricted, with descriptions of “an occupied population” — a reference to Palestinians — diminishing the impact of Israel’s colonial violence in favor of the more convenient military occupation.
The Russell Tribunal on Palestine
Away from the grandeur of the manipulation of facts at the U.N., the Russell Tribunal on Palestine held extraordinary sessions in Brussels on Sept. 24 and 25. These sessions were aimed at establishing evidence of war crimes and complicity during Protective Edge.
The Tribunal, an initiative that holds no legal status but focuses on the dynamics of consciousness, focuses on international law violations disregarded by authorities. In 1966 the Tribunal investigated war crimes committed in Vietnam. Its focus later turned to Palestine, in an attempt to provide an independent alternative perspective based upon participating individuals’ commitment to human rights.
The summary of findings with regard to Israel’s most recent colonial massacre in Gaza were presented on Sept. 25. Based on testimony by journalists and medical personnel, as well as experts’ opinions, the international citizen’s Tribunal determined that Israel wilfully indulged in murder, destroyed property and infrastructure, intentionally targeted civilians, deliberately launched attacks that led to severe and long-term destruction, intentionally targeted places of refuge such as U.N. schools and hospitals and medical personnel. Israel also employed the use of human shields, weapons inflicting widespread suffering and depleted uranium. Further, it manipulated violence into a propaganda theme as a form of terror against the Palestinian population in Gaza.
According to the issued press release:
“The cumulative effect of the long-standing regime of collective punishment in Gaza appears to inflict conditions of life calculated to bring about the incremental destruction of the Palestinians as a group in Gaza.”
While clearly establishing that Israel had indeed committed war crimes during Protective Edge, the Tribunal is unable to go beyond issuing recommendations and raising awareness. However, a statement within the press release signals a departure from the rhetoric usually employed by the U.N., which issues recommendations that are little more than an illusion within which Israel and its accomplices are allowed to violate international law unhindered. That statement reads:
“It is recognised that in a situation where patterns of crimes against humanity are perpetrated with impunity, and where direct and public incitement to genocide is manifest throughout society, it is very conceivable that individuals or the state may choose to exploit the conditions in order to perpetrate the crime of genocide.”
Through emphasizing impunity, the Tribunal imparts strong criticism with regard to the lack of accountability and the manner in which democracy is manipulated to defend illegalities. The notion that atrocities committed by Israel are confined solely to the territories it has colonized has been widely disseminated both by mainstream media, the Palestinian Authority and international organizations such as the U.N. Behind this convenient manipulation, the system supporting Israel’s colonization of Palestine has been eradicated, preventing the discussion of issues pertaining to international complicity, such as the sale of weapons to Israel by several countries and U.S. approval for additional funding to cover the expenses of Iron Dome, Israel’s missile defense system.
As Abbas continues to fluctuate regarding the signing of the Rome Statute, which is the basis for International Criminal Court jurisdiction, accountability remains remote. Despite regular outbursts that make headlines and fall out of public consciousness within a few days, resorting to the ICC has so far been a mild threat that seeks to divert attention away from a much harsher reality: the Palestinian Authority’s collaboration with Israel and imperialism in consolidating the Zionist settler-colonial project.
Hence, as Palestinians suffer the atrocities committed by Israel, the peril remains in confining Protective Edge to a particular period without relating it to the oppressive international framework of complicity and the history of Zionist colonial ideology and implementation. With the U.N. at the helm of promoting Israel’s deceitful narratives, initiatives such as the Tribunal’s and the conclusions drawn from presented evidence need to be discussed as part of the wider historical evidence that brought about the condoning of Israel’s expansion in the Middle East.