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Western Support for Genocide in Gaza Undermines Human Rights Everywhere

We must resist the hypocrisy of Western governments deciding when international law applies and when it does not.

An aerial view of Palestinians performing Friday prayers among the rubble of the Al-Farooq Mosque, destroyed in an Israeli attack, on March 1, 2024, in Rafah, Gaza.

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For over four months, the TVs in our homes have been broadcasting reel after reel of suffering, torture and humiliation experienced by Palestinians. It’s difficult to find the words to describe what’s unfolding in Gaza as Israel’s violence becomes more acute, sadistic and brutal. Objective language aimed at appealing to our morality may distance us from the visceral suffering that can motivate action. On the other hand, subjective language meant to appeal to our senses is not capable of capturing the extent of the destruction to the land, to the people and to humanity as whole

The struggle to communicate the atrocities Israel is committing can be isolating for Palestinians experiencing them. We hope that by using words like “genocide,” “ethnic cleansing,” “settler colonialism,” “apartheid,” “siege” and “open-air prison,” we can persuade international bodies and publics in the Western world to grasp the urgency of our situation and take decisive action to change the situation.

And though we have succeeded in convincing a popular international solidarity movement and many powerful institutions to embrace this language, Israeli violence and crimes not only carry on, but increase with impunity.

So then, does anything go? Will the charge of genocide in international courts mean absolutely nothing? Does the murder of over 30,000 people not embarrass or trouble Israel’s allies and enablers?

What terrifying world have we created where the perpetrators of genocide seemingly face no accountability for carrying out unspeakable violence?

Simply put, the United States speaks in the name of the international law and universal ideals when they work in its favor but completely disregards them when they don’t. We see this clearly when the U.S. and its allies condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while flagrantly defying international laws in the case of Israel’s horrifying, well-documented crimes in Gaza.

The pausing of funding by the U.S. to UNRWA after the ICJ ruled against Israel and stressed the necessity of letting humanitarian aid into Gaza demonstrates this scornful attitude towards international law.

What does such a hypocritical instrumentalist approach to universal rights and freedoms tell us? It clearly shows us that the U.S. has no real interest in creating a world that genuinely upholds these values.

Instead, it invokes a battle between the forces of the West, which claims to be the true bearer of humanist values, and the East, which they label terrorist, antisemitic and barbaric.

Unfolding before our eyes is a world shaped by this antagonistic identity politics of West versus East and a total disregard for that which is universal. In response to the West’s support for Israeli actions, which numerous United Nations officials have labelled a genocide, we may see rising levels of cynicism across the world toward the notion of universal values. Powerful states may weaponize this growing cynicism for their own equally disturbing agendas. Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping have often used the argument that they are fighting U.S. double standards and a unipolar imperial order to justify suppressing democratic movements and pursuing their own imperial policies across Asia and Africa. But at the end of the day, we must combat rising authoritarianism across the world everywhere with a language that reminds us this is not an East versus West struggle but one of oppressed people versus oppressors.

It is urgent for us now to resist the hypocrisy of Western governments deciding when international law applies and when it does not.

U.S. and other states enabling Israel’s genocide need to consider how it is they, while speaking in the name of international law and universal human rights, that have hollowed out the very institutions purportedly created to uphold such values.

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