Benjamin Netanyahu in 2009. Photo: Wikimedia/Avi Ohayon Benjamin Netanyahu in 2009. Photo: Wikimedia/Avi Ohayon

Lindsey German on ceaseless carnage and the west’s reaction

I can only think of one word for the reception of the ICJ judgement on Gaza by the British government – disgusting. The court’s ruling on the case brought by South Africa was a powerful indictment of Israel and said that the country had a case to answer for possible genocide. It is disappointing that it did not order a ceasefire as it has the power to do (and as it did to Russia over its invasion of Ukraine) but not surprising given the conflict with US imperialism that would have brought.

It did however demand that Israel takes steps to prevent genocide, protect civilians and allow humanitarian aid – and that it has to report back to the court in a month on progress. It also demanded that it prevents and takes action against calls for genocide (which are coming from far-right cabinet ministers among others).

The response from the foreign secretary Lord David Cameron was slow in coming. He had after all assured us that Israel had no case to answer at the ICJ. So it took 24 hours for the government to frame its reply, and when it came it showed the depths to which the British ruling class can sink:

‘We respect the role and independence of the ICJ. However we have stated that we have considerable concerns about this case, which is not helpful in the goal of achieving a sustainable ceasefire.

‘Israel has the right to defend itself against Hamas in line with IHL, as we have said from the outset. Our view is that Israel’s actions in Gaza cannot be described as a genocide, which is why we thought South Africa’s decision to bring the case was wrong and provocative.’

This effectively denies the court’s ruling, defends Israel’s actions and attacks South Africa for having the temerity to call out an apartheid state. It shows the extent to which Britain is prepared to back Israel in its barbaric attacks on the Palestinians. It is completely in accord with the Israeli refusal to acknowledge any wrongdoing, and with the US backing of the slaughter. It is in great contrast to the government decision to halt funding to UNWRA as a result of unproved allegations, rather than a court verdict.

This endorses the smokescreen thrown up over the 12 UNWRA employees alleged to have been involved in the October 7th attacks. I don’t know the truth or otherwise of these allegations. I do know that it is criminal to withdraw funding for the major relief agency in Gaza and the West Bank over them. Yet that is what 9 of the wealthiest nations have done. So the response to a highly respected and widely accepted court ruling which says that all steps should be taken to prevent genocide of the Palestinians is….to penalise the Palestinians and protect those accused of preparing that genocide.

Thus the complicity with Israel reaches ever higher levels and will cause huge problems for western imperialism over the longer term. This complicity extends in Britain to the official opposition Labour Party, which is in internal turmoil over Gaza and has lost large numbers of councillors over Keir Starmer’s refusal to call for a ceasefire. It also extends to the media which has by and large gone along with the government agenda both in minimising the ICJ judgement and giving extensive coverage to the UNWRA question.

I was surprised how little coverage there was on the two main channels’ news on Friday, with ITN even leading on the king’s prostate operation. Only Channel 4 news gave it adequate space, although here ran a very long interview with the Israeli government spokesman. The journalist Peter Oborne said on X that the first mention of the story in The Times on Saturday was on page 42. The Guardian and Financial Times print editions led on the ICJ case but it was much less prominent on their websites.

One can only see this as a deliberate downplaying of the issue. It is also impossible to the timing of the accusations against UNWRA as anything other than a means of shifting attention away from this indictment of Israel.

It isn’t going to work. This is a turning point for Israel which has already lost in the court of public opinion across the world. It is harder and harder for its supporters to claim it as ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’ when it has the labels of apartheid and genocide pinned to it. Whatever the bluster from Cameron, this ruling puts pressure on those governments arming and funding Israel. Britain is involved in sending arms, which should stop immediately, and its Cyprus bases are being used to send US arms to Israel.

The latest peace deal planned by the western powers for a two-month ceasefire while hostages are released and prisoners freed also talks about a ‘technocratic government’ in Gaza and the possible transfer of Hamas fighters from Gaza to another country. This was what happened to the Palestine Liberation Organisation after the Lebanon war and of course it failed, because the resistance of the Palestinians comes from their situation of occupation and repression, not primarily from any individuals.

Why is this plan brokered by the old Etonian unelected Cameron, dictators and monarchs across the Middle East, and a US imperialism which is becoming ever more bellicose? The answer lies in the fact that despite the abstract support for self-determination of nations, the Palestinians have never been granted this right, and the US and its allies collude in the colonial treatment they receive from the Israelis. So ‘solutions’ are repeatedly imposed on the Palestinians without their consent; their resistance is branded as ‘terrorist’; and the calls for a Palestinian state from the ‘international community’ ring increasingly hollow when we see that there is absolutely no possibility of one – as Netanyahu himself has made clear.

Meanwhile defence minister Grant Shapps has raised the stakes not just about the situation in the Middle East but across the world, when he claimed that we are in a ‘pre-war’ not post-war situation and that there would be major conflicts over the next five years – hence the need to up the already huge levels of defence spending to 2.5% of GDP. Spending on the military has already risen by 10% in the past decade. This has been accompanied by various Dad’s Army figures, including Boris Johnson, calling for the return of conscription.

There is much talk of an ‘international rules-based order’. It would certainly be a good idea. Because at the moment what we have is nothing of the sort. Instead we see a declining western imperialism trying to use its military might to maintain its power. What could possibly go wrong?

This week: I’m helping to organise the next national demo on Palestine for 3rd February – especially important given events of recent days, and the day of action for trade unions, students and school students on 7th February. I’ll also be speaking about a much less reported war in Sudan on Monday, and in Bristol on Thursday.

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Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.