England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

ICJ’s refusal to call for ceasefire is a betrayal of the Palestinian people

The International Court of Justice’s recent ruling is a horrendous betrayal of the Palestinian people and the whole anti-war movement. 

By Tom Costello, Socialist Alternative Merseyside

Despite ruling that the Israeli state must take “immediate and effective measures” to prevent genocidal acts, the judges totally contradict this by refusing to call for an immediate ceasefire. In effect, they are saying ‘continue with your murderous bombing campaign, but show some restraint’. This amounts to a regurgitation of the ‘humanitarian’ line of US imperialism. It lines up behind the massacre in deeds and reduces the rest of their judgment to hollow words.

This ruling shows we cannot rely on institutions like the UN (the parent body of the ICJ) to provide lasting justice and peace in the Middle East, and an end to the oppression of the Palestinians. We need an international, anti-war movement, rooted in the working class and independent of all imperialist institutions. 

Devastating indictment

This ruling comes at the end of a month-long case filed by the South African government, which has also charged the Israeli regime with genocide. 

South African prosecutors and Irish judge Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh mounted a devastating case against the Israeli state. Nothing in their case represents anything new. Yet for the first time a comprehensive presentation documented the sheer scale of Israel crimes, fueling the worldwide solidarity movement.

Detailed evidence was given of the indiscriminate bombing of key civilian infrastructures – hospitals, housing, schools and places of worship, showing that the vast majority of those killed have been women and children. Though the Israeli regime defends itself with the line that it provides notice and ‘safe zones’, the record shows how they have repeatedly bombed these same places. 

Those 1.9 million Palestinians who are internally displaced are being slowly starved of water, food and medical treatment. Women have been forced to use tent fabric as sanitary products, and c-sections have been performed by crisis-stricken medical staff without anaesthesia, all due to the enforced blockade. 93% are facing crisis levels of hunger. Experts predict that more Palestinians in Gaza may even die due to starvation and disease than to airstrikes. 

Without urgently lifting the siege, a permanent ceasefire and drastic amounts of aid, experts estimate that 100,000 more Palestinians could die in coming days and weeks. 

Also crucial to the case has been the description of statements with clear genocidal intent. This is not limited to one or two officials or ministers, but the whole regime. In one case used by the lawyers, they refer to Netanyahu’s call made to the Israeli population to “remember what Amalek has done to you”. This is in reference to an ancient Biblical passage where God urges the ancient Israelites to “go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”

In another case, Israeli President Isaac Herzog openly called for collective punishment when he said: “It’s an entire nation out there that is responsible. This rhetoric about civilians not aware, not involved, it’s absolutely not true. They could’ve risen up, they could have fought against that evil regime.” 

There have been numerous videos and evidence of IDF troops singing songs with words such as “there are no innocents in Gaza”. The Israeli state line that this has been a humane effort, aside from ‘heat of the moment’ exceptions must be totally rejected.

What is the UN?

Millions around the world greeted this case positively and hoped that it could mark a decisive turning point in putting pressure on the Israeli state war machine. 

It wasn’t lost on many the symbolic significance of the state which brought the case in the first place. Given South Africa’s history of revolutionary struggle against apartheid and racist oppression, the image of the African National Congress (South Africa’s ruling party) putting the Israeli regime in the dock has struck a powerful chord for many. 

But to end the war  and bring down the Israeli capitalist regime, we must understand what the nature of the United Nations actually is. The UN is frequently seen – including by some figures on the left such as Jeremy Corbyn – as a ‘neutral’ arbiter which can be used by the anti-war movement to guarantee peace internationally. But this simply does not line up with its record. 

Since its founding in 1947, in the last analysis, the UN has almost always protected imperialist interests internationally. When it has been forced to restrict them, it has only done so minimally. One of its very first acts, in fact, was to order the initial partition of Palestine in 1947, which handed 55% Palestinian land to Jewish settlers who made up a third of the population, as an extension of the British colonial ‘divide and rule’ policy. This triggered the chain of events which led the following year to the Nakba, resulting in the 75-year exile of 750,000 expelled Palestinians. 

Through the 1990s, the UN was the instrument through which the Clinton and Bush administrations enforced brutal US-led sanctions on Iraq. Food and water supplies were totally shut off to the country, which led to an estimated death toll in the hundreds of thousands. Later on, though the UN did not give its official approval to the US-led invasion of Iraq, it proved completely unable or unwilling to stop it. 

This toothlessness is actually enshrined into the very fabric of the UN’s constitution. Even if measures with real teeth were called for, the US has the right of veto in the UN Security Council. This was shown in October, when the US ruled out the call for a ceasefire. 

ANC’s motivations

While welcoming an opportunity to put the Israeli state in the dock, we must also understand why the South African government chose to pursue a prosecution at this time. The current ruling party, the ANC, despite sharing the same name as the party which spearheaded the liberation struggle against apartheid, now has nothing in common with the mass movement of black South African workers and youth which inspired worldwide support in the 1980s.

Today’s ANC is a corrupt band of multi-millionaires presiding over social and economic catastrophe. During the 1980s struggle against apartheid, the Marxist Workers Tendency of the ANC warned that the party was “two animals in the same skin”. It contained rank-and-file fighting to build a revolutionary movement of the black working class majority to overthrow apartheid and capitalism, but was always led by an aspirant elite of nationalists hoping to restrict the aim of that movement to placing themselves at the helm of a capitalist nation.

The ruling elite protected by the ANC today – still mostly white but also containing a significant black capitalist class – sits in its mansions in Johannesburg’s ‘millionaires row’. Meanwhile the country’s youth suffer an unemployment rate of 75.1%. While formally living in a ‘non-racial democracy’, black South Africans face inequality on an even greater scale than under apartheid. This is rooted in the neoliberal, pro-capitalist policies which the ANC have slavishly followed since 1994. 

Facing discontent, the regime has increasingly turned in recent years to whipping up anti-migrant xenophobia, against Zimbabweans and other African migrant workers. Likewise in 2012, the South African Police Service shot dead striking workers at the Marikana platinum mine. The inquiry into this massacre revealed that the current President, Cyril Ramaphosa, then a director of Lonmin, British multinational owners of the mine, lobbied ministers demanding that action be taken against the miners, described by him as “criminals”. Until 1991, Ramaphosa was the founding General Secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers. Two decades on, as director of one of South Africa’s biggest mining companies, he incited the murder of striking miners!

Sensing the deep discontent and hatred of the Israeli occupation among the South African workers and poor, the government has felt compelled to respond to pressure from below. 

There is also clearly a geopolitical element to this. While making correct denunciations of the role of US imperialism and the regimes its backs at times, South African capitalism has increasingly tried to maintain relations with both US, Chinese and Russian imperialism, playing a balancing act in the New inter-imperialist Cold War. 

Our real allies in South Africa are the mighty South African working class, who over decades have waged heroic battles against racism, poverty and exploitation. Time and time again, South African workers have shown their capacity to challenge not just the bosses, but also their ties to the Israeli state. In 2021, South African dock workers refused to unload Israeli ships, and in 2022 waged a months-long battle to save jobs at Clover, owned by an Israeli corporation with ties to the settlements on Palestinian land. Socialist Alternative’s sister organisation, Workers and Socialist Party, has been involved in many similar actions. 

Real justice for the crimes of imperialism

Even when capitalist leaders are forced to echo our anti-war message, we should not put our faith in them to take the action we need. Workers, youth and the oppressed worldwide can only rely on our own strength.

Socialist Alternative calls for the building of a mass, international anti-war movement against the warmongering capitalist system. Action by dock workers and transport workers, for instance, could be a central strategy for the movement to adopt, backed up by the already existing mass demonstrations. We need to be clear going forward; no wing of the capitalist elite and its global institutions will come to the rescue of the Palestinian people. 

Only the workers’ and anti-war movement internationally can itself put the perpetrators of the massacre on trial and bring real justice for their crimes. The ultimate justice will rest in changing the system and removing them from power once and for all.

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