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The Global South has helped Palestine to challenge Western institutions

May 28, 2024 at 12:22 pm

Protests in support of Palestine have been held worldwide after recent bloody events in the Middle East. Solidarity with Palestine demonstration at the Main Square in Krakow, Poland on 12 November, 2023 [Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images]

Even the most optimistic of political analysts did not expect that the International Criminal Court’s Chief Prosecutor would ever utter the words: “I have reasonable grounds to believe that Benjamin Netanyahu… and Yoav Gallant… bear criminal responsibility for… war crimes and crimes against humanity…”

Karim Khan included three Palestinians on his application requesting arrest warrants from the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber. That is important, but we must remember that, as per western thinking, Palestinians have always been the guilty party. Evidence of the above claim is that the west has long portrayed Israel as a country fighting a war of self-defence.

Palestinians — although occupied, dispossessed and disinherited — are always viewed as the aggressors.

This bizarre logic is not strange if seen within the larger power paradigm which has defined the west’s relationship with Palestine and, by extension, the Global South. For example, out of 54 individuals indicted by the ICC since its inception in 2002, 47 are Africans, a fact that has rightly agitated governments, civil societies and intellectuals throughout the Global South for many years.

Commenting on western duplicity, Martinican intellectual and politician Aimé Césaire wrote, “They tolerated… Nazism before it was inflicted on them, they absolved it, shut their eyes to it, legitimised it, because, until then, it had been applied only to non-European peoples.”

World War Two inspired new thinking on the part of the west. The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the ICC and other institutions are the direct outcome of that terrible western war inflicted upon the world. They were the west’s way of trying to protect the new status quo which was established by the victors.

READ: UNICEF chief calls for ‘end to senseless killing of children’ in Rafah

The Global South joined in anyway. “Africa had a particular interest in the establishment of the court, since its peoples had been the victims of large-scale violations of human rights over the centuries,” a representative of the Organisation of African Unity said in Rome, the birthplace of the Rome Statute, in 1998. Predictably, however, the ICC turned into a platform where former colonial masters cast judgment on the non-European world. In that sense, justice was hardly served at all.

As always, Palestine has been, and continues to be the litmus test of the international order. For over 15 years, Palestinians have been seeking to enlist the ICC’s help to hold Israel accountable for its military occupation and various crimes in Palestine. The Palestinians have done so simply because any attempt at establishing a practical mechanism to end the Israeli occupation through the United Nations has been knocked back by the cruel use of the US veto.

With the Israeli occupation becoming more or less permanent, and its apartheid system spreading its tentacles over every inch of Palestine, the US support for Israel has become the occupation state’s first line of defence against any international criticism, let alone action, aimed at reining it in.

Even though the US has refused to join the ICC, it still has great influence over the organisation, either through sanctions or pressure imposed by its allies which are members of the court. That’s why it has procrastinated over Palestine for so long. Decisions that should have taken only months, took years to be made. The institution, which was created to deliver swift justice, became a bureaucratic legal apparatus that did everything in its power to escape its responsibilities towards the Palestinians.

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However, their persistence and the massive solidarity they have obtained from countries throughout the Global South eventually paid off. In 2009, Palestinians filed their first application to join the ICC. Yet, it took over three years for then-Prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo to reach his 2012 decision to deny Palestinians such urgent membership on account of their legal status as mere observers at the UN.

The rest of the world rallied behind Palestine again and, later that year, the UN General Assembly granted Palestine its “non-member observer state” status.

It took another three years for Palestine to join the ICC officially. Four years later, in 2019, the then Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda stated that the so-called statutory criteria needed to begin an investigation in Palestine were satisfied. However, instead of opening an investigation, Bensouda sent the matter back to the Pre-Trial Chamber for further confirmation.

An official investigation was not opened until March 2021, but it ground to a halt when Karim Khan replaced Bensouda as the chief prosecutor later that year. What happened between March 2021 and 20 May this year that made the ever-reluctant Khan to go as far as requesting arrest warrants?

For a start, there is the Israeli genocide in Gaza, where the victims are number of dead and wounded has long passed the 100,000 mark. Then there was the fact that the credibility of the western legal system which has governed the world since 1945 was at stake. This explains the emphasis made by Khan in his 20 May statement: “If we do not demonstrate our willingness to apply the law equally… we will be creating the conditions for its collapse.”

There was also the solidarity of the Global South, which has served as the backbone of all Palestinian efforts at international legal institutions.

After decades of a one-sided approach to global conflicts, the pendulum is finally swinging the other way. When we say that Gaza is changing the world, we mean it.

OPINION: For the Love of Gaza

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.