Palestinian Struggle for Freedom: A Call for International Accountability and Justice

In the words of Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “No matter how long the road has been, ‘never-ending’ cannot be an acceptable description for any situation in which human rights are violated and abused.” The Palestinian people’s enduring struggle for freedom, rooted in decades of occupation, displacement and systemic injustice, demands urgent global attention.

The current scenario traces back to the United Nations (UN) Partition Plan for Palestine in 1947, revealing Israel’s persistent efforts to assert control of the entire mandated Palestine. An examination of the events leading to the formation of the State of Israel and the 1967 invasion and occupation of Palestinian territory reveals a consistent ambition reflected in Israel’s strategies, actions, treatment of Palestinians, and officials’ statements. The international community, both implicitly and explicitly, has recognised Israel’s persistent intention to exert ongoing control over Palestine. In 1979, the UN Security Council (UNSC) urged Israel to refrain from actions that would alter the legal status, geographical characteristics, and demographic composition of the Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem. In 1980, the UNSC expressed its disapproval of Israel’s continuous efforts to alter the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure, and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem. In 2016, the UNSC condemned actions altering the demographic composition and status of Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, violating international law and resolutions.

For 56 years since the occupation began and 75 years since the Nakba, generations of Palestinians have lived and died under Israeli racialised subjugation. Israel’s occupation denies Palestinians their choice and liberty, contradicting the fundamental human right to self-determination that humanity values for both individuals and collectives. Despite the UN General Assembly’s (UNGA’s) affirmation in 1960 of the fundamental rights of all peoples to freedom, sovereignty, and territorial integrity, Palestinians continue to face challenges to these rights. The adoption of Resolution 181(II) in 1947 by the UNGA aimed to establish both Arab and Jewish states, but Palestinians still struggle to achieve these goals.  Israel’s strategies in the West Bank and Gaza, marked by settlement, confiscation, and human rights violations, continue to perpetuate the cycle of violence.

Urgent steps include endorsing a ceasefire, lifting the blockade for humanitarian aid and holding Israel accountable for the war crimes.

Recent events in the West Bank, particularly in Gaza, underscore the urgency for international accountability. The level of blockade and siege in the West Bank has increased since October 7, resulting in greater restrictions on daily life. Even before this date, 2023 marked the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since 2008. Since October 7, more than 120 people have been killed in the territory, including over 30 children. In Gaza, the month-long assault has resulted in over 11000 Palestinian deaths and 1.5million displaced. The ongoing military actions by Israel are rapidly shaping the reality on the ground, necessitating the international community to define its role and responsibilities in the situation promptly.

The lack of a viable plan for administering the Gaza Strip following the Israeli military’s devastation of the territory has increasingly been noted. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has emphasised the need for a unified and Palestinian-led government following the conclusion of the ongoing military campaign against Hamas. At the same time, Israel aims to maintain security control for an unspecified duration. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has stated that the best-case scenario would involve a hopefully reinvigorated Palestinian Authority taking political control over Gaza. Top officials, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, assert that any return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza must be coupled with a political resolution that concludes Israel’s occupation of the territory it seized during the 1967 Middle East War.

Gaza, declared a humanitarian catastrophe by the UN, faces dire circumstances. The disproportionality of Israel’s response is not being addressed under the cover that Israel has the right to defend itself. As the international community demands a ceasefire, the mantra of Israel’s self-defence is being repeated ad nauseam by some Western states, who are continuing to torpedo any effort to de-escalate and agree to a ceasefire. The complete siege declared by Israel raises concerns about violating the law of armed conflict by cutting off essential supplies. Israel’s actions, which involve bombing trucks carrying supplies, are considered a violation of humanitarian principles, particularly the duty of an occupying power to ensure access to essential resources for the occupied population. This practice is seen as a form of collective punishment, which is prohibited under international law.

Therefore, the Palestinians possess the legitimate right to resist Israeli occupation, particularly when it actively denies them the right to self-determination. This entitlement emerged during the era of decolonisation and has been reaffirmed through various UNGA resolutions. UNGA Resolution 37/43 grants an occupied population the right to oppose occupying forces through any means, including armed resistance. UNGA Resolution 3070 acknowledges the legitimacy of national liberation movements resorting to armed force and urges member states to provide moral and material support to people striving for their right to self-determination.

Richard Falk, the former UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights, asserted that Israel’s non-compliance with international law as an occupying force constituted a significant infringement on Palestinians’ right to self-determination and, more broadly, a disregard for belligerent occupation principles. In turn, he argued, this grants Palestinians the right to engage in resistance.

Despite the legal framework for accountability, political considerations and diplomatic complexities hinder enforcement. While the possibility of a UNSC resolution is remote due to the likelihood of a United States (US) veto, it’s worth noting that the International Criminal Court (ICC) holds jurisdiction over the Israel-Palestine situation, with Palestine being a party to the Rome Statute. ICC’s prerogative applies to potential crimes committed during the current conflict, according to the ICC prosecutor’s office.

The tragic events in Israel and Gaza highlight the divided nature of our world, and the recent conflict in Gaza highlights the challenges facing the international community. The US vetoed the UNSC Resolution calling for a humanitarian pause in the hostilities in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The US and its allies have strongly supported Israel, to the point where British Home Secretary Suella Braverman has informed senior police that displaying a Palestinian flag could potentially be considered a criminal offence.

China’s diplomatic efforts, in contrast to the one-sided approaches of some Western countries, focus on addressing the underlying cause of the conflict, facilitating a ceasefire and emphasising diplomacy. Also, Russian President Putin stated the need for an independent Palestinian state as a prerequisite for lasting peace in Gaza.

Saudi Arabia, led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, convened Arab and Muslim leaders, including Iran, Turkey, Qatar, and Syria’s President Assad, to call for a ceasefire and an end to hostilities in Gaza. Prince Mohammed condemned the “barbaric war,” criticising the UNSC’s inaction. President Abbas labelled it a “genocidal war,” urging US intervention to halt Israeli “aggression.” The collective message emphasises the urgency for international involvement in the crisis because as the conflict prolongs, the risk of more countries getting involved in the conflict and more loss of human lives.

The ongoing war crimes and crimes against humanity demand immediate accountability and justice. Urgent steps include endorsing a ceasefire, lifting the blockade for humanitarian aid and holding Israel accountable for the war crimes. The US and United Kingdom’s refusal to support UN calls for a Gaza ceasefire raises concerns about Western complicity. The international community must prioritise human rights over political alliances, cease military and financial aid to Israel, and support Palestinian self-determination and the two-state solution.

As the conflict escalates, a genuine global conversation is essential to uphold international law and justice. Shifting focus from political alliances to safeguarding human lives and ensuring justice on the international stage is crucial. International cooperation, evidence collection, and advocacy for accountability remain critical in the face of these ongoing human rights violations.

Bashira Omeed

Bashira Omeed serves as an Assistant Editor and Researcher at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research. She has an MPhil in International Relations from NDU, Islamabad. Her research focuses on diplomatic relations, defence and security, and international affairs.

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