Craig Mokhiber on moving the world for Palestinian rights

Protesters in Paris, France, demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza on 17 December 2023.

Anne Paq ActiveStills

The US wielding its veto at the Security Council to prolong the genocide in Gaza for a third time last week will be remembered as one of the most shameful moments in the world body’s history.

“It’s outrageous,” former senior United Nations official and human rights lawyer Craig Mokhiber said during The Electronic Intifada livestream last week. Watch the full interview with Mokhiber below:

Mokhiber added that “thousands more have died each time” the US has obstructed a resolution demanding an end to Israel’s relentless airstrikes, field executions, destruction of civilian infrastructure and the engineered famine among other war crimes in Gaza.

More than 25,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since 18 October, the first time that the US used its veto to block a call for a humanitarian pause to hostilities.

Tuesday’s veto “will undoubtedly cause even greater suffering,” the Lemkin Institute for Genocide Prevention states, “particularly if nothing is done to prevent an Israeli ground incursion into the last refuge for the Palestinians of Gaza.”

More than a million Palestinians are now concentrated in Rafah, along Gaza’s southern border with Egypt, after Israel issued evacuation orders across wide swathes of the territory and forcibly transferred civilians from one area to another.

Israel’s war cabinet is threatening a major ground offensive in Rafah, which even the Biden administration, fully complicit in the Gaza genocide, warns would be “a disaster” at the same time that it transfers more weapons for the slaughter.

Worst may be yet to come

Media reports on and satellite imagery showing major works on the Egyptian side of Rafah are heightening fears that escalated Israeli attacks in that area – where most of the inadequate aid that gets into Gaza is transferred – would result in yet another mass expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland.

Mokhiber said that the scale and pace of the Egyptian construction indicates that it may not be merely part of a contingency plan if such a mass expulsion occurs.

While Cairo publicly opposes the removal of Palestinians, “one can only imagine the pressure that’s being brought to bear on the Egyptian regime to collaborate in the ethnic cleansing of Gaza.”

Mokhiber said that Western powers, “embarrassed and politically compromised by Israel’s absolute lack of any limitations whatsoever in its genocidal assault,” are also applying diplomatic pressure on Israel, which may have delayed an even worse escalation in Rafah than the ongoing massacres.

But those efforts might not be enough to hold Israel back, and the worst may be yet to come.

For Israel, finishing the job in Gaza “means either killing everybody or killing enough people and making the conditions as unbearable as possible so that those survivors who do remain will force their way across the border,” Mokhiber said.

“And I think that all signs are that they’re going to go through with it.”

Meanwhile, in a further act of complicity in the genocide, Israel’s allies have dealt what may be a death blow to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, by freezing funding following unverified allegations that a handful of its Gaza staff were involved in the 7 October raid led by Hamas.

Philippe Lazzarini, the head of UNRWA, told the UN General Assembly last week that “the agency has reached a breaking point” and its ability to fulfill its mandate and provide government-like services to millions of stateless Palestinians is “now seriously threatened.”

Why does Israel want to see the end of UNRWA, its demise a prominent feature of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “day after” plan?

“Because UNRWA stands in the way of their ethnonationalist plan for Gaza and the West Bank as well,” according to Mokhiber.

That Western states jumped to cut off funding after Israel “essentially gave an order” to do so should make the citizens of those countries very worried about the functioning of their own governments, he added.

Challenging Israel impunity

Israel’s impunity – and the complicity of its powerful allies – is being challenged in unprecedented and potentially irreversible ways, similar to how South Africa was made an international pariah in the last years of apartheid rule in that country.

Israel has ignored the International Court of Justice’s provisional measures ordering it to halt all genocidal acts. Meanwhile, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, a separate tribunal, has failed to prevent the genocide in Gaza.

But the genocide complaint brought by South Africa at the International Court of Justice has already prompted states and companies to cut ties with Israeli arms manufacturers and cancel arms export licenses to Israel.

And while the court lacks an enforcement mechanism, the General Assembly could eventually impose material consequences, Mokhiber said. These could include removing Israel from international organizations, calling for the nonrecognition of Israeli passports and imposing economic and political sanctions.

States also have an individual and collective obligation to take action “when there is genocide, or even a threat or risk of genocide,” he added.

But according to Mokhiber, “the real power is in civil society.”

“And if you see a change in tone, although not in action, on the part of a number of Western governments now,” Mohkhiber said, “it’s because of all the pressure from civil society for movements, protests, labor unions, all those sorts of things that have been … bringing shame on their own governments for their participation in the genocide.”

Israeli occupation on trial

In a separate case than the genocide complaint brought by South Africa, the International Court of Justice held hearings last week as it considers “the legal consequences arising from the policies and practices of Israel in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.”

This examination was requested by the UN General Assembly after it passed with a strong majority a resolution asking the court to issue an advisory opinion on two questions:

What are the legal consequences arising from the ongoing violation by Israel of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, from its prolonged occupation, settlement and annexation of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967, including measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and from its adoption of related discriminatory legislation and measures?

How do the policies and practices of Israel referred to … above affect the legal status of the occupation, and what are the legal consequences that arise for all States and the United Nations from this status?”

More than 50 countries and three organizations are addressing the court during the hearings that began last week – an “unprecedented number” of participants in a World Court case, according to Human Rights Watch.

The New York-based group says that “the broad participation in the hearings and the many written submissions reflect growing global momentum to address the decades-long failure to ensure respect for international law” in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“Israel is already on trial for genocide,” Mokhiber said. “Now it’s on trial again at the World Court but this time, and very importantly, the occupation itself is on trial and support for that occupation by other states is on trial.”

The written submissions and oral interventions in the case demonstrate that also “the whole ideological project of Israel is also on trial to some degree,” according to Mokhiber.

Also on trial “is the Oslo paradigm, or the Oslo ruse … because that was the dominant framework for dealing with the question of Palestine for more than 30 years that sidestepped and subverted international law in favor of negotiations between occupier and occupied.”

The political wing of the UN – which played a key historical role in denying Palestinians’ right to self-determination by proposing the partition of their country against the wishes of the Indigenous population – continues to uphold the Oslo ruse by insisting on a negotiated two-state solution between two inherently unequal parties, rather than enforcing international law.

In his resignation letter to the UN high commissioner for human rights last October, Mokhiber stated that “the mantra of the ‘two-state solution’ has become an open joke in the corridors of the UN, both for its utter impossibility in fact, and for its total failure to account for the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people.”

But that framework has been increasingly challenged in recent years, with major international human rights groups calling for an approach centered on international law, rather than a “peace process” that has only fostered a culture of impunity and allowed Israel to accelerate its colonization of Palestinian land.

For years, Palestinian human rights groups have urged states “to address the root causes of Israel’s settler colonialism and apartheid imposed over the Palestinian people as a whole,” the Ramallah-based Al-Haq stated ahead of the General Assembly vote requesting the advisory opinion.

Those root causes – “dispossession, settler colonialism, Jewish supremacism, racism, racial discrimination, apartheid,” as Mokhiber said – are being addressed in the testimony heard by the court last week.

The statements made by Palestine and South Africa are “almost a perfect primer of the legal and moral cause of Palestine,” he added. The oral statements by those countries can be watched below:

“As a matter of law, the Palestinian people have human rights,” Mokhiber said.

While the court deliberates, people must take action to end the genocide in Gaza and their governments’ support for Israel’s system of oppression as a whole.

“We have to demand accountability for the perpetrators, including those who are complicit, we have to demand redress for the victims and survivors.” Mokhiber said.

“And that’s only going to come from us,” he added.


Add new comment

Maureen Clare Murphy

Maureen Clare Murphy's picture

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada.