What has unfolded in Gaza since the 7th of October has been the most brutal display of the mechanisms of violence the colonial state of Israel has been employing on the colonized Palestinian people in the past 75 years.
Simultaneously, we are witnessing all the accumulated advancements we have made in the sectors of technology and media manifest in the form of propagation of false narratives and censorship that have dehumanized and criminalized the colonized Palestinians and have victimized and decriminalized the colonial state of Israel and its participating settlers.
The images and videos we are witnessing of Palestinian children decapitated, shredded to bits, disfigured, their parents and siblings carrying what remains of them in horror are completely unbearable. The reason that these images and videos are unbearable for us to witness is simple. It is because we are human beings who recognize and empathize with the suffering of other human beings.
But what if these victims are described as, in the words of the Israeli defense minister, “human animals”? Seeing that Israel is a colonial state, the practice of dehumanization is just another strategy in the playbook. Historically speaking, the British categorized the Native Americans as “subhuman”, the French categorized the Algerians as “barbarians”. These colonial narratives are used not only to justify colonialism but to justify the employment of brutal measures of oppression to perpetuate colonial power.
What has changed today? Today, states function within a modern international system that has established an international system of law. Therefore, when we observe the brutal measures of oppression that have occurred historically, we can easily identify the exact clauses of international law that they would have violated today.
Today Palestinians are facing violence and brutality under their colonizers and we can clearly identify the clauses Israel violates within international law, and since Israel is a state that functions within the international system, the equation should be quite simple. The total siege on Gaza, cutting off water, food, and fuel supplies, a violation of Article 54 (1) of Additional Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva Conventions. The bombing of Al Ahli Hospital resulting in the death of over 500 civilians, a violation of Article 23 of the first Geneva Convention of 1949.
But for Palestinians, it isn't so simple of an equation. Because if Palestinians are “human animals” then their rights are not protected under international law because international law protects “human” rights. Israel has found a loophole to justify its violation of international law within the context of 2023, whereby states exist within an international system...or is it a loophole?
Going back to the history of the origins of international law, we find ourselves in Europe during the time of its global colonial conquests. It seems quite paradoxical, but it isn’t. International law was first developed in Europe, as a set of laws and doctrines that allowed European states to further their imperial policies. International law only applied to sovereign states within the international system. Non-European states were not part of this international system, therefore these imperial rights did not apply to them.
The modern international system has gracefully included non-European states within it, extending its international law to these non-European states as well. But while non-European states were invited to join this international system, they were not invited to define this international system or its laws. The extent to which these European states considered the protection of the rights of non-Europeans when drafting these laws and establishing this modern international system and the mechanisms by which it functions is evident in the events occurring in Gaza today.
I conclude with one statement, international law was written by the white man, for the white man.