It was only a little over six hours of legal argument, but the genocide case brought by South Africa against Israel at the international court of justice had decades of history bearing down on it. The specifics dealt with Israel’s assault on Gaza, but at its heart, the case was about something wider: closing the gap between Palestinian reality and how the dominant political forces describe it.
For weeks now, anger at events in Gaza has spilled out on to the streets across Europe. Yet this anger has been resolutely ignored, dismissed, banned, or vilified by political leaders. Public support for a ceasefire, now at more than 70% in the UK, is not reflected in the positions of either the government or the opposition. Globally, condemnation of the violence from human rights organisations, the United Nations and even the pope has yet to translate into meaningful action from political leaders.
A UN resolution calling for a ceasefire was blocked by the US. Even the language of protest has been forensically analysed to render it problematic or ignorant; protesters have been accused of “shoehorning” the conflict into “trendy academic theory”, an indulgent modern preoccupation of “leftists and academics”. The foreign secretary, David Cameron, thinks we should not “bandy about” the charge of genocide. All this does is reflect what supporters of Palestine have been told for years: your position is fringe. It is not based on evidence or morality, but rather on prejudice, radicalism and (more recently) on “wokeness”. In other words, the Israel-Palestine conflict is complicated, best left to the grownups.
This position was always premised on the fact that even if support for Palestine was popular, it was not potent. Rarely did it travel from the streets to the halls of power, and when it did, such sentiment could always be blocked or dispersed. In voicing its condemnation of Israel, Ireland, an ex-colony, is one of the few nations to break with the Anglosphere. It has been predictably portrayed as an outlier, a “weak link” in a chain of consensus, and another member of the scruffy ranks who do not have to shoulder the great responsibility that comes with great power.
The submission to the ICJ challenged that portrayal both in appearances and in substance. [Continue reading…]