According to the 2004 advisory ruling from the International Court, Israel, as an “occupying power,” is not entitled to the right of self-defense under international law.
Western powers, as per Russian Permanent Representative to the UN Vassily Nebenzia during the UN General Assembly’s special session on the Palestinian-Israeli crisis, have embraced a double standard in their approach to the Gaza war and other conflicts.
On Wednesday, Vassily Nebenzia accused the US and its allies of blatant hypocrisy. He argued that in crisis situations, Western nations are quick to instruct others to adhere to humanitarian law and establish investigative commissions.
They also hastily impose sanctions on those who use force as a last resort to halt long-standing violence. However, in the case of Gaza, the US remained silent regarding ‘the horrifying destruction in Gaza, which surpasses what they condemn in other regional contexts by a significant margin—attacks on civilian facilities, the deaths of thousands of children, and the agonizing suffering of civilians amidst a complete blockade.’ Nebenzia underscored that the sole focus of the US and its partners is Israel’s right to self-defense.
Nonetheless, there is a legal complication, according to Nebenzia. He pointed out that under international law, Israel, as an ‘occupying power’ per the International Court’s advisory ruling from 2004, ‘does not possess the right to self-defense.’
Nebenzia clarified that Russia acknowledges ‘Israel’s right to safeguard its security’ and emphasized the need for ‘a just resolution of the Palestinian issue based on recognized UN Security Council resolutions.’
Professor Alfred de Zayas, a former UN Independent Expert on International Order, concurred with Ambassador Vasily Nebenzia’s assertion that Israel is an occupying state, whose occupation of Palestine has been denounced as illegal in numerous United Nations resolutions.
He emphasized that Israel’s obligation under Security Council Resolution 242 of 22 November 1967 is to withdraw from the occupied territories and enable the practical implementation of the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination—a fundamental right enshrined in various articles of the UN Charter and international covenants.
He also highlighted the significance of the International Court of Justice’s Advisory Opinion of 9 July 2004, which reaffirmed the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and documented Israel’s repeated violations of the UN Charter and international law.
Despite the ICJ’s clear rulings, Israel has not complied with any of the specific ICJ decisions and has consistently evaded condemnation and UN sanctions due to the United States’ repeated use of its veto power in the Security Council (approximately 80 times) to shield Israel from censure.”
What are the obligations of an ‘Occupying Power’?
De Zayas pointed out that, according to the court’s decisions, Israel does not possess the right to self-defense and should adhere to international regulations governing an “occupying power.” This issue has been raised multiple times at the UN by Palestinian diplomats.
On May 21, 2021, UN Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine Riyad Mansour emphasized in his letter to the international body that “the principle of self-defense cannot be applied by Israel to itself in the occupied territory of the State of Palestine.”
He cited Security Council Resolution 1860 (2009), which reaffirmed that the Gaza Strip is an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, occupied by Israel since 1967.
Mansour argued that, as an “occupying power,” Israel is obligated to follow the relevant provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention and all other applicable principles of international law, including United Nations resolutions.
International law stipulates that “occupying states” have increased responsibilities to protect local populations and provide them with essential health and safety supplies.
However, from Israel’s perspective, it does not consider itself an “occupying power” because the State of Palestine is only partially recognized and classified as a “non-member observer state” by the United Nations. Israel contends that it has not “occupied” the Gaza Strip since 1967, asserting that it withdrew entirely from the region in 2005, and that Palestinian factions have governed it since then.
Israel also challenges the rulings of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICJ is a civil tribunal established by the UN that handles disputes between countries, but its advisory opinions are generally not binding.
In contrast, the ICC, founded under the Rome Statute, has the authority to prosecute individuals. The ICC has sought to investigate potential war crimes in the Palestinian territories, but Israel, not being a party to the Rome Statute, does not recognize the ICC tribunal’s jurisdiction.
West’s Culture of Impunity
De Zayas commented on the “culture of impunity” in the West, noting that the US has gone unpunished for its actions in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and more.
He suggested that the West does not condemn Israel’s military actions because it provides substantial military and financial aid to Israel, enabling its colonization of Palestine and the suppression of Palestinian self-defense.
The “collective West” is also complicit in this situation, as it claims to support Palestinian self-determination while co-financing Israeli land grabs and new settlements on Palestinian lands.
According to Christopher C. Black, an international criminal lawyer with extensive experience in war crimes and international relations, and a commentator on international affairs, the West’s silence regarding the suffering in Gaza is shameful.
He believes that countries that refrain from condemning Israel’s actions in Gaza are doing so because Israel plays a crucial role in the world hegemony structure that the USA and its allies are attempting to establish. Israel serves as their instrument in the Middle East.
Black also suggests that both the Jewish and Palestinian people have been manipulated for the benefit of the USA, Britain, France, and others, forced into a perpetual state of conflict rather than living in peace in a single state. He describes the consequences of this manipulation as tragic for both peoples.
Former UN Official Suggests Israel’s Actions in Gaza Included Distinct Genocidal Characteristics
Former United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights Craig Mokhiber stated that Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip exhibited elements that he believed amounted to genocide.
In a letter addressed to Volker Turk, the current High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mokhiber explained his resignation from the organization, effective on November 1.
He pointed out that following the escalation in October, there has been a widespread killing of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, and the United Nations failed to respond effectively to the situation. He also noted that a humanitarian ceasefire was blocked by the United States in the Security Council.
Mokhiber emphasized that, as a human rights lawyer, he saw this situation as a potential case of genocide, stressing that he did not use the term lightly. He cited the definition and specific elements of genocide outlined in the UN Convention Against Genocide, which he believed had been evident in the Israeli response in Gaza.
“I think [there has been a] very inadequate public response of the political side of the UN to what I have said as a human rights lawyer, looks like a case of genocide. And I don’t use that word lightly.
Because, you know, genocide is defined by the UN Convention Against Genocide.It sets out a definition and the specific elements of genocide, which I believe have been manifest in the Israeli response in Gaza.”Craig Mokhiber, Ex-High Commissioner for Human Rights
In explaining his resignation, Mokhiber emphasized that his critique was not directed at the entire United Nations. He expressed his enduring pride in the remarkable efforts of humanitarian workers and human rights monitors in Palestine, as well as the commendable work carried out by the independent UN Human Rights mechanisms.
However, he voiced his criticism concerning the lack of support from the political aspects of the United Nations, which he believed had left these dedicated workers without the backing they needed.