Trump’s unilateral declaration on JERUSALEM and the incarceration of Ahed Tamimi: two examples of the total disregard for international law and the triumph of the law of the jungle, perpetrated by Israel and encouraged by the USA (and a few “bought” friends). This and much more, is Israel. A theoretical framework can help explain why it happens and why it is wrong.
Israel's disregard for international law
Annexing the West Bank; voting on the death penalty for Palestinians only, imprisoning 12 year old children and harassing and beating those of age 6; openly saying that Palestinians should be killed, tortured, raped and maimed; and not allowing peace activists, including Jewish peace activists, to enter Israel and the Palestinian occupied territories because they support human rights, civil disobedience and non-violent resistance. Insisting that the Palestinians have to reach agreements through dialogue, while pointing their guns at them; and what kind of dialogue might that be? Have they asked the Palestinians in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan to have a dialogue? NO, because they are expected to remain in overcrowded bantustans, in exile, and to never be allowed the sacrosanct right to return to their land of origin because they are not Jewish.
Has anyone listened to the Palestinians when they say they are not willing to live in a colonial partitioning of their land, but would want to live in a secular, bi-national state? NO, because that would mean that even though the Palestinians are willing to co-exist with Israeli Jews, in a democratic state which guarantees equal rights, that would not be a majority Jewish state. And Israel absolutely does not want that. So what dialogue are they talking about? One, which does not allow one side to talk? What country can get away with just about anything, and continue to have the total support of the USA, while still claiming to be a democracy and have most of the media defend its lies and violations?
It is Israel, and stop asking why we are fixated with it!
The question regarding Jerusalem being declared by the American President Donald Trump as capital of the state of Israel – regardless of the fact that the declaration violates international law and United Nations (UN) resolutions, and it having caused condemnation around the world with subsequent negative repercussions locally and internationally and showing total disregard for human rights – highlights two pressing issues that need to be addressed and resolved:
- The state of affairs of our current political environment, and the role that the USA plays in the international arena, which makes us question its dangerous hegemony and forces us to reconsider the effectiveness of an international system which allows for the total disregard of human rights and the violation of international law.
- We must question the underlying moral problems of our system, which allows states to act upon a set of wrongful values that are solely based on interest and power, and which make our world a very violent one. We need to understand that it is not simply the single person in power, at a particular time, that allows for these violations to happen; but that it is because of the anarchic political world that we live in that power and might so often trample over people’s rights, which is detrimental to humanity as a whole.
In an anarchic system, a world without a “world government” or respectable international institution with a set of rules for all to follow, many nations are doomed and many die unjustly because the powerful do what they have the power to do, and the weak accept what they must. In the absence of international law and real democracy, the weak will succumb to the powerful and mighty, and be forced to accept a nasty and brutish life.
Most Israelis are rejoicing, and celebrating – and so are many Zionists around the world - because they got what they had the power to get, even though forcefully, illegally and unjustly. Some, however, are not so happy. There are a few voices outside the majority that claim international law to be the basis for any solution to the conflict (as opposed to unilateral declarations and piecemeal approaches or outright violence). There are those that do not think that military might alone, can guarantee security forever, and that a fair and just solution is a better solution than perpetual war and insecurity. There are those whose conscience does not allow them to accept or condone ethnic cleansing and the abuse of human rights.
What did Trump's declaration on Jerusalem trigger?
The declaration on the recognition of Jerusalem triggered a whole chain of events, which included riots and demonstrations in Palestine and across the world. This in turn led to the shooting, killing and targeting of Palestinian activists, and to the imprisonment of young Palestinian children engaged in the resistance against the military occupation. The declaration was a blatant violation of international law, but American President Donald Trump made the move despite the fact that the city is also considered the capital of a future Palestinian state, as declared by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and recognized by international law through United Nations resolutions. Not only is the city a divided city; the eastern Palestinian part is under military occupation and is slowly and quietly being annexed as more illegal Israeli settlements are built on Palestinian land.
This did not happen by chance, nor did it happen because one man made the choice. The problem is not the agent (Trump), but it is also the systemic dynamic of the international political arena. American presidents before Trump have disregarded international law and UN resolutions as well, and applied their veto power against every single other country on the planet in order to protect its interests with Israel. Interests that can be defined by the name of AIPAC, (American Israel Public Affairs Committee.)
We are living in the historical era of the triumph of illegality and violence, perpetrated not by religious fundamentalists and mercenaries, but by western powers. We are de facto living under a capitalistic regime that will dictate its rules and impose them onto the world, under the disguise of democratization, liberalization, freedom and just wars and banners that will serve to cover up, the real intent, which is profit over people. The world today might be divided along religious and ethnic lines, but this is a product of western needs, a desired outcome, led by the USA. We are living in a unipolar world run by the strongest state on earth, and moved by the strongest economic power on earth, capitalism, which equals classism combined to white supremacy, which equals racism.
We live in a historical period where might makes right, and where state terrorism is condoned and resistance is called terrorism. We live in a time where young children and their mothers can be jailed and where children’s rights, women’s rights and human rights are inconsequential. Ahed Tamimi, a child, is imprisoned for slapping a heavily armed soldier occupying her land, and who had just shot her cousin in the face, and that killed and tortured many of her people and abused children. An activist that for years had peacefully demonstrated against the aggressors, was provoked once more, and reacted with her bare hands, but the victim turns into the aggressor and it is the aggressor that wins the propaganda war.
The Middle East since WWI
After World War I there was a shift in paradigm, and common people, intellectuals and politicians realized that the world of nations needed to find a solution to the biggest problem inflicted upon us, war. It is after that Great War that the League of Nations was established, and it was meant to make countries respect international law. Universal laws for all that would help maintain peace and not allow bullies to do as they please. However, it was in the very origins of the League that the seeds were sown for future catastrophes: in the League not all states were treated equally. They were not all invited to sit at the table and make decisions.
It was after WWI that the Middle East was divided into spheres of influence, and the British and French were accorded special rights and privileges. They played their political chess games with total disregard for local populations. The rise of capitalism went hand in hand with colonialism, and the strong powers not only had the political might over others, but also economic influence. Exploitation of the weak made the strong even stronger, and the imbalance is one we can still see today. Not only are those states stronger, they can use their military, political and economic clout to make other states bend to their will, by coercing them and by making them do what they would otherwise not do.
After WWI the world did not resolve its issues, nor did it become a more peaceful place. In fact, we saw the rise of Nazism and Fascism and we found ourselves in an even greater war. It is after World War II that the defunct League of Nations became the United Nations, with the same dream of establishing rules and norms for all states to follow, equally.
However, an organization privileging the status quo remained. The General Assembly represented the vision of equality and justice, while the Security Council represented the exact opposite, and the status quo of the mighty. If in the General Assembly all states have an equal say, and can vote on resolutions regarding international questions and emergencies, at the Security Council there are only five permanent members and ten rotating non-permanent members, which allows for a small club of the powerful to veto resolutions they do not agree with, or see in their interest. The five permanent members are the USA, France, Russia, UK and China, and these countries were the victorious major powers and predominant actors in international relations after World War II. They were the ones drafting the UN Charter, which established the organization, and they were the ones that would benefit most from it.
This is the underlying picture, or the big umbrella, of the world we live in.
Our world is divided into states, different in size, population, culture, religion and political systems; but most importantly, these states are different in their levels of power. States co-exist through a balance of power system, which puts the stronger states in lead, and who can intervene when there is a shift in the status quo.
This leads us to another important historical consideration. After World War II, among the victorious there were the two strongest world powers, the USA and the USSR. These two states - which had two opposing forms of political systems, Capitalism in the USA and Communism in the USSR - had the world in their hands, leading to a bi-polar world divided into two spheres of influence. The two blocks entered a non-confrontational war, a Cold War, which on several occasions could have turned hot. The military organizations created to maintain this divide were NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), headed by the USA, and the Warsaw Pact headed by the USSR. The geo-political tension maintained by the two blocks and by the bi-polar system came to an end with the demise of both the Soviet Union as well as the system it represented, Communism. This meant that the political world was left with a vacuum, and that void was filled by the sole world power, the USA. We therefore entered a unipolar world headed by the USA, which meant that the USA could now act with impunity.
Although scholars wrote volumes about the triumph of western liberal democracy, and the spread of capitalism to the rest of the world -and while under its banner waging many wars in the name of freedom and democratization, promising a better life to undemocratic countries such as Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and many more - the reality is that it was always the same old game. The powerful can use whatever language they like to make it sound good, but it boils down to one thing only: exploitation by the powerful and selfish, greed masquerading as altruism and the promotion of democracy and a capitalistic system which will benefit all, but which impoverishes all. In reality, it was simply about finding and placing complacent rulers, and gaining from those countries, because in the end the strong do what they have the power to do and the weak accept what they must.
When the USSR disintegrated and formed several states, the world of ideas and the political system that it represented was defeated. That led to the belief that not only had the USA won, and won due to its military power, but that democracy and capitalism had won too. This historical time became known as the triumph of western liberal democracies or the end of history, as defined by the well-known scholar Francis Fukuyama in his book by the same title, for that should have meant that in a world of liberal democracies the world would have finally been in peace.
The problem with this theory is the underlying reality about democracies and capitalism, which is that what motivates states in an anarchic world - without international law, rules and norms that can protect human rights - is power politics; an aggressive, militaristic and cynical way of managing international relations and the fates of people. This leads to the generalized acceptance of state violence and allows for selective humanitarianism, which is why Israel can do what it has the power to do with impunity and the Palestinians have to accept what they must for lack of justice and legality.
Author - Rania Hammad
Rania Hammad was adjunct professor of International Relations at St. John's University from 2003 until 2010, amongst other things, she is the author of “The Other Israeli Voices” and "Palestine in my Heart".