Gaza: The Wider Context


Richard Falk | Global Justice in the 21st Century – TRANSCEND Media Service

1 Mar 2024 – My essay of explication on the inexplicable, as published by Eure-Med Monitor at the end of February 2024.

In Gaza, the West Is Enabling the Most Transparent Genocide in Human History

It is helpful to conceive of the Israeli settler colonial undertaking in Palestine as having reached its decisive phase, and as such concerns in addition to resources, land and people. From an Israeli perspective, ‘more land, less Palestinians’; from a Palestinian perspective, ‘steadfastness and resistance in relation to land and residence rights.’

The latest news pertaining to Gaza as reported in the Western media and government circles is that a six week pause in the onslaught in Gaza is being negotiated in Paris and Doha, and possibly will take effect on March 10th, the beginning of Ramadan. The deal being negotiated centers on the release of women, children, and the elderly among the 99 Israel hostages still held by Hamas, and an exchange that is rumored to lead to the freeing of 300 Palestinians currently held in Israeli prisons, often under abusive conditions.

It is coupled with a continuing announced intention by PM Netanyahu of a planned attack on the southernmost Gaza city of Rafah, which is now sheltering as many as 1.5 million displace Palestinian or more than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million population and more than ten times the number of people normally living in Rafah.

The overall genocidal attack in its fifth month now has resulted in more than 30,000 Palestinian deaths with another 7,000 missing, and over 70, 000 injured many badly.  A further estimated 576,000 are coping with imminent famine conditions, 85% of Gaza population is displaced, and 80% of residential housing has been destroyed or seriously damaged, as well as 96% of Gaza agricultural infrastructure destroyed or damaged.

To calibrate the extent of loss and suffering by reference to the current US population of 335 million would mean multiplying the above Palestinian casualty statistics by more 140 times, and many fear that starvation, disease, and the Rafah attack will greatly increase Palestinian losses.

Recall Samuel Huntington’s controversial, yet influential, 1993 Foreign Affairs article, “The Clash of Civilizations,” which ends with the provocative phrase, “The West against the rest.” Although the article seemed far-fetched 30 years ago, it now seems prophetic in its discernment of a post-Cold War pattern of inter-civilizational rivalry. It is rather pronounced in relation to the heightened Israel/Palestine conflict initiated by the October 7 Hamas attack on Israeli territory with the killing and abusing of Israeli civilians and IDF soldiers, as well as the seizure of some 200 hostages.

Clearly this attack has been accompanied by some suspicious circumstances such as Israel’s foreknowledge, slow reaction time to the penetration of its borders, and, perhaps most problematic, the quickness with which Israeli adopted a genocidal approach with a clear ethnic cleansing message. At the very least the Hamas attack, itself including serious war crimes, served quite  conveniently as the needed pretext for the 100 days of disproportionate and indiscriminate violence, sadistic atrocities, and the enactment of a scenario that looked toward making Gaza unlivable and its Palestinian residents dispossessed and unwanted.

Despite the worldwide transparency of the Israeli tactics, partly attributable to ongoing TV coverage of the devastating and heartbreaking Palestinian ordeal, what was notable was the way external state actors aligned with the antagonists. The Global West (white settler colonial states and former European colonial powers) lined up with Israel, while the most active pro-Palestinian governments and movements were initially exclusively Muslim, with support coming more broadly from the Global South. This racialization of alignments seems to take precedence over efforts to regulate violence of this intensity by the norms and procedures of international law, often mediated through the United Nations. South Africa broke this pattern by its historic initiative at the ICJ that resulted in a near unanimous Interim Order on January 26, 2024, which seems to have had no impact on Israel military tactics or interference with the delivery of humanitarian aid or support by the Global West.

This pattern is quite extraordinary because the states supporting Israel, above all the United States, have claimed the high moral and legal ground for themselves and have long lectured the states of the Global South about the importance of the rule of law, human rights, and respect for international law. This disregard the manifest of intent of the Genocide Convention to  urge compliance with international law and morality by both sides in the face of the most transparent genocide in all of human history. In the numerous global pre-Gaza genocides, the existential horrors that occurred were largely known after the fact and through statistics and abstractions, occasionally vivified by the tales told by survivors or given expression in novels or films. The events, although historically reconstructed, were not as immediately real as these events in Gaza with the daily reports in real time from brave journalists in the Gaza combat zones for more than four months, enduring many deaths..

Liberal democracies failed not only by their refusal to make active efforts to prevent genocide, which is a central obligation of the Genocide Convention, but more brazenly by openly facilitating the continuation of the genocidal onslaught. Israel’s frontline supporters have contributed weapons and munitions, as well as providing targeting intelligence and even assurances of active engagement by ground forces if requested, as well as providing diplomatic support at the U.N. and elsewhere throughout this crisis.

Liberal democracies failed not only by their refusal to make active efforts to prevent genocide, but more brazenly by openly facilitating continuation of the genocidal onslaught.

These performative elements that describe Israel’s recourse to genocide are undeniable, while the complicity crimes enabling Israel to continue with genocide remain indistinct, being situated in the shadowland of genocide. For instance, the complicity crimes are noted but remain on the periphery of South Africa’s laudable application to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that includes a request for Provisional Measures crafted to stop the genocide pending a decision on the substance of the charges of genocide. The evidence of genocide is overwhelmingly documented in the 84-page South African submission, but the failure to address the organic link to the crimes of complicity is a weakness that could be reflected in what the court decides.

Even if the ICJ does impose these Provisional Measures, including ordering Israel to desist from further violence in Gaza, it may not achieve the desired result, at least not before the substantive decision is reached some three to five years from now. It seems unlikely that Israel will obey Provisional Measures. It has a record of consistently defying international law. It is likely that a favorable decision on these preliminary matters will give rise to a crisis of implementation.

The law is persuasively present, but the political will to enforce is lacking or even resistant, as here in certain parts of the Global West, and the ICJ lacks any independent enforcement authority. The UN leaves, as usual, implementation at the mercy of the veto-burdened Security Council..

The degree to which the U.S. has supplied weaponry with U.S. taxpayer money would be an important supplement to rethinking the U.S. relationship to Israel that is so important and which is underway among the American people—even in the Washington think tanks that the foreign policy elites fund and rely upon. Proposing an arms embargo would be accepted as a timely and appropriate initiative in many sectors of U.S. public opinion. I hope that such proposals may be brought before the General Assembly and perhaps the Security Council. Even if not formally endorsed, such initiatives would have considerable symbolic and possibly even substantive impacts on further delegitimizing Israel’s behavior and stimulating solidarity initiatives..

A third specific initiative worth carefully considering would be timely establishment of a People’s Tribunal on the Question of Genocide initiated by global persons of conscience. Such tribunals were established in relation to many issues that the formal governance structures failed to address in satisfactory ways. Important examples are the Russell Tribunal convened in 1965-66 to assess legal responsibilities of the U.S. in the Vietnam War and the Iraq War Tribunal of 2005 in response to the U.S. and U.K. attack and occupation of Iraq commencing in 2003.

Such a tribunal on Gaza could clarify and document what happened on and subsequently to October 7. By taking testimony of witnesses, it could provide an opportunity for the people of the world to speak and to feel represented in ways that governments and international procedures are unable to enact, given their request for Provisional Measures to stop the ongoing Gaza onslaught, it will increase Global South and civil society pressure on Israel and its supporter governments to comply. As Israel has refused to make even efforts to comply with the near unanimous Interim Order of the ICJ, it has escalated pro-Palestinian solidarity efforts throughout the world and cast Israel into the darkest regions of pariah statehood.

In such an atmosphere, nonviolent activism and pressure for the imposition of an arms embargo and trade boycotts as well as sports, culture, and touristic boycotts will become more viable policy options, and can be given symbolic and substantive reality within the private sector, even among individual consumers. This approach by way of civil society activism proved very effective in the Euro-American peace efforts during the Vietnam War and in the struggle against apartheid South Africa, and elsewhere.

Israel is becoming a pariah state due to its behavior and defiance exhibited toward legal and moral norms. It has made itself notorious by the outrageously forthright acknowledgement of genocidal intent of its highest leaders with respect to Palestinian civilians whom they are under a special obligation to protect as the occupying power.

Being a pariah country or rogue state makes Israel politically and economically vulnerable as never before. At this moment, a mobilized civil society can contribute to producing a new balance of forces in the world that has the potential to neutralize the sway of Western post-colonial imperial geopolitics that has dominated the global management of power since the end of the Cold War more than 30 years ago..

It is also relevant to take note of the startling fact that the anti-colonial wars of the last century were in the end won by the weaker side militarily. This is an important lesson, as is the realization that anti-colonial struggle does not end with the attainment of political independence. It needs to continue to achieve control of national security and economic resources as the recent wave of anti-French coups in former French colonies in sub-Saharan Central Africa illustrate. The most recent of these coups occurred in Niger about a year ago.

In the 21st century weapons alone rarely control political outcomes. The U.S. should have learned this decades ago in Vietnam, having controlled the battlefield and dominated the military dimensions of the war, and yet having failed to achieve control over its political outcome, and correctly perceived as having lost the war..

The U.S. is disabled by its internal political structure from learning the appropriate lessons from such defeats. Such learning would weaken the leverage of the military-industrial-government complex, including the private sector arms industry and the corporatized media. This would subvert the domestic balance in the U.S. and substantially discredit the global geopolitical role being played by the U.S. throughout the entire world.

So, it is. currently an anachronistic situation. Despite knowing what to do. yet well-entrenched special interests preclude rational adjustments, and the military malfunctions and accompanying geopolitical alignments persist, ignoring costly failures along the way.

In effect, experience suggests strongly what should be done, but the political clout does not exist to get the needed job done. Global public opinion is shifting, peace-minded coalitions are forming, and demonstrations globally are building opposition to continuing the war.


There is a huge U.S./Israel propaganda effort to tie Iran to everything that is regarded as anti-West or anti-Israeli. It has intensified during the Gaza crisis, starting with the October 7 attack by Iran’s supposed proxy Hamas. You notice even the most influential mainstream print media such as The New York Times routinely refers to what Hezbollah or the Houthis do as “Iran-backed.” Such actors are reduced misleadingly to being proxies of Iran. In contrast, references to Ukraine never make explicit the US or NATO backed and materially supported Kyiv government, which is so much more tangible than whatever involvement Iran seems to have with pro-Palestinian initiatives undertaken by non-state actors in the region.

This way of denying agency to pro-Palestinian actors and attributing behavior to Iran is a matter of Israel/US state propaganda trying to promote belligerent attitudes toward Iran to the effect that Iran is our major enemy in the region, while Israel is our loyal friend. At the same time, it suppresses the reality that If Iran is backing countries and political movements, it obscures what the U.S. is doing more overtly and multiple times over throughout the Middle East.

It is largely unknown what Iran has been doing in the region to protect its interests. Without doubt, Iran has strong sympathies with the Palestinian struggle, and is strongly in favor of minimizing US presence and influence.. Those sympathies coincide with its own political self interest, especially its national security, in not being attacked. Additionally, Iran has lots of problems arising from opposition forces within its own society.

But I think dangerous state propaganda is building up this war-mongering hostility toward Iran. It is highly misleading to regard Iran as the real enemy standing behind all anti-Israeli actions in the region. It is important to understand as accurately as possible the complexity and unknown elements present in this crisis situation that contains dangers of wider war in the region and beyond. As far as is publicly known, Iran has had an extremely limited degree of involvement in the direct shaping of the war and Israel’s all-out attack on the civilian population of Gaza.

Hamas and a Second Nakba

While I was special rapporteur for the U.N. on Israeli violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, I had the opportunity to meet and talk in detail with several of the Hamas leaders who are living in Doha and Cairo, as well as in Gaza. In the period between 2010 and 2014, Hamas was publicly and by back channels pushing for a 50-year cease-fire with Israel. It was conditioned on Israel carrying out the unanimous 1967 Security Council mandate in SC Res 242 to withdraw its forces to the pre-war boundaries of “the green line” established after the 1948 War. Hamas had also publicly sought a long-range cease-fire with Israel after its 2006 electoral victory in Gaza of up to 50 years.

Neither Israel nor the U.S. would respond to those diplomatic initiatives. Hamas leader Khalid Machal, the most intellectual of the Hamas leaders with whom I met, told me in some detail that he had personally warned Washington of the tragic consequences for civilians on both sides of the conflict, if it was allowed to go on without a long-term cease-fire sustained and accepted. Machal’s efforts were confirmed by non-Hamas independent sources, which also confirmed that this effort to prevent further violence met with no encouragement in either Tel Aviv or Washington.

entanglement with geopolitical hegemony in relation to international criminal law and structures of global governance.

The South African World Court Case, Pariah State, and Popular Mobilization

The South African initiative is important as a welcome effort to enlist international law and procedures for its assessment and authority in a context of severe alleged criminality. Since the ICJ, the highest tribunal on a supranational level, has responded favorably to South Africa’s highly reasonable and morally imperative

Where can Palestinians go as the population suffers from famine and continued bombing? What is Israel’s goal?

I see the so-called commitment to thinning the Palestinian presence in Gaza as leading deliberately to a functional second Nakba. This is a criminal policy. I don’t know that it has to have a formal name. It is not a policy designed to achieve anything but the decapitation of the Palestinian population, if not in whole, at least in part, explaining the ICJ concern about halting what leaves the strong impression of genocide. Israel is exerting incredible pressure t to move large numbers of Gazans to the Egyptian Sinai, and the Egyptian al-Sisi government has declared that it opposes an influx of Palestinian refugees, yet rumors suggest that elaborate efforts to overcome Egyptian resistance include large-scale debt relief and IMF loans..

This is not a policy. The Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are being confronted with a threat of elimination or replacement, which is a characteristic of every settler colonial project. The Israeli campaign after October 7 was not predominantly directed toward Hamas’ terrorism nearly as much as it was focused on the forced evacuation of the Palestinians from Gaza and intent on the related dispossession of most Palestinians from the West Bank, the real prize of this military campaign and the priority of the settler-oriented Netanyahu coalition government..

If Israel really wanted to deal with its security in an effective way, much more efficient and surgical methods would have been relied upon. There was no reason to treat the entire civilian population of Gaza indiscriminately as if it every Gazan was implicated in the Hamas attack, and there was certainly no justification for Israel’s genocidal response. The Israeli motivations seem more related to completing the Zionist Project than to restoring territorial security. All indications are that Israel used the October 7 attack as a pretext for a preexisting master plan to get rid of the Palestinians whose presence blocks the establishment of Greater Israel by finally obtaining sovereign control over the West Bank and at least portions of Gaza.

For a proper perspective we should remember that before October 7, the Netanyahu coalition government that took power at the start of 2023 was known as the most extreme government ever to govern the country since its establishment in 1948. The new Netanyahu government in Israel immediately gave a green light to settler violence in the Occupied West Bank and appointed overtly racist religious leaders to administer those parts of Palestine still occupied. What made it extreme, was its rejection of the pretense of a negotiated end to a struggle between the two peoples that purported to be based on co-existence rather than victory by the stronger side. The UN consensus, with almost universal support, presupposed Palestinian sovereign statehood while many Palestinian intellectuals and activists favored a single possibly confederated secular state guaranteeing ethnic and secular equality.

With the Gaza onslaught ambiguity was removed from Israel’s settler colonial end game , consisting of Israel claiming territorial sovereignty over the whole of the so-called promised land, enabling Greater Israel to come into existence as a Jewish supremacy state in accord with the forthright earlier Basis Law enacted in 2018 long before the Netanyahu coalition and the Hamas attack took place. What the Gaza operation since October is added is a resolve by Israel to defuse the so-called ‘demographic bomb’ by inducing Palestinian death and departure by mounting a sustained campaign of unrelenting state terror, with its heavy reputational costs exacted among the peoples of the world, including even in the long supportive Global West, where in the US and elsewhere pro-Palestinian sentiments become relevant to electoral outcomes scheduled to occur in 2024 and beyond.

The Need for a Different Context

We need to establish a different context than the one that exists now. That means a different outlook on the part of the Western governmental and NGO Jewish networks in the former colonial Europe and settler colonial white governments elsewhere steadfast supporters of Israel even now. This implies a different internal Israeli sense of their own values and security interests, and their own future development. The South African suggestive antecedent shows that it is only when sustained substantive pressure is brought to bear on national governing elites that have gone to these extreme lengths of relying on apartheid or genocide that startling transformative moves away from hegemony in the direction of constitutionally-based coexistence occur.

The lengths that the Israeli government has gone are characteristic of settler colonial states. All of them, including the U.S. and Canada, have acted violently to neutralize or exterminate the resident Indigenous people. That is what this genocidal interlude is all about. It is an effort to realize the goals of maximal versions of Zionism, which can only succeed by eliminating the Palestinians as rightful claimants to live in the coveted land, much less share in its governance. It should not be forgotten that in the weeks before the Hamas attack, including at the U.N., Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was waving a map of “the new Middle East” that had erased the existence of Palestine.

Undoubtedly, one of Hamas’ motivations was to negate the view that Palestine had given up its right to self-determination, and that Palestine could be erased from political consciousness. Recall the old delusional pre-Balfour Zionist slogan: “A people without land for a land without people.” Such utterances of this early Zionist utopian phase literally erased the Palestinians who for generations lived in Palestine as an entitled Indigenous population, and anticipated what became a top priority political project. With the Balfour Declaration of 1917, this settler colonial vision was embodies in the governance of the Palestinians, enjoying the blessings of the leading European colonial powers and the liberal democracies that emerged after the indigenous people of the land no long presented a political obstacle to their replacement.

Given post-colonial realities, the Israeli project is historically discordant than earlier settler colonial undertakings, and hence more extreme. It exposes the reality of Israel’s policies and the inevitable resistance response to Israel as a self-proclaimed racially supremacist state. Israeli state propaganda and management of the public discourse long obscured this maximalist agenda of Zionism  and we are yet to know whether this was a deliberate tactic or just reflected the phases of Israel’s development and self-confidence.

This may turn out to be a moment of clarity with respect not only to Gaza, but to the overall prospects for sustainable peace and justice between these two embattled peoples that must reflect the exercise of rights of self-determination and achieve some version of constitutionally equal coexistence..


Prof. Richard Falk is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University, Chair of Global Law, Faculty of Law, at Queen Mary University London, Research Associate the Orfalea Center of Global Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Fellow of the Tellus Institute. He directed the project on Global Climate Change, Human Security, and Democracy at UCSB and formerly served as director the North American group in the World Order Models Project. Between 2008 and 2014, Falk served as UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Occupied Palestine. His book, (Re)Imagining Humane Global Governance (2014), proposes a value-oriented assessment of world order and future trends. His most recent books are Power Shift (2016); Revisiting the Vietnam War (2017); On Nuclear Weapons: Denuclearization, Demilitarization and Disarmament (2019); and On Public Imagination: A Political & Ethical Imperative, ed. with Victor Faessel & Michael Curtin (2019). He is the author or coauthor of other books, including Religion and Humane Global Governance (2001), Explorations at the Edge of Time (1993), Revolutionaries and Functionaries (1988), The Promise of World Order (1988), Indefensible Weapons (with Robert Jay Lifton, 1983), A Study of Future Worlds (1975), and This Endangered Planet (1972). His memoir, Public Intellectual: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim was published in March 2021 and received an award from Global Policy Institute at Loyala Marymount University as ‘the best book of 2021.’ He has been nominated frequently for the Nobel Peace Prize since 2009.

Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor is a Geneva-based independent organization with regional offices across the MENA region and Europe.

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