In Gaza, the US is an active partner in Israel's war
Since Israel’s war on Gaza began in October, over 24,448 Palestinians have been killed. Another 61,154 have been injured while 1.9 million out of a population of 2.3 million civilians in the besieged enclave have been displaced.
Now the world awaits judgement from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on a brief filed by South Africa, which accuses Israel of violating its obligations under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Amid this gruesome conflict, Israel is not acting alone. Israel has depended on ironclad support from the US while waging this war on Gaza.
"The role of the US in Israel's criminal conduct in Gaza goes beyond mere complicity. The US is a co-belligerent in this war"
Late last year, Amnesty International declared that “US-made weapons facilitated the mass killings of extended families” in Gaza and “the fact that US-made munitions are being used by the Israeli military in unlawful attacks with deadly consequences for civilians should be an urgent wake-up call to the Biden administration”.
The London-based human rights organisation called on the US and other governments to “immediately stop transferring arms to Israel that more likely than not will be used to commit or heighten risks of violations of international law” and emphasised that any state which arms another that commits violations of international humanitarian law shares responsibility for such violations.
The US is not simply a supporter of Israel’s war on Gaza, it has also been a facilitator of it. “The current crisis has demonstrated how overwhelmingly dependent on US resupply the Israeli military is, and that it would not be in a position to conduct either this war or genocide without the constant and reliable supply of US weapons,” said Mouin Rabbani, a political analyst and co-editor of Jadaliyya, in an interview with The New Arab.
Dr Stephen Zunes, a professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco, told TNA that a share of the blame for Palestinian deaths in Gaza undeniably belongs on Washington’s doorstep. “In most domestic legal codes, if you provide a weapon to someone with the knowledge that they are likely to commit a crime with it, you are partly liable for that crime,” he told TNA.
“Even the Biden administration has acknowledged and has even expressed concerns that Israel is killing large numbers of civilians. Despite this, the [Biden administration] has opposed Congressional efforts to condition military aid and has blocked the UN Security Council from pressing Israel [for] a ceasefire. There is therefore no question that the US government shares responsibility for the high numbers of civilian deaths,” commented Dr Zunes.
The role of the US in Israel’s criminal conduct in Gaza goes beyond mere complicity. The US is a co-belligerent in this war. The US military has flown drones over the enclave to help the Israelis gather intelligence while high-ranking American military officers have participated in Israel’s military planning.
“Given the chaos and disarray within the Israeli security establishment, it is quite likely [that senior US military officers] took control of this planning. US leaders have participated in meetings of the Israeli war cabinet,” Rabbani told TNA.
“If Iran had been performing a similar role with respect to Hamas, the US would not hesitate to characterise it as a direct participant in this war, so it’s difficult to see how or why this standard doesn’t apply to Washington,” he added.
"[Israel] would not be in a position to conduct either this war or genocide without the constant and reliable supply of US weapons"
US stakes in the genocide case at The Hague
Accusing Israel of waging genocide in Gaza since October, South Africa formally instituted proceedings at the ICJ on 29 December. Less than two weeks later, the two-day public hearing started. If the ICJ grants provisional measures against Israel, there could be important implications, including legal consequences, for Washington.
South African lawyers are preparing to file a separate suit against the US and UK for their role in Israel’s war on Gaza. “The preparation of such a lawsuit speaks to the responsibility of these countries in backing Israel's actions, despite international outcry and the death and destruction in Gaza being amongst the worst in any war of recent years,” Dr Assal Rad, a nonresident fellow at the New York-based Institute for Global Affairs, said in an interview with TNA.
“Whatever the legal outcome, however, morally and politically the Biden administration's handling of the crisis has tarnished an already battered US reputation for double standards on the international stage. The fact that a Global South country, especially a country with the history of South Africa has brought these charges against Israel is a watershed moment in and of itself, regardless of the outcome. It is another reminder of a changing global political landscape and emerging multipolar world,” added Dr Rad.
That being said, the ICJ itself has no enforcement mechanisms. Enforcing ICJ decisions requires the UN Security Council to be on board, thus the Biden administration can be counted on to veto any resolution against Israel.
“A decision that Israel’s war crimes do constitute genocide under international law would make the United States an accomplice. The US would certainly reject such a finding, however, as it did with the 1984 ruling against US attacks on Nicaragua and the 2004 advisory opinion regarding Israel building a separation wall deep inside the occupied West Bank. The US has traditionally been only willing to recognise the World Court to the extent that it supports US policy objectives,” Dr Zunes told TNA.
Washington’s role in Israel’s war on Gaza has undeniably done vast amounts of harm to the US image in the eyes of the Global South.
Although the US has never applied international law consistently and America’s hypocrisy when it came to issues related to human rights and international humanitarian law did not begin with this conflict, the extent to which Washington’s double standards are being called out worldwide amid the ongoing Gaza conflict seems unprecedented.
“No other crisis in recent years has displayed such flagrant disregard for civilian life and international law. The hypocrisy of the West, the US, and the Biden administration itself has been on full display for the world to witness and is especially clear given the stark contrast to the Western response to Russia's actions in Ukraine,” explained Dr Rad.
"A decision that Israel's war crimes do constitute genocide under international law would make the United States an accomplice"
Russia was swiftly condemned and sanctioned internationally, with the Biden administration leading global efforts to isolate Moscow and document its war crimes. Biden himself even called Putin’s actions genocide.
“In contrast, the US has continued its support of Israel despite a campaign of ethnic cleansing, the mass killing of civilians, especially children, the use of starvation as a tool of war, and the displacement of 85-90 percent of Palestinians in Gaza. All as Israeli officials have used increasingly racist and disturbing language that South African lawyers presented to the ICJ as evidence of genocidal intent,” Dr Rad added.
“Not only has this crisis and blind US support for Israel's actions caused a humanitarian catastrophe, it has damaged the international system and any sense of its credibility, and damaged the reputation of the Biden administration domestically in an election year.”
Giorgio Cafiero is the CEO of Gulf State Analytics.
Follow him on Twitter: @GiorgioCafiero