Is Israel globally beyond reproach?

People gather with jerry cans to fill up water from a tanker truck in the yard of a school of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, housing Palestinians displaced by the conflict in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas, in Jabalia in the north of the Palestinian territory. Picture: AFP

People gather with jerry cans to fill up water from a tanker truck in the yard of a school of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, housing Palestinians displaced by the conflict in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas, in Jabalia in the north of the Palestinian territory. Picture: AFP

Published May 17, 2024


The Palestinian people have not lost their humanity. You would not find people who long for a normal life, like our people on Gaza. Proud Gaza, the Great Gaza.” – Palestinian Ambassador addressing the United Nations Security Council

The failure of Israel to abide by International of Court of Justice’s ruling on the case brought to it by South Africa has created huge disappointment because many people had illusions that things would be different.

Instead, many more Palestinians have been killed since the ICJ’s ruling.

The ICJ, just like the UN, has proved to be another pit bull that has no teeth. Ironically, it is the people of the world, and not their governments, who have taken it upon themselves to do what their governments are failing to do. That is, to stand up against the arrogance of Israel.

In their ignorance and arrogance, the governments cannot even resolve their own differences, let alone help the Palestinian cause. Poignantly, all peace-loving citizens of the world continue to watch in horror, helplessly and hopelessly, as Palestinians are systematically wiped out by Israel.

However, their unprecedented condemnation of the annihilation of the Palestinian people by Israel can no longer be flagrantly disregarded. The first casualty of their unity is America.

Is Israel’s impunity in the Middle East attributed to the Bible’s pronouncement that the Jews are the chosen people?

As Johnny Nash’s lyrics of his popular song put it: “There are more questions than answers.”

Historically, the perceived fear of Israel and the tag of the Jews as being a chosen nation was reinforced by the inexplicable victory of Israel during the Yom Kippur War of 1973. To this day, it is a mystery how Israel triumphed in the war the Arab nations thought it had in the bag. It is a mystery that is not satisfactorily explained.

The war began on October 6, 1973, when the Arab coalition jointly launched a surprise attack against Israel on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, which had occurred on the 10th day of the Islamic holy month of Ramadaan.

There is an argument that Israel’s arrogance and continued acting with impunity towards the Palestinians can be attributed to the global decline US hegemony. The ineluctable truth is that the US has been facing a period of decline in its influence, especially in the Middle East, from the peak of its hegemony in I99O and 199I when it waged the first war on Iraq.

The US withdrawal from Iraq, without achieving one of the basic goals that the Bush administration had in mind when it invaded, was a devastatingly tremendous defeat and disaster for US power. It was the intellectually lucid former US secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, who said that if the US were defeated in Iraq, it would be “worse than Vietnam”. Undoubtedly, this has exactly happened, because what is at stake in the Middle East and Gulf is so much more than in Vietnam.

Even though one believes that the UN organisation is a toothless pit bull, the decline of America’s global hegemony has played itself out in this revered, yet useless, body. The isolation of America in the UN, by the votes of countries condemning Israel’s genocidal annihilation of the Palestinians, is a real slap in the face and shows a degree of impotence of the American empire.

This is amazing and something that had not really been seen in America since the previous era of her decline in the 1970s. It feels like the US and Israel are being isolated with greater impetus. The way Americans and people of the international community, with South Africa spear-heading the trivialisation of America’s invincibility, is just an indicator of the decline in imperial power, especially when confronted with what is happening in the Middle East.

The degree to which it lacks a real response to the events in the region and is trying to adapt to the situation, with no real alternative, clearly indicates the extent to which regional US hegemony has been lost. Undoubtedly, the decline in America’s imperial power is a major concern for Israel. On any day, Israel could challenge everyone else as long as the US is on her side.

As for Europe, its leverage in Israel is relatively limited. There are means by which it could exert pressure, like stopping its privileged trading arrangements and entering into BDS (Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions) territory. But any such thing is so far beyond Europe’s policies that it is difficult to imagine.

It is worth noting that it was the Bush senior administration that appeared as the one that went furthest in pressuring Israel – in 1991, at the peak of US hegemony, when it pushed the Yitzhak Shamir government to join the Madrid negotiations.

It threatened to withhold guarantees for a $10 billion loan that Israel was seeking at the time. We have not seen anything similar since then. Of course, Bush Junior was in harmony with the most right-wing governments in Israel — where we have seen since 2001, an uninterrupted move to the far right — but this continued with Obama’s administration, which reflected US influence being in deep decline, and Washington was not in a position to put pressure on its most reliable ally.

Much as one is tempted to believe that the solution between the Israelites and the Palestinians is that of the two-state option, one is reminded of the Israeli onslaught in Lebanon and the destruction of Beirut suburbs in 2006. One doubts that the Palestinians would be willing to coexist with any major section of such a state machine organised on such a cruel and sectarian basis.

To believe that is possible is illusory. In this context, I would like to quote from the history books some significant and thought-provoking comments made by two distinguished Britons. Lord Sydenham in reply to Lord Balfour, the author of the Balfour Declaration for the creation of Israel in the heart of Palestine, said in the British House of Lords:

“The harm done by dumping down an alien population upon an Arab country – Arab all around in the hinterland – may never be remedied … what we have done is, by concessions, not to the Jewish people but to Zionist extreme sections, to start a running sore in the East, and no one can tell how far that sore will extend.”

Arnold Toynbee, an eminent world historian, wrote in 1968:

“If Palestine had remained under Ottoman Turkish rule, or if it had become an independent Arab state in 1918, Jewish immigrants would never have been admitted into Palestine in large enough numbers to enable them to overwhelm the Palestine Arabs in this Arab people’s own country.

“The reason why the state of Israel exists today and why today 1.5 million Palestine Arabs are refugees is that, for 30 years, Jewish immigration was imposed on the Palestinian Arabs by British military power until the immigrants were sufficiently numerous and sufficiently well-armed to be able to fend for themselves with tanks and planes of their own.

“The tragedy in Palestine is not just a local one; it is a tragedy for the world, because it is an injustice that is a menace to the world’s peace.”

Palestine shall be free!

Dr Vusi Shongwe

Dr Vusi Shongwe is the chief director of the Heritage Resource Services in the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Arts and Culture. The column was written in his personal capacity.