NRI Affairs published my article on self-determination for Palestinians and that the West needs to recognise that Palestinians have a legal right to resist occupation.

Palestinians in Gaza, locked down under a 14 year long air, sea and land blockade, face a much bigger task than clearing rubble and rebuilding shattered infrastructure. While it is essential that Gaza receives the humanitarian assistance that is urgently needed, the world community has a responsibility to speak up for freedom and justice for Palestinians. 

Without a clear pathway to achieving self-determination so Palestinians can determine their own future in their own land the 2021 attacks in Gaza, Sheikh Jarrah and at the al-Aqsa mosque will be repeated. 

For the past 15 years Israel has carried out large scale bombings of Gaza every few years. When the violence starts, an ugly propaganda war is ramped up to obscure the fact that Israel is a settler colonial power that refuses to abide by international treaties and respect the rights of Palestinians. 

The narrative that “Israel has the right to defend itself” is promoted by those committed to denying Palestinians their human rights. Israel has no right of self defence against a territory that it occupies. Talk of a “conflict” between “two sides” is used to hide the fact that this is a dispute between an occupier and the occupied. Palestinian American legal scholar, Noura Erakat, has exposed how Israel’s “right to self-defense” is a scam as “a state cannot simultaneously exercise control over territory it occupies and militarily attack that territory on the claim that it is ‘foreign’ and poses an exogenous national security threat”.

The loss of life, irrespective if they are Palestinians or Israelis, is a tragic outcome of this long running dispute. It does need to be recognised that Palestinians have a legally recognised right to engage in armed struggle. In 1982, the UN General Assembly passed resolution 37/43 that asserts “the legitimacy of the struggle of peoples for independence, territorial integrity, national unity and liberation from colonial and foreign domination and foreign occupation by all available means, including armed struggle.” This resolution makes 11 references to Palestinians and describes them as living “under foreign and colonial domination.”

The United Nations recognises that Gaza is part of the “Occupied Palestinian Territories.” Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both identified that Israel is an occupying power under international law.

While Israel is portrayed as a democratic liberal minded society the fact is that it is an apartheid nation that continues to engage in ethnic cleansing. 

Israel is now widely recognised as practicing apartheid. It’s actions are consistent with the definition in the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.

The leading Israeli human rights body, B’Tselem, has released its report “A regime of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea: This is Apartheid.” A second report, “A Threshold Crossed. Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution”, produced by Human Rights Watch, details systematic Israeli racial discrimination. Palestinians and others have been saying this for years including the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for West Asia, the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa and a delegation of veterans from the African National Congress. While it is not surprising that Israel attempts to discredit those who use the term apartheid, it is becoming increasingly hard to deny this reality.

Israel’s ethnic cleansing actions contravene Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which states that “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” This aspect of the Convention was clearly violated with the ethnic cleansing that Israel engaged in during its take over of Palestinian land and villages in 1948, its annexation of East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights, the occupation of the West Bank and the establishment of Gaza in 1967 and the construction of the separation wall.  

Israel has consistently ignored its obligations under UN General Assembly Resolution 194. This resolution states that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date.” The “Right of Return” is being taken up more strongly within the Palestine support movement. This was reflected in the fact that the call for this right rung out at many of the recent Palestine support rallies. 

A panel of five independent experts have reported to the UN Human Rights Council that Israel’s blockade has exposed Gazans to collective punishment in “flagrant contravention of international human rights and humanitarian law”. Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention defines collective punishment of a civilian population as a war crime. Israel’s blockade of Gaza and demolition of homes in the West Bank are examples of collective punishment.

Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people have continued for so long due to the solid backing of successive US governments. In 2016 the then US President Barack Obama approved a ten year $38 billion military aid package for Israel. Israel is the largest recipient of USAID despite the fact that it is a high income country. This obscene amount of money is used to purchase bombs and equipment that kills and maims Palestinian men, women and children. On top of all the weaponry this budget provides, Israel has 90 nuclear warheads and nuclear material for a further 200 missiles.

With so many governments, corporations and institutions backing Israel the path to achieving justice for Palestinians is challenging. However, as the response to Israel’s latest attacks shows, global support for Palestine is on the rise. 

Palestinian civil society inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, are calling on the world community to support a nonviolent grassroots boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign targeting Israel. The actions of this movement aim to pressure Israel to end its occupation and colonisation of all Arab lands, to grant Palestinian citizens of Israel their right to full equality, and to respect and promote the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as set out in UN resolution 194.

There is hope and a pathway forward.


Lee Rhiannon has visited Gaza, the West Bank and refugee camps in Lebanon. She is a long time supporter of Palestine. She was an Australian Senator. 

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