Free Palestine? First We Must Free Ourselves from the Enemy Within

Western leaders 'nobble' the International Criminal Court

Was anyone surprised to hear that the International Criminal Court is under pressure not to investigate Israel’s war crimes in Gaza?

The British government wouldn’t even vote for the UN Human Rights Council’s proposal to launch an inquiry and, along with France, abstained. The US, as expected, voted against. Even Ireland, Germany and Italy abstained in an extraordinary show of collective political cowardice. The enemy within had revealed itself.

As The Guardian reported, “at stake is the future of the ICC itself, an experiment in international justice that occupies a fragile position with no superpower backing. Russia, China and India have refused to sign up to it. The US and Israel signed the accord in 2000 but later withdrew.

“Some international lawyers argue that by trying to duck an investigation, the ICC is not living up to the ideals expressed in the Rome statute that ‘the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole must not go unpunished’.”

Britain’s recently departed foreign secretary, William Hague, while still in the job proclaimed his commitment to smoking out war criminals, bringing them to justice and supporting the International Criminal Court in its investigations. “If you commit war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide you will not be able to rest easily in your bed,” he said.

“There is no doubt where Britain stands: we are with those who say that international law is universal and that all nations are accountable to it…. We are a country that believes in and upholds the Responsibility to Protect…

We pledge to recommit to the importance of fighting impunity for grave international crimes wherever they occur…. We will be a robust supporter of the International Criminal Court in its investigations.”

It was enough to make one warm just a little to the man.

Two years ago Hague delivered an important speech at the Hague, home of the International Criminal Court. He said all the right things, for example:

“The rule of law is critical to the preservation of the rights of individuals and the protection of the interests of all states.”

“You cannot have lasting peace without justice and accountability.”

“International laws and agreements are the only durable framework to address problems without borders.”

“Such agreements – if they are upheld – are a unifying force in a divided world.”

He spoke of a growing reliance on a rules-based international system. “We depend more and more on other countries abiding by international laws…. We need to strengthen the international awareness and observance of laws and rules….”

Some emerging powers, he said, didn’t agree with us about how to act when human rights are violated on a colossal scale, while others didn’t subscribe to the basic values and principles of human rights in the first place. He was actually talking about Syria although many in the audience must have had Israel in mind.

“The international community came together in an unprecedented way to address the crisis in Libya last year,” said Hague. “The Arab League, the UN Security Council, the UN Human Rights Council, the European Union, NATO and the International Criminal Court all stepped forward and played their part to protect a civilian population.”

Funny how they never came together for crisis-torn Palestine these last 65 years.

Pledged to fight impunity for grave international crimes ‘wherever they occur’

Hague continued: “Our coalition Government is firmly of the view that leaders who are responsible for atrocities should be held to account…. Institutions of international justice are not foreign policy tools to be switched on and off at will.”

He said that referring leaders in Libya and Sudan to the ICC showed that not signing up to the Rome Statute was no guarantee for escaping accountability. “If you commit war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide you will not be able to rest easily in your bed: the reach of international justice is long and patient…. There is no expiry date for these crimes….”

A year later a policy paper was issued by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, dated July 2013.

“It is a sad truth,” it said, ”that the biggest advances in international justice came about because of our revulsion at atrocities: the horror of the World Wars, the killing fields of Cambodia, the premeditated barbarity in Bosnia and Kosovo, the slaughter in Rwanda, and the mass rapes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, all of which were an unbearable affront to the conscience of humanity. Today, how much better it would be to look ahead and summon the political will to act to prevent conflict and expand human rights without needing to be shamed into doing so by the deaths and suffering of innocent people”.

It hammered home these ‘key messages':

  • Our support for international criminal justice and accountability is a fundamental element of our foreign policy.
  • Our support for the ICC as a court of last resort and the importance of its role when national courts have been unwilling or unable to deliver justice is unswerving.
  • It is our clear hope that through universality of the Rome Statute and the development of national jurisdictions that the ICC’s role will eventually become increasingly limited.
  • Until then, the ICC will continue to play a vital role in achieving justice for the victims of the worst crimes.

Did Hague’s successor, the warmonger Philip Hammond (yes, he’s another who “voted strongly” for the Iraq war), read those words? Did his boss David Cameron, whose upbringing on the playing fields of Eton was supposed to have imbued him with the highest moral values and inoculated him with the most honourable intentions?

Where is that “unswerving” support for the ICC now? Why the about-face when Britain ought to be leading the charge against Israel’s genocidal tendencies?

We should remember that Hamas was democratically elected to govern the whole of occupied Palestine, not just Gaza, and that Israel and its Western friends conspired to prevent it. Hamas’s resistance is on behalf of all Palestinians. No matter how much some of us might disagree with Hamas’s methods they have very few defence options. No doubt they would love to replace their garden shed rockets with state-of-the-art  guided missiles capable of the same accuracy as Israel’s, and to give Israeli citizens three minutes to evacuate and run for it.

Last night I attended a public meeting on the subject “How can Palestine be Free?”  After a very good summary of the root-causes of the struggle no-one was able to put forward a game-changing plan of action. I ventured the opinion that the ICC remained the Great White Hope, even if it had been temporarily nobbled. It was up to civil society groups like the BDS movement and peace coalitions to make sure our shameless politicians at last feel the heat and are made to squirm until they clear their desk or change their ways.

First we must free ourselves from the clutches of the Enemy Within. Only then will Israel be brought to account and the Palestinian know peace and prosperity.

Stuart Littlewood’s book Radio Free Palestine, with Foreword by Jeff Halper, can now be read on the internet by visiting radiofreepalestine.org.uk. Read other articles by Stuart.