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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 9, March 2, 2024

International Court and Justice in Gaza (Report of a Public Meeting held in New Delhi, 23 February 2024) | Indians for Palestine

Friday 1 March 2024


“When do you say it is a genocide? When do you intervene? Do you wait until a certain number of people have been killed? Is there a threshold?
— (Adila Hassim, counsel for South Africa versus Israel in the ICJ)

Indians for Palestine, a group of concerned citizens, convened a public meeting in New Delhi on 23 February 2024 to discuss the recent ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Gaza and to extend solidarity to the people of Palestine. Participants included representatives of political parties, the media, the legal profession, and the diplomatic community as well as activists, academics, students, and the public. Among the speakers were Palestinian ambassador Adnan Abu Al Haija, lawyer Anand Grover, former ambassador K.P. Fabian, journalist Siddharth Varadarajan, and representatives of political parties: Dipankar Bhattacharya (CPI-ML Liberation), Amarjeet Kaur (CPI), Subhashini Ali (CPM) and Salman Khurshid (INC). The Constitution Club Hall where the meeting was held was filled to the brim and resounded with slogans such as ‘Ceasefire Now’! The area outside the Hall was made resplendent with an artwork exhibition created as an expression of solidarity with Palestine. This public meeting sent a strong message of solidarity between Indian citizens and the people of Palestine.

This solidarity went beyond the confines of the hall. Indians for Palestine received many statements of support from other collectives and labour groups across the country and the world: India Labour Solidarity (UK), International Solidarity for Academic Freedom in India (InSAF), Other Indias, and Hindus for Human Rights, among others.

The public meeting, as chairs Jean Drèze and Ayesha Kidwai pointed out in their opening remarks, was “a form of protest” at a time when other forms of protest on Gaza had been made virtually impossible by the Indian government, at least in Delhi. In this and other ways, the Indian government is taking Israel’s side in this conflict. Drèze contrasted this with the days when India was seen and appreciated by Palestinians as their reliable supporter. Kidwai recalled India’s earlier history of support for Palestinian freedom, going back to Gandhi and the struggle for independence. The people of India, she said, are with Palestine even if the Indian government is not.

The meeting began with a recorded testimony from Arwa Abu Hashhash, member of the Union of Palestinian Working Women’s Committee and Palestinian People’s Party. Her words powerfully conveyed the unspeakably tragic reality that Palestinians are living through. Those who have survived months of IDF bombardment now face an acute shortage of basic necessities like water and medicines. With the shortage of food, people have been reduced to eating a mix of animal fodder with other scarcely available low-quality grain. This is a grave violation of the right to food and the right to life that Palestinians have under international human rights laws. The targeting of hospitals as well as medical services and supplies, including the ones supposedly approved for relief work, shows the barbaric nature of the Israeli onslaught. Arwa’s testimony was as necessary as it was difficult to listen to. Sometimes, she said, “language is incapable of proving the extent of the suffering and crime.” Her calls for other countries to rise in solidarity with Palestine was reinforced by her appeal to people all over the world to “keep doing solidarity action and boycotting Israeli goods.”

The first in-person speaker was Anand Grover, senior advocate, and founder member of the Lawyers Collective. Having closely followed the case mounted by South Africa in the ICJ, arguing that Israel through its actions in Gaza was violating the Genocide Convention, Grover began by saluting the initiative. He went on to highlight how, despite the interim order labelling Israel’s actions as constituting a “plausible case of genocide,” most Western countries, barring Ireland, have maintained a disturbing silence on it. This despite huge demonstrations in the US and UK in support of Palestine, with large numbers from the Jewish community clarifying that opposing the Zionist project is not antisemitic. Grover stressed that the ICJ’s interim order is being violated, even now, with active steps being taken by Israel to perpetrate starvation in Gaza, where the number of casualties has crossed 30,000.

It is a cruel irony, Grover said, that the Genocide Convention came into existence in the wake of the Holocaust. Article II of the Convention states that genocide is committed in relation to an “identified group” that constitutes a distinct “national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” Grover emphasized the difference between genocide and other war crimes: the former requires a special intent, or dolus specialis. Intent, in the case of Israeli attacks, has been very clearly established and noted by the ICJ – through the speeches of Israeli leaders including the Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Minister of Defence Yoav Gallant. Lastly, Grover addressed an oft- echoed sentiment regarding the efficacy of the ICJ’s ruling and its existence as an institution by emphasizing that principles of international law are meaningless if not made impartially applicable to all countries. “Principles are different from power,” he said, as he reminded the audience that principles require preservation, akin to those in the Indian Constitution in our context.

The next speaker was K.P. Fabian, retired IFS officer and currently professor at Symbiosis and the Indian Society of International Law. In recent writings on Gaza, Fabian has been particularly critical of the silence of global political leaders on the matter. With regards to the international community’s role, he highlighted how it is permitting the genocide with its silence. Fabian reaffirmed the strangeness of the language used in this context. The genocide in Gaza is labelled as “plausible” when it has been clearly established. He warned of the very real danger and futility of the ICJ determining, post-facto, whether genocide is being committed, a legal process which could take months. Labelling the ICJ’s ruling as a failure to “call a spade, a spade,” Fabian believed the verdict was not one delivered without fear or favour. The ongoing developments in Gaza, he said, can be termed as the world’s last colonial project. Referring to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the manner it was addressed promptly by the West, he pointed out that “when civilians die elsewhere [outside the West], sometimes they [Western leadership] do not have the time.” In the larger context, the UNSC has also failed in its role due to pressure from the US, a country that speaks of “a rule-based international order that only applies to them.” As for India, which Fabian termed a “self-correcting democracy,” its stance needs to change in favour of the ICJ ruling.

Siddharth Varadarajan, distinguished journalist, and Founding Editor of The Wire began by noting that the “genocide” word has only now been associated with Israel’s actions even though it has been committing genocidal acts since 1948. He observed that a longstanding myth has been broken in the way the genocide in Gaza is unfolding. For the longest time, the world has fostered the illusion that human beings have not been able to stop terrible mass atrocities (like the Holocaust, World War 1, and so on) as they did not know what was happening. With the massacre in Gaza carrying on and the failure of the rest of humanity and world leaders to intervene, in spite of the fact that it was being televised and reported by Palestinian journalists,

that myth has been broken. While many countries of the world are complicit in this genocide, the US is at the top of this list, with its conscious choice to allow Israel’s attacks to continue.

Varadarajan also pointed out the hypocrisy of India’s Union Minister for External Affairs, S. Jaishankar, who labels this country “Vishwa Mitra” (friend of the world). What kind of global friend treats the ICJ as irrelevant and does not lift a finger to stop a genocide and, on the contrary, continues with trade relations with the aggressor nation? The real world leaders, Varadarajan said, are South Africa and Brazil. In India, we are not just silent but active in our complicity, with the decision to supply replacement workers to Israel and refusal to talk about the suffering caused to them. There is only one government that has stood with both Putin and Netanyahu, and that is the Modi government, Varadarajan observed. Now it is up to the people to set things right and forge solidarity beyond governmental positions.

The next speaker was the most awaited one – Adnan Abu Al Haija, the Palestinian Ambassador to India, who was welcomed with resounding applause. Mr. Haija spoke of the harrowing 140 days that have passed since the Israeli attacks on Gaza began. While most are surprised by what happened since October 7, he said, those who have been following the 70 years of the conflict in Palestine will not be surprised. The Palestinian people have been struggling for almost a century now, since 1917 when the British went into Palestine.

Mr Haija laid out two reasons, direct and indirect, for what happened on October 7. The indirect one is that Netanyahu had long announced that the state of Palestine will not exist in the land of Israel. No Palestinian was allowed to build a new house or expand an existing one to cope with the pressure of growing families. He recalled the stark visuals of Palestinians having to chip away at their own homes with hammers because they could not even afford the cost of a proper demolition. With innumerable checkpoints coming up between most cities and towns, many women have been forced to give birth in the unhygienic environs of these checkpoints because they could not reach the hospital in time. As for the 2.3 million people of Gaza, they have essentially been living in an open prison for 17 years, with poverty rates at an unbelievable level of 70 per cent.

The direct reason is that the Israeli government has plans to evacuate the entire Palestinian people from the Gaza strip to Egypt, and from the West Bank to Jordan. If left to the current Israeli government, Mr. Haija noted, there will be no political resolution of the conflict. The international community must move quickly. Without an urgent solution, he feared, this genocide will be far worse than the one that occurred in 1948. Mr Haija concluded by thanking South Africa for its initiative at the ICJ and the many countries who have stood up for Palestine including Colombia, Bolivia, Chile, Brazil, Ireland, Belgium, and Spain, amongst others.

A short interlude followed, when Apoorvanand, Professor at Delhi University and regular columnist, introduced an anthology of Palestinian poetry translated in Hindi, Kavita ka Kaam Aansoo Pochna Nahi (‘It is not the Job of Poetry to Wipe Tears’) and read the title poem by Zakaria Mohammed.
Political representatives of various parties spoke next. Salman Khurshid from the Indian National Congress (lawyer, writer, and former Minister of External Affairs) began by highlighting how the condition of Palestinians is not theirs alone, and that it could soon become the reality for many Indians as well, making it even more urgent to demonstrate solidarity with Palestine. But solidarity will be of no consequence unless it helps to stop the ongoing genocide. As far as the Indian government is concerned, this must take the form of ending all trade ties with Israel and demanding an immediate ceasefire.

Amarjeet Kaur, representing the Communist Party of India and the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC), began by pointing out that the Modi’s government’s stance is not surprising, given how its ideological parent – the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – was never involved in the freedom struggle. RSS ideologues have admired Hitler and are now cheering on the genocide in Gaza, which is why we need to differentiate our stance from theirs – all Indian political parties must act to support the call for a ceasefire in Palestine. Fascism must be opposed, Kaur said, in all its forms – whether in Palestine or here in India. Indian dockworkers have shown the way for this with their refusal to load weapons shipments to Israel. Aside from India being the biggest buyer of Israeli weapons, Kaur noted, the Indian government, which had brought back its workers and citizens stranded in Israel after October 7, has now taken the questionable decision to send Indian workers to the conflict zone all over again to replace Palestinian labourers barred from Israel. Kaur also shared the fact that AITUC had dedicated its Foundation Day celebrations to the Palestinian cause. She ended on a sombre note, calling for urgent public action against India’s support of Israel. Otherwise, she said, future generations will scorn us for our silence and inaction.

Subhashini Ali, representing the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), began by saying that the absence of Prabir Purkayastha was deeply felt. Purkayastha, founder, and editor-in-chief of NewsClick, is currently in judicial custody under UAPA charges. Ali pointed out that the reason behind the US vetoes against a ceasefire in Gaza is that the war on Gaza is part of an imperialist project. Israel has acted as its outpost, first for the British and now for the Americans - like a dagger aimed at the heart of the Arab world. The Indian government seems to be on the path of supporting genocide as well, in support of the imperialistic order. Ali recalled how Gandhi had opposed the creation of a Jewish nation-state at the expense of Palestinians and argued that the Palestinians had as much right over Palestine as the British did over the UK. While in the past, Indians leaders were the victims struggling against colonialism, today India has become a lapdog eager to please the imperialists. There is a need to clarify that the war on Gaza is not a religious war, as that label would be a great injustice to the millions of Jews protesting the genocide in Gaza. Ali ended by calling for the revival of UNRWA, recently defunded under Israeli pressure at the risk of an intensified humanitarian catastrophe.

The last speaker was Dipankar Bhattacharya, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) Liberation. Bhattacharya had earlier met with the Palestinian Ambassador Mr. Haija and given him a letter expressing his party’s solidarity with the people of Palestine. Bhattacharya began by appealing to those gathered to view what was happening in Gaza as a mirror in which to see ourselves. South Africa’s initiative, while welcome, was a step that India should have taken in the first place. Instead, India has become complicit in the genocide in Gaza along with the US, UK, Germany, and others – and this is a global perception. The right to protest in India’s capital, Delhi, has been taken away even as huge protests against Israel’s attacks are being witnessed all over the world. Bhattacharya went on to recall India’s foreign policy since the 1990s. India has not always been complicit in genocidal actions, he pointed out. It had in the past taken a stand in support of Bangladesh, and the people of South Africa. It should have similarly come out in support of Palestine. Instead, today the Indian corporate behemoth, Adani, with its vast investments in defence production, is supplying militarized cargo to Israel. The Indian government’s brutal repression of the farmers’ protest is a template borrowed from Israel, Bhattacharya noted. Any protest against the Indian government is met with unjust repercussions. Bhattacharya ended with a reminder that the path to stopping the rise of fascism in India cannot dispense with support for the Palestinian struggle. There is a need to campaign against the Indian government’s attack on civil liberties, their decision to send Indian workers to Israel and their military support of Israel’s war on Gaza.

The meeting ended with the adoption of a Resolution, released the same evening by Indians for Palestine on behalf of those gathered and of all Indians standing in solidarity with the people of Palestine.

Palestine solidarity actions do not end with this public meeting. Indians for Palestine is a growing collective and will continue to express solidarity – in speech, resources, and actions – with the people of Palestine.

— - Indians for Palestine (a group of concerned citizens)

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