We speak with Palestinian human rights lawyer Noura Erakat about a new effort to hold Israel accountable at the International Criminal Court over the war in Gaza, where Israel’s monthlong air and ground assault has killed more than 10,000 Palestinians. On Wednesday, three Palestinian rights groups filed a lawsuit with the international body, urging it to investigate Israel for the crimes of genocide and apartheid. The petition also calls for arrest warrants to be issued for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Isaac Herzog and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. International inaction against Israeli aggression is part of “a systematic failure to hold Israel to account for decades,” as well as the “absolute double standard” applied to war crimes committed against people of the Global South, says Erakat, who was part of a team of academics and activists who came together to support the ICC lawsuit. “This is not just a crisis of international legal institutions, but also a crisis of democratic — or so-called democratic — institutions in the countries in which we live.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
Three Palestinian human rights groups have filed a lawsuit with the International Criminal Court calling on the ICC to issue arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other leaders for genocide, incitement to genocide, and the crime of apartheid. The three groups — Al-Haq, Al Mezan and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights — told the court that Israel’s suffocating siege of Gaza and the indiscriminate attacks on densely populated civilian areas amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. The lawsuit also seeks the arrest of Israeli President Isaac Herzog and the defense minister, Yoav Gallant. This comes as the death toll in Gaza is nearing 11,000, according to Palestinian health officials.
We’re joined now by Palestinian human rights attorney Noura Erekat, associate professor at Rutgers University, author of Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine, part of the Palestinian team of academics, intellectuals and activists who helped bring the ICC lawsuit. She’s joining us from Philadelphia.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Noura. If you can explain what this lawsuit is all about?
NOURA ERAKAT: Absolutely. This lawsuit comes as a collective effort on behalf of the three organizations you mentioned — Al-Haq, Al Mezan, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights — who are on the ground and documenting the ongoing atrocities. It’s one of a myriad of efforts that have been filed before the International Criminal Court. For example, very recently, Reporters Without Borders have also submitted a petition calling on the ICC to investigate the now killing of 34 journalists, several of them while they were working during this onslaught.
The one thing that we want to highlight as the ad hoc team is that this is not merely a lawsuit against Israeli individuals as stipulated by the petition, which it very much is, but it is also holding on trial the International Criminal Court, the international criminal law, international legal institutions as a whole, which have demonstrated an absolute double standard when it comes to the Global South. We’ve seen this in the tenure of the ICC, which, since its establishment, has opened over two dozen cases, all of them on the African continent. All those who have been indicted, with the exception of Slobodan Milošević, have been Arab and African individuals, heads of state, officials.
And so, here we are pushing the ICC to either hold Israel to account in what is an ongoing genocide, where the leaders of it have told us very much that they have the specific intent to destroy a Palestinian people, in whole or in part, and demonstrated the specific underlying acts in order to effectuate it, or demonstrate for us that this is actually a moment where the ICC demonstrates that it’s not effectuate, that it’s not effective, that it is actually part of punishing a Global South and letting Western countries move forward with impunity.
AMY GOODMAN: We spoke to Raji Sourani, the world-renowned human rights attorney in Gaza, in Gaza City, in a heartbreaking plea from Raji, who remained in northern Gaza, after his house was bombed. He particularly held Karim Khan, the lead prosecutor of the ICC — called him out, saying when Russia attacked the children of Ukraine, the ICC immediately opened war crimes investigations, and then raised the issue of where is he on Israel and Palestine. If you can address this and also talk about an ICC case that has already been opened, an official investigation into possible war crimes committed by Israel in the West Bank back in 2021, in West Bank, in Gaza and East Jerusalem?
NOURA ERAKAT: Raji is absolutely right. Karim Khan, the prosecutor of the ICC, opened the investigation within a week of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, issued an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin for the forcible transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia, immediately, without question. In this case, it took the prosecutor, Karim Khan, three weeks to travel to Rafah in order to investigate what was in the first week an evident example of genocidal intent, mass killings, the destruction of those conditions of life that would reduce the ability of Palestinians to survive.
In this situation, what we see is not merely a repetition of history, but a continuation of colonial legacies, and one that led to the failure of the League of Nations, frankly, in the aftermath of Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, where a fascist Italy, led by Mussolini, invaded Ethiopia. And in that moment, Ethiopia, which was a member state of the League of Nations — and rather than hold Italy to account, which was dropping indiscriminate chemical weapons on the Ethiopian people, instead, the Red Cross decried the Ethiopians as being too savage to follow the laws of war. Media were running headlines that Ethiopians were hiding and sheltering in hospital, using them as human shields. And world powers failed to impose sufficient sanctions on Italy in this moment. And this demonstrated the limits of these international institutions and led to the failure of the League of Nations.
In a similar — we are in a similar moment right now. These international institutions need to act. And instead we’re seeing a stalemate, and we’re seeing international leaders, like led by the United States, as well as the U.K., as well as France, who are basically providing a green light to Israel to commit genocide, to commit these atrocities.
This is not out of nowhere. Everything started before October 7th. And Israel — this is a moment where Israel has not been held to account. It is a systematic failure to hold Israel to account for decades. International organizations have said that Israel is practicing the crime against humanity of apartheid. There was a near consensus between 2020 and 2021. And yet, rather than impose sanctions in that moment, rather than mobilize international mechanisms and institutions in order to dismantle apartheid, we saw the United States celebrate and normalize Israeli apartheid, and we saw them continuing to normalize relations with other Arab regimes. It was this fundamental failure that has led us to this moment and an ongoing crisis of a lack of accountability, of an imposition of two types of law — one for the Global North, one for the Global South. This is a hypocrisy on the part of Western governments and demonstrates that there is no such thing as Western universalism, but instead continues to be two sets of laws on two sets of people.
And what’s wonderful, the only thing that provides us hope, is that a mass, mass movement of individuals, peoples, communities have risen up against their governments also to demonstrate the hypocrisy of Western democracy. Even in the United States, consider that 66% of Americans have demanded a ceasefire. Eighty percent of registered Democrats have demanded a ceasefire. And yet, only 19 out a 535 members of Congress have endorsed it. Consider that that same Congress censured the only Palestinian American representative in government, at the very moment that she represents the majority. So this is not just a crisis of international legal institutions, but also a crisis of democratic — or so-called democratic — institutions in the countries in which we live.
AMY GOODMAN: And how does the tens of thousands of Palestinians being forced south right now — we just have 20 seconds — fit into your charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity?
NOURA ERAKAT: What we’re seeing is an ongoing Nakba of the Palestinians, who are with their hands up and on their feet with white handkerchiefs in order not to be killed. This is an ethnic cleansing of the north of Gaza. It’s a continuation of the Nakba to take Palestinian land without Palestinian people. It is a crime against humanity and fits in a larger framework of genocidal warfare.
AMY GOODMAN: Palestinian human rights attorney Noura Erakat, associate professor at Rutgers University, we thank you so much. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.