As the United States, the European Union and countries around the world are warning Israel against a ground invasion of Rafah in southern Gaza, we speak with Palestinian human rights attorney Noura Erakat. “This is disproportionate, excessive force that is meant to terrorize a population,” says Erakat. “Israel must stop its genocidal campaign now.” Erakat also responds to news that one of President Biden’s top foreign policy aides has admitted the administration has made “missteps” in the Middle East, and discusses calls to stop arms transfers under international law to prevent war crimes.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
The United States, the European Union, countries around the world are warning Israel against a ground invasion of Rafah in southern Gaza, where over 1 million Palestinians have sought refuge from the rest of Gaza. One top EU official said it could lead to a, quote, “unspeakable humanitarian catastrophe.” Authorities in Egypt have threatened to suspend a key peace treaty with Israel if Rafah is invaded. Hamas has also warned an Israeli invasion of Rafah will torpedo ongoing truce talks.
For more, we’re joined by Palestinian human rights attorney Noura Erakat, an associate professor at Rutgers University, author of the book Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine.
Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Noura. If you can start off by responding to this threat over the weekend that plans are being readied to invade — for Israel to invade Rafah, and the world, countries around the world, warning Israel not to do this, apparently President Biden doing that in a phone call with Netanyahu, as well? Your response and what this would mean?
NOURA ERAKAT: Good morning, Amy.
It might be a bit refreshing to hear these warnings sound off from across the world in various capitals, but they are completely and wholly inadequate, given that we know that this is a plausible genocide, given that we know what Israel has said. Despite multiple warnings, it created a ground invasion on October 27th. It has destroyed all of the hospitals. It has blown up all of the universities. It has created a situation of starvation, of a lack of even water. There is a humanitarian crisis that, even without another bomb falling, will lead to sure death of thousands of Palestinians.
These capitals, these states have an arsenal of diplomatic options available to them to stop a genocide. First and foremost is a U.N. Security Council resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire. Short of that is the cutting of weapons transfers, as has the Netherlands high court demanded this morning of stopping the transfer of F-35 jet parts to Israel. Belgium has stopped weapons transfers. Japan has cut military contracts. Short of that, these states can cut diplomatic ties.
What is it? What is it to the population of Rafah, now basically bracing themselves for more massacre, for warnings to a state that is responsible under international law and accountable? And if it is not responsible or accountable, it is either a complete rogue state that must be isolated by everybody, or it means that all these other countries are complicit and basically covering responsibility for themselves by issuing empty warnings.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to that issue of the Netherlands court ordering the Dutch government to stop exporting — these are U.S.-made F-35 jet parts being stored in the Netherlands — to Israel. In the ruling, one of the judges wrote, quote, “It is undeniable that there is a clear risk that the exported F-35 parts are used in serious violations of international humanitarian law.” In November, Oxfam and Amnesty International sued the Dutch government, saying the arms transfers violate Netherlands’ obligations under international law to prevent war crimes. Are you seeing this escalating around the world and other countries doing the same? Certainly, Germany gives even more weapons, and, of course, the United States, the most.
NOURA ERAKAT: I am seeing a surge. We have seen for the five — past five months, the only thing that has kept humanity together is the surge of civil society, which has waged lawsuits, which has risen in protest, to do the work that states have failed to do. We see in the United States the Center for Constitutional Rights bring a lawsuit in the Northern District of California, where the judge agreed that the ICJ was correct that this is undeniable, a case of genocide, but he doesn’t have the jurisdiction in order to stop the Biden administration. We saw the highest court in the world say the same thing, that this is plausibly genocide. We are seeing a series of judicial decisions that are coming to the same conclusion, but none of them can be enforced without political will, which is being impeded in the Security Council by the United States.
Let’s be clear: The ICJ, on January 26th, when it issued its provisional orders, said that the international community has a duty and a responsibility, according to its responsibility under the Genocide Convention, not to perpetuate Israel’s genocidal campaign. We see Israel directly violating those provisional orders. Nearly 2,000 Palestinians have been killed since January 26th. We know for a fact that they have impeded the access to humanitarian aid, going so far as the Israeli Navy shooting, lobbing at U.N. humanitarian convoys from the Mediterranean Sea. We also see very clearly a continuing incitement to genocide, most recently in the convening of a far-right coalition of, I think, 11 ministers in government under the banner of “Settlements Bring Security and Victory.” There is an explicit campaign to depopulate the Gaza Strip, to resettle it. No one is mincing words. Everybody is watching, covering themselves with these empty promises and warnings as Israel continues with its campaign. And this is a warning to the world. This is a warning to the world that we are watching, that this is very blatant and being exposed.
In this situation that we have right now, in the worst-case scenario, Israel will continue with its campaign. Egypt, which is trying to prevent this from happening, will likely create a buffer zone in the Sinai. If Israel is actually successful in pushing out the Palestinians, they will be stuck in that buffer zone, as have refugees from Syria been stuck at the buffer zone with Jordan and Iraq. That is the worst-case scenario. Israel — or, Netanyahu telling the world that they’re going to evacuate the Palestinians up north mean nothing when the north has been decimated. Rafah is the last standing city. They should not be taken — there’s nowhere to go north.
Israel must stop its genocidal campaign now. If it wants to offer refuge to Palestinians, it must offer refuge to Palestinians within its — within what is historic Palestine, Palestine 1948, where they can actually be housed safely and where we know Israel does not want them and will return them to Gaza. There are many options at our disposal, and yet none of them are being accessed in this moment.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask your thoughts on this latest development, the overnight airstrikes in Rafah coming as Israeli forces carried out an operation to free two Israeli Argentine hostages, who were found to be in good condition, Fernando Simon Merman, age 60, and Luis Har, age 70. Earlier today, a relative of the two Israeli hostages freed in Rafah called for Israel to reach a deal now.
EDAN BEGERANO: And we know about the discussions in Cairo, or in Paris, in others, between the Hamas and between Israel, with the mediators. Please, be serious and strike a deal. The Israeli people need the deal done — not yesterday, not tomorrow, today. We want it done as soon as possible in order for to give us some breath. We must breathe a little bit here.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, this is very interesting, because this is a man whose beloved ones have been held since October 7th, but he’s saying we cannot rest unless all the hostages are freed, and he’s calling for a truce. But that is not what Netanyahu is calling for. Are you concerned that finding these hostages in an apartment building in Rafah will lead to more bombing and attacks in Rafah or to justify a full-scale assault?
NOURA ERAKAT: Amy, Israel is not concerned — the Israeli government is not concerned with its hostages. If they were, they would have engaged in good-faith negotiations. The diplomatic negotiations led to the release of 136 hostages. That wasn’t any military operations. After five months, they’ve only extracted two hostages. We know that the families want a truce. We know that the government is opposing a truce. We know that the concern is not the hostages. Israel shot to kill two of them, two of their own, who were raising white flags and speaking in Hebrew — giving us an idea that this is not a legitimate war. This is a genocidal campaign of extermination.
Last night, last night, the images that came out of Rafah are horrifying. There was a young girl, her legs cut off, hanging off of a wire by her shirt. This is disproportionate, excessive force that is meant to terrorize a population, that is telling them, “You have no life here. There is no future here. You must leave.” That is the message that is being sent. We’re seeing young children who are forced to be far older than their age, a young boy who escaped bombing, having his head and the blood cleaned off of it, telling the world, “[in Arabic],” “I am not scared.” How can he not be scared in this situation? How are all of us not terrified? We have taken away life for these children. We are decimating their future, even if we do survive. Images of babies who are being removed from the rubble with only two limbs, with no family members left. What is their future?
And yet we’re obscuring these atrocities. We’re obscuring these genocidal campaigns with words of distraction. We’re taking it and abstracting it to warfare and strategy, hostages and the negotiations, when the humanitarian situation speaks for itself, when tribunals have told us repeatedly this is a genocide. It must be ended, unequivocally. And that is incumbent upon us now, before we see the last city in Gaza, the one that is normally home to 220,000 Palestinians, now housing 1-and-a-half million Palestinians, 80% of the population, in tents and in dire humanitarian situation. We should be rushing in to treat them with medicine, with food, with water, with adequate care, rather than now preparing massacres for them, like the speaker before you, Duha, who has created a GoFundMe to save herself and her children. This is our responsibility.
Last word on this. There is a concept in international law known as state responsibility, where a state can — must deal with the consequences of its actions. It cannot — Israel cannot say — cannot say — that it is now fighting a war of self-defense, which it doesn’t have a right to under international law, against territory that it occupies. But if those actions are illegal, it must bear the consequences for them. Israel has imposed a siege against international law for 17 years, imposed a military — a prolonged military operation for 56 years, imposed an apartheid regime, which is a crime against humanity, that the international community has said is an apartheid regime, and still asking the world for an exception and blaming the Palestinians as the assailants as it is committing a genocide, and now asking the world to let it commit genocide as a form of exception, that somehow it is like any other situation. And rather than meet that with the full force of diplomatic and international will to rebuff it, instead we’re allowing Israel to create that exception, which will make none of the world safe, when other powerful countries and nuclear powers decide that they want to decimate an inconvenient population, a native population, as in this case, in order to fulfill its national interests. It defies all of the logic of international legal institutions and international law, which are set up to regulate things like this in this very moment.
AMY GOODMAN: We just have 10 seconds, but you have a top aide to President Biden admitting that the Biden administration has made many missteps since the beginning of this. What do you think they could do, a single action that could make the greatest difference when it comes to what Israel does in Gaza, Noura Erakat?
NOURA ERAKAT: They can abstain in the Security Council and allow an immediate ceasefire to take place. Biden can pick up the phone and tell Netanyahu to stop. They can actually stop the weapons transfers or even revoke this supplemental budget, which plans to resettle Palestinians in what will be an ethnic cleansing campaign and complicity in genocide. There are so many things to be done. These are empty words aimed at the 2024 elections, as opposed to aimed at compliance with international law to meet our duty and responsibility under the Genocide Convention.
AMY GOODMAN: Noura Erakat, we want to thank you for being with us, Palestinian human rights attorney, associate professor at Rutgers University, author of Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine.
When we come back, Bishop William Barber on a plan to have the Poor People’s Campaign march on 30 state legislatures to catalyze the voting power of poor and low-wage workers ahead of November’s election. Stay with us.