Israel Keeps Pushing Western Leaders’ Limits – And Discovering There Aren’t Any

Red line? Where?

by Moya Lothian-McLean

3 April 2024

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Another meaningless watershed moment in Gaza: amongst those reported killed in the territory on Tuesday were seven aid workers, murdered in an Israeli missile strike. Unlike the nearly 33,000 Palestinians wiped from existence during the seven-month onslaught on Gaza, these deaths have prompted a larger crisis for leaders in key countries allied to Israel: six of the slaughtered humanitarian workers were citizens of the West.

For the UK and US – the latter being Israel’s biggest sponsor – this is a particularly sticky situation. Four of the dead carried British or American passports. They were part of the operations team at World Central Kitchen (WCK), a major aid organisation that’s been battling the imminent man-made famine in Gaza as a result of both Israel’s assault and its stranglehold on humanitarian imports to the region. 

When the WCK team set out on a food delivery mission from the north of the strip, they’d done everything ‘right’ – even by the deliberately convoluted and restrictive rules set by Israel on aid operations within Gaza. The group was in a “deconflicted zone”; its movements coordinated and agreed with the IDF. At least one of the white vans in the three-vehicle convoy bore the WCK name and logo. They were driving down a road marked accessible for humanitarian aid workers by the UN. And yet the WCK team was still targeted by the IDF, not once, not twice, but three times. Three precision strikes, according to research by investigations collective Bellingcat. “Unintentional” was how Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu labelled the hit. 

Netanyahu was backed up by the White House, who issued feeble noises of performative indignation. The incident was a “tragedy”, said Joe Biden in an (under)statement, adding that Israel had not “done enough” to protect aid workers or civilians. US National Security council spokesperson John Kirby made clear that there would be no real blame apportioned, though, noting there was “no evidence” that the IDF deliberately targeted the WCK workers, beyond the fact it had every detail of the group’s movements, the vans were clearly marked, drones struck the vehicles three separate times, one after the other, and Israel had already killed 189 aid workers in the territory to date

The entire rigamarole is a gruesome repetition of a well-established pattern: the IDF violates international humanitarian law, then Israel’s allies and enablers downplay or ignore what’s happened, essentially legalising the crime through inaction.

This dance has been performed for as long as the nation of Israel has been mooted; it was a tactic developed by the Zionist terrorists of the 1940s, who tested in increments just how much the governing British forces in Palestine and the newly formed United Nations would allow them to get away with without sanctions or reprisals. On the contrary, those extremists were rewarded in the form of a state, with the US successfully pressuring opponents of the eventual 1947 UN Palestine partition plan to vote in favour of giving the Zionists 56% of historical Palestine, despite them making up just a third of the population.

After the 1948 Nakba forcibly displaced two-thirds of the Palestinian population, Israel then illegally controlled 78% of the territory. It had pushed well beyond the limits of what was legal, and found no serious repercussions. A pattern was entrenched of Israel cutting through red tape first and facing any music later, the red tape being the lives, livelihoods and infrastructure of anyone or any institution in the way of its underlying goal since the first Zionists pitched up in earnest: claiming the entirety of historical Palestine for the state of Israel. 

But now Israel has gone further than it ever has previously. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has accepted that there is a case to consider that the country is commiting genocide in Gaza. Even while that’s being prepared, Israel has repeatedly failed to even pay lip service to observing the ICJ measures issued in the interim, including to immediately enable aid provision in the territory

Previously, Israel waged a press war alongside its physical conflict. There is no real need for that now. Its leaders have realised it doesn’t matter if they blow up children, block aid, shoot civilians waiting for food or completely destroy health centres and the workers and patients inside them. There seems to be no legal redline they can cross that the likes of the US and UK won’t defend on their behalf. International humanitarian law has only ever been as good as the powers invoking and upholding it, but with this campaign, Israel has reduced the concept to rubble – along with the majority of Gaza. 

Not even the targeted deaths of foreign citizens from allied countries can provoke sanctions against Israel. In response to the WCK killings, representatives from the British, US, Australian and Polish administrations simply echoed one another: they were outraged, and expected Israel to fully investigate the incident. If it wasn’t so bleak, you’d laugh; it’d be more productive to ask your household pet to launch an investigation into the murder of seven aid workers than the regime responsible for pressing the button. 

Seven months have made clear that Western politicians don’t value the lives of Palestinians. But they aren’t just morally bankrupt, racist cowards – they are phenomenally stupid too. The most powerful country on earth is essentially taking orders from a state the size of Slovenia. By affording carte blanche to Israel in its most politically extreme and murderous guise, Biden, Sunak, and the rest of the cabal have fatally undermined the system of pseudo-moral arbitration and ‘global policing’ the West has headed up for decades. 

We’re too close now to know exactly what the fallout will be, beyond more death and destruction. But allowing Israel to succumb to vengeful bloodlust without restraint will have consequences that the short-termist, tragically inadequate politicians we call leaders in title only will come to feel – and deeply regret.

Moya Lothian-McLean is a contributing editor at Novara Media.

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