Originally published by The China Academy.
Today’s article is a lightly edited translation of a commentary by 小Q不是导盲犬, a well-known Chinese internet influencer, on Chinese social media. On Bilibili alone, China’s counterpart to YouTube, he has amassed 673 thousand followers in less than three years by publishing content analyzing international relations. His followers have cultivated a habit of understanding world politics through his timely analysis and explanation. This recent commentary on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which garnered nearly 400 thousand clicks on Bilibili alone, provides insights into how Chinese people view the ongoing tragedy.
The partition plan proposed an independent Arab state, an independent Jewish state, and a special international regime for Jerusalem administered by the UN. The vote at that time was 33 in favor, including the US, USSR, and France from the permanent members of the UN Security Council, and 13 against, including all Middle Eastern countries, Cuba, Greece, and Turkey. There were 10 abstentions, including China and Britain from the permanent members. Why did the Middle Eastern countries oppose it? Because they felt the resolution favored Israel, a smaller population occupying a larger territory. It’s true, that in 1948, the British did not implement the resolution and instead withdrew. The Israelis proclaimed their state, and the Arabs started attacking Israel the next day, initiating the first Arab-Israeli War. Israel occupied 77% of Palestine during this war. In 1948, the United Nations established the Truce Supervision Organization in Jerusalem. This was the United Nation’s first peacekeeping operation and it is still in operation today, with approximately 150 military observers and over 200 civilian staff members, including 5 Chinese soldiers. The Chinese martyr Du Zhaoyu, who sacrificed his life in 2006, was serving in the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization when he tragically died due to an Israeli airstrike.
During the third Arab-Israeli War in 1967, Israel occupied all Arab territories stipulated by Resolution 181. The UN Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 242, requiring Israel to withdraw from occupied territories and return to pre-war status. This status is commonly referred to as the 1967 borders, which were also defined in the 1949 Armistice Agreement and can be referred to as the Green Line, as it was drawn in green ink on the map.
In a joint statement with Palestine in June this year, China firmly supported the establishment of an independent State of Palestine based on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and full sovereignty. This essentially supports the 1949 border, which is less favorable to Palestinians than the 181 resolution, but certainly better than the current situation. Former U.S. President Obama also supported the 1967 borders, which earned him criticism from the Israeli government.
By 1967, the State of Palestine did not exist, but there were many resistance organizations conducting guerrilla warfare, the most famous of which was the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), an umbrella political organization, led resistance activities, with its largest faction and leading political party being Fatah under Yasser Arafat.
In 1974, the UN General Assembly reaffirmed the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people to national independence, sovereignty, and the right to return home. That year, Arafat, representing Fatah, addressed the UN General Assembly:
“Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand. I repeat: do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.”
Later, Fatah gained observer status in the General Assembly.
In 1988, the Palestinian National Council declared acceptance of Resolution 181 and established the State of Palestine, but without defined borders. So, in essence, the original vision of Resolution 181, an Arab state and a Jewish state, was realized. But, of course, Palestine would like to have the borders defined by Resolution 181, which Israel would definitely not agree to, a situation opposite to the original voting outcome.
At this time, Fatah transitioned from a resistance movement to a ruling party and gradually recognized the existence of Israel, which led to dissatisfaction among factions that could not accept Israel’s existence, such as Hamas. This latest attack was not carried out by Fatah but by Hamas. Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, is a radical protest faction, that uses rocket attacks and even suicide bombings to create ongoing disturbances. Israel had a long period of conflict with Fatah, even involving armed confrontation, until they reconciled in 2017. China has good relations with Fatah but is not very familiar with Hamas, and China has maintained a neutral stance this time, calling for an immediate ceasefire and protection of civilians.
After the establishment of Palestine in the 1990s, there were many contact points between Palestine and Israel, and various countries tried different methods. Everyone thought that a final solution was at hand, but the results are obvious now. Later on, Israel began to build the West Bank Barrier in 2002, and in 2003 the United Nations General Assembly asked the International Court of Justice for an advisory opinion on the legal consequences of Israel’s construction of the barrier in the occupied Palestinian territory. The International Court of Justice ruled by a vote of 14 to 1 that Israel’s actions violated international law.
This raises an issue of international law: why is the construction of the barrier illegal?
This is because the barrier and Israel’s settlements are closely related. The Geneva Conventions prohibit an occupying power from moving its own population into the occupied territory and also prohibit the forcible displacement of civilians from the zone. In simpler terms, the occupying power cannot move its own people into the territory it occupies, nor can it drive away the original residents. On this issue, the Israeli government gave a rather strange, but not entirely unfounded legal argument (referred to as the “missing reversioner” argument), claiming that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to the barrier and the settlements because Israel did not occupy Palestine by expelling any sovereign nation since Palestine was not a sovereign nation, to begin with. This argument is highly flawed, as the legal adviser of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Theodore Meron, pointed out in a memorandum in 1967 that the construction of these settlements violated the Geneva Conventions. Another argument of Israel is that it is exercising its right to self-defense, as Palestinians consistently launch rocket attacks. The International Court of Justice judged that even if Israel faces violent acts against civilians, the self-defense measures it takes must still comply with international law. This is a basic legal principle: the illegal behavior of A cannot legalize the illegal behavior of B. You can counterattack in self-defense, but you cannot over-defend.
Even when it knows it’s violating international law, a country like Israel still tries to prove that it’s complying with international law. This shows the normative value of international law. Hypocrisy is evil’s homage to virtue.
In 2012, Palestine became a UN observer state. To become a member state requires the approval of the Security Council, where the U.S. has veto power. However, there is no veto power in UNESCO, so Palestine became a full member of UNESCO in 2011. The United States decided to stop paying dues and withdrew from the organization in 2018. But this year, noticing that China is thriving in UNESCO and that no one seemed to care when it withdrew, the U.S. paid its dues and rejoined.
In addition to the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice in 2004, two important international legal procedures are currently underway. One is the investigation into Israeli war crimes launched by the International Criminal Court in 2015, which has been slow to progress due to obstruction by the U.S. and Israel, especially with Trump directly sanctioning the ICC. In 2021, the International Criminal Court ruled that it has jurisdiction over the Palestinian issue, and the investigation is still ongoing. The other is the consultation opinion requested by the UN General Assembly in 2022 on the legality of Israel’s long-term occupation of Palestinian territory since 1967 and its impact on member countries. The case is still under consideration. As we’ve said, the UN’s position is essentially the position of the UN General Assembly. On the issue of Palestine, the vast majority of countries believe that Israel is more or less inhumane. The annual resolutions condemning Israel (and the U.S.) have become a “tradition” of the UN.
Currently, Israel has built nearly 300 settlements in the Palestinian war zone, transferring hundreds of thousands of settlers, which is a clear violation of international law.
In July of this year, more than 30 UN human rights experts and several working groups on human rights issues jointly criticized Israel’s creeping annexation, emphasizing that some countries only condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but equivocate on the issue of Palestine, which is a clear double standard. Even outsiders can’t stand it anymore, let alone the Palestinians who are suffering greatly. Hamas, the organization that launched this attack, is a more aggressive resistance organization that has caused possibly the largest casualties in Israel in the 21st century with a sudden attack.
Israel also quickly retaliated against Gaza, and it can be anticipated that there will be many actions in violation of the laws of war.
The Laws of War, or International Humanitarian Law, don’t essentially say you can’t go to war, but rather, you must reasonably go to war. International humanitarian law has some fundamental principles, the most basic of which is to distinguish between civilians and combatants, and between military and non-military targets. Of course, this is not to say that in war, no civilian can die. The laws of war are very realistic and operable; they require commanders to consider the ratio of military necessity to collateral damage, especially not intentionally targeting civilians, because killing civilians doesn’t actually help achieve modern military objectives.
In this situation, the actions of Hamas could be contentious, as their targets included not only Israeli military facilities but also potentially populated areas, and there are rumors of civilian abductions. Note, I said rumors, I am here to do legal analysis, not fact-checking. I’ve seen some people argue that Israel is a nation of soldiers, so there are no civilians, which is definitely incorrect. Reservists are civilians during peacetime. If civilians participate in hostile actions, they become military targets. This has always been Israel’s defense; that is, they cannot distinguish between Hamas fighters and Palestinian civilians. However, Israel’s airstrikes are likely retaliatory strikes against a race, rather than actions to destroy military targets. There are also reports of bombing of residential buildings and hospitals. Israel has violated international law many times, and its credit record is poor.
I can only say that the significance of international humanitarian law is to minimize collateral damage to civilians in the event of unavoidable war. But it has now become a bloody revenge between races, and there is no longer a basis of trust between the two parties. Fortunately, the development of social media allows a large amount of audio-visual evidence to be transmitted. In the context where both parties are motivated to seek international support, it might still be possible to maintain a certain level of restraint and avoid a real massacre of civilians. But if the situation continues to escalate, civilians on both sides will inevitably suffer tremendous hardship. This is indeed a sadness and also shows the limitations of international law.
The UN Security Council just concluded an emergency meeting and is likely to issue a joint statement soon, calling for a ceasefire from both sides. It might be difficult to issue a resolution in the short term, mainly depending on whether the United States will use its veto power. But even if a ceasefire is achieved, we can say with certainty that this is not peace, but a truce of unknown years.
The best solution to achieve real peace, and also the optimal solution for Israel to ensure its own security, might be to implement a two-state solution, end the occupation, and restore the Palestinian people’s hope for a meaningful political process.
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