An International Law of Double Standards?

Photograph Source: Wafa (Q2915969) in contract with a local company (APAimages)‏‏ – CC BY-SA 3.0

There is a difference between an accurate historical context on the one hand, and on the other, propaganda repeated so often that it takes on a surreal life of its own. Alas, when it comes to the struggle of the Palestinians, Western politicians can’t tell the difference. Take for instance the statement issued on 9 October 2023 by the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States which reads in part: “We make clear that the terrorist actions of Hamas have no justification, no legitimacy, and must be universally condemned.” Unfortunately, as we will see, the terrorist actions the statement refers to are so common, so “normal” in the behavior of both Israel and the history of the five nations issuing this declaration, that their claim can only be a piece of propaganda underpinned by blatant double standards.


+ The statement ascribes the incursions of Palestinian fighters into Israel on 8 October, and the resulting terrorism, to “Hamas” alone. In addition, the statement insists that Hamas “does not represent the aspirations of the Palestinian people.” OK. Then someone ought to explain why President Biden and the other four Western leaders so ardently “stand with Israel” in its ultra-lethal policy of collective punishment—Israel supposedly exercising “self-defense.” The near wholesale destruction of Gaza City and its 600,000 occupants certainly cannot be aimed only at Hamas. I am sure someone among the five leaders can squirm their way out of this difficulty, but the explanation will amount to sophistry.

+ The observation that some of the violence associated with the Palestinian incursion was terrorism is no doubt accurate. The pictures now being made public of those terrorist acts have a remarkable resemblance to photos of the Israeli-inspired massacre at Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in southern Lebanon. The recent Palestinian violence also had the character of being driven by emotions kept bottled up under high pressure for a prolonged time. In this regard, let us keep in mind that, historically, the violence of the oppressed tends to rise over time to the level of the violence of the oppressor. And certainly, the persecution-style policy practiced by Israel toward the Palestinians (putting the people of Gaza “on a diet” of rapid impoverishment) can also be readily interpreted as terrorism (or, at least, premeditated torture). In this way, it can be argued, the Israelis set the standard for the Palestinian’s violent reaction.

+ Nonetheless as used, and endlessly reused, by the five leaders (to say nothing of the Israeli leadership), the term terrorism has long ago been reduced to a propaganda mantra—again underpinned by a kind of moral double bookkeeping. So, it is part of our sad reality that, if they represent a “sovereign state,” the police and military can go around violating international law in terroristic ways and their leadership will piously call it “self-defense.” To this deceptive use of language, their allies will genuflect and their citizens will cheer. However, if you are the victim of such state violence you have no right of self-defense, and certainly no right to replicate your oppressors’ inhuman tactics. If you attempt it, your actions become terrorism. It suggests an unspoken international law of double standards.

+ The idea that Palestinian action on 8 October had “no justification” is just nonsense. To use a Joe Biden word, it is a “sheer” decontextualization of history. According to the Israeli human rights organization B’tselem, Israeli forces have killed 10,000 Palestinians between the year 2000 and the end of September 2023. In a hologram-like fashion, each one of these dead Palestinians is reflected in the Israeli deaths of 8 October. You can also think of it this way: if you imprison a population for decades during which you systematically treat them in ways that violate international law and moral norms and then, when they briefly break out of prison and respond violently, you claim their actions are unjustified, you have a serious historical blindspot expressing itself, again, in blatant double standards.

+ Finally, what are we to say about the deaths that occurred during the music festival at Re’im—which sits near the border with Gaza. Over 250 Israelis and their foreign guests were killed there. Yes, this was terrorism. Yes, this was a massacre. And, yes, something like this was made inevitable by the creation of Gaza into the world’s largest outdoor prison. One might ask—and this is a serious question—just how historically aware were the organizers of this festival that they arranged dancing and singing at the gates of a hell their national leaders had manufactured? In any case, the horror that resulted is a sad commentary on the place revenge plays in our lives. If you want to see this dehumanizing impulse magnified exponentially just look at present Israeli behavior toward Gaza which, somehow, does not constitute “sheer evil” in the eyes of Joe Biden. Hypocrisy is the name of his game.

Israel’s 9/11?

Much has been made of the assumption that the 8 October incursion constitutes Israel’s 9/11. “This is our 9/11, said the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations. This is our 9/11, said multiple Israeli military spokespeople. This is the equivalent for Israel of probably [sic] what happened in the United States on September 11th, said Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Israeli Faces Its 9/11, said the Wall Street Journal op-ed page.”

The way things played out, this interpretation has a grain of embarrassing truth to it. To quote Jon Schwarz in the Intercept, “In other words, Israel, like the U.S., had been innocently walking through the world when SUDDENLY, OUT OF NOWHERE, it was inexplicably attacked by inhuman barbarians.” If you ask, why do they hate us, you are being unpatriotic and a spoilsport. So just cheer on as Israel mimics the U.S. by responding with massive violence. The Israelis have a wide-open field here. It is estimated that the U.S. “war on terror” has “directly and indirectly caused over 4.5 million deaths.” This is supposedly the side of the good guys.

In both cases, those “9/11” attacks were the product of violent policies carried on for years by the U.S. and Israel. That the average citizen may have been kept in the dark about these policies or chose to believe the distorted explanations given to them by politicians, does not change reality. Even the innocent status of many of the victims on both sides of these attacks is, in the eyes of those wielding force, ultimately irrelevant to the process set in motion by self-serving policies. Essentially, the innocent on the American and Israeli side were knowingly sacrificed by their national leaders. As Jon Schwarz observes, “The establishments of both Israel and the U.S. were well aware that their policies would inevitably lead to the deaths of their own citizens.” Suffering terrorist strikes was thought of by U.S. leaders as “a small price to pay for being a superpower.” In Israel, the government’s perspective was and is that the deaths caused by Palestinian fighters is a “relatively small price that Israel pays every so often for its policy toward Gaza.”

It is embarrassing how nationalism has simply ramped up the power of our anger, insecurities, and callousness to the suffering we cause. This paves the way for us all to be terrorists. So, it would seem, that Israeli leaders now dream of the “mother of all pogroms” in Gaza. They have a great excuse because, as a consequence of systematic Zionist provocation, the Palestinians have practiced a bit of reactive terrorism.

Now, let us conclude with those five Western leaders mentioned above. They are all leaders of democracies, and all of those democracies have histories ladened with the dead. France has Algeria; Italy has Libya and Ethiopia; the United Kingdom has most of the world; Germany has all of Europe; and the United States has all of Central and South America plus a good chunk of Asia. In all of these places, these standard holders of Western civilization have waged wars big and small, and killed so many people that it is a wonder there is such a thing as overpopulation. Thus, when we hear that all of them have pledged to stand firmly by Israel (a proven apartheid state), let us not be surprised—they are only being consistent.

Lawrence Davidson is a retired professor of history at West Chester University in West Chester, PA.