In light of the genocidal war and mass destruction caused by the Israeli military in their assault on the Gaza Strip since October 7th, 2023, we have decided to republish a series of essays, first published in 2019, originally in the context of Gaza’s “Great March of Return” demonstrations.
Starting on March 30th, 2018 and for over two years, thousands of Palestinians in Gaza organized “The Great March of Return,” a series of non-violent protests demanding an end to the then 11-year old suffocating siege of Gaza as well as asserting the right of Palestinians to return to their historic homeland. The protests, organized by Palestinian civil society, were met with severe repression by Israeli forces. Between the first protest and November 2019, Israel injured more than 35,600 Palestinian demonstrators, 7,996 with live ammunition, of which 156 required amputation of a limb, according to the United Nations OCHA office. During this time, Western countries such as the United States did not only support the Israeli crackdown, they participated in the oppression of Palestinians and the denial of their rights to self-determination by withdrawing from UNRWA and moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, among other actions.
As part of our mission to advance critical thinking on international affairs from the global South, Dr. Coralie Pison Hindawi, a core member of the Beirut School of Critical Security Studies within the Arab Council for the Social Sciences (ACSS), assembled a panel of scholars in 2019 to reflect on the doctrine of the “Responsibility to Protect” as it applies to the Palestinian people. Do international norms and practices have universal validity, or are they simply tools in the hands of hegemonic powers to be invoked when useful, and discarded when inconvenient?
We republish these essays with an updated introduction by Dr. Pison Hindawi to provide context for the original essays. We publish them while calling for an immediate ceasefire, unfettered humanitarian aid to Palestinians, and for an international investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity that have been committed since October 7th, 2023.
Omar Dahi and Sami Hermez
Co-coordinators Beirut School of Critical Security Studies
Arab Council for the Social Sciences (ACSS)
Updated Introduction by Roundtable Editor
By Dr. Coralie Pison Hindawi
In 2019, as Palestinians were commemorating the Nakba's seventy-first anniversary amidst particularly violent Israeli reactions to the 'Great March of Return', we brought together a number of scholars, activists, practitioners and legal experts with longstanding commitment to justice in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Our goal was to discuss the applicability, usefulness, and overall significance of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine for Palestine.
The R2P doctrine's main contribution has essentially been to reiterate formally all UN member states' commitment to respect a number of preexisting norms entailed in treaties and customary international law, as well as confirm that people throughout the world should be protected from genocide, ethnic cleansing, and war crimes more generally. When UN member states unanimously endorsed the doctrine during the 2005 world summit, they explicitly acknowledged that, when the national authorities in charge are unable or unwilling to protect their populations from such crimes, the responsibility to protect falls upon the 'international community.'
When discussing the doctrine's significance for the situation in Palestine, Ghassan Abu-Sittah, Mazin Qumsiyeh, Irene Gendzier, Richard Falk, Vijay Prashad, Davis Palumbo-Liu, Siba Grovogui, and Ilan Pappe's analyses had diverging assessments as to the doctrine's usefulness and the actors one could expect to effectively implement this responsibility. We were all in agreement, however, that given the nature of the crimes targeting Palestinians and the absence of a state able or willing to protect them, the R2P doctrine was applicable and relevant.
As much as we would have all liked to be proven wrong, the events of the recent weeks, the scale of the violence, massive displacements, use of ignominious dehumanizing language by Israeli representatives now unequivocally confirm that Palestinians are either subject to or at immediate risk of being subjected to all four types of international crimes that the R2P doctrine was supposed to protect them from.
Against this background, we decided to republish this collection of essays hoping that they may prove useful in one way or another to both comprehend and react to the devastating circumstances we are currently living. Once again, the main question that remains is not that of international norms' applicability or relevance but that of their actual implementation. Once again, both the state(s) directly in charge and the most influential members of the international community are failing to provide the protection that Palestinians, as any other human group, are entitled to. Once again, help is coming from the 'rest' rather than from the West, and from below rather from the centers of power.
Dr. Coralie Pison Hindawi
The following articles were part of a roundtable series that was originally published in June 2019 by the Beirut School of Critical Studies working group in the Arab Council for the Social Sciences. They have been republished by Security in Context in October 2023.