The People vs Israel in the court of popular opinion

Lina AbiRafeh
6 min readJan 18, 2024
Art by the talented Said Hassan — used with permission by the artist. Find his work on IG at @said_hassan

January 15 marked 100 days of horror for the Palestinian people since Hamas’ uprising against the Israeli Occupation on October 7, 2023. I cannot believe we have actually reached 100 days. And what has happened? As of January 18, at least 24,802 Palestinians across the West Bank and Gaza have been killed, at least 65,504 have been injured, and a majority of Gaza’s 2.3 million people remain displaced with over 8,000 people missing and unaccounted for. The Israeli numbers have been modified down to 1,139 deaths and currently stand at around 8,730 injuries.

And right now, after over 100 days, over 33% of all buildings in Gaza have been destroyed with over 60% of all structures in the north of the territory completely demolished. Hospitals, mosques, churches, schools, libraries — the very building blocks of a healthy functioning society have been obliterated by Israeli bombs. And this fight shows no signs of ending. This rate of catastrophic destruction is unheard of in the 21st century and even outpaces what we witnessed in Syria and Ukraine.

And what has happened in the rest of the world? We’ve been rising up, marching, screaming, protesting, boycotting, doing whatever it takes. And we are growing stronger! Just take a look at the numbers who came out to march in Washington DC a few days ago — 400,000! Still, most of this has fallen on deaf ears. At least, the ears that hold power — those have selective hearing. And they’re only hearing one side of the story.

What’s more, we’ve just witnessed the conclusion of an historic moment: a two-day public hearing in the International Criminal Court (ICJ) where South Africa accused Israel of committing genocide against the Palestinian people of Gaza. With a barrage of information (and disinformation) flooding lightning-fast over our social media pages, I know that it is hard to keep track of everything that is going on.

Firstly, I’m not sure most people had even heard of the ICJ before this. So let’s start at the beginning. The International Criminal Court is the highest court of the United Nations and was created to arbitrate disputes between countries. Located in the Hague, this court holds jurisdiction over every UN member state. But it holds no enforcement power. The ICJ relies on the UN Security Council for the enforcement of its rulings.

If the ICJ is powerless, does that mean the whole thing is pointless? No. Here’s why. First and foremost, this is a symbolic victory. Israel’s crimes were read aloud, in front of the entire world. There’s no hiding from them. This also validates the pain and suffering Palestinians have endured. Too often, any mention of Palestine is met with systemic gaslighting. Perhaps the tide is turning.

The fact that South Africa, with its own apartheid history, is bringing this case to the Netherlands — its own former colonial power — cannot be underestimated. What’s more, the country is receiving support from formerly colonized countries who will no longer tolerate a unipolar world. They are fighting back.

In fact, South Africa has also recently declared its intention to hold both the US and UK governments accountable for their complicity in Israel’s war crimes. Will there be accountability for the world’s colonizers at last?! In the spirit of accountability, Namibia’s president Hage Geingob chastised the German government for rushing to Israel’s defense at the ICJ. In 2021, Germany finally acknowledged that it committed the 20th century’s first genocide — against the Herero and Nama people of Namibia during the colonial era of 1884 to 1915. I guess never again only applies to white people, right?

And, unsurprisingly, Western media only covered one side of the story — only showing Israel’s response and not the allegations. To name a few, CNN, MSNBC, BBC, Channel 4, Fox, and Sky News all failed to air South Africa’s documentation of Israeli war crimes. A group of prominent actors in conjunction with the Palestine Festival of Literature had to read the allegations on their own social media accounts in order to expose the issue to the American public — to compensate for American media bias. So much for the land of the free.

And that’s not all. While hopes aren’t overly high that the ICJ court case will succeed in promoting a ceasefire or — even less likely — in ending the occupation, there are still some key takeaways from this experience. For one thing, this represents a shift in global politics. It is a case study in revolutionary politics led by the Global South. And in this experience, we’ve seen what we’ve perhaps always known to be true (but maybe didn’t want to believe): the Global North will always protect its own political and economic interests over the lives of Black and Brown people. Every. Single. Time.

This is the stuff that, according to them, only happens to “other people” in places “over there.” That’s why we have too long ignored the other global crises — Sudan, Congo, and so on. Never again is only never again for some, it seems.

Countries who have chosen to ignore their colonial past will always side with genociders in the present — far easier than facing their crimes. Germany… seriously now. And we’ve learned that our so-called international system does not exist to give equal voice to everyone. Instead, it is serving the vested interests of the elite few who have the capital to enforce their will. Meaning, it’s all about money.

And Israel continues, relentless. “No one will stop us, not The Hague, not the axis of evil, and not anyone else” they say. And yet, as Clare Daly, Irish politician and member of the European Parliament, rightly said: Israel has already lost in the court of public opinion, and still they widen the conflict, thanks to unrestricted support from their American sponsors.

Meanwhile… a coalition of Global North states have bombed Yemen in response to the Houthis taking control over Red Sea shipping lanes. Why is this important? Yemen, a country with its own humanitarian crisis. A civil war has been raging on Yemeni soil since 2014 that has left over 21 million people in dire need of humanitarian assistance and over 4.5 million internally displaced. Yet, despite everything, Yemen repeatedly shows their solidarity, turning out en masse in support of peace in Palestine.

What we are seeing here — as human rights attorney Noura Erakat has so succinctly put it — is a horrifying case of the exceptionalization of victimization. Meaning, one group plays “oppression olympics” by trying to convince others that their trauma trumps all else. Further meaning, they’re allowed to do whatever they wish as a result. Even commit genocide. Their perception of their perpetual victimhood grants them carte blanche.

Throughout these horrifying 100 days and long before, one thing rings true. Women are the face and the force of revolutions. They are on the frontlines of this conflict and every other. Women like journalists Plestia Alaqad and Hind Khoudary, filmmaker Bisan Owda, and many more whose names we will never know. Women like Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh, the Irish barrister representing South Africa at the ICJ. The list is too long to mention. These women face inhumanity and conquer it with the power of their humanity.

Sure, women aren’t always peacemakers. We’ve seen some women publicly call for the genocide of Palestinians. However, all too often, women are forced to hold together the remaining scraps of society — of our collective humanity — as it gets blown apart.

Resources and other useful stuff…

Momentum is everything — the boycotts are starting to work (Starbucks, McDonald’s, Puma, and so many more) and collective pressure is building on politicians to call for a ceasefire. There are lots of good people out there sharing information. I hope you’re one of them. And, there’s a full list on the Palestine Action Guide. Read, follow, share, promote, amplify, boycott, march, protest, scream — whatever it takes, until it ends.

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Lina AbiRafeh

Global women's rights expert, author, speaker, aid worker, feminist activist with 25 years of experience in 20 countries worldwide - and lots of stories!