Renowned Lawyer Noura Erakat Speaks On Genocide Case Against Israel 

Courtesy of Daniel Perrin

On Wednesday, Feb. 28, Noura Erakat, renowned activist, human rights lawyer, and associate professor at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, gave a talk on The Crime of Genocide: International Law and Gaza. The talk was part of the “South Africa to Gaza: World History and the Politics of Accountability” series, sponsored by the Aydelotte Foundation, the President‘s Fund for Racial Justice, Swarthmore College Libraries, Arabic, Art History, Black Studies, Educational Studies, English Literature, French & Francophone Studies, History, the Intercultural Center, Islamic Studies, Religion, and Sociology & Anthropology.

Professor Erakat began her talk by introducing the formal definition of genocide by the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG). She emphasized the need to understand this definition to combat Israel’s attempts to justify its acts in Palestine and highlighting the historical and legal context of genocide. 

The definition of genocide, according to the CPPCG, is “killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Using the CPPCG as a framework, Erakat discussed the recent decision by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) regarding Israel’s actions in Gaza. 

“The ICJ declared that Israel was most likely waging a war or genocidal campaign, and it did not engage with the self-defense argument at all,” Erakat said. “The court concluded that Israel’s arguments were inadequate and the provisional measures order that Israel ensure with immediate effect that its military does not commit mass killings of civilians, does not engage in activities intended to prevent births within the group, does not cause serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, does not create the conditions intended to bring about the destruction of the group.” 

Erakat stated that Israel has failed to comply with the ICJ’s provisional orders, including allowing basic necessities like food and fuel to Gaza. 

“UNICEF – United Nations Children’s Fund – found that 90% of children under the age of two and 95% of pregnant/breastfeeding women face ‘severe food poverty.’ We now know that 80% of the world’s starving population is in Gaza.”

Furthermore, Erakat pointed out that Israel’s refusal to abide by the United Nations’ orders is of glaring concern. 

“I leave you to decide a state that exists in an international order that does not care what the highest court says. What order do we have if there is disregard for those institutions?” She asserted that there must be accountability: a check and balance upon Israel and the United States’ involvement in its crimes. 

Erakat also gave examples of other countries that have taken measures to prevent the United States from sending military aid to Israel. Ireland’s senate, for example, voted unanimously to impose sanctions on Israel and prevent the passage of United States’ weapons to Israel across Irish airspace. This action demonstrates how there are means of preventing or challenging accomplices of genocide. 

Erakat detailed how “law is a tool that should be used in service of emancipatory struggles” and “rather being loyal to it, popular movements are necessary to leverage the law for social change.” She emphasized treading carefully while gathering evidence to develop a political strategy. Erakat stressed that it is important to acknowledge the politics that influenced the ICJ’s judges. She observed how ICJ’s biases could hinder its ability to address the Nakba, which the United Nations defines as “the mass displacement and dispossession of Palestinians during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.” Erakat attributed the ICJ’s limitations to entrenched legal misconceptions. However,  she contends that the law could still be used tactically to address these problems. 

“Think of the law like the sail of a boat. You need a sail to move, but the wind is going to determine which direction to move in. And the wind is politics,” Erakat said. “So pull up the sail when the winds are blowing in your favor; draw the sail when they’re blowing against you. And make a new sail when you can. We’re in a moment where the wind is blowing in our favor, so going to these courts right now makes a lot of sense.”

Erakat stated that Palestinians are “certainly not the first to experience genocide, but they are certainly the first to livestream their genocide.” She also commented on the self-immolation of Aaron Bushnell, an airman who died on Sunday, Feb. 25 in an act of protest against Israel’s actions in Gaza.

“We are watching his erasure – the description of him as mentally ill as opposed to describing our humanity as horribly sick.” 

Erakat emphasized that this event is one of countless others throughout history. 

“We must demand accountability for every life shattered for every future stolen,” said Erakat “not to exact revenge, because revenge will kill us. It will only deepen our own wounds. We must demand accountability to ensure that we build a future that unequivocally rejects this expression of sovereignty regardless of who decides to express their sovereignty in this barbaric and dangerous way.”

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