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Azmi Bishara Lecture on Politics, Ethics, and International Law in the War on Gaza


The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies held a lecture on 28 November 2023, presented by its General Director, Azmi Bishara, titled "The War on Gaza: Politics, Ethics, and International Law", introduced by ACRPS Researcher, Marwan Kabalan. The lecture unpacked the historical background related the 7 October attack, the general Israeli conduct, and the Arab and international responses to the Israeli war on Gaza. Bishara offered an analysis of the concept of Genocide in Gaza, and a discussion of Israel’s utilization of the “right to self-defence” to justify its mounting atrocities.

Political Background

Bishara began his lecture by pointing out that Hamas’ 7 October attack on Israeli military sites and several settlements within the “Gaza envelope” was not a spontaneous outburst. Planning and training for the operation had been in the works for two years. During this period settlements in the occupied territories continued to expand at an unprecedented rate and the scale of raids on Al-Aqsa Mosque had peaked at the same time as talk grew about expanding Arab-Israeli normalization.

This context helps explain the shock felt by Israel and the international and regional parties that had set their sights on the dissolution rather than the resolution of the Palestinian cause, by pursuing separate Arab-Israeli peace agreements. Subsequently, a false sense of confidence in Israel led to its refusal to negotiate even with the Palestinian Authority, abandoning the Oslo process. Instead, the Israeli authorities sought to settle by improving economic conditions in the West Bank, allowing a larger number of Palestinians to work in Israel.

General Israeli Conduct

Bishara argued that the 7 October operation sparked anger that upended the balance in Israeli society because it combined two elements: the scale of the casualties, and the breach of military bases during the execution of a wide-ranging offensive within the 1967 borders, which has not happened since 1948. The operation was structurally closer to a wartime offensive than any previous resistance operations.

Bishara described the general Israeli conduct in terms of tribal cohesion in search of security to quell fear and restore balance and deterrence by retaliation with vengeance against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Arab citizens of Israel were also treated with suspicion as enemies or potential enemies who were expected to remain silent.

In this context, Bishara noted that the operation led directly to the closure of Israeli society and its sense of regional isolation, along with a resurgence of militaristic answers to deal with the conflict. Instead of holding the occupation or Israeli policy responsible for what happened, the attack was considered an intelligence and military failure. But he stressed that the Israeli shift toward militarization does not indicate a decline in the dominance of religious Zionist discourse on Palestine. Leading Israeli opinion polls are the extremist nationalists from both ends of the spectrum, including religious extremists like Naftali Bennett, as well as the secular generals. What they have in common is their military security perspective and the rejection of any elements of a just solution. This consensus marginalizes the other religious parties and creates a new centre on the Israeli political map.

The US Response

Bishara moved on to discuss the US response so far, noting that Washington shared Israel’s furious indignation. Not content with simply echoing the Israeli narrative of 7 October, the White House shared the conclusion that Hamas must be eradicated, knowing full well that this would entail the complete destruction of the Gaza Strip and the killing of disproportionate numbers of civilians, effecting longstanding Israeli plans to force the displacement of Palestinians. This collaboration went so far as the US President and Secretary of State personally joining meeting of the Israeli War Cabinet in preparation for the ground invasion.

However, over the course of the Israeli aggression, cracks have started to appear in the wall of western public opinion, as multiple lies were exposed and the extent of the devastation revealed. This may shift the conclusions of the US administration somewhat.

Arab Responses

Bishara argued that Arab countries that not affiliated with the Israeli-Arab axis loyal to the US have been unable to take practical steps regarding the Palestine issue, some of them being weak and isolated, and others having lost credibility after instrumentalizing the Palestinian cause. Some of these states are engaged in internal conflicts in which the regimes have committed crimes that discredits their criticism of the Israeli occupation.

The Arab countries that have normalized relations with Israel initially echoed US and Israeli anger, perhaps hoping that the war would eliminate Hamas, changing the political discourse to one of solidarity with the Gaza Strip until Israel finished its operation. However, the continued Israeli losses at the hands of the Resistance, the revelation of many Israeli lies, and popular Arab solidarity with the Palestinian resistance, compelled some Arab countries to stress the need to find a relatively just solution to the Palestinian issue as a condition for normalization. To obstruct any attempt to resurrect these normalization agreements the resistance must remain steadfast and the political discourse unperturbed, otherwise discourse may return to the necessity of a political security solution for Gaza.


In his discussion of the legal term genocide, which was coined by Polish lawyer Raphaël Lemkin in 1944, Bishara drew attention to the fact that the term was not based on the Holocaust but on crimes less drastic than the Holocaust. In this context, he argues that the term is so fitting to the Palestinian Nakba, that it could have been specifically designed to denote it. It means the existence of a coordinated plan of acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group. This occurs by destroying the “national pattern” of the oppressed group, and then imposing the “national pattern” of the oppressor. According to the supplementary “Elements of Crimes” document of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, acts of genocide include murder, the infliction of serious physical or mental harm, the imposition of living conditions intended to intentionally cause material destruction, the imposition of measures intended to prevent births, and the forcible transfer of children. That is, any of these acts constitutes genocide, since the intent was the total or partial destruction of a national group, regardless of the number of people killed or removed from an area. In the case of Israel, it is clear that it planned to displace the population of the Gaza Strip, and there have been public calls to exterminate the Palestinian population there.

The Right to Self-Defense

Concluding the lecture, Bishara touched on the right of “self-defence”. Israel, with the support of the United States, claims that its war on Gaza is justified under international law, citing Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. He considered that the draft resolution submitted by the United States to the United Nations Security Council on 21 October 2023, which stipulates Israel’s right to defend itself, is a deceptive attempt to use international law itself to portray Israel as a victim. The international legal principle does not apply to Israel because it is an occupying state; The West Bank and Gaza Strip are not an independent state external of Israel that has attacked it. Even if it is confirmed Israel has an inalienable right to self-defence, Article 51 restricts this right to be proportional to the attack, holds the occupying state responsible for the security of citizens under occupation and not just for its own citizens.

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