By Stephen Gowans
More than 1,000 residents of Gaza are dead, over 300 of them children, and nearly 5,000 are wounded as a result of the continuing Israeli assault on the blockaded Gaza Strip. Some 90,000 Gazans have been forced to flee their homes, according to al-Mezan human rights centre. 
“Residents of Gaza City and the north have no water. They have no electricity. They’re trapped, traumatized and terrorized.” 
There are shortages of several basic foods, including food for infants. Unsafe drinking water, garbage piling up in the streets, and disrupted vaccinations, have increased the risk of epidemics. 
There is a shortage of hospital equipment. Monitors, anaesthesia, surgical equipment, heaters and spare parts are in short supply. Hospital windows have been blown out by Israeli bombs. 
Norwegian doctors Mads Gilbert and Erik Fosse, who worked at the al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, say they,
“witnessed the most horrific war injuries in men, women and children of all ages in numbers almost too large to comprehend. The wounded, dying and dead have streamed into the overcrowded hospital in endless convoys of ambulances and private cars and wrapped in blankets in the caring arms of others. The endless and intense bombardments from Israeli air, ground and naval forces have missed no targets, not even the hospital.” 
Israel says it is destroying military targets, but has razed government buildings, apartment buildings, mosques and has struck UN schools, the compound of the UN Relief and Works Agency, a cemetery, ambulances and hospitals. 
“Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, has called for ‘credible, independent and transparent’ investigations into possible violations of humanitarian law.” 
The International Committee for the Red Cross “accused Israel of breaches of humanitarian conventions for failing to bring assistance to wounded and starving civilians and preventing ambulance access for four days.”
B’Tselem, Physicians for Human Rights, and other Israeli human rights groups “have described civilians being fired on in doorways (by Israeli soldiers); attacks on ambulance crews, aid workers and schools being used as civilian refuges.” 
Human Rights Watch, which usually takes a kid-gloves approach to the US and its allies, accused Israel of using “white phosphorous munitions over densely populated areas of Gaza in violation of international humanitarian law.” 
The UN’s Human Rights Council has condemned the Israeli offensive for “massive violations of human rights”. 
Amnesty International says that Israeli shelling of residential areas is “prima facie evidence of war crimes”. The organization has also accused Israeli soldiers of using Palestinians as human shields.
“It’s standard practice for Israeli soldiers to go into a house, lock up the family in a room on the ground floor and use the rest of the house as a military base, as a sniper’s position. That is the absolute textbook case of human shields.” 
Richard Falk, the UN’s special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories and professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, says Israel is in breach of the UN charter, the Geneva conventions, international law and international humanitarian law. He has previously compared Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to Nazi atrocities, a comparison that led to his being barred by Israel from access to Gaza and the West Bank. Falk says that,
“If there were the political will there could be an ad-hoc tribunal established to hear allegations of war crimes. This could be done by the general assembly acting under article 22 of the UN charter which gives them the authority to establish subsidiary bodies.” 
If ever there was a group in need of protection from war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing it is the Palestinians. And yet the Palestinians receive little outside help, relying on themselves, for the most part, for whatever little protection they can provide. Realpolitick prevents them from falling within the ambit of the responsibility to protect doctrine, the idea that “the international community,” that is, Western governments led by the United States, should intervene in other countries to prevent genocide, mass killings and massive human rights abuses. Responsibility to protect (R2P) has given rise to campaigns for humanitarian intervention in Darfur, Myanmar and Zimbabwe, but not Gaza or the West Bank.
That there are no R2P campaigns to safeguard Palestinians exposes the concept as a fig leaf for Western imperialism – a way of justifying intervention in countries that pursue policies at odds with the economic and strategic interests of Western investment banks, corporations and investors, while ignoring the ethnic cleansing, massive human rights violations and predatory aggressions of allies (and of Western countries themselves.)
Predictably, those who call for interventions in Darfur, Myanmar and Zimbabwe haven’t called for R2P campiagns to safeguard Palestinians from Israel’s continuing breaches of international law, humanitarian law, the Geneva conventions and the UN charter.
For example, the plight of the Palestinians is nowhere to be found on the website of the World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy’s Responsibility to Protect, Engaging Civil Society project, R2PCS, though R2PCS has much to say about “the crisis in Darfur,” “the crisis in Myanmar” and “the crisis in Zimbabwe,” as well as the “genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia, (and) crimes against humanity in Kosovo.”  That the humanitarian catastrophe visited upon the Palestinians is absent from the R2PCS’s concerns hardly jibes with its professed mission to “promote concrete policies to better enable governments, regional organizations and the U.N. to protect vulnerable populations.” 
A major backer of R2PCS is the government of Canada, the principal sponsor of the concept of the responsibility to protect. Other R2PCS sponsors include the governments of Britain, the European Union, billionaire financier George Soros’ Open Society Institute and the Ford Foundation. 
Former Canadian prime minister Jean Chretien put forward the R2P idea so that US coalitions, such as the NATO coalition that bombed the former Yugoslavia for 78 days in 1999, could claim a legal basis for their aggressions. Chrétien was embarrassed that Canada’s participation in the NATO assault on Yugoslavia had been carried out without the imprimatur of the UN or international law. In the future, if it could be shown that a population deemed vulnerable was menaced by abridgment of rights, mass killings or ethnic cleansing – often the outcome of civil wars engineered by the West – a legal cover could be provided for intervention.
That Canada has no intrinsic interest in protecting vulnerable populations is evidenced by its failure to make the slightest effort to prevent Israel’s massive human rights violations against Palestinians and ethnic cleansing of historic Palestine. Even today, in the face of Israel’s use of Palestinians as human shields, its meting out of collective punishment and its bombardment of civilians and civilian infrastructure, the Canadian government obstructs all attempts in international forums to protect the Palestinian population, instead adopting a policy of unconditional support for Israel.
And while Canada and other members of the North Atlantic alliance fail to protect the Palestinians from Israeli depredations, and indeed facilitate them, they demonize as terrorists the groups that genuinely act to protect the Palestinian population from Israel’s massive human rights violations and ethnic cleansing. These include Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and other Palestinian resistance organizations and their allies.
On the one hand, then, the R2P community is silent on the plight of the Palestinians. On the other hand, it agitates for Western intervention in countries that maintain unfriendly business and foreign investment climates (Sudan, Myanmar and Zimbabwe) or have coveted strategic assets (oil in Darfur and a geostrategic position close to China in Myanmar.)
While the R2P community’s foot soldiers may be genuinely motivated by a desire to protect vulnerable populations, their energies are harnessed by the ruling class interests that lay behind their campaigns to press for interventions that ultimately serve imperial, not humanitarian, goals. At the same time, they’re diverted from any cause that threatens the economic and strategic interests of Western states and the corporate and financial communities that dominate them.
The R2P community’s foot soldiers are also, sadly, bamboozled — convinced that Western intervention can be a force for good, when the historical record, both distant and recent, contradicts the view unequivocally.
Those who are galvanized to demand that Western powers exercise a responsibility to protect vulnerable populations in Darfur, Myanmar and Zimbabwe should first acquaint themselves with the track record of Western interventions in the former Yugoslavia, Iraq (home to an intervention-induced humanitarian catastrophe of almost unparalleled magnitude by current standards) and Afghanistan. In all these cases, the West invoked humanitarian imperatives to justify military conquest, and in each case massively biased the post-intervention conditions against the domestic populations.
As regards the Palestinians, supporters of R2P should ask themselves:
1. Why is the responsibility to protect not invoked to protect the men, women and children of Gaza?
2. Should the Palestinian resistance, which is comprised of grassroots groups that genuinely act to protect themselves and their families from ethnic cleansing, human rights abuses and violations of humanitarian and international law, be demonized as terrorists or recognized as a legitimate resistance?
3. Should the provision of material support to these groups be criminalized in the West, or should provision of support be recognized as the genuine exercise of the responsibility to protect a vulnerable population?
1. Rory McCarthy, “Offensive has forced 90,000 to flee their homes, says rights group,” The Guardian (UK), January 13, 2009.
2. Hazem Balousha, “Tanks, rockets, death and terror: a civilian catastrophe unfolding,” The Guardian (UK), January 5, 2009.
3. Rory McCarthy, “Israeli forces close in on Gaza city,” The Guardian (UK), January 13, 2009.
4. Taghreed el-Khodary, “Gaza hospital fills up, mainly with civilians,” The New York Times, January 5, 2009.
5. Rory McCarthy, “Israeli human rights groups speak out as death toll passes 1,000,” The Guardian (UK), January 15, 2009.
6. Hazem Balousha, “Tanks, rockets, death and terror: a civilian catastrophe unfolding,” The Guardian (UK), January 5, 2009; Rory McCarty and Peter Walker, “Israel hits UN refugee agency in Gaza,” The Guardian (UK), January 15, 2009.
7. Rory McCarthy, “UN human rights chief accuses Israel of war crimes,” The Guardian, January 10, 2009.
8. Peter Beaumonth, “Does the world have the appetite to prosecute Israel for war crimes in Gaza?” The Guardian (UK), January 10, 2009.
9. Rory McCarthy, “Hamas leader: Israel’s Gaza attacks have killed peace talks,” The Observer (UK), January 12, 2009.
10. Chris McGreal, “Demands grow for Gaza war crimes investigation,” The Guardian (UK), January 13, 2009.
12. Afua Hirsch, “Israel may face UN court ruling on legality of Gaza conflict.” The Guardian (UK), January 14, 2009.
13. Website of the Institute for Global Policy’s Responsibility to Protect, Engaging Civil Society project, R2PCS, http://www.responsibilitytoprotect.org/index.php, accessed January 14, 2009.
15. World Federalist Movement website, http://www.wfm.org/site/index.php/pages/40, access January 14, 2009.