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Whatever happens now, South–South solidarity with Gaza has already exposed the West

Expert comment

Written by Emilie Tant, Yacine Ait Larbi

Image credit:Mass demonstration in solidarity with Palestine in Jakarta, Indonesia on 5 November, 2023. Credit: Hippy Hicup / Shutterstock.com

While the world continues to bear witness to the ongoing atrocities in Gaza, one reality has remained consistent throughout the last 216 days: the West’s claim to moral authority has been incontrovertibly exposed by the double standards displayed in its response to, what the International Court of Justice (ICJ) rulings on preventative measures suggest, is a potential genocide.

European nations’ inability to acknowledge their own biases has only served to dissolve any chimera of moral authority. Western double discourse – no more obvious than when compared with the West’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – also has fundamentally jeopardised the foundational principles necessary to bind the international community together and hold everyone accountable on a level playing field.

International treaties are crucial for establishing international standards and accountability, but the effectiveness of enforcing them is now even more uncertain. This uncertainty not only risks undermining these principles, but also diminishes future credibility of the Western world as trusted global partners in a multipolar world.

Western double standards were again thrown into relief when the killing of seven Western aid workers by Israel Defense Forces generated more headlines and political outcry in countries like the UK and the US than the death toll of more than 35,000 Palestinians. This raises clear questions about the perceived value of Western lives over others. Daily civilian casualties in Gaza have dropped from the news, even as discoveries of mass graves and US student solidarity encampments gain attention.

Israel’s excessive military intervention in Gaza has opened a rare opportunity for the Global South to have its voice heard. Rapid and broad support from various nations across different global regions has collectively empowered many formerly colonised countries to expose the Global North's hypocrisy when it comes to accountability and international law. In this way, Majority World actors are shifting the narrative away from Western-centric framings of a ‘humanitarian crisis’ towards one based on the necessity for justice and solidarity.

Growing momentum behind South–South solidarity

The most resounding and emancipatory gesture of South–South solidarity emerged from South Africa, which took Israel to the ICJ in an attempt to prevent an ongoing genocide. As the ICJ’s recommended preventative measures from that case shows, this accusation is not only credible but may implicate other nation states that fail to take measures within their power to prevent genocide in Gaza.

In a more recent example, Nicaragua’s landmark case against Germany to halt weapons sales was also heard at the ICJ. This bold attempt to hold European powers accountable for their role in supplying military weaponry to Israel speaks to the willingness of those outside the West to prioritise deeds not words when challenging Israel’s breaches of international law.

Other actions include complaints filed to the International Criminal Court regarding possible war crimes against the Palestinian people by Algeria, Colombia, Chile, Mexico, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Djibouti and Comoros. Namibia has also publicly criticised Germany for backing Israel in South Africa’s court case, calling out its hypocrisy in light of its past history of committing the 1904–1908 genocide of the Herero and Nama peoples.

Lastly, it is not without coincidence that the only resolution demanding ‘an immediate ceasefire’ to pass at the UN Security council (in late March 2024) was brought by the non-permanent members. This elected group was led by Algeria and composed mostly of Global South nations, including Ecuador, Guyana, Mozambique, South Korea and Sierra Leone. More recently, Jamaica and Barbados officially recognised the sovereign integrity of the State of Palestine while Colombia announced that it will break diplomatic relations with Israel over its action in Gaza.

Implications of Western delusions and hypocrisy

The Majority World’s strong solidarity with Palestine, both in statements and actions, has effectively challenged the dominance of the Global North in laying claim to governing the international rules-based order. This changing tide has weakened any remaining legitimacy of the Global North to decide how, when and to whom international law is applied.

European powers, particularly the UK and Germany, are uniquely isolated standing beside the US as outspoken supporters of Israel’s total war on Gaza. Despite differences within the bloc, Western geopolitical calculations are evermore at odds with the rest of the world. This is something Global South nations consistently make clear in their political and moral alignment with the Palestinian people, who continue to be forced to endure ‘hellish’ conditions and famine in Gaza.

The decision of the US to consistently wield its veto power in the UN Security Council and to provide an extra $17 billion in military aid to Israel even stands in contrast to the political position of its own population. Since 2023, a clear drop in support for sending aid to Israel, followed by a heavy-handed response to student solidarity encampments on US campuses, further weakens perceptions of Western democratic integrity – even if now pressure has built to push the US to pause arms shipments with the growing threat of an invasion into Rafah.

For many nations in the Global South, these patterns of hypocrisy underpin a shifting axis of power – one which finally accounts for and raises the perspectives of those who were once so easily dismissed as ‘subalterns’. It has also provided a platform for people to unite and challenge the untenable position of interest-driven leaders in Africa and the Arab World, which the US has relied on to counter global support for Palestine. For instance, Egypt's reluctance to accept the displacement of Palestinians to the Sinai in exchange for debt relief may stem from concerns about backlash from its pro-Palestinian population.

Reshaping global narratives: the power of solidarity

With countries of the Global South becoming more vocal and less intimidated by a colonial system of global governance that was designed without them, the narrative has begun to shift. Buoyed by widespread global public support, actions of solidarity from states across Asia, Africa and South America have challenged the balance of power in international affairs and exposed the West’s own contradictions.

While the West has lost credibility as the world's self-appointed moral authority and upholder of international law, a more unified Global South has exposed more than ever the emptiness of Western rhetoric. It has also demonstrated a new model for what is possible when untraditional actors take bold action to uphold the standards and integrity of international conventions.

Serving as a unifying force for the Global South, shared experiences of anti-colonial struggles likely contribute to strong solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Built on a sense of obligation to confront injustices that they have previously experienced (rather than the West’s approach to allegiance, tied to identity, trade interests or geopolitical calculations), this movement and its narratives of solidarity are calling for a more just and equal world. Governments in the Global North should learn from these experiences and acknowledge that, as we have seen, their citizens too are influenced by struggles for liberation and calls for global justice.