Professor Lawrence Davidson, a public intellectual from West Chester University in Pennsylvania, spoke at the ANU on the evening of Thursday 23rd July on the Palestinian Authority’s attempts to charge Israeli leaders for war crimes in the International Criminal Court (ICC). In attendance were students, academics and members of the public including the Head of the General Delegation of Palestine. The event was hosted by the Centre for Arabic and Islamic Studies (CAIS).
Davidson emphasised the importance of the ICC, as the rule of law it represents “is important for every man, woman, and child on the planet”. The global adoption of its human rights covenants is a sign of social progress. Yet, he stated that “the problem then becomes enforcement”, and noted that successful prosecutions have generally involved figures from weak states with no great power allies, as opposed to more powerful states like Israel.
Applying this to the 2014 offensive on Gaza, Davidson blamed the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) for its “reckless, disproportionate use of deadly force in densely populated urban areas”, constituting a “feral attack on the infrastructure of the Gaza Strip”, in addition to the large number of human casualties. He also recognised the human rights violations of Hamas against Israelis, but said that “there’s really no comparison between the criminal acts of these two opposing forces”.
As for the actual ICC process, Davidson predicted that Israel would not cooperate, and use the mainstream media to disseminate its position, such as the accusation of Hamas’ use of human shields. He said that Hamas’ proximity to civilians is inevitable given Gaza’s high density, and that IDF war crimes committed during the offensive were indefensible given Israel’s history of “collective punishment” of the Palestinians.
He predicted that “indictments will probably be returned within the next three years” but recognised the possibility that “the law might not win in the end”. Nevertheless, Davidson asserted that the ICC’s handling of the issue would be a crossroads for international law and a litmus test for the ICC’s reputation.
The lecture was followed by an intense Q&A session with the audience, wherein Davidson spoke on topics ranging from the distinction between Judaism and Zionism, to the criticism of the current Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.
Lawrence told Woroni afterwards that he speaks publicly because: “people are so ignorant about things that happen beyond 30 square miles… and as a teacher of 27 years, it’s habitual. Finally, I think it’s fun.”
“I thought there was a really good audience; I think all the questions were good. It was worth coming here and it’s my first time in Australia and I hope to come back some time and do it again,” he said.
Dr. Minerva Nasser-Eddine, a lecturer from the CAIS who invited Lawrence, said that the event would indeed benefit the wider ANU community.
“What Professor Davidson had to contribute was highlighting the double-standards in the application of international law… [The talk] was about making sure that those who break international law are punished according to the crimes they commit, regardless of their political affiliations.”