BRICS condemns Israel war on Gaza in signal to the West

Leaders of major emerging economies called for an end to Israel’s war on Gaza on Tuesday, and for a cessation of hostilities on both sides to ease the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.

In a virtual summit chaired by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, the BRICS grouping denounced attacks on civilians in Palestine and Israel, with many leaders calling the forced displacement of Palestinians, within Gaza or outside the territory, “war crimes.”

“We condemned any kind of individual or mass forcible transfer and deportation of Palestinians from their own land,” a chair’s summary read. The group, which did not issue a joint declaration, also “reiterated that the forced transfer and deportation of Palestinians, whether inside Gaza or to neighbouring countries, constitute grave breaches of the Geneva conventions and war crimes and violations under International Humanitarian Law.”

The BRICS is made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, all major emerging economies looking for a greater say in a global order long dominated by the United States and its Western allies. These countries are often viewed as leaders of what is referred to in international policy speak as the “Global South”.

But it wasn’t just these five countries that spoke on the war on Tuesday. Earlier this year, the BRICS had agreed to expand and add Egypt, Ethiopia, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran as members from 2024. The leaders of these six countries also participated in the meeting called by South Africa. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres joined the summit too.The chair’s summary — in essence a gist of the mood in the room — highlights growing calls from the Global South to end the war on the Gaza Strip. The conflict began after an October 7 attack on Israeli communities by the armed group Hamas that saw 1,200 people killed and 240 others taken hostage. In response, Israel has incessantly shelled Gaza, targeting hospitals, schools and refugee camps and killing more than 13,000 people, many of them children, in violation of international laws.

A ‘growing assertiveness’

While the chair’s summary appeared “mild and somewhat balanced” according to Steven Gruzd, an analyst at the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), some countries were more combative in their presentations.

In his opening statement at the meeting, the current BRICS chair, President Ramaphosa of South Africa, said that Israel’s actions “are in clear violation of international law” and that the “collective punishment of Palestinian civilians by Israel “is a war crime … tantamount to genocide”. Ramaphosa also said Hamas had “violated international law and must be held accountable”.

India’s stance was comparatively softer, with Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar saying there was “a need for restraint and immediate humanitarian support”, as well as “peaceful resolution through dialogue and diplomacy”.

President Ebrahim Raisi of Iran – Israel’s archenemy – said Palestinians should hold a referendum to determine their fate.

Still, many BRICS nations — not just India — have established ties with Israel that they will be wary of severing.

China has huge investments in Israel, Gruzd notes, while India has even deeper historic ties with the country and enjoys military and technological partnerships with it. But with a fiery Iran set to join the group, India might not be able to influence how a new BRICS+ will react to Israel, Gruzd said.

Parliament members voted to shut down the Israeli embassy in Pretoria, signifying a turning point in the crisis. Diplomats from the country had already been recalled from Israel on November 6. Israel recalled its ambassador to South Africa, Eliav Belotserkovsky, for “consultations” on Monday in response to Pretoria’s growing hostility.

Alongside Bangladesh, Bolivia, Comoros and Djibouti last week, South Africa also submitted a referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate whether war crimes have been committed in Gaza.

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