Overriding U.S. and Israeli opposition, 120 U.N. member states demand Gaza ceasefire
Thousands of protesters shut down New York's Grand Central Terminal Friday, Oct. 27, 2023, to demand an immediate ceasefire. Blocks away, at U.N. headquarters, 120 countries around the world joined in with the same demand. | Jeenah Moon / AP

NEW YORK—Overriding the opposition of the United States and Israel, 120 member states of the United Nations voted this weekend to demand an immediate ceasefire in Israel’s war against Palestine.

The U.N. emergency resolution, proposed by Jordan, came as cities around the world exploded in protest. Millions of people were in the streets in country after country to show solidarity with the Palestinian people and condemn the unfolding genocide in Gaza.

The message from White House National Security Council John Kirby last week, meanwhile, was that more Palestinian civilian deaths are the price to pay as Israel moves ahead in its U.S.-backed military assault.

“This is war. It is combat. It is bloody. It is ugly, and it’s going to be messy,” Kirby told reporters at a press conference. “And innocent civilians are going to be hurt going forward. I wish I could tell you something different. I wish that that wasn’t going to happen, but it is going to happen.”

In New York, the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, made an emotional plea to the emergency meeting of the General Assembly to “stop the bombs and save lives!” Gilad Erdan, Israel’s envoy to the world body, responded, “We will not rest until Hamas is obliterated.”

Results are tallied on the board showing the votes by U.N. member states on a resolution calling for a ceasefire. | AP

The General Assembly’s non-binding resolution calling for a “humanitarian truce” was the first official United Nations response to the war; previous attempts to pass statements in the Security Council have been sunk by the United States.

Friday’s resolution was approved with the votes of 120 out of 193 member states. There were 45 abstentions, and 14 countries cast an outright “no” vote. Mansour said vote totals showed that the General Assembly was “more courageous, more principled” than the Security Council and that the vast majority of the world is with Palestine.

Linda Thomas Greenfield, Biden’s ambassador to the U.N., accused the countries who voted for the resolution of “empowering Hamas” terrorism and “turning a blind eye to evil.”

Egypt’s envoy, Osama Abdelkhalek, shot back: “The proponents of killing women and children, proponents of the siege, the forcible displacements, and other proponents of the war—they claim that this war aims to counter terrorism and uproot terrorism.

“The reality is that failing to take effective and immediate measures to stop this war will inevitably fuel terrorism. It will push generations of young people towards extremist ideologies. The reality is also [that] not stopping this war now before it’s too late, would push the whole region towards a devastating regional war that will affect the interests of those who are stalling in calling for its end.”

At the U.N.’s emergency session, speaker after speaker spoke in favor of the Jordanian resolution’s ceasefire call. Mansour, the Palestinian ambassador, reminded the world that 70% of those killed in Gaza so far have been children and women.

He said: “Is this the war some of you are defending? Can this war be defended? These are crimes. This is barbarism. If you do not stop it for all those who were killed, stop it for all those whose lives we can still save.”

Mansour became emotional when he spoke of a Palestinian girl killed before the birthday party her father had planned and of a man hugging the body of his dead mother and saying: “Come back, and I will take you wherever you want.”

But Israel’s Erdan told the General Assembly that “a ceasefire means giving Hamas time to rearm itself, so they can massacre us again.”

Realizing that the Palestinian people have wide international support, the Israeli ambassador attempted to narrow the discussion to simply the Hamas group. He denounced the resolution as “a disgrace” for not mentioning Hamas. After quoting past Hamas statements vowing the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people, he said, “Any call for a ceasefire is not an attempt at peace. It is an attempt to tie Israel’s hands.”

Erdan made no mention, of course, of the massive disproportionality between the Hamas attacks of Oct. 7th and Israel’s all-out war to destroy Palestine.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi spoke as a representative of the 22-nation Arab Group. He talked of Palestinian children who are dying under the rubble of collapsed homes and apartment buildings hit by Israeli precision bombs. Many are still alive, he said, but they are trapped, and there is no equipment to pull them out.

“The parents can still hear their voices,” he said. “They talk to their children helplessly, knowing that they are running out of air and are slowly dying.

Safadi also pointed out how Israel continues to ignore international law, which requires military forces to avoid strikes against civilians, hospitals, schools, residential buildings, and other vital civil infrastructure. “The right to self-defense is not a license to kill with impunity,” he declared, his voice booming in the cavernous General Assembly hall.

The Jordanian representative also pointed the finger at the United States government and its allies, whom he accused of “helping Israel by supporting its war.” U.S. weapons and money remain essential to the execution of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Gaza assault, and President Joe Biden just requested another $14 billion for Israel, part of a $105-billion-dollar emergency war budget allocation.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian accused the U.S. of directly participating in the war. He told the U.N. that “the genocide in Gaza must stop immediately” and warned against “the uncontrollable consequences of the unlimited financial, arms, and operational support by the White House to the Tel Aviv regime.”

Protesters brought the call for a ceasefire, together with the demand for the U.S. government to stop arming Israel, to lawmakers in Washington. | AP

He said that the severe bombardments and killing of Palestinian civilians in Gaza would not be possible without U.S. assistance.

The final text of the approved resolution calls for an immediate ceasefire and demands that all parties respect international law and protect civilians.

It says Israel must allow essential goods—including food, water, medicine, and fuel for hospitals—to cross the border into the Gaza Strip. It also calls for Netanyahu and the Israeli military to rescind the order for Gazans to move from the north to the south, for maximum restraint, and for the release of all civilians.

The push of Palestinians southward is widely seen as the prelude to a complete clearing of major sections of Gaza and their annexation by the State of Israel, a policy that would amount to ethnic cleansing.

General Assembly resolutions like the one just passed are not legally binding, and there is no enforcement mechanism to compel Israel, the U.S., and its other allies to comply. They do, however, reflect world opinion.

More children have been killed in Gaza in the last three weeks than the total killed in conflicts around the world in every year since 2019, Save the Children said this weekend. One statistician calculated that, scaled up for population size, the number would be equivalent to nearly 220,000 American children dying.

At least 8,306 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza during the current war, according to the latest numbers from the Gaza Health Ministry. More than 12,000 are thought to be buried beneath the rubble of bombed-out houses, apartments, hospitals, and shelters. Thousands of Palestinians have been imprisoned inside Israel, many for years, and most are held without trial.

More than 1,400 people have been killed in Israel, most in the initial Hamas attack of Oct. 7th, and over 200 remain as hostages inside Gaza.

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C.J. Atkins
C.J. Atkins

C.J. Atkins is the managing editor at People's World. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from York University in Toronto and has a research and teaching background in political economy and the politics and ideas of the American left.