Spain Says Europe’s Leaders Should Do Everything in Their Power to Stop Israel’s Crimes

Spain is one of the European states most critical of Israel’s collective punishment of Gaza. Here in an op-ed, Spanish social rights minister Pablo Bustinduy calls on Europe to use legal and economic pressure to halt Israel’s crimes.

The minister of social rights, consumption, and agenda 2030, Pablo Bustinduy speaking on November 30, 2023 in Madrid, Spain. (Alejandro Martinez Velez / Europa Press via Getty Images)

As I write these words, we are witnessing a massacre without precedent since the turn of the millennium. The merciless offensive unleashed by the Israeli government following the Hamas attacks has killed more than eighteen thousand Palestinians in ten weeks, two-thirds of whom are women and children. It has destroyed 70 percent of buildings in the north of the Strip, a percentage higher than that caused by the bombing of Dresden in World War II, today considered a paradigmatic example of a war crime. It has devastated Gaza’s three universities. It has also deliberately bombed bakeries, schools, and hospitals.

Faced with this campaign of collective punishment, 1.7 million Gazans — over 80 percent of the population — have been forcibly displaced to the Egyptian border, where conditions are worsening by the minute and there is no infrastructure to accommodate them and no guarantee of their safety. Among the victims are doctors, journalists, United Nations personnel (101 dead, the highest number in the organization’s history), and even well-known poets, such as the recently murdered Refaat Alareer. We are seeing unbearable images, as one of the most sophisticated armies in the world methodically unleashes truly heartbreaking violence against the civilian population.

No one who looks at the reality of what is happening with objectivity and decency can deny that ethnic cleansing is taking place in Gaza. As recognized experts on the Holocaust and the historical study of genocides have expressed, the time to act to stop this massacre is now. We cannot take refuge in pedantic verbal constructions or keep silent, as so many European leaders do, having so much to say about other conflicts but muted in the face of the flagrant war crimes being committed against the Palestinian people. Looking the other way is not something that they will be able to justify to posterity.

Fortunately, Spain has not behaved in this way. A large majority of our compatriots know how to reconcile condemnation of the attacks against civilians perpetrated by Hamas with revulsion at Israel’s cruelty toward the Palestinian people. They understand that Israel systematically violates the rights of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank; they oppose the apartheid system and the illegal settlements that Israel continues to build with total impunity; and they defend the recognition of the State of Palestine as a step toward the resolution of the conflict.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s visit to the Rafah Border Crossing — where he described the killing of civilians as unacceptable, a position that other leaders later rallied behind — and the position expressed by different members of the Spanish government — demanding that those responsible for these massive human rights violations be held accountable before an international court — politically express the values of the majority of our society. Of course, it is not enough to state these positions: we must honor them with concrete actions.

There are three steps that I think Spain should take immediately. The first is to publicly support the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in its efforts to investigate and prosecute war crimes committed in the Gaza Strip. Our country would thus join the decision of the Irish government, which has publicly supported the ICC’s efforts in this conflict by providing it with funds for this purpose, as it did in the face of the Russian attack on Ukraine. The principle behind this step is clear: those responsible for committing massive human rights violations must be held accountable in a court of law, and their victims have the right to have the truth known, justice done, and their harm redressed.

The second measure, in line with this position, is to find effective ways to stop any arms deals — and any other goods or services related to the war effort and illegal occupation — with a country involved in massive and systematic human rights violations. We cannot continue to act as if these events are not happening. We must urge our partners to take similar steps to ensure that several effective forms of pressure are applied.

The third measure is the immediate recognition of the State of Palestine. The current Spanish presidency of the Council of the European Union offers an ideal framework for doing this. This should be done in conjunction with other European partners starting with Belgium — which takes over the EU Council presidency on January 1, 2024, and has been considerably in harmony in this regard — as well as other countries wishing to join this initiative. But failing that, Spain should go ahead in any case before the end of its presidency at the end of 2023. It is true that recognition alone will not solve anything. But the message that this decision will send is clear, and will serve as an incentive for further action by the international community.

These measures are essential for several reasons. First, because they all serve to substantiate the line that Spain has maintained throughout this crisis, characterized by a commitment to a permanent cease-fire and a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is necessary to prove with concrete actions that our country can assume a leadership role in the face of the reactionary wave that is sweeping through this continent and be a reference point outside Europe for the millions of people who, in a social movement that is sweeping the entire planet, are mobilizing to stop this barbarism. But it is also necessary to understand that, outside the Western bubble, Europe is often perceived as a hypocritical subject, which only lectures others on human rights and the international legal order when crises suit its interests. Stopping this damaging tendency is also an urgent task.

Above all, the gravity of what is happening in Gaza compels us to do everything in our power to put an immediate end to the massacre. As Colombia’s president, Gustavo Petro, just reminded us, a common thread links the barbarism in Palestine to the multiple crises that our world is going through. If we watch on apathetically at the current extermination, we will surely react in the same way to the catastrophes of the future. Faced with a massacre that so seriously demands our response, we must use all means to mobilize, exert pressure, and stop the killing. Indifference is unacceptable.