International Politics of MENA Blog

Author: wheelemo

An International Lawyer’s Perspective on the War in Gaza

War in Gaza: An International Lawyer’s Perspective

Presented by: Leila Nadya Sadat 

Sadat is a well-accomplished international lawyer and it was a pleasure to listen to her speak about the war in Gaza and hear a lawyer’s perspective on the issue. Sadat is a Professor of International Criminal Law at the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute at Washington University School of Law. She served as Special Adviser on Crimes Against Humanity from 2012-2021, published more than 150 articles, essays, and reports, published 10 books in various forms, wrote the world’s first global treaty on crimes against humanity, and so much more while also being a mother. This is all to say, she has a unique perspective on the war so I was excited to listen.


Sadat started her presentation by laying down the framework of the presentation: she wanted to establish the legal frameworks of the conflict going forward. Firstly, the War is strictly a property dispute, it is not a religious conflict like many believe. The conflict started way back in 1947 with a partition where Britain handed the UN Palestine and then split the territory in half. This put Jeruslm under international control. Sadat claimed that the war was expected, proven by the general assembly meeting on 09/22/23 where Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, held up a map where only Israel existed (Palestine was nonexistent). October 7th, 2023 is the start of escalation in conflict and the start of the war, 202 days had passed by the time she presented. Sadat compared this day to 9/11 for Americans. 

After providing a brief background, she turned to the organs of the UN and international organizations that were created to prevent situations like the one in Gaza from arising. At this point, she made a clear distinction on the purpose of the UN. The UN wasn’t created to save people and solve problems, it was created to “avoid hell.” This is to say the UN’s primary role is to prevent conflicts from arising. However, this is difficult when the only UN organ with the power to enforce their decisions and make states comply, the Security Council, doesn’t. 

Sadat then moved on to explain the two international courts: the ICJ and the ICC. The ICJ is the International Court of Justice and states cannot be sued without their consent. There have been contentious cases about Palestine, one between the US, another with South Africa, and the last between Nicaragua and Germany. The ICC stands for the International Criminal Court and it hears cases about individuals and other non-state actors. Sadat said, “It puts real people in real jail.” However, states must join the court to be tried. It is similar to a regular court case where the defendant has to be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The state of Palestine joined the ICC and the court declared in the events of 2014 that both Israel and Palestine committed war crimes. An important characteristic of the international courts is the inability for them to try states and punish them. Sadat made a distinction that after the Nuremberg Trials, only individuals could be tried and punished, not states. 


The Way Forward 

Sadat claimed for international Law to be effective the laws must apply to everyone, which can only happen when all states respect the law. The system of international law is not working as it should. Attributes that allow for the law to be ineffective, are the abuse of the veto in the security council. ICJ has ordered Israel to take immediate and effective measures to prevent genocide, but they have not seen the efforts necessary by Israel. The ICJ has made multiple requests to Israel, but nothing has improved, and they are starting to get annoyed. Many members of the court want to call for a ceasefire.  Sadat concludes her speech by saying the war isn’t about choosing sides, to want a solution is to be pro-human, pro-life, pro-humanity. 



Sadat’s presentation was different from what I had anticipated. I had expected a more opinionated viewpoint on the state of relations between Palestine and Israel, as well as potential solutions. However, Sadat remained neutral throughout the presentation, focusing on presenting the facts of the case. The presentation primarily provided background information and history, explaining the past relations between the two states and the international institutions that are in place to prevent situations like the War in Gaza. Despite my initial expectations, I appreciated her impartial approach and factual accounts.

You could tell she was hesitant to share her opinion, which is understandable, but I was eager to hear her perspective. For instance, when asked if she thought college protests and encampments actually led to change, she didn’t directly answer. Instead, she talked about understanding the motivation behind protests and mentioned that she personally prefers contacting her representative for policy change. While I appreciate the desire to remain impartial, in a talk like hers, people are interested in her personal views, not a way to avoid controversy. Personally, I doubt that most protests lead to meaningful change. When protests focus on non-state actors like HAMAS or long-standing conflicts like Israel’s, I don’t see them as effective. In my opinion, protests that aim for achievable policy changes at the state or national level can be more successful; most protests calling for international action tend to fall short.

Consequences of 2003 Invasion

US Invasion of Iraq

The US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 led to many unintended consequences such as a rise in extremism and a shift in power dynamics within the MENA region. In the lead-up to the US invasion, the United States government started to create a narrative about the Iraqi state that it was 1) connected to Al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks and 2) despite UN sanctions and inspections, the state had an active weapons program. These accusations were largely inaccurate. It was concluded that in the 9/11 attacks, there was no collaboration between Al-Qeda and Iraq. After more investigation, it was also concluded that there were no active weapons programs in Iraq, however, the United States continued its narrative that Iraq was an international security threat and continued through with its plan to invade Iraq.


Rise of Extremism and Regional Politics

The invasion successfully removed Saddam Hussein and his regime from Iraq and tried to institute a more democratic republic. The absence of Saddam Hussein created an opening for extremist groups to establish themselves in the absence of a strong, authoritarian leader. Extremist groups had the opportunity to exploit the instability of Iraq by expanding their influence. This allowed extremist groups like Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) which evolved into the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to gain a foothold in the country that they didn’t have with Hussein in power. The invasion also intensified the tensions between Sunni and Shia Muslims in Iraq. When the US invasion disbanded the Iraqi army and expelled the Ba’ath party from government positions, this affected the Sunnis who had been favored under Hussein. This fueled Sunni support for extremist groups. 

The rise of extremism in Iraq had regional consequences because it led to an increase in terrorist attacks against US forces and Iraqi civilians. These attacks even further destabilize the region after the loss of power like Hussein, spreading instability across the region to states like Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. Sunni communities felt marginalized by the new Shia government which fueled the environment of fear and resentment that extremist groups thrive off of. This resulted in a rise of threats to Shia communities by these newly powerful extremist groups. 


Why Does This Matter?

The outcomes of the 2003 invasion of Iraq are significant because they had a lasting impact on the region. ISIS is a known terrorist organization that is responsible for attacks on civilians, mass killings, enslavement, and sexual violence (UN Security Council reports).  The rise of extremist groups like ISIS was made possible through the US invasion and continues to pose a threat to global stability. Regional stability was affected by the removal of Saddam Hussein which gave an opening for the Shia-led government to fill the place of Hussein’s, Sunni, government. The power shift highlighted the sectarian divisions and resulted in an increase in violence between the two groups. 

This instability was felt in surrounding countries where Saudi Arabia and Jordan were concerned about the rise in Shia power within Iraq and the possibility of them aligning with Iran, increasing Shia representation in the region. The rise of AGI (eventually ISIS) brought chaos and instability to Iraq and terrorism to surrounding countries. This is important because the invasion increased US military presence in the region which lasted for decades.  Iranian influence also rose leading to regional distrust of the United States and its military strategies.

SDG Projects

Personal Reflection

The past month I have been working with another Dickinson student and a student at the University of Sharjah in the UAE to identify how different factors within Syria affect the state’s ability to achieve the 12 SDG goals. This was a great opportunity for me to work with someone across time zones with a unique perspective. Together, our group identified that the lack of strong institutions (goal 16) affects the ability of the state to ensure the good health and well-being (goal 3) of its citizens.  We point out the civil war and stalemate as the cause of weak institutions that put the health and well-being of the Syrian population at risk, as exemplified by the earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria.  

I thoroughly enjoyed this project, as it allowed me to learn about my partner from the UAE, Noor, and her experiences. I genuinely enjoyed learning about her views on the United States and her impressions of my home country as portrayed in the news. Similarly, I appreciated the insights on her region, sharing my misunderstandings about the MENA region, and highlighting how our homes and cultures are similar and different from each other. 


Qatar is a unique MENA state with a small population and large economic success.  In their podcast, Grace, John, and Ian focused on the significant challenges in Qatar’s ability to achieve SDG 10 and 8. Qatar is struggling to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 10 ( inequality within and among countries) due to laws and treatment of foreign labor. They cited COVID-19 as a period that worsened global inequality due to higher rates of refugees. In Qatar, this can be linked to goal 8 (focus on promoting sustainable and inclusive economic growth) which affects workers’ rights. Despite Qatar’s high GDP, ranking in the top five globally, there exists economic inequality among its citizens.  There is a disproportionate amount of wealth held by a small elite. A technically illegal practice, but common in Qatar, is people have to pay for the opportunity to work, sometimes more than they make in a month. Qatar has also faced criticism for its treatment of migrant workers, who often face restrictions on movement and job changes, risking deportation and resulting in exploitative labor practices. Efforts are being made to address these issues and improve conditions for migrant workers. Women in Qatar also face challenges, needing male permission to marry, pursue higher education, work in government jobs, and travel until the age of 25. This is better than some states in the region, but still not fair. 

Regarding Sustainable Development Goal 8, Qatar has focused on promoting sustainable and inclusive economic growth. The country has experienced sustained economic growth but remains heavily reliant on oil. This reliance poses risks, as nearly 80% of the economy is oil-based, making it vulnerable. As the world shifts towards sustainable energy sources, Qatar may face challenges in maintaining its economy. The country is working towards diversifying its economy, particularly focusing on media and sports. 


Darren, Solveig Kristina, and Sara’s podcast focused on Lebanon and the implementation of SDG 1. Sustainable Development Goal 1 aims to end poverty in all its forms is an issue that Lebanon faces significant obstacles in achieving. Lebanon, despite its small size, is grappling with an economic crisis with high unemployment, inflation, and a depreciating currency. The country is often described as a failed state due to its inability to provide for its people, who are suffering from poverty and economic collapse. The government, run by political elites, is widely criticized for prioritizing their own interests over the population’s welfare.

Adding to the already dire economic situation, the influx of refugees, with 1.2 million refugees (mostly from Syria), puts additional strain on already depleted resources. Syrian refugees in Lebanon are often mistreated and underpaid which worsens the conditions in achieving the goal of eradicating poverty. The country’s high public debt limits its ability to provide welfare services, while weak social safety nets and limited access to resources contribute to wealth inequality. Political instability and environmental challenges further complicate efforts to achieve this goal.


International factors can assist in achieving the SDG goals by providing financial support, advancement in technology, and economic partnerships. Financial support can provide the resources necessary to fund SDG projects. International communities helping with technological advancement can help states implement effective and sustainable practices to further their development. Economic partnerships can help a state sustain itself and create job opportunities, with the state, for citizens. However, international factors, like those discussed with Lebanon, can hinder progress. If a state becomes dependent on outside resources it can create the challenge of developing practices that are self-sustaining. Financial interferences tend to come with political interference that could divert recourses from domestic priorities.

            Domestic factors also play a role in accomplishing SDGs. Stable governance, equitable practices, and economic growth can empower states. Strong institutions with transparency and accountability with push a state toward implementing policies effectively and sustainably. Equity allows for diverse opinions y be heard which can lead to sustainability. Lastly, economic growth provides the resources necessary to properly implement new infrastructure that is essential for SDG achievement. However, domestic challenges such as corruption and conflict can hinder progress towards goals Corruption and Conflict were seen in Syria’s hinderance towards SDG goals. Corruption can divert recourses from projects needed for development and access to essential services. Conflict in many ways can digress a state’s progress and completely wipe out essential institutions.

International and domestic factors can either empower or hinder the UN SDG goals. The UN Sustainable Development Goals are difficult to institute in the MENA region due to various factors, but the most prevalent is weak institutions. However, the region seems to be making efforts, in some cases, strides, to improve its performance concerning SDGs. Success is determinate on addressing the challenges to progress and creating opportunities to progress.

Water Diary

Personal Water Consumption Compared to US Average and Tigris River Valley

Compared to the US Average

Personal: 1,639 Gallons/Day = 6.20428991 m^3/day = 43.43002937 m^3/week =2264.56581715 m^3/year

I was surprised to find that I consume around 1,639 gallons of water per day, which is below the US average per capita of 1,802 gallons per day or 2060.542 gallons per day, depending on the sources. Despite living a lifestyle that includes activities that typically consume a lot of water, such as taking long showers and participating in water-intensive hobbies, I was not expecting my water usage to be relatively low.

One factor that I believed would significantly impact my water consumption is having an inground pool at my house, which remains uncovered for over half of the year. According to the water footprint calculator, open pools can lose up to 1,000 gallons of water per month. However, other factors, such as having an energy-efficient laundry machine and dishwasher, may have contributed to my lower-than-expected water usage. Another factor that has influenced my water consumption is my eating habits. Although I am not strictly vegetarian or vegan, I consume very little meat, which typically requires a significant amount of water to produce. 

Results Compared with the Tirgis River Valley

The Tigris River valley is composed of 4 states: Iraq, Iran, Turkiye, and Syria. This area is often characterized as a largely arid region (National 2023). hat Water footprint network provided the water footprint per capita in each nation, excluding Iraq. This source also included the water footprint for the US and is the number I will be reflecting on for the rest of this blog post. 

Syria: ≈ 1,532.2 gal/ day

Turkiye ≈ 1,188.8 gal/day

Iran ≈ 1,347.3 gal/day

Iraq ≈ no data available

US ≈ 2,060.5 gal/day

As anticipated, this region consumes significantly less water per capita than the United States. For instance, Turkey consumes nearly 1,000 fewer gallons of water per capita than the average American. While this is not surprising, I was taken aback by the figures in comparison to other states in the region. I had expected Syria to consume considerably less water than its regional counterparts, given its well-known drought issues. The data may be unreliable due to internal conflict, or it could be that Syria is utilizing virtual water through significant aid received from outside the region. Turkey’s numbers also surprised me greatly. I had presumed that Turkey would consume more water, particularly as an upstream state connected to the Euphrates River.

Social, Economic, and Political Implications

Water scarcity has a significant impact on agriculture, which is highly water-intensive. The reduced availability of water can lead to crop failures, resulting in higher food prices that affect populations socially and economically. This situation is particularly challenging in a region with high poverty rates, as many people cannot afford the increased food prices. The livelihoods of all people in the region are affected by water scarcity. Other industries, aside from agriculture, rely on water such as manufacturing and energy production. Without access to water, these industries would slow or come to a halt which would result in higher prices and less competitiveness in the global market.

Politically, water can affect infrastructure like dams, reservoirs, and water treatment facilities. Competition over limited water resources, such as rivers between countries can lead to conflict. For instance, the Tigris-Euphrates water conflict arose when Turkey built dams on the river, angering downstream states that relied on this water. Water scarcity can also lead to calls for government reform to address scarcity and improve resource management. In severe cases, populations may migrate to other countries with more abundant water resources.



“Grace’s Water Footprint Calculator.” 2024. What’s Your Water Footprint: Water Footprint Calculator.

National Geographic Society. 2023. “Tigris River.” National Geographic, October 19, 2023. 

Van Heek, Michiel & Hoekstra, Arjen. 2020 “National water footprint explorer.” Water Footprint Network.

Blogpost 2: Feb 19

“Others” in my Highschool

I attended a small Catholic high school in New Hampshire that fostered a tight-knit community, all from similar backgrounds. This resulted in very little diversity. Most students were white, upper-middle class, and had attended private schools their whole lives. Additionally, most of my peers were sheltered in all aspects of their lives, from the conditions of many public schools to their exposure to people from different groups. This fostered a community pretty unaccepting to outsiders. 

At my highschool, there was a strong culture of athletics, with almost every student, myself included, participating in a sport a season (3-sport varsity athlete). Athletics dominated the culture at the school, despite being small. Due to the sheer amount of participants in athletics, activities and most conversations centered around sports, the school put an emphasis on athletic involvement early on. Those who didn’t partake in sports often felt like outsiders, as friend groups were heavily influenced by the sports individuals played and whether they were in season.

This environment was beneficial for athletes, as it fostered strong bonds with teammates and other athletes in the same sport. However, it marginalized those who didn’t participate, relegating them to a small group on the outskirts of the social scene, labeled as the “others.” They were largely ignored, not out of malice but, due to a lack of perceived common ground. They main interest of most highschoolers, sports, was not shared. Non-athletic individuals were sometimes viewed as less valuable, despite dedicating similar time to extracurricular activities outside of athletics. Peers made assumptions about them, assuming they did nothing else outside of school and mocking them for prioritizing academics or other pursuits.

This dynamic of “self” and “other” within communities can be seen in broader contexts, affecting perceptions in international and domestic politics. This sense of “self” and “other” can be extended to international politics where certain nations or groups can be marginalized or perceived as “others.” This perception can stem from many sources, often, cultural differences, economic disparities, or historical conflicts. Just as non-athletic individuals were marginalized in my high school, certain countries may be marginalized on the global stage, leading to unfair treatment in relations. An example of this could be the Tigris-Euphrates water conflict where Turkey, with its ability to control the water flow can be seen as the “self” prioritizing its interest. Syria and Iraq, downstream countries who are dependent on the water flow, were marginalized as the “others,” facing water scarcity and environmental challenges due to Turkey’s actions. This unequal power dynamic mirrors the marginalization of non-athletic students in my high school, highlighting how perceptions of “self” and “other” can manifest.

Blog Post #1

The environment in which you grow up plays a vital role in how you view the world. Your values are heavily shaped by the people you are surrounded with and your experiences, through discussion with students in the UAE I found that some values, although experience is different, may be universal. 

I was born and raised in a small rural town in New Hampshire, insignificant to many, but the place I have called home for thirteen years of my life. I believe New Hampshire is the perfect inbetween the bustle of Massachuseetes and the crunchy culture of Vermont. The state is characterized by its experience of all four seasons having plenty of ways to interact with nature throughout the whole year. In New Hampshire, staying connected with nature was easy, with the large expanse of protected state parks, beaches, lakes, ski areas, and mountains. Living in the Lakes Region, during the summer, I regularly laid on the beach reading a book and tanning or making a trip farther north to hike the Appalachian Mountains. I spent many winters skiing all day at my favorite mountain, Cannon, or skating at Everett Arena. In many states, tourist attractions revolve around the major cities, but my home differs because people come to New Hampshire to escape the noise and relax. This is all to say, there was never a moment of boredom as long as I was willing to go outside and be active. 

Due to the rural nature of New Hampshire, many schools were small, underfunded, and crowded. This led to my parents, and many alike, enrolling me into Catholic High School for the last four years of my education. There I picked up new sports, met new friends, and was exposed to a community different from the one I grew up in. I spent most of my days in the city and enjoyed my new found freedom. 

Moving to Pennsylvania for school was a shock for me. Aside from leaving the place I have lived my whole life, I had completely landlocked myself. I went from a town where I lived on a lake and the closest beach was less than forty-five minutes away, to a state where lakes are sparse and beaches are non-existent. All the activities that I had enjoyed were no longer easily available and I was forced to pick up new hobbies.


During our conversations with students, I realized, that despite growing up in vastly different environments, many of our core values were the same. Through sharing objects that held some type of sentimental value, I identified a common theme: people tended to become attached to objects that reminded them of either their family or the place they belonged. This sense of belonging did not always directly correlate to where someone grew up but often was a place of family origin. Many individuals grew up in countries separate from where their parents had, but they still heavily connected and identified with this separate region. I found this similar to what many first-generation Americans feel. They often struggle with the balancing of both their ethnic and American identities. 

I found it interesting that the students in the UAE didn’t live in dorms. Many students in my groups had traveled at least thirty minutes to get to class. There are also many international students from English-speaking countries like the United States and New Zealand who don’t speak any Arabic. I found it surprising that the students who didn’t speak Arabic claimed to have no difficulty with the language barrier. While at Dickinson we have many international students, it is imperative for them, and required, to be proficient in English. 

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