Comment: Peace in the middle east requires an honest debate about the Israeli occupation


The ceasefire between Hamas and Israel has lasted longer than most people expected. But the truce remains unstable, with violations on both sides, and few believe it will guarantee anything more than a short-term peace for the region.

Building-on-fire-GazaWe must, however, work to avoid a repeat of last year’s tragic events. The first step is to piece together the events that helped escalate the conflict and then establish the causes.

Israel’s operation in Gaza last November began when the Israeli Air Force assassinated Ahmed Jabarai.

The resulting conflict left at least 158 Palestinians and 6 Israelis dead.

Of the Palestinian casualties, UN investigations show that 103 were civilians and 30 were children, whilst four of the Israeli dead were civilians.

In the run up to the conflict, both sides escalated the situation. After frequent rocket attacks on Israel in the previous month, an unarmed Palestinian man was killed approaching the Israeli border. The following day, militants in Gaza launched a rocket attack on Southern Israel and let off a bomb along the border, injuring three soldiers.

Two days later, on Thursday the 8th of November, militants blew up a tunnel in Southern Gaza, and a 12-year-old Palestinian boy was killed during a gunfight between Gazans and Israeli soldiers.

Then on Saturday November 10th, four soldiers were wounded when an Israeli Defence Force (IDF) jeep was attacked by militants. Israeli forces retaliated with tank fire, killing four civilians and wounding 25.

Militant groups responded by firing over 100 rockets and mortars into Southern Israel until Egypt convinced Palestinians to hold fire. But just when the situation seemed to be de-escalating, Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defence.

The notion that Hamas and other terrorist groups are guilty of war crimes is widely accepted. Their targeting of Israeli civilians is a heinous crime, in complete violation of international law – as has been documented by Human Rights Watch.

It should be noted, however, that the main barrage of rocket attacks against Israel occurred after several days of tit-for-tat violence between the two sides.

One of these incidents was the killing of an allegedly mentally unfit Palestinian man by Israeli soldiers. Ignoring warnings to stop as he approached the Israeli border, the unarmed man was still on Palestinian territory when he was shot dead.

This act – firing into foreign territory – could qualify as an attack against ‘the territory of another State‘, which, according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, constitutes an act of aggression.

According to UN Resolution 3314, which defines aggression, such acts are illegal even if the party on the receiving end is not a UN member.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, the only institution explicitly named as a controlling authority in international law, has made clear that regardless of questions of Palestinian statehood, Israel must abide by international humanitarian law in the occupied territories. It calls on Israel to refrain from using disproportionate force.

Shooting dead an unarmed man, in foreign territory – a man who posed no evident threat to the security of Israel – may qualify as disproportionate.

Three days after this incident, a 12-year-old Palestinian boy was shot dead by Israeli soldiers in Gaza, caught in the crossfire during a gunfight with militants. The Israeli soldiers involved were on an incursion into Gaza when they came under fire.

According to the International Criminal Court, “the invasion by the armed forces of a State of the territory of another state” is an act of unlawful aggression.

This begs the question – did the militants break international law by opening fire? It could be argued that, confronted by what may amount to foreign aggression, Gazans simply exercised their right to self defence. Article 51 of the UN charter and UN Resolution 2649 would appear to legitimise violent resistance in the face of invasions and occupation.

This is no way justifies the Palestinian response, but it does pose an important question: when Palestinians attack Israeli forces in the occupied territories, are they breaking the law?

The standard line of Western governments has been to condemn Palestinian terror while ignoring the illegality of Israeli actions. One particularly obvious violation of international law by Israel was the “launching (of) attack(s) in the knowledge that (it will) cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians.”

According to the Rome Statute, this qualifies as a war crime.

None of this in any way mitigates the crimes of Hamas or other groups. Terror is terror, regardless of its causes. But helping to understand the causes of the conflict is crucial to finding a solution. If there is no justice, there will be no peace. And the first step towards that peace is honest debate.

This entry was posted in Multilateral Foreign Policy. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.
  • Roy

    This article has many problems… but let’s start with the obvious one:

    “when the Israeli Air Force broke an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire by assassinating the leader of Hamas’ military wing, Ahmed Jabari.”

    I’m unclear as to how exactly could Israel break a ceasefire when in the month prior to that action there were about 100 rockets fired into Israel territory. Not to mention that many more were fired since the start of 2012.

    Also, the 2 weeks of calm which is constantly mentioned here… ya, if you consider “calm” as 3 rockets here, 2 rockets there… in these 2 weeks several dozens of rockets or mortars were fired from Gaza… I dont think that the milion of citizens that were effected considerd it as a “calm period”…

    All is documented here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Palestinian_rocket_attacks_on_Israel,_2012

    So you want an honest debate about the subject?

    Start with yourself.

  • Daniel Wickham

    I honestly was not aware of these attacks during the 2 weeks of “calm.” In the Jerusalem post and Reuters, it was reported that nearly a fortnight of non violence came to an end with the killing of an unarmed Palestinian. As you rightly point out, this was not the case. Apologies for the inaccuracies. I do want an honest debate- I’m a Zionist who is opposed to both the occupation and Palestinian terror, which are of course linked. But you’re right, I should have done more research for this article.

  • Newsbot9

    ,,,Israel does not recognise the ICC. Please stick to what Israel is, in fact, a signatory to.

  • Roy

    I thank you for your candid acknowledgment of the inaccuracies.

    I may be pushing it but there are more:

    1. You wrote “until Egypt brokered a ceasefire, only for it to be broken with the commencement of Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense.”.

    I’m not aware of any agreed upon ceasefire that was reached after what you describe as the “tit for tat” period. I’m aware of negotiations that took place before the operation started but no ceasefire was reached until the operation started and all we have are rumors about what was negotiated.

    So your assertion that Israel has broken a ceasefire is false (but I’ll be happy to stand corrected if you could refer to your source of information regarding this ceasefire).

    2. You wrote “It should be noted, however, that the main barrage of rocket attacks against Israel occurred after several days of tit-for-tat violence between the two sides”.

    Again, this is false. As you would see in the link I provided in my previous post, little more than a week BEFORE the “tit for tat” period, 80 rockets were fired on Israel in 24 HOURS, and several days after that another 20 rockets in one day. Considering that the week before the “tit for tat” period saw roughly the same amount of rockets as the week after the “tit for tat” period, the point you were trying to make above is completely wrong.

    3. The larger point you were trying to make is that, put simply, after Israel killed the mentally disabled Palestinian in Palestinian territory and later the incursion which saw the death of another boy, this could be regarded as acts of aggression and thus the Palestinians could be seen as acting in self-defense. Did I get it correctly?

    The only problem with that line of reasoning is that you are ignoring completely 674 acts of aggression (rocket and mortar fire) by the Palestinians since the beginning of 2012. You zeroed in on a very specific period of few days (you were also inaccurate about what happened in those few days) and ignored completely what happened before that. Most of the rocket fire in 2012 was not in retaliation to any aggression by the Israelis.

    An honest look at Palestinian rocket attacks would conclude that the fact that some of the attacks happen to sometimes correspond to Israeli attacks is certainly not an indication that they are acting in self-defense. On the contrary, if most Palestinian attacks are not related to Israeli actions (and this is the case) than the logical conclusion is that the attacks that do correspond Israeli attacks are just a convenient excuse.

    Also, what would you honestly say about the fact that most of Israeli attacks on Palestinians do correspond Palestinian attacks?

    Also, the notion of self-defense itself is ridiculous. If someone breaks into my house and I shot him – this is self-defense. But if someone breaks into my house and I go to his house and kill his wife – this is not self-defense.

    Can you honestly call the deliberate attacks on civilian population an act of self-defense?

    4. You wrote “One particularly obvious violation of international law by Israel was the “launching (of) attack(s) in the knowledge that (it will) cause incidental loss of life or injury to civilians.”

    I am not that well versed in international law to say if the above stands alone or has exceptions, but what I can say for certainty that if we take the above at face value, then Israel does not have any means to fight it’s enemies and also that in the last 50 years almost every western country in the world have violated this rule.

    So I’m inclined to think that the above does not give the full picture and that it’s probably means that if a country knows for 100% that civilian casualty would occur it should not attack. In that regard, I don’t know of an incident that violates this.

    Also, what I do know, that under international law, even if you believe that there might be civilian casualty involved, if the military target is important enough to your war efforts (I don’t know what constitutes an important enough target) then you are permitted to attack.

    In conclusion Daniel, if you really want to have an honest and enlightening discussion on the escalations of aggression that happen every few years (or months) between Israel and Gaza, you should factor in all the relevant data and logical possibilities.

    You said you didn’t know about the attacks that happened in the “calm” period, and I believe you, but this was certainly not your only omission and inaccuracies and it seems that you were doing intellectual acrobatics to fit reality to a pre conceived conclusion.

    I feel compelled to say this (and I hope there would come a time that I won’t), all of this was not to say that Israel is blameless. I myself criticize the government of Israel amply, and some of my criticism is related to the latest eruption of violence. But good criticism comes by facing the facts, all of them, heads on and not by throwing aside that which is not convenient.

    Best regards

  • airku

    ANGER GOD (Curse You)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZ49ZfO3gmY

    This is song about ” A CURSE “A Curse for you…
    IF you Not stop it then SOON you will see “ANGER GOD “So please…
    STOP THE WAR! Stop kills the peoples

    Because we need Peace and Freedom in this world each other
    as same human!

    Beware! One day we’ll die then Nothing… Only SIN !!!