Day 17 of IDF operation against Gaza – and questions mount

As the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead proceeds in its 17th day, with continuing attacks, there are increasing questions raised about the purpose and the method of prosecution of this war.

Haaretz today carries a report on the opinion of Prof. Yuval Shany, an expert in international law from Hebrew University’s law faculty, about possible violations during the current IDF operation: “The relevant question, he said, is ‘whether the operation is proportionate to the provocation that led to it. When a single Qassam [rocket] is fired, the state cannot invade and conquer an entire country. There must be a measure of proportion between the action and the reaction. But here, we are not talking about a single Qassam, but about years of Qassams’. Israel, he continued, ‘is permitted to use force to the degree necessary to end the attacks against it. Therefore, it [the operation] is legal as long as it is meant to prevent the attacks’ … However, Shany stressed, by law, Israel would not have the right to use force to effect regime change in the Gaza Strip. Israel would also have no right to deliberately target Palestinian civilians, even though Hamas deliberately targets Israeli civilians: One side’s illegal actions do not entitle the other side to violate the law as well. ‘In wartime, it is permissible to attack military targets only’, Shany explained. ‘This means targets that make a significant contribution to the other side’s war effort: Qassam launchers, Hamas fighting forces, weapons storehouses and [smuggling] tunnels’. Military targets can be struck even if civilians will very likely be hurt, as long as the harm to civilians is proportionate, he explained. This depends on factors such as the military value of the target, the extent of the harm suffered by civilians and the measures taken to minimize this harm. Thus, with regard to two specific dilemmas faced by Israel – whether to attack mosques being used as weapons storehouses, and also hospitals where senior Hamas commanders are holed up – Shany said: ‘A mosque is a more acceptable target than a hospital, because with a hospital, the assumption is that the harm to civilians will be far greater’. And in fact, Israel has chosen to strike mosques, but not hospitals. However, the professor added, even a hospital does not have total immunity: Firing missiles at it would be unacceptable, but a commando force could be sent in to capture wanted Hamas men. Regarding claims that Israel has deprived Gaza of fuel and electricity, and prevented the evacuation of the wounded, Shany said that once Israel has taken control of the Strip, it must enable the population’s humanitarian needs to be met. This includes an obligation to treat the wounded and to supply food, water and electricity. ‘The longer the army remains in an area, the greater its obligation to supply the local population’s needs becomes’, he added. Similarly, when Israel warns civilians to leave a house before an attack, it must ensure that they have somewhere to go and access to basic necessities such as food and water. Nevertheless, Shany noted, when United Nations agencies examined Israel’s conduct during the Second Lebanon War in 2006, they praised its practice of dropping leaflets to warn civilians to leave before bombing, saying this reduced civilian casualties…” This report can be read in full here.

Palestinian-American businessman Sam Bahour, who lives and works in the West Bank wrote today on the TPM blog that: “I watch in shock, like the rest of the world, at the appalling death and destruction being wrought on Gaza by Israel; and still it does not stop. Meanwhile, we see a seemingly never-ending army of well-prepared Israeli war propagandists, some Israeli government officials, and many other people self-enlisted for the purpose, explaining to the world the justifications for pulverizing the Gaza Strip, with its 1.5 million inhabitants. Curious about how Israel, or any society for that matter, could justify a crime of such magnitude against humanity, I turned to my Jewish Israeli friends today to hear their take on things. One after another, the theme was the same. The vast majority of Jewish Israelis has apparently bought into the state-sponsored line that Israel was under attack and had no other option available to stop Hamas’ rockets. More frightening is the revelation that many Israelis—including one person who self-identifies as a ‘leftist’—are speaking of accepting the killing of 100,000 or more Palestinians, if need be”.

In his post, Bahour said there were actually plenty of other options, and he named a few, including: accepting that there is an Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territory; accepting an international presence in the occupied territory; accepting lawful non-violent resistance to the occupation; and opting not to interfere in internal Palestinian politics. But, he wrote, “The fact of the matter is that you had a long list of options open to you! So many, indeed, that it boggles the mind that your government has apparently been able to blind you to all of them…so that today, as the bombs shriek over Gaza, you can say, and evidently sincerely mean it: ‘We had no other option’. Nevertheless, even with all these options effectively invisible to you, there is nothing on this earth—not law, not politics, not even a desperate and lengthy campaign of rockets creating widespread fear and even some civilian deaths on your side of the border—there is nothing that can justify, by Israel or any other country on this earth, the decision to opt for a crime against humanity as your chosen response. Nothing!” This post can be read in full here.