On December 19th, 2008, a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza ended without renewal, and Hamas increased rocket attacks on Israel.
On December 27th, 2008, Israel launched an air bombing campaign against Hamas targets, but which killed hundreds of Gazan civilians as well. On January 3rd, Israel launched a ground invasion of Gaza. Throughout this period, around the world, newspapers, leaders, and experts expressed opinions for and against Israel’s military strikes in Gaza. Multiple questions frame the debate: Was the military operation necessary and justified as a means of self-defense? Did Israel have no other choice but to launch a large-scale military assault? Were diplomatic or economic means available or exhausted? Is the existence of Hamas, and its anti-Israel mission, intolerable for Israel and its long-term security? Were there significant ties between Hamas and Iran that could further justify Israel’s actions? Will Israel’s actions feed more extremism and terrorism?
Did Israel’s actions dash the hopes of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, or did the operation actually improve these prospects?
Was the attack on Gaza proportional to the rocket strikes? Did Israel kill an unacceptably larger number of civilians than Hamas killed Israeli civilians? Is “proportionality” a fair criteria? Would Israel be justified in using “disproportionate” means because the Hamas regime is avowedly out to destroy Israel?
Who is to blame for initiating the conflict? Was Israel’s blockade of Gaza to blame? Or was this a just response to Gaza’s rocket attacks? Was Israel an “occupying power” with special responsibilities to uphold the welfare of Gazans? Did the blockade shirk these responsibilities? Or did Gaza’s rocket attacks invalidate these concerns?
“as Michael Oren and Yossi Klein Halevi explain, the Israeli public isn’t about to make territorial concessions on the West Bank or the Golan Heights if Gaza is allowed to become a neighboring terrorist state that can launch attacks with impunity. Israel has already had a bad enough experience letting that happen with Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon. Meanwhile, the stronger Hamas becomes, the more resistance Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will face to making any concessions to Israel.”
“Unlike the botched invasion of Lebanon in 2006, when Israel set itself the unattainable goal of eliminating the military capability of Hizballah, this time Barak and Olmert have made clear that their objective is not to wipe out Hamas, but instead to force the radical group to accept a durable cease-fire on Israel’s terms.”
“Isn’t Hamas the democratically-elected government in Gaza? Why is Israel trying to overthrow it? Hamas promotes itself as the legitimate power in Gaza. In reality, Hamas is at its core a terrorist organization that refuses to renounce violence or recognize Israel’s right to exist. Hamas is listed as a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union. […] Hamas came to power in Gaza through a violent coup against the Palestinian Authority government. […] Since Hamas refuses to live in peace with Israel, the Israeli government has no choice but to seek Hamas’ replacement.”
The long-term security of Israel rests in a stable peace agreement with the Palestinians. To the extent that Israel’s large scale assault on Gaza eliminated the hopes of such an agreement, the attacks worsened Israel’s long-term security.
“For the Israelis, once they have exercised this latest spasm of gratuitous bloodletting, there will be yet another opportunity to accept the oft-proved impossibility of a military solution. The Palestinian people will not be battered into submission, no amount of air strikes will make the core issues in the moribund peace process go away, and all of the same difficult decisions will still be waiting when the dust settles.”
If Hamas was an authoritarian regime, Israel could possible attempt to get rid of it and make peace with the Palestinians in Gaza separately. But, because Hamas was democratically elected, any efforts by Israel to destroy them will be seen in Gaza as an effort to destroy the Palestinians and their democratic will. This would not enable any long-term peace with the Palestinians. Therefore, a long-term peace depends on working with Hamas, rather than attempting to destroy them.
President-elect Barack Obama – “If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I would do everything to stop that, and would expect Israel to do the same thing.”
“Israel has taken great lengths to avoid this sort of escalation, but was left with no other way to ensure that its civilians would not have to live in fear of rocket fire. Just a few days ago, outgoing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made an appeal on the Arab television station Al-Arabiya asking Gaza residents to stop the firing of rockets and mortar shells so that a military response could be avoided.”
“Gaza is the test case. Much more is at stake than merely the military outcome of Israel’s operation. The issue, rather, is Israel’s ability to restore its deterrence power and uphold the principle that its citizens cannot be targeted with impunity.”
“Israel could not tolerate a terrorist regime on its border that was launching repeated rocket and mortar attacks against Israeli towns and villages.”
“the Israeli strikes have hit their targets precisely enough to do significant damage to Hamas forces — both to its leadership and, on Sunday, to the tunnels from Gaza to Egypt that Hamas uses to smuggle in weapons and build its growing army.”
While there can be debate as to whether Israel’s Gaza assault achieved its objectives of securing the nation overall, there can be no debate that Israel has the right to defend itself as well as the right to determine how best to do so. While it is easy for countries and foreigners to state their opinions about Israel’s security interests and how its actions may or may not fullfill them, Israel’s right to make that judgement for itself must be respected. In addition, it is probably true that only Israelis themselves can fully understand their own interests, take heart of direct threats to their lives, and develop appropriate security imperatives.
“We fight to defend ourselves, but in so doing we are also fighting a fanatical ideology that seeks to reverse the course of history and throw the civilized world back into a new dark age. The struggle between militant Islam and modernity — whether fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, India or Gaza — will decide our common future. It is a battle we cannot afford to lose.
“ISRAEL has sought to justify its military attacks on Gaza by stating that it amounts to an act of “self-defence” as recognised by Article 51, United Nations Charter. We categorically reject this contention. […] The rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas deplorable as they are, do not, in terms of scale and effect amount to an armed attack entitling Israel to rely on self-defence. Under international law self-defence is an act of last resort and is subject to the customary rules of proportionality and necessity. […] The killing of almost 800 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and more than 3,000 injuries, accompanied by the destruction of schools, mosques, houses, UN compounds and government buildings, which Israel has a responsibility to protect under the Fourth Geneva Convention, is not commensurate to the deaths caused by Hamas rocket fire. […] Israel’s actions amount to aggression, not self-defence, not least because its assault on Gaza was unnecessary. Israel could have agreed to renew the truce with Hamas.”
“[Israel] should try to negotiate a truce with Hamas based on this principle: They stop firing rockets at Israel in return for our lifting of the siege on Gaza. This is the deal Hamas offered us before we started Operation Cast Lead, and we should have taken it then and seen how it had gone before resorting to military force.”
“the excessive Israeli ground assault in Gaza is likely to create more terrorists in the long run.”
“What we’re seeing in the Middle East is the Boomerang Syndrome. Arab terrorism built support for right-wing Israeli politicians, who took harsh actions against Palestinians, who responded with more terrorism, and so on. Extremists on each side sustain the other, and the excessive Israeli ground assault in Gaza is likely to create more terrorists in the long run.”
“Israel cannot stop rocket attacks by military action alone; eventually a political deal will be needed.”
Haaretz Newspaper: “In all likelihood, the current war will not lead to an Israeli victory. In such a case, Israel will have to forget about its objective of capturing the Gaza Strip. Such an outcome will help to consolidate the legitimacy of the Hamas movement, and all the efforts of Israel to eliminate that fundamental pillar of resistance will produce the reverse result. In such a scenario, Israel will be compelled to sign a ceasefire agreement.”
“While Hamas’s offensive capacities will be blunted for a while, the likelihood, as with Hezbollah after Lebanon in 2006, is that it will quickly rebuild its military strength. Indeed, the assassinations of its leaders by Israel over the years – and the raids on its weapons workshops – did little to limit its rise to power.”
Hamas has stated that its objective is to destroy Israel. Such an existential threat goes beyond simply Hamas’ rocket attacks, as it portends much more destructive attacks in the future. This justifies defensive attacks from Israel that go beyond responding merely to the Hamas rockets, and even justifies Israeli efforts to fully demobilize or destroy Hamas.
“The 250,000 Israelis in the southern part of the country live under constant threat, often in bomb shelters, and the economy has suffered. Yet the world’s media seem to pay attention only when Israel responds to that Hamas barrage.”
“To be sure, Israel’s reaction to the constant deluge of missile fire from Gaza has been harsh, but necessarily so. Moreover, now that Israel has begun its retaliation it would be unwise to halt before Hamas is permanently incapacitated.”
“The claim that Israel has violated the principle of proportionality — by killing more Hamas terrorists than the number of Israeli civilians killed by Hamas rockets — is absurd. First, there is no legal equivalence between the deliberate killing of innocent civilians and the deliberate killings of Hamas combatants. Under the laws of war, any number of combatants can be killed to prevent the killing of even one innocent civilian.”
If Israel were to be “proportional”, would this require that it launch rocket attacks back against Gazan civilians? Obviously not, and this is where the logic of proportionality against terrorist attacks makes little sense.
Israel should not have to restrain itself in what is, on Hamas’ own terms, an existential war. Provoked by Hamas, Israel has every right to wage a disproportionate and overwhelming response.
“The notion of “proportional” responses is further baffling in that such occurrences actually prolong conflicts.”
“[…]Given the Palestinian fire power and their willingness to use it, it is clear that the charge of “excessive force” is simply the latest incarnation of the Palestinian strategy of ‘victimhood.’ Terror groups fire indiscriminately at innocent Israelis and then complain of excessive or disproportionate force when Israel fires back. But according to internationally accepted laws of war, Israel is permitted to respond with the force necessary to end the conflict.”
“Israel’s right to do something doesn’t mean it has the right to do anything. Since the shelling from Gaza started in 2001, 20 Israeli civilians have been killed by rockets or mortars, according to a tabulation by Israeli human rights groups. That doesn’t justify an all-out ground invasion that has killed more than 660 people (it’s difficult to know how many are militants and how many are civilians).”
“The killing of almost 800 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and more than 3,000 injuries, accompanied by the destruction of schools, mosques, houses, UN compounds and government buildings, which Israel has a responsibility to protect under the Fourth Geneva Convention, is not commensurate to the deaths caused by Hamas rocket fire. For 18 months Israel had imposed an unlawful blockade on the coastal strip that brought Gazan society to the brink of collapse. In the three years after Israel’s redeployment from Gaza, 11 Israelis were killed by rocket fire. And yet in 2005-8, according to the UN, the Israeli army killed about 1,250 Palestinians in Gaza, including 222 children. Throughout this time the Gaza Strip remained occupied territory under international law because Israel maintained effective control over it.”
“Are Israeli domestic politics a factor? Very much so. Israel is preparing for general elections on 10 February. The prospect of a return to power by the hawk Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the right-wing Likud party, promising tough action against Hamas, has hardened the positions of Israel’s more moderate political leaders.”
Israel ruthless attack on Gaza and the massive civilian casualties it has inflicted has severely damaged the nation’s moral stature in the world. This moral deficit will cause problems for Israel in its future engagements in the world.
“In launching precision strikes against Hamas rocket launchers, headquarters, weapons depots, smuggling tunnels and training camps, Israel is trying to minimize civilian casualties.”
Al Jazeera interview of Gary Grant on January 5th, 2009 – “[Al Jazeera]: Surely the killing of civilians is against international law and the targeting of populated areas where you know that civilians are going to die is against international law. […] [Gary Grant]: Even if you target your action at military sites, civilians are inevitably going to get killed…these need to be contrasted with the actions of Hamas where every single rocket is designed to attack civilian populations, so every single act of Hamas in firing these rockets is clearly an illegal act without any legal justification.”
“At its crux, Hamas targets civilians. Israel, on the other hand, conducts its operations exercising all due care to limit civilian casualties. Hamas terrorists, however, set up their headquarters and store weapons in private homes, schools, colleges and mosques. Both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit have blamed Hamas for provoking the Israeli attack on Hamas targets embedded in civilian areas.”
“Israel’s air assault has resulted in more Palestinian casualties, but that is in part because Hamas deliberately locates its security forces in residential neighborhoods. This is intended both to deter Israel from attacking in the first place as well as to turn world opinion against the Jewish state when it does attack. By all accounts, however, the Israeli strikes have hit their targets precisely enough to do significant damage to Hamas forces — both to its leadership and, on Sunday, to the tunnels from Gaza to Egypt that Hamas uses to smuggle in weapons and build its growing army.”
“Before this campaign, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert appeared on the Arab media outlet Al-Arabiya to address Gaza civilians about the dangers of Hamas rocket fire from the Gaza strip. Israel has telephoned Gazans to warn them of impending attacks in their neighborhoods. Humanitarian aid continues to reach Gazans. In fact, during the past six months, Israel has facilitated more than 14,500 truckloads of humanitarian assistance, including more than 185,000 tons of supplies and 39 million liters of fuel. Furthermore, there have been more than 4,130 medical evacuations.”
“To further root out Hamas terrorists in a way that minimizes Palestinian civilian casualties, Israel’s army is now engaged in a ground operation that places its soldiers in great peril. Carpet-bombing of Palestinian cities is not an option that any Israeli leader will entertain.”
Israel invests significantly more in stable buildings that do not crumble when subjected a blast, in warning systems for incoming rockets, and invests in an extensive and modern network of hospitals and emergency response teams. This, and the fact that Israel does not use civilians as shields for its weapons, helps lower the number of civilian casualties as compared to in Gaza.
“few governments facing an election, as Israel’s is, would let their towns be peppered every day with rockets, no matter how ineffective.”
Javier Solana, chief of foreign policy for the European Union, said in late December 2008, “the current Israeli strikes are inflicting an unacceptable toll on Palestinian civilians.”
“The targeting of civilians, whether by Hamas or by Israel, is potentially a war crime. Every human life is precious. But the numbers speak for themselves: Nearly 700 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed since the conflict broke out at the end of last year. In contrast, there have been around a dozen Israelis killed, many of them soldiers.”
“Israel is engulfed once more with righteous fury that translates into destructive policies in the Gaza Strip. This appalling self-justification for the inhumanity and impunity is not just annoying, it is a subject worth dwelling on, if one wants to understand the international immunity for the massacre that rages on in Gaza.”
Akiva Eldar wrote in Haaretz: “The tremendous population density in the Gaza Strip does not allow a ‘surgical operation’ over an extended period that would minimize damage to civilian populations. The difficult images from the Strip will soon replace those of the damage inflicted by Qassam rockets in the western Negev. The scale of losses, which works in ‘favor’ of the Palestinians, will return Israel to the role of Goliath.”
The use of white phosphorous by Israel to shield its military movements in Gaza was a humanitarian crime, as the chemical causes serious health problems to civilians that inhale it. And, by all accounts, the chemical was inhaled by many Gazan civilians.
“Israel’s strategy has been to make ordinary Palestinians suffer in hopes of creating ill will toward Hamas. That’s why, beginning in 2007, Israel cut back fuel shipments for Gaza utilities — and why today, in the aftermath of the bombings, 800,000 Gaza residents lack running water, Ms. Bashi said. […] “The Israeli policy on Gaza has been marketed as a policy against Hamas, but in reality it’s a policy against a million-and-a-half people in Gaza,” she said.”
“This war on the people of Gaza isn’t really about rockets. Nor is it about ‘restoring Israel’s deterrence,’ as the Israeli press might have you believe. Far more revealing are the words of Moshe Yaalon, then the Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff, in 2002: ‘The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.'”
“Israel says that intent is what matters: it says it tries to avoid civilian deaths, whereas Hamas deliberately seeks to kill Israeli civilians with its rockets, relatively ineffective as they may be. Hamas responds […] as the disproportionately weaker party, Palestinians must use the crude means at their disposal to free their lands from Israeli occupation”
Many say that Hamas’ rocket attacks indiscriminately target Israeli citizens. Yet, all citizens in Israel must serve in the military. In a sense, this means that the entire Israeli population is a legitimate military target for Hamas.