Before making any kind of argument, one thing must be made clear. In Gaza, both Hamas and the Israelis are doing some horrific things and violating a raft of international laws. Hamas’ rocket attacks are deplorable, and Israel does have the right to defend itself; that is not disputed. What Israeli forces are doing in Gaza, however, goes way beyond self-defence; it is aggression and is morally reprehensible.
Over 1,000 Palestinians have been killed (including over 150 children), of whom around three-quarters were civilians, with Israel losing over 40 of its people including two civilians. These figures do not look like a proportional Israeli response to Hamas’ attacks, so many innocent deaths do not appear to be self defence by a nation under attack; it resembles simple retribution against a whole people for the actions of a few. Is killing three civilians to find a single militant proportionate? Simply, no, it is not.
Under the United Nations Charter, a nation has the right to defend itself and its people, and in this situation Israel has a right to do so. Yet, international humanitarian law, primarily the Rome Statute, dictates that in any military action where civilians may suffer, said suffering must be proportionate (ie the scale of civilians deaths must be justified by the military advantage gained from the casualties), and any military action must distinguish between civilians and military targets, even if both are to be harmed.
The number of civilians being killed in Gaza by the Israeli military for such a minor military advantage means that the actions by Israel’s military are violations of international law. There are accusations of Hamas using civilians as human shields, and it is true Hamas does place some military equipment in civilian areas. In somewhere as densely populated as Gaza, this is unfortunately inevitable. Whether Hamas deliberately and systematically place people in the way of their weapons is disputed. What should not be disputed is unjustified disproportionality of killing scores of civilians to destroy some rockets, rockets that, due to Iron Dome, will likely never land in Israel.
What is even more frightening is the attitude of some of the members of the Jewish Home party in Israel, which is part of their coalition government. Ayelet Shaked (an Israeli parliamentarian) has argued for the slaughter of all Palestinians, as facilitators to Hamas, as the vast majority of Gazans will have a relationship with somebody involved with Hamas, though these relationships are usually innocent, familial relations or friendship is enough, according to Shaked, to mean a person is a facilitator of Hamas’ actions. The mother or father of a militant, even if they oppose Hamas, should be killed according to Shaked. This is a clear violation of the principle of distinction between civilians and combatants that international humanitarian law lays out as part of the rule of war. The families of combatants are not legitimate targets just due to their relationship with said combatants – targeting them because of this is criminal, plain and simple. To have such an attitude coming from a parliamentarian who is part of a party in government is abhorrent, Shaked is publically advocating war crimes, and that is frightening. In her article in the Independent, she tried to justify the destruction of civilian population in Gaza by comparing it to the firebombing of Dresden by Britain in the Second World War, saying that Britain had no regard for civilians either. Yet, Dresden is commonly seen as one of the darkest days in British military history, a black mark against Britain’s armed forces, and comparing it to the Gazan bombings demonstrates that these bombings really are morally disgusting.
Hospitals, children playing football and schools have all been hit by Israeli fire, targets which have little to no military significance, targets which should be safe havens for those evacuating their homes. Attacking these innocent people, with or without warning, is something the international community should not allow. Israel tries to claim it protects people by warning them beforehand, and due to this they should not be condemned. In the UK we never commended the IRA for warning before they bombed Britain, we were still outraged with the destruction, as we should be in Gaza.
Yes, Israel can and should defend itself. It should do so by preventing rockets hitting its territory and acting to destroy the rockets in a way which minimises civilian casualties, they should not try to justify such suffering, such pain and so many corpses with the destruction of a few rockets. In a densely populated area, rockets will be located near to homes, schools and hospitals, and air strikes cause so many innocent lives to be lost. Smaller task forces could go in to extract rockets, or cells of militants; bombing an area with thousands of civilians living there will doubtlessly lead to scores of dead children, and Israel’s seeming disregard for civilians in their pursuit of small military advantage is borderline criminal. This is not a proportionate response Israel, this is morally abhorrent, Hamas’s existence and awful ideology does not justify so many innocents suffering, so many civilians dying.
Jake is a second year PPEist at St John’s and a Deputy Comment Editor, who spends a lot of time writing for the OxStu or the Huffington Post. His main interests are current affairs and politics, and he is active in student politics, both in the Oxford Union and Oxford University Labour Club.