Middle East studies in the News
Myths and Facts about the Fighting in Gaza [incl. Rashid Khalidi]
by Alex Safian
Myth: Israel's attacks against Hamas are illegal since Israel is still occupying Gaza through its control of Gaza's borders and airspace, and it is therefore bound to protect the civilian population under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
Fact: Israel controls only Gaza's land borders with Israel; the border with Egypt at Rafah is controlled by Egypt. Beyond this, it is clear under international law that Israel does not occupy Gaza. As Amb. Dore Gold put it in a detailed report on the question:
But what if despite this we take seriously Khalidi's claim that Israel is the occupying power and is therefore legally the sovereign authority in Gaza? In that case the relevant body of law would not be the Geneva Conventions as Khalidi claims, but would rather be the Hague Regulations, which in the relevant article states:
Under this article Israel's incursion into Gaza would therefore be completely legal as a legitimate exercise of Israel's responsibility for restoring and ensuring public order and safety in Gaza. This would include removing Hamas, which by Khalidi's logic is an illegitimate authority in Gaza. Under international law Hamas certainly has no right to stockpile weapons or attack Israel, and Israel is therefore justified in taking measures to disarm Hamas and prevent it from terrorizing both the Israeli population and the Gaza population. That is the inescapable logic of Khalidi's position.
Myth: Since more Palestinians than Israelis have been killed in the fighting this means Israel is acting "disproportionately" or has even committed "war crimes."
Fact: First of all, contrary to Khalidi, most of the Palestinians killed so far were Hamas operatives, not civilians. Beyond this, real world examples obviate any charges about right or wrong based on the number of people killed. Consider that the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor killed about 3,000 Americans. Does it follow that the US should have ended its counterattacks against Japanese forces once a similar number of Japanese had been killed? Since it did not end its attacks, does that mean the US acted disproportionally and was in the wrong and that the Japanese were the aggrieved party? Clearly the answer is no.
Taking this further, counting the number of dead hardly determines right and wrong. For example, again looking at the Pacific Theatre in World War 2, over 2.7 million Japanese were killed, including 580,000 civilians, as against only 106,000 Americans, the vast majority combatants. Does it then follow that Japan was in the right and America was in the wrong? Again, clearly the answer is no. Just having more dead on your side does not make you right.
Proportionality in the sense used by Rashid Khalidi and Christiane Amanpour is meaningless.
Myth: Israel's actions are illegal since International Law requires proportionality.
Actually, proportionality in the Law of War has nothing to do with the relative number of casualties on the two sides. Rather it refers to the military value of a target (how much of an impact would the target's destruction have on the outcome of a battle or war) versus the expected threat to the lives or property of civilians. If the target has high military value, then it can be attacked even if it seems there will be some civilian casualties in doing so.
What has to be "proportional" (the term is not actually used in the relevant conventions) is the military value of the target versus the risk to civilians.
In particular, Article 51 of Protocol 1 Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1977 prohibits as indiscriminate:
By this measure, Israel's efforts to destroy missiles before they can be fired at Israeli civilians, even if that places Palestinian civilians at risk, seems to conform perfectly to the Laws of War. There is no requirement that Israel place its own citizens' lives in danger in order to protect the lives of Palestinian civilians.
Myth: Hamas has no choice but to place weapons and fighters in populated areas since the Gaza Strip is so crowded that is all there is.
In fact there is plenty of open space in Gaza, including the now empty sites where Israeli settlements once stood. The Hamas claim, parroted by the Times reporter, is nonsense.
Beyond this, placing your own civilians around or near a military target to act as "human shields" is prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention:
Article 58 of Protocol 1 Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1977 goes even further in this regard, requiring that Hamas remove Palestinian civilians from the vicinity of its military facilities, which would include any place where weapons, mortars, bombs and the like are produced, stored, or fired from, and any place where its fighters train, congregate or hide. Here is the text, which calls on the parties to the conflict to:
Hamas, as the defacto government in Gaza has clearly violated all three of these provisions:
On the other hand, Israel's requirement since the early 1990's that all new homes have a secure reinforced room, and its building of (often rudimentary) bomb shelters in communities near Gaza have helped to minimize casualties to Israeli civilians, though at a cost of over $1 Billion dollars.
It is ironic that Israel is charged with disproportionality for successfully protecting its civilians by following international law.
Myth: Israel violated the ceasefire with Hamas in November, and is thus to blame for the conflict.
In fact, contrary to Khalidi, Barghouti and CNN's Rick Sanchez, the Palestinians violated the ceasefire almost from day one. For example, the Associated Press published on June 25, just after the truce started, an article headlined Palestinian rockets threaten truce
The article in its lead paragraphs reported that:
There were many further such Palestinian violations, including dozens of rockets and mortars fired into Israel during the so-called ceasefire. And there was also sniper fire against Israeli farmers, anti-tank rockets and rifle shots fired at soldiers in Israel, and not one but two attempts to abduct Israeli soldiers and bring them into Gaza. Here are some of the details:
From the start of the ceasefire at 6 AM on June 19 till the incident on November 4th, the following attacks were launched against Israel from Gaza in direct violation of the agreement:
There were two Palestinian attempts to infiltrate from Gaza into Israel apparently to abduct Israelis. Both were major violations of the ceasefire.
The first came to light on Sept. 28, when Israeli personnel arrested Jamal Atallah Sabah Abu Duabe. The 21-year-old Rafah resident had used a tunnel to enter Egypt and from there planned to slip across the border into Israel. Investigation revealed that Abu Duabe was a member of Hamas's Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, and that he planned to lure Israeli soldiers near the border by pretending to be a drug smuggler, capture them, and then sedate them with sleeping pills in order to abduct them directly into Gaza through a preexisting tunnel. For more details click here and here.
The second abduction plan was aborted on the night of Nov 4, thanks to a warning from Israeli Intelligence. Hamas had dug another tunnel into Israel and was apparently about to execute an abduction plan when IDF soldiers penetrated about 250 meters into Gaza to the entrance of the tunnel, hidden under a house. Inside the house were a number of armed Hamas members, who opened fire. The Israelis fired back and the house exploded – in total 6 or 7 Hamas operatives were killed and several were wounded. Among those killed were Mazen Sa'adeh, a Hamas brigade commander, and Mazen Nazimi Abbas, a commander in the Hamas special forces unit. For more details click here.
It was when Israel aborted this imminent Hamas attack that the group and other Palestinian groups in Gaza escalated their violations of the ceasefire by beginning to once again barrage Israel with rockets and mortars.
Note that contrary to Khalidi, Israeli figures do not show that Palestinian violations of the ceasefire during the first four months amounted to "less than 20" rockets."
Considering this long list of Palestinian attacks, charging that Israel broke the ceasefire in November is simply surreal.
Myth: Israel violated the ceasefire by not lifting its blockade of Gaza.
Contrary to Khalidi and Barghouti, Israel did open the crossings and allowed truckload after truckload of supplies to enter Gaza. Closures until November were short, and in direct response to Palestinian violations, some of which were detailed above.
To quote from the ITIC report on the "Lull Agreement":
Day to day details of the supplies delivered to Gaza and the numbers of trucks involved have been published by the Israeli Foreign Ministry and are available here. The figures confirm that the passages were indeed open and busy.
Myth: Israel is using excessively large bombs in populated neighborhoods and is therefore to blame for any Palestinian civilian killed in the present fighting.
Fact: Because Hamas has violated international law by intentionally placing military facilities in densely populated civilian areas (see Article 58 of Protocol 1 Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1977 cited above), Israel is using relatively small laser-guided bombs in order to minimize any collateral damage. But many of the Palestinian civilian injuries have likely been caused not by Israeli bombs but by Palestinian rockets and bombs which explode after Israel targets the places where they are stored or manufactured, such as mosques and other civilian structures. Numerous videos have been posted of Israeli bombing runs which clearly show the Israeli bomb causing a relatively small initial explosion followed by much larger secondary explosions. Some of the videos also show Palestinian missiles and other projectiles flying in all directions.
It is difficult to see how Palestinians injured by Palestinian bombs and missiles can be blamed on Israel.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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