Monday

4th Mar 2024

Opinion

Israel: one war crime does not justify another

  • The attack on Israeli civilians by Hamas and Islamic Jihad was a war crime and a crime against humanity, but that is also true of the collective punishment Israel is now inflicting on Palestinians in Gaza (Photo: Israeli Air Force)
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Jews over the world are reeling and feeling vulnerable. Most of us probably know someone or of someone in Israel who has been killed or injured. That is true of us.

The attack on Israeli civilians by Hamas and Islamic Jihad was a war crime and a crime against humanity, but that is also true of the collective punishment Israel is now inflicting on Palestinians in Gaza. Both are despicable. The fact that Israel is attacking at a distance with bombs does not make it less so than Hamas' and Islamic Jihad's up-close attack.

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  • Palestinians who are not armed or engaged in combat and are not known Hamas leaders or commanders must be assumed to be civilians and must not be attacked (Photo: idf)

Using grief to justify revenge and more civilian bloodshed is not justified. The attack was perpetrated by the armed militants of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Israel's response should be directed at them, not at the civilians who are the huge majority in Gaza. Collective punishment of the whole population is only causing more suffering, recruiting more militants and ensuring the cycle of violence continues.

Israel has a right, indeed a duty, to protect its citizens but one war crime does not justify another. Israel must act within international law.

The two main principles are clear. Any military action that might harm civilians has to be proportionate to a valid military objective, and the clear distinction between combatants and civilians must be maintained.

Palestinians who are not armed or engaged in combat and are not known Hamas leaders or commanders must be assumed to be civilians and must not be attacked. A building which is not being used as a combatant site should not be attacked. Any building could be so used, but that does not justify destroying all buildings.

Civilian harm must be minimised. Indiscriminately killing Palestinian civilians is not justified. Nor is holding Gaza under siege, cutting off water, food, fuel and power, and destroying whole neighbourhoods — all of which Israel declared it will do and has been doing. It is collective punishment on a massive scale.

The only way to end the cycles of violence is to address the causes of the conflict that created the militants. Hard as it is to raise the issue of Israeli responsibility after the Hamas/Islamic Jihad attacks, realism requires it if there is to be any chance of a peaceful future. The conflict is not a case of two warring parties who share responsibility.

It has been caused by Zionist and later Israeli policy, starting with expelling the great majority of Palestinians from the part of Palestine that the Zionist forces conquered in 1948 in order to create Israel as a Jewish state in fact as well as in name, called the Nakba (catastrophe) by Palestinians.

Israel conquered the remaining part of Palestine in 1967 and commenced the belligerent occupation and settlement project that continues to this day.

Settlement expansion has never ceased.

There are now some 700,000 settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Israel's motivation is clear. It would not have spent billions on the settlement project unless it intended to keep all or most of the occupied land.

Palestinians have increasingly resisted and Israeli repression has become more brutal. There have been several cycles of Palestinian attacks, including attacks on civilians, and Israeli reprisals culminating in sustained attacks on Gaza in 2006, 2008-9, 2012, 2014, 2021 and now.

The West Bank has several times erupted in violence. According to B'tselem data, 1,330 Israelis and 10,667 Palestinians have been killed in the 23 years from 2000 to 2023, excluding the 6,000 already killed in the horrific attacks and reprisals of the past three weeks.

Only US and EU pressure can work

Israel has gradually created an apartheid system in order to control Palestinian movement, suppress resistance and restrict Palestinian house building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, while simultaneously guaranteeing full rights to the settlers. In the last three years, seven respected international, Israeli and Palestinian NGOs have produced reports confirming that.

The international community rightly sees that the conflict will only end when Israel ends the occupation and allows the Palestinians to exercise their right to self-determination.

However, most Israeli governments, particularly this one, intend to make occupation and apartheid permanent. Israeli leaders have floated several concepts, including "autonomy", "economic peace", "state minus", "Area C" plan, creating a few bantustan-like enclaves, restricted "conditional" citizenship, and emigration. Some have threatened another Nakba unless the Palestinians stop resisting.

Negotiations to end the occupation, initiated by the United States as part of the Oslo Peace Process, have ended in failure because US administrations never applied sustained pressure on Israel to negotiate meaningfully.

Israel is now addicted to occupation and settlement. Absent significant economic and diplomatic pressure from the international community, it will never stop. The US and the European Union must exert that pressure.

Author bio

Dror Feiler is chair of European Jews for a Just Peace; Judar för Israelisk-Palestinsk Fred, Stockholm. Arthur Goodman is executive member, EJJP, and parliamentary and diplomatic liaison officer for Jews for Justice for Palestinians in London. European Jews for a Just Peace is a federation of 11 European Jewish peace groups campaigning in 10 countries throughout Europe against the occupation of the Palestinian Territories by Israel and in favour of a durable peace solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was founded in 2002 out of concern both for Israel and the Palestinians.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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