Gaza and the Right to Self-Defense

There is much wrong on both sides. The situation is complex and begs for thorough analysis. All this is granted but within this debate, here is a well-researched article from Jadaliyya exposing a false rhetoric that seems eminently logical:

On the fourth day of Israel’s most recent onslaught against Gaza’s Palestinian population, President Barack Obama declared, “No country on Earth would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.” In an echo of Israeli officials, he sought to frame Israel’s aerial missile strikes against the 360-square kilometer Strip as the just use of armed force against a foreign country. Israel’s ability to frame its assault against territory it occupies as a right of self-defense turns international law on its head.

A state cannot simultaneously exercise control over territory it occupies and militarily attack that territory on the claim that it is “foreign” and poses an exogenous national security threat. In doing precisely that, Israel is asserting rights that may be consistent with colonial domination but simply do not exist under international law.

The article was first published two years ago, under near exact circumstances. It continues by detailing the legal arguments that invoke the right to national self-defense, and finds they come up short – even as judged by the Israeli High Court:

Since the beginning of its occupation in 1967, Israel has rebuffed the applicability of international humanitarian law to the  Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). Despite imposing military rule over the West Bank and Gaza, Israel denied the applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (the cornerstone of Occupation Law). Israel argued because the territories neither constituted a sovereign state nor were sovereign territories of the displaced states at the time of conquest, that it simply administered the territories and did not occupy them within the meaning of international law. The UN Security Council, the International Court of Justice, the UN General Assembly, as well as the Israeli High Court of Justice have roundly rejected the Israeli government’s position.

Again, there is much wrong on both sides. But do recall the essential foundational fact: Gaza and the West Bank are occupied territories. A just solution has escaped the international community since 1967. Proportion of fault can be debated, but Israel bears responsibility for the land it holds.

There is no winner, there is only more destruction. Unfortunately both sides seem more than willing to engage.

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