Lara Kajs | 29 October 2023 |
TGR condemns the brutal Hamas terror attacks against Israel and the taking of hostages. Without exception, Israel has every right to defend itself. Any country attacked by another state, or a terrorist organization, has the right to protect and defend itself and its people. But even wars have rules, and in the war between Israel and Hamas, one side cannot choose to ignore the rules just because the other side ignores them. The rules of war are designed to save civilians trapped in conflict. Self-defense does not absolve oneself, not Israel, Hamas, or anyone else, from the responsibility to act within the framework of international law, including the rule of proportionate response.
Proportionate is when soldiers or combatants target combatants on the other side. Proportional is not firing on civilian neighborhoods. It is not a proportional response to target large civilian apartment buildings, causing them to crumble. Warring parties are not to cause disproportionate harm to civilians. Actions that render a hundred families homeless in an airstrike, that is a disproportionate attack.
The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) claims that Hamas has been known to have offices in the apartment towers that have been targeted. However, even when the opposition is mixed in with the civilian population, combatants have a duty to fire precisely. And if they cannot get the opposition without taking out the civilian population, then they do not fire, and find other options. But they do not wipe out entire civilian neighborhoods just to get a few opposition combatants. Israel and Hamas should both take care to ensure that they do not fire indiscriminately on civilian neighborhoods. This is international humanitarian law (IHL).
The rules of war are the rules held in the Geneva Convention. They are mandates that every single government signed on to and ratified including Israel and the State of Palestine (comprising of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem). IHL is designed to deal with the worst situations in war. These mandates are fundamental to Pentagon policy. They are not some radical rules that human rights groups created. Governments wrote these regulations. These are their rules, and they should all follow them.
Blocking humanitarian aid, and starving civilians caught in the conflict is punitive toward civilian noncombatants and is in direct violation of the rules of war set forth in the Geneva Convention. It is also a war crime. The outrage being directed toward Israel for its actions in Gaza is not unlike the global response to Russia as it continues to commit similar atrocities against Ukraine. The fact that Israel is doing it should be no different. War crimes are war crimes and Israel should not be allowed to act with impunity. Civilians and civilian infrastructures must be respected and protected at all times.
Hamas’ actions are barbaric. The brutal murder of 260 music festival youth and at least 1,000 Israeli civilians in the kibbutz, and the abduction of some 250 hostages is intolerable. These crimes are not unlike what Jihad John did in 2014 when Daesh abducted humanitarian workers and journalists and streamed their executions online.
However, it is no less horrific when various Israeli leaders announce that if Palestinians don’t get out of the way of Israeli airstrikes and bullets, then the Palestinians are to blame for their own deaths and injuries. That is not how the rules of war works and every politician, military analyst, and journalist knows that, regardless of how they attempt to explain it. This crisis is not Israel’s alone. There are 2.3 million Palestinians in Gaza. It is their crisis too.
Since 2007, Israel’s land, sea, and air blockade has trapped more than 2.3 million people inside the 139 square miles that is Gaza. The Strip is 25 miles long by 7 miles wide. It is about two times the size of Washington DC. Nearly half the population are children. Prior to the 7 October war, there were 1.7 million Palestinians in refugee camps. Some 95% of the population did not have access to safe drinking water. At least 81.5% lived in extreme poverty. Food insecurity impacted 63% of the population. Unemployment stood at 46%. Access to electricity was restricted to 45% of the day (11 hours per day). Since the war began, all of that has changed for the worse.
At least 1.4 million people have been internally displaced as a result of the war between Israel and Hamas. On 12 October, PM Benjamin Netanyahu issued warnings to Palestinians that they should evacuate from northern Gaza to the south. There were several problems with this directive.
First, Gaza is completely blockaded on all sides. Both Israel and Egypt prevent Palestinians from leaving Gaza. A good argument could be made that what is happening to the Palestinians is apartheid. Even if civilians made it to the south, there was nowhere for them to go. If all 1.1 million were able to flee the north, there would be 2.3 million people waiting at the Rafah border crossing.
Second, the directive came with an “or else”. If the civilian population did not evacuate south, they would be targeted in airstrikes and ground invasion by Israeli combatants. The problem with this directive is that Israel gave 1.1 million Palestinian civilians 24 hours to flee, without any aid to help them get to what Israel called “safety.” For the people in hospitals on life support, in incubators – that “warning” was a death sentence. And although the US and other allies have cautioned Israel to treat Palestinian civilians with dignity and respect – no one has issued a consequence for not doing so.
Lastly, a warning to evacuate south does not automatically excuse the warring parties. Warring parties are still required not to attack civilian communities, even when it is inconvenient, and civilians are still in the area. After civilians left Gaza City and fled south, combatants conducted an airstrike and fired upon civilian members, killing at least 70 women and children. These acts are reprehensible.
Yoav Gallant, Israel’s Defense Minister said that no electricity, no food, no water, and no fuel would be allowed into Gaza until all the hostages were released. That approach is in direct violation of international humanitarian law which requires unrestricted passage and distribution of humanitarian aid for civilians. Cutting off all humanitarian aid and using the potential starvation of 2.3 million people as a bargaining chip to free the hostages held by Hamas is collective punishment. It is relevant that Hamas has only released five hostages of the 250 it abducted more than three weeks ago. Further, by their own evidence of the treatment of the Palestinians, it is doubtful that Hamas really cares about what happens to the civilian population of Gaza.
Like the Taliban in Afghanistan and Hezbollah in Lebanon; Hamas has been the de facto government of Gaza since it ousted the Palestinian Authority from power in 2007. And just as ISIS, al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, ISWAP, and many others; Hamas, the Taliban, and Hezbollah are all designated terrorist groups. Sadly, a person does not have to look much further than the horrific attack on the Supernova Music Festival and the taking of hostages to see Hamas’s intent is terror and not peace.
Hamas does not answer to the Palestinian people, and Gazans do not have a voice in the government. No elections have occurred since the group attained power sixteen years ago. The vast majority of Gazans are afraid to speak out against Hamas, largely due to the fact that anyone who opposes the terror group has been detained, tortured, and murdered. Hamas frequently abduct innocent civilians to be used for ransom or used as shields and to start a conflict. No one is off limits not even Palestinians.
Since 7 October, Hamas has launched more than 6,000 indiscriminate rockets that have reached central Israel, including Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. In return, Israel has dropped more than 21,000 tons of explosives on Gaza. Satellite imagery shows that after three weeks of war, nearly half of the buildings in Gaza have been destroyed or damaged. At least 200,000 people will have no homes to return to when the fighting stops. Two schools run by UNRWA the UN agency that assists Palestinian refugees and shelters displaced families in Gaza were also hit. More than 600,000 people are sheltering in UNRWA facilities.
After a week of postponements, the Rafah Crossing between Egypt and Gaza opened on Monday, 23 October to allow very limited humanitarian aid into Gaza. There are more than 200 aid trucks outside of the Rafah crossing gate, but as of today, barely 100 aid trucks have been permitted into Gaza, and no fuel. The trickle of aid that has been allowed in is a drop of water in the ocean for what is needed by the 2.3 million civilians in Gaza. What is desperately needed is an immediate humanitarian ceasefire so that all the aid can enter the war-torn territory – something that PM Netanyahu has emphatically refused.
Of further concern are the multi-nationals waiting at the Rafah crossing border to flee Gaza, including hundreds of US citizens. Despite multiple visits by US Secretary of State Blinken to several Arab nations to negotiate the safe evacuation of Americans from Gaza, no one – not even US citizens – has been allowed to cross the border. The reason for this is the failure to secure a diplomatic agreement between Israel, Egypt, and Hamas to grant Americans safe passage. For now, everyone is in Gaza, for better or worse.
Israel’s 9/11 Moment
Many have suggested that 7 October was Israel’s 9/11 moment. But they should take a lesson from that. After 9/11 the US had the world’s sympathy and was on the moral high ground. But out of 9/11 came human rights violations, Abu Ghraib, enhanced interrogations (CIA torture report), and arbitrary detention in Guantanamo. And in the process of violating the standard, the US lost much of the world’s sympathy.
Pres. Biden said in statements made in Israel that the US made a lot of mistakes that centered around the terrorist attacks on September 11th. He encouraged Israel to not let its rage lead them to make decisions or to take actions that would do more harm. Pres. Biden said that the best way forward for Israel and Palestine is a Two State Solution. The UN planned such a solution in 1947 when it established a partition. Both Israel and Palestinians deserve to live in peace and security.
TGR stands with Israel in its time of crisis. Terror and hate are unacceptable. We are deeply saddened by the loss of life and the taking of hostages. At the same time, we also stand with the people of Palestine. We appeal to Israel and its defense forces to please honor international humanitarian law, and the rules of war, and to stop targeting the civilian population, residential housing, hospitals, and schools. We appeal to Hamas to release all of the hostages and to allow the ICRC to conduct a wellness check on them and to give medical assistance and care. We call on all warring parties for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire to allow desperately needed humanitarian aid into Gaza. There are 2.3 million Palestinians – half of whom are children – that had nothing to do with the terror attack against Israel. These children deserve to be safe and to live.
Photo Credit: TGR photo – Palestinian community destroyed by IDF airstrikes in Gaza along the Rafah border crossing on 28 October 2023.