‘Israel has the right to defend itself from terrorism, Hamas’ rockets, and other acts of aggression’
Self-defense is defined as the lawful use of force with which to stop an attack from seriously harming you. In criminal courts, you can only use a certain amount of force before it comes unjustifiable and you yourself commit a crime against your attacker. If my neighbour attacks me with a baseball bat, I am employing self-defense if I shove him to the ground and subdue him. If he attacks me and I shoot him 16 times, burn down his house, starve his family, and throw his body in a river, I am going beyond self-defense and brutalizing him.
This concept extends to conflicts and wars in the international arena. Israel has the right to defend itself from Hamas’ rockets, but it never limits its use of force to this purpose. Each time a rocket campaign begins against Israel, it is not only met with Israel’s Iron Dome system (lawful and justifiable), but always followed with a brutal terror campaign against the people of the Gaza Strip. Operation Protective Edge is the most recent example at the time of writing, where the IDF killed around 2,100 people, 500 of them innocent children.
This is neither a justifiable response, a measured response, or a proportionate response. Nor is using searing hot white phosphorous shells against children. Nor is using cancer-causing experimental weapons against civilians.
Hamas has no Air Force, no Navy, no nuclear weapons, no satellite technology, no tanks, no intelligence agencies, and no missile defense system. Compared to the overwhelming forces and capabilities of Israel’s military (14th highest defense spending in the world), Hamas’ artillery amounts to little more than rocks and spears. Furthermore, Hamas is a political organization with a military wing; it is not a synonym for “Palestinian”. Collective punishment, (that is, punishing an entire social group for the actions of a few) is illegal under international law and constitutes a war crime.
Air-strikes that destroy UN-sanctioned schools and hospitals, the indiscriminate use of white phosphorous, the deaths of Palestinian children – none of these things can be considered self-defense because they do not target those responsible for starting the violence and they do not discriminate between the innocent and the militant. If David assaults you with a baseball bat, attacking David’s friends and neighbours isn’t self-defense.
The same problem applies towards rock-throwers – a quintessential form of civil disobedience in the Palestinian resistance movement. What is the proper response to rock-throwing? Throwing rocks back? Cautioning those who have thrown them? Perhaps. But Israel does not pursue these methods. It arrests and imprisons the lucky rock-throwers; the rest are usually killed or mortally wounded. When you have a tank and the other person has a rock, it is not a fair fight, and restraint is called for. Israel rarely, if ever, shows any restraint.
But take random, individual acts of terror, like the meat cleaver attack in Jerusalem and the various bombings of the 70’s and 80’s. Horrendous and monstrous atrocities that surely disrupted the peace deal. It is extremely hard to defend bombing school buses, and I certainly don’t want to; all I want to do is question why these events happened in the first place and whether the Israeli response was justified. The bombings and Palestinian suicide attacks came out of desperation (inexcusable, but still rationalizable from their end) at settlement buildings and at the relentless terror campaign by the IDF. “The more you starve us, the more you look like dinner”.
Why aren’t the IDF held to the same standard as Palestinian terrorists?
‘Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, so we should support it’
No self-respecting democracy attempts to oust an entire section of its population, or attempts to pass the Jewish nation-state bill (which would officially demote Arab-Israelis to second-class citizen status), or uses chemical weapons against children. What difference does it make whether you can vote in the person who is going to commit war crimes or not? Holding national elections is not the sole purpose of democracy – modern democracy implies representation and respect for all nationalities and religious groups, again something Israel sorely lacks.
It’s not even true anyway. Palestine held legislative elections on January 25th, 2006, to which the U.S. and Israel responded with an attempted coup d’état because they didn’t like the results. These 2006 elections used universal suffrage, were closely monitored, and were declared free and fair by international organizations. If Israel is a democracy, it shouldn’t try and shut down other democracies. Egypt had Parliamentary elections in 2012, even in the midst of great political turmoil, and Lebanon regularly has elections too.
Any U.S. citizen who makes this argument should take a detailed and careful look at the history of U.S. foreign policy, complete with all of its undemocratic practices of supporting various dictators and murderers. What people actually mean when they use this argument is that Israel is the only non-Arab democracy in the Middle East.
‘Hamas won’t negotiate with Israel, so the blame rests with them’
Hamas offered its very first peace deal after the 2006 elections, proposing a 10 year truce if Israel agreed to completely abandon the West Bank along pre-1967 borders, stop the Gaza blockade, and recognize the rights of Palestinian people. Israel refused.
Conveniently, it is considered perfectly acceptable to disqualify Hamas from any negotiations, since many governments of the world regard them as a terrorist organization. When external parties have bothered to invite them, the terms presented to them have been wholly unrealistic and unfair. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s so-called peace deals have always been somewhat Carthaginian in nature: In order to reach peace, Palestine must allow West Bank settlements to continue, allow the Gaza blockade to continue, allow the IDF to perform border checks and raids, give up the right of return for some 5,000,000 Palestinian refugees, hand over control of its borders, coastline and airspace, and disband all of its military capabilities.
That isn’t a peace deal, it’s a surrender. A surrender that basically keeps things the way they’re going without a military response from Hamas and other groups.
Israel has also repeatedly abandoned peace talks and refused to renew ceasefire conditions, sometimes for no reason at all. One abandonment in 2014 came because Israeli officials said their religion doesn’t allow them to negotiate peace terms on certain holidays, a facile reason that has no basis in the Torah or elsewhere. Unsurprisingly, while that peace meeting collapsed due to religious reasons, Israel launched more missile strikes against the Gaza Strip. Missile strikes are allowed during religious holidays, but apparently not peace deals.
‘How can Israel make peace with Hamas, when Hamas calls for Israel’s destruction?’
Hamas removed that call from their manifesto 9 years ago, right before the 2006 democratic elections that the U.S. and Israel boycotted. For 9 years, this argument has been moot.
“If Israel was really committing genocide against Palestinians, why does the Palestinian population keep rising?”
Success is not an indication of intent. If you fail to kill millions of people, that doesn’t mean you weren’t trying to. But let’s take a statistic that gets knocked around a lot, the one which states “The UN estimates that Palestinian refugees numbers have risen from 700,000 to 5,000,000 since 1948”. Take a closer look at the statistic, it states that Palestinian refugees have risen in number since 1948. Refugees, the ones who have lost their homes, and often families, and fled to foreign countries. That’s 5,000,000 people who have been entirely displaced from their homeland with no opportunity to return. That by itself may not be genocidal, but it certainly destroys the claim that because Palestinians are still alive Israel can’t be trying to kill them. At the very least, it’s ethnically cleansing the regions it occupies.
The UN’s 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as the systematic destruction of a racial, ethnic, national or religious group which includes one or more of the following:
- Killing members of the group.
- Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.
- Inflicting measures on the group’s conditions of life which are calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.
- Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.
- Forcibly transferring the children of the group to another group.
The first three definitely apply to Israel’s actions. The fourth, imposing measures to prevent births, may apply, but forcibly transferring children does not currently apply. That’s three/four out of five conditions of genocide.
Included in the definition of genocide is the intention or “conspiracy” to commit genocide. Interestingly enough, there are countless Israeli writers who have openly called for Palestinian genocide since Operation Protective Edge began in late 2014. Here’s an incomplete list, with such greatest hits as “Why Gaza must go”, “When genocide is permissible” and “In Gaza, there is no such thing as innocent civilians”. Side note: Not distinguishing between civilians and enemy combatants is another war crime.
Nor is advocating genocide confined to academics. Ayelet Shaked is an Israeli lawmaker and a senior figure in PM Netanyahu’s coalition who is notorious for her views about Palestinian civilians. In 2014 she posted a status on Facebook that called for the murder of aid workers in Gaza, elderly Gazans, and the mothers of deceased Palestinian children. She added that once they were all dead, their homes and belongings should be destroyed, and her status garnered over 5,000 likes. A day later, a Palestinian teenager was kidnapped, tortured, and burned alive by Israeli youths. Shaked is not alone, with various other figures like Naftali Bennett calling for the destruction of an entire social group, at least once or twice throughout his career.
“Hamas uses children as human shields, so the casualties are not Israel’s fault”
Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that Hamas routinely uses children as human shields. Of course, that would be unjustifiable, monstrous, and extremely damaging to the Palestinian cause. Now let’s reflect on what it says about Israel, which still attacks targets that it knows have Palestinian civilians in the area. If Israel has knowledge that human shields are being used in an area (and it often claims to), it is not permitted by international law to attack. A country that is willing to sacrifice human shields to neutralize a military target is nothing short of a monster itself.
Sadly for this anti-Palestinian narrative, there is currently no evidence that Hamas has ever used human shields. It is true that when Israel actually bothers to let them know their homes are about to be destroyed, some Palestinians ignore the warnings and stay put, but so far no international or domestic investigation has turned up any evidence of Hamas preventing civilians from evacuating the area. As of now, all evidence points to Palestinians refusing to be displaced from their homes.
But homes are not the only place Hamas has been accused of forcibly keeping civilians in. Schools and hospitals, often funded and owned by the UN, are also targeted by Israeli air-strikes, and usually, if not always, result in civilian deaths. The justification for these air-strikes usually follows a similar narrative – there was a high-level threat target residing in the area, or there were weapons stored in the area.
There are no safe spaces or refuges for Palestinians – no place is sacred. Israel always claims that Hamas was storing militants, rockets or other strategic entities in the places that get bombed, which is somehow supposed to be a justification for wiping out whole civilian populations. Again, no evidence has cropped up that this is true.
As an aside, over 1.8 million people live in the Gaza Strip, making it one of the most densely populated places on Earth. Gazans cannot leave the Strip, are not permitted to build new structures without Israel’s approval, and rarely receive enough reconstruction materials to rebuild damaged existing structures, thanks to the blockade.
Let us suppose a group of Palestinian civilians are residing next to a military target and they are warned by Israel that an air-strike or ground assault is impending – where should they go? In all probability the next town is either destroyed, occupied by Israeli forces, or a target itself. Israel somehow expects civilians to dodge the bullets and rockets and find safety in what many scholars now consider an “open-air prison“. As Electronic Intifada states, the myth of Hamas using human shields is often used by Israel to “blame Palestinians for their own slaughter”.
While Western governments condemn Hamas for using Palestinian people as human shields, Amnesty International says it has absolutely no evidence that this has happened.
On the other hand, there is mounting evidence that the IDF is the one using human shields, not Hamas. Personal testimonies of former soldiers and whistleblowers claim that the IDF routinely abducts civilians and uses them as employees. The IDF has been accused of forcing kidnapped victims to stand in an exposed area, act as distractions, search suspected explosives sites, and search suspects’ houses. Some former soldiers even claim that the IDF forces entire families to stand at the windows of the houses they occupy and spot militants. One confirmed account (among many) of using a human shield consists of Israeli soldiers forcing an eleven year old boy to search for booby traps in houses that they wanted to occupy.
“People who criticize Israel are anti-Semites and hate Jews”
Is it anti-Semitism to demand that Israel stop demolishing Palestinian homes? Is it anti-Semitism to demand that Israel stop massacring villages and shooting unarmed civilians? Is it anti-Semitism to demand that Israel relinquish aid embargos and calorie controls that keep the Palestinian people just above malnutrition? Is it anti-Semitism to demand that the U.S. stop sending military helicopters, munitions packages, and over $3 billion in aid to a nation that has been accused of war crimes? No, it is not.
I don’t doubt that there are some people out there, Palestinian or otherwise, who make sweeping generalizations about Jewish people because of the conflict. I don’t doubt that they completely ignore the Israeli or Jewish people who stand in solidarity with Palestinians and call for an end to the blockade, the extermination and the war in general. But when British Jews tell the Independent that they feel like they’re living in “1930’s Germany” because people occasionally make an anti-Semitic comment to them because of Israel, that’s exploitative.
European Jews were subjected to brutal, psychotic and animalistic conditions under the Third Reich, a massive collection of human rights abuses and genocidal campaigns that we now call the Holocaust. For Jews to support that exact same genocidal reign of terror towards the Palestinian people is completely shameful. How can any self-respecting Israeli possibly call for the kinds of conditions that Palestinians are put under, when their own religious people were on the receiving end of it not 75 years ago? So much for “never again”. Those who suffered a genocide are not protected from criticism when they employ it themselves.
However unwarranted anti-Semitism is, ask yourself how much you’d love a group of people if they summarily executed your friends and neighbours, kept you on a diet just above starvation, subjected you to invasive border checks, controlled your airspace, ports, and most of your land, destroyed your homes, schools and hospitals, refused to allow aid workers to treat your wounded, used your children as human shields, and called for your extermination. How much would you love that group?
“Israeli people suffer too”
I’ve seen this bandied around a few times – it is supposed to justify the conditions that Palestinians endure? Suffering on both sides is totally shameful and the loss of life should always be avoided. That aside, Palestinian suffering and Israeli suffering are two very different things. On the one hand, Palestinians are struggling to break through the food embargo that Israel subjects them to, while Israeli bloggers complain that the war is making them fat. Palestinian soldiers are being hunted down and branded terrorists by the IDF, while female soldiers in the IDF get sent “care packages” of make-up by Garnier. Big Bang actress Mayim Bialik donates bulletproof vests for Israeli soldiers while Palestinian fathers attempt to gather up the shattered body parts of their children. The two populations seem to have entirely different priorities. The Israeli population seems to be suffering first-world problems while the Palestinians are facing all the problems of an entirely oppressed population.
Imagine somebody comes to your house, looks around and says “this is nice – I’ll take it! You go live over there in that field, oh but you can’t farm the crops, you can’t go fishing in the pond, you can’t have any weapons, and when we come over and destroy whatever home you’ve built over there, you’re not allowed to rebuild it. If you do all that, we won’t fight with you”. Does that sound much like a peace deal to you? Because that’s exactly what’s happening to Palestinian refugees right now – Israeli settlers are actually living in the very same homes that Palestinians built and lived in. Some Palestinian people still have the keys to their old homes in the hope that one day they might be allowed to return.
Number of these restrictions that Israeli citizens suffer: 0 (via Oxfam)
Israel’s military capabilities far outweigh those of Hamas, and the distribution of casualties is proof of how this isn’t a war, but an extermination. Since Israel launched its Operation Protective Edge to today (13th of August 2014), the casualties and wounded are as follows:
67 Israeli people have been killed, 4% of which were civilians.
530 Israeli people have been wounded, 15% of which were civilians.
2,008 Gazan people have been killed, 83% of which were civilians.
10,000 Gazan people have been wounded, 80% of which were civilians.
Israeli people suffer too, but on no where near the same scale as Palestinians.