Benjamin Netanyahu (Photo: AFP)
Jumping on Hamas’s rejection of the bogus cease-fire offer on Tuesday, July 15, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “Hamas’s rejection of the cease-fire gives Israel full legitimacy to expand the operation to protect our people.”
Thus, Netanyahu implicitly admitted that the Israeli government otherwise lacked “full legitimacy.” And Netanyahu acknowledged just how much his government craves legitimacy.
The cease-fire offer was not the result of negotiations that included input from Hamas. It was take it or leave it.
Graphs presented on the website of the “Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center” (ITIC), a private think tank that “has close ties with the country’s military leadership,” show that an effective cease-fire was put in place after the Israeli government’s last massive assault on Gaza ended in November 2012. In addition, a May 2013 article in the Jerusalem Post, “IDF source: Hamas working to stop Gaza rockets,” reported that Hamas was policing other groups to prevent rocket fire.
The facts show that this effective cease-fire was demolished by Israeli forces and settlers going wild on the West Bank and by Israeli forces attacking 60 targets in Gaza during the last three weeks of June and then, on the night of July 7, 2014, by the Israeli Air Force attacking approximately 50 more “terrorist targets” in the Gaza Strip (ITIC report).
Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported on July 3:
Israel’s military operations in the West Bank following the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers have amounted to collective punishment. The military operations included unlawful use of force, arbitrary arrests, and illegal home demolitions.
The HRW report also states that
Israeli forces have arrested about 700 Palestinians since June 12, 2014, and are currently detaining at least 450, some during the large-scale military incursions and others who are known supporters or leaders of the Hamas Reform and Change Party, which won Palestinian elections in 2006, according to Addameer, a Palestinian prisoner’s rights group.
Weekly reports from the Palestine Center for Human Rights (PCHR) indicate that Israeli forces and settlers killed 11 Palestinians and wounded 51 during 369 incursions into the West Bank between June 12 and July 2 and that Israeli forces raided hundreds of houses on the West Bank each week. Israeli forces also launched the 60 bombing attacks on Gaza and one ground incursion, wounding 27 people in Gaza during those three weeks.
While all these attacks did produce rocket fire from other groups in Gaza, the attacks did not provoke Hamas rocket fire. To predictably accomplish that feat, Israeli forces had to go further. With its warplanes and tanks, on the night of July 7, Israeli forces repeatedly bombarded a tunnel near the Gaza International Airport in the Southern Gaza town of Rafah on July 7, killing 5 Hamas members, as reported in the PCHR weekly bulletin dated July 10.
Only after that killing did Hamas itself start launching rockets toward Israel. As the ITIC, the Israeli think tank with close ties to the Israeli military leadership, notes in its July 8 report about the previous week:
For the first time since Operation Pillar of Defense, Hamas participated in and claimed responsibility for rocket fire. Other terrorist organizations claiming responsibility were the DFLP, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and others.
The attacks on the West Bank and Gaza are illegal because under the Fourth Geneva Convention Israel has a duty as occupying power to protect the civilians and civilian property in the territories it occupies. The Israeli government, as occupying power, also “has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population; it should, in particular, bring in the necessary foodstuffs, medical stores and other articles if the resources of the occupied territory are inadequate” (article 55).
Violating its duty to protect and provide for civilians living in occupied territories, and instead bombing and killing those civilians and destroying their homes puts Israeli political and military leaders way outside legitimacy.
The assault on Gaza is also illegal because even if Israel was not the occupying power and even if this was an ordinary war against another country, rather than an attack on people living under Israeli occupation, Israeli political and military leaders are violating the ordinary rules of war.
War crimes defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court include:
- extensive destruction of property not justified by military necessity
- willful killing of civilians
- even if the attack is justified by military necessity and even if the target is a military target, any attack that causes incidental loss of life to civilians or damage to civilian property or damage to the natural environment that would clearly be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct overall military advantage anticipated from the attack.
- the Occupying Power transferring parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies, or the deportation or transfer of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory
- Intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to religion, education, art, science or charitable purposes, historic monuments, hospitals and places where the sick and wounded are collected, provided they are not military objectives
Reprisals and collective punishment are also illegal (article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention).
No. It is not legitimate to attack thousands of people in the West Bank and to bomb Gaza because teenage settlers were kidnapped in the West Bank.
However, it is also worth pointing out that in the three weeks before the June 12 kidnapping, Israeli forces killed one person and wounded 11 on the West Bank and killed one person and wounded 7 in Gaza (PCHR weekly reports).
As the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) pointed out in a statement issued on July 15, 2014:
Ten years ago the International Court of Justice in its “Advisory Opinion on the “Legal Consequences of the Construction of the Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territories” declared the construction of the wall to be illegal under international law. The Court decided that Israel could not claim it had to build the wall in “self-defense” as the Palestinians constitute a people under Israeli occupation and are therefore not a “foreign” threat for the purposes of Article 51 of the UN Charter. For the same legal reasons, Israel cannot claim that the bombing of Gaza is “self-defense” as the Palestinians have a right to resist illegal occupation.
IADL believes that these bombings of civilians are crimes against humanity as they are inhuman acts against a civilian population in connection with a crime against peace. Additionally they are illegal collective punishment and violate the laws of war regarding proportionality.
The killing of hundreds of civilians and the wounding of thousands of men, women, and children in Gaza and in the West Bank are illegitimate. The collective punishment and reprisals, the destruction of hundreds of homes, and the attacks on hospitals and government buildings are illegitimate. The occupation, the racism, and the apartheid implemented by the Israeli government are all illegitimate.
The so-called cease-fire offer that Hamas rejected provided no guarantee that Israeli government officials would not violate its terms, just as they had violated the November 2012 cease-fire agreement and just as they had violated a June 2008 cease-fire agreement. Without such guarantee, the offered cease-fire validated the violation of the previous cease-fires and opened the door to the next violation. The cease-fire offer would have legitimized the periodic illegal attacks and the killing of civilians and the destruction of civilian property by Israeli forces. Nor did the cease-fire offer provide compensation for the Palestinian victims in Gaza. Nor provide materials to rebuild the targeted homes, hospitals, and government buildings. Nor opened the borders of Gaza for exports and imports. The cease-fire offer was bogus. It calls to shame all those who endorsed it.
As shown in my article on Mondoweiss, “Out to Kill: Israel’s Assault on Gaza is not to stop rocket fire,” the bombardment of Gaza does nothing to protect Israeli citizens from rockets. Quite the reverse: Graphs on in its own web site show that the Israeli government dials up rocket fire by attacking Hamas members in the West Bank and Gaza and by bombing Gaza. The graphs also show that the Israeli Government dials down rocket fire by observing a cease-fire.
It was the Israeli government’s violation of the cease-fire and its violent assaults on the West Bank and Gaza that dialed up the rocket fire. Rocket fire is therefore mere pretext for the Israeli attacks. The onslaught on Gaza has no self-defense legitimacy whatsoever.
The cease-fire offer appears to have been designed to enhance the Israeli government’s false propaganda that blames Hamas rocket fire for Israel’s massive bombing and killing in Gaza. Understandably, Netanyahu seeks to use the Hamas rejection of the bogus cease-fire to acquire “full legitimacy” for his government’s continued illegal attacks. But his attempt falls flat: Netanyahu’s claim implicitly provided admission at the highest level of the Israeli government that the Israeli attacks on Gaza had failed the test of legitimacy.
If the Israeli government truly wants legitimacy it must end its attacks, end the occupation, enforce equal rights for all living under Israeli rule, allow Palestinian refugee families to return to their homes, and compensate the Palestinians for their losses.