Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Israel's Gaza Attack is Criminal, Not Defensive
On January 11, 2009, over 30 leading international lawyers and academics wrote an open letter to the Sunday Times in London expressing the opinion that Israel's attack on Gaza is an illegal act of aggression, not justified by self-defense.
Here is the full text of the letter:
ISRAEL has sought to justify its military attacks on Gaza by stating that it amounts to an act of “self-defense” as recognized by Article 51, United Nations Charter. We categorically reject this contention.
The rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas deplorable as they are, do not, in terms of scale and effect amount to an armed attack entitling Israel to rely on self-defense. Under international law self-defence is an act of last resort and is subject to the customary rules of proportionality and necessity.
The killing of almost 800 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and more than 3,000 injuries, accompanied by the destruction of schools, mosques, houses, UN compounds and government buildings, which Israel has a responsibility to protect under the Fourth Geneva Convention, is not commensurate to the deaths caused by Hamas rocket fire.
For 18 months Israel had imposed an unlawful blockade on the coastal strip that brought Gazan society to the brink of collapse. In the three years after Israel’s redeployment from Gaza, 11 Israelis were killed by rocket fire. And yet in 2005-8, according to the UN, the Israeli army killed about 1,250 Palestinians in Gaza, including 222 children. Throughout this time the Gaza Strip remained occupied territory under international law because Israel maintained effective control over it.
Israel’s actions amount to aggression, not self-defense, not least because its assault on Gaza was unnecessary. Israel could have agreed to renew the truce with Hamas. Instead it killed 225 Palestinians on the first day of its attack. As things stand, its invasion and bombardment of Gaza amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5m inhabitants contrary to international humanitarian and human rights law. In addition, the blockade of humanitarian relief, the destruction of civilian infrastructure, and preventing access to basic necessities such as food and fuel, are prima facie war crimes.
We condemn the firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel and suicide bombings which are also contrary to international humanitarian law and are war crimes. Israel has a right to take reasonable and proportionate means to protect its civilian population from such attacks. However, the manner and scale of its operations in Gaza amount to an act of aggression and is contrary to international law, notwithstanding the rocket attacks by Hamas.
Ian Brownlie QC, Blackstone Chambers
Mark Muller QC, Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales
Michael Mansfield QC and Joel Bennathan QC, Tooks Chambers
Sir Geoffrey Bindman, University College, London
Professor Richard Falk, Princeton University
Professor M Cherif Bassiouni, DePaul University, Chicago
Professor Christine Chinkin, LSE
Professor John B Quigley, Ohio State University
Professor Iain Scobbie and Victor Kattan, School of Oriental and African Studies
Professor Vera Gowlland-Debbas, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva
Professor Said Mahmoudi, Stockholm University
Professor Max du Plessis, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban
Professor Bill Bowring, Birkbeck College
Professor Joshua Castellino, Middlesex University
Professor Thomas Skouteris and Professor Michael Kagan, American University of Cairo
Professor Javaid Rehman, Brunel University
Daniel Machover, Chairman, Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights
Dr Phoebe Okawa, Queen Mary University
John Strawson, University of East London
Dr Nisrine Abiad, British Institute of International and Comparative Law
Dr Michael Kearney, University of York
Dr Shane Darcy, National University of Ireland, Galway
Dr Michelle Burgis, University of St Andrews
Dr Niaz Shah, University of Hull
Liz Davies, Chair, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyer
Prof Michael Lynk, The University of Western Ontario
Steve Kamlish QC and Michael Topolski QC, Tooks Chambers
While I do believe that Israel is committing war crimes against Gazans, my own assessment of the situation is that the Israelis are counting on the tacit support of PLO's Mahmoud Abbas and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak in their efforts to decimate Hamas. But as the Israelis pursue this goal of destroying Hamas and to strengthen Abbas's hand as Israel's partner in Gaza or pave the way for Egyptian control of Gaza, the Israeli brutality will likely backfire, just as it did in Lebanon. As the death toll mounts in Gaza, Hamas's stature will rise as the staunch defender of Palestinian and Arab rights while Abbas, Mubarak and others opposed to Hamas will be marginalized and isolated by the Palestinians and the Arabs at large. Iran will also be a beneficiary and its status will be enhanced as major regional power. The international repercussions of the Gaza catastrophe, like the Nakbah in 1948, will go far beyond the Middle East with major adverse impact on US and NATO efforts in other parts of the world such as Afghanistan, Iraq, South Asia, Somalia and Indonesia where there are ongoing conflicts. Those opposed to the United States will have an easier time recruiting committed fighters for their causes to wage war against the West and complicate Barack Obama's efforts aimed at improving America's battered image abroad. Obama's conspicuous silence on Gaza shows his reluctance to take on the growing power of the Israeli lobby in the United States. It is clear that the extraordinary power of lobbies such as the Israel lobby will severely limit Obama's policy options domestically and around the world.
As an American, I sincerely believe that the Bush policies, including the current handling of Gaza crisis by the United States, have been an unmitigated disaster for America. The US Congress has also been complicit in Bush's misdeeds, as evidenced by the latest Gaza resolution passed by the spineless US senate completely at the mercy of the powerful and arrogant Israel lobby in Washington.
Come January 20th, is anything going to change with Obama as far the US role in the Middle East is concerned? While hoping that Obama will pursue a wiser policy in the best long-term interest of both US and Israel, it would be foolish to hold my breath waiting for it to happen.
Here's a video clip of Zbignew Brazinski on Gaza situation:
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