Davide Mastracci: In this war, Israel is the aggressor
National Post, July 31/14
In a recent National Post column (‘Coming around to Israel’s side,’ July 19), Rex Murphy praised Stephen Harper for being “the best counter-voice to the clichéd hostility and animus found in most self-labeled ‘progressive’ perspectives” on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Murphy specifically highlights Harper’s “exquisite clarity on Israel’s right to defend itself,” claiming that even his opponents “acknowledge he is a very model of the clear, unequivocating politician” on this issue.
But the world does not need more leaders to be “unequivocating” in their support of Israel. Instead, the world needs leaders who will critically analyze what “Israel’s right to defend itself” really means.
Israel does have the right to defend itself. It also has the capability to do so, thanks in part to the billions in military aid that the United States has given Israel. However, portraying Israel as a victim merely responding to aggression from Hamas is disingenuous for two reasons: (1) the concept of self-defence requires one to be attacked first, and (2) striking an enemy in self-defence is legitimate only if it is in proportion to the original attack. Israel’s military effort does not meet either of these two criteria.
Israel initiated the current outbreak of violence. In The New York Times, Nathan Thrall argues that “The most immediate cause of this latest war [is that] Israel and much of the international community placed a prohibitive set of obstacles in the way of the Palestinian ‘national consensus’ government that was formed in early June.” This was followed up by a violent Israeli campaign through the West bank in June — following the abduction and murder of three Israelis in the West Bank — resulting in nine Palestinian deaths, over 400 arrests, and searches of more than 2,000 homes.
Even then, Hamas did not launch the first round of rocket strikes that came toward the end of June. Instead, according to the Times of Israel, Hamas initially launched rockets on“in revenge for an Israeli airstrike several hours earlier.” This Israeli airstrike admittedly was preceded by a rocket strike on Israel, likely from Palestinian militants in Islamic Jihad, but mistakenly attributed to Hamas. In fact, Hamas is thought to have tried to prevent these militants from launching their strike.
This ongoing outbreak of violence can be properly understood only in the context of the entire conflict. In this regard, Israel is the aggressor. Israel has illegally conquered and occupied Palestinian land. It has set up an illegal separation barrier that makes life extremely difficult for Palestinians. Israel also generally allows illegal settlements to be set up in remaining Palestinian lands, and watches as settlers provoke Palestinians. The recent outburst of violence should be regarded as one incident in a long trend of a powerful state bullying a dispossessed population.
Additionally, Israel’s offensive in Gaza has gone beyond the limits of any reasonable proportional response. Israel has one of the most powerful armies in the world. It has used this army to turn the conflict into a mostly one-sided, vicious offensive. More than 1,300 Palestinians have been killed, according to Gaza’s health ministry. About three quarters of these casualties are believed to be civilians.
On July 23, the United Nations Human Rights Council announced that it will be launching an “international inquiry” into Israel’s potential violations of international law. This inquiry was sparked by Israel’s ongoing bombing of homes, hospitals, mosques, media stations, and a variety of other non-combatant locations. Waging war against an entire population is not proportionate self-defence. Neither is flagrantly violating international law.
Supporters of Israel will argue that Palestinian violence is futile, as there’s no chance of defeating Israel. This is true in a sense, as Palestinians cannot afford the consequences of these wars. Yet at the same time, Palestinians also cannot afford the dehumanizing status quo that Israel considers to be peace.
As such, Israel must be willing to work toward a legitimate peace agreement that offers Palestinians a life free from the degrading restraints placed upon them.