Israel's 'self-defense' argument against Hamas holds no water
Israel's ceasefire with Hamas is holding, but unless Israel completely lifts its blockade and includes Hamas in two-state negotiations, renewed rocket attacks from Gaza are likely. Should that happen, Israel would not be justified in arguing self-defense.
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A second reason that the self-defense argument fails is that even if Israel had genuinely ended its occupation and repression of Gaza, it has not ended its direct occupation over East Jerusalem and much of the West Bank. Instead, it has expanded the number of Jewish settlements and land-grabs in those areas.Skip to next paragraph
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Gaza is not a separate country or people from the West Bank, and the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian Oslo agreement specifically states that Gaza and the West Bank are “a single territorial unit.” Consequently, the Gazan people retain their right of resistance to occupation and repression.
To believe otherwise is like believing that, if the British had withdrawn from New Jersey in the 1770s but continued to occupy the other 12 colonies, New Jersey residents would no longer have had the right to take up arms to support American independence.
To be sure, the right of resistance does not include the right to employ terrorism. At the same time, it is certainly relevant that the Palestinians have no hope of gaining their freedom by defeating the Israeli armed forces. Nor is nonviolent protest and resistance likely to succeed, for Israel has either repeatedly ignored it or suppressed it, often meeting demonstraters (including Israelis) with beatings, rubber bullets, and sometimes real bullets.
The final flaw in the Israeli self-defense argument is that Western morality proscribes the use of force unless all nonviolent means of conflict settlement have been exhausted.
Israel, however, has repeatedly refused to negotiate long-term truces with Hamas, and it has even broken past agreements. While Hamas still refuses to recognize Israel’s right to exist, since 2009 there has been substantial evidence that it is ready to go beyond ceasefires and join with the more moderate Palestinian Authority in the West Bank in supporting a two-state political settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Although Hamas’s position has been ambiguous and sometimes contradictory, this does not justify Israel’s refusal even to negotiate with Hamas to explore the peace possibilities.
As long as the Israeli occupation, repression, and intransigence continue, Israel has no legitimate or persuasive claim that it is defending its homeland against unprovoked Palestinian attacks. To stop those attacks and make last year’s ceasefire permanent, it needs to fully lift its blockade and bring Hamas into the negotiation process.
Jerome Slater is professor emeritus of international politics, US foreign policy, and international security at the State University of New York at Buffalo. A longer version of this piece ran in the journal International Security.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article, based on reporting from the Associated Press, incorrectly described Israel's lifting of a 2007 ban on construction materials into Gaza. AP has issued a correction saying that the ban applied to materials for Gaza's private sector. Since the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007, Israel has allowed humanitarian-related construction materials and materials under UN auspices. Lifting the ban allows private business to ship materials to Gaza. Also, an earlier version incorrectly described Israeli embargo efforts at the Gaza-Egypt border. Israel does not control that border.