Daniel Taub in The Boston Globe:
…The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian territories, [...] Richard Falk, recently issued a report that goes one remarkable step further. In the conditions existing in Gaza, he asserts, any Israel military response would be “inherently unlawful.” According to Falk’s understanding of international law, Israel has no right whatsoever to defend itself.
Taub’s claim here — that Falk ever said “Israel has no right whatsoever to defend itself” — is not a fair or reasonable summary of what Falk wrote.
It’s true that Falk said, in essence, that under the conditions that existed in Gaza, there was no legal way for Israel to engage in a large-scale attack on Gaza. Taub’s trick here is to ignore that Israel could have changed “the conditions existing in Gaza.”
For example, Israel didn’t exhaust all diplomatic remedies before attacking; had they done so, that would have changed the legal basis of their attack, according to Falk.
Falk also emphasizes that Israel closed Gazas borders, essentially trapping all Gazans, including the elderly, the ill, and children, in a war zone. That’s another condition that Israel could have tried to alter.
Israel could also have really ended the occupation in Gaza — giving Gaza true independence — in which case, Israel would have had the right to treat Gaza as an attacking nation. But since Israel has for all practical purposes never ended the occupation, Israel has taken on the legal responsibility to protect the well-being of the citizens of Gaza — a responsibility which is incompatible with bombing the shit out of those citizens.
Israel has a right to defend itself. That doesn’t mean that Israel has a right to do anything to defend itself, or that it doesn’t have a responsibility to fully pursue all possible diplomatic routes before engaging in an attack that killed or injured 1 in every 225 Gazans.
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Taub also writes:
I met with a group of eminent jurists who were on a fact-finding mission, examining Israel’s military operation in Gaza. After listening to their concerns and criticisms, I asked them: “Considering the rocket attacks launched against Israel by terrorist groups in Gaza, what in your view would have constituted a lawful response?” The answer was total silence.
I really wish I could talk to those “eminent jurists,” and get their account of that conversation. Call me cynical, but my bet is that their recollection would not entirely match Mr. Taub’s.
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A total of 1,434 Palestinians were killed, of whom 235 were combatants. Some 960 civilians reportedly lost their lives, including 288 children and 121 women; 239 police officers were also killed, 235 in air strikes carried out on the first day. A total of 5,303 Palestinians were injured, including 1,606 children and 828 women.
This was in response to Hamas rockets that — horrible as they were — still killed fewer than five Israelis.
Marty Perez dismissed Palestinian concerns the hundreds of civilian casualties as “whining” and wrote:
this is what I would say to Hamas and to the people of Gaza: “If a rocket or missile is launched against us, if you take captive one of our soldiers (as you have held one for two and a half years), if you raise a new Intifada against us, there will be an immediate response. And it will be very disproportionate. Proportion does not work.”
When people argue that the appropriate response to the deaths of four Israelis is for Israel to kill a thousand Palestinians, their unstated premise is that Palestinian lives are worth enormously less than Israeli lives.
Hat tip: The Debate Link.