Friday, July 25, 2014

A legal and moral case for Hamas rocket fire

Jonathan Cook's blog

24 JULY 2014

Two leading intellectuals make separate and eloquent cases that the people of Gaza have the right to resist by any means – including by firing rockets – Israel’s efforts to slowly extinguish their right to self-determination, and possibly to life itself. They argue that the Palestinians have this right most certainly at a moral level, but also almost certainly at the level of international law.

I recommend reading each article in its entirety but, knowing the constraints on readers’ time and attention, I have extracted the most salient points they make.

Norman Finkelstein:
It is not altogether clear what constitutes an indiscriminate weapon [a reference to Human Rights Watch's judgment that all Palestinian rockets from Gaza are war crimes by definition because they are not "precise"]. The apparent standard is a relative one set by the available technology: If an existing weapon has a high probability of hitting its target, then any weapons with a significantly lower probability are classified as indiscriminate. But, by this standard, only rich countries, or countries rich enough to purchase high-tech weapons, have a right to defend themselves against high-tech aerial assaults. It is a curious law that would negate the raison d’ĂȘtre of law: the substitution of might by right. …

The United States and Britain, among others, have staunchly defended the right of a state to use nuclear weapons by way of belligerent reprisal. By this standard, the people of Gaza surely have the right to use makeshift projectiles to end an illegal, merciless seven-year-long Israeli blockade or to end Israel’s criminal bombardment of Gaza’s civilian population. Indeed, in its landmark 1996 advisory opinion on the legality of nuclear weapons, the [International Court of Justice] ruled that international law is not settled on the right of a state to use nuclear weapons when its “survival” is at stake. But, if a state might have the right to use nuclear weapons when its survival is at stake, then surely a people struggling for self-determination has the right to use makeshift projectiles when it has been subjected to slow death by a protracted blockade and recurrent massacres. …

Fully 95 percent of the water in Gaza is unfit for human consumption. By all accounts, the Palestinian people now stand behind those engaging in belligerent reprisals against Israel. In the Gaza Strip, they prefer to die resisting than to continue living under an inhuman blockade. Their resistance is mostly notional, as makeshift projectiles cause little damage. So, the ultimate question is, Do Palestinians have the right to symbolically resist slow death punctuated by periodic massacres, or must they lie down and die?

Chris Hedges:
If Israel insists, as the Bosnian Serbs did in Sarajevo, on using the weapons of industrial warfare against a helpless civilian population then that population has an inherent right to self-defense under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. The international community will have to either act to immediately halt Israeli attacks and lift the blockade of Gaza or acknowledge the right of the Palestinians to use weapons to defend themselves. …

Violence, even when employed in self-defense, is a curse. It empowers the ruthless and punishes the innocent. It leaves in its aftermath horrific emotional and physical scars. But, as I learned in Sarajevo during the 1990s Bosnian War, when forces bent on your annihilation attack you relentlessly, and when no one comes to your aid, you must aid yourself. When Sarajevo was being hit with 2,000 shells a day and under heavy sniper fire in the summer of 1995 no one among the suffering Bosnians spoke to me about wanting to mount nonviolent resistance. …

The number of dead in Gaza resulting from the Israeli assault has topped 650, and about 80 percent have been civilians. The number of wounded Palestinians is over 4,000 and a substantial fraction of these victims are children. At what point do the numbers of dead and wounded justify self-defense? 5,000? 10,000? 20,000? At what point do Palestinians have the elemental right to protect their families and their homes? …

The Palestinians will reject, as long as possible, any cease-fire that does not include a lifting of the Israeli blockade of Gaza. They have lost hope that foreign governments will save them. They know their fate rests in their own hands. The revolt in Gaza is an act of solidarity with the world outside its walls. It is an attempt to assert in the face of overwhelming odds and barbaric conditions the humanity and agency of the Palestinian people. There is little in life that Palestinians can choose, but they can choose how to die.

Tagged as: Israel war crimes

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  1. I agree with much of the logic here. My question is how Israel could lift a blockade when it has now been proven that Hamas has used cement, piping, etc. - materials they claim are needed to build houses - for the construction of tunnels into Israel? It seems logical to assume that if Israel lifts a blockade,, they would be allowing additional tunnels to be created. Any ideas on this?

  2. Just another thought,...In reading this article again, it seems that if Hamas' rockets are justified, as the argument goes, then so too might a suicide bomber blowing up a cafe full of people? Extending this logic means that any act of violence upon civilians can be justified so long as the actor feels that his or his community's life is at stake, correct? (I'm not looking for an argument, just wondering if this is the correct deduction per the reasoning set forth by Finkelstein and Hedges.)

  3. The legalistic arguments I posted have their limits. Context is needed. The context is that a violently oppressed, occupied people have the right to resistance. Israel is an invading power that uses force and violence on a daily, ground-level basis to ghettoize the Palestinians and steal their land. Israel has overwhelming military power and endless funds from the USA. What options do Palestinians have? Peaceful protesters are treated to mass arrest and shootings (West Bank reality where Palestinians have no legal rights & are under martial law). The Gaza blockade is an attempt to strangle the populace into submission because they dared to vote for a party that Israel does not like. Hamas tactic may be good, bad or indifferent, but they have a right to fight back. The Algerian resistance used bombs to terrorize French colonizers, civilians or not. Can you condemn it? I can't. The African National Congress was not a pacifist organization and had an armed wing that killed white farmers. You could say this is bad tactics or even condemn it morally, but it was their right to fight back.