Earlier this week, Israel’s Ambassador to Ireland, Boaz Modai, penned a particularly audacious letter in the Irish Times. His narrative is almost entirely designed to misleading the public through the selective manipulation of information and half truths to obscure Israel’s crimes.
Modai claims that “Hamas began its present rocket offensive against Israel on June 12th”, but this is patently untrue. A Reuters report from 30th June reveals that Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu only accused Hamas of this as of Monday [30th June]:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Hamas on Monday of involvement, for the first time since a Gaza war in [November] 2012, in rocket attacks on Israel and threatened to step up military action to stop the strikes.
So, even by Israel’s own reckoning, Hamas had not fired any rockets in the year-and-a-half since “Operation Pillar of Defense” ended in a ceasefire. Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf has even written about the possibility that Netanyahu and Israeli authorities even misled the public about the murders, allowing people, including their families, to think they were still alive and organising a campaign for their release. This was done in order to justify operation ‘Brothers Keeper’ which saw at least 8 Palestinians killed, hundreds arrested and accusations of collective punishment as Netanyahu went after Hamas. Back to Operation Protective Edge, Larry Derfner writes: “The main reason for the high number of Palestinian civilian casualties, obviously, is that an incredibly powerful air force is pummelling civilian and residential areas with tons of explosives and high tech weaponry. The Gaza Strip is one of the most crowded, vulnerable places in the world – and the fault for civilian deaths lies squarely with Israel, whose punitive, often lethal blockade of Gaza, together with its belligerent military occupation of the West Bank, has ensured a cycle of constant violence, oppression and human rights violations.”
Ambassador Modai claims that “Israel did not ask for this war”, but this is clearly in contradiction with the facts. Israel had already also already escalated matters on June 11, the day before the kidnappings, by killing not only a wanted man riding on a bicycle, but a 10-year-old child riding with him.
Boaz Modai’s pseudo-legal points deliver a narrative that ensures our focus is on Hamas, as opposed to the actions of the Israeli forces.
Let’s be clear; Hamas is undoubtedly committing war crimes, the “human shields” point is a legitimate one to raise, but it is how this is being used that’s also important. Israel can’t just base the fact that Gazan militants are embedded among the civilian population, or that they keep much of their weaponry in residential neighborhoods, to absolve themselves of responsibility under international humanitarian law.
Hamas is absolutely violating international law in this regard, however, as Larry Derfner wrote in +972 Magazine on July 11th, Israel is demonstrating sheer hypocrisy; “every guerrilla army that fights on its own turf against an incomparably stronger enemy fights from among the civilian population.” He goes on to highlight the pre-1948 Irgun and Lehi guerrillas, how they would kill the British, then “melt back” into the Jewish neighborhoods in Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan. Yes, Hamas combatants engage in this odious style of guerilla combat, but this in no way absolves Israel of it’s responsibilities and obligations under international law. Israel has committed distinct war crimes, Israeli Air Force, Tank and Navy assaults guarantee that a high proportion of civilians in Gaza are going to get killed and maimed. Be under no illusions; Israel is not showing restraint.
International law is clear, consistent and rather simple – any military must fully assess each situation and ask key questions;
– is there a person actually firing a rocket on a roof? Usually the answer is No. (In most cases the shelling and bombing of Gaza occurs on targets that are labelled as ‘storage’ rather than active rocket sites)
– Are there civilians inside the house inside which a very hypothetical person is firing a non verified rocket? Yes.
– Did the armed forces know about the presence of civilians in the most densely populated area in the world? Yes.
Conclusion according to international law: War Crime.
Israel can only strike active sites of hostility, otherwise it’s pre-emptive, and pre-emptive action is not self-defense.
Boaz Modai is attempting a moral justification in his writings, this is a tactic used in order to create political pressure, ensuring no government attempts to hold Israel accountable to the laws of war & international humanitarian and human rights law respectively.
Legally, any putative force MUST give credible intelligence to strike – this must be made available for scrutiny at the earliest possible moment otherwise the army, in my opinion, clearly has something to hide. This is, understandably not pragmatic – but otherwise it’s a breach of international law.
The IDF have some of the most sophisticated technology in the world – they monitor every inch of Gaza 24/7 – it’s impossible they don’t know where civilians are located.
Further more, Israeli officials have publicly admitted in statements to the New York Times (14th July) that part of the IDF’s strategy is to “inflict pain” on the population of Gaza I.e. using a deterrent ideology/strategy.This is essentially an admission to war crimes.
There is nothing remotely legitimate, responsible and level-headed about Israel’s military operations in Gaza. I urge readers to fully consider the facts and approach this conflict, it’s injustices and nuances, very carefully and look at as many clear facts as possible. Let’s avoid propaganda designed deliberately to breed, cultivate and survive of ignorance.
Gary Spedding is an human rights and conflict resolution advocate deeply involved in conversations surrounding conflict transformation and Middle East conflict dynamics as well as comparative conflict analysis of the Northern Ireland Peace process. He has written op-eds for a number of online publications, including Huffington Post UK, Belfast Telegraph, TheJournal.ie and +972 Magazine. He is also an active member of the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland.
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