The right to self-defence is not a one way street

By Steve Bishop

The advent of Israeli ground forces into southern Gaza marks a new escalation in the war on the Palestinian people declared by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF).  While the stated war aims of the Israeli government are to destroy Hamas the sheer scale of civilian casualties, now over 15,000, along with the displacement of over 1.2 million people means that this is effectively a war against the whole population in Gaza.

With even the United States calling for a more restrained military campaign following the seven-day truce and release of hostages, it is clear that the religious fundamentalists in the Israeli government are off message with their US military paymasters.  Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been categorical in what he sees as the mission of the IDF stating,

“We continue to fight with all our strength until we achieve all our goals; the return of all of our abductees, the elimination of Hamas and the promise that Gaza will never be a threat to Israel again.”

The prosect that Gaza would never be a ‘threat’ to Israel if the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people were acknowledged and a peaceful solution found, rather than one based upon occupation, intimidation, and military force, was clearly not in Netanyahu’s thoughts.

The coalition, which was assembled, following last year’s elections in Israel, saw Netanyahu pledging to expand illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories and to eventually annex the West Bank. His religious fundamentalist allies in the coalition reject the establishment of any Palestinian state.

The IDF are now looking to divide Gaza into dozens of numbered blocks then direct civilians into areas that will allegedly not be attacked.  Given the civilian death toll so far the Palestinian population could be forgiven for not following leafletted QR code directions “to track and follow the instructions of the IDF.” 

The stark reality for the people of Gaza is that there is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide from the IDF threat.  While the US may cry crocodile tears over its Middle East ally running out of control it cannot hide the fact that Israel, as the world’s fourth largest military force, is largely bankrolled by Washington.  The US has contributed $3.3 billion to Israel’s military budget this year alone.

The British government is also complicit in the supply of arms to Israel. British industry provides 15% of the components in the F35 stealth combat aircraft that are currently being used in the bombardment of Gaza. The contract for the components is estimated by Campaign Against Arms Trade to be worth £336m since 2016.

While the IDF can deploy state of the art missile technology courtesy of the world’s major arms manufacturers, the Palestinians are largely confined to the use of inaccurate home-made missiles when they can be smuggled past the Israeli blockade of Gaza and ongoing occupation of the West Bank.

As Palestine Solidarity Campaign point out,

“Gaza, with a population of over 2 million – of whom 50% are children – has been subjected to an Israeli-imposed blockade for the last 16 years. This collective punishment of an entire population is in absolute defiance of international law. It is worth remembering that 80% of the inhabitants of Gaza are refugees. “

This is hardly the basis of a threat to the military might of Israel or the existence of the Israeli state.

The scale of the Israeli bombardment has reduced large parts of Gaza to rubble and reduced the health service to being barely able to cope with even the most severe emergencies.  World Health Organisation senior emergency officer, Rob Holden, commenting on healthcare in Gaza recently said,

“There is no standing room.  The floor is awash with blood and patients lying waiting to receive lifesaving care.”  

The mass displacement of people from the north to the south of Gaza, enforced by the IDF, now means that the population of the south has doubled to over 2 million people.  Save the Children, visiting a shelter in the southern city of Khan Younis, observed that,

“It was designed for 1,000 people but has 35,000 in it.  There are 600 people for every toilet.”

This is the actual reality of the mantra of Western leaders that Israel has ‘the right to defend itself’.   The operations of the IDF in Gaza are not about self-defence they are an exercise in extermination, of Hamas it is claimed, but in reality an attempt to extinguish the will of the Palestinian people to assert their right to defend themselves, a right to resist occupation and to uphold the norms of international law.

Western leaders’ claims that IDF action is justified because Israel has ‘the right to defend itself’ were paper thin to start with.  They can only be seen now as a completely transparent attempt to dodge the hard work of getting down to holding the Israeli regime to account for decades of systematic oppression and the implementation of apartheid laws against the Palestinian people.

However, cracks in the Western edifice are beginning to show under the pressure of public protest.  French President Emmanuel Macron has joined the call for a ceasefire, saying that Israel must stop bombing Gaza and killing civilians, adding that there was “no legitimacy” for the bombing.

Unsurprisingly, in a statement responding to Macron’s comments, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that world leaders should be condemning Hamas, and not Israel.

Demonstrations worldwide continue to make the case for Palestinian rights and against the disproportionate response of the Israeli state.  Liberation will continue to assert, defend and promote the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people under international law.  The call for a ceasefire and the need for a negotiated two state solution to the occupation of Palestine must be addressed by the international community and the crimes of the current Israeli leadership exposed.

Join Liberation’s webinar on Dec 11, End the war on Palestine! Living in peace is a human right! With Dr Aqel Taqaz, MK Dr Ofer Cassif, Louise Regan, Ben Chacko, Baroness Christine Blower (Chair). Register here

Steve Bishop is a Senior Executive member of CODIR, and a regular contributor to Liberation Journal

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