While Israel does not occupy Gaza as the allies did in Germany after World War II or Germany did in Italy during World War II, it is still the controllng power. Gaza’s ports are controlled by Israel. Gaza’s land routes to other lands are controlled by Israel or at Rafah by Egypt. Gaza has no airport from which its people can travel for business, medical necessity or for leisure. While bordering the Mediterranean, its people cannot exit from their own sea coast. Note the Israeli piracy against an unarmed ship in the Mediterranean was in Gazan waters and certainly in international waters. Gaza is trapped; it is bullied; it is savaged by one of the three non-signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (1968). Israel cannot exempt itself from the category of occupant and cannot starve a colony’s population, deny it building materials or otherwise create a sanctions regime that essentially reduces the existence of 1.5 million residents to utter dependency on a nuclear, powerful, religiously antagonistic State of Israel.
The argument that Israel uses to justify this inhumane and degrading treatment of Gaza is the prevention of Hamas–its democratically elected government–from launching rockets into Israel. While nations have the right of self-defence and certainly the right to protect its civilian populations, it must exercise proportionality in doing so. It cannot justify a relatively low-grade military threat by collectively reducing an entire nationality into slavery and abject dependence. A constabulary knowing that a murderer has entered a high-rise residential building, for example, could not raze or bomb the building in order to eliminate this threat because many civilians would perish as a consequence. The action of eliminating a threat cannot be justified if the process leads to the indiscriminate suffering and destruction of innocents. Israel should know this from its own history. They are no longer victims; they area victimizers.
I am not enthralled with just war doctrine and believe the concept is somewhat oxymoronic due to the presumption that war can be just. However, the principle of proportionality that derives from Roman Catholic Just War Doctrine, is a means-ends standard of some relevance and ethical acceptance. Do the means employed to achieve a purportedly good end justify that end? In this case, suppressing rocket fire which threatened relatively few Israelis– but certainly cannot be ignored by a nation-state–in this manner is violative of the just-war doctrine of proportionality and is in direct contravention of the epic 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention.
Israel is not the only nation that is guilty of war crimes and international humanitarian law although, as the Goldstone Report has assiduously articulated, it is certainly a repeat offender when it comes to Gaza and the West Bank. Its patron, the United States of America, far exceeds Israel in its unjust wars. While recognising Israeli depredations are all too common within the international community, it is for us who live in relatively democratic nations to condemn these actions against fellow human beings. Less developed nationalities who suffer in poverty and despair as their rich neighbors attend the ballet, eat their yogurt, go to far away resorts for holiday, drink fine wine and talk and text on their iPhones, are not a circumstance that the emerging 21st Century should tolerate.
I have always felt Israel was using the excuse of national defence, welcome to the American world of “national security” double-speak, to wreak vengeance over a people that did not accept silently their Nakba (holocaust) of 1948, in which perhaps 700,000 innocent people, who were not in Europe during the Nazi-holocaust, were utterly expelled from Palestine to make way for a Jewish state that had no legitimate, secular or rational legal claim to the land.
For those who claim criticism of Israel is an example of anti-semitism, that begs a bigger question. Does a nation that declares itself to have an official state religion-in this case Judaism–exempt itself from criticism because of its Jewish identity? I fail to see the rationality in such argumentation much less the democratic justification for such an exclusionary founding principle. Yet that can be addressed in another context.
The following is more contextualisation from Al Jazeera on the illegality of the siege of Gaza as perpetrated by Israel:
Q&A: Why Israel’s siege is illegal:
Israel denies that it occupies Gaza, but it still maintains “effective control” over the territory [AFP]
The International Committee of the Red Cross has described Israel’s blockade of Gaza as a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
That conclusion rests on the Israeli government’ status as an occupying power in Gaza, which assigns it certain obligations to the people of Gaza.
Those obligations are spelt out in detail by the Fourth Geneva Convention. At their most basic, though, they require Israel to provide for the basic needs of the people, particularly food and medical care.
To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population; it should, in particular, bring in the necessary foodstuffs, medical stores and other articles if the resources of the occupied territory are inadequate.
The convention also requires the occupying power to allow sufficient shipments of aid – food, clothing, medical supplies and other essentials – and to take steps to preserve the health care system in the occupied territory.
Many Gazans rely on generators for power; their improper use has killed more than 100 people. Israel does not meet those basic requirements, according to many observers. Eighty per cent of people living in Gaza rely on food aid to survive; 14 per cent of children suffer from stunted growth due to malnutrition.
Power cuts are routine: 98 per cent of the population copes with routine blackouts. Fuel supplies are heavily restricted.
More than 100 basic medicines are unavailable in Gaza, and the territory’s few remaining hospitals – several were damaged during the 2008-2009 Israeli war in Gaza – lack basic supplies and equipment.
But didn’t Israel withdraw from Gaza? How is it still an occupying power?
It’s true that the Israeli government no longer has a presence inside the Gaza Strip. Former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon ordered the withdrawal of all Israelis (including both soldiers and settlers) from the territory in his 2005 “unilateral disengagement plan”.
But the Fourth Geneva Convention applies whenever a state has “effective control” over a territory. The Israeli government still controls Gaza’s airspace, and its land and sea borders. The only goods and people allowed into Gaza are those approved by the Israeli government.
Last month’s raid on the aid flotilla bound for Gaza is an instructive example. The organisers of the flotilla say their boats were on course to travel through Gazan waters, not Israeli waters. But the Israeli army still attacked the flotilla to prevent it from entering Gaza – showing that Israel maintains control over Gaza.
If there was no occupation, would the blockade still be illegal?
The principle of “proportionality” is central to international law: The military advantage gained by an action must outweigh the harm caused to the civilian population.
Douglas Guilfoyle, a maritime legal expert, says the blockade does not meet the proportionality testThe blockade does not meet this test. It imposes hardships on the entire population of Gaza – 1.5 million people – purportedly in order to achieve a limited military aim: preventing Hamas from firing rockets at Israel.
What’s more, documents revealed last week by the Israeli human rights organisation Gisha show that the blockade actually has a political aim, not a military one. A written statement from the Israeli government described the blockade as “economic warfare” and said it was intended to break Hamas’s control over the government in Gaza.
What about the Egyptian government?
The Egyptian border crossing with Gaza, at Rafah, has been mostly sealed since Hamas took power in June of 2007. (The Egyptian government reopened the crossing earlier this month following Israel’s raid on the aid flotilla.)
But Egypt is not an occupying power in Gaza – it does not exercise “effective control” over the territory – so, whatever the moral and political arguments against its blockade, it is not required to apply the same legal standard as Israel.