Thomas Woodley: Helping Israel and Gaza choose a path other than mutual torment

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      In the wake of World War I (the “war to end all wars”), the League of Nations and its successor, the UN, developed a body of international law to set limits on what warring nations can do to each other in times of conflict. International law is intended to minimize the harm to the ordinary citizens of the respective countries and to injured or surrendered soldiers. When weighing the actions of the Israeli military and the armed groups operating in Gaza, including Hamas, international law must be kept in mind.

      One of the key obligations is to avoid harming civilians. This is accomplished by making a distinction between combatants and civilians, by not using disproportionate or unnecessary force, and by taking precautions before, during, and after any necessary action against a legitimate military target. Civilians are to be allowed a reasonable amount of time to flee to safety, and any injured are to be allowed to seek and receive medical attention unimpeded.

      These obligations apply to both sides at all times. Not even violations by the other side justify violating international law.

      Another principle is that of proportionality. If my neighbour punches my son, that’s wrong, but I’m not allowed to kill my neighbour in retaliation. Similarly, if Country A fires across the border to Country B, and kills two people, under international law that does not justify Country B razing Country A nor killing hundreds of Country B’s citizens.

      Another principle is the prohibition on collective punishment. An authority cannot punish an entire community for the crimes of a single individual or small group. 

      These rules make sense. They are designed to prevent conflicts from escalating out of control, and also from creating so many casualties that it becomes impossible to re-establish peace.

      Although in any conflict some civilian deaths are inevitable, the number of civilian fatalities is generally a good indicator of whether international law is being respected.

      In the current conflict between Israel and various armed groups in Gaza, as of the morning of July 17, about 220 Palestinians have been killed, and around 1,100 injured. The UN estimates that 90 percent of the victims are civilians. So far, one Israeli has been killed and a handful injured—some soldiers, others civilians. Israel—a world military power and a major exporter of sophisticated weapons—is quite capable of avoiding causing civilian deaths if it wants to. However, as noted by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, and various international human rights organizations, there are credible reports of the Israeli military targeting civilian homes, with unnecessary and unjustified Palestinian civilian deaths. Meanwhile, Hamas and other groups are lobbing unsophisticated rockets that often don’t go off and rarely cause damage in Israel.

      This is not the first time that the Israeli government has indulged in such an unlawful over-reaction. Israeli human rights group B’Tselem carefully compiles figures on the number of Israelis killed by Palestinians and the number of Palestinians killed by Israelis. It also investigates the circumstances of the killings, and distinguishes between Palestinians killed during involvement in hostilities and those killed despite no such involvement.

      According to B’Tselem figures, a total of 2,041 Palestinian non-combatants were killed between January 1, 2004, and May 31, 2014. In the same period, 186 Israeli civilians were killed by Palestinian forces. Do the math.

      Israeli torpedoed the recent round of peace talks hosted by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry by ratcheting up “settlement” building in the Palestinian territories that it has occupied since 1967—47 years. Such implantation of settlements by an occupying power is a grave violation of international law. Yet Israel has transferred about 600,000 of its own civilians into the occupied Palestinian territories. As a result, over 40 percent of the occupied Palestinian territories is off-limits to most Palestinians. Under the pre-1967 borders, Israel already has 78 percent of historical Palestine. So, its land grab for large chunks of the remaining 22 percent is not only illegal; it’s a genuine peace-killer.

      In Gaza, seven years of a sweeping blockade have left the Palestinians desperate and without hope. Although militant groups commit political suicide by launching rockets at Israel, Gaza society accepts them as a symbol of resistance, albeit a futile one.

      From all appearances, the current Israeli government expects Palestinians to roll over and die while Israel picks over the dismembered remains of the Palestinian state. 

      From what we know of human nature and history, a people’s quest for freedom and independence is inexorable. Thus, likely no amount of military might alone will ever guarantee Israelis’ peace of mind and safety. Rather, making an equitable peace with the Palestinians—allowing them to have an independent state of their own—is the only way Israelis will ever enjoy genuine security.

      It’s time Canadian MPs of all stripes get that, and push hard for an end to the occupation and to Israel’s land grab in the West Bank.


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      Jul 17, 2014 at 2:17pm

      Such biased nonsense.

      No mention of the war crimes perpetrated by Hamas. No mention of the UNRWA report confirming 20 missiles discovered in a Gaza school.

      Certainly Israel is no church choir but the absence of balance in this opinion renders it hysterical.

      anonymouse 1962

      Jul 17, 2014 at 4:31pm

      "One of the key obligations is to avoid harming civilians." Lobbing rockets (even unsophisticated ones) into cities and towns is absolutely trying to harm civilians! Israel sending rockets back is self defence. This would be over as soon as Hamas stops sending rockets into Israel. Nice double standards. BTW in most wars, the winner is always the side that has the most advanced weaponry and kills the most people.


      Jul 17, 2014 at 7:36pm

      If only you could get some Conservative MPs and the PMO boys who control them to read and consider this article. Instead, they blindly back Israel even when they are defying international law, building more illegal settlements and killing Palestinian children. Canada used to have an honourable role in the world, but no more.

      SPY vs SPY

      Jul 18, 2014 at 1:41pm

      Israel has a simple message for All Palestinians

      SUBMIT - LEAVE OR DIE - With the preference to LEAVE OR DIE

      I believe in equality - so lets give Palestinians $2 Trillion dollars on monetary and military aid and see what happens.

      The Insane State of Israel is really -

      The Jewish Military Colony in Palestine - it is an International Vulgarity and the majority of its citizens live in a Delusional World

      Robin Collins

      Jul 21, 2014 at 3:21pm

      There is no question that Hamas lobbying missiles randomly into civilian areas of Israel is also a violation of the laws of war. However in defending against that, Israel's options are not unlimited. The points made by Thomas Woodley are still valid. In addition, we need to consider Israel's violations of international law by it's other actions prior to the recent Hamas activities, including settlements in occupied territories. I've read the several arguments by those defending Israel on this count (temporary occupation in the period of peace negotiations) but they can not justify expanded settlements, nor permanence of occupation, etc. So there's a lot of law being broken here.

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      Jim Benham

      Jul 21, 2014 at 3:51pm

      Palestine should seek membership in the International Criminal Court,and Canada should endorse this move. Israel will not stop stealing land, building illegal settlements and agree to a peaceful settlement based on the 1967 borders. It is time to use the international courts to seek justice. The International Court of Justice has already ruled that the settlements are illegal. Now the ICC can lock some criminal Israeli leaders behind bars.

      Stan Squires

      Aug 14, 2014 at 10:31am

      The People of Palestine didn't want their country partitioned in 1947.The UN was responsible for that and should be condemned for it.The Israeli gov. is an apartheid gov.and it is impossible to have peace with such a gov.South Africa during apartheid is a good example of that.
      The main problem is that the govs. of Canada,USA and the EU support the Israeli apartheid gov. so it is very hard to solve this problem.These govs.did the same when South Africa had apartheid.That is why apartheid lasted so long in South Africa.The People of Gaza got the support of the majority of people in the world.THe BDS champagne against Israel got lots of support in all parts of the world.It is this kind of action that is needed along with other kinds of support for Palestine that will bring down the apartheid gov. of Israel.

      9 9Rating: 0