BY VIC ALHADEFF
Sydney Morning Herald
January 8, 2009
Imagine if an offshore terrorist organisation starts firing rockets at towns in northern Australia, aimed at killing and terrorising as many civilians as possible. Australia offers a truce, but the offer is rejected. How long would we expect our Government to wait before using force to defend its citizens? Imagine that Australian forces attack the terrorists. Most of the casualties are operatives, but there are civilian casualties.
Does this mean Australia has used disproportionate force?
For six months a truce was in effect between Israel and Hamas. In truth, the rocket attacks from Gaza aimed at Israeli civilians only declined; they did not cease. Hamas continued to smuggle weapons from Egypt into Gaza. Israel did not respond with force, but restricted movement into and out of Gaza to slow the gunmen and weapons.
It continued to allow humanitarian supplies into Gaza and to supply Gazans with more than half of their electricity needs. Incredibly, rocket attacks from Gaza targeted the crossing-points through which humanitarian relief was provided.
The truce ended on December 19, and Israel sought an extension. Between December 24 and 27, Hamas fired 80 rockets a day at Israel and declared it would not renew the truce. The attacks continued unabated. By December 27, Israelis had had enough.
Backed by Iran, Hamas’s attacks against Israel are a crime against humanity because they aim to kill civilians. Hamas and its accomplices have fired about 8000 rockets and mortars at Israel since 2001, forcing 250,000 civilians to spend the past eight years in and out of bomb shelters. Children and elderly people in towns within range of Hamas missiles dare not venture outdoors, for when a siren signals an incoming missile, they have just 15 seconds to take cover.
Some accuse Israel of using disproportionate force in defending itself, even though the majority of casualties have been Hamas operatives. Israel’s intention is always to avoid harming civilians.
International law imposes a requirement of proportionality on the use of force in self-defence. The force must be limited to halting or repelling the attack and preventing a recurrence. But it is erroneous to think this means the force used must be equivalent to the extent of the force used in the initial attack.
According to the former International Court of Justice chief judge, Robert Ago, the action needed to halt and repulse the attack may have to assume dimensions disproportionate to those of the attack. What matters is the result to be achieved by the “defensive” action, not the forms, substance and strength of the action itself.
It follows that Israel may lawfully use whatever force is needed to remove the danger of Hamas rockets and prevent a recurrence of the attacks on its civilians. As long as the attacks continue, Israel is entitled to respond. It is time to direct some hard questions at Hamas. Why does it deliberately locate its weapons factories and rocket-launching sites in densely populated civilian areas? Gaza may be crowded, but there are vacant areas where it could relocate these items. But that would make it easier for Israel to destroy them.
What kind of leadership does Hamas offer when it uses its people as human shields? Hamas shoots at Israeli civilians while hiding behind Palestinian civilians. That is a double war crime, right there.
Why did Hamas refuse to extend the truce? Was it seeking to re-establish its street credibility in the face of competition from al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad?
Is Hamas trying to harden Israeli opinion to secure the election of Likud? Historically, it has tried to influence opinion in Israel against more moderate governments because they undermine its absolutist message.
Finally, since there has been no Israeli presence in Gaza since 2005, why does Hamas use its resources to attack Israel, instead of building up Gaza? By comparison, the West Bank – not under Hamas control – has undergone significant improvement in all these areas.
We come to the ugly heart of what Hamas is about and why its military wing is listed as a terrorist organisation in Australia and elsewhere. Its charter makes it clear that destroying Israel and killing its Jewish citizens takes higher priority than founding a Palestinian state.
If Hamas called off its war on Israel, Gaza’s situation would dramatically improve. There would be no need for Israel to resort to military action to defend its citizens or restrict movement into and out of the area. Gazans and Israelis could get on with building their lives and a future for their children.
Vic Alhadeff is chief executive officer of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.
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