Monday, 5 January 2009

Why calls for a ceasefire in Gaza are wrong

There are two standard responses in Britain to what is happening in Gaza.

The first from the standard Israel haters - Livingstone, Galloway, et al - is to say what Israel is doing is a warcrime, and to call for an immediate ceasefire. Support for the 'resistance' of Hamas from this group is either express and fiery, as from Galloway, or implied and nuanced, as from Livingstone.

The second is the classic, educated liberal response. It goes something like this: "Of course Hamas are justification for firing rockets into civilian areas in Israel...but Israeli actions entirely disproportionate...humanitarian catostrophe...both as bad as each other." And it ends in a call for an immediate ceasefire.

I go along with a little of the second response. There is, clearly, an appalling catastrophe unfolding in Gaza - though on a small scale compared to North Korea's enormous death camps, in Zimababwe, and so on. Israel's actions are not disproportionate, though, either morally or in law. The high kill rate of Palestinians compared to Israelis is irrelevant to this question, which may commentators do not seem to appreciate. Israel is taking steps to kill men who are trying to kill its people by rocket attacks, and it is doing so not randomly but by targetted attacks. Again, those same commentators point to attacks on universities or mosques as proof of warcrimes and/or disproportionality. But whether the target of an attack is a university or a mosque is attacked is irrelevant if the structure is used to directly support attacks on Israel, by, for example, storing weapons. Of course, all steps should be taken to minimise civilian casualties, and from what I have read Israel is - in direct contrast to Hamas - taking such steps. But when fighters deliberately base themselves in civilian areas, even carefully targetted attacks on those fighters will inevitably result in some civilian casualties, and if the fighters are legitimate targets for the attacks, as they are here, those casualties do not a warcrime make.

In other words, the fact that the actions of Israel to defend itself result in civilians, including children, being maimed and killed do not make them wrong either in law or ethically.

Nor does that fact mean that it is right to call for an immediate ceasefire. Who can doubt that it is appallingly inevitable that a cease-fire would simply mean a pause in hostilities - a pause that would, in all likelihood, allow Hamas to regroup and be resupplied by its Iranian sponsors - which would in turn mean more Israeli attacks to counter the renewed rocket attacks. 

But could they not sit down and talk? No, they couldn't. It is an absurdity to talk of Israel negotiating in any meaningful sense with Hamas during such a ceasefire, for its very purpose is the destruction of Israel. Hamas have said, indeed, that they are not interested in a ceasefire: their aim is to continue firing rockets into Israel, to kill Jews.

The only option, it seems to me, that carries any hope of a better future is for Israel to ignore the pressure of world opinion and push on against Hamas, destroying every base and every weapons cache and capturing or killing every Hamas fighter. There are reports that several Middle Eastern governments have quietly said that they hope Israel will do just that, recognising what a disaster Hamas are for the Palestinian people. Yes, more innocent civilians would die. Each such death would be a tragedy. But that would not mean Israel should not do it, if it were - as I think it would be - in the long term interests of all people in the Middle East.

1 comment:

dNo said...

Jonny, a well presented argument, and i agree the principle of aggressive defence... but i am troubled by the facts that the aggressor controls the water and power supplies, decides what food and aid enters the country, and has closed the border so the people have nowhere to escape to...
I dont know what the answer is, i dont even know if there is one...