Opinion: The Need for Moral Clarity on the Israel-Hamas War

July 28, 2014 10:24 am 20 comments

IDF artillery corps. Photo: IDF.

The latest Israeli-Hamas war, with its evocative images of human suffering, has engaged hearts and minds the world over, particularly in this digital age of social media and instant communication.

Indeed, the death of any innocent — Israeli or Palestinian — is a tragedy, and no one can fail to be moved by the human suffering and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

But, while Hamas has rejected cease-fires proposed by Egypt and the UN, including a humanitarian cease-fire, it has continued its relentless rocket assaults and tunnel invasions, the proximate triggers for this immediate conflict.

If we want to prevent further tragedies, it is important to go beyond the “fog of war” — to go behind the daily headlines that cloud understanding and the clichés (the “cycle of violence”) that corrupt it — and ask some fundamental questions about root causes and the basis for its resolution.

1. Are you aware that the Hamas charter and declarations call for the destruction of Israel and the killing of Jews wherever they may be?

2. Are you aware that the Hamas charter and declarations refer to Jews as “inherently evil,” as a “cancer” as responsible for all evils in the world and as defilers of Islam?

3. Are you aware that Hamas — not only during the present hostilities, but before them— has propagated a state-sanctioned culture of hate in the mosques, in the schools, in the broadcasting system, in the summer camps and training camps?

4. Do you agree that such statements promote hatred and contempt for Jews and constitute an obstacle to peace?

5. Do you agree that Israel, like any other state, has the right to live in peace and security, free from any threats or acts of force?

6. Are you aware that since Israel withdrew all its citizens, uprooted all its settlements, and completely disengaged from Gaza in 2005, Hamas has deliberately – and indiscriminately – launched over 11,000 rockets and missiles, terrorizing Israeli cities, towns and villages?

7. Are you aware that Hamas’ deliberate strategy of targeting Israeli civilians constitutes an armed attack under the UN Charter in violation of customary international law?

8. Do you agree that Israel— like any other state — has both the right and obligation to protect its citizens, and a right to self-defence against such armed attack as set forth in Article 51 of the UN Charter?

Indeed, in a recent joint statement, the European Union’s 28 foreign ministers called on Hamas to “immediately . . . renounce violence,” while recognizing Israel’s “legitimate right to defend itself against any attacks.”

9. Do you agree that, while Israel has the right to self-defense, its exercise must comport with the principles of international humanitarian law, including the principle of proportionality and the prohibition against the infliction of unnecessary suffering?

10. Do you agree that Palestinians in Gaza have the same right as Israelis to live in peace and security? Are you aware of the domestic repression by Hamas of Palestinians in Gaza, of the use and abuse of Palestinian civilians as human shields and that Hamas has converted the civilian infrastructure to an underground terrorist city?

11. Are you aware that Hamas is designated a terrorist entity by Canada, the United States and the European Union, and that UN Security Council resolutions require Palestinian governing authorities to deny safe havens to terrorists?

12. Are you aware that Hamas squandered the opportunity offered by Israeli disengagement from Gaza in 2005 to divert resources from state building to the building of a terrorist infrastructure at the expense of its own people?

13. Do you agree that the cease-fire must be durable and sustainable to protect the peace and security of both Israelis and Palestinians?

14. Do you agree that a comprehensive and enduring cease-fire should include: the recognition of Israel’s right to live in peace and security; the cessation of all acts of terror and violence against Israeli civilians; the demilitarization of Gaza; the dismantling of its weapons infrastructure and the disbanding of its terrorist militias; the establishment of an international protection and stabilization force to enforce the cease-fire and to protect against the rebuilding of any terrorist infrastructure; the deployment of a massive humanitarian undertaking to ensure assistance reaches those in need; the initiation of a comprehensive program for the reconstruction of Gaza and the rehabilitation of its citizens; and the freeing of Palestinian society from the cynical and oppressive culture of hate and incitement fueled by Hamas.

I close on a personal note. I write not only as a law professor and MP, but as one who has family in Israel and friends in Palestine, and who has lived and worked in the region and been engaged in the struggle for peace.

The overriding truth of these past 40 years for me has always been clear and remains the same. I will stand with those who support the right of peoples in the Middle East — Israelis and Palestinians alike — to live in peace and security, free from any threats or acts of force, a cornerstone of UN principle and Canadian foreign policy; and I will oppose all those, like Hamas and its patron Iran, who seek the destruction of any people or state in violation of the UN Charter and all civilized norms.

Irwin Cotler is former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and the Liberal Party of Canada’s Critic for Rights, Freedoms & International Justice. He has written extensively on the Middle East.

20 Comments

  • Mr Cotler -

    I have the deepest respect for your lifetime of work in the promotion of human rights. Your article is fine, as far as it goes, but is disingenuous and only addresses that Alice of the conflict where Israel’s rights as a nation shine.

    You frame your argument showing Israel vs Hamas. The fighting in recent weeks has clearly shown that Israel is fighting against the entire Gazan population. Videos of an entire neighbourhood leveled in one hour, bombing UN schools containing thousands of refugees on the premise of destroying a few weapons and a 80% casualty rate are evidence that Hamas is not the sole target.

    And Mr Cotler, Israel did not completely withdraw from Gaza in 2005. Your argument and reputation as a fair broker are not helped by perpetrating that fiction. Controlling all movements in and out, restricting (and killing) any reasonable hopes for economic independence by limiting exports – effective control was still Israel’s.

    Using your framework, I have a few questions for you.

    1. Do you agree that the Palestinian people have a right to their own state, with all the independence and freedoms that implies?

    2. Do you agree that, without a realistic possibility of gaining that independence, that Palestinians are reacting in the same pattern of subversion as other subjugated people have, from Soweto to Dublin to Warsaw?

    3. Do you agree that Gazans should be asked to simply return to a life of siege and impoverishment, simply accepting that as their state or is it reasonable that they should expect more?

    The excellent documentary The Gatekeepers showed, in interviews with past heads of Israeli intelligence service Shin Bet, that they overwhelmingly agree that without a meaningful process to create a Palestinian state, this latest war will be repeated without end.

    I encourage you to have the courage to lead a path to peace, not thru some tired hammering of Hamas, but thru a larger vision of what needs to be achieved.

  • The Hamas charter (available on the web) is truly a nasty, hateful document that leaves no room for compromise. However, I could find no reference in it to some of the quoted phrases in the above article, such as “inherently evil” and “cancer”. It’s important to be accurate if you want to be influential.

  • A well written piece of logic. Unfortunately, no amount of logic can make those whose mind is blocked by bias and antisemitism see the truth. Only such a person can justify what Hamas is doing and try to equate it with what IDF is doing. IDF should not leave Gaza until the last tunnel – actually built with Israeli resources is destroyed.

  • Very well said sir

    very articulate and it hits the nail on the head

    if us Canadians had been of a mind to shoot rockets over our southern Border we would have been invaded and probably defeated [ unless US forces got lost again ]

    no nation does not have the right to defend itself from such attacks

    Israel has shown a great deal of restraint over Rocket attacks and Suicide bombings and other incursions

    it is unfortunate that Palestinian civilians are being injured and Killed but that is the choice of Hamas who deliberately set up rocket launchers in Civilian occupied ares hoping to draw fire from Israel and generate Publicity for them in the world press

    Hamas were elected as i understand to represent the people of the gaza strip in spite of the fact they are a Terrorist Organization and recognized as such by the majority of the free world

    perhaps it is time the people of Gaza try another Option
    in the hope of achieving a lasting Peace

  • Richard Wahl

    This Article is wonderful a complete statement of Israel’s position. It should be sent to President Obama, the UN and the European community. Maybe if they read it with and open mind they will grasp Israel’s position and support it the way Canada has done.

  • Re point 3: substitute the word “Hamas” for the acronym “UNWRA” and you will find one of the root causes for the vicious racial hatred of the Palestinians for Jews and Israel. UNWRA needs to be disbanded and responsibility for the “refugees in perpetuity” handed over to the UNHCR. It ought to be one of Israel’s demands, as well as getting rid of Christopher Gunness and Robert Turner and the other apologists for the terrorists.

    • Apologists or paid flacks? How on earth did these two justify their demands that Israel permit the entry of such a vast supply of building materials without accounting for where and how it was being used?

      And how the hell did the tunnel builders manage to dispose of the vast quantities of excavated soil without it being noticed?

  • Thank you sir. It is truly sad that the present leaders of the US lack the moral and intellectual strength that you have The Us should have demanded that hamas stop terrorism and disarm before any pa aid would be sent, they should have made the same demands from the pa/plo/fatah which were required under Oslo.

  • Brilliantly stated. These truths are what Hamas and it’s allies including racist neo-Nazi Jew haters and the “useful idiots” on the Left who apologize for the Islamist terrorist jihadis do not want the world to know. We must get these truths out to the world. Canada is a great friend of the Jewish people and Canada stands by the side of Israel and human decency.

  • Print it in Arabic and drop the leaflets over Gaza….and while were at it, Judea and Samaria.

  • Well said Please continue to distribute…try media outlets…really well written
    And true!

  • Well written and to the point.

  • I would like to see a law-fearing nation of Israel to continue to exist. However:

    1. Are you aware that Irgun was labeled a Terrorist organization by Great Britain for the King David Hotel bombing?

    2. Are you aware that Tzipi Ligni defends the actions of the Irgun as instrumental to the creation of the nation of Israel?

    3 Are you aware that Israel cut off all means of food or economy to Gaza for the last 2-3 years?

    4. Are you aware that the Arabs did not banish Jews from Palestine, but you banished them from their own lands and homes?

    5 Are you aware that Benyamin Netanyahu has praised the King David Hotel bombing, one of the worst terrorist acts of the 20the century, as a legitimate military act? Many passersby were killed.

    6 Are you aware that the British commander ignored warnings of the bombing because so many threats had been issued, and because he refused to take orders to evacuate by non-ruling terrorists?

    7 Does the above statement sound familiar?

    8 Are you aware that Jews are taught to see all Arabs as militants and this causes racism?

    9 Are you aware that 4 UN buildings have been destroyed?

    10 Are you aware that Hamas stores missiles without the knowledge or consent of the residents?

    11 Are you aware that Territories in most democracies can have a leader of state called “Governor” and the requirements to run for office including no prior violent acts can be established?

    12 Are you aware that not creating a structure for Arabs to self-governship within your nation has pitted them to create defacto nation-building entities?

    13 Are you aware that you have marginalized, oppressed, victimized and abused a whole nation of people who do not agree with Hamas, but you lump them together for simplicity’s sake?

    • Ana, did you use rubber gloves when you picked through the garbage cans of history to desperately seek something –anything– to compare Jews with Muslim terrorists? You had to go back over 68 years to find something that happened before the State of Israel even came into being! You inadvertently underscored the moral difference between the Jewish State and Muslim terrorists.

      • Such is the tradecraft of the propagandist.Cherry picked factoids cobbled together with grotesque logical fallacies to produce a chimera that appeals to the emotions in an attempt to overrun reason.

    • Ana are you aware of the fact that if thousands of missiles and construction materials can be brought into Gaza that food and the basic necessities of life can be brought in as well??
      Are you aware that if Hamas can get so much weaponry into Gaza that the so called Israeli blockade isn’t really working??

    • Ana,
      Point 3 is absolutely wrong. Israel allows food, fuel, and all basic necessities, as well as many non-essentials that promote normal life, to enter via several overland crossing points. Israel has upgraded the terminals and increased their capacity at its own expense. In normal times, hundreds of truckloads pass through daily bringing tons of supplies. Gazan farmers also export produce via the crossings. Even though the crossing points are sometimes fired upon by terrorists from Gaza (the analogy of shooting themselves in the foot comes to mind) they are closed for a short time and then reopened. Even now, in wartime conditions, 1,154 trucks have entered Gaza from Israel via Kerem Shalom between 8-27 July; 50 ambulance transfers have taken place, 1664 people have entered Israel from the Gaza Strip and 1,200 people have entered Gaza from Israel. 18 patients were treated at the field hospital that Israel set up at Erez Crossing, and 11 Gazan civilians were sent for further care in Israel (COGAT daily report). Need I remind anyone that the only reason that Israel still controls the crossing points is because Hamas is committed to Israel’s destruction and uses most of its resources, including international aid, for armaments and terrorist infrastructures such as the tunnels instead of building civilian infrastructures such as clinics and schools.

    • Most of your statements clearly indicated an absolute factual lack of knowledge/ignorance or a simple biased opinion. It would be easy to rebut most if not all your statements one by one. Your ignorance is blissful or you are plainly NAIVE!
      Just one example:
      The IRGUN fought the British Army that was, as everybody knows, inhumane. By its actions against the Jews escaping from the crematoria, England contributed to the killing of many Jewish civilians.

  • Kunal Sarkar

    This should be printed in leaflets and distributed in streets.

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