Gaza: the rules of war

Click on the image for a larger online version of the map.

After 8 days of mutual bombardment, Israel and Gaza warily consider a ceasefire, a development supported by all kinds of international interests.

During the past week, Hamas fired 877 rockets at Israeli territory, 570 landed, another 307 were intercepted by Iron Dome defences.

Israel launched 1,350 strikes on Gaza in the same period, according to IDF sources. They have – so far –  refrained from launching a ground offensive on this tiny patch of territory, half the size of Manhattan and home to almost 1.8 million people. But their troops have been in position for days.

Is this a legitimate war?

Hamas claims it wants an end to Israel’s “occupation” of its territory. Israel justifies its attacks as acts of “self-defence”. So, what’s the legal position in this miserable, provocative conflict?

Guglielmo Verdirame, a professor of International Law at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London, has provided a clear and measured analysis of the rules of war that apply to this situation.[1]

Citing the UN Charter and other internationally accepted authorities, he discusses:

  • the right of self-defence against armed attack (UN Charter, Article 51)
  • can this be invoked against a non-state entity (Gaza)?
  • occupation versus blockade: distinct concepts of war
  • the limits of necessary and proportionate self-defence
  • humanity: avoiding unnecessary suffering
  • distinguishing between combatants and non-combatants (civilians)
  • proportionality: balance of force against targets

After reading the article, I was able to make a more-informed analysis of aspects of the current conflict that I’ve seen reported.

It still didn’t change my overall perception of which is the “dirtier” side; in fact, gaining a slightly better understanding of some of the “rules of war” has reinforced my personal opinion (prejudice, if you prefer) that this present conflict is the latest example of Israel’s ultimate desire to kill off any peace plan and to further subjugate and terrorise the Palestinians.

An ex-ambassador’s view

A short post today by a blogger always worth reading: former ambassador Craig Murray. Here’s a man who doesn’t pull his punches.

His post, uncompromisingly titled “The Palestinian Genocide Continues” highlights some of the ongoing “invisible” Israeli aggression against Palestinian non-combatants, an historical example of the forcible ethnic cleansing of the Arab population of Ashkelon, and an unflattering (!) conclusion about Israel’s much-trumpeted, and western-supported, right of self-defence.

I admit to having been shocked by his final paragraph.[2]

israeli military strikes on gaza

Israeli strikes on Gaza (shown in red).

Two informative maps

I was impressed with the Spiegel map, as it’s packed with information. Apart from serving as a useful reminder of the geography, it clearly shows (in the inset map) the huge incursion of illegal settlements in the West Bank, and the way the enclave is enclosed by that infamous Israeli barrier. Click on the image above for a full-sized online image.

What struck me about the BBC map of Gaza was how tiny the place is, with one of the most densely packed populations on earth. There’s no way of avoiding “non-combatants”, however precise military strikes may claim to be.

[1]: BBC Online

[2]: Craig Murray

Map of Israel: Spiegel Online International

Map of Gaza strikes: BBC Online


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