Amos Guiora defends the bombing of Gaza on traditional lines, stressing that “Israel has an obligation to protect its citizens harmed by Hamas’s decision to endanger its own population”:
While the number of Palestinian casualties suggests both a disproportionate operational response and an exaggerated application of self-defense, the reality is simultaneously nuanced and obvious. Nuanced because limits must be imposed; otherwise, the nation state violates the essence of international law. Obvious, because the nation-state’s primary obligation is to protect its civilian population. Israel has the right to self-defense in accordance with commonly accepted principles of international law. Application of that right, in the context of Hamas’s actions, requires recognizing two realities: the price paid by innocent Palestinians as a result of human shielding and the clearly foreseeable deaths of numerous Israelis if tunnels are not destroyed. While the loss of innocent life is always tragic, aggressive self-defense is the essence of operational counterterrorism.
Spot the euphemism: “aggressive self-defense.” Just war theory allows for no such thing. Defense is defensive, not aggressive. Pre-emptive slaughter as a means to deter future attacks doesn’t hack it. And defense should be proportionate to the actual threat to Israel not the potential one. Or as George Bisharat puts it: “All nations have a right of self-defense, including Israel. But that right may be exercised lawfully only in limited circumstances. Israel cannot validly claim self-defense in its recent onslaught against Gaza for two main reasons”:
First, despite its 2005 withdrawal of ground forces and settlers from Gaza, Israel still exercises effective control over the region by controlling its airspace, coast and territorial waters, land borders (with Egypt), electromagnetic fields, electricity and fuel supply. Accordingly, Israel remains an occupying power under international law, bound to protect the occupied civilian population. Israel can use force to defend itself, but no more than is necessary to quell disturbances. Hence this is not a war – rather, it is a top military power unleashing massive firepower against a penned and occupied Palestinian population.
Second, self-defense cannot be claimed by a state that initiates violence, as Israel did in its crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank, arresting more than 400, searching 2,200 homes and other sites, and killing at least nine Palestinians. There is no evidence that the terrible murders of three Israeli youths that Israel claimed as justification for the crackdown were anything other than private criminal acts that do not trigger a nation’s right of self-defense (were an American citizen, or even a Drug Enforcement Administration agent killed by drug traffickers on our border with Mexico, that would not entitle us to bomb Mexico City).
And that, in a nutshell, is Waldman’s answer for why Israel is losing the PR war: