“The aggressor cannot rely upon self-defence to justify violence against resistance to its own aggression.”
We are bringing to the attention of GR readers this important 2009 article by the late Michael Mandel, distinguished law professor, focusing on the legal dimensions. Under Nuremberg, “the aggressor cannot rely upon self-defence to justify violence against resistance to its own aggression.”
Did self-defence justify Israel’s war on Gaza? [reference to 2008-2009 war on Gaza]
Objections have been raised to this claim on grounds of a lack of both proportionality and necessity. To kill over 1000 Palestinians in 3 weeks, hundreds of them children, and wound thousands more, in order to deter a threat from rockets that did not kill or injure anybody in Israel for the six months the truce was declared by both sides, or even before Israel launched its attack on December 27, is so disproportionate as to be intolerable in any ethical system that holds Palestinian lives equal in value to Israeli lives. It is also so disproportionate as to defy belief that defence against these rockets was the real motive of the war. To ignore the many diplomatic avenues available to avoid even this threat, such as lifting the suffocating 18-month siege, suggests the same thing.
A more fundamental objection, however, is the self-evident legal and moral principle that an aggressor cannot rely upon self-defence to justify violence against resistance to its own aggression. You can find this principle in domestic law and in the judgments of the Nuremberg tribunals.
To quote one Nuremberg judge:
On of the most amazing phenomena of this case which does not lack in startling features is the manner in which the aggressive war conducted by Germany against Russia has been treated by the defense as if it were the other way around. …If it is assumed that some of the resistance units in Russia or members of the population did commit acts which were in themselves unlawful under the rules of war, it would still have to be shown that these acts were not in legitimate defense against wrongs perpetrated upon them by the invader. Under International Law, as in Domestic Law, there can be no reprisal against reprisal. The assassin who is being repulsed by his intended victim may not slay him and then, in turn, plead self defense. (Trial of Otto Ohlendorf and others, Military Tribunal II-A, April 8, 1948)
So who was the aggressor here?
There would have been no question as to who was the aggressor had this attack taken place before Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza strip in 2005. At that point Israel had been committing a continuous aggression against Gaza for 38 years, in its illegal and violent occupation of it, along with the rest of the Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, after its conquest in 1967.
By 2005, the occupation had been condemned as illegal by the highest organs with jurisdiction over international law, most notably the International Court of Justice in its 2004 opinion on the separation barrier. A central illegality of the occupation for the International Court lay in Israel’s settlements, which violate the law against colonization, and which are central to the occupation. The fifteen judges of the International Court were unanimously of the opinion that the settlements were illegal and the wall itself was held by a majority of 13-2 to be illegal, partly because it was there to defend the settlements, and not Israel itself, and thus could not qualify as self-defence.
The rocket attacks from Gaza started in 2001 and took their first Israeli victim in 2004. Since then, there had been 14 Israeli victims prior to the current war. Tragic, indeed, but obviously paling in comparison to the 1700 Palestinians killed in Gaza during the same period. One death is indeed a tragedy, but many deaths are not just “a statistic”, as Stalin had it; they are the tragedy multiplied many times over. Given Israel’s illegal, aggressive and violent occupation, prior to the withdrawal, Gaza rockets could only be regarded as necessary and proportionate self-defence, or as reprisals against Israel’s aggression.
Did Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 change the situation?
It has been forcefully argued that the 18-month siege of Gaza, a major reason for Hamas’ refusal to extend the truce, was itself an act of aggression, giving rise to a right of self-defence.
But even more important, though usually ignored, is Israel’s continued illegal and aggressive occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem after the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. Indeed, the withdrawal from Gaza was intended to strengthen the hold on the other territories and was accompanied by a greater increase in the number of settlers there than those removed from Gaza.
The occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem figured equally with Gaza in the condemnations of the World Court and the Security Council. Furthermore, in the Oslo Accords, Israel and the Palestinians agreed that “The two sides view the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a single territorial unit, the integrity and status of which will be preserved during the interim period.” Indeed, when Hamas won the elections in 2006, elections declared impeccably fair and civil by all international observers, it won them for the whole of the Palestinian Authority, including the West Bank (it was not allowed by Israel to campaign in East Jerusalem). Many Hamas West Bank legislators remain in Israeli jails.
And the basic fact is that the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza are one people, however separated they are by walls and fences and check-points. Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from one part of that people’s land cannot turn that people into aggressors when they resist the illegal occupation of the rest.
So self-defense cannot justify this attack, or the siege that preceded it. What can? That Hamas is a “terrorist organization”? But terrorism is about deliberately killing civilians for illegal political ends, and in that enterprise, Israel has topped Hamas by many multiples. That Hamas does not recognize Israel’s “right to exist”? But Hamas has offered many times to make a long-term truce with Israel on the basis of the legal international borders, something it is clearly entitled to insist upon. Israel says that’s not good enough, that Hamas first has to recognize Israel’s legitimacy, in other words, it has to concede the legitimacy of the Jewish state and all it has meant to the Palestinians. In other words, as one Israeli journalist ironized, Israel is insisting that Hamas embrace Zionism as a condition of even talking peace with it.
These are not justifications for violence on this or any scale. Indeed, they point to the most plausible reason Israel is fighting Hamas (and the PLO before it): self-defence, if you will, not against rockets and mortars, but against having to make peace with the Palestinians on the basis of the pre-1967 borders as required by international law.
The late Michael Mandel was Professor of Law at Osgoode Hall Law School of York University in Toronto, where he taught the Law of War. He is the author of How America Gets Away with Murder. He was powerful legal voice in the battle for World Peace.
For who does not understand the need or concept of resistance of Palestine, recommended read:
The History of Resistance – The Eagle of Palestine
- Special Topic – All Israeli Massacres on Palestinians
- iRemember… – Confirmed Names of Martyrs Occupation (*)
- Special Topic – Ethnic Cleansing
- Israeli escalation in Gaza – A cover-up for settlement activity
- “Slow Death” -International report: Collective punishment of Gaza has reached critical stage – Incl Full Report PDF
- A “Leaflet” to the World about it’s own “forgotten” Extermination Camp called Gaza
- Gaza Siege Harshness Continues. Israel’s committing slow-motion genocide ~ by Stephen Lendman
THE LEGAL RIGHT OF RESISTANCE
81 Notre Dame Law Review1275(2006). Conducting an in-depth study of the genocide in Darfur, Sudan, and also discussing other genocides, this article details the inadequacy of many of the international community’s response to genocides, such as “targeted sanctions” or international peacekeeping forces. Examining international legal authorities such as the Genocide Convention, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the International Court of Justice, the article demonstrates that groups which are being subjected to genocide have a legal right of self-defense. International treaties, Security Council arms embargoes, or national gun control laws cannot lawfully be enforced in a manner which prevents self-defense resistance to a genocide in progress, because under international law, the prohibition against any form of complicity in genocide takes legal precedence over lesser laws. With Paul Gallant & Joanne D. Eisen. In PDF.
- The Palestinian Right of Self Defense
- Brayer: The Absolute Right of Palestinian Resistance – Source
- No. Israel Does Not Have the Right to Self-Defense In International Law Against Occupied Palestinian Territory – Source
- If Jews in WWII Warsaw would have had rockets: They would have fired them too – by occpal
MYTHS & FACTS ABOUT THE ROCKETS FROM GAZA
- The “Rocket” from Gaza Myth – Photography
- More facts about the Rocket from Gaza Myths – Storify
- Half the story: What @IDFSpokesperson leaves out about #Gaza ~ by @yousefmunayyer
- Israel and #Gaza: Context Behind Projectile Fire ~ by @yousefmunayyer
- Truths and lies behind Israel’s attacks on Gaza and its whining about rockets ~ by @AliAbunimah
- Israel is not looking for peace. Nor talks. But: This
* The list of shuhada does not display, the numerous victims of the zionist occupation which are undocumented by media. Nor it displays the victims of the “silent onslaught” due to restrictions of movement, ability to go to hospitals for treatment or life saving surgery, due to lack of medication because of the blockades and so on. For example: The Slow Motion Genocide by the Siege on Gaza only, killed 600 patients since Gaza got under Israeli Siege.
Neither does this list, display the avoidable mortality. A clear and statistical factual evidence, about the number of deaths due to indecent ruling by occupation forces. For even an occupier has obligations under International Laws, Geneva Convention and the Hague regulations, which it is neglecting. These circumstances, together with deliberate policies of the occupier to neglect and even deny every basic human right, severes avoidable mortality which is totally silenced by media or reporting organisations. While in the Holocaust, 1 on 6 Jewish people directly died of deliberate neglect, so if we believe the facts over 1 million due to avoidable mortality, neither should these same circumstances be ignores which are ongoing in Palestine. For this report displays a avoidable morality of at least 0,5 million Palestinians.
How many more dead corpses of Palestinians does the international community need to see in order to act? How many more cruelties and violations of Human Rights, Regulations and International Law will be needed to intervene so this ongoing warcrime is being stopped once and for all.