Sarmad Ishfaq is an independent researcher and writer whose work has been published by Harvard Kennedy School Review, the Diplomat, Open Democracy, Paradigm Shift, Mondoweiss, and Eurasia Review to name a few. He has also been published by several international peer-reviewed journals such as Taylor and Francis' Social Identities. Before becoming an independent writer, he worked as a research fellow for the Lahore Center for Peace Research. He has a master's degree in International Relations from the University of Wollongong in Dubai where he was recognized as the 'Top Graduate'.
Note: This article is a review of the research paper titled “Just War Moral Philosophy and the 2008-09 Israeli Campaign in Gaza” by Jerome Slater.
The article reflects how Israel and Zionism have had a long history of immoral and illegal campaigns against Palestine and other neighboring states. Highlighting what the just war philosophy entails, the author states that Israel has blatantly disrespected this doctrine in the past and continues to do so, specifically focusing on the 2008-09 Gaza Massacre called Operation Cast Lead.
The author begins with the Iron Wall policy, written in 1923, used by Israel, which revolves around the key principle of attacking Arab civilians to demoralize any resistance effort against the Jewish people (pp. 45, 87). The Iron Wall policy has been in effect before Israel’s independence and it explains what the country’s modus operandi is when engaged in a “war”.
The author then gives historical examples of how Israel has attacked civilians and civilian infrastructure in different campaigns such as the Egypt-Israel war of 1956, and the attacks on Lebanon in 1982, 1993, 1996, and 2006 (pp. 47, 49). Before describing the illegalities in Operation Cast Lead, the author briefly sheds light on what the just war philosophy is.
Just War Philosophy
The philosophy consists of two integral principles: justice of going to war – jus ad bellum – and just methods of fighting – jus in bello. The two principles entail the following: a country must have a just cause to start a war (such as self-defense); the war should take place as a last resort which means it can only occur after all diplomatic channels have been explored and exhausted; when engaged in war, there must be discrimination between civilians and military personnel and civilians cannot be attacked regardless of the means or ends (p. 52).
The author then moves on, from page 52 onwards, to talk about Operation Cast Lead. In 2006, Hamas won the Palestinian Legislative elections and proceeded to forcibly take over Gaza. Israel, angered by this victory, responded by enforcing an economic blockade on the strip which resulted in mortars being fired on Israeli towns by Hamas.
A back and forth of retaliations continued between both sides until finally, in 2008, Operation Cast Lead was launched. The claim by Israel was that it used military force for self-defense purposes. The author (p. 57) undermines this justification given by Israel as the country maintained indirect and direct control over Gaza and oppressed its people continuously before and after the elections.
Furthermore, he states (p. 57) that although the use of terrorism is morally wrong on the part of Hamas, the Israelis lost their claim to self-defense due to their consistent repression of the Gazans which led to the terrorism. Moving to the principle of last resort, the author states that this, too, was ignored by Israel as Hamas on numerous occasions pushed for ceasefires and negotiations – especially after the 2006 elections.
The article also highlights how the methods of fighting used by Israel were illegal (jus in bello) as they disregarded the distinction between civilians and soldiers and destroyed many civilian infrastructures. A commission called the Goldstone Commission was made to investigate Operation Cast Lead. It shockingly found that 1300 to 1450 Gazans were killed, 40% of whom were women and children.
The Goldstone commission along with Amnesty International also concluded that schools, hospitals, fuel depots, water tanks, etcetera were deliberately hit by Israeli forces, proving that the Iron Wall policy was still in exercise. Towards the end of the article, the author evaluates the counterarguments made by the Israeli government regarding the operation and disproves them.
For example, on page 74, the Israelis claim that they told the civilians to move before they attacked via TV, radio, and leaflets but the U.N. observed that most crossings were closed during the attacks, leaving the Gazans at the mercy of the Israeli armed forces.
Other than this the Israelis also claim that Hamas used human shields which made civilian casualties difficult to avoid. This claim was disproven by the Goldstone Commission which found no evidence of human shields being used or civilians being forced to stay in areas of conflict by Hamas.
The article is a detailed one; it flows well from distinct topics and subtopics and is very well organized. It immaculately presents the Israeli security forces’ history of abusive, immoral, and illegal operations which have since before 1948 targeted innocent civilians. This makes it not only a profound read for scholars of Palestine and Israel but also for novices who might not know much about the two actors.
The author uses a myriad of credible sources to solidify his points of violence against civilians which include academic articles, historical documents, and quotes from high-ranking officials of the Israeli government and armed forces. He, in very fathomable terms, explains the just war moral philosophy, its principal characteristics, and proceeds to elucidate how Israel undermined these principles in Operation Cast Lead.
His data regarding the operation and the casualties is from entirely credible sources which include the U.N., Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the most essential, Goldstone Commission. The biggest strength of the article is that it is not limited to one side, as the author discusses and dismisses the counterarguments of the Israelis as well.
He focuses on the Israeli narrative and discredits it using data from the above-mentioned organizations and proves how Israeli actions were unjust vis-à-vis the just war philosophy. I was hard-pressed in locating any negative features within the article, but I did think he could have elaborated on one thing: he states that even critics of Cast Lead have not denied Israel’s claim of self-defense due to Hamas employing terrorism (pp. 56, 57).
The author does state that since Israel was continuously victimizing the Gazans, this led to people becoming militants and attacking Israel but he could easily have said that this victimization of the Gazans is itself an unprovoked act of terrorism – specifically state-terrorism. Israel’s history of terrorism against the Palestinians is the main reason why radicals in Hamas and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) exist.
A case could have been made here, in my opinion, to challenge Operation Cast Lead’s self-defense apologists. The author’s style of writing is very easy to follow and he explains quite a lot without the reader feeling overburdened with information. He looks at the counterarguments and disproves them as well which is a big strong point of the article. A very intriguing and profound read as it makes you ponder how Israel has been getting away with murder for so long.
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