I am writing this post out of concern for the fact that Israelis increasingly think the only way to wage war with Arab terrorist organizations like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Hezbollah, ISIS and whomever else is to ‘think like’ or ‘act like Arabs.’ The idea is an exaggeration of the need to maintain a deterrent against kidnappings, murders, rocket attacks and incursion (i.e., terrorism). But some people take it too far, thinking the only way to match a force like Hamas is to act like them and to even talk like them. Prime Minister Netanyahu has gotten into this game of talking down to the enemy, something Hamas engages in all the time. It’s annoying, mostly because no matter what we say, it makes it look as though the smarter kid on the playground is getting caught up in a senseless fight. Two particular ways these groups are goading at Israel is the deliberate misuse of the terms “aggression and genocide.”
Netanyahu needs to stop talking. Seriously, shut up. Stop threatening and warning Hamas. Don’t say anything. Just do. Just shoot. Just respond. Don’t get into a shouting match. If Hamas wants to cynically call Israeli responses to rocket fire “aggression” and Abbas wants to call civilian deaths who were in a combat zone “genocide,” it’s not worth engaging in discourse. Mahmoud Abbas is a weak leader, precisely because of his mouth. Khaled Mashaal is a self-interested and vicarious politician with no connection the Gaza. Seriously, don’t engage them by word. They can’t respond. They never do. Their words are empty, so don’t try to match their meaningless threats with your own. Just get things done. Stop talking. Just stop.
Those two terms in particular are a mind-numbing annoyance for anyone who has ever taken AP History. “Aggression” and “genocide” are internationally defined terms. They have very, very specific definitions which have never, ever matched the way that Hamas or Fatah have used them to describe Israeli policies or actions.
The definition of aggression is absurdly long, yet abundantly clear.
Aggression: An Unprovoked and Unjustified Military Attack
The Definition of Aggression
Yes. That’s right. This was debated. This was legislated. The entire world came to a consensus on it. The definition can come down to this: any war that is launched without any justification of self-defense and intended to injure or destroy the other country is an act of aggression. Here are just some snippets from the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3314 that defines aggression from December 14, 1974:
Article I Aggression is the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations, as set out in this Definition. Article 2 The First use of armed force by a State in contravention of the Charter shall constitute prima facie evidence of an act of aggression although the Security Council may, in conformity with the Charter, conclude that a determination that an act of aggression has been committed would not be justified in the light of other relevant circumstances, including the fact that the acts concerned or their consequences are not of sufficient gravity.
The initiation of force, inconsistent with the UN Charter that outlines how states must relate to each other, is the definition of aggression here. If a state is attacked, however, then a response to that attack is not defined as aggression.
Case in point, Israel’s wars against Gaza (not Palestine, not the West Bank, not the Palestinian Authority, but the Gaza Strip alone) have all been wars of defense, provoked by rocket attacks from the Hamas-governed territory. Hamas does not have the right to attack civilian population centers in Israel, a war crime in and of itself. These attacks are often used to strengthen Hamas’ popularity when it wanes in the Gaza Strip. These rocket salvos are not launched in response to any Israeli military action that would have constituted a threat to the Gaza Strip.
Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah have all used the term “aggression” to define every Israeli military action against the Gaza Strip since 2006. Operation Protective Edge is the fourth Gazan-Israeli war since Hamas overthrew Fatah in early 2006.
Here is a list of the four Israeli campaigns against Hamas in Gaza and Hamas’ preceding acts of aggression:
2006, Operation Summer Rains:
In June 2006, Hamas raided a small Israeli battalion along the Israeli-Gazan border and captured Gilad Shalit, provoking Operation Summer Rains from Israel. Two weeks later, Hezbollah mirrored the Hamas attack and drew Israel into a war in Lebanon, both acts of aggression against the State of Israel.
2008, Operation Cast Lead:
Hamas had launched 50 rocket attacks leading up to the operation; 18 rocket attacks came on December 16th, hours before Hamas declared a ceasefire with Israel to be void. On December 21 alone, Hamas launched 50 Qassem rockets at Israel. Hamas launched another 60 rockets on December 24. By the end of the month, Israel launched Cast Lead. Afterwards, Human Rights Watch accused Hamas of not only deliberately firing at Israeli civilian-populated areas, but launching rockets from Gazan civilian-populated areas, putting Gazan civilians at risk of legitimate Israeli counterattacks.
2012, Operation Pillar of Defense:
In October, Hamas launched 116 rockets and 55 mortar shells at Israel. Following another two weeks of rocket attacks, Israel attacked and killed Hamas commander Ahmad Jabari, launching Operation Pillar of Defense, which resulted in a total of 1,734 rocket attacks by Hamas in the month of November.
2014, Operation Protective Edge:
Following the triple murder of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar & Naftali Frenkel near Hebron, 40 rockets were launched at Israel, including 16 on June 30th alone, out of apparent celebration that the three boys had been found murdered – a crime which Hamas had openly endorsed. Rockets the first week of July increased , leading up to Israel’s response: Operation Protective Edge.
The Difference between Causes of War and Conduct in War
Without sounding cliche, both sides of the war (or at least either side’s supporters) have conflated aggression and war crimes.
In one pointless exchange I had on Twitter, someone stated that civilian targets become legitimate when they are citizens of an occupying power:
This couldn’t be further from the truth. Aggression relates to the cause for war, or in international law the ‘right to war,’ jus ad bellum. How either side conducts itself during war is a matter of jus in bello, justice during war. In a paper analyzing the 2008-09 war between Israel and Hamas, Dr. Avril McDonald made it clear the two can’t be conflated:
“Equally, a breach of jus ad bellum (or indeed jus in bello) by an opposing party does not justify or excuse breaches of jus in bello.”
- Dr. Avril McDonald (associate professor of international law at the University of Groningen) , Operation Cast Lead: Drawing the Battle Lines of the Legal Dispute
Hamas uses the term “aggression” consistently to describe every. single. action. by the Israeli Defense Forces. At best, Hamas misunderstands what the term means. At worst and more probably, they are deliberately misusing the term to justify continuous aggressive attacks of their own against Israel. Hamas’ deliberately indiscriminate rocket launches are a definite war crime – not to mention when they admit trying to aim their rockets at certain cities and locations, like the nuclear reactor in Dimona. On that note, let’s shift to the second word of dispute:
The Definition of Genocide
CC BY-SA 2.0 World Economic Forum from Cologny, Switzerland — AbuMazem via Wikimedia Commons
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of “genocide” over Operation Protective Edge. He made the comments after less than 50 people had been killed by Israel’s operation:
“It’s genocide — the killing of entire families is genocide by Israel against our Palestinian people.
“What’s happening now is a war against the Palestinian people as a whole and not against the factions.
“We know that Israel is not defending itself, it is defending settlements, its main project.”
“We are moving in several ways to stop the Israeli aggression and spilling of Palestinian blood, including talking to Egyptian President (Abdel Fattah) al-Sisi and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.”
It’s not genocide. Genocide has a very specific definition which does not include casualties from collateral damage or people who were warned to leave their houses or areas beforehand and even refused to. Hamas’ Interior Ministry in the Gaza Strip has told people to ignore those warnings and stay in their homes. The only thing that seems to be identifying targets for Israel is whether or not someone in Hamas or Islamic Jihad’s command structure lives in the house. There is absolutely no evidence of systematic genocide of people simply because they are Muslim, or Palestinian or particularly Gazan.
And here is the cherry on top:
“Shall we recall Auschwitz?”
No, we shall not.
The comparison itself is an insult. He even invoked Auschwitz to compare the air war and siege of Gaza to the Nazi Holocaust. Gaza is not full of labor camps. There are no gas chambers. There is no effort whatsoever to wipe Gazans from the face of the earth.
Mahmoud Abbas has never made such comparisons with past Palestinian acts of terrorism that killed a similar amount of people. In 2012, his own Fatah party commemorated the anniversary of a major terrorist attack that murdered 37 Israelis in 1978, saying of one of the operation’s leaders:
“On this day in 1959 Martyr (Shahida) Dalal Mughrabi was born, hero of the ‘Martyr Kamal Adwan’ mission, bride of Jaffa and the gentle energizing force of Fatah.”
Another example comes from 2013, when Abbas’ office sent someone to greet the mother of a convicted murderer, Issa Abd Rabbo, whose son has been in prison since 1984 for the double murder of two Israeli hikers that year.
David Pollock has highlighted the consistent pattern of hate speech and murder justification by officials of the Palestinian Authority and other major Palestinian organizations. In his concluding remarks in a recent position paper:
“It is futile to debate whether Israeli settlements or Palestinian hate speech are more or less to blame for the conflict’s persistence. The major lesson of past successes, failures, and false starts are that incitement is a serious problem, but also a fixable one. It is at least as much an obstacle to peace as any other more tangible issue, so steps to end it should be integrated into any attempt to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All interested parties — Israelis, Palestinians, Americans, Europeans, and others — should now pay at least as much attention to hate speech as to housing starts.”
Speaking from the gut, I have to say Mahmoud Abbas is a terrible person for his inconsistent application of what mass murder really is. He’s evil for comparing victims of collateral damage to systematic attempts to destroy entire peoples, and a cynic for HIS DOCTORAL THESIS THAT DENIES THE HOLOCAUST. So when he said, after 43 Gazan deaths, that Israel was committing genocide, it was important to consider that he had demanded freedom for actual murderers who chose their victims solely on their nationality; that the deaths in Gaza are from collateral damage after aiming for rocket launching sites in residential areas OR attacking the homes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders who had received advanced warning to leave their homes.
The definition of genocide itself is defined in Articles II & III of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide:
Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Article III: The following acts shall be punishable:
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
(e) Complicity in genocide.
In Article III, section (d), it refers also to the attempt to commit genocide as a crime. I’m going to stay in the present, in 2014 (without getting into the numerous times that Arab armies bragged that this was their goal in going to war with Israel).
Israel has made no statement that it intends to annihilate Palestinians. There has been no effort to launch a massive barrage of weapons that do not discriminate in their targets. In short, there is no justification to accuse Israel of genocide. Mahmoud Abbas is using rhetoric without regard for the meaning of his words.
There is no conspiracy to wipe out Palestinians. Israelis have never tried to justify the murder of Palestinian civilians simply for their nationality or religion. On the contrary, this is a crime that Mahmoud Abbas, his Fatah party and several other Palestinian organizations in control of either the West Bank or Gaza Strip have done on several occasions. In fact, there hasn’t been a single word by Mahmoud Abbas on this specific gem from Hamas:
Hamas’ Attack on Dimona is Nuclear Terrorism
In the first few days of the war, Hamas admitted it had deliberately fired rockets at Dimona, aiming to hit Israel’s sole nuclear reactor. Attempts were made on Wednesday, July 9th and Thursday, July 10th to strike Dimona. There can be no dispute that a rocket explosion at the nuclear reactor would be a serious environmental catastrophe and that anyone who were to fire at the reactor would know there was always a high risk in doing so. It is not safe to assume that any rockets fired at Dimona would be intercepted or fall short of the reactor. The fact that they need to be intercepted is prove positive that these rockets present a legitimate threat to the safety of the residents and infrastructure of Dimona. Any rocket fired at Dimona and Dimona especially is itself a war crime and should be taken seriously by international bodies as an attempt to commit genocide against the State of Israel.
Iron Dome fires a volley to intercept a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip during Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 (CC BY-SA 3.0 Emanuel Yellin, עמנואל ילין – Own work via Wikimedia Commons)
In addition to international conventions against genocide itself, there is a recent treaty on nuclear terrorism, which covers the specific crime of targeting a nuclear facility with the intent of its destruction.
Article 2 of the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism states:
1. Any person commits an offence within the meaning of this Convention if that person unlawfully and intentionally:
(a) Possesses radioactive material or makes or possesses a device:
(i) With the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury; or
(ii) With the intent to cause substantial damage to property or to the environment;
(b) Uses in any way radioactive material or a device, or uses or damages a nuclear facility in a manner which releases or risks the release of radioactive material:
(i) With the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury; or
(ii) With the intent to cause substantial damage to property or to the environment; or
(iii) With the intent to compel a natural or legal person, an international organization or a State to do or refrain from doing an act.
2. Any person also commits an offence if that person:
(a) Threatens, under circumstances which indicate the credibility of the threat, to commit an offence as set forth in paragraph 1(b) of the present article;
This is a small snippet of a reaction; a very minute effort on my part to highlight the irrationality of Palestinian accusations against Israeli policy and military responses to Hamas’ rocket attrition and attempts to infiltrate the Israeli border to commit acts of sabotage and terrorism. With a justified military operation to combat aggressive rocket attacks, Israel is accused of aggression and genocide for the pure purpose of incitement and to mislead the world.