Thursday, July 24, 2014

Rockets from Gaza are morally justified and are not contrary to international law

By Dr. Denis G. Rancourt

"It is the obligation of every person who claims to oppose oppression to resist the oppressor by every means at his or her disposal. Not to engage in physical resistance, armed resistance to oppression, is to serve the interests of the oppressor; no more, no less. There are no exceptions to the rule, no easy out..."
--Assata Shakur, 1984 [1]

Many well-meaning observers who indiscriminately oppose violence and who support Palestine against its ruthless oppressor Israel have condemned the Hamas rockets launched towards Israel.

To condemn the rockets is misguided at best.

To condemn the rockets supports Israel in its war crimes against Gaza.

To condemn the rockets is also pompous, paternalistic, and racist.

Who are we -- as outside observers not sitting in Gaza -- to dictate to the victims of the brutal, systematic, long-term, and on-going suppression perpetrated by Israel against Palestinians how best to defend themselves?

Who are we to dictate which tactic might best increase survival?

Who are we to judge that Israeli civilians have such a high degree of innocence regarding the actions of their army as to prevent Gaza from attempting to defend itself with homemade rockets pointed in desperation at the only available targets?

In addition, one can easily make the moral argument that Israeli civilians share significant responsibility for the Gaza massacres. This responsibility follows from the structural circumstances:
  • Israelis are well informed about the war crimes
  • Israelis have political influence within a democratic system
  • Israelis have the means and institutions to speak out
  • Israelis can chose to abstain from military service
And it follows from the facts on the ground. Instead of opposition to the Israeli state's war crimes, social statistics show overwhelming support for the organized murder and genocidal suppression of Palestinians.
  • Only 5% of Israeli academics have expressed opposition to the land invasion, in a recent petition. Where academics have total freedom of inquiry and of expression. 
  • Israelis shamelessly gather to cheer-on the show of bombs dropped on Gaza, and threaten journalists with bodily harm who might report negatively about this particular display of cruelty.
  • The Israeli media is overwhelmingly brutal and racist in its expression against Palestinians. Politicians make political points the more violent and waring they are -- there's an indicator. 
  • The state is an apartheid state in both law and fact, yet there is virtually no opposition from Israeli civil society against the apartheid.
  • And so on.
There is no doubt that the Hamas rockets constitute self-defence. The statement that the rockets are "indiscriminate" is no more than a statement that the rockets are not high-tech weapons, and this fact on-its-own is irrelevant to whether or not the rockets constitute self-defence.

There is no doubt that the rockets constitute self-defence because the rockets are a response to a brutal occupation, deprivation, and slaughter. No sane analyst can claim that Israel's long-term policy and actions of genocidal cleansing and land and resource annexation by force is caused by rockets or by suicide bombs or anything that the resisting Palestinians have or may do. (The inverse logic itself should be declared criminal.)

In my estimation, the use that Gaza makes of rockets is amply morally justified. And it is up to Gaza to decide how best to defend itself for its own survival.

Israel is showing little sign that it cares about World criticism of its actions in Gaza. It does not appear that anything except some moderately effective military resistance could slow Israel down in subjugating and torturing Gaza. For this reason, for the sake of Gaza, we can only hope that it will secure more and better weapons for its defence in the future, as this would probably minimize the loss of life and accelerate a just political resolution.

Furthermore, for readers who require the approbation of jurists, recently Dr. Norman Finkelstein has competently argued that the Hamas rockets, in the context of Israel's aggression, are not contrary to international law (LINK):

Human Rights Watch has argued that, even if its civilians are being relentlessly targeted, a people does not have a legal right to carry out “belligerent reprisals”—that is, to deliberately target the civilians of the opposing state until it desists. “Regardless of who started this latest round, attacks targeting civilians violate basic humanitarian norms,” HRW’s Deputy Middle East and North Africa director stated in the first press release.  “All attacks, including reprisal attacks, that target or indiscriminately harm civilians are prohibited under the laws of war, period.” Not so. International law does not—at any rate, not yet—prohibit belligerent reprisals.[4] The United States and Britain, among others, have staunchly defended the right of a state to use nuclear weapons by way of belligerent reprisal.[5] By this standard, the people of Gaza surely have the right to use makeshift projectiles to end an illegal, merciless seven-year-long Israeli blockade or to end Israel’s criminal bombardment of Gaza’s civilian population. Indeed, in its landmark 1996 advisory opinion on the legality of nuclear weapons, the ICJ ruled that international law is not settled on the right of a state to use nuclear weapons when its “survival” is at stake. But, if a state might have the right to use nuclear weapons when its survival is at stake, then surely a people struggling for self-determination has the right to use makeshift projectiles when it has been subjected to slow death by a protracted blockade and recurrent massacres by a state determined to maintain its occupation. 

One might legitimately question the political prudence of Hamas’s strategy. But the law is not unambiguously against it, while the scales of morality weigh in its favor. Israel has imposed a brutal blockade on Gaza. Fully 95 percent of the water in Gaza is unfit for human consumption. By all accounts, the Palestinian people now stand behind those engaging in belligerent reprisals against Israel. In the Gaza Strip, they prefer to die resisting than to continue living under an inhuman blockade. Their resistance is mostly notional, as makeshift projectiles cause little damage. So, the ultimate question is, Do Palestinians have the right to symbolically resist slow death punctuated by periodic massacres, or must they lie down and die?


[1] This is the opening quote in Ward Churchill's essay "Pacifism as Pathology: Notes on an American pseudopraxis". Churchill's works are dedicated to the genocides against the native peoples of the Americas, including Canada. Assata Shakur has been feature on this blog in these posts.

Dr. Denis G. Rancourt is a former tenured and Full Professor of physics at the University of Ottawa, Canada. He is known for his applications of physics education research (TVO Interview). He has published over 100 articles in leading scientific journals, and has written several social commentary essays. He is the author of the book Hierarchy and Free Expression in the Fight Against Racism. While he was at the University of Ottawa, he supported student activism and opposed the influence of the Israel lobby on that institution, which fired him for a false pretext in 2009: LINK.