Israel’s right to defend itself does not extend to indiscriminate bombing of civilians in Gaza
From Israeli armed forces storming Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque on Monday morning to Israel pounding Gaza with air strikes and artillery on Thursday night in response to the rocket firing by Hamas, the Israel-Palestine conflict has escalated dangerously within days. At least 119 Palestinians, including 31 children, have been killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza since May 10, while nine people were killed in Israel in the rocket attacks, including an Indian national and a child. For now, both sides have refused to stand down from the fighting despite international appeal. Israel cannot evade responsibility for the crisis engulfing the region. There was already resentment and frustration among the Palestinians in the occupied territories as Israel has expanded Jewish settlements and deepened occupation. Besides, Israel’s high-handedness in East Jerusalem and the move to evict Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah for Jewish settlers added to the anger, leading to clashes. Hamas, which claims to be the main national resistance force against the occupation, seized on the opportunity and escalated the crisis with rocket attacks. Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas’s militant infrastructure. But Israel knows that it is easier said than done. In 2014, Israel carried out a seven-week-long operation with the same objective. Seven years later, there is Hamas, firing over 1,800 rockets into Israel within five days.
Beyond the rhetoric by both sides, this is a loss-loss situation in which the civilians are taken hostage. Hamas’s rockets do not distinguish between Israeli civilians and soldiers. While the Iron Dome defence system neutralised most of the rockets, some actually hit Israel’s population centres, killing civilians and raising concerns for the country’s rulers. Israel is in fact witnessing a twin crisis. While the conflict with Hamas is escalating into a land attack, Israeli cities are gripped by riots between Jewish vigilantes and Arab mobs. The riots prompted President Reuven Rivlin to evoke fears of a civil war and the government to declare a state of emergency in some locations, including the central city of Lod. This is the most serious law and order crisis Israel is facing internally since the second intifada of 2000. In return, Israel has pulverised Gaza, inflicting a heavy casualty on the impoverished region’s population. The high casualty of children points to the collective punishment approach of the Israeli military. Israel’s right to defend itself, which the U.S. and Germany have endorsed, cannot be the right to launch an indiscriminate bombing on the civilians of Gaza. The international community, especially the U.S. which is a close ally of Israel, should put pressure on both sides to cease the fire. They should do it sooner rather than later as every day, dozens are being killed in the bombings.