Hamas’s appalling attack on Israeli civilians has been widely described as the country’s “9/11 moment”. It is an appropriate description of such wanton cruelty. But the analogy carries a cautionary note as well.
The US government lost the world’s sympathy, and the moral high ground, when its response to 9/11 degenerated into a highly abusive war in Iraq, systematic torture, and endless detention without trial in Guantánamo. The Israeli government should be careful not to replicate this path to opprobrium. Indeed, such an abusive response may be exactly what Hamas wanted to provoke.
Whose heart could not go out to the young people who gathered for an all-night music festival in the desert, only to have the revelry broken at dawn by Hamas militants shooting people at random and killing a reported 260? That massacre was compounded by Hamas’s slaughter in various Israeli communities bordering Gaza, its abduction of what appears to be 100 or more civilian hostages, and its indiscriminate rocket attacks into civilian neighborhoods.
Yes, Palestinians were understandably frustrated as Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government kept expanding the illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, boxing in the people of Gaza with a punitive blockade, and imposing an discriminatory and oppressive rule on millions of Palestinians under occupation that has been widely described as apartheid. To make matters worse, one Arab government after another has been normalizing relations with Israel after at most token concessions to the Palestinians that did nothing to change their persecution. Still, none of that justifies resort to war crimes, as Hamas has done.
It is a basic premise of international humanitarian law that war crimes by one side do not justify war crimes by the other. Of necessity, given the passions, charges and counter-charges of most wars, the duty to comply with the rules designed to spare civilians as much as possible the hazards of war is absolute, not contingent on the behavior of opponents. [Continue reading…]