Hold Israel accountable for aggression and war crimes in Gaza

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“If we can cultivate in the world the idea that aggressive war-making is the way to the prisoner’s dock rather than the way to honors, we will have accomplished something toward making the peace more secure.”

So said US Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson in his opening argument before the Nuremberg Tribunal in 1945. The crime of aggression is one of the four crimes the International Criminal Court has jurisdiction to prosecute, along with genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

One exception to these crimes is defensive military operations taken under Article 51 of the UN Charter. This explains why Prime Minister Netanyahu asserted self-defense for Israel’s assault on Gaza in November, 2012. President Obama endorsed the self-defense claim, saying “we are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself.” Obama gave Israel’s assault the full backing of the United States.

But facts about each of Israel’s assaults on Gaza, including “Operation Cast Lead,” and “Operation Pillar of Defense,” show that they were anything but self-defense. This article will show that neither of the operations actually defended Israel or Israeli civilians. It will also show that Israeli political and military leaders have a non-violent strategy to stop rocket fire that actually works.

Israeli leaders know that attacking Gaza causes an increase in rockets

Israeli political and military leaders have long known that attacking Gaza is not effective for quelling rocket fire. Indeed, rocket fire vastly increased during Operation Cast Lead, December 27, 2008 to January 18, 2009 and during Operation Pillar of Defense November 14-21, 2012. As shown by a graph of rocket fire from Gaza on the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ own web site, the number of rocket hits on Israel during each of these two major operations approached the number for entire years of heaviest rocket fire.

Rocket hits in Israel since the Hamas takeover of Gaza, 2006

According to the numbers in this Israel government graph, from January 1 until December 27, 2008, Israel experienced 1159 rocket hits–an average of 3.2 rocket hits per day. During the 23 days of Operation Cast Lead, 925 rockets hit Israel, and the average was 40.2 rocket hits per day. Thus Israel was hit by 13 times as many rockets per day during Operation Cast Lead as were hitting Israel before its onslaught of Gaza began.

For Operation Pillar of Defense the leap in rocket fire following the initial Israeli assault was even greater. Data in the graph shows that during 2012 from January 1 until November 14, when Operation Pillar of Defense began, Israel experienced 787 rocket hits–an average of 2.5 rocket hits per day. During the 8 days of Operation Pillar of Defense, 845 rockets hit Israel, and the average was 105 rocket hits per day. Thus Israel was hit by 42 times as many rockets per day during Operation Pillar of Defense as were hitting Israel before its bombing of Gaza began. More than twice as many per day as even during Operation Cast Lead.

Similarly, the graph below, from the same Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs web site, shows that Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012 accounted for a vast increase in rocket hits in Israel compared to any time during the previous two years.  

Rockets fired into Israeli territory since Jan 2011

The vast increase in rocket fire caused by each of these onslaughts is actually more extreme than the above calculation. As more fully described below, the 7-week lead up to Operation Cast Lead was preceded by an effective 4 ½ month ceasefire agreement during which rocket fire was far less than the average for the year. Similarly, as shown by the graph, before the month-long lead up to Operation Pillar of Defense were three months during which rocket fire averaged about 0.6 per day.

In addition, this Israeli government graph shows substantial increases in rocket fire in April, August, and October, 2011 and March and June 2012. Also a substantial increase in rocket fire  during the lead up to Operation Pillar of Defense in October. Israeli air strikes causing extra-judicial executions in Gaza preceded all of those jumps in rocket fire.

Israeli leaders know how to quell rocket fire

Israeli political and military leaders have long known of a strategy that quickly and effectively quells rocket fire from the Gaza Strip, even after Israeli forces provoke the rocket fire with extra-judicial executions. It is a strategy that has been used repeatedly and that has a great record of working effectively: a ceasefire agreement.

For example, as reported by the same Israeli Ministry of Defense website on November 28, 2012: “a ceasefire was declared on November 21, at 9 pm. Since 2300 hours on November 21, no rockets or mortar shells have been fired into Israeli territory.” This statement has been updated each week through January 8, 2013 on the Meir Amit intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC) website. For example, on January 1 the ITIC wrote: “Israel’s south remains quiet. Since the end of Operation Pillar of Defense no rockets or mortar shells fired from the Gaza Strip have hit Israeli territory.” On January 8: “The Palestinian terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip continue honoring the understandings reached at the end of Operation Pillar of Defense.”

Similarly, the following graph from the ITIC summary of rocket fire in 2008, shows the result of an effective cease fire that lasted 4 ½ months:


Substantial satisfaction from the sharp decline in rocket fire starting June 18 was described on the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs Website on July 27, 2008:

One month of calm along the Israel-Gaza border: more than one month has passed since the calm agreement went into effect, with only sporadic violations by the terrorist organizations. Signs of normal life can be seen in towns on both sides of the Israel-Gaza Strip border. . .

During its first month, the lull arrangement resulted in a significant drop in rocket and mortar fire at Israel. A relative calm has settled over Sderot and Israeli population centers near the Gaza Strip, occasionally broken by rockets and mortar bombs fired by terrorist organizations which oppose the lull (mostly local Fatah networks, with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad violating the lull only on one occasion). . .

As one example of a violation of the calm agreement, on June 24 (five days after the arrangement became effective), a PIJ squad fired three rockets on Sderot in response to the killing of one of its senior operatives in Nablus. . .

Publicly, Hamas leaders have stated time and again that the lull is a Palestinian national interest. On several occasions, Hamas members have arrested Fatah operatives who were involved in firing at Israel and confiscated their arms. .  .

Thus, Israeli political and military leaders demonstrated that they knew of a non-violent technique to dial rocket fire from Hamas down to zero and even to enlist Hamas to arrest Fatah members seeking to launch rockets.

How ceasefire agreements come to an end and rocket fire resumes

The graph also shows rocket fire sharply increasing in November, 2008. The cease fire lasted from June 18 to November 4, 2008–election day in the US, when all eyes were riveted on the first election of Barack Obama. A day when Israeli military action would certainly avoid front-page notice. On that day Israeli forces entered Gaza and extra-judicially executed six members of Hamas, as reported in the New York Times. According to the Times article, Hamas then launched a barrage of rockets toward Israel.

That longstanding successful cease fire and its violation by Israeli forces is more fully described in the article, Israeli Government Contradicts its Own Self-defense Argument. In each of the 7 weeks between November 4 and December 27, when Israeli forces launched Operation Cast Lead, Israel forces conducted incursions into and aerial bombings of Gaza that killed more Palestinians, as documented in the weekly reports of the Palestine Center for Human Rights. Each such incursion and bombardment provoked more rocket fire.

Two weeks after Israel’s first strike that broke the ceasefire, the largest circulation daily Israeli newspaper reported in its web edition: “Defense Minister Ehud Barak addressed the current situation in the region, saying ‘the recent waves of rocket attacks are a result of our operations, which have resulted in the killing of 20 Hamas gunmen’” (Ynet News November 20, 2008).

Although its Defense Minister had already admitted that “rocket attacks are a result of” Israeli military attacks, a compliant news media allowed Israeli government officials to use “self-defense” from the rocket fire as the pretext for its massive escalation on December 27. Israeli government officials were still able to use the self-defense argument during their campaign to bury the Goldstone Report nine months later.

However, as it was Israeli forces that violated the successful ceasefire on November 4, 2008 and as it was Israeli forces that continued with lethal incursions and air assaults on Gaza during the next 7 weeks, the lead up to the massive escalation of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead could more accurately be characterized as aggression than self-defense.

Facts on the Israeli government’s own web site contradict the Israeli government’s self-defense argument. The attacks by Israeli forces did not defend Israeli civilians. On the contrary, the attacks predictably dialed up rocket attacks from Gaza that put Israeli civilians at far greater risk. The purpose of the Israeli assaults, therefore, could not have been to defend Israeli civilians. The purpose must have been otherwise consistent with what Israeli forces actually did: kill and wound large number of Palestinian civilians and destroy large amounts of civilian property.

Israeli military officials admitted that the purpose of the assaults was for political purposes, and that some of the targeting was in reprisal rather than for self-defense, while other targeting was for the purpose of collective punishment, as described in “Wrecking Gaza: Civilian Infrastructure Targeted by Israeli Military.” Nor could Israel’s precision bombings of residences filled with children be explained as self-defense, as described in “Shattered Lives in Gaza.”

Furthermore, the International Court of Justice determined that the self-defense provision of the UN Charter does not apply for an occupying power, like Israel, as described in “Why the Self-Defense Doctrine Doesn’t Legitimize Israel’s Assault on Gaza.”

The converse of Justice Jackson’s point in his opening argument to the Nuremberg tribunal could not be better illustrated by the present situation in which Israeli leaders repeatedly conduct aggressive wars on Gaza, with backing from the US, because they have cultivated the idea that their aggressive war making has no adverse consequence.

Holding accountable those Israeli and US political and military leaders who are responsible for aggression and war crimes in Gaza is key to ending the system of impunity under which Israeli political and military leaders have repeatedly broken ceasefires and attacked civilians and civilian infrastructure in Gaza, while claiming self-defense.

Now that Palestine has achieved an upgrade in its UN membership, the Palestinian Authority can bring its case before the International Criminal Court at the Hague and begin again to cultivate before the whole world the idea that aggressive war-making is the way to the prisoner’s dock rather than the way to honors.

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But why phrase it that way, namely what will quell rocket firing or what actions will increase that (and it is obvious that counteracts will achieve the latter – no need for learned studies here) and not simply ask: why there are rocket firing (and mortars) at all (especially after Israel left Gaza and did so despite meaningful internal strife)? Turning the logic upside down already misses the main point.

ivri, if I’m not mistaken, there’s an article on Mondoweiss you could read which will answer a lot of your questions. It’s the one you are commenting on.