At what point is a state's right to defend itself gone too far? If anyone is looking to do a research paper on this question, I suggest you use Israel as a case study, since time and time again, Israel has gone far beyond the parameters of self-defense.
Israel’s most recent attacks in Gaza, “Operation Pillar of Defense,” (yes, I chuckled at the use of “Defense” in the title of an operation that is far from that) clearly illustrates a belligerent and disproportionate response to Hamas rocket fire. I feel the need to preface my statements by saying that I do not condone unwarranted rocket fire or the targeting of any civilian populations, so to deter questions like that of fellow PolicyMic user, William Cisco (when he asked if I support terror attacks and the destruction of Israel). Having said this, it is necessary to make clear to everyone that Israel's incommensurate and aggressive attacks, which completely disregard civilian causalities, are inexcusable and should be called out for what they are: war crimes.
For as long as I could remember, Israel has responded to the evidence that validates its over aggressive methods of so-called reprisal with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. This article states, “nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations."
Israel, however, is an occupying force in Palestine. It exercises complete control of the West Bank and Gaza. In other words, Israel’s use of Article 51 as justification for its attacks is null and void. After all, the laws of self-defense have no relevance in the case of illegal occupation because the occupier has control over the indigenous population. How can a self-defense claim be made when a state occupies a land that does not belong to it? Yet this point is irrelevant to this discussion because I recognize the fact that Israel will not stand idly by while rockets graze its borders. The United States has come out strong in its support of Israel's right to defend itself but cautioned Israel “to continue to take every effort to avoid civilian causalities." It seems Israel didn't get the memo.
The magnitude of Israel's so-called acts of rocket fire retaliation, do not amount to a justified “self-defense” response. Israel's military track record clearly illustrates a complete disregard for the Fourth Geneva Convention laws, which extend protection to civilian populations in an armed conflict (this includes occupied territories).
Recall the Gaza Massacre of 2008-09, also known as “Operation Cast Lead.” Several reports on this conflict have shed light on Israel's unwarranted and disproportionate bombardment of civilian targets that resulted in the death of innocent civilians. The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem concluded that 1,387 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza war (over 770 of them civilians), and 13 Israelis were killed (four by their own troops). These statistics were no surprise considering Israeli General Gadi Eisenkot statement at the time: “We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction. This isn't a suggestion. This is a plan that has already been authorized.”
I'm confident that for you staunch Zionist supporters, a few numbers are not enough to convince you of Israel's targeting of civilians. Perhaps you should look into the Human Rights Watch report that provided that during “Operation Cast Lead” Israeli soldiers killed Palestinian civilians, including women and children who waved white flags. Or read a letter signed by several attorneys and professors, among them Professor Richard Falk of Princeton University, that stated that during this operation Israel engaged in acts that violated human rights laws and committed “prima facie war crimes” that “amount to aggression, not self-defense.”
Some of you may be wondering why I put so much emphasis on the past? Isn't it obvious that the past is so relevant to the current situation? Several innocent Palestinians have already lost their lives, among them five children and a pregnant teen. As the conflict continues, “Operation Pillar of Defense” is beginning to mirror “Operation Cast Lead.” Several countries have already condemned Israel's actions and rendered them disproportionate and aggressive because the deaths committed by Israel are not commensurate to the deaths caused by Hamas.
However, Israel continues to play the role of the victim trying to defend itself against Hamas rocket fire. Now, I should restate that I do not condone rockets targeting civilian populations. However, I'd be lying if I said they are without reason. It's ironic that Israel has the audacity to condemn rocket fire by Hamas that, in most cases, it has provoked. In this most recent conflict Hamas launched rockets after Israel had killed six Hamas members. This wouldn't be the first time Israel violated a ceasefire. In fact, a study conducted by Nacy Kanwisher, Johannes Haushofer, and Anat Biletzki “shows that it is overwhelmingly Israel that kills first after a pause in the conflict: 79% of all conflict pauses were interrupted when Israel killed a Palestinian, while only 8% were interrupted by Palestinian attacks.” Of course, this behavior is expected because if the goal is to ethnically cleanse the indigenous population, a lasting ceasefire would certainly get in the way. Perhaps it's time we reevaluate and define the word “defense”. To me, “defense” implies a sort of deterrence of an evil, danger, or attack. It is a word that cannot be applied to first-strike aggressors. How can one render their actions “self-defense” when they take the first shot? Israel has been successful in positioning itself in a positive light among the Western world to the extent that Israeli cease-fire violations are ignored and the peace process — Palestine's only hope of attaining statehood — is continually diminished. Israel's complete disregard for human life is apparent in their first-strike mentality and it's time for the world to demand that Israel own up to its war crimes. In the case of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, the phrase “right to self-defense,” should be reserved for the Palestinian people.