Israel’s Right to Self Defence Does Not Extend to Genocide

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Israel self defence

Standing next to Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese in the White House Rose Garden on 25 October, US president Joe Biden reiterated that “Israel has the right, and I would add responsibility” to “defend itself against these terrorists”. 

By “terrorists” Biden is referring to Hamas, a Palestinian political and military organisation that’s been governing the Gaza Strip since 2007, at which time the Israeli government placed a land, sea and air blockade on the tiny area that’s home to 2.3 million mainly displaced Palestinians. 

Western nations, including Australia, have been repeatedly affirming Israel’s right to self defence since a series of 7 October cross-border attacks into Israeli territory were made by hundreds of young Hamas militants, who killed about 1,400, primarily civilian, Israelis and took 200-odd hostage. 

The carnage in Israel ended that day. And a responding Israeli forces air assault on Gaza began that same night, which is yet to stop, while two days after that, Tel Aviv declared a complete siege cutting off water, food, electricity, fuel and medicine to Gaza: a region under a prolonged blockade. 

By the time Biden repeated Washington’s stance on Israel’s right and responsibility to defend itself last Wednesday, more than 7,000 Palestinians living in Gaza, including close to 3,000 children, had been killed as Israel seemingly exercises this right to defence. 

But what’s increasingly apparent since this response began, is that the Netanyahu government considers the right to defend itself includes the complete annihilation of anyone in Gaza, and the west, in supporting this right, is sanctioning Israeli-perpetrated crimes against humanity. 

Earth’s largest open-air prison

The current Israeli government is the most far-right the settler colonial nation has seen since it established itself in Palestine in 1948. And over its 10 months in office, it’s dramatically escalated illegal settlement encroachments into the occupied West Bank. 

The Netanyahu government established an emergency war cabinet in the days following the Hamas attacks, with the aim of coordinating its response, especially a coming ground invasion. And defence minister Yoav Gallant vowed to wipe Hamas “off the face of the Earth”, as he likened it to ISIS. 

This sort of statement is a misrepresentation of who and what Hamas is, however, as the media is portraying it as a group of extremists holding the population of Gaza hostage to its rule, whilst in actual fact, it has been Israel that has held the Palestinian territory captive for the last 16 years. 

As former Palestinian diplomat and member of the PLO executive Hanan Ashrawi explained recently, at least 30 percent of the Gazan population are Hamas members or supporters. So, Israeli calls for Palestinians to flee Hamas positions in Gaza is futile. 

Indeed, the US had pushed for the 2006 general elections that were held in Gaza, which resulted Hamas being voted in. And following some conflict between former Gaza governing party Fatah and the new rulers, Hamas ultimately assumed complete control of the region. 

This outcome of the election resulted in Israel imposing a blockade on Gaza, which has continued since 2007, and has meant Palestinians in the region have been living with close to starvation food supplies, dwindling fresh water and a limited amount of electricity every day. 

Gaza has been described as the world’s largest open-air prison or an enormous concentration camp, and it’s Hamas that’s been supplying social services under these conditions for 16 years, which had seen about 40 percent of the community unemployed. 

“It is disingenuous to think that Hamas is just a separate group or to continue with this slander that Hamas is ISIS or this has to do with the Israelis being Jewish or whatever,” Ashrawi told Democracy Now host Amy Goodman. “It has nothing to do with that. And Hamas is not ISIS.” 

From one settler colonial to another

The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution late last week calling for an “immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce” between Israel and Hamas, and the “continuous, sufficient and unhindered” provision of lifesaving supplies into Gaza. 

The United States and Israel voted against adopting the resolution and Australia abstained from the vote. 

As Biden stood in the rose garden last week and again confirmed Israel’s right to defend itself, without any proviso on showing restraint, our PM stood beside him, and when Albanese did address the Gaza situation, he commended the president “for the leadership he has shown”. 

Australian foreign minister Penny Wong said last Thursday that our nation was sending humanitarian funding to Gaza, she raised the point that there aren’t enough “humanitarian pauses” to let aid in, and she then put it that “the way Israel exercises its right to defend itself matters”. 

Wong continued that Israel’s defence “matters to civilians throughout the region”, which sounds a tad ambiguous about whether upholding this right necessitates the annihilation of 7,000 primarily civilian Palestinians, but then to clarify, she added “and it matters to Israel’s ongoing security”. 

West-sanctioned genocide

Amnesty International released a lengthy report in February 2022, which outlined the evidence as to why Israel deserves to be designated an apartheid state. And the report details further crimes against humanity that Israel is a party to including inhumane acts, forcible transfer and torture. 

Not only are populations separated by walls in Israel, but its forces dominate Palestinians on their own land, while a system of segregated roads criss-crosses the West Bank, and this apartheid system is incrementally being expanded to the point where a two-state solution will soon be impossible. 

So, right now, under the guise of a war, Israeli forces have been bombarding the Gaza Strip for almost a month, and it’s only just commenced its second part of the war, the ground invasion of the Palestinian region, which Netanyahu claims is going to “be a long and difficult war” in itself. 

Israel has been expertly spinning its use of language, so it presents the globe with a palatable slaughter of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, via the labelling of the one-way conflict as a war, and by using dehumanising expressions to refer to Gazans, such as “human animals” and “terrorists”. 

The Rome Statute sets out what constitutes crimes against humanity, one of which is genocide. This atrocity involves “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”, including kill them or inflicting destructive life conditions upon them. 

A party to the Rome Statute, Australia has included the offences of genocide by killing and genocide by inflicting destructive life conditions under its federal law. 

And yet, even though Israel is clearly attempting to exterminate all Palestinians inside Gaza, neither our nation, the United States nor any other western nation is condemning Tel Aviv for this, and rather the Global North is simply cheering Israel on as it exercises its right to commit genocide.

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Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He's the winner of the 2021 NSW Council for Civil Liberties Award For Excellence In Civil Liberties Journalism. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, Paul wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

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