Hamas and Israel have, at the time of this writing, stopped shooting at each other. This praiseworthy outcome cannot disguise Israel’s brutal, ham-fisted, and unsustainable conduct of its war in the Gaza Strip. Israel responded to pinpricks with a bulldozer when prudence dictated a calmer policy.
In the context of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 under former prime minister Ariel Sharon – a wise decision – the recent war made no sense. Either a reoccupation of Gaza in the name of mutual safety for both Palestinians and Israelis, or limited military maneuvers intended to interdict Hamas’s crude rocketry, would have a justification in the court of humane international opinion.
Regrettably, Israel chose, out of pique, a third option – an open-ended mission to hurt the residents of the Gaza Strip and make them collectively regret choosing a Hamas government in the summer of 2007. Israel’s conduct, quite simply, is beyond the pale of civilized statecraft.
The facts speak for themselves: Israeli troops have killed in excess of 1,000 non-combatant civilians in Gaza, including 30 children in a United-Nations-run school in a refugee camp and five people dead when Israeli forces shelled Gaza City’s main fruits-and-vegetables market. Norwegian medical aid teams estimate that 40 percent of the people killed thus far are women and children. All this, for the loss of four lives from Hamas rocketry in Israeli territory and less than a dozen deaths among Israeli soldiers.
We at Marquette are part of a Jesuit community; thus, part of our obligation is upholding the longstanding Christian tradition of just war scholarship. Jus in bello, or, translated, just conduct during war, maintains that any military action must weigh the potential security gains against the harm troops will inflict on civilians. Protecting an insignificant proportion of Israeli citizens does not justify cutting off electricity, food, water, and basic sanitation in the Gaza Strip.
As The Economist editorialized on January 3, “The Palestinians it [Israel] is bombing today will be its neighbors forever.” Israel has not wiped out Hamas, whose chief leaders in Gaza are rumored to be hiding under an overstretched hospital, and it cannot hope to depopulate or deport the people of Gaza in large numbers. Its military invasion has perpetuated the sad cycle of charge, counter-charge, exaggerations, and accusations that has seized Israeli-Palestinian relations since 1948. Invading Gaza is straying far from the road to a just and lasting peace in the Holy Land.
It is easy to cheer Israel from afar and much harder to support its policies up close. We must not be deceived by the Palestinians’ corrupt and criminal leadership. Zimbabweans do not deserve to be judged for the sins of Robert Mugabe. In regions lacking our democratic heritage and traditions, it is all too common to choose slimy leaders who turn bad at the polls. Palestinians no more deserve to die at the point of Israeli bayonets than Zimbabweans deserve to die of cholera. Never mind the cause, fashionable as it may be to say Hamas started it. Responsible international relations transcend petty “he said, she said” gamesmanship.