Is Israel’s Wall Corroding Peace in Gaza?

Despite the official Israeli demilitarization of the Gaza Strip in 2005, international organizations argue that Israel holds de-facto control over the strip since it controls all but one of the border crossings in addition to holding direct command of Gazan air and maritime space. The two recent major conflicts between Israel and Palestine in Gaza—Operation Cast Lead (2008) and Operation Protective Edge (2014)—have drawn extensive international criticism due to the disproportionate nature of Israeli aggression. According to UN reports, the combined casualties from these operations amounted to 86 Israelis (nine civilians) and 3,691 Palestinians (2,162 civilians).

Operation Cast Lead was an Israeli offensive comprising both land and air-based attacks on Gaza between December 27, 2008 and January 18, 2009. According to the Israeli government, “[the] Cast Lead Operation in Gaza was both a necessary and a proportionate response to Hamas’ attacks.” While the offensive’s stated objectives were to neutralize mortar attacks on Israeli towns bordering Gaza* by Hamas, a militant group seeking control of Gaza, the high civilian death toll and large scale destruction of civilian infrastructure led to the international community questioning attack strategies used during the offensive and whether or not Israel had just cause.

In “Just War Moral Philosophy and the 2008-09 Israeli Campaign in Gaza,” Jerome Slater addresses Israel’s moral justification of and its strategic utility in Operation Cast Lead. Slater maintains that Israel’s realpolitik, the iron wall strategy, continues to be employed against Palestinians even though it has already achieved its objectives. The iron wall strategy was originally formulated by Ze’ev Jabotinsky and later adopted in different forms by Israeli leadership. It holds that Israel must avoid compromises with its adversaries until its military advantage is so overwhelming and the costs of resistance become so painful that adversaries have no choice but to accept Israel and agree to a negotiated end to the conflict. Slater argues that Operation Cast Lead violated international Just War morality and claims that Israel’s reliance on overwhelming force instead of political reconciliation undermines Jabotinsky’s conception of iron wall as the means to achieving a political resolution with Arabs.

By definition, a Just War is one that is conducted to defend one’s country after exhausting every other means to a peaceful resolution. In the event of such a war, attacks should discriminate between combatants and non-combatants, and no deliberate attack should be conducted on non-combatants. The author provides evidence that Israel, by failing to discriminate between combatants and non-combatants, and by allegedly targeting civilians, violated the primary maxims of a Just War.

The Goldstone Commission Report by the UN critiqued Israeli tactics during the conflict, which led many Israeli intellectuals to criticize it, the most prominent being Moshe Halbertal. He presents a series of arguments to void the accusations made against Israel. According to him, civilians were not targeted as a matter of policy because civilians were warned to evacuate areas targeted by Israeli forces, adding that it was mostly civilian property and not civilians themselves who were targeted. He explains that the inevitable civilian casualties were not as high as those of other major conflicts such as Kosovo. His final defense is that the low ratio of combatant to non-combatant casualties indicates that civilians were not indiscriminately targeted.

Slater opposes Halbertal and concludes that Operation Cast Lead was immoral for the following reasons: Not only did Israel fail to discriminate between combatants and non-combatants in airstrikes, but it also enforced a blockade which effectively trapped civilians who were unable to escape the combat zone. Slater dismisses the Israeli argument that more civilians could have been killed and asserts that it is not a valid moral defense. Additionally, the high population density and the lack of sufficient protection from bombing in Gaza renders the Israeli claim that it only attacked civilian property and not civilians moot. Slater adds that both the Goldstone Report and Human Rights Watch could not substantiate Israel’s claims that Hamas used human shields. Finally, the fact that NATO’s bombing of Serbia caused greater destruction does not absolve accusations against Israeli forces.

The author concludes that Israel’s policies under the iron wall strategy, in particular the destruction of civilian life and property in Operation Cast Lead, are an intentional violation of the Just War clause upheld by the international community. He argues further that continued use of the iron wall strategy not only causes further suffering to Palestinians in Gaza but also undermines the original goal of the strategy, which is to achieve a political resolution to this conflict. Exploring this issue further has become imperative. With the Middle East entangled in severe violence between state and non-state actors, a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem should be a pressing foreign policy consideration to pave way for regional stability.

*Correction: The author originally stated that the objective of Operation Cast Lead was to neutralize attacks on Israeli settlements, not Israeli towns bordering Gaza.

Article source: Slater, Jerome. “Just War Moral Philosophy and the 2008–09 Israeli Campaign in Gaza.” International Security, 37 2 (2012): 44-80.

Featured photo: cc/(CAEccles, photo ID: 50830384, from iStock by Getty Images)'
Arvind llamaran
Arvind ('17) is a staff writer for International Affairs. He is interested in international affairs and education policy.

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