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Israel's legal framework for Gaza strikes

Declaring Gaza a "belligerent, entity sui generis" has informed Israel’s strategy in the conflict.
An Israeli Apache helicopter fires a missile towards the Gaza Strip July 22, 2014. Israel pounded targets across the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, saying no ceasefire was near as top U.S. and United Nations diplomats pursued talks on halting the fighting that has claimed more than 600 lives. With the conflict entering its third week, the Palestinian death toll rose to 616, including nearly 100 children and many other civilians, Gaza health officials said. Israel's casualties also mounted, with the military announc

The license that Israel has given itself to strike at will in the Gaza Strip and attack the civilian population and infrastructure in the ferocious manner that it has done during the last two weeks and frequently before indicates that it is not bound by the normal restrictions of an occupying power.

Israel allows itself to strike at will by air and, if necessary, by ground invasion, because it ceded effective control of the Gaza territory in 2005 and declared Gaza a “sui generis” entity.

With the continued resistance by the people of Gaza, Israel considered that the sui generis territory of Gaza is a “belligerent entity.” This deliberate legal vagueness in describing and subsequently treating Gaza as a “belligerent entity” enables Israel to use these unilateral interpretations and optimum levels of siege and aggression — particularly through its air force — never abiding by the obligatory avoidance of attacks on a civilian population.

In other words, Israel, by extricating itself from the constraints of the Fourth Geneva Convention and treating Gaza as a “belligerent entity sui generis” — through reckless and ruthless airstrikes and now deployment of troops inside Gaza — is declaring war on Gaza as a belligerent sui generis entity.

What has taken place in the last few days of intense airstrikes has led to the loss of more than 600 civilian lives. This was definitely an act of war against Gaza and its population, as Israel no longer claims that it occupies Gaza’s territories.

With Israel's own definition of Gaza as a “belligerent entity sui generis,” the disproportionality of civilian population casualties, including men, women and children, makes it clear that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has been seeking an opportune moment to put in jeopardy the reconciliation that has taken place between the authorities of West Bank and Gaza.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, in talks with Egypt’s foreign minister, said, “There is a framework … to end the violence and that framework is the Egyptian initiative.” Kerry’s term “framework” is unfortunately associated with failure, as it was used often during the fruitless “negotiations” between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel.

While it is hoped that the Egyptian initiative will constitute a fair solution for the people of Gaza and defuse the present violence, it is imperative that Egypt not equivocate on the Gaza tragedy and the ruthless and reckless ferocious attacks on Gaza population.

While Egypt is the most important Arab state with an undoubtedly strong influence, one would hope that it will not allow the restrictions imposed by its peace treaty with Israel and its traditional skepticism of Hamas to weaken its peace efforts to anything less than a strong condemnation of Israel’s attacks on civilians. If this is not done, a position that equivocates on the suffering of the Gazan people and the extraordinary ferociousness of Israeli airstrikes will be disappointing if not lead to disillusionment.

The outrage of the Arab people throughout the Middle East and the international community must be taken into serious consideration, or this description of Gaza as “the belligerent entity sui generis” will provide a license for Israel to continue penalizing not only Hamas but the entire Arab population of Palestine, by justifying and continuing its use the peace and unity between Gaza and the West Bank as a pretext to further its conquest of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and its ruthless oppression of Gaza.

Egypt, the beloved and canonical Arab country, should in its intervention in this matter overcome the residual constraints of the past few months and act as it has historically done: be the country that articulates the legitimate demands of the Arab people in general and their commitment to Palestinian liberation in particular.

Equally important is that the United States must allow its humanitarian traditions and policies to actively deter Israel's disproportionate aggression against the people of Palestine, especially the people of Gaza.

Finally, I quote a July 22 Haaretz editorial: "Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman’s call to boycott Arab businesses that shut their doors to protest Operation Protective Edge is another act of dangerous and cynical incitement by the chairman of Yisrael Beitenu, which proves that he won’t hesitate to exploit these days of tension and fear to score political points among the extreme right wing." The column went on, “The racist incitement disseminated by Liberman — and not for the first time — is part of an ugly wave that threatens Israel’s image. Cabinet members, first and foremost Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ought to unequivocally condemn such statements and renounce the foreign minister’s dangerous initiative."

Finally, as an example for members of the constituency of conscience, I quote what Brent Sasley wrote in Haaretz, also also July 22: “A society that cannot generate sorrow for civilians being killed elsewhere becomes inured to violence against its own members, and more sympathetic to and excusing of it. It will produce many more Yigal Amirs, Baruch Goldsteins and La Familias. That’s not the meaning of a Jewish and democratic state.”

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