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Aghast at Israel’s actions

02:01 AM Jun 15, 2024 IST | Vivek Katju
aghast at israel’s actions

A recent interaction at a Track 2 event indicated to me that governments and civil society of the West desperately want the Gaza war to end. The death and destruction caused by Israel in Gaza in response to the Hamas attack of October 7, 23 is now considered thoroughly disproportionate to the Hamas atrocity which led to the death of around 1200 Israelis.


This is not surprising because by now 37000 Palestinians have died and Gaza has been reduced to rubble. International focus has conclusively shifted from the Hamas attack to Israel’s battering of the people of Gaza. Global sympathy too is in great measure with the people of Gaza; it was with Israel in the wake of October 7. This shift in their peoples’ approach to the Gaza war has put pressure on governments in Europe.


More significantly, President Joe Biden is now feeling the heat in an election year. As mentioned earlier in these columns Biden cannot afford to lose the swing states in the November election and in some of them there is an element of vote of those who are aghast at Israel’s continuing actions. Biden had earlier aligned himself completely with Israel.


Like the Israeli leadership he also wants Hamas to finished militarily and politically. But he is under intense pressure. This led the Biden administration to sponsor a resolution in the United Nations Security Council calling for a ceasefire.


This is in contrast to its earlier stand when it was opposed to calling a halt to Israel’s military operation in Gaza. It was in keeping with this position which had led it to give a thumb-down to an Algerian sponsored resolution some weeks ago. The Algerians had asked for a ceasefire.


The US sponsored UNSC Resolution (number 2735) was adopted by the Council on May 10 by a vote of 14-0. Russia which is veto holding permanent member abstained, thereby allowing the vote to go through. Russia stated that it had reservations on the absence of negotiations regarding the Resolution and the lack of clarity on Israel’s attitude to it.


It did not exercise its veto because it was not opposed by the Arab countries. It is true, as I write these lines, that neither Israel nor Hamas has formally agreed to the Resolution. On its part Israel has indicated informally that the Resolution has its agreement though during the UNSC discussion its representative said that Israel’s objectives of defanging Hamas and rescuing the hostages had not changed. The US has now to bring Israel around to fully accept the Resolution and the responsibility to make Hamas do the same rests on Qatar and Egypt.


The Resolution envisages a three-stage process

The first consists of an “immediate, full and complete” ceasefire. This stage would involve negotiations for the release of hostages and sending the remains of the hostages who have died to Israel and for Israel to release Palestinian prisoners. Also, the displaced people of Gaza could return to their homes and a process of rebuilding could begin. Aid would go to Gaza unimpeded.

The second stage would involve the return of all hostages, the permanent end of hostilities and an Israeli forces withdrawal from Gaza. The last stage of the process would witness a “major, multi-year” reconstruction of Gaza and the return of all the remains of the hostages who have died.

The Resolution also stated that in the eventuality that Israel and Hamas do not reach an agreement on the first stage of the peace process decided by the Council the ceasefire will continue. The Resolution also firmly rejected any demographic or territorial change in Gaza and any attempt to “reduce territory”. The last reference is obviously to Israel adopting any measure to put military or civilian presence in Gaza in one way or another.

Israel has severely damaged Hamas’s military and governance structures. It is still unknown if the people of Gaza will continue to stand by the group or hold it responsible for its action on October 7, 2023 which led to the Israeli response which extracted such a heavy toll in lives and property from them. In the most conducive of circumstances, it would take Hamas a great deal of time to recover from the damage done to it by Israel. However, if the people of Gaza turn against it, Hamas will find it difficult to recover or may take a long time to do so.

Each war is subject to the laws of unpredictability and unintended consequences. If Hamas had thought that taking 245 hostages would make it and the people of Gaza immune from a massive Israeli reaction it was clearly mistaken. And, if Israel considered that the sympathy it had gathered from the gruesome Hamas attack—most countries were truly with Israel in the aftermath of October 7 and did not ‘object’ to Israel’s military action against Hamas to reduce its lethality and rescue hostages—it was also wrong. The sympathy factor has gone with the war’s continuance for over 8 months and the toll it has extracted from the Gaza population, including children and women.

The fact is that most people, at least now in the ‘modern’ age, believe that justice and equity require a proportionate response. This idea is ingrained in the criminal law of countries too. There is the right of self-defence which extends to pre-empting an attack but these too are subject to doctrine of proportionate action.

The same idea is contained in international law. Large scale and endless military action which causes such death and destruction as Israel has inflicted can no longer be brushed aside as collateral damage. Israel must surely recognize this.