Gaza’s Rockets: Weapons of Terror or Liberation?

Friends at a Gaza City funeral in 2006 comfort a father whose 10-year-old son was killed by an Israeli missile in “Operation Summer Rains.” (photo: courtesy Gary Fields)

Should there be an exception to international humanitarian law made for the perpetual violation of their human rights as Palestinians are experiencing?

By Gregory DeSylva  | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs  |  October 2020

IHL [international humanitarian law] puts Gaza in a cruel catch-22 predicament. If it uses its projectiles in violation of IHL it can expect continued condemnation and the negative impacts it has on the Palestinian cause. If it forgoes them, it is likely to remain interminably under Israel’s knee.

The rockets and mortars that Hamas and other Gaza militant groups fire into Israel are almost universally condemned. Most U.S. politicians blame these projectiles for the Israel-Gaza conflicts, and the U.N. and EU have condemned them. In 2014, President Barack Obama legitimized Israel’s “Protective Edge” assault on Gaza, stating, “As I’ve said repeatedly, Israel has a right to defend itself from rocket attacks that terrorize the Israeli people.” In November 2019, presidential candidate Joe Biden followed suit: ”Israel has a right to defend itself against terrorist threats. It is intolerable that Israeli citizens live their lives under the constant fear of rocket attacks.”

Rockets are a significant reason for Gaza’s continuing split with the West Bank: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has denounced them as “counterproductive,” accomplishing little and provoking Israeli retaliation endangering Gaza civilians.

ROCKETS, LAW, AND LIBERTY

For the international community, these denunciations reflect the rockets’ perceived violation of international humanitarian law (IHL), the area of international law concerned with the means of war. Attacks intentionally targeting civilians are absolutely prohibited under the principle of noncombatant immunity (NCI). Attacks that target military assets but incidentally impact civilians are acceptable only if their civilian impacts are proportionate to their military purposes. Attacks that can’t discriminate between military targets and civilians pose unacceptable risks to civilians and are forbidden because they’re indiscriminate. Gaza’s rockets lack internal guidance systems and thus are very inaccurate. So it’s generally infeasible to make meaningful distinction with them between military targets and civilians. Ergo, they’re indiscriminate and forbidden under IHL. Ditto for Gaza’s mortars.

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