Andrew Tucker of thinc (The Hague Initiative for International Co-operation), has hosted several webinars with international experts to explain the application of international humanitarian law (IHL) to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza
Q. Is Israel’s bombardment of Gaza allowed by international law?
A. Article 51 of the UN charter says that a state has the right to self-defence when it suffers an armed attack. The right to defend itself is not limited to the state’s own territory and so the IDF can pursue Hamas within the Gaza Strip. Israel is allowed to attack military infrastructure that Hamas has deliberately installed under schools and hospitals.
Q. Why are so many civilians being killed?
A. Evacuating civilians is the defending power’s responsibility. Israel has been telling civilians to evacuate to the south of Gaza; this is ‘effective advance warning’ – defined by international law. Both preventing evacuations and using human bodies as shields are war crimes.
THE TRUTH ABOUT THE ‘OCCUPATION’
Q. Is Gaza occupied territory?
A. The Gaza Strip is not occupied territory. Israel withdrew its civilians and military from Gaza in 2005. The blockade that has been in place since Hamas was democratically elected as government in 2007 does not constitute occupation. This means that Israel is not subject to the humanitarian obligations applicable to occupying powers under IHL (international humanitarian law).
Q. Why are supplies being blocked?
A. Israel is entitled to prevent supplies coming in via Rafah Gate if it reasonably believes they will be misused by Hamas.
SUPPLY OF ELECTRICITY AND WATER
Q. Why are there shortages of electricity and water?
A. Hamas sees providing utilities and essentials as the responsibility of Israel and the UN. Israel was/is not obliged to provide water or electricity to Gaza. Israel was providing 50% of Gaza’s electricity, which the Palestinian National Authority refuses to pay for because they don’t want to acknowledge Hamas, so Israel has been writing off the bill. The ten big pipes used for electricity often get damaged by rocket fire which Israel then repairs. After 7 October, Israel declined to repair the pipes. Hamas have also filmed themselves digging up water pipes to turn into rockets as quoted by Foreign Office Minister Andrew Mitchell.
Q. Surely it’s wrong to put a whole population under siege?
A. The ‘siege’ imposed by Israel after the horrendous 7 October attack was entirely legitimate. Sieges are a legitimate form of warfare, provided they are not intended to starve the civilian population. Israel’s siege was intended to prevent Hamas from carrying out unlawful aggression.
Q. Where does Gaza get its water and fuel from and why are hospitals short of fuel?
A. Israel provides just 10% of the water in Gaza which it stopped after the massacres but has since reconnected. Hamas has 1.5m litres of diesel which it’s refusing to give to the hospitals because Hamas say they need it for themselves – for rockets and lighting tunnels. Diesel is needed for water purification plants as the majority of water drilled from local aquifers is contaminated with sewage, because Gazans drill into the aquifers and sell water to their neighbours.
Before the 7 October attack, Israel’s government had approved measures which would enable Gaza to be less dependent on their help. This was to help Gaza reach its potential.
Q. Do Gazans support Hamas?
A. Maybe as a military but not as a government. Hamas kills LGBT people, women who don’t dress right and other Muslims who aren’t the right type of Muslim.
PROPORTIONALITY AND TARGETING IN THE HAMAS-ISRAEL WAR
Q. Surely Israel is inflicting collective punishment?
A. According to the Statute of the International Criminal Court, collective punishment is when operations are intended to inflict punishment on civilians for something they’re not responsible for. When you’re fighting an enemy that embeds itself among civilians, it is inevitable that combat is going to result in collective suffering. But that is not collective punishment.
HOSPITALS AND THE DEBATE OVER EVACUATION
Q. Why does the IDF want patients to leave Gaza hospitals?
A. Under IHL or the law of armed conflict, a hospital or medical facility, fixed or mobile, is the most protected thing on the battlefield. It is protected unless it’s being used in a manner that is harmful by the enemy, contrary to its exclusively humanitarian function. Then there’s an obligation to warn the enemy to stop that misuse and give them a reasonable time to comply.
It takes maybe a day to stop using a hospital as a storage facility for weapons. Afterwards, under the law, the hospital loses its protection from an attack. But it still remains a civilian object, and the individuals inside are still considered civilians. This necessitates taking all feasible precautions to minimise the risk to civilians during the operation.
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Hamas Headquarters and Depot underneath the Shifa Hospital
WHO’S A PALESTINIAN?
Prime Minister Golda Meir said, “From 1921 to 1948 (when the modern state of Israel was voted for by the UN), I was a Palestinian.”
In 1922, ‘The Palestine Post’ was a Jewish newspaper, which later became The Jerusalem Post.
When modern Israel was founded in 1948 to provide a home for Holocaust survivors, it absorbed around 750,000 Jews expelled from surrounding nations such as Egypt. But when an equivalent number of Muslims living in the land were encouraged to flee by the invading Arab armies, they were not welcomed in the surrounding Arab nations.
The term ‘Palestinian’ was adopted by Yassir Arafat in 1967 to exclusively identify non-Israeli Arabs. In the past few years, Christians in Israel have called themselves ‘Arameans’.
WHERE ARE ALL THE BODIES?
The numbers of Gaza deaths don’t add up
Deaths in Gaza, as reported by mainstream media, are exclusively attributed to IDF strikes, because Hamas controls the Palestinian Ministry of Health (PMH) in Gaza. And according to an Israeli expert, there are no reports of Hamas’ casualties because these numbers are disguised as civilian casualties.
Prof Kobi Michael, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, explains that with Hamas controlling the numbers given out, half of the reported numbers of Palestinian casualties are in fact Hamas members.
The PMH reported more than 13,000 Palestinians are dead and 30,000 wounded, despite there being no more than 3,000 hospital beds in the whole of Gaza. Prof Michael queries where the wounded have been placed and the dead buried.
Prof Michael also claims that Israel’s strict adherence to the international laws of war means the actual civilian casualty numbers are low.