A note on self-defence

The phrase “Israel has the right to defend itself” is said almost-reflexively in response to every single Israeli airstrike on Gaza. Of course, few here in the West would challenge this notion (and I certainly don’t seek to). Instead, I argue that the term self-defence has been erroneously deployed in this instance. The airstrikes, largely against city blocks, certainly aren’t self-defence. Israel already defended itself.

To be clear: Israel does have a right to defend its citizens from Hamas’ rocket launches. This was especially lobbs thousands at Israelis. Israel defends itself from Hamas’ attempts at slaughter via the Iron Dome, arguably the most comprehensive missile defence system of its kind. The Iron Dome is extremely successful at what it does. It reduces thousands of terrorist rocket launches down to almost no deaths and a few injuries. In the most recent barrage, the Iron Dome shot down about 1140 rockets (which accounts for about 95% of the rockets that made it to Israel).

As evidenced by its own success, the Iron Dome almost entirely (with only a few misses) fulfills Israel’s right to self-defence. Too much more than this, such as the brutality we have seen unleashed against Palestinians in Gaza, is surely better described offence rather than defence.

“The rockets are scary” is not, in my admittedly distant view, a valid reason to flatten a city block. Neither Israelis or Palestinians should have to live in fear of being killed by a missile. This on the Israeli side fear is, by many Israelis own admissions, significantly diminished by the Iron Dome.

“We [the IDF] go to great lengths to warn people of our airstrikes” is an utterly meaningless and deficient defence of civilian destruction in a place like Gaza where there is no readily available shelter.

[…] What we perceive to be an attempt to avoid casualties [the warnings of airstrikes, that is] is psychologically tormenting, terrifying and traumatic. There are no early warning sirens. There are no bunkers. And no shelter will protect you when an entire building, sometimes 13 stories high is collapsed on your head. There is no place to escape. There are no front lines. There is no place for the displaced to go. […]

Ayman Mohyeldin. 2021.

“The building had a Hamas hideout in it” does not displace the fact that the targeted buildings were also the homes and offices of hundreds, at times thousands, of civilians. The most recent high-profile target as I’m writing was a building better known for hosting the international press than for hosting weapons caches.


Update: Also, if you’re warning people that you’re about to destroy buildings because Hamas wouldn’t Hamas just leave the buildings too.


The casualties of these airstrikes have been vastly disproportionate. Since 2001, when Hamas and the PIJ started regularly firing rockets into Israel, approximately thirty-two Israelis have been killed by rocket attack. This is still thirty-two too many, however this is over a period of 20 years. With their airstrikes, Israel have killed roughly four times as many people (139) in just the past week. The total amount of Palestinians killed by Israeli airstrikes in the same period is at least 4,000.

The size of Hamas’ militia is unclear estimated to be at least 15-50,000 members. The Palestinian Islamic Jihad has another 8,000 members. The Gaza Strip is home to over 2 million people. On the largest of these numbers, about 3% of Gazans are actually combatants in this conflict.

The remaining 97% of those in Gaza are simply trying to live their lives in “the world’s largest open air prison”. Lives which were already precarious by the combination of a perilous blockade on essential goods by Israel and Egypt and an incompetent government led by an Islamist terror group. Precarious lives in a city that was to become “unliveable” by last year due to a lack of supplies and will surely become even more unliveable now.

By way of conclusion, Hamas’ rockets must stop. Virtually everyone already recognises that these rockets have only served to escalate conflict and put civilian lives at risk. The IDF’s airstrikes must also stop. The humanitarian impact of the airstrikes is so vastly disproportionate to the threat they purportedly contain as to entirely defeat their defensive purpose. They cannot reasonably said to be “self-defence” because the IDF have already largely defended Israelis through the Iron Dome.

Of course, what has been set out in the last paragraph won’t completely end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (this post does not even touch on Sheikh Jarrah, the flashpoint of this most recent wave of conflict), but the killings must stop before any progress towards peace and reconciliation can be made.


The photograph attached to this post was cropped and posterised from one taken by Osama Eid over at Wikimedia Commons. You can use it under the Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0

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