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Israel's 'self-defense' argument against Hamas holds no water

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After Cast Lead, a number of major human rights investigations – including the Goldstone Commission, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch – concluded that Israel’s indiscriminate and disproportional attacks against the Gazan population, economy, and societal infrastructures constituted war crimes. At the same time, none of these groups sought to refute Israel’s claim that it acted in self-defense.

Essentially, Israel and its supporters argue that even though Israel ended its occupation of Gaza in 2005, Palestinian terrorist attacks on Israeli population centers have continued, and thus justify Israel’s right to defend itself.

Their argument is wrong on several counts. First, even though Israel withdrew its Jewish settlements from Gaza in 2005, it continued its indirect occupation of the strip – especially through its land and naval embargo that followed the violent takeover of the strip by Hamas in 2007.  

Israel continues to wield great power over Gaza’s economy, water, electricity, telecommunications, and transportation networks. Among other measures, it has refused to allow Gaza a functioning airport or seaport, radically cutting Gazan trade and commerce with the outside world. [An earlier version of this paragraph was incorrect. See editor's note at the bottom of this article.]

The stated reason is for security purposes, but the result is widespread hardship on ordinary Gazans, including heavily restricted movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza; inadequate imports of water used for drinking and irrigation; farmers prevented from tending to and harvesting their fields and crops in border areas, and inordinate harassment of Gazan fishing boats.

Additionally, Israel has continued to assassinate Palestinian militants and periodically attack Gaza’s governmental and police institutions, electrical generating system, roads, bridges, farms, and olive orchards – and many of its bombs and shells have fallen on schools, ambulances, and hospitals, whether intentionally or not.

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