Irwin Cotler: The Fog of War: Root Causes and Resolution

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The notion that truth is the first casualty of war finds expression in the fog of the current Gaza conflict – a truth masked by oft-repeated cliches such as “cycle of violence” or unconscionable allegations of “genocide.” If we want to prevent further tragedies in this conflict – let alone frame the basis for its resolution – then we have to go behind the daily headlines that cloud understanding and probe the real basis of the Israeli-Hamas conflict.

The proximate trigger for the present hostilities was the deliberate and consistent attack on Israeli citizens by Hamas. Over 6,000 rockets and mortar shells have been launched at Israel since its Gaza withdrawal in the summer of 2005, including hundreds while the supposed truce between Hamas and Israel was in effect.

When Hamas then unilaterally declared the truce over and tripled its rocket-fire, Israel was obliged to act in self-defense.

YET EVEN this proximate trigger does not tell the whole story. It is rather a symptom, or proxy, for the root cause: the unwillingness of Hamas – and its Iranian patron – to accept the legitimacy of Israel within any boundaries in the Middle East.

While the rejection by Hamas of any peace with any Israel – or the existence of Israel itself – is a foundational root cause, there is a much more pernicious and sinister one that is all but ignored in the fog of war. This is the public call by Hamas, in its charter as well as its contemporary declarations, for the destruction of Israel and the killing of Jews wherever they may be.

Jews everywhere – not just in Israel – are referred to as inherently evil, as responsible for all the evils of the world, as defilers of Islam, and, repeatedly during these hostilities, as the “sons of apes and pigs.” This genocidal anti-Semitism – and I do not use these words lightly or easily, but there are no other words to describe what is affirmed in these genocidal calls, covenants and declarations – this culture of hatred, this is where it all begins.

In the words of Prof. Fouad Ajami following the 2002 terrorist massacre of Israeli civilians in Netanya sitting down for their Passover meal: The suicide bomber of the Passover massacre did not descend from the sky; he walked straight out of the culture of incitement let loose on the land, a menace hovering over Israel, a great Palestinian and Arab refusal to let that country be, to cede it a place among the nations.

The bomber partook of the culture all around him: the glee that greets those brutal deeds of terror, the cult that rises around the martyrs and their families.

MOREOVER, Iran not only joins in these genocidal calls, but has become the epicenter of calls for Israel to be “wiped off the map.” In Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Iran, one finds the toxic convergence of the advocacy of the most horrific of crimes embedded in the most virulent of hatreds and propelled by the avowed intent of Iran to acquire nuclear weapons for that purpose. Iran is not just a bystander to the conflict, but an actor and choreographer involved in the training, supplying, financing, harboring and promoting of Hamas.

The Iran “connection” to the present hostilities is too often ignored or sanitized. As a senior commander of Hamas has said, “Iran is our mother. She gives us information, military supplies and financial support.” It is all the more tragic that innocent civilians are dying in Gaza because of hostilities supported by Iran, whose criminal accountability is marginalized.

As well, Hamas not only threatens the safety and security of Israeli citizens. It shields itself behind its own Palestinian citizens, thereby threatening the safety and security of Gaza itself.

RECOGNIZING the root causes is important, not only to appreciate the basis of the conflict, but the basis and framework for its resolution. That resolution, in the end, will not be military but diplomatic, political and juridical – and organized around the following initiatives and undertakings:

1.A comprehensive – and enduring – cease-fire and framework to end hostilities must be put in place. For such a cease-fire to endure, the casus belli that gave rise to the hostilities must be addressed and redressed: Hamas must cease and desist from its policy of targeting Israeli civilians and terrorizing Israeli civilian populations.

2.A robust international protection force – with the necessary mandate, mission and numbers – should be employed to ensure that the cease-fire is respected, both to protect against the targeting of Israeli civilians and the use of Palestinian civilians as human shields: the ongoing double war crimes of Hamas.

3. The international protection force must be empowered to secure a total interdiction of the smuggling and manufacture of weapons on Gaza, lest the capacity for the casus belli be renewed. For example, Hamas must not be permitted to resuscitate its tunnel system of weapons smuggling and the exploitation of the Philadelphi corridor for this purpose.

4.Another Hamas instigation underlying this conflict – remembered daily by Israelis – is the case of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit. For two-and-a-half years he has been held incommunicado and denied his rights as a detainee; Hamas has even denied access to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Such manifest disregard for his basic rights must end. Indeed, 100 Hamas terrorists captured in these hostilities can be returned in exchange – there is admittedly a severe disproportionality between the freeing of an illegally abducted soldier and hundreds of terrorists, but it is one that Israel may be ready to accept.

5.The deployment of an international protection force should allow for the opening of humanitarian corridors and border crossings, and the withdrawal of Israel forces from Gaza, following the lines of the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access concluded with the Palestinian Authority.

6.Humanitarian assistance must be immediately deployed to those in need, and Israel and Hamas must allow this assistance to be delivered. There can be no mistaking the fact that Hamas’s tactics of launching rockets from civilian areas and using border crossings to smuggle weapons directly hinders humanitarian efforts.

7. With order restored, an international trusteeship under the auspices of the United Nations should be given governing authority over Gaza. Ruling Gaza is a job that Hamas cannot be trusted with, that Egypt has rejected, that Israel does not want, and that the Palestinian Authority has not been given the authority to do by the Palestinians.
While a UN governing authority would understandably be treated with mistrust in Israel, it would be a stabilizing presence that is simply the best of all available options. It can serve as an institution-building, state-building authority that can be the basis for the emergence of a peaceful, rights-protecting Gaza as a constituent part of a nascent, peaceful and democratic Palestinian state.

8.Palestinian society in Gaza must be freed from the cynical and oppressive culture of hate and incitement. It is true that one makes peace with one’s enemies and not one’s friends, but it is equally true that no peaceful solution – to this particular conflict in Gaza, or to the larger geopolitical conflict in the region – will be possible if resources continue to be poured into textbooks, summer camps, refugee camps and pervasive state media that serve the sole purpose of demonizing Israel.

THE NEXT generation of Palestinians must be one capable of keeping the peace with Israel. It is in the interests of neither Israelis nor Palestinians themselves to perpetuate this false “clash of civilizations.” Admittedly the implementation of these objectives may be difficult – some may say even impossible – to secure. But the time has come to realize that if we want to protect the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians in the long as well as the short run, such initiatives and undertakings are unavoidable.

The death of any innocent – Israeli or Palestinian – is a tragedy. It is urgent to act now for a just resolution, and for the prevention of further tragedies.

The writer is professor of law (on leave) at McGill University and Opposition Critic for Human Rights. He has written extensively on the Middle East.

Irwin Cotler: The Fog of War: Root Causes and Resolution

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