Australia/Israel Review


Editorial: Ceasefire calls aid only Hamas

Nov 22, 2023 | Colin Rubenstein

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

The Albanese Government has come under pressure from pro-Palestinian groups, the Greens and elements of the ALP to demand Israel accept an immediate, permanent ceasefire and end its war against the Palestinian Islamist terror group Hamas. 

This is ostensibly out of a concern for rising civilian casualties in Gaza, which are indeed tragic and heart-rending to witness. However, it is worth noting the fact that many of these same groups demanding a ceasefire now were already pre-emptively condemning any Israeli response to the Hamas massacre of October 7 immediately after that attack, well before the IDF launched its ground invasion and surrounded Gaza City, Hamas’ main power centre.

In other words, despite making false claims about Israel’s tactics violating the laws of war, or even, absurdly, amounting to “genocide”, most of those demanding an immediate ceasefire have never actually recognised any Israeli right of self-defence against Hamas’ unprovoked acts of mass-murder, no matter what tactics it employed. Some Greens and UN officials like Francesca Albanese have made this explicit.

Yet that right to self-defence has been recognised by virtually every Western government. What does that right entail? Israel was the target of an unprovoked terrorist mass invasion, which led to the murder of more than 1,200 people and the kidnapping of 240 more, and a huge missile bombardment – which was still continuing into late November with more than 9,500 missiles fired – sponsored by the governing authority of a neighbouring territory. These were the clearest imaginable acts of war. So unsurprisingly, Israel launched a war of self-defence against that governing entity, as is its right under the UN Charter. 

No country in the world, including Australia, would simply have accepted what happened on October 7 without fighting back in self-defence. 

Self-defence does not mean retribution, but taking whatever military steps are necessary to end the ongoing perpetration of war crimes and continuing threat. In this case, with Hamas openly saying it wants to keep launching unprovoked attacks on Israel “again and again” until the Jewish state is destroyed, this can only entail dismantling both Hamas’ military capabilities and its ability to rule Gaza. 

US President Joe Biden recognised this on Nov. 15, telling reporters,“I think [the war is] going to stop when Hamas no longer maintains the capacity to murder and abuse and just do horrific things to the Israelis.”

Moreover, the Hamas threat is only heightened by its Iranian backing and the efforts of Iranian proxies to launch attacks against Israel from multiple fronts, including by Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen. 

With Hamas having committed the war crime of turning most of the population of Gaza into human shields by building hundreds of kilometres of military tunnels under residential areas of Gaza, and using civilian buildings – including schools, hospitals, mosques and apartment buildings – as its headquarters, weapons depots and missile launching sites, such a war was always going to have heartbreaking costs for Gaza’s civilian population. This remains true despite Israel’s strenuous efforts to minimise civilian casualties, including by calling for the evacuation of battle zones and issuing millions of warnings, via phone calls and text messages, to civilians located at sites likely to be attacked.

It is notable that those calling for an immediate, permanent ceasefire offer no serious ideas whatsoever for what could happen afterwards. Their vague calls for negotiations with Hamas, or imaginary scenarios whereby a two-state solution would suddenly be agreed to, or the UN could somehow come in and fix everything, are clearly the products of wishful thinking, wilful ignorance or both.

It should be more than obvious that a two-state vision for peace can never be realised as long as Hamas – a terror group committed not only to Israel’s destruction, but genocide against the Jewish people – maintains control over Gaza and holds offensive capabilities to threaten Israel’s population. 

An immediate, long-term ceasefire would therefore cost, not protect, innocent lives in the longer term. It would only defer those casualties for Hamas’ promised future rounds of warfare against Israelis and Jews.

Meanwhile, hysterical allegations being bandied around that Israel is supposedly committing “war crimes” exhibit either a fundamental ignorance of the rules of war, and/or a wilful intent to invent a unique set of rules of engagement that apply only to Israel. 

Numerous Law of War experts – including Australian law professor Greg Rose, Australian strategic analysts Anthony Bergin and Peter Jennings, American academics Prof. Matthew Waxman and Prof. Geoffrey S. Corn, Prof. John Spencer, chair of Urban Warfare studies at West Point, and British international law expert Lord Guglielmo Verdirame KC have corrected the myths being spread about the Laws of War with regard to Israel’s conduct in Gaza. 

Much of the recent hysterics have revolved around IDF operations around Gazan hospitals, including Gaza’s largest hospital, Shifa. But when hospitals are used as cover for military activities – as Israel has proved Hamas is doing from evidence uncovered at that compound and others – they become legitimate targets. IDF spokespeople have stressed many times that the war is only against armed Hamas terrorists and their military infrastructure, not against the Palestinian people, and it is notable that the IDF’s recent raids into Shifa Hospital to look for terrorist infrastructure have led to exactly zero deaths or injuries to doctors or patients there. 

Ultimately, what Australia says or does will have little impact on whether Israel – virtually all of whose citizens firmly believe it is fighting an existential war – attains its military objectives or not. But if Australia does not support Israel’s efforts in self-defence to neutralise Hamas, it will be a huge blow to the friendship that has existed between Australia and Israel since H.V. “Doc” Evatt played a pivotal role in the UN Partition Plan in 1947 – as well as to any role Australia could play in future in helping encourage a two-state outcome. 

For the sake of Australia’s long-standing policy goal of encouraging a negotiated two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace, Australia must continue offering support to the UK, US and Israeli position that the current war can only end when Hamas is left powerless to threaten the lives of Israelis and Palestinians alike. Advocates of an immediate permanent ceasefire, regardless of their motives, should be marginalised as threatening to undermine Australia’s core national interests in the Middle East. 

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