IN THE MEDIA
A powerless Hamas is the only way this war will end
Nov 30, 2023 | Colin Rubenstein
An edited version of this article was published in the Daily Telegraph – 30 November 2023
Last week’s deal to free 50 Israeli women, children and elderly hostages from Gaza in return for a temporary ceasefire and the release of 150 Palestinian prisoners jailed by Israel on terror-related offences – recently extended by an additional two days – undoubtedly offered suffering families some much-needed relief.
While pro-Palestinian groups, the Greens and elements of the ALP pressure the Albanese Government to demand Israel accept a permanent ceasefire, let nobody be confused: the current temporary ceasefire can be nothing more than that – temporary.
As long as Hamas refuses to surrender and release all remaining hostages, and wields the power and intent to murder, massacre, fire rockets into Israel and take more Israelis hostage as it did on October 7, Israel must resume fighting.
Advocates demanding an unconditional and permanent ceasefire focus on the rising, substantial civilian casualties in Gaza, and every civilian casualty is indeed tragic and regrettable, although both the US and Israel agree casualty figures from the Hamas-run Gazan Health Ministry are questionable.
Hamas has committed the war crime of turning most of Gaza’s population into human shields by building hundreds of kilometres of military tunnels under residential areas, and using civilian buildings – including schools, hospitals, mosques and apartments – as its headquarters, weapons depots and missile launching sites. Therefore, a war to uproot Hamas was always going to have heartbreaking costs for Gaza’s civilian population, despite Israel taking every precaution to warn civilians to move to safe havens by calling for the evacuation of battle zones through safe corridors and issuing millions of warnings, via phone calls and text messages, to civilians located at sites likely to be attacked.
Concerns have been raised about the IDF’s actions in and 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 Shifa and other hospitals -they become legitimate targets. IDF spokespeople have frequently stressed the war is only against armed Hamas terrorists and their military infrastructure, not the Palestinian people, and the IDF’s recent raids into Shifa seeking terrorist infrastructure led to no harm to doctors or patients.
We must always remember responsibility, legal and moral, for all the needless injuries, deaths and emerging humanitarian crisis in Gaza belongs solely with the party that started the war, Hamas. Like al-Qaeda in 2001 or Japan in 1941, Hamas’ unprovoked invasion of southern Israel, followed by vows by Hamas officials to keep launching similar unprovoked attacks on Israel “again and again” until the Jewish state is destroyed, gave Israel a clear mandate under international law to launch a war of self-defence. Self-defence does not mean simply to retaliate, but to fight the enemy’s forces until they have been neutralised as a threat.
Moreover, the Hamas threat is heightened by the group’s Iranian backing and the efforts of Iranian proxies to launch attacks against Israel from multiple fronts, including Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen.
Arguments for a permanent ceasefire ignore the obstacle even a weakened Hamas presents to peace. It should be more than obvious that a two-state vision can never be realised while Hamas – a terror group committed not only to Israel’s destruction, but genocide against the Jewish people – can rebuild its forces and offensive capabilities, as it has many times before.
An immediate, permanent ceasefire would therefore cost, not protect, innocent lives in the longer term. It would only defer those casualties until Hamas’ promised future rounds of warfare.
Meanwhile, hysterical allegations that Israel is supposedly committing “war crimes” exhibit either a fundamental ignorance of the rules of war, and/or a wilful intent to invent unique rules of engagement that apply only to Israel.
Numerous Law of War experts – including Australian law professor Greg Rose, 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 regarding Israel’s conduct in Gaza.
Ultimately, Australia can have little impact on whether Israel – virtually all of whose citizens firmly believe it is fighting an existential war – attains its military objectives. But surely Australia will continue to support Israel’s efforts in self-defence to neutralise Hamas. Otherwise, it would 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 supporting the UK, US and Israeli position that the war can only end when Hamas is 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.