Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Has Israel's Response Exceeded Its Right to Defend Itself? - George Bisharat

San Francisco Chronicle, Janauary 5, 2009 - ....Even were Israel's assault otherwise justified, its scale would be vastly disproportionate. The goal of stopping rocket fire might authorize strikes at Hamas military targets - but certainly not at a university, mosques, the education ministry, civilian police stations and prisons, and other institutions that are the very backbone of Gaza society. These targets instead betray the intent to destroy any independent Palestinian capacity for self-government. Palestinians living in lawless disorder, scrambling for survival and depending on humanitarian assistance cannot forcefully assert their rights. A crippled Hamas administration in the Gaza Strip positions Israel to say: "We withdrew from Gaza and got a failed state at our border. Why should we ever agree to withdraw from the West Bank?"

Thus, while Israeli bombs are now raining down on the Gaza Strip, Israel's ultimate strategic objectives lie elsewhere. Israeli settlement expansion in Jerusalem and the West Bank continues apace. Peace would necessarily end Israel's land grab, while conflict and indeterminacy permit its continuation. That is why Israeli leaders, who have not yet reached their territorial ambitions, would rather kill than compromise.

Israel's addiction to violence is in part enabled by its vast military superiority over its neighbors, promoted by U.S. tax dollars averaging nearly $3 billion annually since 1973. Israel's military, equipped with 875 combat aircraft, 3,800 tanks, and, ultimately, up to an estimated 400 nuclear weapons, is attacking a population lacking an air force, air defenses, artillery, tanks, or any of the gear of a modern army.

President-elect Barack Obama's silence on the Gaza crisis contrasts sharply with his vocal engagement in our economic recovery. It suggests, therefore, continuity with policies that have caused grave damage to our national interests. American politicians must stand up to Israel's perpetually inflamed U.S. supporters, and firmly demand an end to Israel's outrageous acts. Obama is the most credible emissary possible for the message that Palestinians, too, enjoy equal rights - to security, economic prosperity, and freedom.

George E. Bisharat is a professor of law at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, and writes frequently on law and politics in the Middle East.

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