Attack First, Kill First, and Claim Self-Defense

In response to the Call for Submissions from The United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict, I prepared a 26 page submission on behalf of the  Palestine Subcommittee of the National Lawyers Guild. The full text, entitled, “Attack First, Kill First and Claim Self-Defense,” was posted on Truthout.org. A brief summary of the submission is below. This UN Commission was established by vote of the UN Human Rights Council on July 23, 2014. The Commission is scheduled to give its report to the Council in March 2015.

Supposed self-defense against rockets diverted attention from war crimes allegations, but neither facts nor law support Israeli self-defense claims.

Self-defense against the rockets was invoked by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, US President Obama and the United States Senate to deflect criticisms that Israeli forces were committing war crimes by targeting civilians and civilian property in Gaza.

Though the war-crimes allegations came from respected sources, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations Human Rights Council, the National Lawyers Guild and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the central message that Israeli forces were protecting Israeli citizens from Hamas rockets was so ubiquitous in the Western media as to eclipse the war crimes charges. Pervasive self-defense claims against rocket fire have been crucial to Israeli political and military leaders maintaining impunity and avoiding accountability for their periodic assaults on civilians and civilian infrastructure in Gaza.

For example, on July 1, 2014, the United States Senate unanimously adopted a resolution, “Expressing the sense of the Senate regarding United States support for the State of Israel as it defends itself against unprovoked rocket attacks from the Hamas terrorist organization.”

Both facts and law refute the Israeli and US self-defense claims.

This submission to the Commission presents facts showing that Israeli air and ground attacks preceded Hamas rocket fire. Because Israeli armed forces launched large-scale attacks on the West Bank and Gaza during a period when a cease-fire with Hamas was in place, while Hamas continued to observe the cease-fire, before any Hamas rockets were launched from Gaza and while no non-Hamas rockets were being fired at Israel, Israeli forces could not have been defending Israeli citizens from rocket fire.

This submission also presents facts showing that the Israeli bombardment and ground invasion of Gaza not only did not defend Israel from rocket fire, they sparked a vast increase in rocket fire as compared to the level during the month preceding the Israeli onslaught.

This submission also shows that the Israeli prime minister admitted to military goals for the Israeli attacks that had nothing to do with stopping rocket fire.

This submission also presents the law regarding self-defense and shows that even if the facts were otherwise, self-defense is inapplicable to an occupying power, such as Israel in Gaza (despite its claims to the contrary).

Thus, in no way should Israeli government officials and military leaders continue to enjoy impunity or be given any credit based on claimed self-defense from rocket fire. When Israeli forces initiated and escalated attacks in the West Bank and Gaza to accomplish military and political objectives in violation of an existing cease-fire agreement, they were the ones putting aside the goal of protecting Israeli citizens from rocket fire. Because Israeli forces initiated and escalated attacks in view of the history of such attacks provoking a dialing up of rocket fire they should be precluded from using the foreseeable rocket fire from diverting attention from the war crimes they committed.

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