Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Gaza Teach-In at Georgetown

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Gaza Teach-In at Georgetown

Article excerpt

The Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University held an Oct. 17 teach-in on the history, politics and economics of Gaza. Speakers included Ph.D. student Seraj Assi, George Mason University professor Noura Erakat, and Harvard University professor Sara Roy.

Erakat discussed how Israel justified its military operations in the Gaza Strip within the framework of international law. Israel claims that it is fighting a counterinsurgency in Gaza and that its innovations in the law are a function of this situation. Because it steadily has been expanding the buffer zone in the Gaza Strip, any attack on the already densely populated strip would be an attack on the entire population.

Erakat cited five Israeli justifications that made the level of death and destruction in Gaza possible, the first being that Israel has shrunk the category of civilians.

"The principle of distinction in warfare says that you must distinguish civilians from combatants, or soldiers, or those who carry arms," she said. "And what Israel says is that it doesn't matter if a member of Hamas is a political member, or a volunteer, or somebody who provides cookies to the soldiers...anybody who supports Hamas or is a member of Hamas is a legitimate target, and this is quite radical."

Israel identifies no civilian architecture, she continued, whereas international law requires that in order to attack a building, it must first be determined whether its primarily purpose is civilian or military, and whether the damage caused to the building would be proportionate to the harm it would cause civilians. Thirdly, the warnings Israel provided to the residents of Gaza before airstrikes caused fear among the residents, as many had nowhere to flee. Israel subsequently labeled those who stayed following a warning as legitimate targets. Fourth, Israel argued that its soldiers' lives were equivalent to those of Palestinian civilians, justifying the destruction of entire neighborhoods in order to save a single Israeli soldier, as was seen in the destruction of Shuja'iyya during Operation Protective Edge. Lastly, Israel argues that proportionality is forward-looking, meaning that it needed to cause as much destruction as needed to prevent destruction in the next five years. …

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