Irwin Cotler
Irwin Cotler
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Gaza: 10 steps on the road not yet traveled

Remove Hamas and its ilk from the picture, and Israeli-Palestinian peace is possible: two states for two peoples living side by side in peace and security
One of the many things that must change for peace between Israelis and Palestinians: Children affiliated with the Hamas terror group display a representation of breaking through the border with Israel and taking over an IDF military post, in Gaza City, on September 1, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)
One of the many things that must change for peace between Israelis and Palestinians: Children affiliated with the Hamas terror group display a representation of breaking through the border with Israel and taking over an IDF military post, in Gaza City, on September 1, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)

Each and every loss of life in Gaza and Israel is a human tragedy. If we want to prevent further tragedies in this conflict — let alone frame the basis for its resolution — then we have to go behind the oft-repeated clichés such as “cycle of violence” and false moral equivalences that cloud and corrupt understanding, to probe the real root causes of conflict, and finally travel the road not yet taken to its just resolution.

While the deliberate and indiscriminate bombardment of Israeli civilians — underpinned by genocidal antisemitism and incitement — have been the trigger for this latest war, there is a longer and underlying proximate cause: the Hamas Terrorist War of Attrition against Israel since 2000.

Simply put, from 2000 to 2004, Hamas suicide bombers murdered over 1,000 Israelis — wounding some 3,000 — in a horrific and sustained terrorist assault that was defeated in part by the Israeli “Operation Defensive Shield” in 2002, and in part by the building of a security barrier, which dramatically reduced penetration by Hamas suicide bombers.

In 2005, with the Hamas terrorist onslaught defeated, Israel moved to unilaterally disengage from Gaza. Accordingly, Israel withdrew all its soldiers and citizens, uprooted all its settlements and synagogues, while leaving behind 3,000 operating greenhouses and related agricultural assets, the whole as the basis for industrial and agricultural growth and development in Gaza.

How did Hamas respond? They destroyed the greenhouses, brutalized the Fatah Palestinian opposition, effectively instituted a theocratic dictatorship in 2007, repressed its own people, and began the launching of more than 14,000 missiles targeting Israeli civilians in subsequent acts of aggression before this latest war. In effect, then, Hamas squandered the opportunity offered by Israel to live in peace, to utilize the industrial and agricultural assets, and to engage in state-building; rather, Hamas preferred to divert resources for the building of a terrorist infrastructure that would punish its own people while threatening Israel. Hamas has continued this pernicious path with impunity, investing in missiles, “suicide drones,” terror tunnels, and other tools they have tailored to murder civilians.

But while these unceasing terror attacks — and ongoing threats — have again forced Israel to take action in self-defense and to target the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza, this ongoing proximate trigger does not tell the whole story. Rather, it is a symptom for the root cause — the unwillingness of Hamas to recognize Israel’s existence within any boundaries. And more: the public call in the Hamas Charter — and in its repeated declarations — for the destruction of Israel and the killing of Jews wherever they may be.

Let there be no mistake about it. Hamas is a unique — and evil — manifestation of genocidal antisemitism. These are not words that I use lightly or easily, but there are no other words to describe the toxic convergence of the advocacy by Hamas of the most horrific of crimes — genocide — anchored in the most enduring of hatreds — antisemitism – with terrorism as the instrumentality to pursue these goals.

Simply put, genocidal antisemitism is the root cause and has fueled the Hamas terrorist assaults targeting Israeli civilians.

Accordingly, a comprehensive and enduring ceasefire is urgently needed, one that will put an end to Hamas Terror — not only against Israelis — but be also protective of Palestinians, who are held as hostages and human shields by Hamas to protect terrorist infrastructure.

Such a ceasefire will hopefully be the initial basis towards an Israeli-Palestinian peace, anchored in two states for two peoples living side by side in peace and security. This will require traveling on the road not yet taken: an agreed upon, and guaranteed, set of international, legal, diplomatic, political, security, humanitarian, and economic undertakings and initiatives as follows:

  1. Hamas must cease and desist from its policy and practice of targeting Israeli civilians and terrorizing Israeli civilian populations. A robust international stabilization and protection force — with the necessary mandate, mission, and numbers — should be deployed to ensure that the ceasefire is respected;
  1. The ceasefire must be accompanied by humanitarian and medical relief, the delivery of some of which has been hindered by Hamas itself. Clearly, after the tragic death and destruction, there must be mandated and comprehensive international humanitarian assistance. Donor states must ensure that their humanitarian support is not abused and used for malign purposes, and must exercise effective oversight over recipients such as the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), whose textbooks have contributed to incitement and whose civilian infrastructure have been used by Hamas for military purposes.
  1. An immediate imperative is the repatriation of the remains of Hadar Goldin — abducted and murdered by Hamas during the 2014 Gaza war, in violation of a UN-brokered ceasefire — and Oron Shaul, and the return of civilian hostages Hisham Al-Sayed and Avraham Mengistu. The withholding of remains and holding of civilian hostages are standing violations of international law, and the responsibility of the international community to redress as the guarantors of these fundamental norms.
  1. Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist militias must be disarmed, related terror infrastructure and assault tunnels dismantled, and an end put to terrorist use of incendiary balloons targeting agricultural communities and causing environmental devastation.
  1. An end must also be put to the Hamas capacity to manufacture or smuggle terror assets. Simply put, there must be a supervised monitoring of the importation of building materials – like cement and steel – that have been used for the manufacture of weapons and tunnels, rather than the building of hospitals, schools, and mosques for which they were intended. As well, the prohibition of the transfer or smuggling of weapons, such as advanced terror technology from Iran, must be ensured.
  1. The direct financing of Hamas, which was put to military and terrorist purposes, must end. The international community must ensure that States such as Iran, Turkey, and Qatar do not continue to finance Hamas and its war crimes, and that banks in China and other jurisdictions do not facilitate this criminal funding.
  1. An international framework — one of the more important initiatives of the road not yet traveled — will be necessary to secure and maintain the demilitarization of Gaza, while supervising the secure entry of people and goods into Gaza.
  1. Such an international framework must seek to end Hamas’s pernicious practice of recruiting child soldiers and using human shields, both clear violations of international law. Enforcing these crucial norms through sanctions, prosecutions, and concerted international cooperation can help put a halt to the horrors and harms of Hamas’s use of human shields, including children.
  1. The deployment of this international protection force — and the demilitarization of Gaza — can provide a basis for the reciprocal opening of border-crossings, the commensurate easing of the blockades, and the development of civilian and commercial infrastructure such as a deep-water port. Indeed, the movement of people, goods, commerce, trade, development, and evolving economic prosperity were precisely what was contemplated — and was clearly possible — when Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. Ultimately, the demilitarization of Gaza — the dismantlement of the terrorist infrastructure embedded among civilians — can lead to a “Marshall Plan” for Gaza with the goal of securing economic growth, development, and a sustainable peace.
  1. A crucial point oft ignored: Palestinian society in Gaza must be freed from the cynical and oppressive Hamas culture of hate and incitement. This not only constitutes a standing threat to Israel, but undermines the development of authentic Palestinian self-determination. No peaceful solution will be possible if massive resources continue to be poured into Hamas state-controlled media, mosques, refugee camps, training camps, and educational systems that serve the sole purpose of demonizing Israel and the Jewish people, and inciting war against them. There must be accountability for incitement, both by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, including an end to the latter’s “pay to slay” program, which glorifies, supports, and incentivizes terrorism.

Hamas’s militant rejectionism of Israel’s right to exist — its public call for Israel’s destruction and the killing of Jews wherever they may be — have threatened the safety and security not only of Israelis but of Palestinians too. Regrettably, the Gazan people’s desire — and right — to live in peace and security cannot be realized so long as Hamas continues to hold its own people hostage, while pursuing a strategy of terror and incitement. Indeed, this war in Gaza is not only one of self-defense for the Israeli people, but should lead to the securing of the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, who deserve better than to be held hostage by a terrorist regime.

These initiatives, undertakings, and objectives are the road not yet taken. Admittedly, all this may be difficult to secure. But the time has come — indeed it is long past time — to realize that if we want to protect the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians, this must become the road we travel now.

About the Author
Irwin Cotler is the Chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, an Emeritus Professor of Law at McGill University, the former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, and a longtime parliamentarian.
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