Self-defense is a fundamental right and a legal justification for using reasonable force to protect oneself from immediate danger. To qualify as self-defense, certain criteria must be met, including having a reasonable belief of immediate harm or death, a belief that the use of force is necessary to prevent such harm, and using a reasonable and proportionate amount of force to stop the threat. Israel’s response to the attack by Hamas on October 7th does not meet these criteria. It is important to note that self-defense does not justify preemptive action against future attacks, only those that are imminent.
Any response by the Israeli military on October 7th, while the attack was ongoing, with the purpose of preventing further imminent attacks, would be considered reasonable and a form of self-defense as it aimed to prevent immediate harm or death. The intensity and continuity of Israel’s response and the excessive loss of civilian life in the last two months were not necessary or proportionate.
Following the attack, Prime Minister Netanyahu made a reference to the Bible, alluding to the phrase “Go, attack the Amalekites…” which evokes the order to kill not only man but also women and children of the biblical enemy of the Jewish people. Netanyahu promised to destroy all Hamas hideouts in Gaza and urged residents of the besieged enclave to evacuate, indicating an intention to use force unrelated to stopping an imminent threat. Israeli President Isaac Herzog stated that he does not believe there are innocent civilians in Gaza, while Defense Minister Yoav Gallant vowed to “eliminate everything” there. Some members of the Knesset have called for “a second Nakba” and for Gaza to be destroyed.
Self-defense cannot be used to justify revenge or retribution. Israel’s ongoing conflict and assault on the people of Gaza and the destruction of the Gaza strip cannot be justified as self-defense. It represents an unprecedented and significant escalation of the conflict and may be considered a crime against humanity.