James Cooper

Will Israel’s critics support a plan for humanitarian disarmament in Gaza?

If Israel’s morally concerned critics wish to bring about a sustained humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, they should have no issue with backing a plan for humanitarian disarmament that entails no loss of civilian life. 

Amid the incessant calls at the UN for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, few have contemplated a proposal that is both humane and practical, that is in full compliance with the Geneva Conventions, and that most Israeli citizens and people of good will are almost certain to support.

The Israeli government’s stated mission is to rid Gaza of the armed threat posed by Hamas.  Israel’s critics contend that it cannot do so without endangering the lives of countless Palestinian civilians.

And so, many UN member states demand a ceasefire now. Israeli citizens, however, no longer wish to gamble their safety on the prospect of living next door to an armed terrorist regime committed to their physical destruction – one that continually sacrifices the interests of Palestinian residents as it builds up the military means to achieve its goals.

The UN Secretary General wants Israel to stop.  Israel wants Hamas to stop.  Well, here’s the good news:  The concerned nations of the world can help Israel to stop in the most moral, practical way possible.

At root, Israel just wants to destroy all the arms caches and tunnels across the Gaza Strip while securing the return of its hostages.  It’s in Israel’s best interest to do so – for both political and moral reasons – without harming Palestinian civilians.  Practically speaking, the threat of an armed Hamas will no longer exist in a demilitarized Gaza Strip without terror tunnels.  Once that happens, and its hostages are returned, then Israel will stop.

And all the concerned nations in the world can help to make that happen.

Here’s how.

Because Hamas does everything possible to ensure that the Palestinian civilian population remains inextricable from Hamas’ members and supplies, it has set up a strategic situation in which Israel cannot physically engage with the terrorists unless it first goes through the civilian population.

Hamas acts in this way with the United Nations’ support in mind – because Palestinian civilian deaths provide a political benefit to Hamas, goading the international community to prevail upon Israel to stop any attempts to disarm it.   .

It’s a strategically cynical calculation that places on Israeli citizens the moral quandary of choosing between their own existential security and Palestinian civilian lives.

Hamas manipulates and plays on international moral sensitivities in order to keep Israelis locked in an impossible situation – to choose between their own safety and the safety of Palestinian civilians.

We would hope that people of good will would never want any nation to be in that impossible situation.  If concerned UN member states truly care about both Palestinian and Israeli civilian lives, we expect they should get behind any solution that aims to frustrate Hamas’ goals to safeguard its military build-up at the cost of Palestinian well-being.

And that solution is humanitarian disarmament.

It involves a systematic way to separate an armed populace from a disarmed populace.  The Geneva Conventions provide us guidance as to how this might be achieved with both UN support and international political will.

Since Hamas has embedded its arms and tunnels throughout all the built up areas of the Gaza Strip, there is currently no practical way to clear those areas of their arms caches and tunnels without a massive death toll sustained by both Israelis and Palestinians…at least so long as the disarmed population stays resident in those built up areas.

Wherever the disarmed element of the Palestinian population evacuates to in any part of Gaza, the armed elements will seek to follow – yet another morally impossible strategic situation for both Palestinians and Israelis alike.

And yet, what if there exists a plan to ensure an orderly, safe, and verifiable evacuation route to cleared safe zones for the disarmed population of Gaza, leaving Israel a temporary free hand to achieve the following four goals in Gaza that any moral, sensible person should support:

            1. To destroy Hamas’ arms caches.
            2. To destroy Hamas’ terror tunnels.
            3. To free the Israeli hostages; and
            4. To achieve all of the above without harming disarmed Palestinians.

For the purposes of a humanitarian disarmament goal, it would make no practical difference whether the evacuating resident was a civilian or an active member of Hamas, so long as international supervisors – in active partnership with Israel – were able to ensure that only disarmed residents were allowed entry into the designated temporary safe zones that would be set up in the more rural areas of the Gaza Strip.

In sum, the key to stopping this war is to get the Palestinian residents to leave their arms and tunnels behind in the built up areas of the Strip, allowing the Israelis the reasonable time and opportunity to achieve the above four goals that underpin this humanitarian disarmament plan.

As the UN Secretary General is well aware, a temporary evacuation of the civilian population from an active war zone is mandated under the Geneva Conventions’ laws of armed conflict and international humanitarian law.

Under temporary shelter away from the war zone, the international community can provide Palestinian residents unfettered aid, set up field hospitals, and keep them safe while Israel works to clear the built up areas of Gaza of their remaining tunnels and armed elements.

So long as Israel works with the international community to facilitate the return of the evacuated Palestinian residents to Gaza’s built up areas after it has achieved its reasonable disarmament goals, Israel will have been acting in full compliance with the Geneva Conventions.

And though Israel will not have technically achieved the goal of destroying Hamas as a political organization, it will have planted the foundation for the Palestinian residents to make a new start in Gaza – to start employing international aid for their own well-being, and to stop the misappropriation of their vital resources by a terror organization whose only goal is to lay the foundation for yet more rounds of armed conflict and future devastation.  .

Once Hamas is fully disarmed across Gaza, all people of good will should support Israel in helping the Palestinian populace to rebuild a better life for themselves and their children in Gaza, to live in peace and brotherhood with Israelis, even if both parties can’t yet come to a political solution.

Both Israelis and Palestinians can nevertheless work in the meantime to prosper together, freed from the shackles of an armed terrorist regime that continually incites Palestinians to probe Israeli security fears, forcing both parties into a nihilistic dance of death.

There are, of course, a number of practical speed bumps on the road toward demilitarizing the Gaza Strip with minimal loss of civilian life.  For one, Egypt is adamant that no significant movement of Palestinians enter its territory into northern Sinai through the Rafah crossing, even for a temporary stay.

Could the United States, the EU, the UN, and the Arab League come forward with a mix of political persuasion and financial incentives in order to push Egypt to budge?  They could, but then, this suggestion has already been floated, and no nation is particularly motivated (other than Israel) to persuade Egypt to take this on.

How about prevailing on the member nations of the Arab League to offer their countries as a temporary refuge for the unarmed Palestinian population, pending Israel’s efforts to dismantle the military infrastructure across Gaza?   As the world has had recent experience in taking in millions of Syrian and Ukrainian refugees, surely, there is a workable precedent for this option.

However, Israel’s critics will almost certainly (purport to) fear that this kind of option may serve as nothing more than a convenient cover for Israel to “ethnically cleanse” Gaza of its residents.  Even if Israel were to internationally commit itself to having these refugees come back to Gaza after the cessation of its demilitarization operations, it wouldn’t matter.  Such critics would expect Israel to breach its commitments, despite the fact that Israel actually has a solid record of adhering to its negotiated agreements.  In any case, it’s doubtful that the member states of the Arab League would be any more inclined to temporarily take in Palestinian refugees than Egypt is.

All of which leaves the last available option:  for Israel to set up safe zones in the unbuilt areas of Gaza to which the unarmed residents can evacuate.  In this, the US and the international community can lead the way in financing and assisting with the logistics in setting up temporary tent cities, field hospitals, and secured food distribution points in areas where there are no tunnels and built up areas for armed elements to hide in, leaving Israel a free hand to dismantle the tunnels while clearing out the remaining armed elements who are using the structures of the built up areas to conceal themselves and their weapon caches.  Denied the use of the unarmed population as cover, their ability to evade Israel’s efforts to disarm them should evaporate overnight.

Practically speaking, a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza can only come with a humanitarian disarmament.  Best of all, the international community can work toward this goal without having to negotiate with Hamas.  All it needs to do is to work with Israel on the logistics of moving unarmed residents away from the built up areas that need to be cleared of weapons, tunnels, and armed terrorists.

As it so happens, this is the proposal that is essentially being pushed by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has the overwhelming backing of Israeli citizens across the political spectrum to clear out Gaza’s weapon caches and tunnels while moving unarmed residents out of harm’s way.  No sensible, good faith actor could possibly consider such a proposal as being consistent with genocide or ethnic cleansing.

Why, then, hasn’t the Biden administration been amplifying this message for humanitarian disarmament?  Why, in fact, has it made no real practical efforts to lend political and financial support to any initiative aimed at moving Palestinian residents temporarily out of harm’s way – a course of action that is fully consistent with international humanitarian law?

Could it be that the Biden administration’s progressive voters are not terribly interested in any solution that makes it easy for Israel to achieve its reasonable disarmament goals – and most particularly if such goals can be achieved with minimal loss of civilian life?

Is it the case that Israel’s progressive critics are far too invested in their morally sanctimonious charges of genocide and ethnic cleansing, that they would never get behind any proposal that might relieve Israel of those charges, freeing the Jewish State from its strategic vise, even if such a proposal had the effect of saving countless civilian lives?

Are Israel’s progressive critics capable of choosing a path of moral clarity if it must come at the cost of their moral sanctimony? 

 Sensible individuals can now step up and put that question to the test, primarily by throwing their support behind a draft UN Security Council resolution that encodes the principles of a humanitarian disarmament for Gaza.

Here is one such possible draft resolution:

“The Security Council affirms that a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza can best be achieved with a humanitarian disarmament that facilitates the dismantling of Hamas’ military infrastructure, making it practically impossible for it to pose a continuing threat to the State of Israel, while freeing Gazans from the tyranny of Hamas’ military rule.  

The Council calls on its members to assist Israel in setting up infrastructure for Gazan residents to temporarily relocate to less built up areas in Gaza under which there are no tunnel networks, leaving Israel a reasonable amount of time to dismantle the tunnels and arms caches in the built up areas.

In line with long-standing principles of international humanitarian law, the Council unequivocally supports any proposal that fulfills the four following goals:

              1.  To destroy Hamas’ arms caches.
              2. To dismantle Hamas’ terror tunnels.
              3. To free the Israeli hostages; and
              4. To achieve all of the above without harming disarmed Palestinians

The Council cautions against any bad faith actors who may work to frustrate these goals.  The Council calls on its members to combat any conduct and plans that have the foreseeable effect of simultaneously preserving Hamas’ military ability to threaten the State of Israel while keeping unarmed Palestinians in harm’s way.  Such conduct is contrary to international humanitarian law and should be condemned by all morally sensible individuals.”

If you are a citizen of the United States – whether Republican or Democratic – here is what you can do to advance the goals of a humanitarian disarmament in Gaza:

Contact your House and Senate representative, and ask them to endorse the above proposed draft UN Security Council resolution.  Call up Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and ask him to read out and endorse the contents of this draft resolution on the floor of the Senate.  Introduce them to the concept of humanitarian disarmament, and prevail on them to repeatedly endorse its principles.

If you are a citizen of Canada, the EU, or any other democratic nation, you should likewise prevail on your representatives to endorse and sponsor this resolution and the humanitarian principles it embodies for solving the current situation in Gaza.

And if you consider yourself a morally sensible progressive, you should support a practical proposal for keeping Palestinian civilians out of harm’s way, even if it must come at the cost of allowing Israel to escape moral blame.

Though there may not be any narcissistic moral capital for you in such a proposal, consider that it may nevertheless help the average Palestinian and Israeli citizen to sleep better at night.

Support the goal of humanitarian disarmament.

About the Author
James Cooper is a practicing lawyer in the Greater Toronto Area. He has written and spoken publicly on matters of interest to the legal profession and to the Jewish community at large.
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