There Should Be More Public Pressure on Hamas

Nov 20, 2023 | History, Humanitarianism

From the New York Times Op-ed by David French, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and a former constitutional litigator:

The absence of military resolve in the face of brutal and aggressive war is perhaps the most dangerous. There is no worse way to undermine the world order than to allow aggressors to prevail. We don’t need to refer to the familiar history of Europe in the 1930s to remind us of the extraordinary danger of unchecked military aggression. We’ve seen the result, for example, of Vladimir Putin’s military policy. From Chechnya to Georgia to Ukraine to Syria and now to Ukraine again, it’s clear that he fights without the slightest regard for the U.N. Charter or the laws of war, and it’s clear that he’ll fight until he’s stopped.

Similarly, as noted above,while Hamas wants a cease-fire (which is in its direct military interest) it has also vowed not to stop its long war against Israel. If it survives as a meaningful military force, it will almost definitely attack again. It disregards every single international legal rule or norm.

[The Op-ed continues]

When Hamas attacked Israel, it violated rules against aggressive war. When it intentionally slaughtered civilians and then hid among civilians after the attack, it violated the most basic principles of the law of armed conflict. As a result, Israel has a right under international law to defeat Hamas, and while it is also bound by the laws of armed conflict (which credible observers already claim Israel has violated), Hamas bears the legal responsibility for the civilian deaths that result from its own violations of the laws of war.

The overwhelming weight of domestic, international and diplomatic protests against Israel turns this system upside down. They place political pressure against Israel’s military resolve and — crucially — diminish the chances of legal accountability for the Hamas leaders and commanders who planned and executed a grossly illegal and brutal attack.

These protests also play directly into Hamas’s illegal military strategy. The entire reason for embedding in a civilian population is to make it impossible for others to respond to terrorist attacks without endangering or killing civilians, and an armed force that is almost certainly unable to prevail in direct combat with the I.D.F. utterly depends on outside forces demanding that Israel stop its attacks.

[The Op-ed continues]

If the goal, however, is to end civilian suffering, the best course of action is for Hamas to release its hostages and for its military forces to lay down their arms. That is the solution that is by far more in line with the entire postwar legal structure designed to end or limit armed conflict, and that should be the primary object of international pressure.

[The Op-ed concludes]

I do know that placing more pressure on Israel than Hamas to end the conflict and save civilian lives is exactly backward. The international system depends on opposing the aggressor and punishing crimes. Protests that aim their demands more at Israel than Hamas impede justice, erode the international order and undermine the quest for a real and lasting peace.

Read the entire Nov. 16, 2023 Op-ed by Columnist David French, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and a former constitutional litigator, at The New York Times]