Terrorism by any standard
Ambassador Curtis A. Ward
(10 October 2023) — There will be several perspectives, analyses, and conclusions about Hamas’ attack on Israel. Many will be hard pressed not to include the Palestinian cause as the raison d’être for Hamas’ actions. Others will blame Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s long-held animosity and policies, his history of suppression and denial of the rights of the Palestinians, and more recent actions against West Bank Palestinians for Hamas’ attacks against Israel. Yet others will blame Iran, a well known state sponsor of terrorism and Hamas’ benefactor, for launching a proxy war against Israel. There may be some truths in these arguments. But there is no justification for acts of international terrorism, and that’s what this is. Hamas’ attacks on Israel is international terrorism.
At the end of the day, no one can plausibly refute the fact that Hamas’ attacks against Israel are acts of terrorism. For that, if for no other reason, the entire international community must condemn the attacks. At the same time, we should not take our eyes off the root causes of terrorism and the conditions in the region which give rise to this constant threat. Primary among the reasons is the lack of a peaceful settlement of the age-old conflict between the state of Israel and the Palestinian people. Nothing short of a two-state solution with Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side under conditions which guarantee security for both will suffice.
Almost three decades ago, the international community took the unprecedented decision to reject the so-called ‘political exception’ to acts which would otherwise be characterized as terrorism. The United Nations General Assembly in its December 1994 Declaration on Measures to Eliminate International Terrorism (1994 Declaration) set a new precedent for how the international community, all states, should treat acts of terrorism. The UNGA’s consensus rejected the then often used, and abused, political exception to international cooperation against acts of terrorism.
The 1994 Declaration unequivocally “condemned all acts, methods and practices of terrorism as criminal and unjustifiable, wherever and by whomever committed”, and, most importantly, that “criminal acts intended or calculated to provoke a state of terror in the general public, a group of persons or particular persons for political purposes are in any circumstance unjustifiable, whatever the considerations of a political, philosophical, ideological, racial, ethnic, religious or any other nature that may be invoked to justify them.”
This formulation rejecting the ‘political exception’ has been adopted and reiterated by the UN Security Council in its resolution 1269 (1999) (pre-9/11), and post-9/11 resolutions 1368 (2001), 1373 (2001), 1377 (2001), and several subsequent resolutions. I worked on some of these resolutions while serving on the UN Security Council with resolution 1377 being adopted under Jamaica’s presidency of the Council convened at the foreign ministers’ level with then Jamaica’s foreign minister K. D. Knight presiding. It was generally accepted that the ‘political exception’ no longer had resonance.
There are certain undeniable facts about Hamas’ attacks on Israel. Hamas crossed an international border to wantonly kill Israeli civilians on Israeli territory. This was not an attack against the Israeli military. In the process citizens of other countries, including the United States were also killed. Women, children and the elderly were indiscriminately killed in the attacks. This was an attack that was intended to instill fear in the Israeli population and to destroy their way of life. There were reports, of which I have no means of verification, that women were raped in the process. This attack targeted and destroyed civilian properties. Hamas took civilians as hostages, including women, children and the elderly and took them by force across Israel’s border into Gaza to be used as human shields against possible Israeli military response.
By international and moral standards, much of what Hamas did, and perhaps yet to do, are crimes against humanity. Some of these egregious acts may be characterized as war crimes and subject to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. In the meantime, these acts are acts of international terrorism which should be universally condemned and prosecutable in any country which obtains future jurisdiction over any Hamas leader deemed culpable for planning and execution of the attacks.
It has been common knowledge for decades that Hamas receives a great deal of support from Iran. According to reports over the decades of Hamas‘ existence, the designated terrorist group has been funded, supplied with arms, and trained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Hamas’ arsenal of rockets which rained terror on Israeli civilians were supplied by Iran. No independent verification is needed. These rockets cannot be classified as intended for defense of Palestinian territory, whether Gaza or the West Bank. Neither were they used in the past for deterrence. These rockets are offensive weapons and for one purpose only – attacking Israel. Because of Hamas’ dependence on Iran, it has sparked speculations that Hamas would not have taken such bold unprecedented actions, invasion of Israel, without the acquiescence of Iran.
For a very long time, while Israel has been surrounded by enemies of the state of Israel, partially due to the unsettled Palestinian question, Netanyahu has been seen by many, inside and outside of Israel, as Israel’s enemy from within. Yet, Netanyahu, despite being indicted on several criminal charges in Israel, continues to use the perpetual fear of the Israeli people and his hardline defense policies to coalesce with Israeli hardliners to hold power in Israel. The attacks by Hamas have destroyed this facade Netanyahu has built around his uniqueness to protect the Israeli people. When the dust is settled, and the Israeli people have had time to investigate Netanyahu’s failure, he may have finally met his Waterloo. In the meantime, the Israeli people, as they always have under difficult circumstances, will come together and respond to Hamas’ atrocities.
There will be many more casualties on both sides. Most will be innocent civilians. The Israeli hostages taken by Hamas will be on the frontline and may be among the first to die. The cost of peace is not war. This attack by Hamas rather than advancing the Palestinian cause, as some are speculating may be the outcome, will have the opposite effect. The Palestinian cause will be set back yet again.
The international community will continue to go in circles on this issue. One country, the United States, has the power and influence to move this issue to an acceptable conclusion. But domestic politics stands in the way, and there is no political will now or in the foreseeable future to change those dynamics.
(c) Curtis A. Ward/The Ward Post