Barbarism Unleashed: Israel’s Attack on Civilized Norms

By Ron Forthofer

The following material is excerpted from a column I wrote about Israel’s attack on Gaza in June 2006. This column could have also been written about Israel’s horrific attacks on Gaza in 2008/2009 and in 2012. As long as Israel can continue to commit war crimes with impunity, Israel has no reason to modify its behavior.

Excerpts from column about Israeli’s 2006 attack on Gaza

The civilian casualty toll and the destruction of civilian infrastructure in Gaza is appalling. When will we ever learn that violence only begets more violence? And, sadly, in modern warfare, innocent civilians are usually the primary victims.

Civilized Norms for Self-defense

During the current crisis, Israel has portrayed its military attacks as self-defense. Surely, every government has the right – indeed, the responsibility – to defend its people. However, in civilized society, there must be rules delineating what is legitimate self-defense, as opposed to revenge or retribution. To that end, international conventions were formulated after WWII to help prevent a repeat of the Holocaust and other atrocities the Nazis committed in occupied Europe. Among the behaviors the world agreed upon were proportionality of response and protection of noncombatants. Moreover, collective punishment was specifically outlawed.

Israel’s deliberate targeting of vital civilian infrastructure in Gaza has put at risk the lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. Imagine life with only six hours or less of electricity a day during the scorching Gaza summer. As a result of the shortage of electricity, there is a scarcity of clean drinking water, unreliable power for hospitals, a shortage of energy to power fans and the refrigeration of food, etc. The Israeli attacks clearly violate the norms established in the Geneva Conventions, and its disproportionate military actions call into question any claims of pure self-defense.

Impact of Israeli Attacks — Reminder Dates Are from 2006

The barbarity of the Israeli strikes on civilians and civilian infrastructure have outraged much of the world. For example, Amnesty International called them war crimes. Noted author Mario Vargas Llosa, former candidate for president in Peru and Jerusalem Prize winner in 1995, was quoted in the July 12th issue of the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz as saying he was ashamed to be Israel’s friend. He slammed Israel’s “out of proportion” operation in Gaza.

In addition, on July 14th the Vatican issued a strong statement: “As in the past, the Holy See also condemns both the terrorist attacks on the one side and the military reprisals on the other.” The Vatican spokesperson argued that Israel’s right to self-defense “does not exempt it from respecting the norms of international law, especially as regards the protection of civilian populations. In particular, the Holy See deplores the attack on Lebanon, a free and sovereign nation.”

Why Did Israel invade Gaza?

Israel claims that its invasion of Gaza was to free its soldier and to stop the firing of home-made rockets into Israel. However many believe Israel had a greater agenda, for example, that the attack was a part of the campaign to remove the Hamas-led government. This effort began immediately after the Palestinian election, when the U.S. and Israel led a campaign to cut off aid to the Palestinians. This aid cutoff, a form of collective punishment, was intended to cause severe hardships for innocent civilians. A senior Israeli advisor spoke about the cutoff: “The idea is to put Palestinians on a diet but not make them die of hunger.” This sadistic attitude reflects Moshe Dayan’s advice – Israel should tell the Palestinian refugees in the territories “that we have no solution, that you shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wants to can leave — and we will see where this process leads.”

Others point to the timing of Israel’s attack immediately after the June 27th agreement between Hamas and Fatah that offered the prospect of restarting negotiations with Israel. They claim that Israel fears negotiations because it would have to make painful concessions to reach an acceptable agreement. With its attack, Israel destroyed the chance for negotiations in the near future.

Collective Punishment

According to an article by Alexander Cockburn on, the 2001 Jerusalem Prize winner, Susan Sontag, spoke about collective punishment when she accepted her award. “I believe the doctrine of collective responsibility as a rationale for collective punishment is never justified, militarily or ethically. And I mean of course the disproportionate use of firepower against civilians, the demolition of their homes, the destruction of their orchards and groves, the deprivation of their livelihood and access to employment, to schooling, to medical services, or as a punishment for hostile military activities in the vicinity of those civilians.” She was addressing ‘normal’ Palestinian life under Israeli occupation. For some reason, the corporate media and U.S. leaders are unable to acknowledge the terror Palestinians routinely face under the collective punishment of the Israeli occupation of their lands.

Attacks are counterproductive for Israelis and Jews

It doesn’t matter what the reasons really are – Israel’s recent attacks have far exceeded civilized norms. Israel has destroyed its image, possibly once and for all, and turned world opinion solidly against it. Israeli actions and widespread Jewish silence about (or support for) Israeli war crimes are also creating a situation where anti-Semitism can thrive.

Take Action

What can people do when their so-called leaders are unwilling to support human rights for all? One key tool that was used against apartheid in South Africa was a total boycott. Unless and until Israel faces sanctions similar to what were imposed on South Africa, Israel’s barbaric attacks on civilized norms will continue and the situation will only get worse.

– Ron Forthofer, Ph.D. is a retired professor of biostatistics. He contributed this article to

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1 Comment

  1. Dear Dr. Forthofer: As a Christian and Jew (a “muggle”), I see the relevance on both sides. But I must ask, “why does Hamas continue to put its people in danger and perpetuate hate?” Why does Hamas encourage its people to “defend the buildings with its bare chest?” A good government will work for the people. Hamas is a terrorist organization, and it is in the best interests of Palestinians to bring them down. When the Ukraine saw that its pro-Russian elect was filthy rich from hard-working Ukrainian money, they toppled him. Hamas is getting rich off Palestinian blood. Stop them and demand justice. Get an accounting of the money spent. They have Rolexes, you have death and poverty.

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