Self-defense in a game of lawfare and warfare

Sadly, the phrase “Israel has the right to defend itself” has become almost a cliché. But until the int’l community finally nods its head in agreement, we’ll keep on saying it.

Azrieli (photo credit: Reuters)
(photo credit: Reuters)
It’s funny. Just last Thursday, a colleague penned an article on how life in the bubble of Tel Aviv is continuing as normal despite the fact that only a half hour away in the South, a million residents suddenly found themselves in the throes of conflict. No cancellations in any of the city’s restaurants, bars bursting at the seams as usual, and people generally living it up in the hedonistic fashion of Israel’s version of Sin City.
Well that was then and as everyone who’s been in this country for more than 5 minutes knows, things change. Fast. That very same night, a siren followed by two loud booms veritably burst Tel Aviv’s bubble. At the sounds of the siren—the first in the city since the Gulf War—residents darted around like startled deer caught in the headlights of war. Most of them had no idea what to do or where to run. The evacuation of the Azrieli Towers brought lawyers down from the ivory towers of their 50th floor offices to join the supermarket workers on the street below. Last night, for the first time in years, Tel Avivians finally landed on the ground.
Yes, it’s funny - but not funny ha-ha.
So being that Israel is due to hold elections in the new year, some cynics have been commenting that the government’s choice to go to war now was politically motivated. Yet it’s worth reminding those cynics of a couple of irrefutable facts: First, according to polls, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s recent alliance with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman meant that election victory for Likud-Beytenu was almost certain. Be that as it may, why would Biberman –the newly-coined nom de plume for the two politicians’ partnership—take the risk of potentially thwarting an electoral triumph? Second—and far more pertinent—the term “choice to go to war” is simply erroneous. What “choice” did the country have when faced with hundreds of rockets a day?
The sentence “Israel has a right to defend itself” is one that has been floating around Facebook pages the past few days. The IDF is barraging us with slogans at the same rate that rockets are falling. Yet still, the international media fails to properly address what they view as a chicken-egg dilemma. At best, they see it as tit-for-tat, with no one side to pin the blame on for starting this latest round of violence. Headlines scream “IDF attack in Gaza,” yet for a decade they failed to mention the 12,000 rockets falling on the South, threatening the lives of 13 percent of the country’s population. The phrase “has a right to defend itself” is a preposterous example of something that should be obvious to every western democracy. Imagine that London – approximately 13 % of the UK’s own population – was under attack. “The UK has a right to defend itself” would never be the maxim accompanying retaliation. There would be no maxims and no slogans. There would be actions, not words. The UK would do what it needs to do to obliterate the threat and not pay mind to the tut-tutting of international busy-bodies.
Yet nothing is obvious when it comes to Israel. The thing is, the reason that Israel gets treated like no other country is because it has to fight wars that are like no other country’s. When a country has to contend with a whole range of unconventional, extenuating factors on the “battlefield” – including the very lack of a battlefield, or else the inevitable loss of civilian lives that results from a vile “war” tactic called human shields – eventually, warfare becomes lawfare, and ergo, the rules change.
Yet no one on this planet – not Biberman and certainly not the international community – can instruct us how to fight this war, simply because no one has ever won such a war. There will never be a victor; it’s a lose-lose situation. In this case, the difference between the two sides is that in the short-term, one side doesn’t mind “losing” while the other does. For Hamas, the loss of human lives is merely collateral damage—or beyond that, it’s even the shaheed’s privilege – so their feathers are barely ruffled. In such a scenario, the best that Israel can hope for is that eventually the rest of the world will just get it: This war cannot be won so no one has the right to say how it should be fought. None of this is new. Israel will continue shouting the same party-line until it’s hoarse. But just because it’s been regurgitated ad nauseum doesn’t give us the right to stop saying it.
Tel Avivians have finally woken up to the fact that they aren’t immune from attack. Last night, Hamas burst their bubble and they got the message loud and clear. It’s time for Israel to burst the international community’s bubble and get the message through: The Jewish State has the right to defend itself.