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Jewish World Review
Sept. 19, 2007
/ 7 Tishrei 5768
An obligation to provide avowed enemies with utility services?
I had some interesting correspondence with an Israeli human rights advocacy group which I would like to share with you. My letter read as follows:
"I read with interest an Associated Press report in which you were quoted in response to the Israeli government's threat "to hit the services that supply the Gaza Strip from the State of Israel," a reference to electricity, fuel and water provided to the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip by Israel. Your comment was, 'Deliberately targeting civilians, in Gaza or Sderot, is neither legal nor moral.'
"It is my understanding that the Hamas government of Gaza has said that it is at war with the State of Israel and will not recognize any prior agreements entered into with Israel by its predecessor government in which the major party was Fatah. Nor would it renounce violence. It is also my understanding that for those reasons, the United States, the European Union and others will not recognize the Hamas government in Gaza. If those are the facts, could you please cite the laws, international or other, on which you are relying that would require the State of Israel to continue to provide electricity, fuel and water to a government in a state of war against it and currently allows different terrorist factions in Gaza to operate freely and launch missiles against communities like Sderot, situated in the State of Israel.
"As you know, there have been casualties and I believe some deaths of Israeli civilians over the last several years as a result of those missile attacks. The most recent missiles fell near an Israeli schoolyard. If Israel does not take other military measures against the Hamas government which it has every right to do under the right of self-defense provided under the United Nations Charter, is it, in your opinion, prohibited from taking less aggressive action such as the cutting off of electricity, fuel and water?
"During World War II, had Great Britain been supplying electricity to Germany, would Great Britain have been required to continue to do so after Neville Chamberlain declared a state of war existed between the two countries as a result of Germany's invasion of Poland?
"I was mayor of New York City from 1978 through 1989. I am now both a lawyer and journalist. I would appreciate your comments for the purposes of publication. All the best."
I received a response from Sari Bashi, Director of Gisha. She wrote, "It is a pleasure to hear from you. I grew up in New Jersey, and my mother, a New York resident, has always been one of your biggest fans. She always told me how she identified with your directness and your love for New York -- two characteristics that she shares. Thank you for your interest. I will address your question, and I would also like to refer you to some documents that provide more detail, if you are interested, especially a position paper Gisha has issued, Disengaged Occupiers: The Legal Status of Gaza, which is available at www.gisha.org ."
The position paper that Ms. Bashi referred to can be found at: www.gisha.org/UserFiles/File/Report%20for%wothe%20website.pdf
The correspondence relates to Israel's potential responses to the missile attacks by Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza. In its basic covenant, the Hamas government in Gaza reiterated that it is at war with Israel and will not prevent attacks upon Israel initiated by any group residing in Gaza.
The Israeli government, now engaged in peace talks with the government of Abu Abbas on the West Bank, is reluctant to use military force to enter Gaza to stop the shelling of its citizens. Instead, the Israeli government is considering using other means, e.g., the cutting off of electricity and water that it now provides the Hamas government and residents of Gaza. The advocacy group takes the position that to thus retaliate would be illegal, notwithstanding, she wrote, that "the Qassan rockets on Sderot violate international law, and they must stop."
So, how does Israel stop them? Those rockets have injured and killed Israeli citizens. Most recently, they fell on an Israeli schoolyard that fortunately was empty of children at the time. It would truly be an Alice In Wonderland world if Israeli citizens were deprived of the protection of their government from missiles fired against them. The United Nations charter specifically affirms that every country has the right to defend itself. The conduct of Hamas is so outrageous that even the European Union, no friend of Israel, has labeled it a terrorist organization and refuses to do business with it. That includes France, first under then President Chirac and currently under President Sarkozy.
But it was interesting for me that my correspondence is with a woman who writes, "I grew up in New Jersey, and my mother, a New York resident, has always been one of your biggest fans." We live in a small, and sometimes, bizarre world.
The New York Times reported on September 8th, "Because the Hamas charter calls for Israel's destruction and Hamas is classified by Israel, the United States and the European Union as a terrorist group, Israel, along with much of the world, is squeezing Gaza, allowing only goods classified as humanitarian or essential to enter and no exports at all to leave. So an already faltering economy is collapsing." The Times did not, so far as I know, raise the issue of illegality.
Because I would like to accommodate Ms. Bashi, knowing that her mother is a New York resident, let me suggest a compromise: Israel should provide water and electricity to Gaza at breakfast time for an hour at most each day, and then shut down the services for the balance of the day. If the missiles continue for a week, Israel should stop providing the services altogether.
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© 2007, Ed Koch