Is Hamas to blame? Is Gaza still occupied?

Page last updated 7 Sep 2016


It is simple really. There is a vast imbalance of wealth, power and arms between Israel and the Palestinians in the occupied territories. (Yes, Gaza is still occupied, with its borders, air and sea space and entry in and exit from it, totally controlled by Israel – see below.) And an occupied people has the right to resist occupation.

That doesn’t mean “anything goes” and attacks on civilians are specifically ruled out by the laws of war. Baram/Haber put it like this when writing about Operation Cast Lead in 2008: “We (the Left) are always asked for answers to situations that were deliberately brought about by the Establishment’s policies that are diametrically opposed to our own.” There is no doubt that Hamas’s rockets made for “an intolerable situation”. We do not condone Hamas’s war crimes. But it is a situation which Israel encourages and exploits ruthlessly. There is clear evidence that Israel has knowingly provoked Hamas by breaking ceasefires which Hamas was observing (see chronologies below). On balance, Israel would appear overwhelmingly more responsible for blocking any options for a way out of the current impasse than is Hamas. The answer is not to bomb the life out of the people of Gaza every couple of years (“mowing the lawn” as Israeli  policy describes it). Rather, as Baram/Haber again said, “we have always recommended a different policy” for dealing with the situation. That would begin with an immediate lifting of the blockade of Gaza and the opening of talks with Hamas.

Both sides are, of course, accused of war crimes, and here we have the nub of it. The number of civilian dead from potential war crimes Israel is responsible for is much larger than the number of dead from Hamas’s potential war crimes. Hamas’s arise essentially from the fact that the rockets it fires are primitive, incapable of being guided, making civilian casualties possible if they hit a target at all. Israel’s weaponry is among the world’s most sophisticated, supposedly deployable with pinpoint accuracy. Whence then the particularly high rate of civilian casualties in Gaza? And if the problem with Hamas’s weaponry is its primitive nature, would Israel be happier if it had much more sophisticated rockets and F1-11s that could be deployed to deadly effect but only against military targets? Against say, the Ministry of Defence, the nerve centre of Israel’s military operations, which is conveniently located among civilians in the centre of  Tel Aviv…

And anyway, as Avnery has put it (see below), in commenting on the June 2015 UN report on war crimes:

This was not a war between equals. On one side, the State of Israel, with one of the mightiest armies in the world. On the other side, a stateless population of 1.8 million people, led by a guerrilla organization devoid of any modern arms.

Any equating of such two entities is by definition contrived. Even if both sides committed grievous war crimes, they are not the same. Each must be judged on its own (de)merits.


Material is grouped below in three sections: General (with a focus on the 2014 war, Operation Protective Edge); Operation Cast Lead, 2008; and Is Gaza still occupied? More material about Hamas can be found on the page discussing Hamas’s strategy.

Additional note, 7 Sep 2016: Ben White’s eBook The 2014 Gaza War: 21 Questions & Answers was pubished in August 2016 It is pithy and uncompromising, focusing on and dealing with all the important questions, as well as providing a large number of hyperlinked references to back up its claims. It really is a must read!




1. The Topsy-Turvy world of the Israel Gaza conflict – First thoughts on the UN’s report
Robert Cohen, Pantheos, 26 Jun 2015

Following the United Nations Human Rights Council investigation into the summer 2014 Gaza conflict, Robert Cohen asks difficult questions about a situation in which Hamas’s “possible war crimes” led to the death of 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians including one child. Israel’s “possible war crimes” led to 2,251 Palestinian deaths including 1,462 civilians.


2. War crimes? Us???
Uri Avnery, Gush Shalom, 27 Jun 2015

This war should never have been started. “If there was a cardinal war crime in this war, it was the cabinet decision to start it. Because an Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip makes war crimes unavoidable.”

And, on Hamas: “If they are brought before the International Court in The Hague, the Hamas leaders will argue that they had no choice: they had no other weapons to oppose the Israeli invasion. As a Palestinian commander once told me: ‘Give us cannons and fighter planes, and we will not use terrorism’. The International Court will then have to decide whether a people that is practically under an endless occupation is allowed to use indiscriminate rockets… I wonder what the decision will be.”


3. Report of the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict
Composite posting, JfJfP 28 Jun 2015

This summary of the main news, in the week the UN Commission of Enquiry Report was published, draws out the disputed issues and links to relevant articles.


4. Who Bears More Responsibility for the War in Gaza?
John B. Judis, New Republic, 25 Jul 2014

“What matters to me, and what is often ignored, is the overall moral and political context in which this and past conflicts have occurred.

Israel is one of the world’s last colonial powers, and the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are its unruly subjects. Like many past anti-colonial movements, Hamas and Fatah are deeply flawed and have sometimes poorly represented their peoples, and sometimes unnecessarily provoked the Israelis and used tactics that violate the rules of war. But the Israeli government has continued to expand settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and to rule harshly over its subjects, while maintaining a ruinous blockade on Gaza. That’s the historical backdrop to the events now taking place.”


5. “What Would You Do if Mexico Was Shooting Rockets at Texas?” And Other Extraordinarily Dumb Questions
Jeremiah Haber, The Magnes Zionist, 10 Jan 2009

Jeremiah Haber draws enthusiastically on a Hebrew article by Haim Baram, paraphrasing him like this:
“We (the Left) are always asked for answers to situations that were deliberately brought about by the Establishment’s policies that are diametrically opposed to our own. We cannot deny that the Kassams on the development towns and the areas near Gaza are an intolerable situation, nor that we emotionally identify with our citizens in the South. But we have always recommended a different policy, a policy that entailed a constant struggle with those elements in the country who prefer territorial expansion in the Occupied Territories, anti-Arab racism, mixed up with real and imagined security anxieties, to peace.”


6. Gaza: Nobody needed to die
David Morrison, David Morrison website, 26 Jul 2014

A very useful summary and chronology of developments of the Gaza conflict over the last decade.


7. Debunking the Israeli narrative
Noura Erekat, The Nation, JfJfP 3 Aug 2014

Noura Erekat identifies five themes that dominate the Israeli narrative about the vicious war on Gaza. Israel claims that it is merely exercising its right to self-defence; that Gaza is no longer occupied; that Hamas’s rockets caused the war; that Israel protects civilians while Hamas targets them; and that Hamas hides its weapons in homes, mosques and schools, and uses human shields.
These arguments are thoroughly debunked.


8. Don’t blame Hamas for starting it
JfJfP to Foreign Secretary William Hague, 26 Nov 2012

On behalf of JfJfP, Diana Neslen and Arthur Goodman wrote to Foreign Secretary William Hague objecting to his assertion that Hamas bore the main responsibility for the current crisis and citing the many Israeli assaults on Palestinian life, and the potential for a truce preceding the barrage on Gaza.

9. Israel, not Hamas, is the region’s pariah
Adam Shatz, London Review of Books, JfJfP 3 Dec 2012

Israel cannot hide forever under its Iron Dome. While its neighbours are changing and growing in confidence Israel is shrinking in political stature as it again opts for hi-tech violence over political thought. This piece contrasts the liveliness of Arab politics with the lonely inertia of Israel.

10. What Israel doesn’t know and doesn’t want to know about Hamas
Zvi Bar’el, Ha’aretz, JfJfP 19 Sep 2012

“The illusion that a movement structured like Hamas is running a mini-government that depends on only a handful of people [who can be assassinated], without whom it would not exist, is at the heart of the deceit nurtured by Israel” writes Zvi Bar’el in this review of a new Israeli book about Hamas. This assassination strategy has turned into an ideology, and it is passed down like a legacy from one government to another.


11. Permanent Temporariness
Alastair Crooke, London Review of Books, 5 Mar 2011

Crooke describes how the “war on terror” in 2003 signalled a move from wanting a political solution involving Hamas to believing in a military one.

“The shift in the British position, under American pressure, sabotaged European policy. It undermined the EU’s commitment to promoting Palestinian unity by suppressing, at the covert, security level, opposition to the PA, removing from Palestinian institutions not only all members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad but even those elements in Fatah who had been involved in the second intifada.”


12. Michael Walzer’s Defense of Israel’s Crimes
Stephen R. Shalom, New Politics, 4 Aug 2014

In the war on Gaza in 2014 renowned political theorist Michael Walzer argued that Israel had to be supported because “Israel is a democracy”. Stephen Shalom took him to task on many grounds including numerous factual errors. But most importantly he argued that Walzer’s argument is morally unsustainable because of its failure to acknowledge that the Palestinian struggle to end the almost 50-year occupation is a just cause.


13. Human Rights Watch: Still missing the point
Jonathan Cook, Counterpunch, 25 Sep 2006

This impassioned but clinically-argued polemic against Human Rights Watch is about Hizbollah and the war of 2006 but raises important general points about asymmetrical warfare and the use of weapons, particularly rockets, which are imprecise because they are primitive and can’t be accurately targeted.

Is the fact that, even if aimed at military targets after a war that has been started by a much better armed force, civilians might get killed enough to make their use a war crime rather than self-defence, asks Jonathan Cook. [At the time HRW’s senior researcher, Peter Bouckaert had said: “I mean, it’s perfectly clear that Hezbollah is directly targeting civilians, and that their aim is to kill Israeli civilians. We don’t accuse the Israeli army of deliberately trying to kill civilians.” and Cook took great and justifiable exception to this finding of greater culpability on Hizbollah’s part.]


On Operation Cast Lead, 2008

1. Question and Answer on Gaza
Stephen Shalom, Znet, 16 Jan 2009

“On December 27, 2008, Israel launched its brutal assault on Gaza, Operation Cast Lead. The aim here has been to collect in one place the most frequently-asked questions and to offer answers and sources. You can read the whole thing through (warning: it’s long!) or see a separate list of sections and questions, and jump to the ones you’re interested in.”


2. Trying to ‘teach Hamas a lesson’ is fundamentally wrong
Tom Segev, Ha’aretz, 29 Dec 2008

“[T]he assault on Gaza does not first and foremost demand moral condemnation – it demands a few historical reminders. Both the justification given for it and the chosen targets are a replay of the same basic assumptions that have proven wrong time after time…”


3. FACTSHEET: How Israel torpedoed its ceasefire with Hamas to produce a casus belli
David Morrison,  David Morrison website, Jul 2009

Morrison is the Political Officer, Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign


4. Chronology: Which Side Violated the Israel-Gaza Ceasefire?: The Bush Administration and The New York Times v. Amnesty International
Howard Friel, Global Research, 14 Jan 2009

Friel shows how Israel tightened the screws on Gaza and Hamas in the period leading up to Operation Cast Lead.


Is Gaza Still Occupied?

1. Is Gaza Still Occupied and Why Does It Matter?
Lisa Hajjar, Jadaliyya, initially publ 2012

“‘Occupation’ is a legal designation of an international nature. Israel’s occupation of Gaza continues to the present day because (a) Israel continues to exercise ‘effective control’ over this area, (b) the conflict that produced the occupation has not ended, and (c) an occupying state cannot unilaterally (and without international/diplomatic agreement) transform the international status of occupied territory except, perhaps, if that unilateral action terminates all manner of effective control.”


2. Scale of Control: Israel’s Continued Responsibility in the Gaza Strip
Gisha, Nov 2011

“In 2007, Gisha published ‘Disengaged Occupiers: The Legal Status of Gaza’, a position paper in which it argued that the law of occupation continues to apply to all Israeli actions toward the Gaza Strip due to the significant control it still exercises over Gaza. ‘Scale of Control: Israel’s Continued Responsibility in the Gaza Strip’ updates our previous legal analysis and adapts it to reflect the changes on the ground and in the patterns of control exercised over the Gaza Strip by the various actors since 2007, including as a result of the Hamas movement’s takeover of internal control in Gaza…

“This position paper illustrates how despite recent developments, Israel continues to control Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters, the Palestinian population registry and passage of goods and people to and from Gaza. Israel still collects customs and value added tax for goods entering the Gaza Strip and maintains some physical presence in the Strip. Israel also controls Gaza’s infrastructure by virtue of its control over supply of electricity and other inputs to the system.”


3. Ten Years Later
Gisha, Sep 2015

To coincide with the tenth anniversary of Israel’s “withdrawal” from Gaza, Gisha, the Israeli Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, provides a hard-hitting introduction to the decade and then two sections, viz:

Gaza Fact Check: 10 myths for 10 years of disengagement
Timeline: A decade since disengagement, a decade of bad policy choices

You can also download a PDF version of the text.


4. UN: We still consider Gaza “occupied” by Israel
27 Jan 2012


Contents of this section


a) Setting the scene: the hasbara (propaganda) war
b) Is criticism of Israel antisemitic?

Singling out Israel
Is Israel an apartheid society?
BDS and antisemitism

c) Can you have a Jewish and democratic state?
d) What is Zionism today?

e) The nature of the nakba
f) One state or two?
g) Is Hamas to blame? Is Gaza still occupied?
h) Right of return and law of return
i) The role of the JNF


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