The German government expects Israel to act appropriately in Gaza. star-Columnist Nico Fried wonders what that means.
On July 18, 2014, Angela Merkel gave her annual summer press conference. A journalist asked the Chancellor at the time about the Israeli army’s air strikes on the Gaza Strip. This was triggered by the murders of three students, which Hamas later claimed responsibility for, and rocket fire on the south of Israel. Merkel replied: “One must say very clearly: Israel has a right to self-defense.” And she added: “Of course, this must always be carried out appropriately.”
Appropriate. I found the word irritating. Appropriate, that suggests clarity, measurability, as if one only had to use a meter stick to be able to judge whether a military strike complies with international law. In 2014, 67 Israeli soldiers and more than 2,000 Palestinians died. Was that appropriate? Does this, another term, ensure proportionality? Merkel did not comment on this later.
I think about this press conference these days when I see pictures from Gaza and read reports. I hear the same thing from today’s federal government as I did back then from Merkel, only in different words: The Chancellor says he has “no doubt” that Israel will comply with international law. It is a democratic country and is guided by “very humanitarian principles”. In his much-praised video, Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck speaks of the “international standards” that Israel must adhere to. And Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock warns that the fight against Hamas must be “conducted in accordance with humanitarian law and with the greatest possible consideration for the civilian population in Gaza.” So: appropriate.
With all of this in mind, you sit in front of the television, see the suffering in Gaza and ask yourself: And? Is that so?
The Appropriateness of War
I have a clear answer to this, but it has two parts. Hamas started this war with brutal murders, rapes and kidnappings. Israel must defend itself against this. Hamas will probably only stop such attacks when it no longer exists, which is why Israel’s advance also has the preventative character that international law requires for such a war. Hamas has the power to force Israel to weaken its offensive by releasing the hostages. But the terrorists don’t do that. So it is Hamas that wanted this war, first killed and now makes its own people suffer, even allowed them to be shot down.
Nevertheless, and this is the other part of the answer, doubt gnaws with every new report about the misery in Gaza. I wonder whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s interpretation of the concept of proportionality is not also influenced by his personal political survival – and not necessarily for the better. Or I hear that even Israel’s most important ally, the United States, is discussing whether 250-pound bombs would be just as effective in fighting Hamas as the 1,000-pound bombs, but would cause fewer civilian casualties.
Middle East conflict
Germany “stands firmly on Israel’s side.” What about the rest of the world?
I can’t judge that. But this much seems clear to me: Appropriateness in war is not a physical concept, but a political one. And I would like it not to degenerate into a formula in German politics either. One can discuss appropriateness without questioning that Israel is waging a justified war.
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.