May 21, 2012 | Middle East Quarterly

Gaza: Morality, Law and Politics

Gaza: Morality, Law and Politics
Edited by Raimond Gaita. Crawley, Aus.: UWA Publishing, 2010. 222 pp. $29.95

After years of indiscriminate rocket attacks, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip in late 2008 and early 2009. While Israel made its case for self-defense, the United Nations established a fact-finding mission in April 2009 to investigate alleged violations of international law. The flawed report, issued under the auspices of South African jurist Richard Goldstone, accused Israel of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.

Gaita, professor of philosophy at Australian Catholic University and professor of moral philosophy at King's College London, assembles the generally feeble and rambling thoughts of seven academics (none Middle East specialists) on this incident. With some exceptions, the scholars express disdain for Israel's actions and treat the Goldstone report as gospel.

Gaita himself argues stridently that the “case against Israel is serious and strong. Too many reports from reliable sources concur.” Geoffrey Brahm Levey of the University of New South Wales argues that both Hamas and Israel should “be hauled before the International Criminal Court to answer the charges.” He calls Jerusalem's actions “state terror” and alleges that Israeli “indifference” to civilian life “may have been deliberate.”

It might be too much to hope that Gaita, Levey, and the other contributors to this volume would now question their own judgment. Goldstone does. In April 2010, the jurist wrote in The Washington Post that he no longer believed Israel had intentionally targeted civilians in Gaza.[1] With one brief op-ed, Goldstone rendered half this book obsolete.

Another problem with Gaza: Morality, Law and Politics is its overuse of academic jargon. For example, Mark Baker of Monash University examines “Jewish and Palestinian nationalism from an ethnographic perspective” to “expose the way Israel and Palestine have come to function as cultural codes for a wider set of assumptions and attitudes whose roots lie in the structures of victim identities.” Then there is Hilary Charlesworthy, who applies feminist theories to the conflict claiming “it is possible to have the biological sex of a woman, but to adopt a masculine gender and vice versa … concepts of masculinity and femininity alter across time and cultures, but are typically defined as opposite to one another.” Such verbiage makes the book a tough slog.

To be sure, there are some insights to glean. The University of Melbourne's Gerry Simpson penned a thoughtful essay and rightly notes that “Israelis kill Palestinian civilians because this is the only way to attack Palestinian fighters, and Palestinians kill Israeli civilians because this is the only way to attack the Israeli state.”

Unfortunately, such clear-eyed analysis is in the minority in this book, rendering it unworthy of scholarly attention.

[1] Richard Goldstone, “Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and War Crimes,” The Washington Post, Apr. 1, 2010.

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