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The Need for Moral Clarity on the Israel-Hamas War

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The latest Israeli-Hamas war, with its evocative images of human suffering, has engaged hearts and minds the world over, particularly in this digital age of social media and instant communication.

Indeed, the death of any innocent -- Israeli or Palestinian -- is a tragedy, and no one can fail to be moved by the human suffering and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

But, while Hamas has rejected cease-fires proposed by Egypt and the UN, including a humanitarian cease-fire, it has continued its relentless rocket assaults and tunnel invasions, the proximate triggers for this immediate conflict.

If we want to prevent further tragedies, it is important to go beyond the "fog of war" -- to go behind the daily headlines that cloud understanding and the clichés (the "cycle of violence") that corrupt it -- and ask some fundamental questions about root causes and the basis for its resolution.

1. Are you aware that the Hamas charter and declarations call for the destruction of Israel and the killing of Jews wherever they may be?

2. Are you aware that the Hamas charter and declarations refer to Jews as "inherently evil," as a "cancer" as responsible for all evils in the world and as defilers of Islam?

3. Are you aware that Hamas -- not only during the present hostilities, but before them -- has propagated a state-sanctioned culture of hate in the mosques, in the schools, in the broadcasting system, in the summer camps and training camps?

4. Do you agree that such statements promote hatred and contempt for Jews and constitute an obstacle to peace?

5. Do you agree that Israel, like any other state, has the right to live in peace and security, free from any threats or acts of force?

6. Are you aware that since Israel withdrew all its citizens, uprooted all its settlements, and completely disengaged from Gaza in 2005, Hamas has deliberately -- and indiscriminately -- launched over 11,000 rockets and missiles, terrorizing Israeli cities, towns and villages?

7. Are you aware that Hamas' deliberate strategy of targeting Israeli civilians constitutes an armed attack under the UN Charter in violation of customary international law?

8. Do you agree that Israel -- like any other state -- has both the right and obligation to protect its citizens, and a right to self-defence against such armed attack as set forth in Article 51 of the UN Charter?

Indeed, in a recent joint statement, the European Union's 28 foreign ministers called on Hamas to "immediately . . . renounce violence," while recognizing Israel's "legitimate right to defend itself against any attacks."

9. Do you agree that, while Israel has the right to self-defense, its exercise must comport with the principles of international humanitarian law, including the principle of proportionality and the prohibition against the infliction of unnecessary suffering?

10. Do you agree that Palestinians in Gaza have the same right as Israelis to live in peace and security? Are you aware of the domestic repression by Hamas of Palestinians in Gaza, of the use and abuse of Palestinian civilians as human shields and that Hamas has converted the civilian infrastructure to an underground terrorist city?

11. Are you aware that Hamas is designated a terrorist entity by Canada, the United States and the European Union, and that UN Security Council resolutions require Palestinian governing authorities to deny safe havens to terrorists?

12. Are you aware that Hamas squandered the opportunity offered by Israeli disengagement from Gaza in 2005 to divert resources from state building to the building of a terrorist infrastructure at the expense of its own people?

13. Do you agree that the cease-fire must be durable and sustainable to protect the peace and security of both Israelis and Palestinians?

14. Do you agree that a comprehensive and enduring cease-fire should include: the recognition of Israel's right to live in peace and security; the cessation of all acts of terror and violence against Israeli civilians; the demilitarization of Gaza; the dismantling of its weapons infrastructure and the disbanding of its terrorist militias; the establishment of an international protection and stabilization force to enforce the cease-fire and to protect against the rebuilding of any terrorist infrastructure; the deployment of a massive humanitarian undertaking to ensure assistance reaches those in need; the initiation of a comprehensive program for the reconstruction of Gaza and the rehabilitation of its citizens; and the freeing of Palestinian society from the cynical and oppressive culture of hate and incitement fueled by Hamas.

I close on a personal note. I write not only as a law professor and MP, but as one who has family in Israel and friends in Palestine, and who has lived and worked in the region and been engaged in the struggle for peace.

The overriding truth of these past 40 years for me has always been clear and remains the same. I will stand with those who support the right of peoples in the Middle East -- Israelis and Palestinians alike -- to live in peace and security, free from any threats or acts of force, a cornerstone of UN principle and Canadian foreign policy; and I will oppose all those, like Hamas and its patron Iran, who seek the destruction of any people or state in violation of the UN Charter and all civilized norms.

Irwin Cotler is former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and the Liberal Party of Canada's Critic for Rights, Freedoms & International Justice. He has written extensively on the Middle East.

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