Israel’s Right to Self-Defense and the Ongoing Conflict in Gaza

Israel’s Right to Self-Defense and the Ongoing Conflict in Gaza

As the conflict between Israel and Gaza continues to escalate, questions arise regarding Israel’s right to self-defense and the justification for its actions. The United Nations human rights chief, Volker Turk, has described the situation in Gaza as “nightmarish” due to the bombings and attacks on residential areas and refugee camps. With growing calls for a ceasefire, it is essential to understand the concept of the right to self-defense and its application in this particular case.

The right to self-defense is outlined in Article 51 of the UN Charter. According to this article, member states have the inherent right to individual or collective self-defense if they face an armed attack, provided that the UN Security Council has not yet taken measures to maintain international peace and security. Israel and its allies, including the United States and the United Kingdom, argue that their actions are justified under this right in response to the Hamas attacks on October 7, which resulted in the deaths of 1,200 people and injured over 5,600 in southern Israel.

However, experts are divided on whether the right to self-defense applies to Israel’s actions against Gaza. UN special rapporteur Francesca Albanese argues that the right to self-defense can only be invoked when a state is threatened by another state, which is not the case here. She points out that Israel occupies Gaza, imposing a land, sea, and air blockade on the territory since Hamas came to power in 2007. Albanese views this as a form of occupation and contends that Israel cannot claim self-defense against a threat originating from the territory it occupies.

Moreover, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has previously stated that the invocation of self-defense in an occupied territory is not valid. In a 2004 advisory opinion, the ICJ declared Israel’s construction of the separation wall in the occupied West Bank illegal and rejected Israel’s argument of self-defense in that context.

Critics also challenge Israel’s argument based on the scale of its attacks on Gaza. Iain Overton, executive director of Action on Armed Violence, argues that the death of thousands of civilians, including children, attacks on healthcare, and the withholding of essential resources cannot be justified as self-defense. These actions, if left unchallenged, would undermine international humanitarian law and the principles it upholds.

During armed conflicts, all parties are bound by international humanitarian law (IHL). IHL aims to protect civilians and civilian objects by establishing rules for member states to follow. However, violations of these rules, such as distinguishing between civilians and combatants, proportionality of attacks, and humane treatment of individuals, have been observed in the current conflict. The high number of civilian casualties, including aid workers from the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), raises concerns about Israel’s adherence to the principles of IHL.

It is crucial to underline that IHL prohibits any attack on civilians and civilian objects and states that such actions are unlawful. Experts argue that both Hamas and Israel have committed war crimes during this conflict. Neve Gordon, a professor of international law and human rights, states that the actions of both parties are clear violations of IHL. He criticizes Israel’s collective punishment of Gaza’s population through the deprivation of essential resources and the resulting eruption of violence causing thousands of civilian deaths and the destruction of infrastructure.

In conclusion, the question of Israel’s right to self-defense in the ongoing conflict in Gaza remains contentious. While Israel and its allies argue that their actions are justified under international law, critics highlight the occupation of Gaza and the disproportionate and unlawful attacks on civilians. It is vital to continue examining the situation in Gaza through the lens of international human rights and humanitarian law to ensure the protection and well-being of all civilians caught in the crossfire.


Q: Does Israel have the right to self-defense in Gaza?
A: The question of Israel’s right to self-defense in Gaza is a subject of debate. While Israel claims that its actions are justified under international law, experts argue that the circumstances of occupation and the disproportionate attacks on civilians challenge this argument.

Q: What is the right to self-defense?
A: According to Article 51 of the UN Charter, member states have the inherent right to individual or collective self-defense when facing an armed attack. However, this right is subject to interpretation and application in specific situations.

Q: What is international humanitarian law (IHL)?
A: International humanitarian law comprises a set of rules that aim to protect civilians and civilian objects during armed conflicts. It establishes guidelines for member states to follow, including principles of distinction, proportionality, legitimate military objectives, and the humane treatment of individuals.

Q: Have war crimes been committed in the current conflict?
A: Critics argue that both Hamas and Israel have committed war crimes in the ongoing conflict. Violations of international humanitarian law, such as attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, are among the concerns raised by experts and human rights organizations.

Q: Is there a distinction between civilians and combatants in the current conflict?
A: International humanitarian law explicitly states that parties in a conflict must distinguish between civilians and combatants and should never target civilians or civilian objects. However, during the ongoing conflict, there have been allegations of attacks on civilians on both sides.

– UN Charter, Article 51:
– International Court of Justice, Advisory Opinion on the Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory:
– Geneva Conventions of 1949: