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Is Israel Really Targeting Hamas? Does the US Recognize the Fourth Geneva Convention? -- Questioning the State Dept.
"Israel is an occupying power...as such, it has no international legal right of self-defense."
HUSSEINI: First off, one – there was breaking news about a Red Cross truck being hit, apparently by Israel. Do you have knowledge or content on that?
PATEL: I don’t get notifications of that stuff when I’m up here, Sam, but I’m happy to check and --
HUSSEINI: Well, I mean, it was like several hours ago, I mean.
PATEL: I don’t have any specific updates on that specific report.
HUSSEINI: You accept Israel’s premise that it is actually targeting Hamas and not the civilian population of the Palestinians, in spite of all this evidence?
MR PATEL: We do. We do. We accept the premise that Israel is undertaking a military operation to degrade Hamas, to target Hamas, and to do everything it can to hold Hamas accountable for its terrorist attacks on the Israeli people on October 7th.
HUSSEINI: The reports are of several – of over 10,000 civilians and over 4,000 children.
MR PATEL: I’m – Sam, I’m not disputing --
HUSSEINI: How many Hamas – how many Hamas dead have they got?
PATEL: Sam, I’m not disputing that there has been an immense impact on civilians over the course of this operation, that there have been an immense number of civilian casualties over the course of this operation. We have been very direct with our Israeli partners about the fact that there is an imperative to target Hamas terrorists and not civilians. And we will continue to raise that, and we have made so very clearly that we believe that there are additional steps that can be taken to minimize the impact on civilians. But your question was do I take issue with their stated intent of targeting and undertaking Hamas. I do not.
HUSSEINI: No – no, no, no. I wasn’t asking that at all. I was saying do you accept at face value --
PATEL: We have --
HUSSEINI: -- in spite of all of the evidence --
PATEL: We have no reason to – we have no reason to not accept that Israel is undertaking an operation with a stated intent of targeting Hamas and degrading Hamas.
HUSSEINI: I know that’s their stated intent. I know that’s their stated intent. I’m just saying that the evidence of hospital after hospital and school after school undermines that, wouldn’t you say?
PATEL: Sam, we have been – you’ve – it’s not the first time you’ve heard me say this. We have been very vocal about the fact that steps need to be taken to minimize the impact on civilians. We recognize that there has continued to be and an increasing impact on civilians over the course of this operation, and we’ll continue to be very direct with our Israeli partners that this operation needs to and should be conducted in accordance with international law and that there is a strategic and moral imperative to do so.
But that does not change the fact that Hamas also is an entity that continues to use Palestinian civilians as human shields, that has integrated and co-located itself with schools, hospitals, and other critical civilian infrastructure. Hamas is a group and it’s a terrorist organization that is bent on hijacking the political future of Palestinian civilians, and there is a clear track record of that.
HUSSEINI: I sent our exchange from Monday around to a series of international lawyers. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Richard Falk. He’s a very prominent international lawyer, taught at Princeton for years, was the international – was the UN rapporteur.
He emailed back to me: “Gaza remains, from the perspective of international law and the UN, an occupied Palestine territory subject to the Fourth Geneva Convention.” I don’t believe that Israel recognizes the Fourth Geneva Convention for all of these decades. I don’t know what U.S. policy is on that question, so that’s one question.
“This means that Israel is an occupying power and has a primary obligation to safeguard the safety of the civilian population. It is entitled to take reasonable lawful measures to restore its security in the aftermath of such an attack,” referring to October 7th. “As such, it has no international legal right of self-defense. Even if it had such a right of self-defense, it wouldn’t have – no legal or moral basis for engaging in a genocidal assault, the character of which has been strongly confirmed by Israel’s top leaders.
Does the U.S. recognize the Geneva Conventions as applying to Palestine – Palestinian territories?
PATEL: Sam, what I am just going to say is what you’ve heard us say before, is that we believe --
HUSSEINI: I’m not interested in that. I’m asking a specific question.
PATEL: Well, that’s the – that’s – that’s – that’s the answer that I have for you, which is that we believe wholeheartedly that Israel has every right to defend itself and to defend its security. And what happened on October 7th would be unacceptable to any country and steps must and should be taken --
HUSSEINI: Vedant, we’re not talking about another country. What we’re talking about --
PATEL: -- steps must and should be taken to ensure that those events cannot be repeated. Now I’ve taken three of your questions. I’m going to work the room now.
HUSSEINI: Look, I’m not talking about one country attacking another. We’re talking --
PATEL: Alex, go ahead.
HUSSEINI: -- about an occupying power.
ALEX: Thanks, Vedant.
See Falk’s recent piece “Israel-Palestine war: Israel's endgame is much more sinister than restoring 'security'“.
See followup questioning: