By Guglielmo Verdirame
Department of War Studies, King’s College London
May 17, 2021
International law regulates the use of military force by states and the conduct of hostilities.
As in virtually every modern conflict, there is intense debate on the legality of the actions of the two main sides involved here – Israel and Hamas.
As in previous operations in Gaza, Israel is likely to argue that its actions are justified under the right of self-defence.
Enshrined in Article 51 of the UN Charter, the right of self-defence is a fundamental principle of international law. While aspects of this principle are disputed, it is universally agreed that a state can defend itself against an armed attack.
There is some debate as to the intensity that an armed attack should reach before a state can lawfully resort to self-defence. Most international lawyers would agree that rockets launched against civilians that disrupt the social life of part of a country constitute an armed attack for the purposes of Article 51.
However, the facts underlying self-defence are often in dispute. Parties to a conflict seldom agree on who is the attacker and who is the defender – and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts are no exception. In this case, critics of the Israeli position also advance two legal arguments.