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The Gaza war from afar

In a campus lecture on Tuesday afternoon, Northeastern professor Dov Waxman took a two-pronged approach to examining this summer’s Gaza war, analyzing both the strategic objectives of Israel and Hamas as well as the conflict’s moral implications.

Waxman is the co-director of Northeastern’s Middle East Center and a new professor of political science, international affairs, and Israel studies. From a strategic standpoint, he said, Hamas viewed the conflict as a way to restore its fledgling political fortune and end the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Gaza. Israel, he noted, sought to destroy and degrade Hamas’ military capabilities.

To determine the moral efficacy of the war, Waxman used the Just War theory—a doctrine that comprises a set of criteria including the reasons for going to war and the manner in which the war was fought. Hamas is guilty of violating the tenets of the theory on a number of fronts, he said, including its strategy of deliberately targeting Israeli civilians and putting Palestinian lives at risk. Israel also violated the tenets of the theory, particularly for deploying military power disproportionately.

“I think strategically this war could be judged as a partial success and partial failure for both sides,” Waxman said. “But it was clearly a moral failure for both sides.”

Waxman’s lecture, “Judging the Gaza War (from afar),” served as the fall semester’s first event in the Controversial Issues in Security Studies speaker series. About 100 students and faculty members attended the talk, held in the Alumni Center.

The series, launched last year, has tackled many recent controversial issues in security studies including the Ukraine conflict, the Syrian War, and the National Security Agency. It is sponsored by the Northeastern University Center for International Affairs and World Cultures, the Department of Political Science, and the Northeastern University Humanities Center.

“I welcome the chance to discuss an issue that clearly matters to many people,” Waxman said. “I strongly believe this is the kind of place where we need to be discussing controversial issues in general.”

Israel and Hamas exchanged rocket attacks and fought on the ground for 50 straight days in July and August, leading to more than 2,000 deaths, the majority of whom were Palestinians living in Gaza.

The conflict began after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed by members of Hamas. Hamas stated that it launched rocket attacks in response to Israel’s crackdown in the West Bank following the kidnappings, while Israel explained that its air strikes were aimed at protecting itself from Hamas’ rockets.

“Life in southern Israel was almost completely paralyzed,” said Waxman, who was in Israel this summer before the fighting began.

During the Q-and-A following his talk, Waxman was asked about the United States’ involvement in the war. “The United States’ clear strategic interest is to resolve this conflict,” he said. “And it is clearly still investing its hopes in the diplomatic process. But the U.S. was really just a spectator in this round of violence.”

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