If Israel wipes out entire civilian families in Gaza, is it terrorism?

The rising Palestinian death toll in the Gaza Strip where health officials there said the number killed in a five-week-old Israeli bombardment had topped 11,000.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters on a visit to India on Friday (Nov 10): “Far too many Palestinians have been killed; far too many have suffered these past weeks.”

Minister Balakrishnan: “Indiscriminate killing, torture, and kidnapping of innocent civilians are acts of terror, period.”

In his address to the Singapore Parliament on November 6, 2023, Foreign Affairs Minister Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan condemned the actions of Hamas during the Israel-Hamas conflict as acts of terrorism.

He said: “…what Hamas did on 7 October was an act of terrorism. It involved indiscriminate killing and extreme brutality. It was not a military operation, targeted at military targets. Such acts cannot be justified by any rationale, any historical grievance, any religious belief, any context. These acts of indiscriminate killing, torture, and kidnapping of innocent civilians are acts of terror, period.”

Amnesty International: “Israel wipes out entire families in Gaza”

There have been numerous reports of high civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure in Gaza – most of them Palestinian women and children.

An Amnesty International report on Oct 20, documented unlawful Israeli attacks, including indiscriminate attacks, which caused mass civilian casualties in Palestine.

The organization spoke to survivors and eyewitnesses, analysed satellite imagery, and verified photos and videos to investigate air bombardments carried out by Israeli forces between 7 and 12 October, which caused horrific destruction, and in some cases wiped out entire families.

Singapore’s principled approach

Minister Balakrishnan addressed the Israeli response, acknowledging the resulting humanitarian crisis in Gaza, with over 9,000 Palestinian deaths and a significant number of injuries and displacements. He reiterated Singapore’s commitment to international law, emphasizing the right to self-defense and the principles of necessity, proportionality, and compliance with the laws of war.

The minister, however, refrained from labelling Israel’s stance in the same context of acts of terrorism. This is despite reports of “indiscriminate killing, torture, and kidnapping of innocent civilians” from the Israeli side.

It is worth noting, however, that Singapore has always voted in favour of every UN resolution that has said that Israel should not be building settlements in Occupied Territories in the Palestine. While Singapore maintains diplomatic relationship with Israel, Minister Balakrishnan reiterated that Singapore does not “have to agree with everything they do”.

Are Israel’s indiscriminate killing of civilians terrorism or just collateral damage?

The high civilian casualties in Gaza have caused international concern but do not automatically classify Israel’s actions as terrorism – at least in the Western lens. This classification requires specific intent and targeting criteria, as well as selective reasoning.

The challenge of urban warfare in densely populated areas, where militants like Hamas may use civilian infrastructure, further complicates the assessment of Israel’s military actions.

While there are significant concerns and allegations regarding Israel’s military actions resulting in civilian casualties, proving intentional targeting of civilians requires clear evidence and legal examination. It is a matter of ongoing international debate and investigation.

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