When Is a War Not a War? It's a Question of Money

Declaring Operation Protective Edge a war would require the state to pay for all war-related damage, including indirect damage from the full or partial closure of businesses.

Moti Bassok
Moti Bassok
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For bereaved families, an operation is a war.
For bereaved families, an operation is a war.Credit: AP
Moti Bassok
Moti Bassok

Three weeks of rocket attacks have wrought destruction and scores have died in fighting, yet the government is still calling the conflict an “operation” instead of a “war.”

It’s more than just semantics. Declaring Operation Protective Edge a war would require the state to pay for all war-related damage, including indirect damage from the full or partial closure of businesses, lost revenues and lost salaries – all at a cost of billions of shekels.

In order for an operation to become a war, according to Section 40 of the Basic Law – Israel’s equivalent to a constitution — the government has to declare it so to the Knesset and its Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. But it can still send in the troops without a formal declaration to defend the country, the law says.

During the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Yossi Beilin, who was then a member of the Knesset, and two others, petitioned the High Court of Justice to force the government to declare the operation a war. The court sided with the government, offering a host of reasons why the fighting that lasted more than a month and cost some 120 Israelis their lives wasn’t a real war.

In the absence of an officially declared war, the government is only required to compensate people and businesses for direct damage, such as when a rocket damages a factory anywhere in the country. During Protective Edge, it has undertaken also to cover the cost of indirect damage but only within 40 kilometers of the Gaza border.

The Tax Authority, which is responsible for administering the aid, says it will payout claims based on the Home Front Command’s official map, which includes the cities of Be’er Sheva, Ashdod, Ashkelon and Kiryat Gat.

Practically speaking, that means that all the hotels in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and all of Israel’s other major tourist destinations hit by the wave of cancellation by guests are entitled to nothing. Likewise stores, restaurants and any other business that is feeling the impact of the war is not entitled to help either.

Dorit Beinisch, who was president of the Supreme Court at the time, wrote in her opinion that the Basic Law did not define what is or isn’t war.

“The question is a complicated one and has many perspectives. The definition of the war, when we are talking about government authority in relation to military action, is involved and interconnected with the country’s foreign relations and how the government conducts them.

“A government decision construed as a declaration of war may have far-reaching consequences in its international relations. Thus, in the international arena formal declarations of war have not been the practice over the last decades,” Beinisch said.

Even if the public sees the fighting as a war, that doesn’t mean the government does.

In spite of the ruling, eight months after the Lebanon war ended, in March 2007, the government retroactively declared the conflict the Second Lebanon War.

Nevertheless, the government did not pay compensation to those who suffered all over the country. Another criterion for being entitled to aid is that the home front, or part of the home front, is declared a special area.

In the end, all the communities north of Haifa, including the city itself, were designated as being in the home front zone and entitled to compensation for indirect damage.

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