The Scourging of Gaza, Part 2

Steven Erlanger’s New York Times piece titled “Weighing Crimes and Ethics in the Fog of Urban Warfare”  asks a complicated question: If you attack densely populated urban areas with bombs and artillery and massive numbers of civilians die, is it a war crime?

Okay, okay, he actually puts the question differently:

Your unit, on the edges of the northern Gaza town of Jabaliya, has taken mortar fire from the crowded refugee camp nearby. You prepare to return fire, and perhaps you notice — or perhaps you don’t, even though it’s on your map — that there is a United Nations school just there, full of displaced Gazans. You know that international law allows you to protect your soldiers and return fire, but also demands that you ensure that there is no excessive harm to civilians. Do you remember all that in the chaos?

You pick GPS-guided mortars, which are supposed to be accurate and of a specific explosive force, and fire back. In the end, you kill some Hamas fighters but also, the United Nations says, more than 40 civilians, some of them children.

Have you committed a war crime?

Erlanger continues in this same vein for four more screens, as Bob Ostertag puts it, “rationalizing Israeli conduct … [on] the same day that [Erlanger reported that] Israel hit a fourth UN school. Four of them. The Times cannot even publish its rationalization of the last UN school bombing before a new one is hit.”

Contrast Erlanger’s piece with this one by Amira Hass at Haaretz:

History did not begin with the Qassam rockets. But for us, the Israelis, history always begins when the Palestinians hurt us, and then the pain is completely decontextualized. We think that if we cause the Palestinians much greater pain, they will finally learn their lesson. Some term this “achievement.”

Nevertheless, the “lesson” remains abstract for most Israelis. The Israeli media prescribes a strict low-information, low-truth diet for its consumers, one rich in generals and their ilk. It is modest, and does not boast of our achievements: the slain children and the bodies rotting under the ruins, the wounded who bleed to death because our soldiers shoot at the ambulance crews, the little girls whose legs were amputated due to horrible wounds caused by various types of weaponry, the devastated fathers shedding bitter tears, the residential neighborhoods that have been obliterated, the terrible burns caused by white phosphorus, and the mini-transfer – the tens of thousands of people who have been expelled from their homes, and are still being expelled at this very minute, ordered to cram into a built-up area that is constantly growing smaller and is also under sentence of incessant bombing and shelling.
[…]
The siege of Gaza did not begin when Hamas seized control of the Strip’s security organs, or when Gilad Shalit was taken captive, or when Hamas was elected in democratic elections. The siege began in 1991 – before the suicide bombings. And since then, it has only become more sophisticated, reaching its peak in 2005.

The Israeli public relations machinery happily presented the disengagement as the end of the occupation, in brazen disregard of the facts. The isolation and closure were presented as military necessities. But we are big boys and girls, and we know that “military necessities” and consistent lies serve state goals. Israel’s goal was to thwart the two-state solution, which the world had expected to materialize once the Cold War ended in 1990. This was not a perfect solution, but the Palestinians were ready for it then.

Gaza is not a military power that attacked its tiny, peace-loving neighbor, Israel. Gaza is a territory that Israel occupied in 1967, along with the West Bank. Its residents are part of the Palestinian people, which lost its land and its homeland in 1948.

In 1993, Israel had a one-time golden opportunity to prove to the world that what people say about us is untrue – that it is not by nature a colonialist state. That the expulsion of a nation from its land, the expulsion of people from their houses and the robbery of Palestinian land for the sake of settling Jews are not the basis and essence of its existence.

In the 1990s, Israel had a chance to prove that 1948 is not its paradigm. But it missed this opportunity. Instead, it merely perfected its techniques for robbing land and expelling people from their houses, and forced the Palestinians into isolated enclaves. And now, during these dark days, Israel is proving that 1948 never ended.

2 Responses to “The Scourging of Gaza, Part 2”

  1. Alex says:

    The fighting tactics and ideology of Hamas are a “case study par excellence” of a systematic violation of international humanitarian law, according to Irwin Cotler, a former Canadian justice minister and a leading expert in international law.
    “First, the deliberate targeting of civilians is in and of itself a war crime,” he noted, referring to the Hamas rockets fired at southern towns for eight years.
    “A second war crime is when Hamas attacks [from within] civilian areas and civilian structures, whether it be an apartment building, a mosque or a hospital, in order to be immune from a response from Israel….Civilians are protected persons, and civilian areas are protected areas. Any use of a civilian infrastructure to launch bombs is itself a war crime.”
    Third, “the misuse and abuse of humanitarian symbols for purposes of launching attacks is called the perfidy principle. For example, using an ambulance to transport fighters or weapons or disguising oneself as a doctor in a hospital, or using a UN logo or flag, are war crimes.”
    The fourth violation “is the prohibition in the Fourth Geneva Convention and international jurisprudence against the direct and public incitement to genocide. The Hamas covenant itself is a standing incitement to genocide.”
    The fifth crime relates to the scope of the attack on civilians, which upgrades the violation to a crime against humanity. “When you deliberately hit civilians not infrequently but in a systematic, widespread attack, that’s defined in the treaty of the International Criminal Court and international humanitarian law as a crime against humanity.”
    The final war crime for which Hamas is responsible is the recruitment of children into armed conflict.
    “When Israel responds and civilians are killed because Israel is targeting an area from which rockets were launched, then it is Hamas which bears responsibility for the deaths, and not Israel, according to international law.”
    See also International Law and the Fighting in Gaza – Justus Reid Weiner and Avi Bell (Global Law Forum-Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs)

  2. gcotharn says:

    I think, also, valuable perspective can be gleaned from Richard Landes and Richard Fernandez. Since 1950, .3% of Muslims killed by military action have been killed by Israel. 99.7% have been killed by others. We do an awful lot of ignoring of the 99.7%.

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