“Palestinians gather at the site of an Israeli strike on a street near a U.N. school, after an Israeli attack killed dozens of Palestinians taking shelter there, in Jabaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza Strip, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2009. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)”(source)
The UN contends that Israel may have committed war crimes in its assault on the Gaza strip, a suggestion that the Israeli defense minister denies predictably. (Imagine an unpredictable response: “War crimes? Oh, dude! You have NO IDEA! We only just got started!”) At the same time, Hamas is hardly walking around with clean hands. Launching rockets blindly into civilian neighborhoods is against international law? Who knew!
Experts do believe, however, that both Israel and Hamas may have cases to answer on issues of humanitarian law.
Anthony Dworkin, the executive director of the Crimes of War Project and an expert in international humanitarian law, said Israel’s broad approach to what it considered a target in the conflict might expose it to claims under the 1949 Geneva Conventions governing non-international conflict.
“Israel’s thinking, evidently, is that all members of Hamas, and any facilities used to enforce their physical or ideological control over Gaza, are fair game,” he wrote on his website, www.crimesofwar.org.
“Under the laws of war, such an approach is highly questionable.” Referring to the targets hit he added: “It is hard to see how all these targets could be justified according to the rules of international humanitarian law.”
At the same time, he said there was evidence Hamas’s rocket fire into Israel was in violation of international law, and that the group may have used “human shields” to carry out attacks.
“In general,” he wrote, “there appears to be a strong argument that both Israel and Hamas have violated international law in the conduct of hostilities in Gaza, by attacking people who are not themselves participating in hostilities.”
None of which suggests “equivalency.” But can I observe that these terms “equivalency” and “disproportionate” have become through the heat of bellowed rhetoric completely detached from meaningful relevance to the crisis? Certainly the 421 dead children out of 1,200 Gazan corpses created by the Israeli siege is disproportionate, especially compared to significantly lower number of Israelis killed by Hamas. But so what? This isn’t a numbers game, a racking up of points via body count. Even if the Israeli incursion and the Hamas rocket assault had been similarly destructive, neither party’s hostility is justified. The decades-long tit-for-tat, eye-for-an-eye, paranoid Antisemitism and racist anti-Palestinianism, the apartheid conditions of Palestinian lives and the constant state of fear of Israeli citizens — what good is any of it producing? How are their lives any better? Can anyone truly say that the citizens on either side of these never-ending conflicts are being well served by their political leadership?
Over here in the U.S.A., we can hardly say any better. The old consensus, which seems to hold among the new regime about to take power in Washington, continues to blindly support Israel’s violence and reject any negotiation with Hamas. To what point? Few Israelis think that this is a sensible position, most Americans think this is ridiculous, and, hey, it actually contradicts candidate Obama’s insistence that we should be open to conversations even with “our enemies” (however defined; I think it’s Eastasia now.) Right now CNN is in wall-to-wall coverage of the Inauguration, so we wait for the other shoe to drop: Will Obama stick to this unthinking default position of the elite political class? Or will his much vaunted “empiricism” and “pragmatism” prod him to take up Rabbi Michael Lerner’s recommendation?
The only viable alternative is for Obama to call for an international conference of the European Union, Israel and the Arab States, the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, and, yes, Iran and India as well, and allow that international conference to impose a solution that provides security and justice to both sides. Only an imposed settlement has the slightest chance of being just to Palestinians – the precondition for a lasting peace, and a secure Israel.
Emphasis mine; please note the interdependency of Israeli security and Palestinian justice.