Friday, January 30, 2009

Not all war crimes are created equal

"Israel must investigate charges of crimes in Gaza: U.S." screams the Reuters headline. The reality? A bit less encouraging.

Speaking before the United Nations Security Council yesterday, UN Ambassador Susan Rice delivered an inspiring speech on the importance of respecting international law and civilian life, two areas she is uniquely qualified to pontificate on as an advocate for the invasion of Iraq -- and for violating international law in the name of "humanitarian" interventions elsewhere. But contrary to the Reuters headline, rather than demand in no uncertain terms that the Israeli government investigate charges it committed war crimes during its recent assault on Gaza, Rice suggested most those charges were simply the fabrications of anti-Israel ideologues, adding meekly that she would "expect" Israel to follow international law:
The United States is deeply concerned Mr. President about the loss of Palestinian and Israeli life in recent weeks and the tragic suffering of Palestinian civilians, who require urgent humanitarian and reconstruction assistance. Violations of international humanitarian law have been perpetrated by Hamas through its rocket attacks against Israeli civilians in southern Israel and the use of civilian facilities to provide protection for its terrorist attacks. There have also been numerous allegations made against Israel some of which are deliberately designed to inflame. We expect Israel will meet its international obligations to investigate and we also call upon all members of the international community to refrain from politicizing these important issues.
That Ms. Rice decried Hamas' violations of international law with such specificity, but could only muster up talk of certain "allegations" with respect to Israel -- "some of which", we are told without example, "are deliberately designed to inflame" -- is telling, and is a sign that when it comes to condoning Israeli war crimes the new administration will be just as craven as the old one.

While there's no doubt Hamas' rocket attacks on Southern Israel constitute violations of international law, the damage they have caused pales in comparison to the loss of life Israel inflicts with just one "errant" missile in Gaza. The fact that over 1,300 Palestinians died during the Israeli assault, compared to less than two dozen Israelis that died from the rocket attacks that allegedly justified the invasion, should put their respective crimes in perspective. Hamas commits war crimes with largely ineffective, cheaply produced rockets; Israel commits war crimes with the latest in U.S.-subsidized and manufactured weapons of state terror.

Meanwhile, consider the spurious, inflammatory allegations against Israel that Rice declined to mention:

The International Committee of the Red Cross:
The ICRC/PRCS team found four small children next to their dead mothers in one of the houses. They were too weak to stand up on their own. One man was also found alive, too weak to stand up. In all there were at least 12 corpses lying on mattresses.

In another house, the ICRC/PRCS rescue team found 15 other survivors of this attack including several wounded. In yet another house, they found an additional three corpses. Israeli soldiers posted at a military position some 80 meters away from this house ordered the rescue team to leave the area which they refused to do. There were several other positions of the Israel Defense Forces nearby as well as two tanks.

"This is a shocking incident," said Pierre Wettach, the ICRC's head of delegation for Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. "The Israeli military must have been aware of the situation but did not assist the wounded. Neither did they make it possible for us or the Palestine Red Crescent to assist the wounded."

Large earth walls erected by the Israeli army had made it impossible to bring ambulances into the neighbourhood. Therefore, the children and the wounded had to be taken to the ambulances on a donkey cart. In total, the ICRC/PRCS rescue team evacuated 18 wounded and 12 others who were extremely exhausted. Two corpses were also evacuated. The ICRC/PRCS will recover the remaining corpses on Thursday.

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The ICRC believes that in this instance the Israeli military failed to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuate the wounded. It considers the delay in allowing rescue services access unacceptable.

Amnesty International:
Emergency medical rescue workers, including doctors, paramedics and ambulance drivers, have repeatedly coming under fire from Israeli forces in the Gaza conflict while carrying out their duties.

At least seven of them have been killed and more than 20 injured while transporting or attempting to collect the wounded and the dead.
Several ambulances were in the street below and the paramedics were plainly visible by their phosphorescent jackets, yet this did not prevent the tank crews from firing.
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Under the Geneva Conventions, medical personnel searching, collecting, transporting or treating the wounded should be protected and respected in all circumstances. Common Article 3 of the Conventions says that the wounded should be collected and cared for, including combatants who are hors de combat. These provisions of international law have not been respected during the conflict in the Gaza Strip.
Human Rights Watch:
Israel should stop using white phosphorus in military operations in densely populated areas of Gaza, Human Rights Watch said today. On January 9 and 10, 2009, Human Rights Watch researchers in Israel observed multiple air-bursts of artillery-fired white phosphorus over what appeared to be the Gaza City/Jabaliya area.
"White phosphorous can burn down houses and cause horrific burns when it touches the skin," said Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch. "Israel should not use it in Gaza's densely populated areas."

Human Rights Watch believes that the use of white phosphorus in densely populated areas of Gaza violates the requirement under international humanitarian law to take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian injury and loss of life.
The United Nations:
United Nations officials on Saturday demanded an investigation into a new Israeli strike on a UN-run school in Gaza, which killed a woman and a child in the fourth such attack during its war on Hamas.

More than one dozen people were wounded when Israeli shells hit the school compound in the northern town of Beit Lahiya where some 1,600 people had taken refuge to escape fierce clashes outside, officials said.

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA condemned the attack and called for an investigation.

"Just before seven o'clock this morning (0500 GMT) several rounds of shells went directly into the school compound in Beit Lahiya. There was a pause and then there was a round that directly hit the school building killing two people," said UNRWA spokesman Christopher Gunness.

"Where you have a direct hit on an UNRWA school where about 1,600 people had taken refuge, where the Israeli army knows the coordinates and knows who's there, where this comes as the latest in a catalogue of direct and indirect attacks on UNRWA facilities, there have to be investigations to establish whether war crimes have been committed," he said.

"This yet again illustrates the tragedy that there is no safe place in Gaza and not even a UN installation is safe," he said. "There is no place to flee."
Of course, international law has always been something of an afterthought for Rice. Take her ridiculously titled, America-as-world-saviour 2006 op/ed advocating U.S. military intervention in Darfur -- "We Saved Europeans. Why Not Africans?" -- where she and her co-authors casually dismiss longstanding restrictions against military aggression in the absence of a clearly defined immediate threat (even if it has ostensibly noble goals):
Others will insist that, without the consent of the United Nations or a relevant regional body, we would be breaking international law. Perhaps, but the Security Council recently codified a new international norm prescribing "the responsibility to protect."
"A responsibility to protect" sure does provide a wide-ranging justification for a whole host of humanitarian interventions. I have a feeling anti-war liberals may soon long for the days of the Bush doctrine . . .

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