Monday, 12 January 2009

War Crimes in Gaza

Article 52 of the Geneva Convention states:
Article 52: General Protection of Civilian Objects

1. Civilian objects shall not be the object of attack or of reprisals. Civilian objects are all objects which are not military objectives as defined in paragraph 2.

2. Attacks shall be limited strictly to military objectives. In so far as objects are concerned, military objectives are limited to those objects which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action and whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage.

3. In case of doubt whether an object which is normally dedicated to civilian purposes, such as a place of worship, a house or other dwelling or a school, is being used to make an effective contribution to military action, it shall be presumed not to be so used. Article 53 Protection of cultural objects and of places of worship without prejudice to the provisions of the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict of 14 May 1954, and of other relevant international instruments, it is prohibited:

a. to commit any acts of hostility directed against the historic monuments, works of art or places of worship which constitute the cultural or spiritual heritage of peoples;

Now see this video of what is prima facie a direct violation of this protocol: in short, a War Crime, being the deliberate attack on a Masjid, a Mosque.

Except.... there are "secondaries". Secondary explosions as a consequence of the original attack. Explosions that do the majority of the damage to the building. Explosions proving beyond any doubt that the building was being used for military purposes, storing weaponry being used for indiscriminate attacks against civilians - a war crime in itself.

The Geneva Protocol doesn't end there, you see. The rest of the protocol states:
b. to use such objects in support of the military effort;
c. to make such objects the object of reprisals.
The indiscriminate attacks themselves are another war crime, as are attempts to use "human shields". That's covered in the preceding article, Article 51.

The military actions in Gaza by the Israeli Defence Forces are being conducted with Lawyers looking over the soldiers' shoulders. Their actions have been scrupulously careful to comply with the letter and the spirit of the Law of Armed Conflict.

Except nothing is certain in war. "Blue on Blues" - "Friendly Fire Incidents" where armies end up killing their own people happen, no matter how careful they are. Civilians in the area of operations get killed the same way. One can only minimise the slaughter of the innocent, not prevent it. This becomes doubly hard when the enemy views its own population as instruments of propaganda, deliberately putting them at maximum risk, and violating the Laws of War at every turn by doing so.


MgS said...

In this situation we must also recognize the flip-flopping roles of oppressor/oppressed in the last century.

Both sides have legitimate reason to feel desperate, and humans - like any animal - will do surprising things out of desperation.

(In short - neither side has a moral high ground here - Israel just has bigger guns)

John A said...

MgS - uh, other than a short couple of years 1948-1950 or so, when did Israel opress residents? You are aware, are you not, that the Knesset has Muslim members - does Gaza even have a Jewish citizen, let alone member of government? Not that I fully approve of everything Israeli - I do not think I would want to live there, even without continued agression by outsiders.

Anyhoo, this is unlike the incursion of Lebanon in one important way, which is why the "Laws [rules] of War" are a bit different. Hezbollah was not a government entity: Hamas is.

Zoe Brain said...

Military Necessity knows no law... but Hamas's actions had no military necessity. Their only objective was to kill Jews.

When I was in Haifa Naval Base, I saw the scars from the damage from Hezbollah rockets, GRADs and so on, the same weapons being used by Hamas in Gaza (though they use home-made ones as well). The Hezbollah attacks pretty much all hit civilian areas BUT... the centroid of aim was a "legitimate military target". Including me, but that's irrelevant.

They tried to do military damage with the best and most accurate weapons in their arsenal. The fact that the weapons usually only ended up killing civilians does not make the bombardment "indiscriminate". They did the best they could with the weapons available.

So while regrettable, this was not a "War Crime". Hiding the weapons in civilian areas was, but that's another matter.

It's perhaps ironic that if either group actually started following the rules of war, Israeli public opinion would ensure that the war would at least de-escalate, and some of their demands be met. But while the Israelis get continuing proof that they're the "Good Guys", even the most unmilitant Israeli will mute their objections.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it a crime to kill all the children that Israel have? Jude

Nicole Joy said...

> Anonymous said...
> Isn't it a crime to kill all
> the children that Israel have? Jude

Jude, that's true if, and only if, Israelis have deliberately targeted them, or are being indiscriminate in their targeting.

In Gaza, Hamas has deliberately set up firing positions near civilians.

Which IS in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

Nicole Joy

Laserlight said...

MgS, merely annouing that "neither side has the moral high ground" does not make it true. "Neither side is perfect" is true, but if Israel's objective was a mirror of Hamas' repeatedly announced objective, there wouldn't be any live Palestinians in Gaza.