Posted by: Lister | January 11, 2009

Beyond Disproportionate

I saw this quote on Mike Marqusee‘s blog:

Marching amid the 50,000 protesters in London bearing witness against the Israeli offensive on Gaza, I spotted a hand-made placard inscribed with the words of the radical Brazilian educator Paolo Freire: “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”

It’s a good article. I looked up some of the other quotes: Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai’s use of the word “shoah” and:

An Israeli officer explained the strategy to a Washington Post reporter: “We are trying to hit the whole spectrum, because everything is connected and everything supports terrorism against Israel.”

B’Tselem has an article on this:

The principle of distinction, one of the fundamental principles of international humanitarian law, states that all parties engaged in combat must distinguish between civilian objects and military targets, and are forbidden to intentionally attack civilians and civilian objects. The First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions establishes two conditions that must be met for an object to be considered a legitimate military target: it must effectively contribute to military action and its total destruction or partial neutralization offers a clear military advantage.

Despite this, other statements made by Israeli officials in recent days raise the suspicion that the army is not maintaining the requisite distinction in its attacks in Gaza. Prime Minster Ehud Olmert stated that, “Israel is not at war with the Palestinian people but with Hamas, which has dedicated itself to acting against residents of Israel. Accordingly, the objects attacked today were selected with the emphasis on the imperative to prevent harm to innocent persons.” In an article published in yesterday’s Washington Post, a senior military official was quoted as follows: “There are many aspects to Hamas, and we are trying to hit the whole spectrum, because everything is connected and everything supports terrorism against Israel.” Major Avital Liebowitz, of the IDF Spokesperson’s Office, told the correspondent that the army had indeed widened its target list in comparison to previous operations, saying Hamas has used ostensibly civilian actions as a cover for military activities. “Anything affiliated with Hamas is a legitimate target,” she said.

These comments suggest that the operation in Gaza is aimed against every person and entity tied in some way to Hamas, even if they are not engaged in military action against Israel. An examination of the sites that were bombed in recent days raises questions regarding the legality of targeting many of them.

For example, the military bombed the main police building in Gaza and killed, according to reports, forty-two Palestinians who were in a training course and were standing in formation at the time of the bombing. Participants in the course study first-aid, handling of public disturbances, human rights, public-safety exercises, and so forth. Following the course, the police officers are assigned to various arms of the police force in Gaza responsible for maintaining public order.

[…] The argument that striking at objects of this kind is consistent with international humanitarian law is untenable. Such an interpretation, which relates to these bodies as military objects, stretches the provisions of international humanitarian law in a way that is inconsistent with the articles cited above, and contravenes the principle of distinction that lies at the foundation of international humanitarian law. An intentional attack on a civilian target is a war crime.



  1. Marqusee’s article on Afghanistan is worth reading, too.

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