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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Britain's Guardian plays prosecutor, judge and jury; convicts IDF of 'war crimes': Part 1 of 3

The British Daily Guardian runs three articles in Tuesday's editions in which Israel is accused, judged and found guilty of war crimes. In one article, Israel is accused of using a drone that can see 'everything' to fire on an innocent family sitting in the courtyard of its home drinking tea, killing four people and to fire on a group of girls carrying a white flag killing two people. In the second story, Israel is accused of using three 'Palestinian' brothers as 'human shields' to prevent IDF tanks and personnel from being fired upon. In the third story, Israel is accused of firing upon 'Palestinian' medical workers - including ambulance crews (whose members are interviewed) and hospitals (for which only pictorial evidence is provided). Each story comes with a video of the interviews with the 'Palestinians.' (Hat Tip: Melanie Phillips).

I'm going to split this into three separate posts, because one post will be too long. Due to the risk that someone may read one post and not all three, the introduction about the Geneva Convention that follows will appear in all three posts. This is the first post.

When watching the videos and reading the articles, there are a number of points you must bear in mind. First, the Guardian consistently misstates 'international law.' From watching these videos, you would think that it is absolutely forbidden to attack anyplace where there are civilians, and especially not 'medical crews' and the like. But this is not the case. Let's look at the Geneva Convention on this point.

Article 28 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states:
The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations
Article 51/7 of the Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions (adopted in June 1977) specifies:
The presence or movements of the civilian population or individual civilians shall not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations, in particular in attempts to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield, favour or impede military operations. The Parties to the conflict shall not direct the movement of the civilian population or individual civilians in order to attempt to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield military operations.
That means that if Hamas is hiding 'fighters' in hospitals, Israel may target those hospitals. It means that if medics are doubling as 'fighters,' Israel may attack those medics.

At least one of the videos makes reference to Israel's actions being 'disproportionate.' But the proportionality test to which they are referring never comes into play because of Hamas' (documented) use of human shields. This is from a post that I did about the Qana incident in Lebanon in the summer of 2006 - just substitute Hamas for Hezbullah. The original article from which it was taken is here.
International law has three major prohibitions relevant to the Qana incident. One forbids deliberate attacks on civilians. Another prohibits hiding forces in civilian areas, thereby turning civilians into "human shields." A third prohibition, the proportionality restriction that Israel is accused of violating, involves a complicated and controversial balancing test.

Geneva Convention Protocol I contains one version of the proportionality test, the International Criminal Court Statute another; neither is universally accepted. As a result, the proportionality test is governed by "customary international law," an amalgam of non-universal treaty law, court decisions, and how influential nations actually behave. It does not hinge on the relative number of casualties, or the force used, however, but on the intent of the combatant. Under customary international law, proportionality prohibits attacks expected to cause incidental death or injury to civilians if this harm would, on balance, be excessive in relation to the overall legitimate military accomplishment anticipated.

At Qana, Israeli aircraft fired toward a building to stop Hezbollah from shooting rockets at its cities. The aircraft did not deliberately target civilians; but Hezbollah rockets are targeted at civilians, a clear war crime. U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland last week called on Hezbollah to stop its "cowardly blending" among women and children: "I heard they were proud because they lost very few fighters and that it was the civilians bearing the brunt of this." If Hezbollah used Lebanese civilians in Qana as "human shields," then Hezbollah, not Israel, is legally responsible for their deaths.

If Israel was mistaken and Hezbollah was not firing from or hiding amongst these civilians, the legality of its action is assessed by the proportionality test. Because the test is vague, there have been few, if any, cases since World War II in which a soldier, commander or country has been convicted of violating it. In the absence of guidance from the courts, determining whether Israel's military has failed the proportionality test depends on an assessment of what civilian casualties it expected, what its overall military goals are, the context in which the country is operating, and how the international community has in practice balanced civilian risk against military goals.
With all of that in mind, let's go to the first videotape.

Taking the stories that civilians were killed at face value, there are a number of plausible explanations that would not involve Israeli 'war crimes.' An obvious one is that there were Hamas terrorists in the immediate vicinity. Another possible explanation is that the drone hit an ammunition dump nearby and the secondary explosions from stored weapons killed the civilians (we have seen that many times in Gaza). Yet another possible explanation is that the drone had nothing to do with it.

But the Guardian does not even allow for that third explanation. The narrator ominously announces that Israel has video of each drone attack in Gaza and that if it wanted to disprove the Guardian's charges it could. Unless, of course, there were no drones in the vicinity. The only 'proof' we have of there being drones in the vicinity is the testimony of the 'Palestinians' interviewed. Could they be lying? How long have you been beating your wife Mr. Smith?

By the way, the part of the video where the two girls were allegedly killed looked very familiar to me. To me, it looks remarkably like the neighborhood in which the Hilles clan lived. There are some shots of that neighborhood in the video here. Were the people in this video Fatah supporters who were set up to be killed by Hamas?


At 8:41 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Civilians do die in war. There hasn't been a war in the history of the world in which unarmed non-combatants haven't been killed. Even with all the advances in military technology there is no way to prevent that from absolutely happening. So even if some Palestinian civilians were killed, it does not prove Israel committed a war crime. The Guardian has not established the existence of one in which Israel was allegedly involved.


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