We tried to talk about war crimes recently, but it seems that we both lost our tempers. Let's try to discuss this in writing, shall we?
I was upset because you stated as a fact that IDF soldiers were guilty of war crimes. You mentioned Beit Hanun as an example, where Palestinian civilians were killed by IDF shelling. I know that some Israelis agree with you. That's exactly what worries me.
What is a crime?
You used the term 'crime'. The word has two conventional meanings - a legal offence and an ethical one. As the debate went on, you added another dimension - a crime in a political sense. So I also added a category - the spiritual context. Let's try to examine each of these aspects.
What is a War Crime?
A 'war crime' is a term defined by international law. We cannot write a whole doctoral thesis here, so let's just look at a few basic facts.
Since the foundation of the United Nations, its charter is regarded as the constitutional foundation of 'international law', along with the Geneva Conventions that determine the rules of 'international humanitarian law'.
A Crime against the U.N. Charter
The U.N. Charter rules in Article 2/4: "All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations."
Has Israel ever violated this prohibition? Has it ever attacked or threatened another country with the object of eliminating it? Or perhaps all 22 members of the Arab League, plus other states and organizations, have declared openly that their goal is to destroy the sovereign State of Israel?
Before we go on to discuss the methods of war, let us agree that anyone who calls for the destruction of a U.N. member state is a criminal according to international law and that the legal status of the aggressor is inferior to that of a law-abiding state. Any person or entity that objects to Israel's very existence is guilty of incitement to commit genocide and of breaching the constitution of international law.
A Crime against the Geneva Convention
Many people quote the Fourth Geneva Convention, which demands that all states avoid harming any civilian population. Whenever enemy civilians are hit by IDF fire, we hear that Israel is guilty of crimes against these rules. Yet these quotations are blatantly partial and prejudiced.
I wholeheartedly agree that any deliberate attack on defenseless civilians is an outrageous crime against humanity. If there were deviations from the official IDF policy, such as soldiers who abused Arab civilians, I totally support taking severe measures against the offenders.
The additional protocol to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949 that entered into force on 7 December 1979, stated that "the civilian population and individual civilians shall enjoy general protection against dangers arising from military operations" (Article 51/1) and that "Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited" (Article 51/2). Furthermore, Article 51/4 states that "Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited. Indiscriminate attacks are: (a) Those which are not directed at a specific military objective; (b) Those which employ a method or means of combat which cannot be directed at a specific military objective; or (c) Those which employ a method or means of combat the effects of which cannot be limited as required by this Protocol; and consequently, in each such case, are of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction."
Sounds familiar? Do these definitions describe accurately the IDF's mode of operation, or perhaps the terror attacks and rocket bombardments by the Fatah, Hamas and Hezbollah? These terrorists do not even try to hide that their targets are almost always civilian and not military! Their operations against civilians are not only indiscriminate, but also openly deliberate.
Even one of Israel's sharpest critics, Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said: "Lobbing rockets blindly into civilian areas is without doubt a war crime. Nothing can justify this assault on the most fundamental standards for sparing civilians the hazards of war." Can we agree at this point that these terrorists are certainly war criminals?
The IDF obeys the Geneva Convention
The clause that is more applicable to IDF operations states clearly: "Civilians shall enjoy the protection afforded by this Section, unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities" (Article 51/3).
When an Israeli warplane drops a bomb on a building that houses a terror base, can you claim that the civilians that supply food and shelter to the terrorists are not involved in the hostilities? Will you also claim that the cook and the quartermaster in your reserves' unit are entitled to be protected by the Geneva Convention as uninvolved civilians because they were not carrying guns at the time of the attack?
Do you think that I'm inventing this interpretation? Let's read clause 51/7 of the same protocol: "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."
The protocol's Article 58 rules clearly that the "Parties to the conflict shall, to the maximum extent feasible: (a) ... endeavour to remove the civilian population, individual civilians and civilian objects under their control from the vicinity of military objectives; (b) Avoid locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas; (c) Take the other necessary precautions to protect the civilian population, individual civilians and civilian objects under their control against the dangers resulting from military operations."
The protocol contains detailed rules, derived from Article 28 of the Fourth Geneva Convention: "The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations."
Is it not clear who is responsible for the regrettable deaths of Arab civilians, who are deliberately used by the terrorists as human shields? Not only the terror attacks constitute crimes against humanity, but also the very presence of armed combatants among civilian population is a gross violation of the Geneva Convention. Therefore, in plain legal terms, the terror organizations are undoubtedly guilty of crimes against international humanitarian law and are exclusively responsible for the casualties on both sides - Israelis and Arabs alike!
What do humanitarian organizations do against these criminals? Not only they refrain from any legal action against the terrorist criminals, they also try to obstruct any attempt of self-defense by law-abiding states.
International Law obligates Israel to strike against the terrorists
The actions of the IDF against the terrorists are based primarily on Israel's legal right to defend itself. Any nation, in any point of history, has acted more fiercely than Israel against ruthless enemies who attacked its population.
Moreover, Israel is not only exercising its legal right, but in fact, fulfilling its legal obligation! Israel is one of the very few states that follow the letter and the spirit of binding U.N. resolutions against international terrorism. International law demands that all states combat terrorism. U.N. General Assembly Resolution of 17 February 1995 urged all U.N. member states "in accordance with the provisions of the Declaration, to take all appropriate measures at the national and international levels to eliminate terrorism;"
The annex to this resolution stated (clause 1): "The States Members of the United Nations solemnly reaffirm their unequivocal condemnation of all acts, methods and practices of terrorism, as criminal and unjustifiable, wherever and by whomever committed, including those which jeopardize the friendly relations among States and peoples and threaten the territorial integrity and security of States;" and clause 5 stated that "States must also fulfil their obligations Under the Charter of the United Nations and other relevant rules of International Law with respect to combating international terrorism and are urged to take effective and resolute measures in accordance with the relevant provisions of international law and international standards of human rights for the speedy and final elimination of international terrorism..."
Hence, we are looking at an amazing situation, where one side is undoubtedly guilty of war crimes, yet the 'enlightened' circles support it legally, morally and politically, while they accuse the other side, which obeys the letter and the spirit of the law. How can this happen?
Israel fulfills a moral duty
Some people don't let the facts confuse them. Having failed to bend and misquote international law, they try their luck with Universal Morality.
There are cases where IDF commanders admit that a technical error has occurred and even express regret over the unnecessary casualties. Anyone who has ever served in Israel's army knows that there has never been and never will be an Israeli policy of deliberate targeting of civilians. Although their "innocence" is highly dubious, enemy civilians are beyond limits. But the occasional admissions of IDF mistakes play into the hands of Israel's enemies, who turn the confirmations of unintentional errors into confessions of moral guilt.
So let us talk about morality.
I doubt very much if you practice in your private life the type of morality that you preach in politics. Should someone attempt to rape your daughter in front of your eyes, I bet you would simply smash his face. The court may find you guilty of taking the law into your hands, but I'm sure that you will still feel morally right. Am I right or am I right?
But when it gets to politics, some people find it convenient to adopt moral hypocrisy. Many pseudo-liberals suddenly turn into semi-pacifists who demand that we turn our other cheek. Provided, of course, that the cheek is not their own private daughter's.
Apparently, there is an abstract principle called 'generality', or in legal jargon - the value of equality before the law. As soon as you ignore this, there is no more law and no more ethical codes. We often hear that two wrongs don't make a right, but where does it say that two rights must produce a wrong?
Please explain to me, how is it that super criminals can deliberately butcher tens of thousands of civilians in Rwanda, Darfur, Chechnya, Syria and hundreds of other places, without any humanitarian organization ambushing them with legal warrants in Western airports? How can the "enlightened" media report that Israel has carried out a "massacre" of a dozen civilians when a bomb or a missile unintentionally missed their targets, while the brutal genocide in Sudan is described as "a tragedy"? How do you expect me to take you seriously when you ignore horrific crimes around the world and blow up a few mistakes into a collective moral accusation? Which particular moral system are you following?
In my humble opinion, there is a totally different moral issue here. In liberal democracies, the supreme duty of the government is to protect the civil and human rights of its citizens. The first and most important human right, upon which all other rights are based, is the right to live. A government that understands the nature of the moral contract between citizens and their country has a fundamental duty to provide them with personal safety and collective security. Without this basis, there is no free society.
As long as you cannot prove a malicious intention of Israel's authorities, or of any of its citizens, to murder peaceful civilians in Gaza or Lebanon, you have no foundation for a moral accusation against the IDF and its actions. On the contrary, one may question the moral motives of those who oppose our right for self-defense.
Strength provides a chance for peace
Toward the end of our discussion, you coined an interesting expression. You defined the IDF operations as 'political crimes', which damage the slim chance of making peace with the Arabs. As soon as you switched to politics, you have spilled the beans. One may hold any political view, but as long as we live in a free society, one may not demonize the views of legitimate political rivals. By branding a large part of the views represented in the Knesset as criminal opinions, you are taking Israel closer to Bolshevik standards and further away from the values of Western democracies.
The fascinating aspect of this phenomenon (you are not the only one) is that the very circles that claim to represent progress, peace, justice and liberalism, tend to attack other opinions with arguments that are as far removed from democratic values as Washington and London are far from Havana and Caracas. This may show how shallow the roots of Israeli liberalism are.
Well, at least I don't think of your views as "a crime". If after everything that happened in Israel since Oslo, and especially after Sharon's "disengagement" and the second Lebanon War, you can still believe that Israeli restraint and concessions to the terrorists can bring peace, then I must confess that I envy you. It seems that you have a particularly pure and noble faith that remains entirely unshakable by the grim reality. I wish I could adopt such a firm mystical belief in my own political views.
Moreover, being a devout liberal, I shall always struggle to defend your right to freely express your peculiar views. Even if you call me a criminal, I shall continue to defend your right to attack me ad hominem instead of rationally addressing my arguments, which is unfortunately quite prevalent in Israel.
As for your specific point, it seems to me that reality in the last few decades has shown that the goal of achieving peace may be better served through a resolute policy against the enemies of peace, namely the terrorists. Modern appeasement seems to increase violence and aggression, not love and peace. I find it extremely hard to understand liberal elements in the West that support brutal regimes and insane terror organizations. I just can't follow the logic of Western feminists who support with great enthusiasm radical Islamists, who enslave women, abuse them physically and mentally and degrade human values to primeval depths.
Have you noticed which parts of the world do not suffer from terrorism? In countries that are dominated by the new appeasers, terrorism is rapidly rising, but in Syria, for example, there is no such problem. I haven't really heard of much terror in Cuba or North Korea, have you? Now don't put in my mouth the idea that I wish to fashion Israel's regime after the Syrian or Cuban models. Yet the fact remains that terrorists on the whole do not like messing up with strong guys.
As long as terror organizations and ruthless dictators continue to control the minds of the Muslim masses, there will be no peace. Anyone who knows anything about the Islamic world will admit that one must be strong and generous to make peace with them. This is my own opinion and I think that I'm basing it on hard facts. But of course, you are entitled to disagree with me. In any case, neither one of us is "a criminal" due to his political view.
The real danger
Allow me to introduce a fourth aspect. Having shown that Israel is neither legally nor morally guilty of war crimes, and since the notion of a politically criminal thought cannot be acceptable in a free society, one may wonder why so many people around the world devote their energies to hound Israeli soldiers and politicians? There must be a rational explanation to the embarrassing scenes, where IDF officers run away from London or New Zealand to the first plane that flies to Tel-Aviv.
The only reason I can think of is rather simple. We are looking at an attempt to defeat the Jewish State through spiritual persecution. The enemies of Israel are trying to beat the Jews where they hurt the most - in their sense of justice. These hostile elements know full well that they cannot simply drive their tanks and finish the Jewish story once and for all. Firstly, because these Israelis have an unpleasant tendency to unite and defend themselves when faced with real dangers. And secondly, because they still have some powerful friends who might try to stop a second Jewish holocaust.
Therefore, they understand that they first need to criminalize the Israeli-Jewish collective. They must remove that transparent layer that has covered them since Biblical times. They need to show that these are not the real Jews, but rather some Nazis in an insidious disguise. Once they manage to sufficiently demonize the Jews, they would be able to finish the job that Herr Hitler started. After all, no one in the West objected to the utter destruction inflicted upon Nazi Germany. Criminalizing the Jewish State is the only way of achieving a truly final solution of the Jewish problem.
In spiritual terms, we are witnessing a great struggle between the forces that seek to rid the world from the disturbing presence of the Jewish race and the few who understand that after the Jews will come all the others. You don't need to be a great expert to understand the open declarations of the radical Islamist leaders. They admit with total honesty that after the Jews they will go after the "Crusaders", the homosexuals, the Free Masons and so forth.
The most astounding thing is the passion with which some Israelis work to prosecute IDF soldiers, both in Israel and abroad. I find it hard to believe that they understand the real goal which they are serving. I would like to believe that most of them are fine, but hopelessly naive people, who honestly desire to remove any moral stains that may have blemished the Jews. Yet, the fact remains that these Israelis are currently assisting an enormous campaign of preparing the ground for the next Jewish holocaust.
Such people were defined by Sir Winston Churchill thus: "An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile - hoping it will eat him last."
Ehud Tokatly, 11/January/2007