Posted by: sean | August 12, 2006

The London Review on Lebanon and Israel

The London Review has updated, and there are several articles about Lebanon and Israel, including Yitzhak Laor on the IDF and Charles Glass on Hizbollah. There is also a good article by Michael Byers on the limits of self-defence:

‘I entirely understand the desire, and indeed need, for Israel to defend itself properly,’ Tony Blair said on 14 July. ‘As a sovereign nation, Israel has every right to defend itself,’ George W. Bush said on 16 July. By the time these statements were made, the IDF had bombed Beirut?s international airport, destroyed roads, bridges, power stations and petrol stations, and imposed an air and sea blockade. The Israeli army chief of staff, General Dan Halutz, had promised to ‘turn back the clock in Lebanon by twenty years’. All this in response, ostensibly, to the capture of two Israeli soldiers and the killing of eight others by Hizbullah militants on 12 July.

The right of self-defence identified by Blair and Bush is part of international law. Which makes two conclusions possible: either this area of international law is so elastic as to be inoperative; or it is being interpreted by Blair and Bush in an untenable way. …

Then there is international humanitarian law, which both Hizbullah and Israel have violated. These rules are set out in the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which Israel ratified in 1951. The direct targeting of civilians is categorically prohibited, and this includes acts or threats of violence intended to spread terror or impose collective punishment. Indiscriminate attacks are proscribed. Above all, individual targets may be selected only if the direct military advantage anticipated from the strike exceeds the expected harm to civilians or civilian objects. Hizbullah?s rocket attacks, which have been aimed in the general vicinity of Israeli cities and towns rather than at specific military targets, are illegal.

So too are many of Israel’s attacks. More than seven hundred Lebanese civilians have been killed to date, most of them women and children. Some were struck by missiles as they fled for safety. Others were hit because blasted roads, bridges and petrol stations had made it impossible for them to flee. More died when Israel dropped bombs in densely populated neighbourhoods. Even more are dying now as hospitals, water filtration plants and sewage treatment facilities struggle with power shortages. In no circumstance may attacks on civilians or civilian infrastructure be justified by similar violations on the other side. The horrors of Qana, where dozens of Lebanese civilians died in a single precision air-strike, cannot be balanced by lost Israeli lives.

It has been suggested that Israel’s actions are aimed at turning the Lebanese population against Hizbullah. A similar kind of thinking was popular during the Second World War, as evidenced by the firebombing of Dresden, Hamburg and several cities in Japan. It re-emerged shortly before the 2003 Iraq war in the language of ‘shock and awe’. But military action undertaken with such an intention was rejected during the negotiation of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, and remains illegal. It’s also wrong-headed, since people who have been attacked are more likely to blame their attackers than anyone else.

International humanitarian law forbids methods of warfare that cause ‘unnecessary suffering or superfluous injury’. For this reason, Hizbullah’s use of rockets packed with ball-bearings is illegal, while Israel?s reliance on cluster bombs, fuel-air explosives, white phosphorus (as a weapon rather than for illumination) and depleted uranium is immoral and quite possibly also illegal.

Finally, there’s the death of the four UN observers, struck by a precision-guided bomb in a highly visible, long-established post located on a barren hilltop ? after Israeli forces had been warned repeatedly that their projectiles were falling perilously close by. It’s easy to suspect that the attack was deliberate, perhaps intended to force the UN to withdraw its other observers from the area, which it duly did. It may even have been designed to dissuade countries from offering troops for the international force being championed by Tony Blair ? a force that, if it’s ever created, will take months to deploy. If the killing of the observers was deliberate, it would constitute a clear violation of international humanitarian law.

Violations of these various rules constitute war crimes, which are subject to universal jurisdiction in the sense that the perpetrators may be prosecuted in any country’s domestic courts. This raises the possibility of trials if they are foolish enough to travel abroad and the local authorities brave enough to arrest them. The Israeli justice minister, Haim Ramon, will wish to be particularly careful. On 27 July, he said that civilians had been given ample warning and ‘all those now in south Lebanon are terrorists who are related in some way to Hizbullah.’ Unfortunately, there?s no possibility of prosecutions in the International Criminal Court, since neither Israel nor Lebanon has ratified the court’s statute, and the United States would veto any attempt by the Security Council to use its power to send the matter there.

The absence of a reliable mechanism for prosecuting Hizbullah and Israeli leaders is less serious, however, than the support that Bush and Blair have given to clear violations of international law and the Geneva Conventions. The long-term viability of these rules depends on the willingness of politicians ? and the general public ? to speak out in defence of international law.



    Demand an Immediate International Criminal Tribunal for Israel to Stop Global War!

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    Please Sign Your Full Name!


    To: The United Nations General Assembly
    The brutal bombings and invasion of Lebanon and Gaza are acts of Israeli state terrorism. The U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the present U.S.-Israeli threat to Syria and Iran indicate their ruthless struggle for hegemony in the oil-rich Middle East, which would escalate into a global war.

    At least 900 people have been killed in Lebanon, more than one-third children, and 3,000 wounded. The number of refugees in Lebanon has already exceeded one million. Whole residential areas, roads, bridges, ports, power stations, factories and other infra-structure have been destroyed by Israeli precision bombing. Lebanon?s economic and infrastructure damage tops $2.5B as of 4 August 2006.

    In Gaza hundreds have been killed. Homes, greenhouses, bridges, water and sewerage treatment plants and electricity generators have been destroyed in the latest acts of Israeli genocide sadistically code-named ?Operation Summer Rain,? which began on 27 June 2006. Israel continues its brutal air strikes on the Gaza Strip almost daily.

    Israel must be prosecuted immediately for its war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide against the Peoples of Lebanon and Palestine to stop the war escalating into a global catastrophe. Frances A. Boyle, Professor of Law, University of Illinois, has asserted the legal framework for The United Nations General Assembly to immediately establish an International Criminal Tribunal for Israel (ICTI).

    ?The United Nations General Assembly must immediately establish an International Criminal Tribunal for Israel (ICTI) as a ?subsidiary organ? under U.N. Charter Article 22. The ICTI would be organized along the lines of the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY), which was established by the Security Council.

    ?The purpose of the ICTI would be to investigate and prosecute Israeli war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide against the Peoples of Lebanon and Palestine–just as the ICTY did for the victims of international crimes committed by Serbia and the Milosevic Regime throughout the Balkans.

    ?The establishment of ICTI would provide some small degree of justice to the victims of Israeli war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide against the Peoples of Lebanon and Palestine–just as the ICTY has done in the Balkans. Furthermore, the establishment of ICTI by the U.N. General Assembly would serve as a deterrent effect upon Israeli leaders such as Prime Minister Olmert, Defense Minister Peretz, Chief of Staff Halutz and Israel?s other top generals that they will be prosecuted for their further infliction of international crimes upon the Lebanese and the Palestinians.

    ?Without such a deterrent, Israel might be emboldened to attack Syria with the full support of the Likhudnik Bush Jr. Neoconservatives, who have always viewed Syria as ?low-hanging fruit? ready to be taken out by means of their joint aggression.

    ?The Israeli press has just reported that the Bush Jr administration is encouraging Israel to attack Syria. If Israel attacks Syria as it did when it invaded Lebanon in 1982, Iran has vowed to come to Syria?s defense.

    ?And of course Israel and the Bush Jr administration very much want a pretext to attack Iran. This scenario could readily degenerate into World War III.

    ?For the U.N. General Assembly to establish ICTI could stop the further development of this momentum towards a regional if not global catastrophe.?

    We, the undersigned, demand that The United Nations General Assembly immediately establish an International Criminal Tribunal for Israel (ICTI) as a ?subsidiary organ? under U.N. Charter Article 22 to prosecute the Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, Defense Minister Peretz, Chief of Staff Halutz and Israel?s other top generals and war criminals for their infliction of international war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide against the Peoples of Lebanon and Palestine.


    The Undersigned

    View Current Signatures


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  2. Sean,

    I recommend reading “New and Old Wars: Organized Violence in a Global Era” by Mary Kaldoor, the professor of civil society at LSE.

    The book should help bring some light into how we are to come to grips with the “new wars” (mixture of war, organized crime and massive violations of human rights) out there.

    What’s at stake:
    Is it even possible to institutionalize extant international/human rights law if warfare itself is qualitatively different than it has been in the past? If so, is it time to rework the entire logic and framework of the Geneva Conventions? How can we assess the definition of the current situations?.. etc etc.

    It is really an excellent read. Yet, perhaps the bigger question is: how can the world ever achieve the Rule of Law with a hegemonic cowboy running around?


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