Friday, August 1, 2014

Why Israelis may have committed War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity in their assault on civilians in Gaza

During the last presidential election, Mitt Romney was caught on video telling things to a room full of fat cat donors that he wouldn't want anyone else to see. The Fox News Channel developed stories that only its viewers heard about, including the bogus stories that Obama was born in Kenya and the Affordable Care Act would bankrupt the country.

This stereoptic vision of reality has always existed when two opposing political parties try to sway public opinion. But it is particularly destructive when two opposing armies are exchanging bullets and bombs. This week, we have seen that the Israeli press has neglected to inform its readers that a bomb struck a UN school site, killing 16 and injuring more than 100 people, many of them children. The UN gave Israel the coordinates of this building because many people, whom the Israelis told to leave their homes, were sheltered there.

The bombing of the school made front-page headlines all over the world, but I searched in vain for the story in the English version of the online Israel Times. The French and Arabic versions of the same newspaper put the story on the front page along with pictures of huge smoke clouds billowing high into the air. This disconnect between differing versions of the same newspaper is extraordinary, as if Fox News had another channel where it tells the truth about birth certificates and federal budgets, but makes up lies about the character and family life of Republicans.

The situation is hardly humorous, however. One result of such an echo chamber--where Israelis only hear one side of the issues, repeated over and over again--is that 83 percent of them approve the government's latest incursion against a civilian population in Gaza. They firmly believe that the military attacks are a necessary response to an incident where three Israeli students were kidnapped and later found murdered.

The Israelis believe that the students were murdered by the political group Hamas, although no proof has ever been shown for this theory and no trial has ever been held to convict the murderers, as one might expect in a democratic country. Instead of investigating the incident, finding and then punishing the perpetrators, the government of Israel has assumed that the entire Palestinian people are responsible and has been slaughtering them by the hundreds for weeks.

There is no conceivable explanation for the Israeli attacks that does not leave the Israeli government guilty of crimes against humanity. But the Israeli people apparently do not know what constitutes a crime against humanity under international law, chiefly described by the Geneva Accords and the Rome Statute. Israel has not ratified the Rome Statute, but its leadership could still be indicted by the International Criminal Court for their violations of it.

The causes for indicting the Israeli government officials who started this military action are the following:

1. Genocide.  Under the terms of the Rome Statute, article 6, a person commits the crime of genocide by killing, injuring, or oppressing a person or persons with the intention of destroying in whole or in part, a particular national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. The crime could also consist of driving these persons from their homes.

In the case of the bombing of the UN School, the Israeli government allegedly told people to leave their homes. That alone could be an act of genocide, but the Israelis then killed and injured large numbers of these people in a place where they had taken refuge.

2. Crimes against humanity. Murder. Under the terms of the Rome Statute (see above), article 7, a person commits the crime against humanity of murder when he or she kills a person or persons in the context of an attack on a civilian population while participating knowingly in such an attack.

The actual killers in the case of the UN school bombing may not have known that they were attacking civilians. But the UN asserts that it repeatedly informed the Israeli military command of the coordinates of places of refuge, including the particular UN school that was bombed. The Israeli military command was therefore guilty of a crime against humanity for not informing members of the attacking army that they must not attack these places where civilians were seeking refuge.

3. Crimes against humanity. Extermination. A person is guilty of this crime if he or she killed civilians as part of a mass killing of members of a civilian population.

In this case, a person can be guilty of extermination if he or she kills a civilian. The victim does not need to be of a particular nationality or religion; he or she only needs to be a civilian in an attack where numerous civilians are killed.

The list of crimes against humanity with which the Israeli leadership may be charged goes on, but enough has been asserted here to warrant an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC). In addition, they may have committed War Crimes under section 8 of the Rome Statute. It is possible, indeed likely, that opponents of Israel have committed similar violations of international laws, but nothing in the law permits a government to retaliate against such crimes by perpetrating similar crimes of their own. The interdiction of such crimes is absolute. No excuse is considered a valid reason for committing genocide or a crime against humanity.

People have become inured to the commission of war crimes by their continual exposure to films, written materials, and other forms of propaganda that all maintain that crimes against humanity may be justified. The U.S. Government under President Bush even attempted to make a new legal definition of torture to evade responsibility for committing a war crime under the Geneva Conventions, which explicitly banned torture of enemy prisoners of war. People have even come to believe that torture may be necessary under certain extreme circumstances. This general denial of the justice of prosecuting people for commission of war crimes, genocide, or crimes against humanity represents a backward step in our progress toward a world where each person is recognized as a fellow human being with all the rights that adhere to that recognition.

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