LAW VERSUS PROPAGANDA
It is said that “truth is the first casualty of war.” Every war sees propaganda put out by each party for domestic consumption, enemy consumption (comprising an aspect of psychological warfare), and international consumption, and this recent genocidal project is no different. But noticeably absent from any commentary or news reporting is how the Laws of War are being followed or broken. Accusations without evidence simply constitute propaganda, however, there is ample evidence of violations of the Laws of War in this genocidal war on Gaza that Israel call in Hebrew “Operation Strong Cliff.”
Howard S. Levie, writing for the ICRC explains:
In 1874 an international conference called by the Russian government met in Brussels and adopted the International Declaration Concerning the Laws and Customs of War, a document which contained many provisions intended to make land warfare more humane. Unfortunately, it never became effective for lack of ratifications. However, it served as one of the sources for the Regulations attached to the 1899 Convention (II) with Respect to the Laws and Customs of War on Land, drafted by the (first) International Peace Conference in The Hague. It was in the preamble to this Convention that the famous de Martens Clause made its appearance. It states:
Until a more complete code of the laws of war is issued, the High Contracting Parties think it right to declare that in cases not included in the Regulations adopted by them, populations and be lligerents remain under the protection and empire of the principles of international law, as they result from usages established between civilized nations, from the laws of humanity, and the requirements of the public conscience.
The Second International Peace Conference, held in The Hague in 1907, adopted a slightly redrafted set of the Regulations attached to the 1907 Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land.
Obviously, these laws have been breached since then, but all violations are legally referred to as “war crimes.”
Armed resistance militias – legal or not?
One of the most enduring memes of Israeli propaganda regarding Gaza is that Hamas is a “terrorist” organisation and its armed wing, the Izzeddin al-Qassam Brigades and Islamic Jihad (and other armed resistance factions) are illegal. Yet the Laws of War are clear on this point:
Annex to the Convention
REGULATIONS RESPECTING THE LAWS AND CUSTOMS OF WAR ON LAND
The Qualifications of Belligerents
The laws, rights, and duties of war apply not only to armies, but also to militia and volunteer corps fulfilling the following conditions:
To be commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;
To have a fixed distinctive emblem recognizable at a distance;
To carry arms openly; and
To conduct their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.
In countries where militia or volunteer corps constitute the army, or form part of it, they are included under the denomination “army.”
All of the resistance factions in Gaza comply with this article, so they are not “illegal” nor are they “terrorists.”
Kidnapped or Captured? Prisoners of War
The use of the word “kidnapped” by Israel and it’s propagandists is intended to equate soldiers with civilians. It is an emotive word that is associated with fear, surprise and is a criminal act. However, the Laws of War Chapter II clearly provides for capture of enemy soldiers in a time of war and the manner of their treatment in said captivity. Soldiers are captured, not “kidnapped.”
Means of Injuring the Enemy: Legitimate and Illegitimate Targets
Section II on Hostilities in sieges and bombardments delineates what are and are not legitimate targets. Those that are defined as forbidden are illegitimate targets, and an army so targeting and destroying them commit a war crime. It should be noted that each act of targeting and destroying an illegitimate or protected person, place or thing constitutes a separate war crime.
It is very clearly stated in Article 22:
The right of belligerents to adopt means of injuring the enemy is not unlimited.
Article 23 makes clear what is forbidden – outside the bounds of the law within a hot war:
In addition to the prohibitions provided by special Conventions, it is especially forbidden –
To employ poison or poisoned weapons;
To kill or wound treacherously individuals belonging to the hostile nation or army;
To kill or wound an enemy who, having laid down his arms, or having no longer means of defence, has surrendered at discretion;
To declare that no quarter will be given;
To employ arms, projectiles, or material calculated to cause unnecessary suffering;
To make improper use of a flag of truce, of the national flag or of the military insignia and uniform of the enemy, as well as the distinctive badges of the Geneva Convention;
To destroy or seize the enemy’s property, unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war;
To declare abolished, suspended, or inadmissible in a court of law the rights and actions of the nationals of the hostile party. A belligerent is likewise forbidden to compel the nationals of the hostile party to take part in the operations of war directed against their own country, even if they were in the belligerent’s service before the commencement of the war.
Israel have intentionally targeted civilians, and have admitted to using flechette shells (which are specifically calculated to cause unnecessary suffering), and is alleged to use DIME weapons that also cause unnecessary suffering both immediately and in the future since it causes cancer later if the victim even survives their injuries.
Article 25 states what are forbidden to target and destroy, as well as conditions or circumstances in which they become legitimate military targets:
The attack or bombardment, by whatever means, of towns, villages, dwellings, or buildings which are undefended is prohibited.
While Israel’s military have many laser-guided rockets and missiles donated by the Americans, as well as tanks, Israeli government boast often about its “precision” targeting ability. One cannot help notice the overwhelming destruction of undefended civilian dwellings and other protected buildings and facilities that have been destroyed by Israel. Additionally, out of six UN-run schools, Israel have attempted to distance itself and absolve itself of any responsibility by claiming that either 1) it was not actually struck by Israeli rockets, missiles or shells, or 2) that it was accidental. Considering the “precision” with which it can target and destroy something, these explanations are facile and disingenuous to say the least. And UNRWA official Christopher Guinness has stated publicly that Israel was given the precise coordinates for these facilities numerous times and struck them anyway.
Palestinian resistance factions in Gaza have none of these laser-guided rockets or missiles, fighter jets or tanks. Consequently, though they aim for military installations and infrastructure, frequently the rockets or missiles do not hit their mark and end up striking civilian –prohibited– structures. Whether this is the intention is disputed. Whether it is or is not, striking prohibited targets constitutes a war crime.
Duty to warn the enemy authorities of impending attack
Article 26 delineates the requirement of one party to warn the other in advance.
The officer in command of an attacking force must, before commencing a bombardment, except in cases of assault, do all in his power to warn the authorities.
In this modern age, with the advent of both commercial and social media, the method of “warn[ing] the authorities” is distinctly different than in 1907.
Israel have chosen a tactic that it calls “knock on roof” in which it hits an undefended civilian dwelling or other building with a missile to “warn” the inhabitants or civilians inside the building that it will be destroyed in typically one to three minutes. Alternately, fighter jets drop “leaflets” or the IOF send a text message to mobile phones ordering civilians to flee their homes and announcing that the undefended village(s), dwellings and/or buildings are about to be attacked and destroyed. This is meant to circumvent the Laws of War while appearing to abide by them, as civilians in their undefended home, or worshippers in a mosque are not “the authorities.”
What about persons who do not have a mobile phone, or whose phone battery cannot be recharged due to lack of electricity? Or whose phone is off to conserve battery life? These are important questions considering that the power plant was not fully functional or able to supply electricity 100% to all of the Gaza Strip even before this latest war, and once bombed could supply even less. And once the power lines were intentionally attacked by Israel, the transmission of electricity was cut off by Israel and fuel import limited, even less power was available to the citizens of Gaza Strip. Then finally, Israel bombed the fuel tank for the power plant, so the issue of sending a text message to civilians who have no way to charge or re-charge mobile phone batteries is a very serious one that no one has raised as of this time.
It should be noted that Israel frequently do not employ any of these “warnings” and attacks undefended civilian homes with no warning whatsoever, while there are protected persons inside.
On the other hand, it is noteworthy that while both the IDF (or more appropriately IOF) and al Qassam Brigades both have Twitter accounts (and both monitor the accounts of the other), al Qassam (which have both an English and Arabic account) announce each volley of rockets and the location to which they are directed before launching them into enemy territory. The IOF, on its official Twitter account, do not do that.
Other protected facilities
Article 27 is very clear about sparing various civilian building and civil society facilities, and when those facilities may become legitimate targets:
In sieges and bombardments all necessary steps must be taken to spare, as far as possible, buildings dedicated to religion, art, science, or charitable purposes, historic monuments, hospitals, and places where the sick and wounded are collected, provided they are not being used at the time for military purposes.
It is the duty of the besieged to indicate the presence of such buildings or places by distinctive and visible signs, which shall be notified to the enemy beforehand.
This has been and continues to be a major issue in Israel’s repeated wars on Gaza. Israel, with its “precision” munitions, have repeatedly targeted and destroyed protected facilities, claiming – without any evidence ever provided– that those so destroyed were used “for military purposes” specifically, to store weapons or house rocket-launchers. Again, no evidence of this has ever been provided, and there have been individuals who have combed thousands of photos of destroyed protected buildings and facilities in Gaza and never seen any evidence of even the slightest, that any of them were used “for military purposes:” no remains of rockets or rocket launchers.
This is an obvious pretext used by Israel to justify wanton destruction, to rationalise the targeting and destruction it wreaks in Gaza to the outside world. And this of course will be argued before the International Criminal Court if it decides to accept the complaint deposited before it on behalf of the State of Palestine.
Civilians are not legitimate targets
Civilians, those who are not part of an armed militia or take part in armed hostilities are not legitimate military targets, and to target them is a violation of international law.
Under the term “civilian” are many covered persons: families (including fathers), medical personnel (including ambulance medics and rescuers), employees of non-military facilities (historical or scientific, schools, offices, media and even religious institutions).
Yet medical facilities as well as ambulances and medics have been intentionally targeted and attacked by Israel:
As of 25 July, the Ministry of Health reported 6 hospitals and 10 PHC clinics were damaged, 34 health facilities were closed, 12 ambulances were damaged, 38 health personnel injured, and 9 medical personnel have been killed. As of 1 August, one doctor must be added to that death toll, making the total now at least 10 killed.
Hospitals and medical facilities were intentionally attacked -including a home for geriatric patients and also one for disabled persons. Israel have admitted to intentionally targeting these facilities as well as ambulances. One excuse it uses is that “terrorists” were “riding in ambulances with women and children” of course also with no evidence whatsoever for the allegation.
Media also fall under the category of civilians.
In the infamous 2009 “Cast Lead” war on Gaza and the Goldstone report alleging multiple war crimes by both Israel and Palestinian resistance, Israel decided to attempt to change the Laws of War to allow it more “freedom of action.” This did not occur and yet the same acts for which it was accused in 2009 it committed again in 2012 and now in 2014.
Human Rights Watch’s Middle East Director, Sarah Leah Whitson stated in 2012, “Under international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, journalists and media workers are civilians and therefore immune from attack unless they are directly participating in hostilities.”
Yet now in 2014, Israel have attacked and killed numerous journalists in Gaza have been killed and injured and several media buildings housing multiple media were targeted and attacked:
- al-Shorouq building (Al-Aqsa TV station, in the Alnaser neighbourhood of Gaza)
- Al-Aqsa radio station (in the El-Sheikh Radwan neighbourhood in northern Gaza.)
- National Media agency – the offices were destroyed
- Wattan Radio station – the offices were destroyed
- Aljazeera TV Channel – bullets were fired at the offices and staff were forced to evacuate [after the FM of Israel publicly threatened Aljazeera]
This cannot be considered accidental or incidental in light of the precision of Israel’s targeting ability and munitions.
In Shujaiya, civilians were instructed to flee their homes. Many did, many did not. When the intense bombardment started and continued for hours, many of those who had stayed decided to flee. Photographic and video documentation show numerous fleeing civilians that were targeted and killed in the street. This, too, cannot be considered accidental or incidental in light of the precision of Israel’s targeting ability and munitions. There is no way to mistake the small bodies of children, or those of women with Palestinian resistance fighters of any faction, especially considering Israel’s keen high-tech surveillance capabilities in Gaza with its satellites, drones and fighter jets.
Targeting civilians – those not in a militia or taking part in hostilities is a violation of the laws of war and constitutes a war crime. Women and children, and entire families being bombed, sniped or shelled on the streets, intentionally, as they were clearly fleeing is a war crime.
In all, the Laws of War were meant to limit the means of injuring enemy soldiers, protecting civilians, civilian institutions and culture. Israel have blatantly violated the Laws of War in this latest war of genocide on Gaza in 2014.