Sunday, December 28, 2008

War crimes in a Festival of Darkness

Juan Cole, 
Informed Comment: 
Israel blames Hamas for primitive homemade rocket attacks on the nearby Israeli city of Sederot. In 2001-2008, these rockets killed about 15 Israelis and injured 433, and they have damaged property. In the same period, Gazan mortar attacks on Israel have killed 8 Israelis.

Since the second Intifada broke out in 2000, Israelis have killed nearly 5000 Palestinians, nearly a thousand of them minors. Since fall of 2007, Israel has kept the 1.5 million Gazans under a blockade, interdicting food, fuel and medical supplies to one degree or another. Wreaking collective punishment on civilian populations such as hospital patients denied needed electricity is a crime of war.

The Israelis on Saturday killed 5% of all the Palestinians they have killed since the beginning of 2001! 230 people were slaughtered in a day, over 70 of them innocent civilians. In contrast, from the ceasefire Hamas announced in June, 2008 until Saturday, no Israelis had been killed by Hamas. The infliction of this sort of death toll is known in the law of war as a disproportionate response, and it is a war crime.

No mention of course about the fact that Israel -- with international support -- chose to disregard the democratic will of the Palestinian people when they elected a Hamas-led government in 2006. No mention that the siege on Gaza has been condemned by the UN as collective punishment that 'constitutes a continuing flagrant and massive violation of international humanitarian law as laid down in Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.'

Before Hamas assumed power, Gaza was notoriously lawless. Under Hamas' governance, law and order -- even with such civil niceties as traffic control -- have been established. But because Israel has been 'pelted' -- yes, that's the apt term that's used in the Israeli press -- by Quassam rocket fire ever since Israel broke the truce on November 5, Israel is now engaged in Operation Cast Lead which is systematically destroying Hamas' security structure in the name of preventing rocket fire. Oh, and never mind that most of the rockets were being launched by members of Islamic Jihad.

Just so that we can be sure that in the dwindling days of his tenure, Ehud Olmert is not being impulsive (no rerun of the 2006 war on Lebanon -- that's a relief!) Haaretz provides a highly informative description of the operation that was being planned even before Israel and Hamas entered an Egyptian-brokered 'truce.' In front of all their critics who cried out that a truce would simply give Hamas time to rearm, Olmert and Barak can now grin with satisfaction, knowing that the truce was a ruse that Israel could use while it gathered intelligence in preparation for its next war.
Image source here.