July 31, 2006

A Lawless World: How Israel Gets Away with Murder

by Rodrigue Tremblay

 

 

"I think it would be a mistake to ascribe moral equivalence to civilians who die as the direct result of malicious terrorist acts, [and those who died because of] Israel's military action." John Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations

 

“I am shocked and deeply distressed by the apparently deliberate targeting by Israeli Defense Forces of a U.N. Observer post in southern Lebanon,”

Kofi Annan, United Nations Secretary-general

 

"All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for the good people to do nothing."

Edmund Burke (1729-1797) British statesman

 

 

The list of war crimes and of crimes against humanity perpetrated by the government of Israel is very long and getting longer by the day.

 

The last series of crimes took place when Israel, a country of 6 million people, bombed the population of Lebanon, in mid-July 2006, using artillery-fired cluster munitions in populated areas of Lebanon, a more or less defenseless country of 3.8 million people. It is well known that cluster munitions cannot be used in populated areas without huge loss of civilian life. The organization Human Rights Watch believes that the use of cluster munitions in populated areas may violate the prohibition on indiscriminate attacks contained in international humanitarian law. Also, Lebanon's President Emile Lahoud has accused Israel of using phosphorous bombs and laser bombs against civilians and children, in its attacks against Lebanon.

 

In Lebanon, Israeli military forces have been bombing villages, homes, apartment buildings, bridges, highways, -firing at buses and ambulances and at Red Cross medics, and even deliberately murdering United Nations observers, in a demonstrable example of disproportionate and criminal use of military force.

 

No argument of self-defense could ever be evoked to justify such widespread killing and destruction. The right of self-defense does not allow a country to use the pretext of small border skirmishes to launch an all-out asymmetrical war of aggression against a weaker country. This was the argument used by Nazi Germany to attack other countries, such as Norway and Poland, in the late 1930's.

 

That argument was rejected by the Nuremberg Tribunal, which proclaimed anew the 1837 Caroline Clause of international law, that reserves the right of self-defense only to situations when the requirements of self-defense are  "overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation,”  and the act of self-defense  "must be limited by that necessity, and kept clearly within it.” In order words, the exercise of the right of self-defense must meet the double test of urgent necessity, i.e. when there is an impossibility of negotiations and other methods to resolve a conflict, and of proportionality, i.e the military means deployed must be proportional to the pending threat.

 

Nevertheless, contrary to all evidence, the U. S. Congress, in an  obvious move to circumvent the U.S. Arms Export Control Act which makes it an obligation for foreign countries receiving weapons from the U. S. to use them solely for defensive purposes or to maintain internal security, voted a resolution, on July 20, 2006, proclaiming that Israel was using weapons for "defensive purposes." In the Senate, the vote was unanimous; in the House, the vote was 410 to 8.

 

At Nuremberg, in 1946, the American government, through its chief prosecutor, Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, took the following position: "Our position is that whatever grievances a nation may have, however objectionable it finds the status quo, aggressive warfare is an illegal means for settling those grievances or for altering those conditions." In other words, a war of aggression is never permissible under international law. [By the way, such observations also apply to the Bush-Cheney administration and its war of aggression in Iraq. This is a question that I will cover in a special article next week.]

 

As recently as 1981, the United States government, under President Ronald Reagan, reaffirmed its commitment to international law and to the validity of the Caroline Clause as a firmly established element of international law. Indeed, on June 7, 1981, when Israel launched a strike against Iraq's Tamuz 1 reactor that was under construction, this was an example of an unlawful act of preventive war, forbidden by the Caroline Clause. On June 19, 1981, with American support, Resolution 487 of the U.N. Security Council was adopted unanimously. It condemned Israel because it considered that its unilateral move endangered peace and was contrary to international law, besides being a clear violation of the Charter of the United Nations. The fact that the Bush-Cheney administration does not follow in President Reagan's footsteps, and has condoned the Olmert's government decision to bomb and invade Lebanon indicates how extreme and lawless the current American administration is.

 

The United Nations Charter has also incorporated this jurisprudence about international self-defense, in its article 51, which  affirms a country's "inherent right of individual or collective self-defense" against a major armed attack, but only until the Security Council has taken measures to restore peace and security. In other words, under traditional international law (Caroline Clause), under the standard of the Nuremberg Tribunal and under the U. N. Charter, the right of self-defense cannot be used as a pretext to launch an unlimited open war against another country. The argument used by the Olmert Israeli government to launch a war of destruction against the sovereign country of Lebanon, after a relatively minor border skirmish, is a red herring that would most likely be rejected by a court of law.

 

Because of all of this, allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Israeli government are serious and cannot be dismissed out of hand. They are numerous, well-documented and very compelling. It is a fair assessment that Israeli leadership could be brought before an international tribunal and accused of violating international law and humanitarian law. Indeed, articles 48, 51 and 57 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions make it a crime to carry indiscriminate attacks against a civilian population. That is precisely what the Israeli government has done against the civilian population of Lebanon, resulting in as many as 600 civilian deaths, one third of them children.

 

In Gaza, the Israeli army has also destroyed power stations and has imposed a blockade on the civilian population, depriving them of the means of subsistence. In other words, Israel has turned Gaza into an open-sky prison for its inhabitants. In Lebanon, the Israeli army has pummeled the civilian airport of Beirut, and destroyed roads, bridges, power and water supply stations all over the country. Both instances represent deliberate destruction of civilian economic infrastructures and are in direct violation of article 54 of the 1977 additions to the Geneva Conventions and are considered war crimes.

 

Moreover, let us keep in mind that Israel is a repeat delinquent in its propensity to attack and kill civilians. —That worsens its case. For example, on April 18, 1996, the Israeli government of Shimon Peres launched rockets and bombs on a United Nations camp, in Cana, a village located southeast of the Lebanese city of Tyre, killing 106 people, and  injuring 116, among them four United Nations soldiers seriously hurt. Incredibly, Cana is the same Lebanese village that the Israelis destroyed a second time, on Sunday, July 30, 2006, slaughtering 56 people, at least 34 of them children. —In 1996, this was no accident as it was no accident either in 2006. In both cases, the world was witnessing murderous crimes against humanity.

 

History repeats itself. —In 1996, after U.N. Secretary-General B. Boutros-Ghali said he was shocked and horrified at Israel's shelling of the United Nations post, the Bill Clinton administration rebuked him. Soon afterwards, the Clinton administration made it known that it opposed the reelection of Boutros-Ghali for a second term. —In 2006, the Bush-Cheney administration blocked a U. N. resolution of blame against Israel for its killing in Lebanon. In fact, both George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert laughed at U. N. Secretary General Kofi Annan when he called for a stop to the killing. Now that Mr. Annan has denounced the recent acts of Israeli rampage, it is to be expected that the Bush-Cheney administration will do its utmost to undermine his authority,.

 

Regarding these more recent Israeli killings of civilians in Lebanon, the U. N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and former Canadian Supreme Court Justice, Louise Arbour, has said: “... under international criminal law, [those responsible] may incur personal criminal responsibility for these actions." —But, as a law professor put it, “In my opinion, yes, there appear to have been war crimes committed [in Lebanon] related to civilians, but the reality is there won’t be any prosecutions.” Indeed, neither Israel nor Lebanon is a party to the new International Criminal Court and it is improbable that the U. N. Security Council would exercise its power to refer cases to it because of the expected opposition and veto of the United States. Indeed, the American government has been complicit to Israel's war crimes for a very long time, using its veto at the U. N. countless times.

 

That is the crux of the problem with international law: How to indict and punish the guilty parties of barbaric crimes against humanity, when they are in power?

 

On the one hand, it is obvious that those who plan and carry out acts of so-called stateless terrorism, that result in the killing of civilians are criminals who should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, once they are caught. The fact that such terrorists belong to illegal organizations and often hide in remote areas, should not place them out of reach of the law. On the other hand, it is also true that when established states engage in state terrorism and start murdering civilians, their leaders can be more easily identified and could ultimately be brought to justice.

 

It was easy to do so at the Nuremberg trials, for instance, because the Germans and the Japanese had been defeated and their leaders were in prison. But, what if the alleged war criminals are not in prison and are rather heavily armed, as it is clearly the case with Israeli politicians and generals? Moreover, what about a situation where they are protected and shielded from prosecution by powerful interests, such as the case with the Bush-Cheney administration when it protects Israeli politicians and military personnel from international prosecution?

 

Well, the world is not completely at the mercy of war criminals. The international community could begin by ostracizing the countries that have alleged war criminals as leaders, if such countries refuse to indict and judge them. Indeed, it has been proposed many times that countries or rogue states whose leaders do not respect any international standard of morality and who engage in crimes against humanity should be suspended or even excluded from the United Nations. At the very least, the General Assembly should pass a vote of blame against any country systematically violating the basic principles contained in the U. N. Charter, the principles contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or who engage in repeated violations of international and humanitarian law.

 

In the case of Israel, its very admission  into the United Nations on May 11, 1949 (General Assembly resolution 273), was conditional to its respect of the obligations contained in the U. N. Charter and to its fulfillment of U. N. Resolution 194 of December 11, 1948, which calls for the Palestinian refugees to be able to return to their homes or be justly compensated.

 

In reality, the United Nations—and international law for that matter—have been paralyzed by article 27 of the U. N. Charter which creates a permanent right of veto for a few countries, a privilege that has been used and abused by some to  prevent the U. N. from ensuring that the principles of its Charter be respected by its own members. —Article 27 of the U. N. Charter is an important source of instability and lawlessness in the world.

 

In its present form, the United Nations is in no position to exclude those countries that are guilty of not respecting its principles. Moreover, the absolute veto clause for some countries is responsible for the inability of the U. N. Security Council to take necessary and concrete measures “to maintain international peace and security,” as called for in Article 51 of the U. N. Charter. —As human affairs go, however, the world would probably have to suffer a great cataclysm before proceeding with the needed reform of the world body and the establishment of a truly effective international criminal system.

 

 

Rodrigue Tremblay is professor emeritus of economics at the University of Montreal and can be reached at rodrigue.tremblay@yahoo.com.

He is the author of the book 'The New American Empire'.

Visit his blog site atwww.thenewamericanempire.com/blog.

Author's Website: www.thenewamericanempire.com/

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Posted on July 31, 2006, at 6:30 a.m.

 

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