Anti-Capitalist Meetup .. The Attack on Gaza: Collective Punishment is Our Collective Responsibility by NY brit expat

The Gaza Strip is a very densely populated area, whose population of more than 1.5 million people consists of 56% children. Bombing this area will, of necessity, lead to civilian deaths. There can be no justification for bombing civilian areas; this is a clear violation of international humanitarian law. Additionally, what we are seeing is a clearly disproportionate response and collective punishment of the civilian population for the actions of a few. By all accounts, those that are justifying the actions of the Israeli government and military are justifying war crimes, crimes against humanity and violations of human rights. The numbers of casualties (3 Israeli civilians have been killed and 69 Palestinians so far; today alone, 23 people in Gaza have been killed, 14 of whom were women and children, see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-20386755) are deplorable and I condemn the actions of all sides responsible for the deaths of civilians in this conflict. Since these crimes are war crimes (bombing in civilian areas and collective punishment), demanding an end to the violence and demand that the perpetrators on both sides stand before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Discussing timelines in the middle of an atrocity to place blame seems to me to be an absurdity. It becomes an attempt to justify in some sense the atrocity that is taking place; that is unacceptable. It is under duress that I actually am going to do so. The history of what is happening certainly goes back further than the escalations that began on October 29th. For those that insist on more coherent timelines, here is one provided by Ali Abunimah and which discusses the attempt at an effective truce (http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/11/13/15139430-israel-gaza-agree-to-hold-fire-after-latest-round-of-fighting?lite) that was shattered by the targeted Israeli airstrike that killed one of its negotiators, Hamas military chief Ahmad al-Jabari in an extra-judicial killing. The use of assassination will scarcely be condemned by the US government, as it has used the tactic itself. This is a denial of due process; if someone has committed a crime, bring them to trial and charge them. I do not believe in the death penalty, but assassination by a government is essentially state murder. Actions such as these lead to escalations of violence, they do not reduce them.

Media Coverage

What is rather disconcerting to me is that the coverage of the international mainstream media has been atrocious. In some cases, the deaths of Palestinian civilians are not reported. If they are, the narrative places the roots of the latest violence on rockets fired from Gaza as though there is nothing else happening except that (see for e.g., : http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-20294335; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-20336811; http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/brief-truce-quickly-collapses-as-egypts-pm-visits-gaza/2012/11/16/a10d523a-2fd9-11e2-ac4a-33b8b41fb531_story.html).

However, the roots of the current crisis do not originate there; what happened on the 12th of November is the result of a series of incidents between Israel’s military and military forces in Gaza which include Palestinian civilian deaths. Just for example, on November 5th and November 8th. On November 10th, Palestinian fighters attacked an Israeli army Jeep (4 dead) on the Israeli side of the Gaza border. That led to a response by Israel hitting Gazan civilian neighbourhoods, killing 7 Palestinians (5 civilians, 3 of whom were children) and injuring 52 people (http://www.pchrgaza.org/portal/en/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=8978:new-israeli-escalation-against-the-gaza-strip-7-palestinians-including-3-children-killed-and-52-others-including-6-women-and-12-children-wounded-&catid=145:in-focus). That is, an attack on a military jeep was followed by an attack on a civilian area. That is a war crime, it nothing less than that; an attack on a military object results in a response that leads to the deaths of civilians. Nothing I am saying here is disputed. An obvious additional worry is that of a ground invasion by Israeli forces as reservists have been called up and that will set the stage for a repeat of Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9.

I am certainly not alone in my anger at biased news reporting. According to the following press release from international linguists just concluding a visit to Gaza:

“Bias and dishonesty with respect to the oppression of Palestinians is nothing new in Western media and has been widely documented. Nevertheless, Israel continues its crimes against humanity with full acquiescence and financial, military, and moral support from our governments, the U.S., Canada and the EU. Netanyahu is currently garnering Western diplomatic support for additional operations in Gaza, which makes us worry that another Cast Lead may be on the horizon. In fact, the very recent events are confirming such an escalation has already begun, as today’s death-count climbs. The lack of widespread public outrage at these crimes is a direct consequence of the systematic way in which the facts are withheld and/or of the skewed way these crimes are portrayed.

We wish to express our outrage at the reprehensible media coverage of these acts in the mainstream (corporate) media. We call on journalists around the world working for corporate media outlets to refuse to be instruments of this systematic policy of disguise. We call on citizens to inform themselves through independent media, and to voice their conscience by whichever means is accessible to them (http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/maureen-clare-murphy/linguists-including-noam-chomsky-condemn-reprehensible-gaza-coverage).”

Conclusion

Trying for neutrality is difficult in the midst of an atrocity. In fact, I think that it is inherently wrong to do so; in the midst of a conflict, I always stand with the oppressed as opposed to the oppressor and there can never be a moral equivalency between them. It cannot be legitimately argued that a more powerful military's response is reasonable or defensible when its actions and its power to continue escalating them are grossly disproportionate. Those are my beliefs. I hope that they are probably shared by members and readers of the Anti-capitalist Meetup. But, even if you accept the Israeli government narrative stated in this BBC article quoting Prime Minister Netanyahu, the response is disproportionate, and attacks on civilian centres are war crimes. So, calling for an end to rocket attacks and air strikes, an end to the violence and insistence that international law applies equally to all is the only morally acceptable position.

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Excellent post.

triv33's picture

Right on. Thank you, NY brit expat~

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Thank you!

NY brit expat's picture

I hope that people actually do read the piece and that a good discussion of what was written in the piece can happen. That possibility is often destroyed by those that have willingly blinded themselves and insist that others are blind as well. 

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I had to unfollow and block someone on my twitter feed ...

BruceMcF's picture

... from getting the Likud side of the argument.

What is the ratio of civilian deaths when Likud and the IDF is no longer the innocent put-upon party in the fight? 1:20? Seems not, as the diary notes that the ratio here is 3:60+.

Or maybe there's a discount if you claim that a missile killed a combatant ~ that is, if Likud and the IDF claim that 2 Hamas combatants were killed, at a 1:10 "collateral damage discount", that would bring the adjusted count down below 1:20.

At this point its far beyond being a slippery slope argument ... we've already slipped well down into the territory of the WWII evil SS officer in the WWII war movies. "For every one of our soliders you kill, we will kill 10 villagers."

Up at the top, before stepping onto the slippery slope, its much simpler: either annex the territory and give the residents the vote, or free the territory and raise the siege.

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Decimation ...

NY brit expat's picture

it has been like this for quite a while, people only become aware of it when the Israeli government and military begins heavy assaults as opposed to the constant general infliction of it on a "small level" so that people do not notice. 

I am wondering now that Israeli political and military leaders have used the term holocaust will the rest of us be able to use it w/o being call anti-semites or will that still be reserved only for Israeli government and military officials?  The only thing that prevents me from mentioning the names of the city of Lidice and Carthage during discussions like these is intense restraint.

 

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Finally.

downsouth's picture

I've been in a bit of despair since this whole thing began that there was no mention whatsoever of the atrocities being committed by Israel on VOTS.  I thought of writing on the subject myself, but have been very, very involved keeping up with my friends in Gaza, one of whom (so far) has been killed by Israeli bombs.

When I see pictures of dead children, murdered by the Israeli war machine, and then click over here and see Lewis Black...well, lets just say its disconcerting.  Not that theres anything wrong with Lewis Black, mind you.  Anyway.  Thank you very much for highlighting this story, and doing so without kowtowing to Israel as so many have done.

#GazaUnderAttack

#FreeGaza

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There actually are rules of warfare

geomoo's picture

In theory, the rules of law are intended to apply to every combatant even in situations in which one side enjoys extremely superior force.  In practice, what we have seen in recent years is one-sided "warfare" in which the dominant side violates the rules of war on a routine basis while accusing the other side of terrorism.

While international law is currently somewhat behind the challenges of one-sided warfare, such as addressing drones, the traditional laws of war do deal specifically with a couple of aspects to the current situation.  The following is based on LOAC (Law of Armed Conflict) as taken from the website usmilitary.com.  The U.S. is committed legally and procedurally to observe the LOAC.  The goal:

The LOAC arises from a desire among civilized nations to prevent unnecessary suffering and destruction while not impeding the effective waging of war. A part of public international law, LOAC regulates the conduct of armed hostilities....

 

Here is the relevant documentation of legal obligations for compliance:

DoDD 5100.77DoD Law of War Program, requires each military department to design a program that ensures LOAC observance,  violations, appropriately trains all forces in LOAC, and completes a legal review of new weapons.

and

In particular, military personnel must consider LOAC to plan and execute operations and must obey LOAC in combat. Those who violate LOAC may be held criminally liable for war crimes and court-martialed under the Uniform Code of Military Justice(UCMJ).

The LOAC specifies three criteria on which to assess whether violence is in violation of the laws of warfare:  "military necessity, distinction, and proportionality."  Some also add "humanity" to the list.  It is possible to argue coherently that Israel has not violated any of these criteria, but it seems to me that such arguments require ignoring the severely assymetrical power of the two sides.

The notion of proportionality is defined by the 1907 Hague Conventions:

According to the doctrine, a state is legally allowed to unilaterally defend itself and right a wrong provided the response is proportional to the injury suffered. The response must also be immediate and necessary, refrain from targeting civilians, and require only enough force to reinstate the status quo ante.

The LOAC states:

prohibits the use of any kind or degree of force that exceeds that needed to accomplish the military objective.

The LOAC states that discrimination

means discriminating between lawful combatant targets and noncombatant targets such as civilians, civilian property, POWs, and wounded personnel who are out of combat. The central idea of distinction is to only engage valid military targets. An indiscriminate attack is one that strikes military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction. Distinction requires defenders to separate military objects from civilian objects to the maximum extent feasible. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to locate a hospital or POW camp next to an ammunition factory.

The gray areas in the law permit people to find legal defenses of Israeli actions.  For most sensible people, even assuming that every Israeli strike is carefully targetted to include at least one known militant, the ratio of civilian deaths to valid military targets does seem obviously skewed enough to indicate a clear violation of both these requirements for legal warfare.

The bottom line seems to me that such dry analyses as the above can only find that the actions of Israel are reasonable by denying the underlying reality of the situation--a vastly superior military force operating against what the author has rightly called an oppressed people.

Here is Marc Falkoff discussing one-sided warfare.  He begins with the over-all contention that liberal sensibility, in failing to understand the similarities between torture and one-sided warfare, suffers an incoherence that weakens their arguments against torture both logically and practically:

… But we must still ask ourselves why the liberal consensus that is so impressively mobilized in defense of the anti-torture norm should not show comparable interest in the gross moral outrages associated with one-sided warfare that impact on far more lives, indeed on entire societies. . . .

Falk describes the effect of this apparent blindness to the reality of one-sided warfare:

What is at stake here is the whole attitude of the political culture toward the use of violence against vulnerable people, whether singly as in torture situations or collectively as in instances of one-sided warfare. My contention is that there exists a self-serving split consciousness associated with liberal legality that is properly sensitive to abuses directed at individuals while being morally far less unconcerned with the abusive structure of warfare, which inflicts collective punishment on a massive scale, especially as between rivals of grossly unequal technological capabilities. This split explains the absence of mainstream political debate surrounding the defense budget, reliance on nuclear weaponry, and the way force is used against distant, darker peoples.  This split is particularly glaring in the post-9/11 world with its focus on counter-terrorism. In effect, one-sided warfare combines the worst features of torture and terrorism, if the latter is associated, as it should be with the use and scale of political violence against the innocent.….

Finally, Falk describes the differences and relevant similarites between torture and one-sided warfare, underlining the liberal need to establish coherence between their views on the two issues:

In these respects, one-sided war is different than torture. War can under certain conditions be lawful, and in very rare circumstances, moral (as in the war against fascism or in certain wars of liberation), and international law is deficient in its failure to condemn one-sided war directly. It does condemn partially, if ineffectually, and indirectly, through the general rules of customary international law that prohibit the use of force against civilians and non-military targets. But deference to ‘military necessity’ is so strong in war settings as to make these restraints virtually irrelevant. Beyond this, the self-defense loophole in relation to war, combined with the veto power of the permanent members of the UN Security Council, effectively grants an exemption from the law of the Charter with respect to war making by geopolitical actors, and in the present historical setting, especially to the United States. If this was not enough, there is no effort whatsoever to regulate one-sided warfare, and effectively, international law and morality do not challenge or even debate the acquisition or reliance upon one-sided military superiority. Such issues never arose in the public discussion of either ‘successful’ recent instance of one-sided warfare: Gulf War I or Kosovo War.  Indeed, the American commentary on such one-sidedness is generally celebratory in tone, an attitude inscribed in Western political consciousness in colonialist settings where greatly outnumbered European troops prevailed over the indigenous masses in Asia, Africa, and the Americas, compiling favorable casualty ratios of anywhere from 1:100 to 1:1000. What I am arguing here is that the prohibition of ‘torture’ has been benevolently inscribed in the political mentality of liberal legality, but the reliance on one-sided warfare stirs no comparable moral concern. Is this a reflection of the legalist side of a political consciousness that reacts so strongly to torture because there exists a valid, widely endorsed legal norm? Or is this better understood as an expression of the liberal side of the political consciousness that defers to political realism when it comes to matters of war and security? It would seem that both elements are to varying degrees present, allowing such cognitive dissonance to pass virtually unnoticed.

snip

There is a further dimension that is relevant here. The normative incoherence of the liberal repudiation of torture combined with an acquiescence in nuclearism and onesided warfare, is perceived understandably by much of public opinion as either inexplicable or a display of hypocrisy. In contrast, militarists and conservatives who accept the postulates of sovereignty as the foundation of security, are free from such ambiguity. They enjoy the benefits of normative coherence. If it is okay to bomb cities, adopt a doctrine of ‘total war,’ and celebrate victories in one-sided wars, then it is surely acceptable to ‘torture’ for the sake of avoiding that omni-present ticking bomb or to save American lives. And to the extent that liberal energies are devoted to showing that there will never be a ticking-bomb or that such tactics do not save American lives, it often becomes a losing game. If the argument against torture is made to rest ultimately on facts and contextual interpretation rather than on the unconditional moral authority of the norm it can never be won, except verbally, and we have seen that this doesn’t count for much.

I believe Falk's discussion brings clarity to the frustration many of us feel when watching our liberal allies acquiesce and even embrace policies and behavior which others of us find equally as reprehensible and as illegal as torture of individuals.  Perhaps most disturbing is how little interest there is in clarifying the moral, legal, and humane aspects of conflict between forces with vastly different power and organization, given that such one-sided conflict has become commonplace in the current era.

Here, Falk discusses one-sidedness wrt recent Israeli violence against Gaza:

. . .This spectacle of one-sided war in which Israel decides how much violence to unleash, and Gaza waits to be struck, firing off militarily meaningless salvos of rockets as a gesture of resistance, represents a shameful breakdown of civilization values. These [HAMAS] rockets do spread fear and cause trauma among Israeli civilians even when no targets are struck, and represent an unacceptable tactic. Yet such unacceptability must be weighed against the unacceptable tactics of Israel that holds all the cards in the conflict. It is truly alarming that now even the holiest of cities, Jerusalem, is threatened with attacks, but the continuation of oppressive conditions for the people of Gaza, inevitably leads to increasing levels of frustration, in effect, cries of help that world has ignored at its peril for decades. These are survival screams! To realize this is not to exaggerate! To gain perspective, it is only necessary to read a recent UN Report that concludes that the  uninhabitable by 2020.

 

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thank you

NY brit expat's picture

This is an excellent and important comment which I am hoping that many will see as it gets to the essence of the matter. Thank you so much for contributing it to this discussion.

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I am sorry that it took so long!

NY brit expat's picture

I have not been well and this is the first time I could sit down and write on this issue for which I apologise.  I pre-empted what supposed to go up on the AC meetup as it was essential that this atrocity is addressed. I am beyond angry and heartsick, I wrote the piece on the question of war crimes rather than ethnic cleansing which is how I wanted to write the piece originally for the purpose of trying to get people to sit and think about international humanitarian law and human rights; getting people to listen is often difficult.

My deepest condolences on the death of your friend; there is nothing I can say which will ease the loss. The only thing I can offer is solidarity and words that may help to build the fight against war crimes and crimes against humanity and to hold all countries that utilise these measures accountable.

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