HRW improves position on Gaza/Israel, calls for suspension of some US arms to Israel

The NYC-based, private, non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch today issued a new statement on the Gaza crisis that goes a good distance toward correcting the serious errors they made in the statement they issued July 9, as I had noted here. Furthermore, today’s report explicitly calls for an end to the supply of all weaponry “to Israel, to Hamas, or to armed groups in the Gaza Strip… that has been documented or credibly alleged to have been used in violation of international humanitarian law, as well as funding or support for such material.” The report notes explicitly that “The US supplies Israel with rotary and fixed wing military aircraft, Hellfire missiles, and other munitions that have been used in illegal airstrikes in Gaza.”

Too bad that HRW, a US-based organization that, as we know, enjoys good ties (and frequently also a revolving door) with the Obama administration, buried that call for the suspension of some US arms supplies to Israel so very, very low. But still, far better to include it in this report, than not. (More details, below.)

The headline/subhead of today’s HRW statement is: “Israel/Palestine: Unlawful Israeli Airstrikes Kill Civilians/ Bombings of Civilian Structures Suggest Illegal Policy.” The headline/subhead of last week’s statement was: “Palestine/Israel: Indiscriminate Palestinian Rocket Attacks/ Israeli Airstrikes on Homes Appear to be Collective Punishment.”

HRW issued the July 9 statement less than 48 hours after Israel launched its current large-scale military assault against Gaza– under the name “Operation Solid Rock”, in Hebrew, or “Protective Edge”, in English. The statement thus constituted, as I had noted, a kneejerk rush to judgment on the rights and wrongs of the way the two sides were fighting, one that did not present any actual evidence to back up the claims it made, but that appeared to emanate much more from the political (i.e., pro-Israeli) predilections or positioning of HRW leaders, and possibly some of its analysts. Even more seriously, the legal analysis in that earlier statement was deeply flawed, since its authors seemed to endorse the arguments made by Israeli leaders that targeting commanders and fighters in Hamas or other Gaza-based resistance groups even while they were hors de combat, for example while eating, resting, or praying with their families at home, was quite okay.

Today’s statement, thankfully, corrects many or most of those dangerous errors that HRW committed last week. It is notable that today’s statement bases its analysis on actual, on-the-ground research in the form of case studies that focused on four of the civilian buildings targeted by the IDF between July 9 and July 11. Of the four, only in one case (the bombing of the Fun Time Cafe on July 11 that killed nine civilians) did the IDF allege that there was “a terrorist” located there. But, as the HRW statement noted, the Israeli military:

presented no evidence that any of those at the café, who had gathered to watch a World Cup match, were participating in military operations, or that the killing of one alleged “terrorist” in a crowded café would justify the expected civilian casualties.

In one of the other cases presented (Bureij refugee camp, July 11, two municipal workers killed), the HRW report said its researchers, “found no evidence of a military objective in the vehicle or in the area at the time.” In another (an unlocated attack on July 9 that killed a pregnant woman and her daughter), the report said that the family lived across the street from an apartment building that apparently was the prime target of the strike, but the surviving family members said they knew of none of the “warnings” that the Israelis said they had issued, or, they did not have time to flee before the attack.

In the fourth case studied, a July 10 strike on a crowded family home in the Khan Younis refugee camp that killed eight people, HRW reports that neighbors told the HRW researcher that one of those killed “was a low-ranking member of the Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas.” However, the HRW report says nothing about whether this young man had been engaged in any way in combat when he was killed. The report thus makes the serious error of seeming to endorse the Israeli government’s claim that it is “okay” to target fighters in Palestinian resistance organizations even when they are hors de combat. Here is what the report said about this incident:

The Israeli military said the attack was being investigated. Even if the son was the intended target, the nature of the attack appears indiscriminate and would in any case be disproportionate.

This is actually a very troubling statement. HRW’s own judgment, expressed here, seems to be that if the son was the intended target, then “targeting” him [even though that was not what the Israeli military said they were doing… ] even when he was hors de combat, e.g., home with his family marking Ramadan, would in itself be quite okay: The only problem was that the attack did not do enough to “discriminate” between this valid target and the “civilian” family members all around him, and caused harm to civilians that was “disproportionate” to the military advantage the attack gave to Israel.

This is wrong, wrong, wrong, and woefully misguided. How many times do we have to spell this out? The essential distinction in international law is not between “fighters” and “civilians”– which are the categories used throughout this HRW report– but between “combatants” and “noncombatants”. A fighter who is not currently engaged in either the conduct, the command, or the planning of military operations is not a combatant. He (or she) is hors de combat and is a noncombatant. It is quite illegal to target such an individual.

Now it is true that the Israeli military and the serried ranks of paid hasbaristas (propagandists) who have been trying to justify and defend its actions have tried to claim that the homes targeted by the Israelis contained secret “operations rooms” or “weapons stores” and thus constituted valid targets. But they have presented zero actual evidence of this. (Bystanders and eyewitnesses have also noted that they saw no sign of the kinds of secondary explosions that would have been seen if these homes had had any significant amount of weapons stored in them.)

The lower portion of the HRW report also usefully cites (and links to; in Hebrew) an Israeli news report that “An Israeli military official stated on July 12 that the military has targeted ‘more than 100 homes of commanders of different ranks’ in Gaza.” The HRW report comments on this, quite correctly, that, “Civilian structures such as residential homes become lawful targets only when they are being used for military purposes.” Of course, this strongly contradicts the judgment expressed earlier the Khan Younis case, that “Even if the son was the intended target,” then the main problems with the attack were merely that it “appeared” indiscriminate and was anyway disproportionate. No, HRW, the attack itself was illegal because there was no evidence provided– or even apparently sought by HRW– that the (putative) target was engaged in military activities at the time of the attack.

Down at the bottom of the statement, the four case studies are presented in much more detail. (Good work, HRW. Thanks for doing this.) Regarding the Khan Younis case, the report states baldly that, “Human Rights Watch found no evidence that any of the victims used the Hajj family home to perpetrate attacks.” Therefore, HRW, targeting it was quite illegal. Period. Getting into your arguments about “discrimination” or “proportionality” regarding that attack was extremely misleading.

The “action items” in this HRW report are strong and useful. They are considerably stronger than the action items in the rush-to-judgment report of last week. Here are the actions that today’s report calls for:

The Palestine Liberation Organization should direct President Mahmoud Abbas to seek the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute serious international crimes committed by all parties on Palestinian territory.

Governments that are providing weapons to Israel, to Hamas, or to armed groups in the Gaza Strip should suspend transfers of any materiel that has been documented or credibly alleged to have been used in violation of international humanitarian law, as well as funding or support for such material, Human Rights Watch said. The US supplies Israel with rotary and fixed wing military aircraft, Hellfire missiles, and other munitions that have been used in illegal airstrikes in Gaza.

But I wonder why HRW did not lead the report with this call? Let’s hope they get a lot more active, very soon, in urging a suspension of the supply to Israel of the kinds of US arms that have been used in these truly horrific, inhumane, and quite illegal  acts.

Open letter to the Pentagon’s Rosa Brooks

Dear Rosa:
I hope you and the family are all well. It’s been a while since we got to know you and your fabulous mother, the principled and gutsy activist Barbara Ehrenreich, when you were living in Virginia. You were still such a big human rights activist at that time.
So anyway… No polite way to phrase this… Rosa, What the heck are you doing in your current role as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense and Special Coordinator for Rule of Law and Humanitarian Policy, “running a new Pentagon office dedicated to those issues”… with regard to, primarily:

    1. The Executive Order that Pres. Obama signed March 7, in which he expressly allowed for the indefinite detention without trial of suspects in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay; and
    2. The appalling and deliberate humiliation to which warders in a U.S. Navy brig (naval prison) have been subjecting accused secrets leaker Bradley Manning.

Rosa, what on earth is going on– and what has your role been in all of this??
It is so hard to believe that you, Rosa Brooks, have been turning into John Yoo in this way. Rosa Brooks! With your long record as a consultant for Human Rights Watch, a fellow at he Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard, a board member of Amnesty International USA, for goodness sakes, and a member of the Executive Council of the American Society of International Law.
Rosa Brooks, whose newspaper columns at the L.A. Times, 2005-2009, were nearly always deeply animated by your defense of the universal rights of all persons– including the fundamental right to liberty and the right, if accused of a crime, to a fair and open trial… and the rights of all, whether incarcerated or not, to basic standards of human dignity and freedom from torture.
Sadly, the way that this September 2006 column of yours is titled on the website, now looks eerily prescient:”Rosa Brooks: Our Torturer-in-Chief.”
Rosa, please explain so that I and others can understand it: After two years of working in the Pentagon, has the evil of torture now become so routine and (as Hannah Arendt put it) “banal” for you that these latest, extremely abusive steps from the Obama administration now seem “okay” to you?
Do you see your role in the Pentagon as somehow being “to make things less bad than they would otherwise have been”? That is a common reason given by people who get sucked into doing the work of running the apparatuses of repression. (It’s also a “reason” that women who have been abused by their partners commonly give when they decide to stay with them, rather than quit.. Think about that. Are Michele Flournoy and your other bosses at the Pentagon and in the White House actually abusing you and your lengthy record of rights activism when they continue to employ you as their fig-leaf?)
Doing work of the kind you’re doing at the Pentagon is also nicely paid and (in some quarters) prestigious. But I can’t imagine that you have the excuse that your family needs the money you’re getting at the Pentagon. You were doubtless pulling in big bucks before as a law prof at Georgetown; and your husband, Peter Brooks, is not hard up, either. Nor can I believe that you “need” the prestige of working as a relatively lowly DAS at the Pentagon.
So why do you stay there at the Pentagon, providing a quasi-liberal “cover” for an administration that is, let’s face it, behaving in these matters no better than than the George W Bush administration behaved?
Rosa, please consider resigning. Your resignation from this strange office you are holding there could make a real difference. If you do it right, it could make 100 times more of a difference than you could ever hope to make if you simply stay on, tidying up some little portions of the detentions policy around the edges while continuing to act as a liberal fig-leaf there.
If you don’t resign, then that would be the saddest thing.
I wonder what your mom will think of you if stay on as “Rosa Brooks: Our Torturer-in-Chief”. I know what I would think of you.
Stay well, whatever you decide… But please, examine your soul deeply over these two latest, tragic steps.
Warm regards– Helena.

My piece in The Hill yesterday

… was here.
This was the piece I wrote Tuesday morning, that I mentioned in this JWN post later that morning. So really, you could read the two together… First, the “Hill” piece, then the blog post.
Bottom line: There is tremendous amount a successor regime in Egypt could do to support Palestinian rights and the Palestinian cause– hopefully, on the basis of a strong commitment to human rights and international law– that would not necessarily involve abrogating the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.
For 63 years now, successive governments of Israel have succeeded in keeping consideration of the political future of the Palestinians in a compartment completely separate from that of international law. (And international law itself has progressed a lot since 1948, too.) All versions of the so-called “peace process” pursued over the past 15 years have been pursued quite separately from the requirements of international law. As a result, it has been entirely devoid of any real, sustainable peacemaking. On the contrary. It has led to the caging up of the Palestinians in tens of completely separate open-air cages while the bulk of their land and heritage has continued to be stolen from them.
So quite simply, let’s return to international law. Unless the democracy movement in Egypt (and Jordan) gets completely crushed, I’m thinking this will be the central demand of the post-Mubarak government regarding the always-crucial Palestine Question. The “rule of law”, both domestically and internationally.
Of course, the prospect of any return to a rights-based, international-law-based resolution of the longrunning Palestine-Israel conflict has the vast majority of “status-quo” Israeli political figures running very scared indeed. They almost can’t imagine what life might be like if they can no longer, lazily and very comfortably reclining behind their Apartheid wall, rely on Egypt to be their shield and spear.

New report about carcinogens and fetotoxic materials in Gaza war wounded

The New Weapons Committee recently released a report of detailed biopsy studies conducted on people in Gaza injured by Israeli weapons during the Israeli assaults of summer 2006 and winter 2009. (Hat-tip Ray J.)
The NWC’s May 11 press release warns that the biopsy results indicate Israel’s use of new and potentially very worrying kinds of weapons during those assaults:

    Toxic and carcinogenic metals, able to produce genetic mutations, have been found in the tissues of people wounded in Gaza during Israeli military operations of 2006 and 2009. The research has been carried out on wounds provoked by weapons that did not leave fragments in the bodies of the victims, a peculiarity that was pointed out repeatedly by doctors in Gaza. This shows that experimental weapons, whose effects are still to be assessed, were used.
    The researchers compared the quantity of 32 elements present in the tissues through ICP/MS (a type of highly sensitive mass spectrometry) . The job, carried out by laboratories of Sapienza University of Rome (Italy), Chalmer University (Sweden) and Beirut University (Lebanon)[I think that’s a referece to the American University of Beirut ~HC], was coordinated by the New Weapons Research Group (Nwrg), an independent committee of scientists and experts based in Italy, who is studying the use of unconventional weapons and their mid-term effects on the population of after-war areas. The relevant presence of toxic and carcinogenic metals found in the wound tissues points to direct risks for survivors, but also to the possibility of environmental contamination.

Scroll further down that web-page for links to the the Word doc version of the study itself and PDF versions of the supporting materials.
Articles 22 and 23 of the 1899 Hague Conventions state the following:

    Article 22
    The right of belligerents to adopt means of injuring the enemy is not unlimited.
    Article 23
    Besides the prohibitions provided by special Conventions, it is especially prohibited:–
    To employ poison or poisoned arms;
    To kill or wound treacherously individuals belonging to the hostile nation or army;
    To kill or wound an enemy who, having laid down 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 of a nature to cause superfluous injury;
    To make improper use of a flag of truce, the national flag, or military ensigns and the enemy’s uniform, 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.

Max Blumenthal on N.Y. ‘Lawfare Project’ conference

Blumenthal went to this seven-hour conference, held Thursday by the ‘Lawfare Project’ in New York, and has written a great blog post about it at Mondoweiss.
The Lawfare Project has activities in both Israel and the U.S., that are designed primarily to discredit all those human rights activists and organizations worldwide that have criticized Israel’s actions, to criticize those provisions of the laws of war that they consider somehow “unfairly” hamper the armies of states that they judge to be “democracies”, and to work to overturn those provisions.
Sound familiar? Yes, of course these last two things were a big part of what Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby, David Addington, and John Yoo tried to do after 9/11, as well. They were arguing then– and the Lawfare Project is arguing now– that in the “unprecedented” circumstances of today’s worldwide war between the forces of “good” and of “evil”, the “old” norms and existing body of laws of war, which seek evenhanded application between all warring parties and seek to provide protections, in particular, to the citizens who are the victims of war, need urgently to be revised– and pending that, worked around.
How very sad, therefore, to see that one of the three co-chairs of Thursday’s conference was the Dean of Columbia Law School, David Schizer. Blumenthal has a seven-minute video clip from his speech, in the blog post.
Go read Blumenthal’s whole post, which is extremely well researched, as well as well written.
The flier for the conference notes that,

    This program has been approved in accordance with the requirements of the New York State Continuing Legal Education Board for a maximum of 6.5 Transitional and Non-Transitional MCLE credits: 1 Ethics and 5,5 Professional Practice.

I think it’s outrageous and tragic that the Dean of a once-fine law school like Columbia is lending his prestige to this highly anti-democratic and anti-humane campaign (a major aim of which is to trash Judge Goldstone and block demands for implementing his report.)
But at a broader level, many of the developments within the Jewish liberal establishment in the U.S. are fascinating, because we are now seeing for the first time ever, I think, sharp debates within this establishment over the morality of actions taken by the current Israeli government and also, underlying that, over the morality of many of these very same tactics and strategies as have been used in Palestine by the Zionist settler movement throughout its entire 115-year history there.

MTV-U’s Poet Laureate: Simin Behbahani

MTV (Music Television) “University” has selected Simin Behbahani, “the poet who never sold her soul or her pen,” to be its second poet laureate.
For a visually challenged 82-years-young Iranian, how cool is that?
Beginning Monday, Nov. 2nd Behbahani’s poems will be featured on MTV-U in a series of 19 short films.
Why would MTV do this? Is it political? In the The Wall Street Journal, MTV senior Vice President Ross Martin explains:

“Her poems speak to us because they are from a part of the world that is front of mind and confusing… We know there’s a groundswell on U.S. campuses advocating freedom and an end to oppression in Iran. mtvU has a responsibility to hear that cry and respond to it.”

Amid Iran’s post election tumult, millions around the world heard Behbahani’s timeless lament at the death of Neda Soltani:

You are neither dead, nor will you die
You will always remain alive
You have an eternal existence
You are the voice of the people of Iran

Yet it is Behbahani, the reputed “Lioness of Iran,” who will now re-introduce millions of the world’s youth to Iran, through the medium of rock ‘n roll, music television, in her universal voice.
When Iran’s President Ahmadinejad dismissed those who protested the election’s legitimacy as mere “dirt,” Behbahani hurled the insult back, with the pen:

If the flames of anger rise any higher in this land
Your name on your tombstone will be covered with dirt

Yet MTV’s featuring of Behbahani should not be interpreted as adding to the cacaphony of voices pining for more invasions, war, sanctions, bloodshed. Nearly 30 years ago, Behbahani wrote of her horror in seeing a martial fever for war arise in her students then:

Oh, the child of today
If war is what you want
I am the child of yesterday
To me, war is shameful

MTV’s Ross Martin further explains the choice of Behbahani on his own blog,

“Behbahani’s poetry champions women’s rights and acts as a voice of peace and freedom during a time of political and social upheaval. Twice, she has been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Poetry. Her poems illuminate not only the struggle of Iran but also the extreme beauty of the land, its people, and its history.”

Martin also notes how none of this would have been possible were it not for the literary skills and devotion of Professor Farzaneh Milani. Her translations bring Behbahani’s “iconic” poems to life in English. If Behbahani is Iran’s national poet, Milani has rendered her the world’s.

To stay alive, you must slay silence,
to pay homage to being, you must sing….

UN-HRC endorses Goldstone; Netanyahu’s over-reach unraveling?

The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva today endorsed the report of the Goldstone Commission that identified probable war crimes and and crimes against humanity committed by Israel and by some Palestinian armed groups during last winter’s Israeli assault on Gaza.
That report from AFP tells us that,

    25 of the council’s 47 members, led by the Arab and African states, voted for the resolution. Six, including the United States, voted against while 16 others either abstained or did not vote.
    The resolution calls for the endorsement of “the recommendations contained in the report” produced by a fact-finding mission led by international war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone to probe the 22-day conflict.
    It also “calls upon all concerned parties including United Nations bodies, to ensure their implementation.”

It was tragic that the US voted against the HRC resolution. However, it seems likely the Goldstone report will now be considered by the Security Council at the session it will be holding on the matter next week.
The world– and especially perhaps the majority-Muslim countries of the world– will be watching closely to see that the US does not cast a veto there.
The fact that the HRC took up the Goldstone report once again, and that it endorsed its main findings and recommendations, marks a double setback for Israel’s current, extremely rightwing government, which had fought tooth and nail to quash or bury it.
In the first instance, the HRC’s decision to take up the report once again this week was due to the fact that the PLO leadership of Mahmoud Abbas, which ten days took its own– quite clearly Israel-spurred– action to bury the report, was forced by the overwhelming strength of Palestinian public opinion to reverse that policy.
In the second instance, the fact that the report won such strong endorsement in the HRC marked a notable setback for the campaign Netanyahu waged against it there.
Netanyahu and his coalition partners– many of whom are even more extreme than he is– have been riding high in recent weeks. They had completely bypassed all the efforts of the Obama administration to win a freeze on the construction of new (illegal) Israeli settlements in east Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied West Bank. They had persuaded Obama to force Abbas into a humiliating three-way meeting along with Netanyahu and Obama, despite Abbas’s previously oft-stated refusal to meet with Netanyahu in the absence of a settlement freeze. The actions of extremist, government-backed Israeli settler organizations to penetrate, settle, and excavate deep inside areas of Palestinian East Jerusalem were accelerating full-steam ahead.
Oh, Netanyahu must have been feeling so happy… Especially at his ability to keep the Obama administration completely off his back.
Not so fast, Mr. Netanyahu.
Right now, Pres. Obama and his most senior military and diplomatic advisers are meeting in prolonged, solemn session to reach some extremely serious decisions about the deployment of reinforcements for, and the mounting threats to, the many scores of thousands of US and allied troops who are deployed deep into the heart of many very distant portions of the Muslim world.
And Netanyahu, the prime minister of a small country of some seven million citizens, thinks his government’s interest in colonial expansion should necessarily trump the rights of the Palestinian residents of the occupied West Bank and Gaza, the strong concern that the world’s more than one billion Muslims have in the wellbeing of Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem, and the safety and security of the US and allied troops who are deployed throughout the Muslim world?
He’s been dreaming– and pursuing– some dreams that are extremely hazardous to international peace and stability.
But now, there are some signs that the extent of Netanyahu’s colonialist over-reach is becoming more clear, including to decisionmakers here in Washington; and that it may, finally, be meeting its limits here.
In one of my early reactions to the Goldstone report last month, I noted that many of the folks who have wanted to bury or set aside Goldston’s recommendations about winning accountability for past actions in Gaza said they wanted to do so “in the interests of peacemaking; that is, the interests of the future rather than the past.”
However, I also noted that Gaza’s 1.45 million people face conditions of horrendous inhumanity and stress in the present; and that those conditions continue, day by day by day.
The prime interest of everyone concerned about relieving suffering in the Israeli-Palestinian theater should therefore surely be on lifting Israel’s quite inhumane siege of Gaza. A siege that is, as Godlstone noted, itself an instance of quite illegal collective punishment.
I gather that last night, at a dinner hosted by the American Task Force on Palestine, Obama’s national security adviser, Gen. Jim Jones, told attendees that “All three of the crossings between Israel and Gaza should be opened.” (HT: Gene Bird)
Those are the crossings through which goods, and a small number of people, flow. Since it is still, under international law, the occupying power in Gaza, Israel has direct responsibility for the wellbeing– we could even say, the normal human flourishing– of the residents of Gaza. So obviously, those gates should be opened.
Winter approaches, but the Gazans haven’t been able even to rebuild their homes, businesses, and basic infrastructure after the destruction Israel wrought last winter.
Gen. Jones can tell an audience that “the gates should be opened.” But the US government continues to provide immense, and in many fields quite unequalled, benefits to the government of Israel– in the military, economic, diplomatic, and many other arenas.
So when will we see the Obama administration start to apply some strict accountability to Israel’s government regarding lifting the siege of Gaza?
Deeds, not words, please. On all aspects of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking and the protection of Palestinian– along with Israeli– rights.

Gaza police and noncombatant immunity

Phil Weiss, who’s read more of the Goldstone report than I have at this point, zeroes in on the paragraphs Goldstone and Co wrote about the IDF’s killings of police officers and cadets in Gaza.
He writes,

    The mission reports that 99 policemen and 9 civilians were killed in the first minutes of the slaughter. Overall, 240 policemen were killed during the war– a sixth of the Gaza casualties. Police were “deliberately” targeted. And on what basis? Well, Israel regards the police institutionally– or in large part individually– as part of the Gazan military.
    The mission analyzed the history of the Gaza police since the Hamas takeover in 2007. While policemen were recruited from Hamas followers, Goldstone found that the police are a “civilian law-enforcement agency” and that the police targets of Dec. 27 were none of them taking part in hostilities and had not lost their “civilian immunity.” Yes “individual” policemen were surely members of armed groups and can be considered combatants. But the Israeli attacks failed to strike an acceptable balance, between anticipated military advantage of destruction and civilian damage. The great majority of these policemen were civilians. So the mission concludes,This was a violation of international humanitarian law.

Now, Phil makes some very important points in that post. But he– and we– should note that a “civilian” is not the same as a “noncombatant”.
A noncombatant is a person whom, under international humanitarian law, it is forbidden to target, and who is therefore “protected” by IHL.
This includes civilians but it also includes members of a military formation who are not currently fighting. Hence the specificity of the term “noncombatant.”
This class of persons includes all civilians. It also includes members of military formations who are “hors de combat” because of injuries– along with members of military formations who are not “on duty” in the military at the time.
It would include, for example, even senior officers in the IDF or any other military (or of Hamas’s military formations) who are off duty– sleeping in their homes, or whatever. And it includes the many members of Israel’s reserve forces who, during the Gaza war or at any other time, might have been sleeping at home and going about their normal family and professional lives.
Many members of the police force in a place like Sderot may, for example, have also been reserve officers in the IDF. But at any time that they are not actually engaged in combat as part of the IDF– or, I think, in military training, which is a preparation for combat– they are considered noncombatants, and therefore have all the IHL protections of noncombatants.
Thus, for a Gazan, simply being a member of an armed group does not make a person into a “combatant”, that is, a legitimate target of Israeli fire. Unless he is currently engaged in combat, which the cadets at a police academy graduation ceremony evidently weren’t.
That’s the great thing about international humanitarian law: it applies to everyone in the same way.
… Anyway, that’s my only quibble with what is otherwise a really excellent post by Phil.

Gaza, the Obama administration, and the present

I was reading this account from Reuters of the way that Obama’s ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, today tried to sideline and bury the important report of the Goldstone Commission.
Firstly, she brushed aside the report’s recommendation that the Security Council should remain actively involved in the follow-up efforts to win accountability from the accused perpetrators of atrocities on both sides during Israel’s December-January assault on Gaza.
Then, this:

    Rice said the focus should be the future.
    “This is a time to work to cement progress toward the resumption of (Israeli-Palestinian peace) negotiations and their early and successful conclusion,” she said.

At first blush this looks like a classic “peace versus justice” dilemma, of the kind I’ve written about extensively in my work on conflict termination and the “justice” issues deriving therefrom.
But then I thought there is already a very, very long history of Palestinians having their “justice” claims brusquely pushed aside in favor of the promise of a future, western-led peacemaking effort… And throughout the past 61 years those efforts have never, ever led anywhere.
So today, the Palestinians are once again asked to forget about their past grievances, and to focus on a promise of some kind of a future peace settlement that, if the past is any kind of a reliable guide, may well prove quite illusory.
Lost in all this, however, is the situation of the Palestinians– in Gaza, but also elsewhere– in the present.
Is there anything the US could do about this?
Of course there is! And it’s not only the case that the US could do something to help the Gazans in the present– the US also should be doing a whole lot more than it has to date to alleviate the harm that they continue to suffer on a daily and continuing basis, since it has enormous leverage over the government of Israel.
But Washington has used not one iota of that leverage to force Israel to open Gaza’s borders up for the passage of the freight that the Strip’s 1.4 million people sorely need in order to conduct a normal, safe, and dignified life.
Winter is approaching in Gaza, where it can bring rain and some bitterly cold winds. And despite all the representations that various do-gooders have made since the parallel ceasefires wet into effect on January 18, Israel has not allowed into the Strip any of the most basic construction materials that are needed to repair the extensive damage that the IDF caused during last winter’s war, in many cases quite intentionally, to housing, schools, factories, and public infrastructure.
So maybe now is not the time to pull together a huge series of international court cases to look into the atrocities of the past. (Or maybe it is.)
And maybe we should give the US-led diplomacy one last chance to build a better future. (Or maybe not.)
But if we look only at the continuously unfolding present, then if the US does nothing to force Israel to open Gaza’s borders to the passage of vitally needed freight, then Washington will be directly complicit in the additional harms that Gaza’s people will suffer this winter.
(Meantime, in today’s statement, Rice criticized the mandate of the Goldstone Commission, and she criticized its policy recommendations. But I don’t think she questioned any of its actual findings. And those findings surely stand as the best draft we have to date of the historical record of who did what to whom in the Israel-Palestine theater in the time of the 2008-09 Gaza War. Even just as a record, the work of the Commission will be invaluable– and it can provide the basis for all kinds of court cases in the future.)

Garlasco, suspended with full pay

The NYT’s John Schwartz reported last night that Human Rights Watch has decided to suspend the controversial military analyst Marc Garlasco with full pay, pending an investigation into his engagement with the hobby of collecting Nazi-era military memorabilia.
I think this is the right thing to do. Wish they’d done it some days earlier. Then we could be devoting more attention today to the very important findings of the Goldstone Commission.
Fwiw, I’m quoted a bit at the bottom of Schwartz’s piece.