War Crimes

(July 31, 2006)


The disproportionate and unrelenting response of the Israeli government to the deliberate provocations begun and continued by the Hezbollah in Lebanon raises a serious moral question.  When does such a response  go far beyond legitimate "self-defense" and become something else altogether? 

      Granted that Hezbollah fighters had probably recently launched Katyusha rockets from the town of Qana in southern Lebanon.  Even granted that the Hezbollah often has been deliberately and using civilians and their homes as "cover" for their indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israeli towns.  But can this in any way  justify a response that so far has killed, despite Israeli claims of "precision" targeting of Hezbollah positions, about ten times as many Lebanese civilians -- including the some 60, mostly women and children killed in Qana -- as Israeli civilians who have been killed, by the hit and miss (mostly misses) firing of homemade replicas of the 1963 model Soviet BM-21 Katyusha rocket. (122mm, about 9 ft. in length, maximum range about 7-12 miles depending on the weight of the warhead -- 21-18 Kg.)

      One of the basic principles of fighting a "Just War" is that the means being used have to be in some proportion to the harm that has taken place or is threatened.  Failure to comply to this rule, like others governing the conduct of warfare, could lead to a war crimes trial of those responsible before the International Criminal Court as provided by the Treaty of Rome.  The fact that both Israel and the United States (along with Communist China) are among the few nations that have failed to ratify this treaty would seem to only further the rest of the world's suspicions that not only does Israel but also the US has no real concern for human rights -- particularly when it comes to the Palestinians and other Muslims.

      There is no question that Hezbollah fighters are also violating the basic rules of warfare when they target Israeli civilians and hide behind civilians on their own side -- a cowardly way of fighting if there ever was one.  But is dropping 500 or 1,000 bombs on houses and public buildings from the safe distance of thousands of feet up in the sky likely to be packed with civilians seeking shelter simply because  someone fired a gun or launched a rocket from there any less a cowardly way of fighting?   In a part of the world where people still honor those who are willing to personally fight to the death for what they believe in, this long-distance delivery of undiscriminating and wholesale form of death seems particularly heinous.  When such crimes are finally submitted to the world's judgment -- which they have been already through the media -- one can almost surely predict that it will be the superpowers (the USA in the world, Israel in the Mid-East) that will receive the harshest verdict.

      In the mean time, if Israel's goal is to teach Hezbollah "a lesson", it seems now, from the world's response to Israeli brutality, that the harm done to the chances of Israel's long-term survival as a nation makes that goal more unlikely in the long run than ever.  Permanently alienating the Muslim fifth of the world is not a smart move for a country that contains only one one-thousandth of the world's whole population.  And where the non-Muslim world once sympathized with the feisty Israelis after the murder of four million Jews by Hitler, it, despite its distaste for its tactics, is beginning to sympathize more and more with the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians -- and now their millions of their descendants -- who found themselves displaced or had to flee their homes in territories that are now exclusively reserved for Israelis.