Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, September 2010
Does International Law Have a Future?
By Lawrence Davidson
Redress, Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, September 13, 2010
The usual suspects
Back on 23 August 2010 Israel’s most prestigious human rights organization, B’Tselem released a short report on the condition of water supplies in the Gaza Strip. Referencing the United Nations Environment Programme as well as the Palestine Water Authority, B’Tselem reported that the Strip’s underground water system is in such bad repair that, even if rehabilitation was begun immediately, it would take 20 years for it to be restructured as a modern system. This is compounded by the dilapidated state of the Gaza wastewater-system, which is also antiquated. As a result it is estimated that "40 per cent of the incidence of disease in Gaza is related to polluted drinking water".
B’Tselem blames this shocking situation on the Israeli government. "Since it began its siege on the Gaza Strip, in June 2007, Israel has forbidden the entry of equipment and materials needed to rehabilitate the water and wastewater-treatment systems there." The blockade of these materials remains in place to this day. Finally, during its "Operation Cast Lead" invasion of the Gaza Strip, Israel targeted the water networks, treatment plants, wells, and even home water tanks.
“The United States, sitting as a permanent member of the UN Security Council has, in recent years, cast some 40 vetoes so as to shield its ally [Israel] from accusations of violations of international law.”
Israel’s great power patron is the United States. This arrangement entails American protection of the Zionist state from the legal consequences that should result due to its purposeful harming of civilians. The United States, sitting as a permanent member of the UN Security Council has, in recent years, cast some 40 vetoes so as to shield its ally from accusations of violations of international law. Actually, this action by the United States is entirely logical. Why so? Because both the US and Israel are practising the exact same tactics against civilian populations.
Back in September 2001 George Washington University professor Thomas Nagy
existence of Defense Intelligence Agency documents "proving beyond a doubt
that, contrary to the Geneva Convention, the US government intentionally
used sanctions against Iraq to degrade the country’s water supply after the
Gulf War. The United States knew the cost that civilian Iraqis, mostly
children, would pay, and it went ahead anyway."
“...the political leaders of the United States and Israel ... who have devised and implemented this [destruction of civilian infrastructure in Gaza and Iraq], and similar strategies, are indictable as war criminals. Further, they almost certainly know this to be so. That is why they must dismiss international law as ‘obsolete’.”
Resulting criminal status
Neither American nor Israeli behaviour is legal under international law.
It is all a violation of Article
54 of Protocol I, Part IV, of the Geneva Conventions (1977). The law
reads: "It is prohibited to attack, destroy, remove or render useless
objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as
... drinking water installations and supplies ... whatever the motive,
whether in order to starve out the civilian population, to cause them to
move away or for any other motive." What this means is that the political
leaders of the United States and Israel (among other countries) who have
devised and implemented this, and similar strategies, are indictable as war
criminals. Further, they almost certainly know this to be so. That is why
they must dismiss international law as "obsolete" as did Attorney-General
Alberto Gonzales and his minions in 2004.
The issue of double standards
This state of affairs raises the seminal question of what will be the
fate of international law as it applies to the protection of civilian
populations? Today, the most we can say is that enforcement is selective
and, in a certain odd way, "class based". In other words if you are the
leader of a small state lacking a great power patron you are indeed subject
to this sort of international law. For example, if you are the leader of
Serbia, Sudan, Chile, Rwanda, Congo, etc. and persecute civilian populations
you have a rather good chance of being brought before a tribunal such as the
International Criminal Court. If, however, you are American, Israeli,
Russian, Chinese or British leader, etc. you have almost zero risk. You know
the statue of justice standing blindfolded holding up a scale? Well, she is
“...too many of our leaders ... have contrived such double standards that the laws against the wanton slaughter of civilians simply do not apply if committed by the strong. It is only the weak who are to be held accountable for their crimes.”
The rules produced by our legislatures, by the United Nations Charter and
by our ratified treaties are not supra-human. We make them for our own
benefit so that we may live in communities with congenial standards of
behaviour and thus pass our days productively and in relative security. And,
since we make them we can unmake them. That is exactly what too many of our
leaders are now trying to do in terms of public international law. They have
contrived such double standards that the laws against the wanton slaughter
of civilians simply do not apply if committed by the strong. It is only the
weak who are to be held accountable for their crimes.
Lawrence Davidson is professor of history at West Chester University. He is the author of numerous books, including Islamic Fundamentalism and America's Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood.
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