Israeli War Crimes Started When Politicians
Launched Wars on the Gaza Population
By Uri Avnery
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, June
More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed by Israeli war
criminals in their savage war on Gaza, on July-August 2014. Most
of the victims were children, women, and elderly people.
War Crimes? Us???
"WAR IS HELL!" the US
general Wlliam Tecumdeh Sherman famously exclaimed.
War is the business of
killing the "enemy", in order to impose your will on them.
Therefore, "humane war" is an oxymoron.
War itself is a crime.
There are few exceptions. I would exempt the war against Nazi Germany,
since it was conducted against a regime of mass murderers, led by a
psychopathic dictator, who could not be brought to heel by any other
This being so, the concept of "war crimes" is dubious.
The biggest crime is starting the war in the
first place. This is not the business of soldiers, but of
political leaders. Yet they are rarely indicted.
PHILOSOPHICAL musings came to me in the wake of the recent UN report on
the last Gaza war.
The investigation committee bent over
backwards to be "balanced", and accused both the Israeli army and Hamas
in almost equal terms. That, in itself, is problematic.
not a war between equals. On one side, the State of Israel, with one of
the mightiest armies in the world. On the other side, a stateless
population of 1.8 million people, led by a guerrilla organization devoid
of any modern arms.
Any equating of such two entities is by
definition contrived. Even if both sides committed grievous war crimes,
they are not the same. Each must be judged on its own (de)merits.
THE IDEA of "war crimes" is relatively new. It arose during the 30 Years
War, which devastated a large part of Central Europe. Many armies took
part, and all of them destroyed towns and villages without the slightest
compunction. As a result, two thirds of Germany were devastated and a
third of the German people was killed.
Hugo de Groot, a
Dutchman, argued that even in war, civilized nations are bound by
certain limitations. He was not a starry-eyed idealist, divorced from
reality. His main principle, as I understand it, was that it makes no
sense to forbid actions that help a warring country [or party] to
pursue the war, but that any cruelty not necessary for the efficient
conduct of the war is illegitimate.
This idea took hold. During
the 18th century, endless wars were conducted by professional armies,
without hurting civilian populations unnecessarily. Wars became
Not for long. With the French revolution, war became a
matter of mass armies, the protection of civilians slowly eroded, until
it disappeared entirely in World War II, when whole cities were
destroyed by unlimited aerial bombardment (Dresden and Hamburg) and the
atom bomb (Hiroshima and Nagasaki).
Even so, a number of
international conventions prohibit war crimes that target civilian
populations or hurt the population in occupied territories.
was the mandate of this committee of investigation.
COMMITTEE castigates Hamas for committing war crimes against the Israeli
Israelis didn't need the committee to know that. A
large share of Israeli citizens spent hours in shelters during the Gaza
war, under the threat of Hamas rockets.
thousands of rockets towards towns and villages in Israel. These were
primitive rockets, which could not be aimed at specific targets like
the Dimona nuclear installation or the Ministry of Defense which is
located in the center of Tel Aviv. They were meant to terrorize the
civilian population into demanding a stop to the attack on the Gaza
They did not achieve this goal because Israel had
installed a number of "Iron Dome" counter-rocket batteries, that
intercepted almost all rockets heading for civilian targets. Success was
If they are brought before the International
Court in The Hague, the Hamas leaders will argue that they had no
choice: they had no other weapons to oppose the Israeli invasion. As a
Palestinian commander once told me: "Give us cannons and fighter planes,
and we will not use terrorism."
International Court will then have to decide whether a people that is
practically under an endless occupation is allowed to use indiscriminate
rockets. Considering the principles laid down by de Groot, I
wonder what the decision will be.
That goes for terrorism in
general, if used by an oppressed people that has no other means of
fighting. The black South Africans used terrorism in their fight against
the oppressive apartheid regime, and Nelson Mandela spent 28 years in
prison for taking part in such acts and refusing to condemn them.
THE CASE against the Israeli government
and army is quite different. They have a plentitude of arms, from drones
to warplanes to artillery to tanks.
If there was a cardinal war crime in this
war, it was the cabinet decision to start it. Because an Israeli arrack
on the Gaza Strip makes war crimes unavoidable.
who has ever been a combat soldier in war knows that war crimes, whether
in the most moral or the most base army in the world, do occur in war.
No army can avoid recruiting psychologically defective people. In every
company there is at least one pathological specimen. If there are not
very strict rules, exercised by very strict commanders, crimes will
War brings out the inner man (or woman, nowadays). A
well-behaved, educated man will suddenly turn into a ferocious beast. A
simple, lowly laborer will reveal himself as a decent, generous human
being. Even in the "Most Moral Army in the World" an oxymoron if there
ever was one.
I was a combat soldier in the 1948 war. I have
seen an eyeful of crimes, and I have described them in my 1950 book "The
Other Side of the Coin".
THIS GOES for every army. In our
army during the last Gaza war, the situation was even worse.
reasons for the attack on the Gaza Strip were murky. Three Israeli kids
were captured by Arab men, obviously for the sake of achieving a
prisoner exchange. The Arabs panicked and killed the boys. The Israelis
responded, the Palestinians responded, and lo the cabinet decided on a
Our cabinet includes nincompoops, most of
whom have no idea what war is. They decided to attack the Gaza Strip.
This decision was the real war crime.
The Gaza Strip is
a tiny territory, overcrowded by a bloated population of 1.8 million
human beings, about half of them descendents of refugees from areas that
became Israel in the 1948 war.
In any circumstances, such an
attack was bound to result in a large number of civilian casualties. But
another fact made this even worse.
ISRAEL IS a democratic
state. Leaders have to be elected by the people. The voters consist of
the parents and grandparents of the soldiers, members of both regular
and reserve units.
(Israeli cannot be considered a
democratic state because the majority of the population (Palestinians in
the West Bank, Gaza, and Diaspora) have been denied citizenship -
This means that Israel is inordinately
sensitive to casualties. If a large number of soldiers are killed in
action, the government will fall.
Therefore it is the maxim of
the Israeli army to avoid casualties at any cost any cost to the
enemy, that is. To save one soldier, it is permissible to kill ten,
twenty, a hundred civilians on the other side.
unwritten and self-understood, is symbolized by the "Hannibal Procedure"
the code-word for preventing at any cost the taking of an Israeli
soldier prisoner. Here, too, a "democratic" principle is at work: no
Israeli government can withstand public pressure to release many dozens
of Palestinian prisoners in return for the release of one Israeli one.
Ergo: prevent a soldier from being taken prisoner, even if the soldier
himself is killed in the process.
Hannibal allows indeed,
commands the wreaking of untold destruction and killing, in order to
prevent a captured soldier from being spirited away. This procedure is
itself a war crime.
A responsible cabinet, with a minimum of
combat experience, would know all this at the moment it was called upon
to decide on a military operation. If they don't know, it is the duty of
the army [or military] commanders who are present at such cabinet
meetings to explain it to them. I wonder if they did.
THIS means that, once started, the results were almost unavoidable. To
make an attack without serious Israeli casualties possible, entire
neighborhoods had to be flattened by drones, planes and artillery. And
that obviously happened.
Inhabitants were often warned to flee,
and many did. Others did not, being loath to leave behind everything
precious to them. Some people flee in the moment of danger, others hope
against hope and stay.
I would ask the reader to imagine himself
for a moment in such a situation.
Add to this the human element
the mixture of humane and sadistic men, good and bad, you find in any
combat unit all over the world, and you get the picture.
you start a war, "stuff happens", as the man said. There may be more war
crimes or less, but there will be a lot.
ALL THIS could have
been told to the UN committee of inquiry, headed by an American judge,
by the chiefs of the Israeli army, had they been allowed to testify. The
government did not allow them.
The convenient way out is to
proclaim that all UN officials are by nature anti-Semites and
Israel-haters, so that answering their questions is counterproductive.
We are moral. We are right. By nature. We can't help it. Those
who accuse us must be anti-Semites. Simple logic.
To hell with
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