The Gaza Test for World Justice

The future of world justice with powerful nations held as accountable as the weak may be decided by how the International Criminal Court handles allegations of Israeli crimes in last year’s war on Gaza. Will the same standards apply to influential Israel that are enforced against Third World violators, asks Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

The International Criminal Court (ICC) was designed as a vehicle for the prosecution of the most heinous of crimes committed by individuals in positions of state authority – those military officers and politicians at the top of a national chain of command. Until recently ICC prosecutions have been limited to leaders of small and weak states. This is not because the leaders of powerful nations are not sometimes culpable, but rather because no member state of the ICC has yet brought a relevant complaint.

This situation is about to change. In November 2012, Palestine achieved official observer status within the United Nations and this position allowed it to join the ICC. The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) hesitated to take this next step as long as “peace negotiations” with Israel were ongoing. But by the spring of 2014, the latest round of such talks had proved as fruitless as their many predecessors.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presses his case for the military offensive against Gaza in a meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in 2014. (Israeli government photo)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presses his case for the military offensive against Gaza in a meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in 2014. (Israeli government photo)

And so the Palestinians went ahead and signed the treaty that would make them a member nation of the Court – a status that becomes official in April 2015. Palestine has already requested the Court to begin a preliminary investigation of Israel’s actions within Palestinian territory (the Occupied Territories) during the 2014 invasion of Gaza. It is looking for indictments of Israeli leaders on war crimes charges.

This has made the Israeli government and its patron in Washington very angry. The U.S. Congress has sworn to defund the PNA, and the Israelis have sworn to “dissolve the ICC.” The reason for the anger rests on the fact that the evidence for the commission of war crimes by Israel is overwhelming.

It is to be noted that even as the ICC begins its own formal investigation into Israeli behavior, the United Nations Human Rights Council has appointed a three-member independent  commission of inquiry into possible violations of international law and human rights during the 2014 invasion. Its report is due this March. In the meantime Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem have all brought out their own independent reports.

Roughly, here are the facts as they are presently known:

–About 2,200 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed in the period between July 8 and Aug. 26, 2014. According to United Nations estimates 1,473 of these were civilians, including 527 children and 299 women. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, 11,100 were injured, including 3,374 children, 2,088 women, and 410 elderly. This high casualty rate has been attributed to Israel’s “reckless and disproportionate use of deadly force in densely populated urban areas.

–In comparison, 71 Israelis were killed, of whom four were civilians; 469 Israeli soldiers were injured, as were 261civilians.

–The UN estimates that Israeli action destroyed 18,000 housing units, permanently displacing around 108,000 Gazans. In the process Israel specifically targeted the civilian homes of Palestinian political and military leaders.

–The Israelis also targeted the Gaza electrical grid, indefinitely knocking out the Gaza Strip’s only community-wide power plant.

–The destruction of the power plant caused the water treatment facilities to shut down. Thus 450,000 people were cut off from the municipal water system. Israeli tank fire also targeted reservoirs and individual wells.

By the way, it doesn’t take a war for the Israelis to deny water to Palestinian communities. On Feb. 11, it was reported that Israeli soldiers destroyed a thousand-meter pipeline supplying water to Palestinian communities in the northern Jordan Valley.

–Israeli tank fire destroyed Gaza’s largest sewage treatment plant.

–The UN reports that 22 schools were destroyed and 118 damaged, including UN schools sheltering displaced civilians. To this must be added the fact that an estimated 373,000 children have been traumatized to the point of needing professional “psychosocial support.”

–Israel targeted hospitals and medical clinics: 24 medical facilities were damaged as a result.

Embedded Enemy Argument

The Israelis make the case that Hamas fighters embedded themselves within the civilian population and that is the reason for the high number of civilian casualties. This excuse does not account for their widespread and obviously purposeful destruction of civilian infrastructure.

Even if there is some truth to claim of an intermingling of fighters and the general population, one can ask why the resistance fighters would do this? Is it a voluntary, and therefore a callous and uncaring act? Or do they really have no choice? The latter is actually more likely because the Israelis have made Gaza into one of the most crowded places on the planet.

Repeated expulsions of Palestinians from Israel into the Gaza Strip as well as the Israeli-Egyptian blockade, which prevents people from leaving, has resulted in 1.8 million Palestinians crammed into a 139 square mile area. The place is often referred to as an open-air prison or ghetto. It can be argued that it is Israeli policies that have forced Gaza’s resistance fighters into civilian areas.

Even more damning is the fact that there is a historical pattern to Israeli attacks on civilians, as well as civilian infrastructure. In other words, there is a conscious, purposeful strategy designed to produce the high civilian casualties through the practice of collective punishment. This strategy is as old as the state of Israel itself and is based on a hard-line, indeed an extremist interpretation of the concept of an Iron Wall first propounded by the neo-fascist Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky.

The purpose of an Iron Wall strategy was, and still is, to make the cost of resistance so high that the Palestinians will simply give up. This tactic has actually worked when it comes to some Arab governments, such as those in Jordan and post-Nasser Egypt. It may have also influenced the position of Mahmoud Abbas and the PNA. However, it has never worked on the Palestinian population in general or resistance groups such as Hamas.

Whether the Iron Wall strategy works or not is not the issue for the UN or ICC. Collective punishment and the purposeful destruction of civilian infrastructure are acts in contravention of international law. They are war crimes.

Argument of Self-Defense

The Israelis have always said that their wars are defensive ones and that, of course, they have a right to defend their country and people. It is within that context that they interpret the Palestinian decision to go to the ICC. As Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman asserts, the move “only aims at attempting to impact Israel’s ability to defend itself.”

Leaving aside the question of the legitimacy of Israel within the pre-1967 borders, the consensus of the vast majority of world governments is that the West Bank and Gaza Strip are occupied territories and that Israel has certain obligations under international law toward the people of those lands. Placing settlements of Israeli citizens into these territories and the purposeful impoverishment of their indigenous populations are illegal acts under international law.

Also, as a point of sheer logic, Israel’s violent and punitive reactions to what is actually Palestinian resistance to an occupation illegally administered, cannot accurately be called “self-defense.” Put another way, if you break into your neighbor’s house and he resists you, whereupon you shoot him, you cannot claim you did it in self-defense.

Most Zionists will protest that the West Bank and Gaza Strip are not occupied territories but rather are biblically parts of Israel proper or, perhaps, “contested territories.” However, beyond the Zionists’ own ideological circle, no one else believes these are credible arguments and it is highly unlikely they would be taken seriously by the ICC.

ICC Actions: Potential and Problems

The possibility of finally breaking through the facade of Zionist justifications and U.S. obfuscations, and actually branding Israel’s policy makers for the aggressors they are, is very encouraging. And, given the evidence, actual indictments should be returned. This outcome would give a big boost to the Boycott movement against Israel and, one would hope, undermine Zionist influence in the U.S. Congress and other Western governments.

However, it remains doubtful that any Israeli will be successfully brought to trial. Indeed, the dilemma such indictments will cause Western governments that are member states of the Court will be acute. For what happens if an indicted Israeli travels to France, the United Kingdom or Germany?

After all, it could well be that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be charged. Will these governments honor their treaty obligations and comply with outstanding warrants issued by the ICC? Or will the prevailing Zionist influence in these countries lead them to defy the Court and thereby undermine the rule of law? It is by no means guaranteed that any of them will opt for the law.

Palestine’s request that the ICC take up Israeli behavior during its summer 2014 invasion of Gaza is a seminal cry for justice. It is also a seminal challenge to the Court and all its member states to see that international law applies to the strong and influential. As goes the judgment on Israel, so goes international law in our time.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

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14 comments for “The Gaza Test for World Justice

  1. Zachary Smith
    March 1, 2015 at 23:29

    It’s winter in Gaza, same as it is in the rest of the Northern Hemisphere. There are hundreds of thousands of people trying to survive with little food, water, or electricity. Living in shattered buildings. In the winter. Can YOU imagine ‘living’ like that?

    “Families have been living in homes without roofs, walls or windows for the past six months. Many have just six hours of electricity a day and are without running water. Every day that people are unable to build is putting more lives at risk. It is utterly deplorable that the international community is once again failing the people of Gaza when they need it most,” Essoyan stated.

    http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/02/27/gaza-rebuild-effort-could-take-100-years-oxfam

    Israel is going to keep destroying Gaza infrastructure and murdering its inhabitants until it can steal those billions of dollars of offshore natural gas. For that to happen, Gaza must be emptied of the subhuman creatures who live there.

    They’re still working on that project.

  2. Peter Loeb
    March 1, 2015 at 08:17

    AGGRESSION CANNOT BE AN ISSUE AT ICC

    A close scrutiny of the submission of the Palestine Subcommittee of the NATIONAL LAWYERS
    GUILD (February 10, 2015 written by James Marc Leas and submitted to the ICC , 28 pages)
    clearly notes that although aggression clearly exists, there is virtually no possibility of taking up this issue at the ICC until 2017 due to previous ICC decisions. Other issues are in order
    and are well detailed in this report.

    (The report was made available by the Electronic Intifada and is doubtless available as well
    at the UN itself. It is titled:” Attack First, Kill Thousands, Claim Self-Defense, then Campaign
    to Discredit the ICC”)

    —- Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  3. jon vonn
    February 28, 2015 at 01:46

    This kangaroo court is a disgrace. It takes political sides. War is war. People are going to die. The Palestinians and Israeli are not going to get along they will continue until one or the other is wiped out. Of course, politician want a 2 state solution as no country even if the have excess area wants the Palestinians. Many Muslim countries do have plenty of land. And if the world really wanted too a financial aid could be brought to pay for the transshipment. IMO the world wants this conflict to be there.

    • Zachary Smith
      March 1, 2015 at 15:09

      Modern software allows a single person to ‘manage’ a dozen or more identities, so it’s impossible to tell whether Consortium News has attracted one or many hasbara propagandists.

  4. Paul Warburg
    February 26, 2015 at 17:29

    Henry Ford was pretty spot-on when he and his editors wrote an article titled: “Will Jewish Zionism Lead to Armageddon?” back in the early 1920s which concluded:

    “The watchmen on the towers of the world are alarmed at what seems brewing in Judah’s geographical caldron.”

    Here we are almost 100 years later on the brink of a nuclear WWIII.

    • Zachary Smith
      February 26, 2015 at 20:24

      Actual title:

      Will Jewish Zionism Bring Armageddon?

      This essay gave evidence to the old saying that even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then. Despite being chock-full of “hate-the-Jews”, the authors did manage to state some facts.

      The racial situation in Palestine just now is very delicate. Americans do not understand it. The Zionist propaganda has always been accepted on the assumption that Palestine is the Jews’ land and that they only need help to go back. It is an historical and political fact that Palestine has not been the Jews’ land for more than 2,000 years. There are in Palestine 500,000 Moslems, 105,000 Christians and 65,000 Jews. The industry of the land is agriculture. Engaged in this are 69 percent of the Moslems, 46 percent of the Christians and 19 percent of the Jews. Neither numerically nor industrially have they held the land. Yet, as the result of a war bargain, it is handed over to them as regardless of the native inhabitants as if Belguim had been handed over to Mexico.
      .
      .
      General Allenby promised those native races of Palestine that their rights would be respected. So did the Balfour Declaration. So did the San Remo Conference. So also did President Wilson in the twelfth of his Fourteen Points.

      But Judah says, “Let them get out!” “The last clauses were added in order to appease a certain section of timid anti-Zionist opinion.”

      “Let them get out!” says Israel Zangwill. “We must gently persuade them to ‘trek.’ After all, they have all Arabia with its million square miles, and Israel has not a square inch. There is no particular reason for the Arabs to cling to those few kilometers. To fold their tents and silently to steal away is their proverbial habit; let them exemplify it now.” Aside from the falsity of using the term “Arab,” there is the delightful Jewishness of it – let them give it up to us, we want it! Americans have been in their land less than 150 years as and there is China and Arabia or Siberia for us to go to if we should want to, but we prefer our own country, and so do the native races of Palestine, who have dwelt there for 2,000 years.

      All of that is true. But those 337 words of “reality” were embedded within 4,634 words of “hate-the-Jews”.

      There was a good reason Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” mentioned only one American by name – Henry Ford. At some point (the book?) Hitler wrote this:

      “You can tell Herr Ford that I am a great admirer of his,” Hitler said. “I shall do my best to put his theories into practice in Germany. … I regard Henry Ford as my inspiration.”

      The problem of non-Israeli Jews around the world is that they’re being tarred by association. The unspeakably nasty “beasts walking on two legs” who advocate “stealing-the-land” and “murdering the inhabitants” are the ones causing the trouble. That breed is properly labeled “Zionist”. Sad to say, Israel has been a magnet for that type, just as ISIS has attracted the insane fringe-elements of Islam.

      No links – there isn’t really anything in that long essay (besides the 337 words I’ve cut-pasted) worth reading.

  5. February 26, 2015 at 10:26

    On the Israeli claimed right of self-defense within the occupied territories, international law professor Noura Erakat has an excellent rebuttal at http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/8799/no-israel-does-not-have-the-right-to-self-defense-

  6. rosemerry
    February 26, 2015 at 09:17

    Right from the “kidnap/murder of three teens” in Israel/OPT last year, Israel made changing excuses for blaming Gaza and Hamas, while attacking Palestinians in the WB and then Gaza, while it took a month before finally Hamas responded. Six months after the massacre on Gaza, the culprits for the “kidnap/murder of three teens” were found and killed, but the whole Israeli exercise had been completely unjustified by the facts, and the “tunnel terrorists” who killed armed IDF soldiers were cited as some sort of impermissable response to violent, unprovoked attacks on a captive, civilian population.

  7. JWalters
    February 25, 2015 at 19:46

    The “historical pattern to Israeli attacks on civilians” goes back to the establishment of Israel. In 1947 U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall and Secretary of Defense James Forrestal warned that a consequence of the U.S. supporting the Zionist invasion of Palestine would be protracted conflict in the Middle East, and the Muslim world turning against the U.S., EXACTLY what we are seeing today. Related historical facts indicate that this conflict was financed by war profiteering bankers with full knowledge this would provoke and maintain a (profitable) religious war.
    http://warprofiteerstory.blogspot.com

    “The possibility of finally breaking through the facade of Zionist justifications and U.S. obfuscations, and actually branding Israel’s policy makers for the aggressors they are, is very encouraging.” Amen!

    • Zachary Smith
      February 25, 2015 at 20:28

      In 1947 U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall and Secretary of Defense James Forrestal warned that a consequence of the U.S. supporting the Zionist invasion of Palestine would be protracted conflict in the Middle East, and the Muslim world turning against the U.S., EXACTLY what we are seeing today.

      Unfortunately this is another instance of Harry Truman choosing to be a hack politician instead of taking the long view. I want to like the man, but like all the rest of them, he’s a mixed bag, and this was one of his bigger mistakes.

    • Joe Tedesky
      February 25, 2015 at 22:04

      JWalters, good of you to mention Marshall. I do believe recalling our past is where this conversation should go. Truman, did us no favor, by recognizing Israel as he did. Truman’s decision was swayed by Zionist campaign donations.

    • Zachary Smith
      March 1, 2015 at 00:57

      Forrestal was a part of the State Dept. antisemitism that was prevalent in those years.

      Forrestal wasn’t “part of the State Dept.” This venom caused me to go to his WIKI where I found this:

      During private cabinet meetings with President Truman in 1946 and 1947, Forrestal had argued against partition of Palestine on the grounds it would infuriate Arab countries who supplied oil needed for the U.S. economy and national defense. Instead, Forrestal favored a federalization plan for Palestine. Outside the White House, response to Truman’s continued silence on the issue was immediate. President Truman received threats to cut off campaign contributions from wealthy donors, as well as hate mail, including a letter accusing him of “preferring fascist and Arab elements to the democracy-loving Jewish people of Palestine.”[11] Appalled by the intensity and implied threats over the partition question, Forrestal appealed to Truman in two separate cabinet meetings not to base his decision on partition, whatever the outcome, on the basis of political pressure.[12] In his only known public comment on the issue, Forrestal stated to J. Howard McGrath, Senator from Rhode Island:

      “…no group in this country should be permitted to influence our policy to the point it could endanger our national security.”[13]

      Was the man a Jew Hater? I’ve no idea, but that he favored a Federal plan would explain the hatred of him by the Zionists.

      And possibly his death. When I read about his raving towards the end, my first thought was LSD. Who were his doctors? Who had access to his meds?

      Israel had already been murdering British soldiers in Palestine, so why not extend the campaign to the US?

      Israel didn’t want a piece of the action in Palestine – it wanted the whole kit and kaboodle. Gaza has an awful lot of natural gas offshore. Until the people in Gaza can be driven away by making life for them hell on earth, with the periodic “mowing the grass” murder sprees and destruction of infrastructure, Israel won’t be able to easily steal that natural gas.

    • Louis
      March 7, 2015 at 08:44

      I recently watched a UTube vid from 1943 I believe in which Congress turned down an request to let a boat load of Jewish children into the US – and of course we knew what was going on.

      Why was there so much antisemitism back then? Did it all come out of thin air? Of course they were lynching blacks in the south back then so who knows.

      Trying to take a neutral stance on all of this I find it easier to understand this age-old antisemtism stuff after watching the murder and war crimes Israel committed against the Palestinians last year. If this has always been their modus operandi, vengeance and wickedness, well, then that partly explains it.

  8. Zachary Smith
    February 25, 2015 at 19:44

    The essay truly is a depressing one, but on the other hand it’s the first one I’ve seen about the suffering of the Palestinians for a long time. The Western Corporate Media has ignored the entire story since the murder spree ended.

    On a whim I just googled “Egypt” “Gaza” “Aid” and found what I expected – Israel’s new lapdog Sisi is enthusiastically assisting the slow strangulation of the Palestinians. If Israel’s Puppet Pharaoh had a speck of decency, he’d be stringing power lines and laying water pipelines to Gaza.

    But I suppose if he did anything like that, Israel would install itself another heiny-kisser in Cairo.

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