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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Different international law standards for Israel and everyone else

Evelyn Gordon at Commentary notices an interesting NYT article from earlier this week about American soldiers killing civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan:
The majority of civilian-killing cases that have arisen until now have been connected to combat in some way: soldiers accused of using excessive force or firing indiscriminately when responding to an attack, or who killed prisoners shortly after a bombing or a firefight, when emotions were still raging.

The Haditha killings, for example, followed a bombing that killed one Marine and severely injured two others. Several defendants later claimed that they were shot at after the blast. (Though most of the case collapsed, one defendant still faces a trial on manslaughter charges.)

Similarly, in 2008, the military decided not to bring charges against two Marines who commanded a unit accused of indiscriminately firing on vehicles and pedestrians along a 10-mile stretch of road in Afghanistan. The shootings began after a suicide bomber attacked the unit’s convoy.

An Army investigation later concluded that 19 people were killed and 50 were injured. But the Marines said they had taken hostile gunfire after the explosion and had fired to defend themselves from perceived threats. The case was closed without any prosecution.

It can be difficult to win a conviction, specialists in military law said, when defendants can make a plausible claim that they believed, in the confusion of the “fog of war,” that their lives were in danger and they needed to defend themselves.

“You often see cases of kids who just make dumb decisions,” said Gary Solis, who teaches the laws of war at Georgetown University. “But killings in the heat of the moment, they don’t usually try those guys. The guys you try are the ones who have an opportunity to consider what they are doing.”

...“The large majority of civilian harm in both Iraq and Afghanistan takes place during legitimate military operations,” said Sarah Holewinksi, executive director of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict. “But because of very poor record keeping on the part of all the warring parties, we really don’t know who has been harmed, how many have been harmed and how they have been harmed.”
So while there have been some convictions for killing civilians, they have tended to be cases where the evidence is overwhelming and not in the heat of battle. And the human rights activist quoted even acknowledges this, without complaint.

What a contrast to how the world judges Israeli soldiers' actions during war! Even though (and perhaps because) the Israeli system has so many checks and balances to protect civilians in the midst of battles against terrorists who are masquerading as civilians, even though there are lawyers embedded at all levels of the IDF and procedures are in place to absolutely minimize damage, even though essentially every civilian death at the hands of the IDF happens during military operations - the world judges Israel by a far different standard than US, or NATO, or any other Western army. Let alone how Arab armies act!

As Gordon notes,
When it comes to Israel, these factors are somehow dismissed as unimportant. That same day, the Times reported on an Israeli court’s conviction of two soldiers for crimes committed during last year’s Gaza war. Altogether, it noted, 48 cases have been opened. A third are “still in progress,” a few produced convictions, and the rest were closed, for the reasons cited above.

But human rights groups say that the military’s criminal proceedings are insufficient” and that Israeli troops committed “atrocities that require outside investigation.”

The principle that the law applies equally to all is a cornerstone of modern Western civilization. Yet too many Westerners seem to reserve the protections granted by the laws of war for their own soldiers while denying them to Israel.

By so doing, they don’t just undermine Israel. They undermine their own civilization.