War Crimes

April 22, 2002

KUNM, 89.9 fm, Albuquerque, NM

Every civilized country agrees that there are limits to war. As violent as it must be, war is still to be limited so that it does not descend into blood lust. A war crime is an act in excess of these limits, a spilling over, going beyond the agreed standards of restraint, blood lust taking over.

In retaliation for the destruction of buses and cafes, Israel’s Ariel Sharon has destroyed villages and towns. In response to resistance fighters shooting at his soldiers he has destroyed cities, cut off water supplies and electrical power and bulldozed homes. In response to the deaths of Israelis he has ordered offensives which have killed many more Palestinians. In response to a daylight car bombing in a single vehicle he has ordered the all-night shelling and destruction of the centuries-old casbah of Nablus, whole streets in Bethlehem, hundreds of homes and shops and the deaths of untold numbers of non-combatants. In response to resistance fighters—who are defending their homes—he has ordered the indiscriminate shelling and bombing of areas, regions, territories and neighborhoods who have not shot, have not been violent and have no proven connection to the shooters. In response to acts of terror by single individuals he has unleashed a juggernaught of military terror upon a whole population.

At mid-day on April 4, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society reported that two of their medical personnel in Ramallah had been thrown out of ambulances and beaten; their maternity hospital raided; the ambulance station in Nablus blocked by Israeli tanks; an ambulance crushed by a tank in Bethlehem.

In civil and criminal law there is a principal of fairness, or proportionality. In criminal law there is, further, the obvious requirement that the punishment be limited to the one who has committed the crime. Bystanders are not guilty because they live next door. Ethnic groups are not guilty because they look similar. Law, all law, including certainly Israeli domestic law, requires discrimination, discernment, fitting the retribution to the criminal but not to those who merely reside in the same town.

Sharon argues that the destruction is self defense. The law of self defense, however, also requires proportionality. The human suffering, the loss of life, the intentional, willful, destruction of Palestinian water and power supplies, of their infrastructure of streets and bridges, their ports, their police and their government, that is, the wall-to-wall destruction of Palestinian society, cannot be explained as self defense.

To bulldoze whole blocks of homes without attempting to discover who is innocent and who is not is uncivilized. Sharon may respond that he is not fighting a civilized society, that therefore the restraint that usually applies to the law of self defense does not apply in this case. But to deny Palestinian civilization is to accuse a whole people and to make war against a people because of their ethnicity is tantamount to genocide. It is not in any way fitting that the Israeli state—a state born to recover from genocide—should choose tactics which are so reminiscent of that offense.

Every home destroyed, every job lost, every door of opportunity closed, every ambulance crushed by a tank, creates despair for Palestinians. Despair creates dissidents and hopeless dissidents become terrorists. This is a formula, a fully predictable equation, no world leader can pretend not to grasp. It is the pretending, the mind of denial, that makes it criminal.

Ariel Sharon is, according to war crimes observers, violating Articles 33, 35, 48, 51, 52, 55, and 56 of the Geneva Conventions. As a violator of principles of both domestic criminal law, and international law, he is guilty of that mind and excess which characterizes war crimes. As Milosevic was stopped in Yugoslavia, Sharon should now be stopped in the West Bank. Israel is a good friend of the United States. Sharon is not Israel.

So long as we continue to supply the guns we are accomplices. As accomplices, as in any violent act, we are not immune from charges of aiding these crimes. For the safety of our own leaders, as well as our national honor, the US should stop supplying the weapons. Charges will one day surely be leveled against Sharon. We should take steps to insure that they are not also brought against us.