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Israel and the Erosion of International Humanitarian Law

By       Message Lawrence Davidson       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink

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Cross-posted from To The Point Analyses

From youtube.com/watch?v=neU9IIABJ_4: Israeli Attack on Gaza
Israeli Attack on Gaza
(Image by YouTube)
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Part I -- The Precarious Status of International Humanitarian Law

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By the end of the 19th century it was recognized by those concerned with human rights that the nation-state was a destructive anachronism. It was an entity that seemed addicted to periodic spasms of mass violence, particularly in the form of war carried on with little or no regard for non-combatants or other restraining factors. As a consequence, efforts began to create instruments of international law -- treaties, conventions and other agreements -- to modify state behavior in such areas as the treatment of prisoners and the victimization of civilian populations.

Progress was spotty until the very end of World War II, when various human rights charters came into existence as a part of the United Nations. Through that institution, provision was made -- albeit in very narrowly defined circumstances -- for the fielding of UN military forces (the famous Blue Helmets) to try to enforce peace and protect civilian populations. Other institutions, such as the International Criminal Court (ICC), were also eventually brought into existence.

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The post-war move to expand international law to cover human rights and provide enforcement measures was all for the good, and in the future it will hopefully prove a powerful precedent that can be built upon. However, this period of progress did not last long. It soon gave way to a hypocritical selective application of humanitarian law.

The truth is that today only those nations which are relatively weak and have no great power patronage are in any danger of being called to task for gross violations of human rights. If you are the leader of some small African or Balkan state and you go on some ethnically or religiously inspired rampage, you run a real risk of being charged with crimes against humanity and hauled before the ICC, while the UN Security Council votes to send military forces into your country. On the other hand, if you are a great power, or the close ally of one, you can pretty much do what you want, where you want. Great powers hold the concept of their own sovereignty sacrosanct and the us-versus-them mindset that goes along with hubristic nationalism remains unchallenged. That goes for their allies as well who, under the protection of their patron, often commit with impunity the same crimes that land smaller, unprotected powers in deep trouble.

Part II -- Israel and the U.S. Undermine the Law

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The most blatant contemporary example of this disregard for international law as it pertains to human rights can be seen in the actions of Israel. The Zionist state's present blitzkrieg in Gaza may be the worst of that nation's ongoing series of violations of International humanitarian law. I would refer the reader to the Center for Constitutional Rights fact sheet outlining Israel's violation of humanitarian-law statutes.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Israel's acclaimed "Defense Forces" have become expert in violating human rights: murder and ethnic cleansing, illegal confiscation of occupied land, destruction of civilian housing, destruction of civilian infrastructure (water, electricity, sanitation, etc.), attacking of medical facilities, torture both of adults and children, the use of banned weaponry, the mistreatment of prisoners and more. And they have done it all quite openly.

Official complaints about Israeli behavior come before the UN several times a year but to no avail. Each time Israel is called to task in the UN Security Council for violating international law, the U.S. vetoes the resolution and therefore Israel suffers no consequences. Obviously this only emboldens Israeli leaders to continue acting in a criminal manner. However, the impact goes beyond Israel and its victims, because each time the U.S. casts its veto, international law designed to protect human rights suffers degradation.

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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 Offical Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli
Statehood
; and Islamic Fundamentalism. His academic work is focused on the history of American foreign relations with the Middle East. He also teaches courses in the history of science and modern European intellectual history.

His blog To The Point Analyses now has its own Facebook page. Along with the analyses, the Facebook page will also have reviews, pictures, and other analogous material.

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