Reprinted from Gush Shalom
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 means.
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.
THESE 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.
This was 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 "humane."
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.
That was the mandate of this committee of investigation.
THE COMMITTEE castigates Hamas for committing war crimes against the Israeli population.