Following on from last week’s post on Hezbollah’s War Crimes, it would seem appropriate to follow up with a discussion of the actions of the state of Israel with respect to the Geneva Conventions. Human Rights Watch has an excellent and thoroughly-researched report on the subject of whether the civilian casualties in Lebanon have been the result of collateral damage to legitimate military actions, or whether there have been instances of illegitimate, intentional or excessive violence against civilians. It concludes that there is certainly a case to answer. There is also the issue of whether the war crime of “reprisals” has been committed – the carrying out of acts of violence against civilians in order to put pressure on their government to carry out some desired course of action, which is of course called “terrorism” when non-state actors do it.
I had prepared a post on this subject, but the Human Rights Watch report is so much more thorough that I think it’s better to base discussion on that (by the way, the comments on the Hezbollah war crimes post were very civilised and intelligent, let’s repeat that). My summary of the report’s conclusions would be that the proposition that the IDF “takes the utmost care to minimise civilian casualties” has been falsified to a high degree of certainty, and even the weaker claim that the IDF does not intentionally target civilians looks a lot less certain than one would previously have believed. The attacks on infrastructure such as the LibanLait dairy look not at all like legitimate attempts to shut down Hezbollah and very much like attempts to intimidate the Lebanese population; unless we are prepared to postulate a truly colossal series of blunders, it looks very bad indeed.
Israel has in the past been able to maintain, with some justification, that there can be no “moral equivalence” between its actions and those of the terrorists; an important point when the physical effects of the IDF’s actions have been so many more deaths than the physical effects of terrorism. Whatever the jus ad bellum, this issue of jus in bello matters a lot, and speculation about the long term genocidal aims of the President of Iran simply cannot justify war crimes now. The gradual disintegration of the clear distinctions between the conduct in war of Israel and that of its enemies, which are very important in maintaining Israel’s international diplomatic reputation, ought to worry the Israeli government a lot more than it apparently does.