The world watches on

Israeli personnel will probably get away with war crimes

AT PENPOINT

Gaza is only part of the Occupied Territories, and not a particularly important part at that. However, it has assumed importance, and has become the centre of the world’s attention, because of what Israel seems to be trying to achieve there, a genocide of the people living there.

It might seem wrong somehow that so much attention should be focused on a very small country, Israel, and its even smaller occupied territory, but that is how it is. The Israelis represent Judaism, the Palestinian residents Islam, and the rest of the world Christianity, all three faiths having an overpowering interest in this part of the world.

However, the more secular, liberal element is treating the issue not as a religious one, but as a humanitarian one. That has caused ructions in the West, because it has led to large protests, including by some Jewish, normally pro-Zionist, organizations.

A ceasefire has been mediated, but it depends on Hamas willingness to let go its only bargaining chip, the hostages it took on October 7, and the Israeli willingness to let go Palestinian prisoners languishing in Israeli jails. The Israelis really cannot afford to comply, because it would mean a crack in the implacability of the Occupation. However, if it refuses, not only will Hamas bear the responsibility for more Palestinian deaths, but have to kill some of their only bargaining chip, if not all.

Hitherto, Israel has been able to get away with a lot without too deep questioning, because of the Holocaust, in which six million Jews were slaughtered during World War, not for anything they were supposed to have done, as because they were Jews. Two major acts of bad behaviour can be identified: first, the creation of Israel, on top of Palestine, and by expelling as many Palestinian Arabs in what became known as An-Nakba, or the catastrophe. Second, the occupation of those parts of Palestine that had gone to either Jordan (the West Bank) or Egypt (the Gaza Strip), after the tremendous Israeli victory in the Six-Day War.

Now, it seems, the Israelis are attempting to do something as heinous, and perhaps more so, carry out the genocide of as many Gazans as possible. One sign of their intentions comes from the campaign that seems to have started against the hospitals in Gaza. The Israelis claim that they are actually functioning as command centres for Hamas, but whether they are or not, they are refugee centres. People, desperate that homes were being bombed, had shifted to hospitals in the hope that they would not be bombarded. They were wrong. The latest example of the Israeli determination to crush the Gazans, and not just Hamas, is shown by the decision to shift premature babies to Egypt. It is not just that it is impossible to keep incubators running, but because the hospitals are unsafe because of Israeli bombardment.

However, bombing hospitals has always been against military law. The Israeli air forces and artillery, and armou is involved, have shown their lack of military honour. The impunity from prosecution for war crimes apart, it seems that all have overcome any qualms at hitting civilian targets, especially those from which no one was firing. It should not be forgotten that Nazis tried for war crimes at Nuremberg after the war had the defence of receiving orders rejected. Closer home, in the trials of German officials guilty of the Holocaust, many of whom were tried in Israeli courts, had this particular defence rejected.

The need for a ceasefire becomes all the more evident. It will not just bail out the Muslim leaders who find their populations restive, but also the Western leaders who cannot make the choice between well-heeled Zionist supporters and demonstrating liberals. It all now boils down to how determined are the Israelis to inflict collective punishment on the Gazans.

Under International Humanitarian Law, it appears, the plea of obedience to orders cannot apply. The soldier or airman is supposed to evaluate that order, and come to a personal determination of whether it is legal or not. This does not apply to all situations. An order to an officer to take his command and take over PM House does not really fall under this, though it will fall under the country’s Constitution. However, the officer may feel that he will not take any action if the PM resists. Of course, can he take action as prescribed under law against a subordinate who refuses to obey orders? These moral dilemmas are best left to soldiers and air. Suffice it to say that Israeli soldiers and airmen engaged in bombarding hospitals run the risk of prosecution, and will not be able to plead that they were merely obeying orders.

There is a turmoil in the Muslim world, and the worst comes among the Arab dictatorships and monarchies, who are not only being shown up as unable to do anything on an issue which affects the peoples so viscerally, but it has also shown how bankrupt are the policies, adopted long ago or recently, of recognition and reconciliation. Also to be seen is the inability of Iran, which had of late taken to championing the Palestinian cause, to provide assistance. Its refusal to allow the Taliban to cross through its territory may have spared Taliban blushes, but it has not shown Iran as anxious for the fight.

Its concern is probably the one shared by many, that this conflict does not become a larger conflagration. That would send up international oil prices, which nobody except oil producers would like. Even oil producers like Iran would have to balance the losses they would suffer from the inflation in their imports against the hike in their oil revenues.

Another sign of turmoil has been the UK Cabinet crisis, in which Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who is of Indian origin (being the child of a Goanese-descent Kenyan father and a Tamil-descent Mauritian mother) had to resign because she criticized the police handling of the pro-Palestinian protests in London, in a newspaper article too. She represents the right-wing of what is already a rightwing party, and has not escaped being labelled anti-Semitic for previous misdemeanours, but has now been punished for having been anti-Palestinian.

The Palestinian diaspora was initially concentrated in the Arab world, but now it has found more traction in the UK and USA. Both countries wish to appear multicultural, and thus are torn between their desire to favour the Jews for being victims of the Holocaust, and to support the Palestinians because of what they are undergoing.

However, there seems to be one area in which the world community does not seem to be moving. After smaller massacres, there has been a pledge of never again. In recent times, there was the 1982 Sabra-Shatila massacre, of as many as 3500 civilians, mostly Palestinians and Lebanese Shias, in Berut’s Sabra neighbourhood and the Palestinian Shatila refugee camp; then the was the 1992 Rwanda massacre, when as many as a million Hutus were massacred by Tutsi fellow countrymen. And soon after, in 1994, there was the massacre in Srebrenica of over 8000 Bosniak Muslim men and boys by the Bosnian Serb Army led by Ratko Mladic.

The International Criminal Court was set up, a permanent body with descent from the Nuremberg and Tokyo Tribunals, which claimed cognisance of war crimes.

Both the Rwandan and Sbrenica massacres were tried, but not Chatila, because Israel did not acknowledge the jurisdiction of the ICC over its personnel. Attempts to try Israeli personnel for other war c rimes against Palestinians have also fallen flat because of Israel’s refusal to accept its jurisdiction.

The USA also refuses to accept jurisdiction even though it provided a Supreme Court judge as chief prosecutor at Nuremberg and an Assistant Attorney General at Tokyo. It seems something of a contradiction that the Srebrenica and Rwanda massacres should be tried, but even though the Gazan has approached, perhaps exceeded, the Brenica figure, and may exceed the Rwandan when it is all over, it will not be tried.

The need for a ceasefire becomes all the more evident. It will not just bail out the Muslim leaders who find their populations restive, but also the Western leaders who cannot make the choice between well-heeled Zionist supporters and demonstrating liberals. It all now boils down to how determined are the Israelis to inflict collective punishment on the Gazans.

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