Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Bringing justice to Gaza will be a long struggle

The aftermath of the Israeli invasion of Gaza last year continues to resonate worldwide. Al-Jazeera reports that two Israeli Defence Force (IDF) officers have been "disciplined" for "exceeding their authority in a manner that jeopardised the lives of others" by firing artillery shells on the densely populated Tel al-Hawa on January 15th 2009. The officers, judged to have "breached guidelines," will "have an official reprimand put into their file," but the army has ruled that "ruled there was no basis to order a criminal investigation into the incident."

This comes after the state denounced the report by South African Judge Richard Goldstone as "flawed from A to Z", "biased," and "ludicrous." An Israeli investigation, not surprisingly, ruled that the IDF's conduct "was consistent with Israel's obligations under international law."

However, we now learn via the Independent that "a high-ranking officer has acknowledged for the first time that the Israeli army went beyond its previous rules of engagement on the protection of civilian lives in order to minimise military casualties." According to reporter Donald McIntyre, the officer has "made it clear that he did not regard the longstanding principle of military conduct known as "means and intentions" – whereby a targeted suspect must have a weapon and show signs of intending to use it before being fired upon – as being applicable before calling in fire from drones and helicopters." This reinforces the conclusion of Breaking the Silence, who published soldiers' testimonies last July showing that the "unwritten message, which came from brigade, battalion, and company commanders in morale-building conversations before entering Gaza, translated into zero patience for the life of enemy civilians."

McIntyre posits that the revelations "will pile more pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to set up an independent inquiry into the war," but this looks unlikely. If we want proof of this, we look to his paper's editorial assertion that "strong democratic nations are able to scrutinise their own behaviour, even in times of conflict." If this is true, then strong democratic nations are in short supply. Taking Britain as a leading example, the Hutton Inquiry on the Iraq war was nothing short of a whitewash - as even the mainstream press admitted - and the Chilcott Inquiry has followed the same pattern. There is no chance of any culpability for war crimes falling on politicians or planners in either the US or Britain and the idea that their Israeli client might face "UN action to bring war crimes charges" as an alternative is ludicrous.

As Mark S Ellis, the executive director of the International Bar Association (IBA), told Al Jazeera, the mechanisms to bring those deemed responsible for war crimes to justice "simply don’t exist." The refusal of the United States to comply with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) verdict of 1986 that it "acted, against the Republic of Nicaragua, in breach of its obligation under customary international law not to intervene in the affairs of another State," is a case in point. Though the International Criminal Court (ICC) is a separate entity to the ICJ, the trend of US vetoes regarding resolutions against Israeli crimes, as well as continued Israeli non-compliance, remains the crucial factor. As Ellis notes, "the ICC option is effectively closed."

It would seem that few options remain for the Palestinians to seek redress, and that hopes for any resolution to the Israeli occupation of Palestine remain dim. But there must be cause for hope. Acts of resistance and protest, such as those taking place regularly across the West Bank, must continue. The search for a way to gain justice through international law must not abate. And those across the world who stand in solidarity with the suffering Palestinian people must not let their support waver. We must continue, even if it takes an age and a day, until the force of popular pressure brings the walls crashing down and the criminals to justice.