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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Middle East Conflict Has Abandoned Rules of War

 

Anthony McIntyre • Irish News, 16 August 2006

Last week I was invited to take part in an hour long panel discussion on BBC World Service to explore the current situation in the Middle East with a particular focus on the 'rules of war.' One of the panellists whom I found myself seriously at odds with was the former chief of staff of the Israeli Defence Forces, Moshe Yaalon. A retired Lieutenant General who served at the helm of his country's armed forces from 2002-2005, he is currently 'a distinguished military fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.'

One thing surprised me about him. Despite the legendary arrogance of Israeli military personnel he was very polite. There was another thing which did not surprise me; he was less than forthcoming, rarely passing an opportunity to wholly absolve the Israeli state of responsibility for its own violence.

What prompted the BBC to host the discussion was an opinion piece General Yaalon had earlier written in the Washington Post where he stated, 'the rules of war boil down to one central principle: the need to distinguish combatants from non-combatants.' This principle, he asserted, 'has always guided military and political decision making' of the Israeli state. He was scathing of media and political figures who sought to cast doubt on this. For particular pejorative attention he focussed on the secretary general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, whom he likened to a knave or a fool - without affording him the dubious leniency of a fool's pardon - for his assertion that the Israeli military had deliberately targeted UN observers. Politeness, it seems, can be superficial, serving as a facade behind which arrogance struts.

I found his perspective every bit as warped as it was appalling, being wholly at odds with the facts on the ground. Drawing on a report by Human Rights Watch I put it to him that Israel was guilty of war crimes against civilians, many of them children; that despite all its pompous moralising on the phenomenon of suicide bombers, listeners to our exchange would be hard pressed to see any ethical distinction between the suicide bombers of Islamic and Palestinian groups and the infanticide bombers of the Israeli air force.

While he did me the courtesy of refraining from levelling allegations that I was some seething anti-Semite - the usual riposte to those who question Israeli policy - he remained unruffled as he repeated ad nauseam the mantra that the blame for the current conflict lies with Hezbollah alone. There was not the slightest acknowledgement that Israel might bear even a modicum of responsibility. This is the perspective the Israeli military and its mythomaniacs are determined to pass off to the world as unalterable truth. Tel Aviv writer, Yitzhak Laor, captured the military's logic well: 'we have the power and therefore we can enforce the logic.'

This is not a simple matter of self-denial but strategic sleight of hand. Israel knows exactly what atrocities it is perpetrating in the Lebanon. It seeks to thwart the right of international citizenry to access such knowledge. General Yaalon's attitude is one born of a dangerous rampant militarism underpinned and reinforced by the centrality of the military within Israeli society. The rationale is often given that the hostility surrounding the country propels Israelis to disproportionately prioritise their own military. But that hostility is being nurtured by every F-16 launched bomb that has delivered a personal holocaust to each of the thousand Lebanese civilians so far obliterated.

There is a pressing need to take sides in this war. And the side to be backed is the civilians of both Israel and Lebanon who have been subjected to persistent murderous bombardment.

Civilians should never have to explain their right not to be killed. Those who kill them can offer no justification, merely mitigation. In the case of this brutal war there is more to be said in mitigation for Hezbollah than Israel. It is estimated that the Israeli Defence Forces have killed 100 civilians to every three killed by Hezbollah. Hezbollah have killed three times as many soldiers as civilians. There is no equivalent in Israel of Qana. Both sides have disgracefully abandoned the rules of war. But Israel's disregard for such rules vastly dwarfs Hezbollah's.

To challenge the role of militarism whatever its source, and the wars it invariably spawns, requires prioritising the rights of civilians over the military. Civilians have a greater right not to be killed than the military has a right to kill them. That should be the one rule of war, to be trumped by no other.














 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

 

 

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Index: Current Articles



21 August 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

Throwing the Book at Gerry
John Kennedy

The Man With the Planter Name
Liam O Comain

Diplock Delay Equals Justice Denied
Martin Galvin

Kevin Lynch, INLA Volunteer
Ray Collins

1981 Hunger Strike Commemoration in Chicago
Richard Wallace

The Question of Paisley's Legacy
Dr John Coulter

Turf War
John Kennedy

Eoin O’Duffy’s biography by Fearghal McGarry
Seaghán Ó Murchú

The Proclamation to Me
Mick Hall

Federal Unionism—Early Sinn Fein: Article 3
Michael Gillespie

Federal Unionism—Early Sinn Fein: Article 4
Michael Gillespie

House on Notting Hill
Dr John Coulter

Courage, Muslim Leaders
David Adams

Middle East Conflict Has Abandoned Rules of War
Anthony McIntyre

A Warning From History
John Kennedy

Cartoon Commissar
Anthony McIntyre

The Letters page has been updated.


13 August 2006

Hunger Strike Anniversary
Martin Galvin

"Let the Fight Go On"
Willie Gallagher

Apology Owed
The Family of Volunteer Patsy O'Hara, INLA

Right the Wrong
Harry Boland

It's Who You Talk To
Dr John Coulter

As They Were Made They Were Matched
Liam O Comain

Poacher Turned Gamekeeper
John Kennedy

Criminality Figures Do Not Add Up
David Adams

The Siege of Derry
Anthony McIntyre

Repeat After Me: No Gods, No Masters
Mick Hall

Dual Presidency More Realistic
Nathan Dowds

Federal Unionism—Early Sinn Fein: Article 2
Michael Gillespie

Santa Coming Early
Dr John Coulter

Media Matters
Anthony McIntyre

Light, Freedom & Song: A Cultural History of Modern Irish Writing
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Pass the Gravy
John Kennedy

ILIR is Blowing the Green Card Game for the Irish
Patrick Hurley

From Belfast to the Middle East
Davy Carlin

Manifesto of the Third Camp
Anthony McIntyre

 

 

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