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"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer

The Occasional Muse
My humble opinion on current events

July 24, 2002

An Israeli Atrocity?

Much has already been said about the Israeli air strike that killed a Palestinian terrorist along with 14 or 15 civilians. Many are calling it an atrocity, a war crime, an act of terror. The White House opposed it, said it was "heavy-handed," that it struck a blow for the peace process.

Some facts. Salah Shehada, the dead terrorist, was a very bad individual. He was a founder of the terrorist group Hamas, which has conducted several suicide bombings against Israeli citizens. Hamas has declared war against Israel. Hamas and Israel are currently in a state of war. We can discuss right and wrong and who's responsible for this some other time. The fact is, Hamas and Israel are at war.

So what rules govern war when it comes to civilians? The Fourth Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War describes in great detail what can and cannot happen to civilians, called "protected persons," during a time of war. Here's the first relevant sentence, from Part 3, Article 1, Section 28: "The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations."

That means that a legitimate military target may be attacked even when civilians are nearby or in harm's way. So, according to international law, Israel was within its rights to strike at Shehada, even though he was hiding among civilians.

It's a common tactic of cowardly terrorists to hide behind civilian skirts. The Geneva Convention anticipated this tactic and states this, in the very next sentence: "The party to the conflict in whose hands protected persons may be is responsible for the treatment accorded to them by its agents."

What this means is this: Shehada is the "party to the conflict." He chose to surround himself with "protected persons," and is therefore "responsible for the treatment accorded to them." Shehada willingly and knowingly placed innocent civilians in harm's way, including his family, to save his own skin. According to international law, that makes him responsible for what happens to those civilians, not the attacker, in this case Israel.

So, legally speaking, Israel had every right to do what it did. Legally speaking, Shehada is responsible for the dead civilians.

Of course, this doesn't make Israel morally right, and it doesn't make Israel right for exercising what it had every right to do. One can argue that Israel should not have gone after Shehada with so many innocents around. But if one argues that, one must be prepared to justify Shehada, who surely knew he was a proper military target, placing himself among civilians. That's a tough job.

Personally, I don't think Israel should have done it. Yes, they had the right, but that doesn't make it right. It makes Shehada a martyr and inflames an already pissed-off Palestinian population. On the other hand, I am not sorry Shehada is dead, because he deserved it. He was a truly evil man who intentionally killed "protected persons" for years.

He lived by the sword and he died by the sword. Forgive me if I don't shed a tear.

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