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
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
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
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.