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International law and Israeli treatment of civilians in war

Article 51 of Protocol 1, Additional to the Geneva Conventions, 1977, entitled “Protection of the Civilian Population,” lays out the rules governing treatment of civilians in wartime. Section 5. defines indiscriminate (thus forbidden) attacks. Subsection b. refers to “an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated. (emphasis added)

Put simply, international law permits incidental injury to civilians if there is sufficient concrete and direct military advantage anticipated. No where does it say in international law that you can never act if civilians might be hurt. If our own civilian population is being bombarded by rockets that are causing injuries and deaths, and our army has pinpointed sites from which those rockets are launched, or where caches of those rockets are hidden, aiming at these constitutes concrete and direct military advantage that justifies incidental loss of civilian life. And indeed any loss of life would be incidental because we NEVER aim deliberately at civilians.

In fact, we so scrupulously avoid situations in which we might hurt civilians that we sometimes generate a disadvantage for ourselves. I’ve mentioned some instances of these in past days: Surrendering the element of surprise in attack by letting the civilians know in advance that they should flee. Or sending in foot soldiers to do hand to hand combat that puts them at risk (SHOULD we do that??) instead of doing aerial bombing because we know there are civilians in the area.

Aaron Lerner, director of IMRA, asked the IDF Spokesperson’s Office “if…Hezbollah organizes a group of ‘civilians’ to ring a rocket launcher as the rocket is prepared for launch and then launches the rocket towards Israel [is the official IDF position] that the IDF won’t attack the target.

“An ‘official security source’ replied: ‘Yes. The IDF will not attack a target where innocent civilians are known to be present. Hezbollah is already doing this and the IDF is not attacking targets under those circumstances.'”


Got that? The IDF will allow a rocket to be launched at Israel rather than hit Lebanese civilians deliberately ringing the launcher.

The world will never know. The world does not wish to know. But it is a bitter thing indeed to be taking such a PR beating. And fervently do I wish that Israel would do more forceful PR in her own defense.

Not only are we being used by Hezbollah because they are aware of our policy, some percentage of those classified as “civilian” deaths are deaths of Hezbollah operatives.

Written August 4, 2006