UN Against War Crimes, US Not So Much
Carte Blanche for War Crimes Passes Senate Unanimously
U.S. alone in vote against investigation of crimes against humanity
Is there any doubt that Israelis and Palestinians have been committing war crimes and crimes against each other’s humanity for decades?
Objectively, that seems to be a plain fact, with particular relevance to Israel, whose existence was made possible by, among other things, acts of terror. Nowadays Israel objects, with no apparent sense of irony, when Palestinians seeking their own state also resort to acts of terror. Terrorism is a tactic of the relatively weak (as is non-violence) that sometimes seems to produce the desired result, as did Irgun’s bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem in 1946 that left 91 dead.
Weighing the merits of war criminals on any side is a fool’s game. But those playing this game include almost everyone involved with the Israeli-Palestinian struggle, as each pretends to ride a moral high horse that no longer exists, if it ever did.
Logically enough, under present conditions of mostly indiscriminate killing, the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva met in special session to consider this war crimes question on July 23. The council reviewed and later adopted a resolution captioned: “Ensuring respect for international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.” The council issued a four-page assessment of regional conditions and approved one decision:
… to urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry, to be appointed by the President of the Human Rights Council, to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military operations conducted since 13 June 2014, whether before, during or after…. [emphasis added]
The 47-member council voted 29-1 in favor of the resolution, with 17 members (11 of them European) abstaining. The lone vote against the commission of inquiry was the United States. Neither Israel nor the Palestinians are members of the council.
The U.S. opposition to the Human Rights Council investigating violations of international law comes just months after another UN human rights agency issued a report highly critical of more than two dozen human rights violations perpetrated by the U.S. Some of these violations continue unabated, such as prisoner treatment at Guantanamo, widespread surveillance of citizens everywhere, drone assassinations, and racial injustice by police and prisons. For the United States, these abuses are all well known and they express basic policy choices. The U.S. Senate provided a recent example.
100 U.S. senators approve Israeli war crimes, in advance
Senate Resolution 498 was introduced by Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina on July 10 with 79 co-sponsors and the caption: “Expressing the sense of the Senate regarding United States support for the State of Israel as it defends itself against unprovoked rocket attacks from the Hamas terrorist organization.”
Not surprisingly, the resolution provided plenty of opportunity for super-supportive senatorial Israel-bloviating. Even though the resolution text is a mix of Israeli propaganda and variously false assertion, no senator was moved to object, even to factual errors. No senator offered any amendment. On July 17, the resolution passed the Senate by unanimous consent, with no debate, resolving that the Senate:
- reaffirms its support for Israel’s right to defend its citizens and ensure the survival of the State of Israel;
- condemns the unprovoked rocket fire at Israel;
- calls on Hamas to immediately cease all rocket and other attacks against Israel; and
- calls on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to dissolve the unity governing arrangement with Hamas and condemn the attacks on Israel.
There you have it: the unanimous consensus of the United States of America.
During the entire time this resolution was pending, Israel was bombing Gaza with little military impact, and the cost of hundreds of civilian dead. Gaza is small, 139 square miles (the size of Detroit), with the same population density as Boston. With no authority other than force, Israel has issued warnings or orders to Palestinians to leave almost half of Gaza, with a predictable dislocation of thousands of people.
Gaza, with a population of about 1.8 million, is, for all intents and purposes, just a large concentration camp. Gaza’s borders are closed and Gaza has been under siege by Israel for years (also a human rights violation). Gaza is about ten times the size of the Warsaw Ghetto (1940-1943), where more than 400,000 Jews suffered under the Nazis, at first cooperatively. When the Jews had had enough and the uprising began in 1943, the Germans responded with overwhelming force, going block-by-block blowing up houses and wiping out virtually all the residents.
Just a few hours after the United State Senate unanimously passed its resolution giving Israel the green light to do whatever it wanted to anyone it fingered as a bother, Israel’s invasion of Gaza began.
There is blood on every United States senator’s hands
By passing resolution 498 unanimously, the U.S. Senate signaled unambiguously that it had not only lost its mind, it had gone out of its way to abandon any mindful approach to endless war in the Holy Land.
By framing an intractable, multi-faceted struggle for human rights as having only one dimension – Israeli self-defense – the world’s greatest deliberative body has deliberately declared itself brain dead. No one seriously questions Israel’s rights, but not one of these self-important senators was willing to acknowledge that the right to self-defense is not Israel’s alone.
By citing “unprovoked rocket fire,” and nothing else, 100 senators have demonstrated their unwillingness to exercise complex, reality-based thinking. Certainly, as the UN Human Rights Council acknowledges again and again, Hamas rockets represent another war crime – but that doesn’t cancel decades of Israeli crimes against Palestinians.
By calling for a one-sided ceasefire, every U.S. senator offers evidence of an apparent willingness to call for other fantasies, perhaps elves and unicorns as peacekeepers. None of them has actually called for real peacekeepers.
By telling the Palestinians how to govern themselves, a unanimous Senate has revealed its corruption, dishonesty, and imperial mindset. In 2006, Hamas won an election more competitive than some senators ever face, but the U.S. as the great defender of democracy refused to accept the election results (of course this was after the 2000 American election, so the precedent was there).
By what right do the U.S. and Israel seek to dictate how Palestinians or any other people seeking self-determination choose to govern themselves? Who decided that the Palestinians should be the kaffirs of Israeli apartheid? If no one will hold the U.S. or Israel to account for their war crimes or crimes against human rights, why would they stop committing them? Why would they even acknowledge committing them?
The U.S. Senate, like the White House, acts as if calling someone else a “terrorist organization” (S. Res. 498) ends the argument, even when those making the call are themselves in the midst of carrying out terrorist acts. This is the ultimate expression of impunity, the sense that one’s worst actions will have no bad consequences.
Much of the world believes that the United States and Israel behave with just such a sense of impunity. And that’s one of the deeper concerns embedded in the Human Rights Council’s commission of inquiry, to probe all violations “with a view to avoiding and ending impunity and ensuring that those responsible are held accountable.” That begins to sound like international justice. No wonder the United States opposed it.
Public domain image from Scrumshus released in Wikimedia Commons.