U.S. Must Stop Enabling Israel’s War Crimes

Flags of United States of America and Israel symbolizing an alliance. Massive war crimes are now being conducted by Israel. The U.S. is aiding and abetting those crimes—with arms shipments, bellicose rhetoric, and slashing verbal attacks on those who call for peace (photo: iStock by Getty Images).

There is only one humane and sensible course of action, and that is to implement an immediate ceasefire leading to a negotiated resolution of the crisis.

Who made the following statement: Hamas or Israel?

It is an entire nation out there that is responsible. It is not true this rhetoric about civilians not being aware, not involved. It’s absolutely not true.

If you guessed Hamas, you were wrong. Israeli President Isaac Herzog said it at a press conference last Friday. How is that any different from the rationale Hamas used for attacking Israeli civilians? And why is the U.S. supporting this collective punishment?

“That which is hateful to you, do not do unto your fellow,” said the great Jewish sage Hillel the Elder. “That is the whole of the Torah; the rest is commentary.”

“Go and learn,” Hillel added.

Ceasefire Now

Those words were spoken 2,000 years ago. And yet, in the days since the Hamas massacres, Israel’s path of mass extermination is leaving metaphorical tank tracks over the sage’s grave. There is only one humane and sensible course of action, and that is to implement an immediate ceasefire leading to a negotiated resolution of the crisis.

The rest is either idle talk or deliberate distraction from an ongoing war of extermination.

Unfortunately, most of the rhetoric pouring out of Western capitals is empty commentary—with one notable exception. The Ceasefire Now Resolution, introduced by Reps. Cori Bush, Rashida Tlaib, André Carson, Summer Lee, and Delia C. Ramirez, would ask the Biden Administration to “call for an immediate de-escalation and ceasefire in Israel and occupied Palestine, to send humanitarian aid and assistance to Gaza, and to save as many lives as possible.”

This resolution does nothing more than call for adherence to international and moral law. Every member of Congress, and the president, should be asked if they support it.

Yes, or no? The rest is commentary.

The United States is Aiding and Abetting War Crimes

Hamas committed a war crime by targeting civilians. Condemning that, as we should, obliges us to do the same for everyone.

Massive war crimes are now being conducted by Israel. The U.S. is aiding and abetting those crimes—with arms shipments, bellicose rhetoric, and slashing verbal attacks on those who call for peace.

Some people insist Israel’s killing of civilians is acceptable—unfortunate, they may concede, but acceptable. It is not. Israel’s conduct is not only immoral (and harmful to its own security). It’s also a war crime under international law.

The Geneva Conventions clearly state (Article 50, paragraph 1) that “the presence within the civilian population of individuals who do not come within the definition of civilians does not deprive the population of its civilian character.”

Article 8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines the following as war crimes:

  • “Intentionally using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare by depriving them of objects indispensable to their survival ...”—This applies to the “complete siege” of Gaza.
  • “Intentionally directing attacks against civilian objects which are not military objectives”—That includes the medical facilities, schools, and mosques that have been destroyed in large numbers. It’s not enough to simply declare that “terrorists are in there” without compelling evidence and a very immediate threat, e.g., fighters shooting and wounding their opponents from within those buildings.

As The British Medical Journal reports, it’s difficult to prosecute individuals for the war crime of attacking hospitals when it can’t be proven whether the attack was deliberate. Israeli officials removed that obstacle when they ordered Gazan hospitals to move their patients. “At Al Shifa Hospital,” The New York Times reported Sunday, “patients included 70 people on ventilators, 200 receiving dialysis, and many babies in incubators.”

  • “Declaring that no quarter will be given”—This applies to Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s comment that “we are dealing with human animals and will act accordingly,” and to other comments from Israeli officials.
  • Collective punishment—This war crime was spelled out in Herzog’s comment that the “entire nation” of Palestine is guilty, and by other statements from Israeli leaders.
  • “The deportation or transfer of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory”—as with the recent order that 1,000,000 Gazans move or face death.

The Rap Sheet

Other war crimes have been conducted against the Palestinians for decades, including but not limited to:

  • “Destroying or seizing the property of an adversary unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of the conflict”—That includes Israel’s policy of destroying family members’ homes as punishment for the activities of a single member.
  • “The transfer, directly or indirectly, by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”—This applies to the West Bank settlements, which are tolerated and subsidized by the Israeli government.
  • “Journalists engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict shall be considered as civilians”—20 journalists have been killed by the Israeli military, including an American citizen killed by an American bullet. Nobody has been punished for killing these noncombatants.

Do you believe in international law or not? If you don’t know the law, follow Hillel’s advice: Go and learn.

The Law of the Lawless

“Israel has the right to defend itself and its people,” said Joe Biden. “Full stop.” Nobody disagrees that every individual and every nation has a right to self-defense, within legal boundaries. I can defend my family from a hostile neighbor but I can’t slaughter his entire family, as a preemptive measure or for any other reason.

Biden’s words aren’t just commentary. In this context, they’re worse. They endorse the law of the lawless, the rule of violence over the rule of justice.

The International Committee of the Red Cross reiterated that Israel is violating international law and reports, “People have nowhere safe to go and many, including the disabled, elderly, and sick, will not be able to leave their homes.”

“We think that there should be no civilian casualties, of course,” said White House national security spokesperson John Kirby. But Kirby expressed reluctance to engage in “armchair quarterbacking” and called the preservation of life “a tall order.”

“Armchair quarterbacking”? “A tall order”? That’s how the U.S. government talks about protecting the innocent and obeying the law.

Israel says it’s not to blame for its actions, that Hamas is forcing them to rain fire down on Gaza. But that’s not how international law works. War crimes on one side do not justify war crimes on the other. Israel is using the logic of the abuser who says, “She made me do it.”

As I write these words, the death toll from the bombing of Gaza stands at 2,808 people, an estimated 750 of whom were children. There are 10,850 wounded, and Israel’s illegal blockade has made it impossible for them to receive adequate medical care.

“Doctors Without Borders says hospitals have also run out of painkillers,” NPR reports. “It says the wounded, many of them children, are left screaming in pain.”

I’m sorry, was I “armchair quarterbacking”?

Cheap Talk

I’ve seen lots of lofty statements about “showing compassion and love to both sides.” That’s all very well and good, because both sides are hurting. But if it’s not accompanied by a call to end the pain on both sides, it’s an attempt to buy some cheap grace without risking a controversial stand.

People like Bill Maher want to argue about the use of the word “colonizer.” Others want to pontificate about the meaning of words like “nationhood.” This is not a time for abstractions. The question’s pretty simple: Do you believe that we should keep being complicit in scenes like this or not? Yes or no? Anything else is... well, you know what it is.

Nor should our attention be diverted to a few extreme or tactless comments from a handful of left organizations and so-called “keyboard radicals.” It’s a distraction; these individuals and groups have no power. It’s safe to assume none of those dead kids ever saw that poster with a hang glider on it.

Those discussions play into the hands of the war parties, as the killing goes on.

The Choice

Right now that killing is being conducted almost exclusively by one side. But a ceasefire would apply to all parties, so it would save lives even in the unlikely event that the balance shifted. “In a place where no one behaves like a human being,” said Hillel, “you must strive to be human.”

He’s not just talking about the Middle East. He means us, here in the United States, right now.

Another saying of Hillel’s closely parallels a passage from the Quran. “Whosoever destroys one soul,” Hillel said, “it is as though he had destroyed the entire world. And whosoever saves a life, it is as though he had saved the entire world.”

That’s the question we face: Do we keep on destroying these children and the other innocents—these beautiful worlds—or do we act now to save them? It shouldn’t be very hard to answer. It’s a yes or no question.

The rest is commentary.

Richard (RJ) Eskow is a freelance writer. Much of his work can be found on eskow.substack.com. His weekly program, The Zero Hour, can be found on cable television, radio, Spotify, and podcast media. 

( Source: Republished under the Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) from Common Dreams ).

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