Televised images of Israel’s recent defensive operation in Gaza suggest cruelty and indiscriminacy. In fact, exactly the opposite is true. By deliberately placing young Arab children in the front lines of armed mobs that march with lethal intent upon Israeli soldiers, it is Palestinian leaders who openly commit violations of the law of war. Specifically, this practice of “human shields” is far more than a simple expression of cowardice; it also represents the expressly codified crime of “perfidy.” Similarly perfidious is the Palestinian tactic of routinely scattering armed gunmen among the cynically manipulated children
Several Palestinian terror groups, including the “moderate” Palestinian Authority, are now actively planning for mega-terror attacks upon Israel – attacks that would use chemical and/or biological weapons of mass destruction. To a significant extent, these insidious preparations are underway in Gaza. What government on earth could be expected to merely sit back passively and render its population vulnerable to historically unprecedented levels of mass-slaughter?
Remarkably, although unrecognized and unacknowledged, Israel has been willing to keep its essential counterterrorism operations in Gaza consistent with established standards of humanitarian international law. Palestinian violence, however, is consistently in violation of ALL civilized rules of engagement.
Terrorism is a crime under international law. When terrorists represent populations that enthusiastically support such attacks, and where these terrorists also find easy refuge among hospitable populations, all blame for ensuing counterterrorist harms lies exclusively with the criminals. Understood in terms of ongoing Palestinian terrorism and Israeli self-defense, this means that the Palestinian side alone must now bear full legal responsibility for Arab civilian casualties.
International law is not a suicide pact. Rather, it correctly offers an authoritative body of rules and procedures that always permits states to express their “inherent right of self-defense.” When terrorist organizations openly celebrate the explosive “martyrdom” of Palestinian children and unashamedly seek religious redemption through the mass-murder of Jewish children, they have absolutely no legal right to demand sanctuary anywhere. Under international law, they are hostes humani generis, “Common enemies of humankind” who must be punished wherever they are found.
Palestinian terrorism has become relentlessly familiar. Using bombs filled with nails, razor blades and screws dipped in rat poison, the killers proceed to maim and burn Israeli civilians with only cheers and blessings from the Arafat-appointed Islamic clergy. As for those who command and control the suicide-bombers’ mayhem, they cower cravenly in their towns and cities, taking exquisite care to find personal safety amidst densely-packed Arab populations.
Special IDF counterterrorism and commando units then attempt to identify and target only the terrorist leaders and to minimize collateral harms. Sometimes, however, such harms simply can’t be avoided, even by the IDF, which follows its code of “Purity of Arms” more stringently than any other nation’s army.
Deception can be legally acceptable in armed conflict, but the Hague Regulations clearly disallow placement of military assets or personnel in heavily populated civilian areas. Further prohibition of perfidy is found at Protocol I of 1977 additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, and it is widely recognized that these rules are also binding on the basis of customary international law. Perfidy represents an especially serious violation of the Law of War, one identified as a “grave breach” at Article 147 of Geneva Convention IV.
The incontestable legal effect of perfidy committed by Palestinian terrorist leaders is to immunize Israel from any responsibility for counterterrorist harms done to Arab civilians. Even if Hamas and Fatah and Islamic Jihad and their sister terror groups did not deliberately engage in perfidy, any Palestinian created link between civilians and terrorist activities would always give Israel full legal justification for defensive military action.
All combatants, including Palestinian terrorists, are bound by the Law of War of international law. This requirement is found at Article 3, common to the four Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949, and at the two protocols to these Conventions. Protocol I applies humanitarian international law to all conflicts fought for “self-determination,” the stated objective of all Palestinian fighters. A product of the Diplomatic Conference on the Reaffirmation and Development of International Humanitarian Law Applicable in Armed Conflicts (1977), this Protocol brings all irregular forces within the full scope of international law. In this connection, the terms “fighter” and “irregular” are exceptionally generous in describing Palestinian terrorists, fanatical criminals who normally target only civilians and whose characteristic mode of “battle” is not military engagement, but rather primal religious sacrifice and wanton murder of pregnant women and young children.
Israel has both the right and the obligation under international law to protect its citizens from criminal acts of terrorism. Should it ever decide to yield to Palestinian perfidy in its indispensable war against escalating Arab violence, Israel would surrender this important right and undermine this fundamental obligation. The clear effect of such capitulation would be to make potential victims of us all.
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LOUIS RENE BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is the author of many books and articles dealing with terrorism and international law. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.