Huge kudos to Amnesty International for having pulled together a well-researched and intelligent report on the international arms suppliers who were complicit in the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the recent Israel-Gaza war, and for concluding it with a forthright call to all there arms suppliers to cease their arms shipments to the belligerents forthwith.
The news release about the report is here, and the PDF of the report’s full text is here.
(Astute readers of JWN will recall that one of the first things I called for when the recent Gaza war broke out was a complete embargo on all arms shipments to the warring parties.)
Of course, the lethal and destructive capabilities of the arsenals of the two sides are completely asymmetrical. And regarding the shipments of arms to each sides by outside arms suppliers, we can recall Kathy Kelly’s poignant recent speculation regarding the sheer size of the “tunnels” that would be required if all Israel’s arms imports had to be brought in in such a way.
The Amnesty report does three things particularly well:
- 1. It pulls together a lot of details about the size, nature, and provenance of the arms transfers made to each side– and, too, of the effects some of these transferred arms had on the communities targeted. And while it is careful to do this for both sides, the report makes quite clear the stark disparity between the level and lethality of the arms level on each side. In particular, though the report is careful to list all the suppliers of significant amounts of arms to srael, the figures it provides show that the overwhelming majority of these outside-supplied arms– $7.9 billion-worth in the four years 2004-2007– came from the United States. The second place was occupied by France, which provided only $59 million-worth.
2. It provides a very clear explanation (p. 19 of the full report) of the duty all states have under international law to avoid aiding or assisting other states in the commission of unlawful acts. This duty is spelled out in Article 16 of the International Law Commission’s Articles on Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts (2001), which states: “A State which aids or assists another State in the commission of an internationally wrongful act by the latter is internationally responsible for doing so if: (a) that State does so with knowledge of the circumstances of the internationally wrongful act; and (b) the act would be internationally wrongful if committed by that State.” After the way the Israelis used their foreign-supplied weapons in and against Lebanon in 2006, surely no state officials elsewhere could thereafter argue that “they did not know” that Israel had a propensity to use such weapons in ways that were grossly disproportionate to the military task at hand and often grossly indiscriminate… Also, in addition to the duties states have under international law, most states– including the US– also have their own domestic legislation governing the end use of weapons it supplies to others. In the case of the US, such arms can be used only for defensive purposes.
3. Finally, the Amnesty report is quite clear on the policies it advocates. It calls for the immediate imposition of a “comprehensive UN Security Council arms embargo on Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups until effective mechanisms are in place to ensure that weapons or munitions and other military equipment will not be used to commit serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, and the establishment of a ” thorough, independent and impartial investigation of violations and abuses of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including the Israeli attacks which have been directed at civilians or civilian buildings in the Gaza Strip, or which are disproportionate, and Palestinian armed groups’ indiscriminate rocket attacks against civilian centres in southern Israel.”
So now, let’s see what the AI organization in the US, and the US Campaign to End the Israeli occupation can do with this information and this campaign.
Addendum, at 2:00 p.m., EST:
I see that Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum has “slammed” Amnesty for its report, which he described as “unbalanced and unfair because it equates the criminal with the victim.” Doubtless the government of Israel won’t be far behind in denouncing the report.
Regarding Barhoum’s criticism, I would note that the provisions of international humanitarian law on which Amnesty bases its argument deal overwhelmingly with questions of how belligerent parties fight their wars rather than why they fight them. International law does, certainly, give a general right to people living under foreign military occupation to resist their occupiers, including by using military force to do so. (And also, by inviting other states to come and join them in doing so– as the Kuwaitis did, in 1990-91.) So any actions that Hamas takes that can be seen as constituting direct resistance to Israel’s military occupation of Gaza or the West Bank would be considered legitimate.
Thus, for example, just about all the military operations Hamas and others undertook against IOF forces who invaded Gaza during the war– or any actions they might have taken to defend against air or naval assaults against Gaza– would be completely legal.
You could certainly argue that if, during the recent war or in the immediate and quite evident run-up to it, the Palestinian resistance groups had sent rockets or against valid military targets inside Israel, that would have been legal too. What’s illegal as a way of war-fighting is to send out rockets or other ordnance that is not targeted as carefully as possible onto valid military targets.
One important point is that there is good evidence that in the past Hamas has tried to target military targets– mainly, military bases– inside Israel. But the Israeli censorship system forbids any reporting or mention of that. Another is that the targetability of the rockets used by Hamas and other groups is pretty darn poor in many cases. And another is that groups other than Hamas– including, as the Amnesty report notes, groups affiliated with Fateh– are also militarily active inside Gaza; and they may have targeting philosophies that are different from Hamas’s. (However, Hamas, as the predominant authority in the Gaza Strip, has a responsibility to try to curb the actions of any other groups that are committing war-crimes through the indiscriminate firing of missiles into Israel.)
… All in all, Barhoum has something of an argument, but not I think a 100% watertight argument.
Meanwhile, for myself, as a US citizen, I am most concerned with the involvement of my government in this whole business. If the US government were supplying any weapons to Hamas or other Palestinian factions, I would probably want to examine their practices and targeting philosophies much more rigorously. But it is not. It is massively supplying arms to a country that has used many of them to commit war crimes. I shall therefore focus centrally on the responsibilities that that entails.