Phil Weiss, who’s read more of the Goldstone report than I have at this point, zeroes in on the paragraphs Goldstone and Co wrote about the IDF’s killings of police officers and cadets in Gaza.
- The mission reports that 99 policemen and 9 civilians were killed in the first minutes of the slaughter. Overall, 240 policemen were killed during the war– a sixth of the Gaza casualties. Police were “deliberately” targeted. And on what basis? Well, Israel regards the police institutionally– or in large part individually– as part of the Gazan military.
The mission analyzed the history of the Gaza police since the Hamas takeover in 2007. While policemen were recruited from Hamas followers, Goldstone found that the police are a “civilian law-enforcement agency” and that the police targets of Dec. 27 were none of them taking part in hostilities and had not lost their “civilian immunity.” Yes “individual” policemen were surely members of armed groups and can be considered combatants. But the Israeli attacks failed to strike an acceptable balance, between anticipated military advantage of destruction and civilian damage. The great majority of these policemen were civilians. So the mission concludes,This was a violation of international humanitarian law.
Now, Phil makes some very important points in that post. But he– and we– should note that a “civilian” is not the same as a “noncombatant”.
A noncombatant is a person whom, under international humanitarian law, it is forbidden to target, and who is therefore “protected” by IHL.
This includes civilians but it also includes members of a military formation who are not currently fighting. Hence the specificity of the term “noncombatant.”
This class of persons includes all civilians. It also includes members of military formations who are “hors de combat” because of injuries– along with members of military formations who are not “on duty” in the military at the time.
It would include, for example, even senior officers in the IDF or any other military (or of Hamas’s military formations) who are off duty– sleeping in their homes, or whatever. And it includes the many members of Israel’s reserve forces who, during the Gaza war or at any other time, might have been sleeping at home and going about their normal family and professional lives.
Many members of the police force in a place like Sderot may, for example, have also been reserve officers in the IDF. But at any time that they are not actually engaged in combat as part of the IDF– or, I think, in military training, which is a preparation for combat– they are considered noncombatants, and therefore have all the IHL protections of noncombatants.
Thus, for a Gazan, simply being a member of an armed group does not make a person into a “combatant”, that is, a legitimate target of Israeli fire. Unless he is currently engaged in combat, which the cadets at a police academy graduation ceremony evidently weren’t.
That’s the great thing about international humanitarian law: it applies to everyone in the same way.
… Anyway, that’s my only quibble with what is otherwise a really excellent post by Phil.