Even a vapid take on Israel-Palestine, void of allegiances or ideological commitments illustrates, at the very least, that to call it a ‘war’ is a misnomer. War suggests some sense of equality, not in claims and stakes, but in military might. A glance at the death tolls and the demographic of those killed demonstrates to the contrary however. Remember this: the Palestinians have no army, no navy, no aviation and is strangled by a blockade. And herein lies the problem of applying humanitarian law when such disparity exists.
Channel 4 recently conducted a fact check on the claims that Hamas uses human shields and hides its missiles in civilian buildings. It concludes that claims Hamas coerces its citizens as human shields is entirely misleading; many simply decide to either stay in their homes (indicative of the Palestinian sumud) regardless of warnings from the IDF, or are simply not given enough warning, with others believing that staying in doors is safer. The report also cites that some claims of weapons being stored near civilian facilities maybe true but accepts that, dense as the Gaza strip is, it is inevitable (the area of Greater Manchester is 1276km2 and is inhabited by 2.3million people- the Gaza Strip’s population is around 2 million and is just 360km2) . But perhaps more explanatorily illuminating is the inferences of the Channel 4 report; it entertains a well-known debate amongst Public International Lawyers on the Law of Force and asymmetric warfare. International Law, perhaps wrongly, assumes a liberal idea of sameness, entirely decontextualized, entirely de-situated, entirely de-historicised, of the legal parties to a conflict, maintaining that they must adhere to the same standards despite huge disparities in their respective abilities to fight conventional wars. Certainly, there is a potential slippery slope, but Hamas not only have to fight a ‘war‘, they have to do so under the assumption that it has the military urbanity of a properly formed state. Let us not forget, the Zionist militias, Irgun, Haganah and Stern Gang, the same groups that killed British Officers in the King David bombing, that would later form the IDF, employed similar tactics.
This writer is by no means suggesting we abandon the general principles that direct humanitarian law to limit the devastating effects of war, but rather to problematize their biases by understanding them as thresholds rather than laws. To understand the laws of war as thresholds shows that it is easier for some than others- or certainly it ought to be; we can perhaps ‘forgive’ a government of a state that does not legally exist, given that Israel, a regional nuclear hegemon and the largest recipient of US Aid, ‘struggles’ with maintaining such legal integrity.
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Tanzil Chowdhury is a PhD student in the School of Law, University of Manchester and an associate lecturer. His current research interests include Critical Legal Theory and Race and Third World Approaches to International Law. He has published work on current affairs, including Israel-Palestine and the ICC, and commits much of his time to various community groups (primarily the Northern Police Monitoring Project, of which he is a co-founder — npmp.org.uk).
- Yossi Melman ‘Jews, just like Arabs, hid weapons in immoral places January 27, 2011
- Toine van Teeffelen ‘Sumud: Soul of the Palestinian People’ This Week in Palestine February 2009
- Patrick Worrall ‘Fact Check: Does Hamas use Civilians as human Shields?’ Channel4.com July 24, 2014
- Alive again…. Lucky again (mediadiversified.org)
- Targeted Killings and International Law: Are Drones Reshaping the Law? (mediadiversified.org)