The latest evidence of the poor state of our nation’s discourse comes from an op-ed in Tuesday’s edition of The Wall Street Journal. Thane Rosenbaum, a senior fellow at the New York University School of Law and the longtime director of the Forum on Culture, Law and Society, argues that Israel should not worry about civilian casualties during its operation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip because, in his view, there really are no civilians in Gaza.
Rosenbaum points out that Hamas’ approach to combat runs counter to international standards. Not only do Hamas fighters not wear uniforms, but they shy away from open combat. To Rosenbaum’s mind, this poses a very ominous question:
“Under such maddening circumstances, are the adults, in a legal and moral sense, actual civilians?”
To Rosenbaum’s mind, the answer is a resounding no. In his view, the people of Gaza forfeited their civilian status by electing Hamas in the first place.
“On some basic level, you forfeit your right to be called civilians when you freely elect members of a terrorist organization as statesmen, invite them to dinner with blood on their hands and allow them to set up shop in your living room as their base of operations. At that point you begin to look a lot more like conscripted soldiers than innocent civilians. And you have wittingly made yourself targets.”
I hope I’m misreading what Rosenbaum is saying here. I really am. Because from the looks of it, Rosenbaum is essentially calling for the Israel Defence Force to punish a violation of international law with an even more egregious violation of international law.
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, anyone who is not a member of the armed forces is a civilian–period, full stop. Moreover, the Geneva Convention’s First Protocol goes into great detail about the steps armies must take to protect civilians, and states in no uncertain terms that attacks on civilians are forbidden. Israel has never ratified the First Protocol. Nor has it ratified the Rome Statute, the founding document of the International Criminal Court. However, the Red Cross considers much of the Third Geneva Convention, as amended by the First Protocol, to be part of customary international law–the generally accepted standard of international behavior, which is binding on all countries. Or put another way, even if Israel hasn’t formally signed onto the First Protocol, basic decency states that civilians are not fair game under ANY circumstances.
When ThinkProgress’ Hayes Brown peered into the guts of this article, he noticed a chilling similarity between Rosenbaum’s argument and the suggestion that rape victims somehow did something to bring their ordeal on themselves. If possible, though, Rosenbaum makes an even more chilling statement at the end of his piece.
“Surely there are civilians who have been killed in this conflict who have taken every step to distance themselves from this fast-moving war zone, and children whose parents are not card-carrying Hamas loyalists. These are the true innocents of Gaza. It is they for whom our sympathy should be reserved.”
Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! Whatever Hamas may have done, there is no justification to say that any one civilian in Gaza is less deserving of sympathy than another. ThinkProgress’ Brown says it more succinctly than I can–“the people of Gaza are still people.”
Rosenbaum owes the world an apology for writing this–and should resign his posts at NYU and the Forum as well. And The Journal owes the world an apology for letting this get into print. Granted, The Journal has always been one of the most right-wing pieces of real estate in journalism. But it seems hard to believe this article would have seen the light of day before Newscorp bought it in 2007. When the Murdoch empire split in 2007, The Journal followed the other Murdoch print properties into the “new” Newscorp. But judging by this article, it’s obvious that The Journal has been infected by the same wingnuttery that infects Fox News. After all, just like Fox News has done all too often, The Journal has forgotten that there are certain issues on which there is no other side.
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