international community hold Israel responsible for war crimes? The
chances are nil
Nothing to hide, but don't look
NEW YORK- After another long week of gruelling negotiations, Israel
has once again defied the international community by reneging on a
pledge for a UN fact-finding mission to probe the atrocities that
took place in the Palestinian refugee camp in Jenin.
Virtually the entire world - including the United Nations, the European
Union, the Non-Aligned Movement and international human rights organisations
- has castigated the Israelis for human rights abuses, indiscriminate
and excessive use of force and violations of humanitarian law.
But as long
as the United States continues to stand solidly behind Israel -
whether that country's acts are morally repugnant or not - the international
community will remain politically impotent against a rogue nation.
Since early March, the Security Council has adopted four resolutions,
including two calling for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories.
But Israel has
defied all of these resolutions - even as President George W. Bush
continues to characterise Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as
"a man of peace."
The United States itself is engaged in diplomatic doubletalk: on
the one hand it continues to back all UN resolutions and on the
other its eyes glaze over Israeli atrocities.
Kofi Annan, one of the few UN heads who has tried to be even-handed
with an Israel that has remained politically isolated at the United
Nations, is proposing to abandon the UN mission. A final decision
is to be taken by the Security Council.
to terminate the mission - prompted primarily by Israel's refusal
to cooperate - has also undermined the United Nations and threatened
its very credibility.
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told Israeli television: "We
just don't need a team".
Asked for his
comments, Annan told reporters last week that both Peres and Israeli
Defense Minister Benjamin Eliezer had assured him of government
cooperation. They told the Secretary-General: "You are welcome.
We have nothing to hide." But the decision to go back on that
assurance clearly indicates that Israel has more to hide than reveal.
The United Nations
has always used fact-finding missions as one of its powerful tools
to threaten countries accused of human rights violations in politically
troubled regions - be it East Timor, Rwanda, Sierra Leone or Liberia.
But that instrument is now virtually dead. In the future, any country
that is subject to an investigation by a UN fact-finding team -
be it India, Pakistan or Sri Lanka - can use Israel as a precedent
and refuse to cooperate with the United Nations.
By the end of
last week, Israel faced a rash of accusations: the willful and unlawful
killing of civilians, summary executions, attacks on journalists,
using food and medicine as weapons of war, indiscriminate use of
force and using Palestinians as human shields.
UN estimates, the Israelis also destroyed about $300 million worth
of Palestinian infrastructure, including the Gaza airport, the Palestinian
Broadcasting Corporation and scores of buildings and houses, all
razed to the ground. So far, the only detailed report about the
atrocities in Jenin, based on more than 100 interviews, has been
put out by Human Rights Watch.
The New York-based
human rights group said last week that while its investigators found
no evidence of massacres, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) committed
serious violations of international humanitarian law, probably including
war crimes. "The abuses we documented in Jenin are extremely
serious, and in some cases appear to be war crimes," said Peter
Bouckaert, head of the three-person investigative team.
cited in the report include the case of Kamal Zgheir, a 57-year-old
wheelchair-bound man, who was shot and run over by a tank on a major
road outside the camp even though he had a white flag attached to
The report also
said that a 14-year-old boy, Faris Zaiban, was killed by fire from
an IDF armoured car as he went to buy groceries when the IDF-imposed
curfew was lifted temporarily on April 11. In yet another case,
a 37-year-old paralytic, Jamal Fayid, was crushed to death in the
rubble of his home despite his family pleas that they be allowed
to remove him.
The report also
documented several summary executions by Israeli forces, a clear
war crime under the Geneva Conventions. But despite these documented
cases, how far will the international community go in trying Israel
for war crimes? The chances are nil - even as the US House of Representatives
and the US Senate overwhelmingly passed resolutions backing Israel.
world-wide condemnation of the Israelis, the resolutions adopted
Thursday expressed US "solidarity with Israel". The Senate
voted 94 to 2 in favour of the resolutions, the House of Representatives
352 to 21. The voting was a clear indication of the immense power
wielded by the pro-Israeli lobby in the United States. Nothing else