Can 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.

Secretary-General 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.

Annan's proposal 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.

According to 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.

The examples 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 his wheelchair.

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.

Despite the 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 really matters.

Back to Top
 Back to Columns  

Copyright © 2001 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd. All rights reserved.