White Phosphorous

Howzat, Israel?

I was thinking how many ways there might be to try to delegitimise Israel. Loads I thought. In fact there are as many ways to delegitimise Israel as there are to get out in cricket:

1) Israel is in breach of UN Resolutions (LBW)
2) Israel is in breach of international law (caught)
3) Israel doesn’t want peace (run out)
4) Israel ethnically cleansed the Palestinians (bowled!)
5) Israel isn’t a democracy (timed out)
6) Israel is an apartheid state (interfering with play)
7) The Jews have no right to a state being just a religious group (hit wicket)
8) The Jews were never expelled by the Romans, so they can’t return to the Middle East (stumped)
9) The once oppressed Jews are now the oppressors (handled ball)
10) Israel acts like the Nazis did (hit ball twice)
11) Israel is guilty of war crimes (obstructing the fielder).

It is number 11 I find intriguing. When all else fails there is always the old accusation of war crimes. When a country has to go to war, then the most easily made accusation is that a country has not just killed, but has actually intentionally targeted innocent women and children.

Breaching UN resolutions is bad, ethnic cleansing is terrible, apartheid is vile but killing innocent woman and children on purpose is just despicable. And Israel stands accused of them all. Has another country ever been accused of such evil?

The latest accusation was that Israel used white phosphorous illegally during Operation Cast Lead. It is illegal to use white phosporous in a built up place like Gaza for obvious reasons. It is highly dangerous and will burn a victim’s skin right through. Not even water will stop it burning.

It should not have been used and two senior Israeli army officers were reprimanded. But it seems the orders to use white phosphorous did not come down from high. The officers took the decision themselves.

Israel has always come clean when it was in the wrong. For example, Ariel Sharon was sacked on the recommendation of the Kahane Commission after the Sabra and Shatila massacres in Lebanon in 1982.

White phosphorous is legal in all other circumstances of war. America has been allegedly using it in Afghanstan. The smoke from the phosphorous acts as a smokescreen shielding soldiers and that is why America has used it and why Israel used it in Gaza. Israeli soldiers were able to carry out successful operations against Hamas because of it.

But it seems that from now on all of Israel’s wars will be carried out against terrorists in built up areas. That is how Hamas has chosen to fight. The days of the 1967 and 1973 wars being fought in the skies or in the vast open desert are over. So what is Israel to do? If it uses white phosphorous it will be accused of committing a war crime, if it doesn’t then Israeli soldiers will be gunned down more easily.

It is a terrible Catch 22 but there has never been an intent to target innocent civilians, unlike Hamas suicide bombers. There is a big difference.

A country will undoubtedly make mistakes in war and Israel has made many in the heat of a battle (Israel even lost four of its own soldiers to friendly fire during Cast Lead). It has also had to go to war on many occasions to defend its citizens. Eventually on the balance of probabilities the international community will catch some Israeli soldiers out, as it has finally done (albeit on Israel’s admission).

Every war is by definition a war crime as civilians will always tragically be killed but Israel is the only country persistently accused of war crimes and consistently hounded for them. Sanctions against Israel are constantly called for, the latest being by Liberal Democrat Lord Phillips, and its politicians and soldiers are put under threat of arrest by an international warrant like no other country’s politicians.

Some countries are accused of starting illegal wars and war crimes (America and Britain), others are accused of both of those and much more (Israel).

There is only one time when Israel will not accused of everything under the sun, and that is if it ever loses a war. Then, for once, the international community might not be so outraged.

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