Basic Assumption-We All Have The Same Values, We All Play Fairly
GS Don Morris, Ph.D.
August 20, 2006
Remember when you got together on a playground with a bunch of kids and decided to play ball? First thing we did was to “call the rules”. Yes, we stated the rules of the game we were using that particular day and then we agreed to play by them-those who did not agree went home or watched from the sidelines. I think we could use some of this old fashioned common sense when it comes to today’s world conflicts.
Can we all agree that war does not represent humankind’s better set of actions? “War is an ugly business. For thousands of years, this has remained the case. Finally the Geneva Conventions came along in 1948, and the nations of the world joined hands to transform war from an ugly business into an ugly-business-described-by-solemn-buzzwords-and-unenforceable-guidelines, which allowed countries taking part in war to disavow the ugliness of the business without actually having to conduct the business in any meaningfully different manner. This is what we call "civilization."”(1)
Thus, one of the first things the newly formed U.N. did was sit down in Geneva, Switzerland, and try to find a kinder, gentler way to wage war. In December, 1948, the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide passed the first article of what would be known as the Geneva Conventions. Genocide was defined as murder "committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group." This convention drew up a list of punishable crimes "genocide; conspiracy to commit genocide; direct and public incitement to commit genocide; attempt to commit genocide; [and] complicity in genocide." Other articles were added and produced the document we know as the Fourth Geneva Convention. The history of the Geneva documents is well worth studying. One discovers that each new set of guidelines has attempted to appease groups of violated people as well as trying to “civilize” an otherwise uncivil set of human behaviors. (2)
The Geneva Conventions consist of treaties formulated in Geneva, Switzerland that set the standards of international law for humanitarian concerns. The conventions were the results of efforts by Henri Dunant (1862), who was motivated by the horrors of war he witnessed at the Battle of Solferino (1859).
The conventions, their agreements and two added protocols are as follows:
· Protocol I (1977): Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts
In summary, the first three conventions were revised, a fourth was added, and the entire set was ratified in 1949; the whole is referred to as the "Geneva Conventions of 1949" or simply the "Geneva Conventions". Later conferences (Protocols) added the provisions prohibiting certain methods of warfare and addressing issues of civil wars. (3)
One can notice over time that people attempted to make war less painful and less grotesque by attempting to get the world community to adopt more humane behavior and actions specific to the title of each convention. These became the “rules of the game” and the countries that “signed onto” these accords agreed to wage war accordingly. Herein lies one of many problems with this kind of thinking and implementation. Let us examine the difficulties with no particular hierarchy intended in terms of importance.
- The U.S signed and ratified all the Geneva Conventions with the exception of the two protocols of 1977. It is important to note that a signature does not bind a nation to the treaty unless the document has also been ratified by that nation (in the U.S., Congress ratifies such treaties). Generally, these treaties are open for signature for a limited time period after they are written. As of 2005, 192 countries had ratified (thus becoming parties to) all four of the Geneva Conventions. Additional Protocol I had been ratified by 161 states, and 156 countries had ratified Additional Protocol II.(4)
- Israel signed the four conventions on 8 December 1949 and ratified them on 6 July 1951. Israel has also stated that it does not regard the Geneva Conventions as applying de jure to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, territories occupied in 1967 (5). Israel has signed but not ratified the protocols. It has agreed to honor their intentions.(6)
- Hizzbollah is not a member of a standing sovereign country’s army, nor does it represent any country. Rather, at best it can be defined as a militia located inside Lebanon. Hizzbollah makes a clear distinction between this militia and its so-called political wing that has members in the Lebanese government. Hizzbollah did NOT sign any of the accords and behaviorally demonstrates its contempt for them. Hizzbollah makes no attempt to accept or operate within international rules-this is a direct reflection of their human value system.
Note With respect to treatment of militias, the White House officials said that President Bush distinguished the Taliban from the al Qaeda network "on the grounds that the nation of Afghanistan was a party to the Geneva Conventions, while Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network never signed the global accords."(7) Some legal authorities argue that the third Geneva accord applies to the current war. I am not a legal authority but to date, Hizzbollah has not been formally identified; we call the organization a terrorist group-the Geneva Convention does not apply to such groups-period.
- Israel has established policy and military strategies based upon the rules as
outlined by the Geneva convention. Given Hizzbollah does not honor these rules and has developed and implemented military actions contrary to humanitarian law as agreed to by almost all civilized countries.
In the Middle East, it is safe to say that the nature of war has changed. Israel adheres to values found in the West and Judaism, Hizzbollah follows the Sharia laws found in Islam. Furthermore, Shi'a Muslims adhere to what they consider to be the teachings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and the religious guidance of his family whom they refer to as the Ahlul Bayt. Relative to Western beliefs, the current Shia leadership, Nasrallah and company, have called for Israel’s destruction and they believe that homicide bombing is better than life itself. This is the opposite of Western belief structures-hence the “rub” when it comes to military operations. Who can honestly believe that Hizzbollah would even consider honoring the conventions of behavior that dictates Israel’s IDF actions?
It is no wonder then that Hizzbollah cares not that it has trampled upon several Geneva Convention articles-more clearly stated, they have broken many of the operating codes of behavior found in the Convention’s articles. Most notably, they have used human shields as a standard mode of military operation against Israel. Hezbollah is violating Article 58 of Protocol 1, which requires parties to a conflict to "Avoid locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas."
It is also important to further note that Article 51 of Protocol 1, an addition to the Geneva Conventions, 1977, entitled "Protection of the Civilian Population," lays out the rules governing treatment of civilians in wartime-rules not adhered to by Hizzbollah. The relevant section states:
Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited. Indiscriminate attacks are:
a. those which are not directed at a specific military objective;
b. those which employ a method or means of combat which cannot be directed at a specific military objective; or
c. those which employ a method or means of combat the effects of which cannot be limited as required by this Protocol; and consequently, in each such case, are of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction.
Among others, the following types of attacks are to be considered as indiscriminate:
a. an attack by bombardment by any methods or means which treats as a single military objective a number of clearly separated and distinct military objectives located in a city, town, village or other area containing a similar concentration of civilians or civilian objects; and
b. an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.
So in support for Israel’s code of conduct and rules of engagement during war-time it is accurate to say that an attack on a military target in which civilians would be killed is permissible so long as the civilian losses would not be excessive "in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.” Israel’s actual war actions are consistent with the values expressed in the Geneva Convention. It is the media as well as enemies of Israel that intentionally misrepresent what is true.
Thus, Israel is within its rights to pursue Hezbollah in populated areas: Article 28 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states: "The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations." Hezbollah (and Palestinian terrorist organizations Hamas and Islamic Jihad), routinely commit war crimes by locating their command outposts, weapons and ammo storage, and rocket launchers in residential areas.
“Hizbullah must immediately stop firing rockets into civilian areas in Israel. This a statement by an organization that is certainly not one of Israel’s friends Human Rights Watch.”
"Lobbing rockets blindly into civilian areas is without doubt a war crime," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "Nothing can justify this assault on the most fundamental standards for sparing civilians the hazards of war."(8)
It is quite clear that Hizzbollah operates with a different set of human values. It happens that their values and their actual behavior are in direct opposition to the rest of the world community’s values as demonstrated by non-adherence to the Geneva Convention.
The preceding examples are but some of the violations of the Accords-there are many others. However, this is not my main point-Hizzbollah’s values regarding life, freedom and expression of thought and daily behavior is nearly the exact opposite of Israel’s, the USA and the rest of the Western World.
It is this concept, difficult for so many in the West to accept and for those who now understand it but lack the courage to stand for our own values for fears of being called names or worse yet being harmed in some way. Hizzbollah, proxy of Iran and leaders of the current fascist Islamic movement threatening to submit the world to its horrors is counting this as our weakness. They cannot match up militarily but they believe spiritually they have the will and using terrorist tactics for as long as it takes, they will defeat us. They are counting on using and abusing our Western values of tolerance, compassion, caring and life to crush us. We play by one set of rules, they play by another and they are winning the world opinion. They believe that this will ultimately have us change policies and then to our defeat.
I am calling upon Israel and the entire Western community to seek appendices to the current Geneva Convention. I request the following:
· A redefinition of combatant and civilian
· New rules of engagement regarding combatants hiding among civilian populations
· Making sovereign nations legally responsible for the actions of militias found operating within their soil
· Provide Convention assignees absolution when attacked by foreign militias and not hold them accountable to current Convention language
· Hold any country who signed the Convention legally and financially responsible for damages incurred on both sides if found to have supplied said militias with weapons, munitions and other military aide
If we in the West do not move to change the rules of engagement we are destined to loose within and outside our respective countries. Some will argue that we already have made provisions for the points I just raised-I suggest that not only is this incorrect, it is foolish to continue to think in this manner. Our policies must change with the change “in doing war”. We preach in America that to keep up with the competition we must be willing to change and willing to think and act differently. The same goes for today’s warfare-we step up or we will be stepping down!
Jeanne Sulzer of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) said that they are "horrified" by the fact that 17 countries which have ratified the treaty have signed bilateral agreements with the United States to exempt Americans from persecution by the ICC. In addition, the US Congress last year passed legislation, which obligates the US government to protect members of its armed forces from prosecution by the ICC. This law even allows the US to free, by force if necessary, US personnel who have been handed over to the ICC for prosecution http://www.ipsnews.net/fsm2003/28.01.2003/nota3.shtml
1. www.rotten.com/library/history/ war-crimes/geneva-conventions.
2. Morris, GS Don, Understanding the Fourth Geneva Convention, March 7, 2005,posted SPME.com and PRIMERct.org sites.
7. http://jurist.law.pitt.edu/forumy/2005/11/justice-at-guantanamo-paradox-of-david.php, University of Pittsburg, School of Law.
8. Hizzbollah committing war crimes, http://www.jpost.com/servlet/