Analysis from Israel

As Michael has noted, the UN inquiry into Israel’s raid on last year’s Turkish-sponsored flotilla to Gaza largely exculpated Israel. Yet the fact an otherwise balanced report found it necessary to accuse Israel of “excessive and unreasonable” force says a lot about the warped fashion in which the West now views any use of force.

After all, as the report itself acknowledged, Israeli soldiers “faced significant, organized and violent resistance from a group of passengers when they boarded the Mavi Marmara requiring them to use force for their own protection. Three soldiers were captured, mistreated, and placed at risk by those passengers.  Several others were wounded.”

Specifically, the first 14 soldiers to land on the ship were attacked by dozens of passengers “armed with iron bars, staves, chains, and slingshots, and there is some indication that they also used knives.” Passengers later seized some of the soldiers’ guns, and two soldiers were shot; while it isn’t certain they were shot by passengers, “there is some reason to believe” they were, and certainly, the soldiers thought so at the time.

Nevertheless, the report declared the “loss of life and injuries resulting from the [soldiers’] use of force” to be “unacceptable,” insisting there was “no satisfactory explanation” for “any of the nine deaths,” and particularly for the fact “most of the deceased were shot multiple times.”

This begs an obvious question: How were the soldiers supposed to subdue this much larger group of heavily armed opponents, whom the report itself admits posed a threat to their own lives, without causing any injuries or deaths? The report provides no answer, because in reality, it’s simply not possible.

Moreover, as any soldier knows, a wounded opponent can still kill. Shoot a man in the leg, for instance, and he can still kill you with his iron bar, stave, chain, knife or gun. The Israelis also had no way of knowing what other weaponry passengers might have – whether, for instance, some might have wired themselves with explosives, as Islamic fanatics (which by this point the soldiers knew they were facing) often do. Under such circumstances, no soldier worth his salt shoots once and hopes for the best; he keeps shooting until he’s sure his opponent is out of action. In a fight of this kind, the unpleasant truth is shooting someone multiple times is often a necessary precaution to make sure your opponent doesn’t kill you first.

Granted, the soldiers might never have been in this situation had the raid not been so poorly planned and executed. But once they were attacked in a way that required them “to use force for their own protection,” nothing they did was “excessive and unreasonable”; they did what was necessary under the circumstances to protect themselves.

Thus the report’s implication is that injuring or killing another is never acceptable, even in self-defense; it’s always “excessive and unreasonable.” But if soldiers on a legitimate mission – which the report says enforcing the Gaza blockade was – can’t use lethal force even to save their own lives, then something is badly wrong with the West’s attitude toward the use of military force.

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The International Criminal Court’s fundamental flaw

In my last column, I noted in passing that the International Criminal Court’s blatant anti-Israel bias is merely a symptom of a more fundamental flaw. That isn’t self-evident; court supporters would doubtless argue, just as many people do about the United Nations, that while the court’s anti-Israel bias is regrettable, it’s an isolated flaw that doesn’t outweigh the benefit of ending impunity for atrocities.

What convinced me both that the ICC is unredeemable and that the impunity problem has a better solution was actually a book by one of the court’s ardent supporters—Philippe Sands, a law professor and international lawyer who has worked on ICC cases. In East West Street, Sands traces the development of two key concepts in international law—crimes against humanity and genocide—to their respective culminations in the Nuremberg Trials of 1945 and the Genocide Convention of 1948. But for me, the real eye-opener was his description of the international wrangling that preceded the Nuremberg Trials.

Nuremberg is sometimes derided as victor’s justice. And in one sense, it obviously was: Four of the victors of World War II—America, Britain, Russia and France—decided to put senior officials of their vanquished foe on trial. But what was striking about Nuremberg was the massive degree of international concord required to hold those trials. Lawyers representing several very different legal systems and several very different systems of government nevertheless had to agree on every word and even every comma in the indictments. And since those lawyers were acting on their governments’ behalf, political approval by all four governments was also needed.

In contrast, the ICC needs no international buy-in at all to pursue a case. Granted, its prosecutors and judges come from many different countries, but they represent neither their home governments nor their home legal systems. Politically, they represent nobody but themselves. Legally, they represent one particular interpretation of international law—an interpretation popular with academics and “human rights” organizations, but less so with national governments.

At first glance, both of the above may sound like pluses. Prosecutorial and judicial independence are generally good things, whereas many governments and legal systems leave much to be desired when it comes to protecting human rights.

But the ICC’s version of prosecutorial and judicial independence is very different from the version found in most democracies because the latter is not completely unconstrained. In democracies, prosecutors and judges are constrained first of all by democratically enacted legislation, and usually by democratically enacted constitutions as well. They’re also constrained by the fact that they, too, are citizens of their country, and therefore share concerns important to most of their countrymen—for instance, national self-defense—but unimportant to judges and prosecutors from other countries (which those at the ICC almost always will be).

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