Posted by on January 30, 2013 in Blog

The New York Times published an op-ed yesterday from Palestinian American law professor George Bisharat entitled, “Why Palestine Should Take Israel to Court in The Hague.” Bisharat argues that “The [International Criminal Court] could prosecute major international crimes committed on Palestinian soil anytime after the court’s founding on July 1, 2002.” He goes on to elaborate on the tendency of the Israel Defense Forces to “remake the laws of war by consciously violating them and then creating new legal concepts to provide juridical cover for their misdeeds,” and the illegality of Israel’s continued settlement policy.

Bisharat’s piece is an important contribution to the Israeli-Palestinian debate for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the substance of the op-ed itself sheds much-needed light on the severe human rights violations committed by the Israeli military over the past decade, including the killing of civilians through murky legal justifications. Bisharat ably deconstructs the Israeli rationale for the use of heavy military equipment – including fighter jets, tanks, and targeting bombings – against an occupied civilian population:

Israel has categorized military clashes with the Palestinians as “armed conflict short of war,” instead of the police actions of an occupying state… It has designated individuals who fail to leave a targeted area after a warning as “voluntary human shields”… And it has treated civilian employees of Hamas — including police officers, judges, clerks, journalists and others — as combatants because they allegedly support a “terrorist infrastructure.” All of these practices could expose Israeli political and military officials to prosecutions for war crimes.

He also highlights the “possibility of criminal prosecutions for its settlements policy” and even draws attention to a statement by the state’s own legal counsel in 1967: “My conclusion is that civilian settlement in the administered territories contravenes the explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention.”

Secondly, the argument points to the growing global acceptance of military responses to ostensible terrorist threats, and the myriad ways in which US foreign policy has modeled itself after the Israeli example. The most egregious example of this phenomenon is the growing US reliance on targeted assassinations, a tactic broadly condemned as illegal and immoral

If the ICC does indeed investigate Israel’s rejection of basic human rights in its pursuit of “terrorists,” it may set a precedent that could also apply to Washington’s drone program, military occupations, and extra-legal detention centers. Though the ICC would hardly carry the weight to compel the Obama administration to change course, it could significantly alter the global conversation about the acceptability of the tactics used in our ever-expanding war on terror.

Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, the inclusion of Bisharat’s piece in The New York Times is a welcome expansion of the scope of dialogue in traditional American media. Such opinions are rarely heard by a US audience, and whether or not one agrees with Bisharat’s conclusions, we all benefit from a broader conversation that considers all options and their implications in a wider narrative. This signifies not only a widening of acceptable media discourse on the subject, but also a growing shift in US perceptions of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, where such thoughts are now not so far from the mainstream.

Though the resolution of the conflict remains distant, such discussions are undoubtedly a positive step forward; acknowledging the crimes of today will clear the path for justice tomorrow, and expanding the scope of our conversation will create the space for dialogue, truth, and compromise. 








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