By Matthew Rothschild The Progressive 7/17/06

The lead editorial for The New York Times on July 15 was entitled “Playing Hamas’s Game,” and it told a whopper.

It exonerated Israel for any responsibility in the current crisis. Its only critical word toward Israel was to be prudent tactically.

“It is important to be clear about not only who is responsible for the latest outbreak, but who stands to gain most from its continued escalation,” the Times intoned. “Both questions have the same answer: Hamas and Hezbollah.”

And while it is certainly true that the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers by Hamas and Hezbollah were illegal acts of provocation, Israel’s response was not designed to get the soldiers back safely. “That cannot be achieved by military means,” as Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery has noted.

(Avnery says “the real aim is to change the regime in Lebanon and to install a puppet government,” as well as to burnish the image of the Israeli military.)

The Times loudly condemned Hamas and Hezbollah–which deservedly earns more condemnation every day, most recently for the disgusting bombing of the Haifa train station on Sunday–but the Times only softly cautioned Israel.

“Israel needs to be careful that its far-reaching military responses, however legally and morally justifiable, do not end up advancing the political agenda that Hamas and Hezbollah hard-liners had in mind,” the Times said.

Check out that clause once more: “however legally and morally justifiable.”

Let’s look at legally first.

Amnesty International, which knows a thing or two about the law, calls Israel’s actions “a war crime.”
It says Israel has been guilty of imposing collective punishment both in Gaza and in Lebanon by destroying civilian infrastructure.

And it cites chapter and verse.

To wit:

The Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 33, prohibits “collective penalties.”
Article 147 of the Convention prohibits “extensive destruction . . . not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.”

Protocol 1 Additional to the Geneva Conventions, Article 48, states: “In order to ensure respect for and protection of the civilian population and civilian objects, the Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operation only against military objectives.”

Finally, Amnesty notes, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court says that “intentionally directing attacks against civilian objects” is a war crime.

Now let’s look at morally.

How is it morally justifiable for Israel to cause a humanitarian crisis in Gaza by blowing up the power station, which is necessary to purify the water supply?

How is it morally justifiable for Israel to bomb crowded neighborhoods in Lebanon or to fire on fleeing refugees?

Is the killing of children morally justifiable?

Here is Robert Fisk’s account of one of Israel’s attacks.

“They came first to the little village of Dweir near Nabatiya in southern Lebanon where an Israeli plane dropped a bomb on to the home of a Shia Muslim cleric,” Fisk wrote.

“He was killed. So was his wife. So were eight of his children. One was decapitated. All they could find of a baby was its head and torso, which a young villager brandished in fury in front of the cameras. Then the planes visited another home in Dweir and disposed of a family of seven.”

The same day that the Times editorial ran, Steven Erlanger reported for the Times that 66 Lebanese had been killed in the prior 72 hours and 4 Israelis.

The Times editorial did say that Israel should do “far more to minimize the damage to civilian bystanders.”
But if Israel, by the Times’ own admission, is not doing enough to minimize civilian casualties, how can the Times bless the legality and morality of what Israel is doing?