Tuesday, July 25, 2006

"Speak for England Arthur"

In 1940, as the confidence debate on Chamberlain's government reached a climax, Arthur Greenwood rose to speak. Afraid that he would not condemn the failures of the government and deliver the coup de grace, from across the floor of the House a cry rang out:

"Speak for England, Arthur!"

Though the Middle East crisis is a less immediate crisis than the fall of France, the way that the British government has reacted is no less a failure. Our failure to condemn the actions of Israel makes us moral cowards.

The craven response of the Blair government to American pressure to stay silent is not good enough. As for David Cameron, his shallow, callow politics are revealed more clearly every day.

Only Ming Campbell emerged from this with any credit. His support of international law was shining. He truly represented the best of our country. A point that I think the electorate is now noticing.

12 comments:

RK said...

I have to disagree with you here.

Go and read expert analysis on international law then come back and claim there has been collective punishment or that the doctrine of proportionality applies in this case. Collective punishment refers to an occupying force punishing civilians in the occupied area. It is a dishonest stretch to use the term in the context of air strikes. Proportionality does not apply when states are at war. For example consider what the proportional response would be to Pearl Harbour, would it be to attack the Japanese fleet then leave it at that? International law is a bit of a fuzzy concept but I think Ming has overplayed his hand here and his ‘concerns’ look political rather than legal.

I usually detect from comments by Ming (and other ‘anti war’ or people advocating a humanitarian line) that they regard the blame lies with Israel. Or to put it another way this crisis can finish now if enough pressure is put on Israel so that it stops the bombing immediately, without gaining concessions from Hezbollah. Even assuming that Hezbollah stop the rocket attacks, which is not by any means a given, this would be seen as a victory for the terrorists. It would inspire future action and resulting reaction by Israel. Only a meaningful ceasefire where both sides make concessions has any hope of long term success. That means Hezbollah must return the soldiers and stop the rocket attacks. Now in case you hadn’t noticed Hezbollah have insisted since day 1 that they will not do this. So when you call for an immediate ceasefire please be clear about what you are calling on each side to do. If you call for Israel to stop you are handing Hezbollah a massive propaganda victory. If you call for both sides to stop (including the release of the kidnapped soldiers) then your position is no different to the governments.

I support the stance of Blair and Bush and I think a majority in the UK agree (see the BBC Have your say sight and look at the most recommended posts). There are genuine concerns over Israeli tactics and individual incidents but these should not morph into demands that Israel surrender to terrorist aggression.

Cicero said...

I think that it is quite clear that opinion is NOT with Bush/Blair on this at all.

You yourself are unclear whether the legal question of collective punishment applies to air strikes- the reality is though that Lebanon as a whole has been turned upside down as a punishment against Hezbollah- I think that this certainly is disproportionate, and has escalated the crisis (and the rocket attacks) substantially.

You submit that a ceasefire at the current time would be a defeat for Israel. I disagree completely. I think that the danger for Israel is that they are being lured into a trap- 1982 all over again. This is precisely what Iran and especially Syria wish for- it gives then all the excuse they need to resume their previous pattern of meddling in Lebanon.

RK said...

I think it is quite clear that the BBC are not with Blair on this, but you shouldn’t confuse that with public opinion. Please read the comments section on “have your say” select most recommended and you’ll see the British public are rather more with him. I’m sure as this conflict drags on this support will fall and calls for a ceasefire will grow but I for one support the action of the PM in this crisis.

I believe Israel may have committed war crimes but that whether they have or not will require investigation. Hezbollah commit various war crimes at a phenomenal rate of roughly 100 a day (rocket attacks on civilian populations in Israel) Article 51.2, an ongoing breach of Article 34 and a wholesale disregard for Article 51.7. For Ming to make out as he has that Israel is the war criminal is blatant prejudice but it is sadly unsurprising. The LibDems have form for applauding Hamas and Hezbollah while characterising Israel as the terrorist.

From here on is a fairly long account of why I believe Hezbollah regularly commits war crimes and why Ming’s comments on Israel are prejudice. Read on if you’re interested in my thinking. Otherwise feel free to ignore.


Article 33: Collective Punishment

I’m not a legal expert but having read the articles on the UN site I think that air strikes do not constitute a “collective punishment”. That term specifically relates to ‘protected person”. A protected person is defined elsewhere as “Persons protected by the Convention are those who, at a given moment and in any manner whatsoever, find themselves, in case of a conflict or occupation, in the hands of a Party to the conflict or Occupying Power of which they are not nationals.” A protected person is therefore someone in the “hands of” in other words it requires ground forces to be there. Article 33 says that:

“No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited.
Pillage is prohibited.
Reprisals against protected persons and their property are prohibited.”

Therefore air strikes in the current crisis are not collective punishment. Ignoring the Geneva conventions and saying in general that Lebanon is being punished for the crimes of Hezbollah is a different matter. It has no legal meaning in a war crimes context but anyway as an observation I think it ignores the fact that the two are inseparable and that Lebanon has at best turned a blind eye, at worst colluded with Hezbollah’s cross border terrorism. They have MPs and Cabinet Ministers. In interview Nasrallah has made it clear he forewarned the Lebanese PM of his intention to launch a raid and take hostages. Therefore to say as Ming and others have that this is “Collective Punishment” they imply a war crime despite the fact that that specific terminology does not apply. (Civilian deaths in general are handled in Article 51.) In conclusion neither side has broken this convention. If / When Israel occupies Lebanon this article comes into play in how it treats the civilians that will come under it’s control.

Article 34

That leads me on to Article 34 of the conventions. It simply states that “The taking of hostages is prohibited.”

Hezbollah have broken this one. Although you could argue that they are PoW’s and not hostages.
Article 51
Article 51 is the meat of most war crimes accusations. It (along with 52) covers the protection of civilians from attack (including air and sea). It’s long but the key bit is the line
51.2 The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.
The rest of it goes on to define some of the overlap between civilian and military. Putting the stress on the attacker being discriminating in his targeting and if he is unable to because his weapon is too inaccurate he should not attack. Hezbollah has clearly broken this article with every single rocket it has fired. Whether or not Israel has depends on whether or not their targets had military objectives and I imagine there will be several incidents that could be categorised as war crimes. For example the targeting of civilian vehicles suspected of being Hezbollah and the recent attack in Qana. Whether or not an Israeli is guilty or not will depend on many factors and I realise I’m not really qualified to comment. However my feeling is that as long as the pilots and officers thought they were attacking military targets they would not be guilty. Of course by intentionally hiding themselves amongst the civilian population and not marking themselves as combatants in the war Hezbollah are breaking article 51.7.


For a different view (which agrees with me on some points) try Human Rights Watch. http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2006/07/17/lebano13748.htm
Their line on Article 33 is less clear but broadly agrees with me on the others.

RK said...

I've just checked and the BBC have restarted their Have your say page on the Lebanon crisis. This one isn't as pro-Israel as the last one but I still think they are in the majority.

Cicero said...

Firstly, I reject your analysis that Ming is anti-Israel in this. Israel is a democratic state- Hizbollah are borderline fascist, as fellow democrats, we are entitled to ask higher standards from Israel, while understanding the vile nature of many of her enemies. However it is almost as though the Israeli high command have never heard of psychology- the essentially indiscriminate nature of the attacks in South Lebanon will only play into the hands of Israel's enemies. As to the legality of the attacks- I think that the IDF are on dangerous ground, and the escalation of the violence has the capacity to create an even worse position. Perhaps Prime Minister Olmert narrowed the options too soon: either 1982 or a prisoner exchange. Fortunatly, I think we may get a middle way: the UN policing Hizbollah.

Cicero said...

Whether the UN can control the murderous intentions of Hizbollah, that is an open question, but I think a breathing space is obviously required. Those of us who respect and even admire the acheivements of the state of Israel are very nervous that everything is being put at risk. One day, Israel needs to live at peace with her neighbours, and we can not lose sight of this ultimate goal.

RK said...

It’s a common argument that as a democracy we should expect more from Israel but this is a moral equivocation that absolves Hezbollah of guilt. It’s an absurd proposition that somehow suggests human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia are somehow more palatable, more acceptable than ones in Israel. It’s a proposition that declares Guantanamo to be worse that 9/11 and the Taliban, Abu Gharib to be worse than the Hussein regime. In other words it’s a school of thought that allows Islamist terrorists to justify their violence and terrorism against the west while denouncing any reaction the west takes that fails to meet the highest of humanitarian standards. It means that we get treated to interviews of Ming where Israel appears to be blamed for all the sins of the current crisis simply because as the democracy it should be able to rise above the provocations and violence of its neighbours. Hezbollah on the other hand as a non-state undemocratic fascist terrorist organisation is not accused of war crimes, despite the fact that it has committed thousands of them since the war began. In fact almost every single military action carried out by Hezbollah breaks the Geneva conventions. There is also, anecdotal at this stage, evidence of Hezbollah taking steps to maximise civilian damage precisely because of the impact it has on world opinion. The fact that they are undemocratic should not allow them to escape censure for any of this.

That is where we disagree but I do agree with you that what is needed now is breathing space. Israel should have called a complete halt for 48hours rather than the limited one it did to allow the removal of civilians and distribution of humanitarian aid, possibly even 72 hours as the UN called for. A gap would also allow moderate voices in Lebanon to work for a compromise. Something that is much harder to do when the shells are still falling. If at the end of this time Hezbollah still hold the Israeli soldiers hostage and refuse to compromise then Israel can carry on but this time with more moral authority and with the Lebanese civilians removed to safety.

Cicero said...

Interesting point, but I do not make the mistake of absolving Hizbollah or even Saudi Arabia of moral responsibility for their crimes, and neither does Ming.
The way I see it is that Israel has been attacked though Lebanon by Hizbollah at the behest of Iran and Syria. It is a deliberate trap. Therefore I think the state of Israel should be restrained a) because it is safer, and b) because to lose the moral high ground makes Israel appear morally equal to the Islamo-fascists who are attacking her.

Cicero said...

And Yes, we should expect better of a democracy than reactive and fairly indescriminate violence.

RK said...

Perhaps we should expect better from a democracy but we should censure even-handedly regardless of the political structure. Ming's one sided criticism gives the appearance of considering Hezbollah’s actions to be more legal than Israel’s.

Your other argument against Israel's use of a strong military response is tactical (i.e. it will encourage an Arab backlash. How to you rationalise the fact that Israel (as the UN has agreed) withdrew from Lebanon 6 years ago and Hezbollah have maintained their cross border raids and rocket attacks.

RK said...

One final point.

Are you really saying that if Israel was not a democracy and was instead a facist military state you would be less critical of it's military actions?

Cicero said...

I think the point about this is that we take it for granted that Hizbollah (and Iran) are the bad guys. However this does not give Israel the right to smash up Lebanon in this way.
Israel has said the kidnapping of the soldiers was an act of war. However, I am sceptical that this intensive level of violence in response will acheive anything- indeed I beleive that it is weakening Israeli security, not reinforcing it. Acting in this fairly indiscriminate way is not on- and as fairly friendly democracies we have a duty to point out that it is wrong.
I totally condemn Mahmoud Ahmadinejad- the guy is a criminal- it is so obvious, that it almost goes without saying. Prime Minister Olmert is a demcratic leader, but even democrats can be in the wrong, and his decision to go for broke in South Lebanon is a huge gamble- with the lives of tens of thousands as the stake.