Is Everyone In Gaza A Combatant?

In my recent post ‘On The Killing Of Children‘ I wrote:

Implicit in this is the idea that if only Palestinian adults had been killed, the air strikes would have been more acceptable. Because Palestinian adults are seen as dispensible. Or worse: deserving of their fate. An idea that Palestinian adults are fair game, and their lives count for less, because they voted Hamas into power.

Appallingly, this precise sentiment has been voiced more than once in the last few days.   On 28th July, Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner, president of the New York Board of Rabbis, gave a public speech:

When you welcome Hamas into your living room and allow them to launch rockets next to your sofa, you are not a civilian you are a combatant.

When you are part of an election process that asks for a terrorist organization which proclaims in word and in deed that their primary objective is to destroy their neighboring country and not to build schools or commerce or jobs, you are complicit and you are not a civilian casualty.

Then, last Friday, a writer called Yochanan Gordon wrote a blog post on the Times of Israel entitled ‘When Genocide is Permissable’.

Gordon wrote:

Anyone who lives with rocket launchers installed or terror tunnels burrowed in or around the vicinity of their home cannot be considered an innocent civilian.

Gordon later retracted his words, and the Time of Israel apologised too.  However, I think it was wrong for the paper to take down the article from the web: we should be able to read the very worst things that are published, the better to counter such views.

Emily Hauser helpfully tweets the text of Article 50 of Protocol I of the Geneva Convention, forbidding the tarrgetting of the civilian population in order to get at combatants among them:

1. A civilian is any person who does not belong to one of the categories of persons referred to in Article 4 (A) (1), (2), (3) and (6) of the Third Convention and in Article 43 of this Protocol. In case of doubt whether a person is a civilian, that person shall be considered to be a civilian.

2. The civilian population comprises all persons who are civilians.

3. The presence within the civilian population of individuals who do not come within the definition of civilians does not deprive the population of its civilian character.

As I wrote in 2006, Israel has been out-manouvered according to the rules of war.  It can either abandon those rules… or it can re-think its approach to the conflict.  On the Bloomberg Voice blog, Ramesh Ponnuru explains why Israel, as a civilised nation, should do the latter:

… they’re noncombatants because they’re not involved in warfighting in any direct way, and their killing can’t be justified as an extension of the principle of self-defense.

Thus American civilians can’t justly be targeted for acts of war that their government conducts overseas. They don’t become combatants even if many or most of them vote for politicians who start wars, even unjust wars. … Supporters of Israel often say it represents the cause of civilization: of human rights and freedom. The rules of war are a civilizational achievement worth defending. We shouldn’t throw them away, or throw away their moral underpinnings, for ill-considered theories of collective guilt.

But why did Palestinians invite a terrorist organisation to run their Government?  Read this ‘Letter from Ramallah‘, by a correspondent of mine living in Palestine, which I published in 2006 at the time of Gazan elections:

So how do we resolve the apparent contradiction that the overwhelming majority of Palestinans support the resumption of negotiations with Israel, leading to peace on the basis of a two-state solution, and yet voted Hamas into office at the PLC? Perhaps the Palestinian electorate is very much like the Israeli one. Although all polls suggest most Israelis also want a two-state solution, and peace with Palestinians, they elected the war criminal Ariel Sharon and his ultra nationalist Likud party into office in their last elections. In situations of conflict perhaps people trust their toughest leaders most to make the difficult compromises and display pragmatism.

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