Gaza Aftermath Raises Question of War Crimes: Obama Must Overcome Initial Muslim Distrust

The Israeli assault on Gaza has drawn to an end, now that its Great Enabler (W.) is no longer in the cockpit of the Calamity Machine, and its architect, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, is the lamest of lame ducks.

Those hawks who proclaimed so loudly that Israel had no choice but to just fall upon the Gazans, and that the Palestinians of Gaza were unalterably dedicated to war-making on Israel, have fogotten a mid-December poll that showed 74% of Palestinians wanted to see the truce extended, and 51% of Israelis did. Let me just repeat that. In calling Hamas’s bluff to break off negotiations, and massively punishing Gaza civilians, the Olmert government was ignoring the majority view among Israelis and the vast majority of Palestinians who wanted a truce. Of course, once hostilities began, people rallied around their flag. But if Olmert had been forced to hold a referendum among Israelis on whether to do this horrible thing, he would have lost.

The last Israeli troops left Gaza on Wednesday. The three week long shooting-fish-in-a-barrel exercise killed, on the Palestinian side, 280 children and minors, 111 women, and 503 male noncombatants. Gaza police accounted for 167 of the dead; can you just read off Gaza police as “Hamas militants”? Or were they traffic cops & etc.? The Palestinian Center for Human rights estimated that the Israelis killed 223 Hamas guerrillas. In other words, if this count is correct, the Israelis managed to kill more children than real militants.

So what is the outcome of this dirty little war?

The fundamentalist group Hamas is reasserting itself in Gaza as Israeli troops withdraw, and now has a new pretext to target members of the Fatah group, secular nationalists loyal to Palestine Authority president Mahmoud Abbas. So the Israelis may have actually politically strengthened Hamas and further weakened Fatah, which is already notorious for corruption, political repression, inefficiency, and, increasingly collaboration with Israel.

Although Israel claimed to have destroyed 60 percent of the tunnels whereby Gazans bring food, medicine, and sometimes explosives into the Strip via the Sinai Peninsula, reports Wednesday indicated that the tunnels were already active again. Even if only 40 percent of them are operational, it is hard to see what was achieved. The others can be redug, and anyway a lot of materiel can be brought in with the 40 percent surviving tunnels.

Israeli politicians and military commanders are being urged to consult counsel before they travel in Europe, where some courts assert universal jurisdiction and where war crimes cases are being filed against Israeli leaders. In 1998, a London court ordered the arrest of Chilean dictator Gen. Augustino Pinochet, who had butchered thousands of community activists, asserting universal jurisdiction. Governments have attempted to reduce the prerogative of courts in this regard, but apparently there are loopholes in the current British legislation that would allow an Israeli leader or officer to be arrested if they journey to the UK. Ynet observes, “The Israeli claim that Hamas has been using women and children as human shields never really took, said a source. Whenever it was used the response was the same: If you know that women and children [were] there – hold your fire.”

Defense Minister Ehud Barak is setting up a legal defense of Israeli troops from potential war crimes prosecutions. Barak pledged that Israeli soldiers would not have to worry about prosecution: “The soldiers did not embark on a private operation . . .We will give them out full support.” It is ironic that an Israeli defense minister seems unaware that the Nuremberg trials established the principle that following orders is no defense for a soldier charged with atrocities.

Even as Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni visited Brussels, human rights organizations in Belgium were (wholly unrealistically) petitioning a court to have her arrested. However impractical the legal move, it was a humiliation for Tzipi.

The right-Zionists are always asking why Israel is held to a different standard. It isn’t. it appears to be being held to the same standard as Augusto Pinochet and Slobodan Milosevic. It isn’t very nice company to be in, and many Israelis are deeply ashamed of what was done and demanding Israeli investigations of war crimes.

UN Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon visited Gaza and was reported absolutely appalled at the scenes of human destruction he witnessed there. He demanded that nothing like the Gaza campaign ever be undertaken again (i.e. by Israel) and he said he would do what he could to establish accountability.

Amnesty International is accusing Israel of using white phosphorous in such a way that it constituted a war crime. The New York times clearly takes the charges seriously, underlining my thesis that what the government of Ehud Olmert disturbed many American Jews.

Aljazeera English reports on the aftermath of the Israeli assault on Gaza, including questions about the use of white phosphorous on densely populated civilian areas, producing burns and destroying food warehouses in the midst of a famine. Many Gaza civilians are camped on the rubble of their former homes, searching frantically for loved ones who may no longer be among the living.

Aljazeera English reports that the Muslim world has been disappointed in Obama’s silence on Gaza, and that he needs to do some fence mending.

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