Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – The Biden administration has spent most of its diplomatic energy since the February 24, 2022, Russian invasion of Ukraine marshaling the world to punish the Russian Federation, to boycott its petroleum and gas, to seize assets even of private citizens in Europe and North America, and to make Russia a pariah. Russia certainly violated the UN Charter in attacking Ukraine and formally occupying part of that country, and it has extensively violated International Humanitarian Law with its indiscriminate bombings and drone attacks.
So please don’t misunderstand me. Let me repeat that Russia has violated international law, specifically the law of war, and that the regime of Vladimir Putin is a bad actor.
These charges have been laid by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who underlined at the UN Security Council last spring that world order depends, in the post-WW II era, on basic principles set out in international law: “No seizing land by force. No erasing another country’s borders. No targeting civilians in war.” He said, “If we do not defend these basic principles, we invite a world in which might makes right, the strong dominate the weak.”
Blinken said, “Day after day of Russia’s atrocities, it’s easy to become numb to the horror, to lose our ability to feel shock and outrage. But we can never let the crimes Russia is committing become our new normal. Bucha is not normal. Mariupol is not normal. Irpin is not normal. Bombing schools and hospitals and apartment buildings to rubble is not normal.”
Blinken has repeatedly charged Putin with war crimes.
And yet on December 8, 2023, the deputy US representative to the UN, Robert Wood, vetoed a UN Security Council resolution, introduced by the United Arab Emirates, demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. None of the other members of the 15-nation council voted against the resolution, but one, Britain, abstained. Even the odious Rishi Sunak couldn’t bring himself to vote “no.” Thirteen members voted for the resolution, including France, China, and Russia among the permanent members.
Wood’s vote implicated the Biden administration further in Israeli war crimes in Gaza, which are worse by an order of magnitude than Russia’s in Ukraine.
That’s right. President Biden, Secretary Blinken, and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu are more war-criminally than Vladimir Putin.
Let’s take Blinken’s 3 no-no’s. Israel seized the Palestinian West Bank and Palestinian Gaza by force in 1967 even though those territories were under temporary Egyptian and Jordanian guardianship and did not possess the sovereignty to be belligerents in the 1967 war. Israel has erased the borders between it and the West Bank, illegally annexing East Jerusalem and seeking to annex vast swathes of the Palestinian West Bank.
The UN explains that since October 8, Israel has killed 17,177 Palestinians in Gaza, about 70 per cent of whom are said to be women and children, and 46,000 are reportedly injured. Many more are missing, presumably under the rubble, awaiting rescue or (more likely) a slow and agonizing death.
The reason for the high civilian death toll (which is higher than 70%, since thousands of male noncombatants have also been killed) is that the Israeli army has launched indiscriminate aerial bombings, drone strikes, and tank and artillery volleys against densely populated urban neighborhoods, and has targeted schools, mosques, refugee camps, municipal buildings, and apartment buildings in an orgy of wanton destruction unparalleled since the end of the Syrian Civil War.
That’s Blinken’s supposed third no-no. “No targeting civilians in war.” Although both Israeli and US officials deny that Israel targets civilians (and note that Russian officials also deny targeting civilians), this denial is misleading and mere propaganda. Israel’s army has used artificial intelligence to generate thousands of potential military targets but has set extremely loose rules of engagement with very high tolerance for deaths of noncombatants. One Israeli magazine, +972 Mag, called this approach a “mass assassination factory.” You can’t kill 15,000 civilians in such a short period of time unless you aren’t trying very hard to avoid killing noncombatants. So reckless disregard for civilian life is clearly being exhibited, which is just as bad as targeting civilians. For all we know, the Russian officer corps is also not targeting civilians in Ukraine, but just has loose rules of engagement and a high tolerance for civilian death.
So we may conclude that Biden and Blinken are monumental hypocrites.
But let us look at the numbers.
The United Nations said three weeks ago that Russia had killed 10,000 civilians in Ukraine. In recent months, many of these deaths of noncombatants can be blamed on Moscow’s use of long-range missiles, as well as on delayed explosions of ordnance. The UN official for monitoring this situation, Danielle Bell, said, “As a result, no place in Ukraine is completely safe.”
The UN estimated that the Russians had killed 560 children since February 24, 2022.
Of course, these figures could be grossly underestimated, since Russia hasn’t allowed independent observers into the regions it controls and in places such as Mariupol there appear to have been large-scale atrocities. However, we may note for the purposes of comparison that the same opacity is there in Gaza and that thousands of people are suspected to be lying dead or dying under Israeli-created rubble.
So at a count of 11,900 women and children, Israel has killed more civilians in two months than Russia has in nearly two years. The discrepancy is even greater since we can probably add some 2,000 noncombatant men to the civilian toll.
Over 7,000 of those killed by Israeli fire have been children.
We can also look at this issue proportionally. 10,000 dead Ukrainians is — while every human being is precious and each death a profound tragedy — a minuscule proportion of the 36 million Ukrainians.
14,000 dead civilians in Gaza would be 0.6% of the 2.2 million Palestinians in Gaza.
Proportionally, Israel’s killing of civilians in Gaza is many, many times that of Russia in Ukraine, and this would be true even if Russia has killed ten times as many civilians as the UN estimates.
As for children, the Israeli killing of minors is so far off the charts compared to Russia in Ukraine that you’d have to move to Mars to do the math.
All this figuring is not intended to in any way diminish the seriousness of Russian war crimes. It is to underline the weirdly monstrous death toll being imposed on noncombatants in Gaza by Israel.
If Blinken is right that “Bucha is not normal. Mariupol is not normal. Irpin is not normal. Bombing schools and hospitals and apartment buildings to rubble is not normal,” then neither are Jabaliya, Gaza City, or Khan Younis normal. Bombing schools and apartment buildings in Gaza is not normal.
Is this maybe the thing you didn’t want to be the new normal, Mr. Blinken?
Embed from Getty Images
KHAN YUNIS, GAZA – OCTOBER 30: People search through buildings that were destroyed during Israeli air raids in the southern Gaza Strip on October 30, 2023 in Khan Yunis, Gaza. Heading into a third week of heavy bombing from Israel, Gaza buckles under a shortage of basic needs including fuel, whilst several neighborhoods on the Gaza strip have been wiped out and thousands have died and hundreds of thousands have been displaced. On October 7, Hamas launched a deadly attack in southern Israel that sparked a retaliatory siege of Gaza. (Photo by Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images.
But this one you refuse to halt. And in so refusing, you make yourself an accomplice. You and Joe Biden and Netanyahu have easily outdone Putin.