Humanitarian Law Applies to All

By Tammy Obeidallah

Throughout the world, people have attempted to distinguish ordinary Americans from the United States government. Perhaps our complacency for aiding and abetting war crimes has been attributed to lack of education, apathy in the face of an omnipotent pro-Israeli lobby or that we are simply hapless workaholics with time for little else. Yet private citizens, either for some warped religious or political viewpoint, or through sheer ignorance often exacerbate the control pro-Israel interest groups have over American institutions. 
 
In September, the city of Dayton, Ohio–population roughly 160,000–signed a three-year commitment to share military technology with Israel. One of the key components of the agreement is the further development of unmanned aircraft.  County officials reported $350,000 in private donations was raised to contribute to this and other "economic development projects" in Israel.
 
The attitude of this small Midwestern city is reflective of the American nation as a whole.  Sharing military technology with a nation that is known to use such technology against civilians is against international law; yet human rights take a back seat to the promise of job opportunities and economic growth at the expense of people half a world away.  While Americans enjoy the freedom of unfettered Internet access and ample educational opportunities, the majority choose to remain deliberately ignorant of the law and an all but forgotten value system.
 
The American Society of the Red Cross offers a four-hour class on International Humanitarian Law during armed conflict, which draws its legal basis from the four Geneva Conventions of 1949.  Ratified by all 194 of the world’s countries, the Conventions prohibit attacks on civilians and institutions such as hospitals, houses of worship and schools. They also mandate the humane treatment of sick and injured combatants as well as prisoners of war.
 
In 1998, the world community took additional steps to establish a permanent International Criminal Court (ICC) responsible for prosecuting individuals for violations of International Humanitarian Law. Ironically, the United States did not ratify the Rome Statute which created the ICC and notified the United Nations that it will not recognize the authority of such a court.
 
Not coincidentally, the United States made this announcement in May 2002, less than a month after Israel’s attack on the Jenin refugee camp.  Untold numbers of civilians were massacred in the onslaught and survivors were subsequently denied Red Cross and Red Crescent access, representing yet another grave breach of the Geneva Conventions.  Journalists were kept out in an attempt to conceal mass graves of Palestinian men, women and children from the rest of the world–crimes worthy of referral to the ICC.  
 
Small wonder the United States, protector-in-chief of the Jewish State, chose that time to deny the court’s right to exist.  Yet, as horrific as was the Jenin massacre, it served as a merely a bloody preamble to Israel’s attacks on Lebanon in 2006 and most recently, Gaza.

During Israel’s December 2008-January 2009 offensive, Gazans suffered indiscriminate attacks on civilian neighborhoods, mosques, clinics and a UN school. 

The BBC reported a clinic run by Christian Aid, along with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of medical equipment, was destroyed in an Israeli missile attack. The clinic provided free health care, with specific focus on mothers and children.  Its purpose was well-known, as Israeli military officials called the organization 15 minutes prior to its destruction, alleging "terrorist operations in the area."
 
Civilians, particularly children, were targeted by Israeli soldiers. Dr. Ahmed Yahia, head of neurosurgery at the El-Arish hospital in Egypt told BBC News that brain scans "made it clear that a number of the child victims had been shot at close range."
 
Compounding the human toll, Israel used white phosphorus and the DIME bomb, a heinous weapon causing catastrophic internal wounds and the rapid onset of cancer in those exposed to it.
 
The Geneva Convention calls on its signatories–all 194 of them–to prosecute war crimes.  When a nation is unwilling or unable to do so, it is up to the international community to step in and apply sanctions against the offending nation. 
 
However, when governments are unwilling to live up to their agreements, it should fall into the hands of private citizens to pressure these said governments; when private citizens are ignorant of international law, the pro-Israeli media juggernaut and corrupt politicians are all too eager to fill the vacuum. 

Such was the case at the recent G-20 summit held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The United States, France and Britain called for sanctions against Iran for pursuing nuclear power, hypocritically ignoring Israel’s already hefty nuclear arsenal along with its demonstrated willingness to use weapons of mass destruction. 

It is time International Humanitarian Law be made an educational requirement in our public schools rather than an optional course offered intermittently. Only then will we have a citizenry capable of demanding government adherence to the Geneva Convention. 
 
The alternative is unfolding before our very eyes:  a decline in civility, the breakdown of morality and the rapidly decreasing value we place on a human life.  This is the legacy the children of the world are doomed to inherit if teaching international law is not made a priority. 

– Tammy Obeidallah is a writer based in Dayton, Ohio. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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