Law is an attempt to establish order. It creates order by setting out what’s right and what’s wrong. It codifies those rights and wrongs through rules we call, the law.
If one refuses to abide by those laws, or in some manner wilfully ignores them, then one violates the law. One qualifies to be punished for that violation.
If order is to be maintained, violators must be punished. Otherwise, no one will obey the law. Order will evaporate.
Those who work with law face three challenges. First, they’ve got to write laws that actually work in the real world. Second, they’ve got to encourage people to follow that law. Third, they’ve got to figure out how to discourage those who refuse to accept that law; they need to calculate a set of consequences for not abiding by the law.
These requirements apply to your hometown. They apply on the international stage. They apply anywhere peace is threatened.
The worse thing law-makers can do is to condemn those who obey laws while, at the same time, they give law-breakers what amounts to a slap on the wrist. That will never promote peace. It will empower lawlessness.
In your hometown, that would mean more robberies. On the international stage, it means more terror.
This is what the UN does with its 2015 Report on the 2014 Gaza war. It appears to condemn the law-abider and the terrorist equally. But it finds more fault with the law-abider.
In today’s world, where terror increases dramatically and peace is threatened by lawless ruthlessness, this UN Report disincentivises obeying the law. It makes the terrorist arrogant.
Arrogant terrorists do not spread peace. Criminalizing the law-abiding does not support ‘order’.
Israel has a well-earned reputation for its adherence to the laws of war (Willy Stern, “Attorneys at War: Inside an elite Israeli military law unit”, The Weekly Standard”, June 15, 2015). It has a track record in this area (ibid). Even the International Committee of the Red Cross (icrc), the world’s promoter of laws of war, has acknowledged that Israel’s military, the IDF, conforms to the stricter definitions of those laws of war (‘Customary IHL, Practice, By Country, Israel, Rule 14’, icrc.org/customary-ihl, no date).
Hamas, on the other hand, rejects those laws. Richard Goldstone, who led a 2009 UN Commission that vilified Israel, suggested as much in an essay where he actually recanted his original 2009 anti-Israel conclusions (Richard Goldstone, “Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and war crimes”, Washington Post, April 1, 2011). Still,Hamas laughs at the Report as Israel gets hammered.
The laws of war are designed to protect civilians. But international commitment to those laws will weaken if the UN vilifies a conforming national army after it has fought a lawless enemy.
Civilians also suffer when the UN bashes a conforming national army. They suffer dearly every time terrorists believe they have gained advantage from being lawless.
This UN Report will bring suffering to civilians. It emboldens terror.
Israel is the world’s most law-abiding army (Stern, ibid). If it is hammered after using IHL in war, how will less-legally sophisticated national armies be judged when they fight terror? The answer frightens Western armies.
To give you a sense of the gap between how Israel uses the laws of war versus everyone else in the world, consider this criticism from an expert on military law from Germany: he says, yes, Israel goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties in Gaza (Stern, ibid). But he criticizes Israel nonetheless—for an important reason.
He believes that the IDF is taking many more precautions than are required by IHL and in doing so, he fears the IDF is setting an unreasonable precedent [my emphasis] for other democratic countries of the world who may soon find themselves fighting in asymmetric wars against brutal non-state actors who abuse these laws (ibid).
Think about what he’s saying. He’s not criticizing Israel—as the UN does in this Report—for not abiding by IHL. He crtiticizes Israel for being too good at applying the law.
He’s not the only military expert who thinks this way (ibid). When Pnina Sharvit Baruch, a former IDF attorney (ibid), attends legal conferences around the world, she says she faces ‘recurring claims’ from other militaries’ legal advisers that the IDF “is going too far [my emphasis] in its self-imposed restrictions intended to protect civilians, and that this may cause trouble down the line for other democratic nations fighting organized armed groups” (ibid).
There is an unbelievable disconnect here. The Human Rights world sees Israel as a brutal killer which does not in any way abide by IHL. Other Western armies, however (who understand war and IHL), see Israel as going so frighteningly far to abide by the laws of war, they fear that their own armies in future wars will be judged by Israel’s standards—and they’ll come up wanting.
Their fear is simple. If Israel, the recognized standard-setter for applying IHL in war, is criminalized, what will happen to us, who are not now able to reach Israel’s legal skill-level?
The UN is destroying Western military confidence. At a time when war against terror could erupt at any moment, the UN’s assault on a legal war-leader (Israel) is suicidal. It gives the terrorist the confidence to attack the West.
Of course, if Israel is so law-abiding, why did it destroy so many civilian homes, and why did it kill so many civilians?
I’ll answer those two questions next week in two separate essays.
Just remember: Israel does a better job obeying IHL in war than any other country—I’ll talk about how Israel does that in one or two other essays, as well.