In July 2014, the world witnessed the atrocities committed by the Israeli government in Gaza. A total of 2104 Palestinians massacred, 69% of whom were civilians and 7 Israeli civilians killed. A year after we must ask has justice come to the victims of this war?
Last month, the UN published a report on the 2014 Gaza-Israel conflict which accused both sides of war crimes in the Gaza strip. The report affirmed the Israeli’s frequent use of precision target weapons, indicating they were aimed at specific targets. Yet somehow the Israeli military attacked residential buildings in the neighborhood of Shujayea at a time when families were gathered to break their fast during Ramadan, thus knowingly increasing the likelihood of mass civilian causality. Furthermore in the cases where militants were inside the residential buildings, the attacks were disproportionate and therefore amount to a war crime.
The West’s unconditional support for Israel, and its assertion that Israel was acting in self -defense has had great consequences in prohibiting justice, human and civil rights being served to the Palestinians. If there had been an adversary that acted like Israel since last July, would it not have been labelled as an aggressor and consequently have received international condemnation and action? Was this not the response to Saddam Hussein, and Muammar Qaddafi? International politics is shaping the application of international criminal law. It decides that enemies of the West should be held accountable, but that the West’s friends are not. This double standards highlights the tensions between law and justice.
One year later, Palestine has joined the International Criminal Court to pursue Israel for its war crimes, but the path to justice does not look bright. In response to this, the Israeli government has already stopped the transfer of about $400m (£270m) in tax revenues collected on behalf of the Palestinian Authority (PA) between January and March 2015, and vowed to take more measures to pressure Palestine not to seek justice. Furthermore, the effectiveness of the ICC is questionable. Even if the prosecutor chooses to investigate, indict and issue arrest warrants, the likelihood of them actually convicting and punishing those responsible is very low.
The only way war crimes and many other criminal activities will end is if the law provides justice to prohibit any future crimes. Justice is a precondition for any peace settlement to be reached in Palestine, because victims will remember. Terrorist organizations will be able to recruit many people who have lost dear ones or had their homes destroyed, to fight for their own justice when the rule of law fails them. Injustice breeds further crime, and crime without punishment breeds injustice – a vicious cycle that the international leaders are unwilling to acknowledge and fight. It is a known fact that Hamas have been using Palestinians as human shields; putting their lives in great jeopardy all for the purpose of targeting Israeli civilians.
The focus on Palestinian losses instead of Israel’s is due to the fact that, when a conflict leads to many civilian deaths on one side and few on the other, it is best characterized as a massacre.Whereas Hamas’ crimes should not be underestimated. The international support for states committing war crimes is a larger threat to international peace and our humanity than terrorist groups, which we do not expect to abide by international law. Therefore, international action should be taken to condemn this organisation’s activity. It should be very simple; those who commit atrocities against helpless and innocent civilians – whether they are Hamas militants, or the Israeli military – should be judged by the same moral and ethical standards. They are all war criminals.