Today, July 17, is International Criminal Justice Day. Not a day most people would mark on their calendars, but an event nonetheless. It commemorates the anniversary of the adoption of the Rome Statute -- the treaty that established the International Criminal Court (ICC). The court is a mechanism for bringing to justice those who commit war crimes, and people around the world use the day to promote awareness of international criminal justice and highlight related issues such as genocide in Darfur, and sexual violence in the Congo.
Shortly after Israel began its bombing campaign of Gaza last week, a fellow Jew emailed me a photo of a guy holding a large sign that read: "I am a Jew. Stop Killing Babies in Gaza." The subject line in my friend's email stated, "the photo says it all."
That photo has been burning a hole in my inbox ever since. I feel helpless in the face of all the carnage raining down on Gaza. I, too, want Israel to stop killing babies in Gaza. I want Israel to end its indiscriminate killing of all Palestinian civilians, full stop.
So today is an opportunity to reflect on the horrific events happening in the Middle East under the full glare of the lights of International Justice Day. As of this writing, the death toll in Gaza has surpassed the 200 mark, including four young boys playing on a beach. Earlier this week the UN pronounced that 80 per cent of those killed have been civilians. Under the Geneva Conventions, this is known as a war crime -- the deliberate targeting (how else does one explain the death of four children having fun on a beach) and killing of civilians.
Many Jews, including my relatives, as well as other supporters of Israel's actions, will accuse me of fudging the facts or presenting a version of the truth lacking in context. They will provide me with all manner of rationale as to why Israel, a country equipped with all the latest military hardware, and armed forces consisting of a large percentage of its adult population, feels the need to terrorize, by sea and air, a tiny speck of land, the majority of whose inhabitants are refugees with no place to run or hide. And to each of their excuses I will have a ready answer.
I will also add that to condemn an entire population, destroying their homes and their livelihoods, for the actions of a few, is not only morally wrong, it is also illegal under international law.
They will point out that an Israeli was killed on Tuesday by a Hamas rocket fired from Gaza, the first Israeli casualty since the attacks began, and that Israelis have also been living in fear of militant Palestinian missiles.
Yes, the death of the Israeli man is sad, just as the deliberate killings of three Jewish West Bank teenagers a few weeks ago was also tragic, but no more heartbreaking than the loss of the 213 Palestinians who have died in Gaza in the past 10 days or the 11 Palestinians who were killed during the search for the three Israeli teens. My heart goes out to all the families, Jewish and Palestinian, their loved ones senselessly snatched from them.
And while there may be a moral similarity between the Hamas rockets firing into Israel and the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, in that both are aiming at civilians and non-military targets; in reality, comparing the carnage being inflicted on Gaza to the rudimentary rockets thudding willy-nilly on the other side of the border is the Israeli / Palestinian equivalence of apples and oranges.
Militarily, there is little to compare between Israel's sophisticated and massive weaponry that is used to kill and injure Gazans and destroy the vital infrastructure of the territory, and the crude Hamas missiles that frighten citizens and cause minor damage in a few towns and villages in Israel.
Unfortunately, both sides now appear to have hunkered down and locked into a battle to the death. And in these kinds of scenarios there are never, ever any winners, only the needless loss of life, no matter how one slices the reality.
All of our politicians are firmly standing in support of Israel's actions, and the media is condemning both sides for the violence. It is true that as the conflict descends into evermore tit-for-tat responses, the military minds behind the bombardments and the rockets view the bloodshed as strategy in the war against the other side. For both, it is a tool in the propaganda war of who is a victim. And that is as horrifying as the innocent lives that have been lost through all this.
Still, it is Israel's responsibility to put a stop to the conditions fueling the brutality. Why? Because Israel is the occupying power simply put. The vast majority of countries, the UN as the world's accepted police officer, and international law all recognize this. For the killing to stop, it is incumbent upon Israel to end its occupation and siege of Palestine.
Under the clear-eyed gaze of International Justice Day, "I am a Jew and I want Israel to stop killing babies in Gaza."
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