Israel’s War Crime

Yesterday, here in Philadelphia, I watched as a large grey four-engine jet with the distinctive fat squarish-looking fuselage of a military C-17 lumbered eastward far overhead, almost certainly one of the earliest of many such massive cargo planes bound for Israel loaded with heavy ammunition, bombs and who knows what other horrors designed by the sick minds of engineers in the US arms industry. Those industrialized killing products are bad enough in the toolkit of our own military, but they should definitely not be provided as a gift to a country that plans to use its overwhelming might to destroy the lives of countless civilians as part of a collective punishment for the acts of fighters they have no control over— especially people who are at the complete mercy of Israel, unable to leave their fenced and walled-in “open-air prison” of Gaza.

When the Nazi Wehrmacht’s troops advanced through Eastern Europe and into the Soviet Union in Europe’s Eastern Front, they were notorious, when encountering the slightest resistance from smaller villages for destroying such towns and burning them to the ground, killing everyone in them—man woman and child—as a collective punishment.

Such collective punishment was long a war crime and is encoded as a war crime in the UN Charter which based its rules of war on the Nuremberg Tribunal that followed World War II.

Israel’s IDF has for years ignored international law and done much the same thing in a more targeted but equally criminal fashion, destroying homes and often in the process killing innocent women and even children if suspected Palestinian “terrorists” were believed to have lived there. This tactic was applied even if the “terrorist” in question had been captured or killed already.

Now, following the weekend’s unprecedented incursion into Israel by hundreds of Hamas fighters who have committed atrocities against Jewish Israeli civilians, including older women and children, Israel’s leaders have begun a fierce, vicious, and genocidal campaign of collective punishment of the entire Gaza Strip and its 2.3 million trapped residents, cutting off food, water, electricity and because of that, also sewer and water treatment systems. At the same time, Israel’s so-called “Defense” Minister Yoav Gallant has said the military is planning to establish a “full siege” of the captive enclave of Gaza adding, “We are fighting animals, and we will act accordingly.”

Already in the first few days of the Israeli military’s retaliation against Gaza, 900 Palestinians have been killed, including 450 children, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

The meaning of Gallant’s brutal language is clear (despite his unintended grimly ironic double entendre), and the policy itself is an epic war crime of genocidal proportions, made the more likely by his effectively labeling the entire Palestinian population of the cage-like enclave or Gaza that his soldiers will be confronting in any invasion “animals” to be starved to death, left without water in what is a desert, and put at risk of deadly diseases like typhus and cholera by the loss of their sewer system. It is grotesque to hear Gallant using language that echos that of the Nazi troops surrounding the walled-off Warsaw Ghetto prison camp that trapped almost half a million Polish Jews and then burned and blew them all up in a final orgy of bombs and cannon fire.

As awful as the atrocities committed in Israel by the Hamas fighters’ surprise breakout from Gaza into the towns and kibbutzes located just outside the walled and fenced-off Gaza strip are — and they are terrible — they do not justify Israel’s looming collective punishment response.

The scenes of devastation in Gaza from the initial Israeli shelling and bombing are sickening but have the advantage for Israel’s government of mostly burying under rubble the dead victims, many certain to be children and elderly civilians, not leaving them out on the street bleeding out like the victims of the Hamas fighters. But they are just as dead or gravely injured as those shot by Hamas where the grim results were easily photographed and even videoed to be displayed on TV news programs worldwide.

Unless the US orders this Israeli war crime halted before it really gets into high gear, America will be a full party to this potentially colossal atrocity by Israel and its military.

Getting the US to cease military aid to Israel for any attack on Gaza is an urgent need. Primer Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Gallant and other Israeli leaders know that eventually the US will, likely behind the scenes, force it to stop, and so the collective punishment of Gaza will be fast and furious — to get the murderous job done before that can happen.

The people of Gaza may not be able to rein in the Hamas leaders and armed militants who rule them, but we citizens of the US can stop our government from sending more weapons to Israel to perpetrate this and other war crimes. Israel for years has been the largest recipient of foreign aid from the US, most of it military. That aid has continued regardless of Israel’s continued brutality against the Palestinians under its control both in their boundaries and in the captured and occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza, to the tune of $260 billion (that’s over a quarter trillion dollars!) since the founding of the Jewish state.

That aid has been given with no strings attached, even when Israeli planes attacked a clearly marked US Navy ship, when they boarded a Turkish ferry in international waters and murdered a teenage American for photographing their act of piracy, when they shot and killed a clearly marked American woman reporter covering a Palestinian demonstration on the West Bank, or when they last invaded Gaza, killing thousands. Israel won’t listen to mealy words uttered by US presidents tut-tutting about their war crimes. They will only listen when that aid is stopped cold. And that will only happen if Americans demand it.

So let’s not waste our time aiming protests at war criminals. Let’s get our own leaders to quickly turn off the aid spigot or be labeled war criminals too.

CounterPunch contributor DAVE LINDORFF is a producer along with MARK MITTEN on a forthcoming feature-length documentary film on the life of Ted Hall and his wife of 51 years, Joan Hall. A Participant Film, “A Compassionate Spy” is directed by STEVE JAMES and will be released in theaters this coming summer. Lindorff has finished a book on Ted Hall titled “A Spy for No Country,” to be published this Fall by Prometheus Press.