“In the end, Ukraine may face the reality that it needs to negotiate with a Russian foe willing to endlessly sacrifice treasure and lives on the battlefield That point has not been reached, but the West should give Ukraine the leverage to drive the best possible bargain if the time comes.”
– Washington Post editorial, November 13, 2023
“A unilateral or unconditional cease-fire by Israel would be inconsistent with the country’s right to defend itself against the authors of the massacre on Oct 7: Hamas.”
– Washington Post editorial, November 6, 2023
It is increasingly clear that the Russian campaign against Ukraine and the Israeli campaign against Gaza are violating international law and the essential tenets of just war. Neither Russia nor Israel is making the required distinctions between combatants and non-combatants, and the excessive use of force on both battlefields is a violation of the need for proportionality in warfare. Russian and Israeli military forces are targeting civilian infrastructure and even civilians themselves.
Last week, a Palestinian official with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the agency that cares for Palestinian refugees in the Middle East, was killed in his home in Gaza along with his wife and their eight children. Last June, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, called UNRWA a “destructive agency” because it supports the idea of returning Palestinian refugees to their homes in Israel. Last week, according to the New York Times, Erdan told the UN Security Council that “many UNRWA workers in Gaza are themselves members of Hamas.”
Ambassador Erdan’s remarks are particularly odious, but there have been statements from high-level Israeli officials over the years that point to the genocidal intent of Israeli policy toward Palestinians. Former Prime Minister Golda Meir said “There is no such thing as a Palestinian people… It is not as if we came and threw them out and took their country. They didn’t exist.” Former Defense Minister Ariel Sharon’s wanton disregard for Palestinian life was demonstrated in 1982 during the massacres at the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon, where Sharon allowed Lebanese Phalangists to commit large-scale killings of the Palestinian civilians. Israel’s war crimes in Gaza were foreshadowed in Lebanon in 1982 and 2006, when Israel conducted aerial bombardments against refugee settlements.
The idea of a nuclear strike against Gaza was even raised by a right-wing minister in Netanyahu’s government, Amichay Eliyahu. A member of the Knesset has called for a second Nakba, in reference to the expulsion of Palestinians that Israel carried out in its 1948 war with its Arab neighbors. A military spokesperson said that “the emphasis is on damage and not on accuracy,” when describing Israel’s airstrikes. Palestinians are paying the price for German crimes against European Jewry in the 1930s and 1940s.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used biblical references in emphasizing that Israelis were united in their fight against Hamas, whom he described as an enemy of incomparable cruelty. He noted “You must remember what Amalek (a rival nation to ancient Israel) has done to you, says our Holy Bible, in order to justify killing Palestinians.” Netanyahu was referring to God’s command to King Saul to kill every person in Amalek. “I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.” This may explain why the Israelis are doing virtually nothing to stop the violence of Israeli settlers against Palestinians on the West Bank, which is taking innocent lives and destroying ancient olive trees.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inflammatory references to Ukrainians are similarly odious. According to Putin, Ukraine doesn’t exist. Like so many Kremlin rulers, particularly Josef Stalin, Putin would deprive Ukrainians of their nationality. Like Stalin, Putin is making good use of trench warfare, and is targeting civilian infrastructure as a military objective. Russia’s indiscriminate bombing and shelling of civilians and civilian infrastructure was foreshadowed by Soviet military actions in World War II. Stalin accused Poland of using the Ukrainians to destroy the Soviet Union. Putin is accusing the United States and various European nations of using Ukraine to destroy Russia. Russian leaders are referring to Ukrainians as Nazis and fascists in order to justify their efforts to Russify Ukraine.
What the Washington Post hasn’t mentioned in making the case for continued warfare is that more than 500 political appointees and staff members representing more than 40 government agencies wrote to President Biden last week to protest his support for Israel’s war in Gaza. The letter, according to the New York Times, calls on Biden to seek an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and to demand that Israel allow humanitarian aid into the territory. Dozens of Foreign Service Officers have sent several protest letters to Secretary of State Antony Blinken; more than a 1,000 officials at the Agency for International Development have petitioned AID administrator Samantha Power to do the same.
Power’s silence regarding Israeli war crimes is particularly noteworthy; after all, she is the author of “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide,” which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003. Her book was a study of the failure of American leaders to summon the will to stop genocide. Today, we find the Biden administration unable to summon the will and the power to stop Israeli war crimes.