Has Amnesty International Lost Its Way? (Part 7)
HAMAS WAR CRIMES AND VIOLATIONS OF INTERNATIONAL LAW
The allegation that not just Israel but Hamas as well committed massive war crimes underpins Amnesty’s “balanced” indictment of both sides. Amnesty’s accusations that Hamas was guilty of “flagrant violations of international law”—that is, war crimes—fall under two heads: (1) its use of inherently indiscriminate weapons, and (2) its indiscriminate or deliberate targeting of Israeli civilians and civilian objects. In addition, Amnesty accuses Hamas of having violated the rule of international law requiring it to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians during combat. Each of these will be analyzed in turn.
Indiscriminate Weapons. Amnesty asserts that “all the rockets” in Hamas’s arsenal constituted “unguided projectiles which cannot be accurately directed at specific targets.” Furthermore, although acknowledging that Hamas did “appear to have aimed some mortars at military objectives,” Amnesty enters the critical caveat that mortars “are still an imprecise weapon and must therefore never be used to target military objectives located amidst civilians or civilian objects.” In a second iteration, the threshold of legality is set yet higher: “Even in the hands of a highly experienced and trained operator, a mortar round can never be accurate enough to hit a specific point target. Hence, when mortars are used with the intent of striking military targets located in the vicinity of civilian concentrations, but strike civilians or civilian objects, they constitute indiscriminate attacks” (emphasis added). Except for hand-held weapons, antitank missiles and IEDs, Amnesty effectively declares illegal the whole of Hamas’s mostly archaic military arsenal. Indeed, according to Amnesty, “international humanitarian law prohibits the use of weapons that are by nature indiscriminate”; “using prohibited weapons is a war crime”; “firing the rocket was a war crime” (emphases added). Thus, in Amnesty’s bookkeeping, each time Hamas fired a rocket or mortar shell, it committed a war crime, regardless of whether the weapon struck a civilian or civilian object. Insofar as Hamas fired 7,000 rockets and mortar shells at Israel, it would have, on Amnesty’s reckoning, committed 7,000 war crimes, even if only six civilians in Israel were killed and only one house was destroyed. Such a calculation might appear to go some distance toward justifying Amnesty’s “balanced” indictment, but only at the price of turning international law—or, at any rate, Amnesty’s construal and application of it—into an object deserving of derision. If Hamas’s mere use of these weapons constituted war crimes, it’s also cause for perplexity why Amnesty took the trouble to investigate the ensuing civilian death and destruction. One might think that, after a bill of indictment tallying thousands of war crimes, further documentation of war crimes would be redundant, akin to beating a dead horse. Amnesty alludes in passing to the fact that Israeli “violations” of international law during OPE included “attacks using munitions such as artillery, which cannot be precisely targeted, on very densely populated residential areas.” In fact, had Amnesty bothered to pursue this line of inquiry, it would have discovered that Israel fired no less than 20,000 unguided high-explosive artillery shells into Gaza, an estimated 95 percent into or near populated civilian areas. Thus, to go by Amnesty’s bookkeeping, Israel committed nearly three times as many war crimes as Hamas just in its use of artillery shells, which constitute one of the less salient components of its high-tech killing machine.