Israelis are sitting ducks in war against terrorism
September 19, 2003
BY ANNE BAYEFSKY
According to the United Nations Charter, every U.N. member state has ”the inherent right of . . . self-defense if an armed attack occurs against” it.
However, as the discussion in the Security Council this week makes clear, Israel has become the only U.N. member state excluded from the charter’s guarantee.
This is an age where armed attacks take many forms, including suicide bombing. Wars are fought with combatants who make no effort to distinguish themselves from civilians. Nevertheless, according to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, joining the war against terrorism is a club not open to the Jewish state. In fact, while the terrorists take aim at Israelis, the U.N. role has been to pin the victims’ arms behind their backs.
On Sept. 8, the secretary-general ”condemn[ed] [the] attempt by Israel to assassinate the Hamas spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin.”
On Sept. 10, a few hours after Israelis were butchered in a Jerusalem cafe in a suicide bombing perpetrated by Hamas, Israel attempted to kill senior Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar. U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Terje Roed-Larsen, said he ”deplores Israel’s bombing of a Hamas leader’s house in a densely populated Gaza neighborhood, which killed three and injured at least 30.”
On Aug. 21, one day after Hamas massacred 23 people and mutilated 115 others on the streets of Israel’s capital, Israel killed Hamas leader Ismail Abu Shanab. Annan said: ”Israel does not have the right to resort to extra-judicial measures, as it used today in the Gaza Strip….”
Israel targeted Yassin, al-Zahar and Shanab because they were a central part of the command and control structure of a terrorist organization. They were combatants in a war. They were therefore not entitled to a judicial process before an attempt to kill them.
Each case is examined individually. In these cases, Israel was unable to arrest them and the Palestinian Authority made it clear it had no intention of doing so. In such circumstances, international law makes them legitimate targets.
The U.N.’s denial of the necessities of self-defense when it comes to Israel takes another form. The key international rule governing the use of force against terrorists is the requirement of proportionality. The Geneva Conventions say an attack on a military target ”which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life” is prohibited if ”excessive.” Only in Israel’s case does the U.N. apply this rule to mean zero civilian deaths.
On Sept. 9, Israel targeted and killed two senior Hamas military wing terrorists in Hebron. At the time the two were planning suicide attacks in Israel in the very short term. Weapons and ammunition were found on their bodies.
The response from the U.N.? Roed-Larsen ”expressed serious alarm over the latest violence in the Middle East . . . after an Israeli operation yesterday in Hebron, in which a 12-year-old boy was killed. . . . Israel has an obligation under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and refrain from the use of disproportionate force.”
It is the Palestinian Authority that violates international humanitarian law by putting civilians, deliberately and directly, in harm’s way. Permitting killers to live, socialize and plot freely in densely populated civilian neighborhoods is the violation of international law. The U.N.’s refusal to deplore the Palestinian Authority’s cold-blooded complicity in the use of Palestinian civilians as human shields encourages terrorism.
As for the kingpin, Yasser Arafat, the Security Council convened immediately in response to Israel’s suggestion that Arafat is a terrorist deserving of concomitant treatment. On Sept. 16, the United States was forced to exercise its veto, as 11 of 15 members voted in favor of the draft resolution that expressed grave concern about ”extra-judicial executions and suicide bombing,” objected to any threat to remove Arafat, and made no mention of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and company.
The Israelis have long given the hard evidence: The Karine A arms shipment from Iran to the Palestinian Authority; the checks for the Palestinian Preventive Security Services’ terrorist weapons manufacturing operations; the speeches in Arabic encouraging martyrdom. But at the U.N., in Israel’s case, smoking guns do not a terrorist make.
Arafat’s return from Tunisia to the territories in 1994 was predicated on an exchange of letters between him and Rabin. Arafat wrote in his letter of Sept. 9, 1993: ”The PLO renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence and will assume responsibility over all PLO elements and personnel in order to assure their compliance, prevent violations and discipline violators.” Why keep promises when you have the U.N.?
Anne Bayefsky is an international lawyer and a member of the governing board of Geneva-based UN Watch, www.unwatch.org