To Deter Future Armed Conflicts
Earlier this year the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin. The court charged Putin with war crimes over the transfer of over 6,000 Ukrainian children into Russia. Depending on the detailed facts, the forcible removal of civilians, especially children, from the place where they reside can be a crime against humanity (if in the context of systematic attacks on the civilian population), a war crime or even both (https://caityjohnstone.medium.com/putin-was-declared-a-war-criminal-for-relocating-the-same-number-of-children-israel-just-killed-52a19e1ef82b).
What effect does this indictment have on Putin? For now, not much as Russia is not a member of the ICC and party to its Rome Statute. But if Putin travels to a country that is an ICC member, the authorities are obliged to arrest him and deliver him to the court. Even if no arrest occurs the indictment is still a big black mark on the man, something that he has to carry with him for the rest of his life with the knowledge that this is how history will remember him — as a war criminal.
In the other ongoing war — Israel and Gaza — there are a multitude of real time crimes that must be investigated and, if warranted, prosecuted. Israel has killed about 15,000 civilians, including 6,500 children, in Gaza. The rate of civilian deaths is unprecedented in any conflict or war over the last 70 years. The bombing of Gaza has been indiscriminate, with 2,000 pound American bombs that destroy neighborhoods and flatten big buildings. All the while, civilians have suffered from lack of water and malnutrition. Ambulances and hospitals have been bombed with hospitals having to shut down due to the lack of fuel. While the war continues in Gaza, Palestinians have been terrorized, arrested and killed in the West Bank with around 250 deaths and hundreds arrested for little reason at all since October 7.
When you put it all together, what we are witnessing in Gaza amounts at a minimum to war crimes that must be investigated with those responsible brought to account. Not only Netanyahu and his senior civilian and military advisors, but also countries that have been hand in glove with Israel in furthering these crimes. Chief among these countries has been the United States. President Biden has supported Israel’s “right to defend itself” by supplying him with most of Israel’s lethal weapons, putting no effective restrictions on their use, protecting Israel by threatening Israel’s adversaries, not supporting a call for a ceasefire at the UN Security Council and refraining from public criticism of Israel’s conduct in the war. Most recently Biden has asked the United States Senate to do away with any restrictions on Israel in the October 20 supplementary budget request; this would enable Israel to access more high-powered US weapons at a reduced cost and with even less congressional oversight.
If we are to reduce the likelihood of armed conflicts around the world, we must hold ALL perpetrators of crimes, no matter how powerful they are, accountable in order to deter future crimes. If we mean what we say about international justice and international law, then we need to be more consistent to deter future crimes. Only universal application of laws will reduce such crimes in the future. But in today’s world, the powerful or those with powerful friends run amok and do as they wish with impunity. Yes, the U.S., Russia and Israel are not members of the ICC or party to its Rome Statute, but the label war criminal would still be a big blemish on any country or person who the court indicts. Some time ago, I authored a book on how we can best prevent conflicts and wars (https://www.amazon.com/Conflicts-Wars-Their-Fallout-Prevention/dp/1137020946). Holding ALL perpetrators accountable is key.
But there is more to these criminal acts. They have been knowingly or unknowingly supported by academics, pundits and the media. Ever since 9/11, we have invented a free pass to conflicts; simply tag anyone or any group with the terrorist label and by magic you have a free pass to kill. A biased media has repeated and trumpeted such accusations of terrorist acts, whether fact or fiction, to render them as fact. The media has made us believe that it is more acceptable to kill hundreds at a time with indiscriminate bombs as compared to killing dozens with guns and knives. Both are crimes and must be abhorred by anyone with a conscience. The media refers to the thousands randomly arrested and jailed in the West Bank as “prisoners” while those captured by Hamas are “hostages.” While the sad abduction of a four-year old Israeli hostage has been plastered everywhere, there is hardly any coverage of the thousands of Palestinian children butchered by indiscriminate bombs and deprived of life-saving food, water and medicine.
All the while the West has almost forgotten Ukraine since October 7 and there has been hardly a mention of the horrific conflict in the Sudan where over 9,000 people have been killed in about six months and about 6 million have been forced to leave their homes. Clearly the West has been focused on Israel and not much else. It should be of no surprise that the global south has little to no trust in the West and would not join the West to condemn Russia in its criminal attack on Ukraine. Western hypocrisy has been laid bare as never before in the rush to defend Israel in every way — arms, aid and political support. There has been a coordinated pushback on criticism of Israel with a liberal application of the “anti-Semitic” tag to shame all criticisms as racist. Young Arabs have lost their employment opportunities in the U.S. Mega Jewish donors have either threatened or pulled financial support from universities where there has been anti-Israeli sentiment. All in all the pushback against criticism of Israel’s Gaza war and U.S. support for Israel has been unprecedented.
While we see the horrific carnage of the war on Gaza in real time, there may be more unintended fallouts for the future. The support for Israel in the United States could usher a backlash of anti-Zionism and even anti-Semitism. Internal divisions in the U.S. could be widened. The U.S. could be more isolated as its support around the world could fall even further than it has since the Iraq and Afghan wars. Our support for Israel and the real time horrors that are being witnessed might infuse our own lives with guilt. We are all a party to this as it is our government and our tax dollars that are enabling these war crimes. Across the seas, Arab anger in the streets may spill over to violent internal conflict inside some of these countries against their “silent” leaders who are reluctant to upset their Western backers.
There are only two positive fallouts, albeit with low likelihood, of this horrible war. The world may become more consistent in referring perpetrators of war crimes and their collaborators to the ICC to deter future conflicts. Enlightened Israelis may more forcefully push for a just and viable two-state solution as the only way forward for this decades-old conflict that has no end in sight.