Humanitarianism in Asymmetric Warfare
Lively discussion in comments about the shootings in Seattle, Israel's strategy, the Bush-Blair refusal to set a ceasefire declaring an opportunity for a better Middle East and more ... An example -- BTW, all the victims of the Seattle shooting were women, one of whom was pregnant. So now the post comes full circle. It was originally about humanitarianism and war crimes in asymmetric war. Question: was the perp a combatant or a criminal? Question: did he commit a war crime?
Haaretz reports that:
The UN humanitarian chief called Friday for a three-day truce between Israel and Hezbollah to evacuate trapped civilians and replenish supplies to areas cut off by the fighting. Jan Egeland told reporters that thousands of children, elderly and disabled had been stranded after more than two weeks of war, while supplies of food and medicines are dwindling. He said he hoped the three-day pause could be the start of a larger cessation of hostilities between the two sides.
"Evacuate trapped civilians and replenish supplies to areas cut off by the fighting". In order to make this a legitimate humanitarian mission and not a resupply run for the Hezbollah and an escape route for its fighters the following ideas suggest themselves.
- All children, elderly men, women and identifiable noncombatants should be given safe passage out of the area after passing a security checkpoint to be jointly manned by the UNIFIL and the IDF. Any individual who is suspected of being a combatant can be placed in joint custody and removed to a detention facility inspected by the Red Cross or some similar institution. He will remain there until his any doubts over his status can be resolved.
- The UN should establish a refugee processing camp on the cleared side of the security checkpoint where food, water, medical attention etc can be provided to whoever needs it. It should be the policy of the UN to temporarily evacuate the combat zone to prevent further loss of life, in accordance with the principle that populations should be removed from the path of natural or manmade disasters whenever possible and returned only when it is safe.
Otherwise Egeland's proposal will amount to nothing more than a resupply effort for Hezbollah, which can appropriate whatever supplies it wants at gunpoint from civilians, and an invitation to a humanitarian disaster. Neither taking sides in a conflict nor endangering noncombatants is a proper activity for a relief organization. Right now the combat zone is probably littered with unexploded ordnance, hazardous material and other perils. It would be improper for any humanitarian agency to encourage continued civilian presence in an area which is manifestly unsafe, environmentally dangerous and rife with traumatizing experiences for children. The population can be returned to their homes when the fighting stops but that can only be meaningful if they keep their lives.
Although it must surely have been the furthest thing from Egeland's mind, his proposal might be misunderstood by suspicious minds as a desire to keep the Hezbollah's human shield defenses in good working order. And since this is surely not the case and since the laws of war require that noncombatants should be accorded the requisite protections, there can be no objection to evacuating the embattled areas of every civilian. Any property loss can later be the subject of claims. Perhaps these details have already been worked out by the UN. If so these suggestions are redundant.
The Saudi Press Agency releases a statement apparently warning Israel of dire consequences unless it stops operations in Lebanon. "The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia calls on all to act in accordance with honest, conscious and international moral and humanitarian laws. It also warns all that if the peace option is rejected due to the Israeli arrogance then only the war option remains and no one knows the repercussions befalling the region, including wars and conflict that will spare no one including those whose military power is now tempting them to play with fire." It's a full court press now. Kesher Talk thinks that Olmert is hesitating -- with very serious results -- in his prosecution of the war against Hezbollah: using too much air, using too little ground. Too limited in his objectives. Politically Israel has reached a crisis. Set against this are signals that the Hezbollah may be hurting physically, with Nasrallah reported holed up, looking for resupply, etc. Both in 1967 and 1973 the calls for a ceasefire increased in proportion to the distress of the Arab armies. But also, and this should be remembered, once early in the 1973 war when they sought to freeze their gains in the belief that they had been winning up to that point.
But in breaking news, both Tony Blair and George Bush have laid out what they expect to emerge from this crisis. President Bush and Tony Blair rejected calls for an immediate cease-fire in Lebanon. Bush said "This is a moment of intense conflict in the Middle East, yet our aim is to turn it into a moment of opportunity and a chance for a broader change in the region". Broader change implies a re-architecturing of the status quo. What this means in actual terms will be seen in the coming days.