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Death by Nuance

08.07.2006 05:17 | DISPATCHES

Believe it or not, when killing civilians, Israel may have international law on its side.

In an article in the Forward, Ori Nir writes: "While intentionally targeting civilians or civilian property is forbidden, international law takes a more nuanced approach to the unintentional striking of civilians when pursuing military targets." [Editor's italics and bold]

"When targeting such sites," he writes, "the impact of the attack on civilians must be carefully weighed against the military advantage that the attack serves."

Then he quotes Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study's Michael Walzer, who he terms a leading authority on ethics in war-time: "From a moral perspective, Israel has mostly been fighting legitimately." If Israeli commanders were brought up before an international tribunal, Walzer maintains that thanks to the Hezbollah human shield defense -- apparently accepted wisdom now -- "the defense lawyers will have a good case."

Maybe when these laws were cooked up in the Hague or wherever they sounded like a good compromise. But, assuming Walzer is interpreting them correctly, they clearly don't work as well in practice as in theory -- at least from a PR point of view. Israel is getting some fugugly press from the rest of the world, which doesn't care about the letter of the law, even if it is international. If it walks like a war crime. . .

Worse, this kind of legal parsing over how many angels (newly minted from dead Lebanese children, one presumes) can fit on the head of a pin is almost as dreary of that of fanatical Islamists and their fatwahs calculating how many Westerners deserve to die for their sins against Islam.

Why not call Israel's bluff? If asked to convene a beth din (rabbinical court) -- like, yesterday -- how can it refuse? One suspects Israel knows that, even if permissible in a court of international laws, its questionable military strategy isn't likely to secure the imprimatur of Talmudic scholars.


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