Respecting IHL

The broader view - Harry Roque - The Philippine Star

Israel, contra mundum. The Middle East state continues to defy the international community and contravene international laws, but for how long?

Despite mounting pressure from the world’s leading democracies, Israel has wantonly disregarded the International Humanitarian Law (IHL), or the rules governing Parties to an armed conflict. I have said before that Israel’s excessive use of force in the Gaza Strip has violated the cardinal principles of distinction and proportionality. These legal doctrines protect the civilian population from being indiscriminately targeted, maimed and killed in an armed conflict.

Over 9,000 Palestinians, of whom 3,600 were children, have died since the Oct. 7 terrorist attack of the Hamas group and Israel’s retaliatory action (Associated Press). The Gaza Health Ministry said almost 23,000 Palestinians are injured and over 1.4 million displaced. At least 240 soldiers and civilians are held hostage in Gaza.

On the other hand, figures from the Israeli military and international organizations disclosed that 1,400 people have perished, 5,400 injured and 250,000 displaced in Israel.

There are 134 Filipinos, mostly women and children, stranded in the conflict zone. According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, at least 115 want to return to the Philippines (ABS-CBN). I hope the Marcos administration would expedite their repatriation before Israel completely devastates the Gaza Strip. The IHL is supposed to ensure the safety and protection of our compatriots from the horrors of the Israel-Hamas conflict. But Israel refuses to adhere to the law on armed conflict.

I am afraid to say that the American-backed nation has gone berserk because it already treats both combatants and civilians as valid military targets. In its thirst for vengeance against Hamas, the Israeli military no longer distinguishes civilians as protected entities. It also does not have qualms about destroying civilian objects such as residential areas, hospitals, schools, buildings and transport systems in Gaza. I will not be shocked if religious, historical and cultural sites become decimated, too, in the long run.

A horrific example is Israel’s unrelenting attack on the Jabalia Refugee Camp, which has already claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians (Al Jazeera). The justification for the loss of innocent lives? The liquidation of a Hamas battalion commander and other terrorists hiding within the campsite’s vast underground tunnel.

In terms of proportionality, Israel has committed a disproportionate response to the Hamas attack. The means and methods of warfare employed by Israel to gain military advantage over Hamas have been excessive, even atrocious. In my opinion, both Parties should be thoroughly investigated and prosecuted for war crimes and genocide before the International Criminal Court (ICC). Although Israel has yet to ratify the Rome Statute to the ICC, I am relieved that the Court is probing the terroristic acts of Hamas and the violent reprisal of Israel.

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The world’s reaction to Israel’s continuing assault on Gaza has largely been condemnatory of late. Who in their right mind would rejoice to see on TV and social media innocent children, women and elderly either dying or dead every day? And these heartbreaking scenes are being taken into account by the Arab and Muslim world. For instance, Iran has been pushing the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to declare an embargo and other sanctions against Israel. So far, OPEC has been non-committal.

I recall that at the height of the 1973 Yom Kippur War (armed conflict between Israel and the Arab nations) the OPEC banned oil exports to the United States and its allies like the Philippines for supporting Israel. It posed a huge threat to our national stability at that time. To cope with the limited supply, the Marcos Sr. government stringently implemented an oil-rationing scheme per barangay. The late president Marcos also issued Presidential Decree 335, which created the Philippine National Oil Company to ensure the stable supply of petroleum products across the country. Of course, I do not want Filipinos to suffer from another oil embargo again.

That is why I was quite dismayed that the Philippines was among the 45 member-states and the only ASEAN nation that abstained on the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution calling for the “protection of civilians and upholding legal and humanitarian obligations” in the conflict-torn Gaza Strip. In condemning all acts of violence, terrorism and indiscriminate attacks on Palestinian and Israeli civilians, the GA urged all Parties to hold an immediate truce, cease hostilities and provide unhindered essential aid throughout Gaza. It also asked Israel to rescind its order for Palestinian civilians and UN staff to relocate to Southern Gaza and opposed the forced transfer of Palestinian population. Frankly, the Philippines should have affirmed the Resolution since it demands a just and peaceful solution to the conflict based on relevant UN resolutions, international law and the two-state solution.

Meanwhile, Bolivia has severed its diplomatic ties with Israel. Chile and Colombia have recalled their ambassadors. Several pro-Palestinian protest actions sprouting in the United Kingdom have demanded an end to the bombing of Gaza. Several other European countries and the African Union have called for an immediate ceasefire and facilitation of humanitarian assistance to affected civilians. Expressing fear that the conflict escalation would lead to more lives lost, Pope Francis supported the two-state solution for the peoples of Israel and Palestine.

The United States, the foremo st supporter of Israel, seems to have taken a less incendiary approach. At a campaign reception, President Biden suggested a “pause” in the Israel-Hamas conflict to give time for individuals held captive, particularly Americans, to be released. While America voted against the UN Resolution, Biden said last week the pause would allow more food, water, medicine and other assistance to flow into Gaza (NBC).

At this point, I ask the Marcos government to break its silence and support the international call for ceasefire and unimpeded humanitarian aid in Gaza. More importantly, we should urge the Israel government to respect and uphold the letter and intent of the International Humanitarian Law. The lives of 134 Filipinos, as well as the 2.2 million Gaza inhabitants, are at stake.

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