Spanish version: Agustín Velloso: Los 'hombres-bomba' y los derechos humanos en Palestina

Related links:

Noam Chomsky: El terrorismo funciona

Robert Fisk: Una solución a esta guerra inmunda: la ocupación extranjera

Mohamed Sid-Ahmed: El nuevo equilibrio del terror

Roni Ben Efrat: Los atentados suicidas, a debate


Palestinian Human-Bombs, Human Rights and Amnesty International

Agustín Velloso

CSCAweb (www.nodo50.orgs/csca), 08-12-2002

There are many studies on Palestinians under Israeli occupation and in exile. Human rights organisations, both in Palestine and in the West, have reported extensively about human rights violation by Israel in the Occupied Territories. There is no need to repeat here what has been described before. However, it is worth to pause for a moment in a recent event that speaks volumes about the gravity of the situation in Palestine. Understanding the context is indispensable before answering the question about the legitimacy of the attacks against Israeli civilians by the Palestinian human-bombs. That is, if we are not satisfied with the psychological "explanation" which forgets about the context and deals only with the personality of the "suicide bombers". That is, if we think the core of the Palestinian conflict and its solution are not the actions of the human-bombs. That is, if we consider the international community, the international organisations included, could do more than condemning the attacks.

In the last of a long series of deadly and destructive Israeli operations against Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, Operation Defensive Shield ­that is to say, Operation Thundering Terror against already terrorised Palestinians- between march 29 and may 31, 2002, fifty five Palestinian children were killed, twenty one of them were 12 years old and less. One out of four ­is it necessary to write innocent victims?- lived in Jenin.

According to the independent Palestinian organisation Miftah (, "during the third day of the incursion into Nablus, the Shu'bi family home was demolished by an Israeli bulldozer; the mother, seven-months pregnant, and three brothers, Abdullah, 8, Azzam, 6, and Anas, 4, were buried under the rubble, along with their grandfather and two aunts". For some reason, crimes like this either do not reach or do not penetrate the public opinion of the Western societies, which are very receptive to victims in Israel.

Which one is the most cruel? A Palestinian who detonates his lethal load in a place illegally stolen to the rightful owners, who have been forcefully expelled from it, even killed if they resisted, or an Israeli soldier who hides a land mine in the road Palestinian children use to go from home to school every day? With actions like this, seven Palestinian children have been killed and four have sustained injuries in the Operation Defensive Shield. What can be said about the closures and curfews that resulted in the deaths of five more babies, three of them new-borns, because they were denied medical assistance? It is difficult to find an action more cruel than denying a new-born the medical treatment that can save his/her very life.

Western news agencies have paid much attention to the "Urgent appeal to stop suicide bombings" signed by some dozens of notorious public figures in Palestine. They do not mention, however, that this appeal has been published thanks to European Union financing and by a Palestinian press which is not free. Besides, they do not mention that is has provoked another appeal to "Urge the continuation of all forms of resistance and condemn the call to desist the human bombs tactic", signed by a similar number of intellectuals and activists.

The human bomb issue is being debated by all Palestinians everywhere, not only by university people and political representatives. It could not be any other way if recent events are taking into account. Roni Ben Efrat, sharp Israeli analyst of the conflict, writes in his article "Palestinians Debate the Suicide Bombings" (Challenge, 74, July ­August, 2002) that "on one level people ask if suicide attacks are good, legitimate, acceptable in Islamic law. () On another, broader level, people ask, What will come of this? Does it help?" Israelis also ask themselves about their actions in the Occupied Territories. There is some confusion about the subject.

Those who closely monitor the conflict know that public opinion, both in Israel and the Occupied Territories, changes according to the volatile perception each party has on its own vulnerability and the "punishment" one enemy inflicts upon the other. If the situation deteriorates because the Israeli repression increases, or because one attack has caused a large figure of Israeli victims, the number of those who understand or even call for a violent response also increases. Palestinians also debate about differences between attacks inside Israel and in the Occupied Territories.

All of them try to ascertain if their own actions are good, that is to say, if they advance their own national aims, their struggle for liberation and their security, respectively. None of the aims have to do mainly with human rights, but with political agendas. Debates from a moral or religious point of view are closer to the human rights field. However, neither a particular ethical nor a concrete religious explanation are useful for all peoples. Amnesty International (AI) relies on the doctrine of human rights and the relevant international laws to deal with the issue of the human-bombs.

It has just released the report entitled: Israel and the Occupied Territories and the Palestinian Authority. Without distinction ­ attacks on civilians by Palestinian armed groups. (July 2002; AI index: MDE 02/003/2002).

It is not by chance that this paper starts mentioning the case of the Palestinian children killed by the Israeli Defence Forces. AI starts its report introducing six Israeli children killed by human-bombs. It is not a matter of counting the number of children in each group, or putting one group before the other. However, in the report by AI, it seems these children are the first and only victims. It seems there is no background, there is no context. If we accept this, the report would be the enlightened version of the psychological explanation about the "suicide bombers". Besides, this introduction does not match with the title. If there is no distinction, as it reads, Why is there no introduction of the Palestinian victims?

It is true that AI has reported in the past about human rights violations by Israel, but still it is difficult to accept there is no introduction about the Palestinian victims. It is contrary to the truth not to differentiate between the aggressor and the victim. The background information they provide after the introduction on the Israeli children is far from what is needed to fully understand the whole Palestinian conflict.

AI position on the human-bombs is unequivocal: It "condemns unreservedly direct attacks on civilians as well as indiscriminate attacks, whatever the cause for which the perpetrators are fighting, whatever justification they give for their actions. Targeting civilians and being reckless as to their fate are contrary to fundamental principles of humanity which should apply in all circumstances at all times. These principles are reflected in international treaty law and in customary law." (p. 2 of the pdf version, AI Web page).

AI firmly rejects all Palestinian justifications for the attacks against Israeli civilians. It mentions the basic principles that apply in every conflict, in particular those dealing with the protection of non combatants. AI also adds that "no violations by the Israeli government, no matter their scale or gravity, justify the killing of Sinai Keinan, Danielle Shefi, Chanah Rogan or any other civilians. The obligation to protect civilians is absolute and cannot be set aside because Israel has failed to respect its obligations." (p. 5).

Unfortunately, this clear-cut statement does not match with the obscurity of the real world. Perhaps, because AI directs no light towards this reality firstly, the clear-cut statements are unable to explain the obscure reality and consequently are insufficient to change it.

AI, as usual, carefully examines the relevant international law, relates it to the attacks and states that, under the Additional Protocol 1 and Article 8(2) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, "the deliberate killing of Israeli civilians by Palestinian armed groups amounts to crimes against humanity" (p. 24). At the same time it does not explain at all why all these laws, the United Nations Security Council, its General Assembly and each country on its own, not even AI, have not been able to prevent the 35 year old Israeli illegal occupation of Palestinian land, the fate of millions of refugees not allowed to come back, the killing of thousands, plus the tens of thousands of wounded and crippled for life, the human rights violations of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, the jet-fighter and helicopter bombings on cities and refugee camps heavily populated, the blocking of fact finding commissions on these atrocities, the lack of sanctions and coercion measures and, to shorten a really long list, the total lack of hope into a change for the better in the future.

The fact that AI condemns Israeli human rights violations, the fact that AI states that humanitarian principles admit no exceptions, even the fact that AI "is calling on the international community to assume its responsibility to ensure that international human rights and humanitarian law standards are upheld by all parties" (p. 25) do not protect the lives of Palestinian children as was shown at the beginning of this paper. Why does AI think that Palestinians have to protect these principles?

This is not against AI, this is no incitement to attack, this is not against the universality of those principles. The problem is that AI is unable to safeguard Palestinians' human rights and their very lives with its reports focused on principles. Consequently, it is unreasonable to condemn the Palestinians who do not comply with them. Human rights are either universal or meaningless. AI either guarantees the lives of the Palestinian children, or it is in no position to ask Palestinians to comply with the principles.

Israel does not need AI protection. It could be said the principles make no difference for Israel. Israel rather relies on US arms shipments. However, Palestinians do need protection. Who is out there to protect them? AI is unable to do it and on top of this it asks both parties to comply with the principles. This is unjust, both are worlds apart.

Instead of applying universal principles exclusively to the killing of six Israeli children, AI could firstly describe how life is in a place where your relatives are killed, your house is demolished, your land is stolen, your neighbours are continuously terrorised, your people is oppressed during decades, you family is under curfew and closure for days on end, there are no investigation teams to tell the truth and no chance to get justice, your children have no future because you realise AI principles are just worthless papers What would AI representatives living there do to enjoy their human rights?

In other words: rights and principles have no meaning when the weak is being killed at the hands of the powerful. When this happens, the only remaining universal principle is the older principle of an eye for an eye, a nose for a nose, that is to say, what Ahmed Yassin answered to AI representatives asking him how the human-bombs could be justified. AI cannot blame Palestinians about the loss of meaning. While they have no other choice apart from willingly accepting their fate, Israel could end the occupation and the international community could force Israel to do so or face sanctions.

The core of the debate is not to which extent Palestinians comply with international regulations, and the main problem is not what targets are permissible to Palestinians. All parties should comply with international regulations and attack only military targets. Unfortunately it is not like this. AI is making a mistake if simply condemns the human-bombs under the light of the applicable principles to national and liberation wars. These people do not fight for a political cause, they fight for their own lives, driven by vengeance, out of desperation. They fight because, contrary to what AI maintains, there are not universal principles in the real world, only in AI reports.