CSCAweb (www.nodo50.orgs/csca), 08-12-2002
Palestinian Human-Bombs, Human
Rights and Amnesty International
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
(www.miftah.org), "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
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
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.