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  • Writer's pictureChristopher McHale

WE ARE THE CRIME

Is Israel committing war crimes in Gaza?



What is a war crime?


The law of armed conflict says the incidental killing of and harm to civilians and damage to objects must not exceed the direct military advantage to be gained.” NY Times


This comes from the Genevra Convention, which has been used as the basis for determining war crimes since its adoption in 1949.


Israel began its campaign against Hamas in Gaza by cutting off fuel, water, and closing borders. Egypt joined by also closing the border, which effectively trapped 2.5 million people in a densely populated area comparable to Manhattan and the Bronx.


Israel said everyone should move south as the war intensified, but that has proved impossible, and no more safe. The death toll is currently at least 10,000 civilians, including a reported 4,000 children killed.


Is this a war crime?


The 21st century has been marked by a rise in deliberately killing civilians. In New York thousands of civilians were deliberately targeted. Putin’s forces deliberately targeted schools and hospital in the Ukraine. Hamas deliberately targeted over a thousand civilians, including infants, when it sent soldiers into Israel.


Yesterday, Israel pointed a finger at American forces in Falujah, where 8,000 civilians died. They also cited Hiroshima, where over 200,000 civilians died.


These are the legit casualties of war, Israel maintains. Are there differences?


There’s no nuance in war. War is chaos. There’s no half-measures either. Since the end of World War Two we’ve seen several of these ‘half-wars,’ mostly waged by Americans. Viet Nam civilian death toll is estimated at 425,000. 50,000 civilians died in Afghanistan. Over 200,000 civilian deaths in Iraq.


Comparing civilian deaths counts, making equivalencies between conflicts is a game politicians play. Even separating events into categories like terrorism and military conflict is a linguistic trick used to justify certain aspects of war.


The brutality of civilian deaths in war is a fact of life in the last hundred years. Our technology has made it a feature of life on  Earth. We’ve moved fast. The number of civilian deaths in the American Civil War is recorded as 21, including Abraham Lincoln.


The toll of civilian deaths in the last hundred years is stunning, I don’t want to cite a number, except to say millions and millions. My point is not how many, but to say it’s become more and more an acceptable cost of war.


I wouldn’t argue is it a war crime, because that suggests there are legitimate civilian deaths, and my feelings on this are a little more black and white. I’m anti-war. War seems to me to always be a failure of leadership, waged to gain power, both political and economic.


The most citied reason for waging war is national self-defense. But what about the years before a war? What created the conditions for war?


Tribes will kill each other. History has proved that. Humans are violent. There’s no turning from it. One of the great ironic phrases of cultural excuse is a ‘religion of peace.’  I see no such thing. Religions are notorious for causing tribal violence. All of it, every bullet fired, is a war crime in my book. I say that because equivalencies and linguistic nuance are used constantly to justify all sorts of appalling violence of humans against humans, and the only constant is the rising number of dead.


There are no civilians. There are no justifications. There is no right and wrong either. War is war.


I’m talking to a wall when I write these things. People need their rationales, their flags, their righteousness. But war will always lead to brutality, and in all war, no matter the beginning, the end will be gore and innocent blood shed. Children smashed, women raped, men dismembered. Hospitals will be bombed. Schools flattened. Beautiful cities turned into a crater of dust. Soldiers will go too far. Missiles will miss. And our screens will fill with a sobbing father carrying the corpse of his child through a ruined landscape.


We will point a finger and scream war crime, genocide, but we should turn that finger and point it at ourselves, because we are all to blame. We are all the war criminals, humans, who use our incredible skills to kill each other, and we’re getting better at it every year, bomb by bomb.


If this seems harsh consider the growing list of civilian dead. What will stop it? More war?  More hate? More tribes? More us? More them?


The only thing, I passionately believe that will change our violent destiny, our runaway train to extinction, is our humanity, acceptance of who we are, our propensity to violence, our murderous nature, and our responsibility to it.


Humans killing humans is common. It is not limited by flag or faith.  It’s not determined by skin. War is who we are.


By embracing our nature, by acknowledging our shared responsibility for all this violence, by understanding our violent spirit, all of us, maybe then we will understand our vulnerability, how we easily get manipulated into these wars, how our leaders use our nature to turn us against one another.


There are no civilians. There are no justifications. There is no right and wrong either. War is war.

Peace is hard. Peace takes work. War is lazy, and the inevitable result of power hungry leadership, and our need to belong to a tribe.


Yet what tribe are we? A bunch of humans on a pebble spinning 22,000 miles an hour through a galaxy of asteroids, comets, suns? Our life is short and our death is certain. What tribe is this? No tribe. It’s just us. We’re all in this together. When I kill you, I kill me.


We don’t need the Geneva Convention. There’s no nuance. No righteousness required. No law to debate.


There is only an embrace of the simplest truth: We are all human, our good and our bad. The father carrying his dead child through Gaza City is our brother. The weeping mother is our sister. Can you not see the peace that waits us there?


Christopher McHale is a humanist writer focusing on culture and the essential power of music. He's also in need of cupcakes whenever possible. Please support his work by subscribing to his site for free. (Mark Zuckerberg has enough cupcakes.) Thanks.

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