Category Archives: Occupation

Commentary: Targeting the Enemy and Non-combatants Causalities

One thing is clear in life:  You know your enemy.  At least, you think you are sure. But there are times when you are caught off guard and blind-sided. But that is usually the rare occasion. The next question is obvious: If you know your enemy, are you legally and morally entitled to eliminate that threat before you are attacked?  Or rather, are you legally “or” morally entitled to move forward?

What is also interesting within this sensitive topic is the world’s reaction to preemptive strikes. And that generally follows the useless saying that one person’s freedom fighter is another’s terrorist.  To place that issue permanently aside– it is clear who is a terrorist by the simplest of definition. The moment you attack a civilian target –a bus, a school, a shopping market, a café, a housing project you are, by definition, a terrorist. Period.  But: What if civilians are within the proposed targeted area? The answer to this question was changed in part from the moment I started to write this Commentary to the time of its final edit.

When civilians are within a targeted area, the “rules of war” or “rules of engagement” fall into place. And here, it is easy to turn to the international promulgated rules and treaties. In 1859, a Swiss business man, for reasons unknown, visited wounded soldiers after the Battle of Solferino in the second war for Italian Independence. He was shocked by the physical and medical conditions of the soldiers and, in particular, the lack of medical help on the battle field. The battle itself was horrendous and resulted in thousands upon thousands killed and tens of thousands wounded in only a nine hour battle. In particular, there were scores of reports of dying and wounded soldiers shot or bayonetted while they lie injured on the battle field.  He went home and wrote of his experience of the horrors of war. His book propelled the acceptance of international treaties to provide relief during war and won him the first Nobel Peace prize in 1901.  During the past 70 years, the main victims of all forms of war have been civilians.

In today’s world of horrific air and drone strikes and bombings from miles high in the sky what of those who live in a battle zone and wish to merely survive the violence of war. They are not combatants; they are caught in the colloquial cross-fire of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  You’ve seen their pictures. And you get angry.

These people are “non-combatants,” and that word is considered a “legal term of art” “in the law of war”. A non-combatant is generally described as a civilian who is not taking a direct part in the hostilities, not aiding the combatants in any form and who is not willing being used as a shield for one of the combatants. These civilians have been recognized as protected since the inception of the First Geneva Convention of 1864. To illustrate the extent to which protection is afforded a “non”-combatant: A pilot or any military aircrew member (a combatant!) whose plane is shot and crippled, and thus forced to parachute to safety, is no longer a combatant and cannot be attacked (shot at) while parachuting to the ground notwithstanding whether the landing area is hostile or not.

The International Humanitarian Law looks to the protection not of combatants but of those civilians caught in the midst of conflict or who are living under the rule of the enemy’s forces. They must be protected against all forms of violence and this means not only by the enemy under which they live but by those attacking the enemy. All care must be in place to protect the innocent civilian within a war zone, who is not aiding the enemy in any form or fashion.  Thus, when we or any other country attacks its enemy, one condition of the armed attack is protection of the civilian population not “engaged” with the enemy.

Hundreds of women and children were killed in west Mosul March 17th. The Americans bombed the area as part of their cooperation with the Iraqi army against the Islamic State. The tragedy did make the headlines. The question then becomes are we—the United States—war criminals?  Not to be callus—“mere” civilian death during combat does not justify that charge. What were the circumstance of the planning and execution of that bombing raid?  Was the bombing “a disproportional response” to what was transpiring on the ground? Did we know of the civilians in the area and how close they were to the targeted area?

The top US commander in Iraq said “there’s a fair chance” that a U.S. airstrike in west Mosul killed civilians on March 17. Evidence also reveals that there were multiple strikes in the area. As I began to write this commentary, an internal U.S. investigation is ongoing to determine why and how the deaths of civilians occurred. More of this in a moment to show the problem with air strikes, however pinpointed they may be with non-combatants in the vicinity. As with Mosul, the residences in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa live in a trapped ISIS environment.  Raqqa is the ISIS de facto capital.  ISIS has laid a belt of land mines circling the city. Inside the city all men have been directed to wear jihad clothing so as to make it almost impossible to determine who is and who is not an ISIS member. In effect, ISIS has created a massive human shield.   How do you target your enemy?

What we do know at this moment –March 31st  — there is an investigation into the March 17th    air attack; and that air surveillance reveals that ISIS was smuggling civilians, sight unseen into buildings within the City, then bait the coalition forces to attack. In this instance, the civilians were not used as traditional shields—equally despicable.   It has been admitted that civilian casualties are “fairly predictable” given the densely populated areas where the ISIS fighters have dug in. One thing has changed as of March 31st.  Last week, it was announced that the American rules of engagement have not been loosening when it comes to accepting the concept of civilian fatalities.  Lt. General Stephen Townsend publicized that the military has not decided to tolerate greater risk of civilian casualties in its airstrikes.  That changed on March 31st at least in the shielding of civilians in Somalia.  President Trump has sign-off the Army to “prosecute targets in a more rapid fashion.”   There must be, the Trump directive describes, a permitted airstrikes if there is “a reasonable certainty” that no civilians will be hurt. This is less stringent than the “near certainty” standard issued by President Barack Obama in 2013 as a Presidential Policy Guidance that is still applied elsewhere. The Obama standard requires high-level, interagency vetting of proposed airstrikes and the target has to pose a direct threat to Americans. Under the Trump guidelines, as described in the press, Somalia would be considered a less-restrictive battlefield and the target chosen would be based upon the target’s “status”  “without any reason” that this particular target would give rise to a direct threat to Americans and  that some civilian bystander deaths would occur even if the attack was proportionate.

And then the conundrum in world politics kicks in. The United States conducts a strike and the world “discusses” the appropriateness of the strike and whether it comports with the accepted norms of warfare and engagement. When Israel targets a terrorist (not a freedom fighter!), the world discusses “war criminals”.  The United States Joint Chief of Staff Martin Dempsey has sent his senior officers to Israel to study the methods to which that country has gone (quoting his words: “extraordinary lengths”) to limit civilian casualties, and yet his strong military approval did not lower the “the level of hostility toward Israel”.   This anti-Israel hostility continues, notwithstanding the openly published Hamas guidelines ordering its members to “operate from within civilian populations…to increase the number of innocent casualties.”  The reason is obvious.  The political conclusions are obvious.

It is difficult to reconcile or accept the loss of civilian lives —those very innocent people that get caught in the center of a military conflict.  It is easy to say: but that is the “cost of war”.  As I mentioned earlier, in the last 70 years the loss of innocent lives in our wars and the wars between other nations has cost unacceptable large number of civilian, non-combatant lives. Shall we, along with the Israelis, continue the strikes against those who would harm us? The “preemptive strike.”  The airstrike against an enemy.  Do we send a drone to eliminate a terrorist or ISIS leader? Do we have a legal right to do so? The answer is clearly: Yes. Is there a moral obligation that prohibits us from engaging in an activity that puts civilians at risk? The answer here is not a simple yes or no. The answer is that as long as we have in place the mechanism that can identify the non- combatant in the strike, that the strike is not over-kill or disproportionate, that we take all reasonable precautions to protect the non-combatant– then we have both a legal and moral right to protect our citizens and those that depend upon us for their lives.

Richard Allan
The Editor

Commentary: Why Study Madeiran

It is a rainy Saturday afternoon and all my outside chores where put on hold. Time to clean my desk and my computer of saved “stuff”. The mere thought of the process has overwhelmed me.

The mid-East has made the word “nightmare” too mild an adjective. And the headlines take me from the news that there has been the first human head transplant to the announcement that we (our Government) has spent 1 trillion dollars (that’s a lot of zeros) on our homeland security. And as I note to myself that I do not feel any safer by any standard, a family questions pops up. Grandson number 2 is off to college and the question passed around is– should he continue his study of Madeiran as part of his core studies in his first year in college. Most of those polled say: No. Why continue with such a difficult Chinese language. His brother and I say: Yes. I am not sure our reasons are the same.

The Mid-East is a burning inferno with more crossed signals that one could have anticipated. The shifting of allies and the increased intensity of the violence produced by our enemies has created confusion and discouragement simultaneously. Why are we continuing to bother to attempt to change the hearts and minds of people and institutions that are mired in a time-warp in history that cannot be changed by either externally instigated or home inspired civil wars. We cannot impose democracy or regime changes or fight battles with some of those who are motivated by barbaric instinct.

There is yet another layer of conflict, the fight, not merely for control of regional ideologies, but the struggle between the United States and Russia to build powerful buffers for each of its own international self-protection.

With this our sole focus of attention, we miss a greater threat that is blithely and elegantly sailing under the radar and with the tide running in its favor.

Grandson number# 2, I say, continue your studies in Mandarin Chinese because there lies the bomb that is greater than the Mid-East flames. The Mid-East conflict will last another fifty years until all the regional parties will become exhausted and no longer have the ability to pay for the cost of inflicting or being the recipient of violence.

China on the other hand has crumbled its “great wall” of international isolation and seeks to confront the rest of world for what it alone considers its rightful share of this planet. It is not looking for a “hand-out” from the big powers. It ignores them. It has decided unilaterally that it is their prerogative to seize or create (an island out of coral reef) what it believes it is their rightful share of not merely world power and dominance but substantial space on this planet, and has put its military might and its own logic behind that grab.

It all started with the world looking with, and I think I say this accurately, something akin to “what are they trying to do? “ And, parenthetically, there is also a smirk on our faces. If you do not remember the facts, let me refresh your recollection: First if you look at a map of the Philippine islands (there are some 700 that make up the chain) and draw your eye to the West into the lower region of the South China Sea, you will find a slew of small islands and reefs. A reef is a chain of rocks or coral or a ridge of sand at or near the surface of water. In 2014, a rivalry intensified in that area that is best described as a sea of messy territorial claims, with China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam disputing the sovereignty of island chains and reefs in the nearby waters.

Then, a little more than 18 months ago, started China’s startling action in a little more than 18 months ago: it has reclaimed –through massive dredging of more than 2,000 acres at three main reefs (reefs!) in the Spratly Island. It unilaterally announced that it had indisputable sovereignty over the reef/islands and its nearby waters—12 nautical miles. With all this in violation of international maritime law, China built a substantial military base with a major runway. And to move fast forward their leaders in Beijing have angrily called the world’s arbitration court process a “farce” for rejecting the legality of its claim to the South China Sea. On top of this, China has three aircraft carriers in either construction or refurbishing placing them at the forefront of its maritime might.

Last, in this very brief summary of China’s surge, is a long article in 20 August WSJ “ China’s Naval Footprint Grows”. I was startled by a map of China’s strategic military port networks from Mozambique, Tanzania, Kenya in Africa, Egypt, Turkey and Greece and moving east to Pakistan and Myanmar (Burma). These ports of call are being built or financed or operated by the Chinese navy for the new Chinese navy, not for tourism. This list does not include those ports visited most frequently by the Chinese navy for rest or refiling, nor those being built in the South China Sea as I described above and are being enhanced.

China has ignored an international court; China has ratcheted its aggressive maritime move to ports far beyond it natural maritime boarders, and most important, China shows no hint of slowing down either its rhetoric or is aggressive military expansion. We fly within what they consider their territorial sovereign boarder in the South China Sea, we send ships pushing the 12 nautical mile claim of control and they warn us and we ignore them. That dance cannot continue.

I dare not think of an Obama line in the sand, especially as he is departing the oval office in 5 months. I dare not think what China may do to exacerbate an already contentious presidential United States election. I dare not think how far China is willing to push the expansion envelope with our main focus not west but east.

I do think my number 2 grandson should continue with his studies in Madeiran for the most obvious of all reasons. China is not our ally, not our partner, not our friend.

Richard Allan,

The Editor

 

 

Commentary–the Fate of Luca

On a day that we have been introduced to Luca—you don’t know Luca? The New York Times tells us that we have been provided with a “surprising specific genetic portrait of the ancestor of all living things…” Its name is Luca. Luca, the living thing that started the ball rolling until we stand tall on two hind legs throwing bombs at each other. That news stopped me dead in my tracts. Not that I am in any fashion a science buff, but that fact –Luca–examined by itself –is startling when juxtaposed to the chaos surrounding us at all levels today.

We are now learning how we started out on this planet-earth at the same moment we are in the process of self-destroying our very being. It is not some massive volcano whose fumes are blocking the sun; nor is it an alien planet that will slam into us and take us back to the time of the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Nineteen are killed and twenty-nine are injured by a man wielding a knife, not at some military installation, but a facility for the disabled In a Tokyo suburb. Long from the center of Paris, a terrorist attacks a village catholic church, takes hostages and kills a priest. And half-way round the world the President of Turkey is moving further and faster in destroying the democratic fiber of his country in the name of restoring order. If that Country were not vital in the multiple wars in Syria and against ISIS, I doubt if we would tolerate his moving the clock back in a part of the world that should be moving forward. This democratically elected president has begun a witch-hunt, a systematic campaign of violence against those who hold a different view from his own. Not only has he arrested thousands accused of having a connection, however tenuous, to the conspiracy to overthrow his non-democratic regime, but he has fired tens of thousands of teachers, bankers police officers, soldiers and others. Now his vile conduct is directed against journalists for possible criminal conduct allegations. That could only mean: to curtail their writing the truth.

Turkey, under his autocratic leadership has moved to crack down on the freedom of expression, and to do that one announces a state of emergency for however long one wants to reign in the usual civil rights of citizens. When one announces a state of emergency one provides an unbound hand to a handpicked government to create whatever legislation its autocratic leader demands. There is no oversight and there is no democracy. This is Turkey today. And more than likely this is Turkey for tomorrow because of its linchpin status in the Mid-East.

Less than ten days ago a young man stormed through a train outside of Wurzburg, Germany. Crying “Allahu Akbar,” (God is greatest) he brandished an axe high into the air, then slashed at the men and women seated around him. Within minutes, the car,” looked like a slaughterhouse.” Then he fled. In a 2007 report from the Council on Foreign Relations it was noted that “security professionals see trains as some of the likeliest targets.”

And to close the circle, the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas has issued a formal request asking his neighboring Arab states to help in the preparation of a lawsuit against the UK over the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which established Britain’s support for a “national home for the Jewish people”. His goal is simple and direct: to delegitimize the State of Israel.

To discuss the possible success of such a move is wasted energy, but it does underscore the hypocrisy of Abbas and those around him who speak for “freedom” and the brutality of those he so violently opposes. His call for the callous attacks on civilians or those teens sleeping in their beds at night is beyond imagination. Beyond imagination because silently, unheard, he wishes the people and, in particular, the health workers of Israel good health and good hunting in their war against cancer. In recent years and until this past week, Omar, Abbas’ brother, traveled not to Iran, not to Syria, not to Egypt, not to the Saudis, not to any other Arab country in the Mid-East, but he traveled on a regular basis to the enemy of his people and his country—Israel. For medical treatment that was never denied to him.

Richard Allan,

The Editor

“Occupation”: Whose Definition

Fascinating— I have just returned from a conference at a think tank where I had been the American Scholar- in-Residence a number of years ago.  The topic of the round table discussion was a book of essays posing a series of questions -“out of the box”- in an effort to move toward a peaceful settlement of the Israeli/Palestine disputes.

After an introduction to the assembled group by the two editors of the book (one clearly neutral and the other not), we heard from two of their many “experts” who had written chapters. The two experts that participated at the conference each represented one of the two sides in this ongoing war of words and rockets. One was an Israeli security expert and the second a Palestinian activist, policy coordinator, and practicing law in Palestine.

During the entire two plus hours of discussion and some questions from those who were  present and those who had joined internationally by telephone, it became more  apparent that those on the side of the Palestinian cause constantly referred to the Israeli “occupation” of the Palestinian’s and “their” land.  Namely, by their unspoken definition: the forceful, illegal occupation of the land of another.

At times, words just floated by, and then at an odd moment my thinking about the language being employed by some of the participants in this tense setting, there was a revelation. I realized for the first time that the word “Occupation” was such a powerful, pejorative, buzz word. Especially if uttered over and over again until it becomes by mere repetition and inflection a proven fact and thus true. For those of us who lack that little nugget of history that created the word and it’s evolution in that part of the world, let me remind you of the following:

In May of 1948, when the United Nations voted for the creation of an Israeli statehood, the Arab states began their first attempt to not merely forestall but destroy the creation of what was a legally created, sovereign area, and to do so by an immediate, armed attack. Not by one country but by Arab forces from Egypt, Transjordan (Jordan), IraqSyria, and Lebanon. In the process, they captured East Jerusalem, including the Jewish quarter of the old City.  This war lasted into 1949.  Then let me skip one war and go to the third conflict, the more famous one—The Six Day War.

The Third Arab-Israeli War or the Six-Day War or the June War or the Third Arab-Israeli War was short, decisive and with a continuing contentious historyJune 5–10, 1967. The famous Six-Day War witnessed the capture by the Israeli army of the Sinai PeninsulaGaza StripWest Bank, Old City of Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. Prior to the start of the war, attacks conducted against Israel by Palestinian guerrilla groups based in SyriaLebanon, and Jordan had increased, leading to high volume of  Israeli reprisals. In November 1966, Israel launched an air strike on the village of Al-Samūʿ in the Jordanian West Bank that left 18 dead and 54 wounded. In April, during an air battle with Syria, the Israeli Air Force shot down six Syrian MiG fighter jets. Then in stepped the Soviet Union once again, after supplying the MiG fighter jets, with a created so-called intelligence report that indicated that Israel was planning a military campaign against Syria.  Obviously, this further sharpened the tension between Israel and its not friendly Arab neighbors.

In the midst of all of the heightened tension, the Egyptian president, Gamal Abdel Nasser, had come under regional, scathing criticism by his Arab neighbors for his failure to aid Syria and Jordan against Israel; there was also increased accusation that he was hiding behind the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF), stationed at Egypt’s border with Israel in the Sinai as a means of non-engagement. Nasser then did a 180 degree about face and mobilized Egyptian forces in the Sinai in support for Syria. On May 18th, he formally requested the removal of the neutral UNEF stationed in Egypt and on May 22nd, he closed the Gulf of Aqaba to Israeli shipping, blockading the port city of Elat in southern Israel. On May 30, King Hussein of Jordan arrived in Cairo and immediately signed a mutual defense pact with Egypt, placing Jordanian forces under Egyptian command; shortly thereafter, Iraq, too, joined the alliance.

In response to the mobilization of those who sought to terminate Israel’s existence, early on the morning of June 5, Israel staged a sudden, preemptive air assault and destroyed Egypt’s air force on the ground; later that day, it incapacitated a great deal of the Jordanian and Syrian air power. All the Arab air cover was then lost and, with it, their armies were left to a strategic and brutal attack by Israeli armed units.

The war was stopped by a United Nation’s demanded cease-fire  on June 10. The international community was fearful of an Israeli march toward Cairo. At this point Israeli, units had driven Syrian forces back from the Golan Heights, taken control of the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt and driven Jordanian forces from the West Bank. Notably, the Israelis were left in sole control of Jerusalem. And so we come to the claim of an illegaloccupation” by Israel from June 1967 to December 2014; – a total of forty-seven years that Israel has occupied certain portions of the captured land.

It is still, today, the aim of those who abhor Israel to eliminate its existence or to overrun its population with a forced flood of non-jews, namely Palestinians. The purpose is to eradicate, by one means or another, both the concept and physical existence of Israel. Today in Turkey, once a moderate state, once a temperate calm voice in the region, now chants for the death of all jews and acts as an echo of Hitler’s Nazi mantras. [As reported “On November 9, 2014, a sign [in Turkey] reading “This Location To Be Demolished” was hung on the entrance to Istanbul’s Neveh Shalom Synagogue; the synagogue has already been the target of two major terrorist attacks in which many congregants at prayer were killed and wounded.” ]

If the voice of Turkey is so stringent one need not have a great imagination to hear the voices of Israelis’ other neighbors, whose belligerency has been supported by continued armed violence all these years.

Let me digress for a moment to make an important historical point: It is now forty-seven years since the end of the Six Dar War. Those with the little knowledge of the history of World War II will know that there was a Pearl Harbor and the German invasion of all of Europe, The Bataan death march, and the concentration camps and the utter brutality of the European World War that ended in 1945.  Germany and Berlin were then “occupied”.  The last American occupation troops departed from Germany, when the Russian presence was terminated in 1994. That is a total of 49 years of Allied occupation of Germany; 47 years of Israeli “occupation.”

At no time during the allied occupation of Germany did the Germans shoot, bomb, and yell for the obliteration of America, France or England. Nor did they chant for the obliteration of Christianity. Nor did they support terrorism in the land of its occupiers. We did occupy Germany in the fullest sense of the word. And nobody, including the Germans, called it illegal. But, possibly more important, the individual German did not attempt to irradiate their occupiers.

Germany started the war and they lost the war. There is a penalty for that, and especially if you do not “surrender” even when “hostilities”, have been terminated.

Do I need to draw a clearer distinction between the “occupation” of Germany and the present state affairs in Israel? Let me repeat: When you start and lose and yet continue hostilities, there are consequences.  You are not entitled under any international, moral or ethical rules to the return of your weapon, and you will, if you continue the hostilities, be considered to be dangerous, aggressive and at war.  There is, at that moment, however long, a reason for occupation.

Richard Allan,
The Editor