Geneva convention lies

The Red Cross symbol. The Geneva Convention has always been a Red Cross project.
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Critics of the Republic of Israel throw the name “Geneva convention” around and make it a buzz phrase. Their premise: Israel breaks the Geneva convention, by how it either runs things in Judea and Samaria (“the West Bank”), or fights its war in and over Gaza. But a close read of the Geneva convention shows Israel has not broken that convention or any of its protocols. Their enemies break that convention all the time, but no one complains, even in a whisper.

Your Geneva Convention one-stop shop

The Red Cross symbol. The Geneva Convention has always been a Red Cross project.

Icon of the International Red Cross, keepers of the Geneva Conventions. Use of this icon to illustrate the Red Cross and the Geneva Conventions constitutes fair use under those same conventions.

How does the Geneva Convention read? What do people normally mean by “The Geneva Convention” anyway?

Only one organization deserves a trademark on the name “Geneva Convention.” That organization is the International Committee of the Red Cross. They invented the concept, and they have kept the conventions since the first such convention, after the First World War. The Red Cross keeps this resource page with links to all four Geneva Conventions to date.

Here you can read the Fourth Geneva Convention for yourselves. The Fourth Convention deals with how warring sides deal with civilians. This includes civilians in any territory, whether occupied or under enemy attack.

An attacking or occupying party must keep civilian casualties to a minimum. Everyone correctly understands that part of the Geneva Convention. But the defending side has responsibilities, too. A defender must protect the civilians in the territory he defends to the best of his ability. That generally means removing any possible excuse an attacker might have for hitting them deliberately, and letting civilians get out of the way and stay away from any place an attacker might shoot at or drop bombs on.

Accidents do happen in war. Even the smartest bombs sometimes hit in the wrong place. Any bomb or missile will kill anyone, civilian or soldier, who gets too close. But the Fourth Geneva Convention forbids an attacker to aim at civilians for the sake of aiming at civilians. The flip side: the defender must keep civilians out of harm’s way.

The Geneva Convention also lays some responsibility on the civilians themselves. If you want the attacker (or defender) to regard you as a civilian, act like one. Spies, saboteurs, and so on, forfeit their rights under this Convention.

Among other things:

  • Defenders may not set up hospitals in a combat zone, or set up command-and-control, store arms or munitions, etc., in hospitals. Anyone already having a home near a hospital may stay there. See Annex I. See especially Article 4 of that Annex.
  • Any hospital that breaks these rules, becomes fair game. See Article 19.

The same would apply to a school. (The United Nations Relief and Works Agency runs several schools in Gaza. They should know better than to let Hamas or anyone else store munitions on campus!)

A history of lies

The Red Cross proposed the latest Geneva Conventions in 1949. On August 12, 1949, most of its High Contracting Parties ratified this as a formal treaty. Israel ratified it in 1951. So no one disputes that the Geneva Convention binds Israel to its terms.

But many now allege Israel has broken this Convention, and breaks it every day. Those who so allege, evidently don’t read the Convention very closely. Or else (sadly, like the Red Cross) they are party to a miscarriage of justice.

Specifically: delegates from 140 countries gathered in Geneva, on December 5, 2001, to discuss a resolution censuring Israel. See here and here. As nearly as CNAV can determine, here is the resolution in question, on the Red Cross’ own site. According to one witness, the parties discussed that resolution in less than an hour. No one even had a chance to offer contrary evidence. This, therefore, was a kangaroo court in every sense of that phrase.

More recently, Hamas and its allies accuse the Israel Defense Forces of deliberately targeting civilians and blowing up schools and hospitals for the sake of blowing up schools and hospitals. (Those allies come mainly from news and entertainment in the West. Many countries in the Middle East have lost patience with Hamas and do not corroborate their complaints.)

In Judea and Samaria

Israel, Judea-Samaria, and Gaza. Perhaps the Geneva Convention applies here, but: is Israel truly in breach?

Israel, its neighbors, and disputed territories. Graphic: Central Intelligence Agency

The detractors of Israel persistently allege breach of the Geneva Convention in Judea and Samaria (“The West Bank”). At issue:

  • “Settlements,” and
  • Mistreatment of Palestinians arrested for throwing rocks, Molotov cocktails, etc.

The censuring resolution says the settlements are “illegal,” but won’t say why. (CNAV has gone over this before. See also this treatment of the Levy Report.) More seriously, the resolution accuses Israel of certain “grave breaches” of the Geneva Convention. Those breaches include summary execution, torture, denial of medical treatment, holding someone without trial, and (probably most relevant) destroying property with no military need. This might refer to the clearing of land for building a settlement.

The detractors also cite Article 49, that talks about forcibly deporting or transferring civilians from their homes. No one has shown that anyone has leveled a “Palestinian” village to build a new Jewish settlement. And no one even alleges that the Republic of Israel drafts its own citizens to settle in Judea and Samaria. So the Article 49 charge falls to the ground.

The Red Cross said in answer that mere “demonstrations” are not “acts of war.” Waving a picket sign is not a warlike act. Singing a song, however hateful, is not a warlike act either. But throwing a rock or a Molotov cocktail is.

In Gaza

When the censure resolution passed, Israel still had troops in Gaza, just as it has troops in Judea and Samaria to this day. But in 2002 the IDF pulled out completely. They also uprooted a few Jewish settlements there because they could not protect the settlers.

Ever since then, those running the show in Gaza, particularly Hamas (meaning “enthusiasm,” the acronym for Ḥarakat Al-Muqāwamah Al-ʾiS lāmiyyah, or Islamic Resistance Movement), have fired rockets into Israeli towns in the western Negev. They also dug and built reinforced-concrete tunnels into some of those same Israeli towns, so they could send men (usually young toughs) into Israel to kidnap or kill people. (They got Gilead Shalit this way.)

This year they got not only rockets but long-range missiles. (In common usage today, “missile” means “guided.” A rocket is an unguided missile.)

Last month, the IDF had had enough. So they invaded Gaza. They also have struck back at the beginnings of the arcs, or trajectories (a fancy Latin word meaning literally to throw across), of those rockets and missiles. Sometimes they strike in or near a school campus. In one episode they struck a hospital. Why? Because Hamas had their command-and-control in the basement of that hospital.

The Israel Defense Forces know that Hamas likes to stage and fire out of civilian areas. They even store rockets, and maybe missiles, too, in schools. They also know many of the tunnels they recently blew up have their adits in the basements of private homes. So among other things they drop leaflets ahead of time, saying in effect, “You are in a combat zone. Get out. Now.” The problem is, the civilians don’t get out. Some of them hope to get their Seventy-two Virgins by taking an IDF mortar shell. Others stay there because Hamas tells them they either stay there, or Hamas will shoot them.

What should the IDF do? Should they forbear to attack because the enemy takes human shields? Shall they fall back, all the way into Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, before a vengeful invading force having a captive civilian vanguard? Maybe that’s what the detractors want. It is definitely what Hamas dreams of. We know this because the IDF recently captured a Hamas field manual. A manual discussing how human shields can help them.

When you’re fighting an enemy that forces its own civilians to shield its soldiers, you can definitely protect those civilians in only one way: just win, baby. The IDF have done everything short of that. Because leaving such an enemy in place will not do those civilians any favors.

That the Red Cross fails to recognize that, testifies to the power of political correctness at best, and anti-Semitism at worst.

The Geneva Convention will become a sick joke if the Red Cross keeps lending its good name to acts like the 2001 “implementation” resolution. And likewise if they don’t speak out against Hamas. For to say that genuine civilians have forfeited their rights under the Geneva Convention is not fair to them. The fair charge is that Hamas breaks the Geneva Convention itself when it deliberately puts civilians in harm’s way, stores rockets in schools, starts tunnel leading from basements of private homes, and sets up command-and-control in hospitals.

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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

21 Responses to Geneva convention lies

  1. Fergus Mason says:

    “And those have no protection under the Geneva Convention for the treatment of civilians. Or at least, they’re not supposed to.”

    Actually under the 4th Convention they do. EVERYONE now has certain protections, including protection against summary execution, reprisal and collective punishment, even if that doesn’t extend as far as PW status.

    • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

      Then you have not read the Geneva Convention, as I linked to it. In other words, the Red Cross would not agree with you, so long as they follow the reading of their own Convention.

  2. Fergus Mason says:

    Not only have I read it, Terry, but I had to pass an annual exam on it for 20 years. I know what the Geneva Conventions say.

    • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

      Then why do you deliberately misquote, misconstrue, and misinfer from it?

  3. Fergus Mason says:

    I’m not; there are no circumstances in which armed forces can legally carry out summary executions, reprisals or collective punishments. There have been times I’ve wished some of these were permitted, but they’re not.

    • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

      Hamas is guilty of these things. The IDF is not. Lay aside the anti-Semitic propaganda that might have reached you in the German media, and has certainly reached me in the English-speaking media.

  4. Fergus Mason says:

    “Hamas is guilty of these things. The IDF is not.”

    Er what? The IDF is most certainly guilty of reprisals and collective punishment. Demolishing homes? Even many IDF officers are complaining about this “tactic”, seeing it as both illegal and counterproductive.

  5. Fergus Mason says:

    “So among other things they drop leaflets ahead of time, saying in effect, “You are in a combat zone. Get out. Now.” ”

    You do know that’s a war crime?

  6. Fergus Mason says:

    The Geneva Conventions say, of course. You can’t just tell civilians to leave; you have to organise safe transit and appropriate facilities if you absolutely have to displace people, and you have to make every effort to get them back home as soon as you can. Not leave them in a camp since 1948, for example.

    You CERTAINLY can’t tell people, “Move, we’re about to blow up your house.” When the Serbs did that in Bosnia we tried them in The Hague and sent them to jail.

    • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

      You are deliberately obscuring one key fact that negates any protections said civilians would ordinarily be afforded. Namely that Hamas is storing munitions in civilian institutions like schools and even homes, building tunnels having their adits in civilian homes, and even setting up command-and-control in the basement of a hospital. Every one of these things is a direct violation of the Geneva Convention.

      Now your construction on the Geneva Convention would seem to say that if Hamas plays things that way, there’s nothing the IDF can do about it. They have to accept those missiles being fired out of that territory, may not strike back at any origin point for any rocket or missile, may not target a munitions dump that has civilians living all around it, and may not go after the command-and-control if it’s in the basement of a hospital. Now that would mean Hamas may conduct their war with absolute impunity.

      You might as well tell Israel to surrender. Because you’ve just given Hamas license to march on Jerusalem, with civilians in the van, shooting all the way, confident the IDF absolutely may not shoot back, until finally Hamas possesses Jerusalem.

  7. Fergus Mason says:

    “one key fact that negates any protections said civilians would ordinarily be afforded”

    No, Terry. There is NO fact that negates the protection civilians are afforded. None. The obligation to protect civilians is absolute. There are no exceptions.

    • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

      Wrong again. We deal here with an adversary that uses human shields. The IDF thus has not only the right but the duty to “just win.” That’s the only protection those civilians are ever going to get.

  8. Fergus Mason says:

    “Now your construction on the Geneva Convention would seem to say that if Hamas plays things that way, there’s nothing the IDF can do about it.”

    Not at all. It’s permissible to risk civilian casualties if the military gain justifies it. Not sure how much of a gain destroying a home-made launch rail is of course, but you can strike targets using proportionate force. What you CAN’T do is deliberately displace civilians, deliberately destroy residential areas or bulldoze a house because a now-deceased person who once lived there was a terrorist. Those are war crimes.

    • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

      The only “displacement” the IDF is doing is giving them every warning to get out of the kill zone. Once Hamas started firing rockets from, and storing rockets in, a civilian area, it ceased to be a civilian area within the meaning of the Geneva Convention. That Convention, as I read it, specifically forbids a warring party to use human shields.

  9. Fergus Mason says:

    “The only “displacement” the IDF is doing is giving them every warning to get out of the kill zone.”

    Not allowed, unless the IDF also takes steps to ensure their safety and facilitate their return as soon as possible.

    “Once Hamas started firing rockets from, and storing rockets in, a civilian area, it ceased to be a civilian area within the meaning of the Geneva Convention.”

    There’s no such thing as a “civilian area” under the Conventions. There’s a civilian POPULATION, and the IDF must take all reasonable steps to protect them and their property. That does not include forcing them to leave home then shelling their homes to rubble, unless the military objective justifies it. Which hitting the now-vacated site of a rocket launch does not.

  10. Fergus Mason says:

    “The IDF thus has not only the right but the duty to “just win.””

    Rubbish. The IDF has an obligation to obey the Laws of Armed Conflict. If they don’t do that they go in the box marked “War Criminals” along with Lt Calley and SS-Panzerdivision Totenkopf.

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