World War II plays a major role in our conception
of human history, because, unlike the senseless carnage of World War I, it stands
for an ideological struggle between Good and Evil. Whereas the Allies – Britain,
the USA and even the Soviet Union – stressed, at least formally, their commitment
to the humanistic values of the Enlightenment, Hitler's Germany did away with
them altogether, worshipping barbarian values like power and race instead, taking
pride of its brazen contempt for morality, international conventions and the
rule of law.
This radical difference can best be illustrated by two diametrically opposed
definitions of the aims of War. The Encyclopaedia Britannica (11th
"Civilized warfare, the textbooks tell us, is confined, as far as possible,
to the disablement of the armed forces of the enemy; otherwise war would continue
till one of the parties was exterminated."
Compare this with Adolph Hitler's words:
"The aim of war is not to reach definite lines but to annihilate the enemy
physically. It is by this means that we shall obtain the vital living space
that we need."(*)
Luckily, Nazi Germany lost the War. But almost sixty years after its defeat
in the battlefield, Hitler's concept of war – part and parcel of his overall
Weltanschauung – celebrates a rising tide in the global ideological arena.
Israel's assassination of Hamas' leader Sheik Ahmad Yassin is a milestone in
this process of barbarisation of the human kind.
War and Occupation
Following the trauma of World War II, the international
community committed the moral standards of the winning Allies to writing. The
relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 1950, states
that "Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of
armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat
by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances
be treated humanely" (Article 3). A simple derivative of the idea that the aim
of war is not annihilation but disablement of the enemy's armed forces.
Furthermore, Articles 47-78 of the Convention protect persons who "find themselves,
in case of a conflict or occupation, in the hands of a Party to the conflict
or Occupying Power of which they are not nationals," and defines the rights
of such "protected persons." Again, the idea is that humanity as a whole should
protect people who are at the mercy of an occupying force, since their (army's)
defeat does not make them lose their human rights; and that this very idea,
as the Nazi occupation had demonstrated, is not always clear to occupying forces,
and should therefore be reinforced by an international Convention.
The Convention presents in detail the practical consequences of the aims of
war as stated in the Britannica, as opposed to Hitler's war concept of
"The Occupying Power shall permit ministers of religion to give spiritual
assistance to the members of their religious communities" (Article 58).
"No sentence shall be pronounced by the competent courts of the Occupying
Power except after a regular trial." (Article 71).
"A convicted person shall have the right of appeal provided for by the laws
applied by the court" (Article 73).
"In no case shall persons condemned to death be deprived of the right of
petition for pardon or reprieve. No death sentence shall be carried out before
the expiration of a period of at least six months" etc. etc. (Article 75).
Moreover, the Convention makes special provisions for "protected persons who
commit an offence which is solely intended to harm the Occupying Power" (Article
68). This reflects an even older principle of enlightened international legislation,
that acknowledges the right of occupied peoples to use force against their occupier.
Based upon the principles of the Hague International
Convention of 1907 and confirmed in the Nuremberg Tribunal, this
determination was essential to forestall Nazi claims that partisans, Ghetto
fighters, and other underground resistance forces in the territories occupied
by Germany had allegedly been "terrorists": though unarmed civilians should
never be harmed, resistance to an occupation, including violent resistance,
is legitimate. This too is an implication of the idea that the occupier's might
does not make him right, and that every human being has the right to fight for
his or her political freedom.
Going through articles 47-78 of the Geneva Convention,
it is difficult to find a single article which has NOT been breached by Israel
as an occupying force. Article 49, for example – "The Occupying Power shall
not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory
it occupies" – implies the illegality of Israel's settlements. However, the
assassination of Sheik Yassin reflects a new level of barbarism on Israel's
Yassin's killing is a crime on several different levels. Killing an unarmed
person is a crime. Killing an old helpless person in a wheel-chair is a despicable
crime. But Yassin's murder (together with 8 other innocent Palestinians) is
far from just killing an old man in a wheel-chair. Such war crimes, committed
by the occupier to "protected" occupied persons – the casual killing of elderly, children,
women, invalids, mentally ill, and other unarmed, innocent, harmless and defenceless
"protected" civilians – have been the daily bread of Palestinians for years
now. But Yassin's assassination, the assassinating of a religious and a political
leader, is a crime of a very special kind.
are clearly prohibited by Article 23b of the Hague Regulations, 1907. Even
the American policy bans political assassinations. A political or religious
leader (at least a leader of a voluntary movement, like Yassin actually was)
stands for his direct supporters, and also for all the political or religious
entity he is part of. He is singled out not as an individual, but as a symbol
and a representative of his masses, be it political supporters, religious believers,
or, as in Yassin's case, both. Yassin was targeted as a symbol of the Palestinian
people's religion, culture, society, and institutions. Remember that Hamas is
not just a terror organisation, as the US and Israel want us to think, neither
is it just a political party; Hamas runs an entire network of schools, clinics
and social welfare, in a society impoverished to the point of starvation by
decades of exploitation and years of strangulation. The issue is not liking
or disliking Yassin's religious conviction; nor it is the fact that Israel itself
had encouraged and supported the rise of Hamas in the 1980s, hoping to weaken
Arafat's PLO. The crux of the matter is what Israeli political sociologist Lev Grinberg
called "a symbolic genocide": "Because the world will not permit total annihilation,
a symbolic annihilation is taking place instead." The message of this atrocity
is this: Israel's war is not aimed at disabling the armed forces of the enemy,
but at its annihilation, at least symbolically.
Yassin was a religious leader, but no saint. He resisted the occupation, which
was his basic right. On the other hand, he supported a cease fire, and just
a few weeks ago he offered to take civilians out of the circle of violence,
an offer dismissed by Sharon's government. He surely instigated violence, he
may have been responsible for terrorism. He may have shared Hitler's concept
of war, rather than the Britannica's. If this was the case, he could
and should have been arrested and put to trial. People are innocent unless the
opposite is established in court. Killing a person without a trial – not a person
carrying a bomb, not an armed person in combat – is terrorism, is barbarism.
When those who claim to fight off terrorism and barbarism become barbarian terrorists
themselves, they lose their own claim to justice.
Israel arrested Yassin in the past; it didn't even try to this time. Perhaps
for lack of evidence, perhaps because of the Israeli army's contempt for the
rule of law. But above all, Yassin's killing was meant to change the rules of
the game: to signalize that the aim of this war is to annihilate the enemy,
not just to defeat it, and that from now on, everything is possible. To this
end, killing helpless Yassin in his wheel-chair, heading home after a night
of prayer, was a much more effective message than, say, killing the armed and
uniformed layman Arafat. The message is: Israel has no moral nor legal boundaries
whatsoever. Israel can target elderly and invalids, political leaders and religious
clerics. If we can kill Yassin, says Jerusalem, we can kill everyone; No judge,
no morality, no convention and no law can stop our missiles.
From Jerusalem to Washington
The United Kingdom, whose memory of World War
II is still vivid, noticed this major leap to Barbarism and condemned the assassination.
The American reaction, however, was confined to the usual disgusting clichés
about "Israel's right to defend itself" and "urging both sides." Under
the Bushites – whose ancestors had no
scruples doing business with Hitler – Israel has become the spearhead in
reviving the ideology defeated in World War II. Within a few years, Israel turned
from an arrière garde fighting outdated wars for outdated causes into
the avant garde of barbarism, followed closely by the USA. The whole
arsenal of barbarism of Israel's occupation – the physical, tactic, strategic,
linguistic, and ideological arsenal – is doing its way from Gaza to Baghdad,
from Megido Prison to Guantanamo Bay, from the Jerusalem Post to the
'A Constitutive Event'
Following the assassination, Israeli military
echelons quoted in Ha'aretz (23.3.04) called it "a constitutive event,"
one that would make History. Indeed. Unless a global reaction against this barbarism
emerges – not an Al-Qaeda type of reaction, which shares this very barbarism,
but something like the recent Spanish example; unless we renew the struggle
for the legacy of the Allies who won World War II, and get rid of all those
responsible for the barbarisation of the human kind, Israel's assassination
of Sheik Yassin may enter history as the moment in which Hitler's concept of
war for annihilation, of contempt for the basic convictions and conventions
of humanity, celebrated its triumph, shared and imposed by the axis of Sharon,
Bush and Bin Laden.
* Both quotes from: Eric Hobsawm, "Barbarism: A User's Guide."
In his: On History (The New Press, 1997), p.253ff.