ISRAELI WAR CRIMES AND THE TALE OF TWO CITIES: JENIN AND ANY CITY IN UKRAINE
We turn first to Flash Update #2 of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs — OCHA — issued on 4 July 2023 (available in full HERE).
We quote from the opening summary of the report:
- For the second consecutive day, Israeli forces have been carrying out a large-scale air and ground operation in Jenin Refugee Camp and its surroundings, resulting in further casualties, damages and the displacement of thousands, fleeing the area….
- Large Israeli ground forces have continued raiding homes in the camp and appeared to move from one house to another through holes they drilled in the outer walls….
- Israeli forces bulldozed roads leading to the refugee camp, seriously hindering ambulances’ access to those injured within the camp.
- For the second consecutive day, most of the camp is without electricity or water, due to significant damage to infrastructure.
- The Humanitarian Coordinator has expressed concerns about the ongoing airstrikes and ground offensive in the densely populated Jenin Refugee Camp and the humanitarian consequences.
For a less sanitized version of Israeli tactics, here is an Al Jazeera Inside Story summary:
The Israeli tactics included air raids and snipers shooting from Palestinians’ homes.
Civilians bore the brunt of the attacks, with hospitals and vital facilities among the targets.
Thousands of people, already refugees, have been left homeless once again, forced to flee.
United Nations human rights experts say, on first examination, the assault on Jenin may constitute a war crime.
Is Israel’s attack on Jenin Refugee Camp a war crime?
UN experts Francesca Albanese, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, Paula Gaviria Betancur, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, and Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, issued a statement in Geneva on 5 July 2023 which included the following:
Israeli air strikes and ground operations in the occupied West Bank targeting the Jenin Refugee camp and killing at least 12 Palestinians may prima facie constitute a war crime.
Their statement continued:
Israeli forces’ operations in the occupied West Bank, killing and seriously injuring the occupied population, destroying their homes and infrastructure, and arbitrarily displacing thousands, amount to egregious violations of international law and standards on the use of force and may constitute a war crime.
The UN experts said that the attacks were the fiercest in the West Bank since the destruction of the Jenin camp in 2002.
They pointed to multiple reports about ambulances being prevented from accessing Jenin Refugee Camp to evacuate the wounded, hampering their access to medical assistance.
Expressing “grave concern” about the military weaponry and tactics deployed by Israel’s occupation forces, the statement went on to remind readers that
The Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territory are protected persons under international law, guaranteed of all human rights including the presumption of innocence.
They cannot be treated as a collective security threat by the occupying Power, all the more while it advances the annexation of occupied Palestinian land, and displacement and dispossession of its Palestinian residents.
The UN experts called for Israel to be held accountable under international law for its illegal occupation and violent acts to perpetuate it:
For this relentless violence to end, Israel’s illegal occupation must end. It cannot be corrected or improved in the margins, because it is wrong to the core.
Immediate ICC action in respect of Ukraine but not with Israel/Palestine
In the Aljazeera Inside Story discussion of the ‘egregious violations of international law’ committed by Israeli forces in Jenin, Nour Odeh, political analyst and former spokeswoman for the Palestinian Task Force on Public Diplomacy, points out:
We’ve seen countries write to the ICC against accountability [and this shamefully includes Canada] even though these countries pushed for that same court to open an investigation into war crimes possibly committed in Ukraine when neither Ukraine nor Russia are members of the court. [Palestine acceded to the Rome Statute of the ICC on 2 January 2015.]
So the duplicity that is applied, the exceptionalism that is applied by the United States and others is … jaw dropping.
On 1 July 2023, Canada, in a joint statement with Australia and the UK, called on Israel to reverse the decision to significantly expand its illegal settlements in the West Bank but, insofar as can be discerned, has made no statement at all with respect to the Jenin Refugee camp attacks.
The concluding paragraph of that earlier joint statement begins:
Australia, Canada and the UK stand firmly with the Israeli and Palestinian people in their right to live in peace and security, with dignity, without fear and with their human rights fully respected.
It goes on:
We continue to support a comprehensive, just, and lasting peace in the Middle East, including the creation of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel. This vision can only be achieved through direct negotiations between the parties.
The jarring contrast with Canada’s position on the Ukraine war speaks volumes. We actively support Ukraine’s military defence of its territory, seek expedited ICC proceedings for alleged war crimes and eschew negotiations as appeasement.
But our only counsel to Palestine is to wait for negotiations with Israel that will never come while the West, in blatant contravention of international law, actively supports the Israeli occupation, through trade and military links and, in the case of the United States, security guarantees and massive financial assistance that underwrites the cost of the daily illegal annexation of Palestinian territory.
The Russia-Ukraine War Report Card, July 5, 2023:
Belfer Russia-Ukraine War Task Force
July 5 update: No significant territorial change.
Yet more questions over the US endgame for Ukraine war
Back in December 2022, our blog post featured a chilling analysis of the many “advantages” that the Ukraine war had “offered” the US.
Its authors worried, however, that, the “benefits” might be coming to an end, with the prospect of
a lengthy stalemate [that] could become a huge burden.
Putin remains in power in Russia but it is Biden, as the essential provider of intelligence and other support to Ukraine, who can still go a long way to determining the outcome of the conflict.
He then offers this disquieting assessment:
Given that a Russian defeat would be hugely dangerous because of the [nuclear] escalation risk, Biden may opt for a long-drawn-out conflict that systematically weakens the Russian economy, perhaps over some years.
We hasten to add that this is not an outcome that Professor Rogers relishes, writing in conclusion:
A grim outcome all round is in prospect unless some way can be found for even short-term ceasefires, followed by slow progress towards a settlement. The happenings of the last week do not suggest that such progress is likely, so years of war may still lie ahead.
A great future for the armourers but more death and suffering for many.
We end this section with the statement by Ernie Regehr from his 23 June 2023 Hill Times article, canvassed in an earlier blog post but even more relevant today:
It’s not too late for the steadfast support of Ukraine to be expanded to include the exploration of a path toward an early, just, and durable peace.
Peace is not a by-product of war. It has to be deliberately designed and constructed.
UPDATED UKRAINE, THE US AND CLUSTER MUNITIONS
We turn now to the decision by the US to send cluster munitions to Ukraine, in circumstances where two-thirds of NATO alliance members, excluding the US but including Canada, have signed a 2010 treaty to ban cluster munitions.
We recognize cluster munitions create a risk of civilian harm from unexploded ordinance. This is why we deferred the decision for as long as we could.
But there is also a massive risk of civilian harm if Russian troops and tanks roll over Ukrainian positions and take more Ukrainian territory and subjugate more Ukrainian civilians because Ukraine does not have enough artillery. That is intolerable to us.
In his detailed advance report of the decision, Stefan Korshak of The Kyiv Post writes:
The decision scheduled to be announced on Friday reversed longstanding US bipartisan policy not to export controversial cluster munitions, a weapon banned by most western nations including most of Ukraine’s allies.
The article continues:
Once implemented, the executive order will give AFU [Ukrainian Armed Forces] gunners potential access to somewhere between 3 and 5 million shells, rockets and aerial bombs designed to scatter explosive sub-munitions over an extended target area, before blowing up. [emphasis added]
For an informative CBC “explainer” on cluster munitions, see U.S. decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine could put Canada, others on the spot (Associated Press, 7 July 2023).
That report explains:
A cluster munition is a bomb that opens in the air and releases smaller “bomblets” across a wide area. The bomblets are designed to take out tanks and equipment, as well as troops, hitting multiple targets at the same time.
A particular problem is the “dud rate”, the high percentage of unexploded rounds, with the “grisly impact” felt by civilians many decades later.
A 2009 US law bans exports of cluster munitions with bomblet failure rates higher than one per cent, but a US president can waive the prohibition, and has done so in this case.
The CBC report also notes that
Within days of the Ukraine war getting underway in February 2022, Canada’s mission to the United Nations in Geneva expressed concern with allegations that Russia was using cluster munitions, resulting in civilian casualties.
Since then, Ukrainian forces have received cluster bombs from other allies, including Turkey, and have deployed them, with nary a protest from Canada.
While I, like most Canadians, believe Ukraine should be provided robust military assistance to defend itself until a negotiated settlement with Russia can be reached, the further use of cluster munitions would be a tragic mistake.
Among the reasons he cites, Turcotte notes that
They are among the most indiscriminate weapons ever conceived — indeed, the polar opposite of a precision weapon. Moreover, up to 40% of sub-munitions fail to detonate on impact and can pose a lethal threat for decades.
Noting ICRC reports that more than 95% of cluster munitions victims throughout the world have been civilians, Turcotte continues:
The point must be made clearly and forcefully that any immediate military benefit cluster munitions might afford would be nullified and far exceeded by their humanitarian impact on the Ukrainian citizenry over the longer term.
Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says NATO has ‘no position’ on cluster munitions
Asked about the wisdom of sending cluster munitions to Ukraine, the organization’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, said that, as some allies have signed up to prohibit their use and some haven’t,
NATO does not have a position on them…. This will be for governments to decide, not for NATO to decide.
He goes on:
Russia used cluster munitions to invade another country. Ukraine is using cluster munitions to defend itself.
As would surely be clear to Stoltenberg, the characteristics of this deadly weapon — with its indiscriminate and disproportionate effect on innocent civilians — are the reason why 123 UN member states have agreed to ban them, and this impact is the same whether they are allegedly being used offensively or defensively.
Earl Turcotte in his letter, also addresses the challenge of post-war cluster munitions clearance, writing:
Clearance is dangerous and painstakingly slow. Case in point — half a century after American forces saturated Laos with cluster bombs, mainly to disrupt supply routes to North Vietnam, and despite heroic efforts by the Government and people of Laos with international support, approximately one third of the country remains contaminated and innocent people are killed or maimed on a regular basis.
That comment underscores another grim reality of the use of cluster munitions by Russia and Ukraine in this horrific war: whichever side is using them, the “target area” is in Ukrainian, not Russian, territory.
We end with this statement by Mines Action Canada on the US decision to transfer cluster munitions to Ukraine:
Choosing a weapon that is proven to kill civilians and prevent displaced persons from coming home will not help win the peace.
UPDATE SUNDAY 9 JULY 2023
In the early evening of 7 July 2023 the Government of Canada issued a press statement which included the following:
Building on the trailblazing work of Lloyd Axworthy on the Ottawa Treaty to ban landmines, Canada championed the adoption of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which is now ratified by more than 100 countries.
We do not support the use of cluster munitions and are committed to putting an end to the effects cluster munitions have on civilians – particularly children.
Several other allies have also expressed unease at Washington’s decision to supply Ukraine with cluster bombs including the UK, New Zealand and Spain.
SUMMIT OF DEMOCRACIES UPDATE: Prigozhin, Wagner and the UAE
The authoritative but paywalled Arab Digest recently featured a podcast with King’s College defence and security analyst Dr. Andreas Krieg, which “lays bare” the extraordinary support the United Arab Emirates (UAE) provides Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner Group.
The podcast summary reads:
Prigozhin’s entire African network, one that includes Libya and Sudan, is facilitated and run by a sophisticated banking and logistics infrastructure operating in the UAE and with the direct involvement of senior members of UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed’s family.
Readers may be interested to know that the export value of Canadian military goods and technology to the UAE in 2022 was $25,624,998.56.
Aside from its blatant Russian-sanctions busting role with respect to the Ukraine war, the UAE has a “not-free” rating of 17/100 according to Freedom House, slightly better than its Gulf State neighbour, Saudi Arabia, whose rating is 7/100.
As for the latter country, Canada’s Annual Report on Military Exports for 2022 states:
Saudi Arabia was the largest non-U.S. export destination, receiving approximately $1.151 billion in Canadian military exports, accounting for approximately 54% of the total value of non-U.S. military exports.
At this stage all one can say is that Western hypocrisy with respect to the alliance of democracies as the counterweight to authoritarianism, like its defence of international law, apparently knows no bounds.
GLOBAL AFFAIRS – CIVIL SOCIETY CONSULTATIONS
On Wednesday, 28 June 2023, Global Affairs Canada hosted consultations with Canadian civil society organizations after the COVID pandemic interrupted previous attempts by the department to reinstate a practice that had been routine in earlier times.
On behalf of Global Affairs Canada’s Non-proliferation, Arms Control, Disarmament, and Space Security division, I am pleased to invite you to the 2023 Civil Society Consultations on Disarmament, Non-proliferation, and Arms Control.
The discussions took place under the Chatham House rule, disallowing attribution of comments, in order to promote the frankest and fullest discussion, but we are pleased to share here the agenda of the meeting, which includes the names of the CSO participants, a list of the Government of Canada participants, and the text of the NATO presentation by RI President Peggy Mason.
The Chatham House Rule helps create a trusted environment to understand and resolve complex problems. Its guiding spirit is: share the information you receive, but do not reveal the identity of who said it.
RI President Peggy Mason provides her overall impression of the event:
I left the meeting infused with a sense of the deep commitment of GAC officials to our “common goals,” particularly in relation to nuclear disarmament, arms control, and armaments regulation.
But I was also keenly aware that it is not advice from officials, but political considerations — chief of which is the perceived need to be in lockstep with the USA — that are the real impediment to greater Canadian impact.
Photo credits: Global Affairs Canada (group photo of consultation participants); Wikimedia Commons (Blu-26 cluster submunitions); Earl Turcotte.
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