A commentator on my previous posting (of 19 November) explicitly makes the argument anticipated but dismissed there, that weaker parties in these irregular wars will tend to see themselves as not bound by humanitarian law. He says: “Having and obeying the rules of warfare tends to be something that only the strong can do. Without supporting one side or the other it is obvious that Hamas or the PLO is not militarily able to take on the IDF in the open. To do so would be suicidal. Were I a freedom fighter (which in their eyes they are) I’d use the means I had available and stuff the rules.” (emphasis added).
To concede the point to Hamas is to concede it to all the groups around the world who have grievances about which they feel passionately (Taliban, al Qaeda, IRA, FARC, Moro Liberation, Tamil Tigers, Basques, …). International humanitarian law simply cannot work unless the same principles of moral/legal judgement are applied in all cases. Claims of ‘war crimes’, made by parties to a conflict, are otherwise, hypocritical and self-serving. If a party cannot fight within humanitarian rules, it cannot fight at all. The deliberate decision to employ coercive violence to achieve a political end (initiate ‘war’, or respond to prior attack), inevitably brings an obligation to exercise restraint, both in regard to who is harmed and in relation to the overall destruction caused (the principle of proportion). In this context, we can comment on what was done by Israeli forces in the latest phase of the long war in Palestine.