Republican Candidates Defend Killing Civilians to Fight Terrorism—and So Do Democrats

There has been a lot of consternation expressed in the media at a series of statements by Republican presidential candidates during their most recent debate and elsewhere in which a number of them appeared to be advocating the large-scale killing of civilians through aerial bombardment as a legitimate means of defeating the so-called “Islamic State.” (ISIS or IS)

These statements did not simply rationalize military operations that result in large numbers of civilian deaths, which politicians in both parties have supported for decades, but actually advocate the killing of civilians as a legitimate tactic in counter-terrorism warfare.

Let’s put aside for a moment the irony of killing innocent people as a means of fighting a terrorist group that kills innocent people and the fact that it would result in blowback that would almost certainly increase the threat of terrorist attacks against the United States. Such operations would constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention and other principles of international law to which the United States, like all governments and armed groups, is legally bound.

Yet the three leading Republican candidates for president are not bothered about that. Donald Trump has called on killing families of terrorist suspects. Ted Cruz has called on “carpet bombing” Syrian cities controlled by IS and see if “sand can glow in the dark.” When moderator Hugh Hewitt asked Ben Carson, “So you are OK with the deaths of thousands of innocent children and civilians?” he responded, “You got it. You got it.”

Governor Jeb Bush, a supposedly moderate voice in the debate, underscored Republican hostility to international humanitarian law in his criticism of the Obama administration’s failure to take more aggressive action in civilian-populated areas, saying they should “get the lawyers off the backs of the fighting forces.”

Although more liberal commentators have expressed appropriate outrage at such remarks, they have failed to note that, for a number of years now, prominent Democrats have also been advocating these very dangerous ideas as well, with Democratic leaders also defending the large-scale killing of civilians in the name of “fighting terrorism.”

Et Tu, Hillary?

Among the most outspoken Democrats who have defended the killing of civilians in areas controlled by terrorist groups, exonerated those responsible for specific war crimes, and advocated the effective rewriting of international humanitarian law to legitimize the killing of civilians has been former senator and secretary of state Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

For example, in response to concerns raised by Israeli and international human rights groups about the nearly 1,500 civilians killed by Israeli forces during the 2014 war on the Gaza Strip, Hillary Clinton insisted, “I think Israel did what it had to do to respond to Hamas rockets.” When pressed further about civilian casualties, she replied, “Israel has a right to defend itself,” implying that she believed that attacks on civilians somehow constituted legitimate self-defense.

When Israeli forces attacked a UN school housing refugees in the Gaza Strip in July 2014, killing dozens of civilians, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) condemned it and the U.S. State Department issued a statement saying that it was “appalled” by the “disgraceful” shelling. By contrast, Hillary Clinton—when asked about the attack during an interview with The Atlantic—refused to criticize the massacre, saying, “[I]t’s impossible to know what happens in the fog of war.” Though investigators found no evidence of Hamas equipment or military activity anywhere near the school, Clinton falsely alleged that Hamas was firing rockets from an annex to the school.

More tellingly, she appeared to argue that since Hamas had been firing rockets into civilian-populated areas of Israel, the Israeli government was not legally or morally culpable for their killing of Palestinian civilians, claiming that “the ultimate responsibility” for the deaths at the school “has to rest on Hamas and the decisions it made.”

In reality, however wrong Hamas has been in firing rockets into Israel, such actions simply do not absolve Israel of its responsibility under international humanitarian law for the far greater civilian deaths its armed forces have inflicted on Palestinians in Gaza. Indeed, it has long been a principle of Western jurisprudence that someone who is the proximate cause of a crime cannot claim innocence simply because of the influence of another party. For example, if someone starts a bar fight and a person ends up shooting him and a group of innocent bystanders, the shooter cannot claim innocence because the other guy initiated the conflict.

Yet the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination has repeatedly defended Israeli military campaigns that have resulted in the deaths of more 4000 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians during the past fifteen years in the name of “self-defense” against “terrorism,” criticizing findings by human rights monitors, international jurists, and investigative journalists—as well as by Israeli veterans’ and human rights organizations–demonstrating otherwise as being “flawed” and “biased.”

Redefining International Humanitarian Law

Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, there has been a bipartisan effort to redefine international humanitarian law to justify the large-scale killing of civilians. For example, recent years have seen a series of resolutions passed by lopsided bipartisan majorities defending Israel’s attacks on civilian areas in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and Lebanon that have attempted to exonerate the U.S.-backed Israeli armed forces for the thousands of civilian casualties—which have greatly outnumbered military casualties—by claiming that the Arab militia groups were using “human shields.”

International humanitarian law defines “human shields” as the deliberate use of civilians to deter attacks on one’s troops or military objects. Investigations by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the United Nations Human Rights Council, the U.S. Army War College, and others have failed to find a single documented case of any civilian deaths caused by Hamas, Hezbollah, or other Arab militant groups using human shields while fighting Israeli forces. These investigations have documented other war crimes by these groups, including not taking all necessary steps it should to prevent civilian casualties when it positions fighters and armaments too close to concentrations of civilians. However, this is not the same thing as deliberately using civilians as shields.

As a result, a 2009 resolution drawn up by House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi attempted to exonerate Israel for the hundreds of civilian deaths inflicted by its armed forces by redefining what constitutes human shields. The resolution called on the international community “to condemn Hamas for deliberately embedding its fighters, leaders and weapons in private homes, schools, mosques, hospitals and otherwise using Palestinian civilians as human shields.”

However, the fact that a Hamas leader lives in his own private home, attends a neighborhood mosque, and seeks admittance to a local hospital does not constitute “embedding” them for the purpose of “using Palestinians as human shields.” Indeed, the vast majority of leaders of most governments and political parties live in private homes in civilian neighborhoods, go to local houses of worship, and check into hospitals when sick or injured, along with ordinary civilians. Furthermore, given that the armed wing of Hamas is a militia rather than a standing army, virtually all of its fighters live in private homes and go to neighborhood mosques and local hospitals.

In short, this resolution—passed by an overwhelming 390-5 vote—puts both political parties on record advancing a radical and dangerous reinterpretation of international humanitarian law that would allow virtually any country with superior air power or long-range artillery to get away with war crimes. In the eyes of both Republicans and Democrats in Congress, the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, the IS-controlled city of Raqqa, or other urban areas controlled by recognized terrorist organizations should be considered a free-fire zone.

What neither Republican nor Democratic leaders have acknowledged, however, is that even if a terrorist group was using human shields in the narrower legal definition of the term, it still does not absolve armed forces from their obligation to avoid civilian casualties. Protocol I of the Fourth Geneva Convention makes clear that even if one side is shielding itself behind civilians, such a violation “shall not release the Parties to the conflict from their legal obligations with respect to the civilian population and civilians.”

For example, if a botched bank robbery resulted in the robbers holding bank personnel and customers hostage and firing at police from inside the building, it still would not be legitimate for a SWAT team to kill the hostages as well because they were being used as “human shields.”

These efforts by Hillary Clinton and congressional leaders to both broaden the definition of human shields and legitimize the killing of civilians as a response is quite troubling, especially at a time of the growing militarization of police here in the United States and the increasing concerns over their use of excessive force against unarmed civilians. It also serves as a troubling reminder that comments like those heard in the Republican debate and elsewhere are becoming more acceptable among political leaders of both parties.

Indeed, a House-passed resolution in July 2014 absolving Israel for responsibility for the large-scale civilian causalities inflicted by its armed forces in the Gaza Strip, due to the alleged use of human shields by Hamas, also declared (correctly in these cases) that “Al-Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and other foreign terrorist organizations typically use innocent civilians as human shields.” The inclusion of that clause in a resolution defending the killing of civilians under such circumstances appears to have been designed to pave the way for just the kind of military onslaught on civilian areas of Syria and Iraq that the Republican candidates have in mind.

The U.S. and the Rise of ISIS

The rise of ISIS (also known as Daesh, ISIL, or the “Islamic State”) is a direct consequence of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. While there are a number of other contributing factors as well, that fateful decision is paramount.

Had Congress not authorized President George W. Bush the authority to illegally invade a country on the far side of the world that was no threat to us, and to fund the occupation and bloody counter-insurgency war that followed, the reign of terror ISIS has imposed upon large swathes of Syria and Iraq and the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut, the Sinai, San Bernardino and elsewhere would never have happened.

Among the many scholars, diplomats, and political figures who warned of such consequences was a then-Illinois state senator named Barack Obama, who noted that a U.S. invasion of Iraq would “only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda” and other like-minded extremists.

It is ironic, then, that most of those who went ahead and supported the invasion of Iraq anyway are now trying to blame him for the rise of ISIS. These include Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, who was among the minority of Congressional Democrats to vote for war authorization. In an August 2014 interview in The Atlantic, she claimed that Obama’s refusal to get the United States more heavily involved in the Syrian civil war “left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.”

There are serious questions as to whether providing additional military support to some of the motley and disorganized local Syrian militias labeled “moderates” by Washington could have done much to prevent the takeover of parts of Syria by ISIS. It is a powerful organized force led by experienced veterans of the former Iraqi Army under Saddam Hussein and flush with advanced American weaponry captured from the new U.S.-organized army.

In addition to the military leadership, the political leadership of ISIS is also primarily Iraqi, many of whom were radicalized by internment and torture in U.S.-operated prisons. These include the ISIS “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a one-time Sufi-turned-Salafist extremist. As the New York Times observed, “At every turn, Mr. Baghdadi’s rise has been shaped by the United States’ involvement in Iraq — most of the political changes that fueled his fight, or led to his promotion, were born directly from some American action.”

Recent research by an Oxford scholar based on interviews with ISIS prisoners in Iraq noted how the younger recruits were drawn not by religious zealotry but by bitterness over how they and their families had suffered under U.S. occupation and the corrupt and repressive US-backed government in Baghdad.

Under U.S. occupation, Iraq’s two major bastions of secular nationalism — the armed forces and the civil service — were effectively abolished, only to be replaced by partisans of sectarian Shia parties and factions, some of which were closely allied to Iran. Sunni extremists, believing Iraqi Shias had betrayed their country to Persians and Westerners, began targeting Shia civilian neighborhoods with terrorist attacks. The Iraqi regime and allied militia then began systematically kidnapping and murdering thousands of Sunni men. The so-called “sectarian” conflict that emerged 10 years ago, then, was not simply a continuation of a centuries-old internecine struggle — indeed, mixed neighborhoods, shared mosques, and intermarriage was widespread prior to the U.S. invasion. It was instead a direct consequence of U.S. policies.

Despite this, recognizing that the emergence of al-Qaeda-related extremists among the dozens of resistance groups fighting the sectarian Shia government and U.S. forces were actually a bigger threat, Sunni tribesmen and other leaders in northern and western Iraq agreed in late 2006 to ally with the United States and the Baghdad regime in return for better incorporating Sunnis into the government and armed forces. This led to a temporary lull in the fighting, which various politicians and pundits have falsely attributed to the U.S. troop surge that followed.

However, the Maliki regime in Baghdad did not come through with its end of the agreement. Indeed, discrimination and repression increased. Nonviolent protesters were gunned down. Dissident journalists were targeted for imprisonment and assassination. There was widespread torture. Thousands of Iraqis were detained for years without trial. Sunnis and their communities faced rampant discrimination and the Maliki regime became recognized by Transparency International as one of the most corrupt governments in the world.

As a result, when ISIS emerged as the latest manifestation of al-Qaeda-style extremists two years ago, the Sunni population — despite their relatively secular outlook and strong opposition to such ideologies and tactics — found them to be the lesser evil and did not resist their takeover. Their advance was made easier by the failure of corrupt and inept Iraqi army to fight. As the U.S. learned in South Vietnam, no matter how well you train a foreign army and how many arms you provide them, they will only be successful if they believe their regime is worth fighting and dying for.

Meanwhile, in Syria, the taking up of arms by anti-regime forces in early 2012, the collapse of the nonviolent pro-democracy struggle, and the horrific bombing of urban neighborhoods and other acts of repression by the Syrian regime, gave ISIS — which has never recognized the artificial colonial-era boundaries between Arab states — an opening to take over major areas of Syria as well, resulting in foreign intervention and ISIS retaliation. The bombing of ISIS targets by Russia resulted in the downing of a Russian airliner in October. Attacks against ISIS by Lebanese Shia militia inspired the bombing of a Shia neighborhood in Beirut in November. And French airstrikes against ISIS led to the Paris massacres soon thereafter.

The San Bernardino massacre is indicative that such ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks can come to America’s shores as well.

There are no clear answers as to how to best respond to the threat from ISIS. There should be no question, however, as to U.S. responsibility in giving rise to this dangerous violent cult.

What We Can Expect From Hillary Clinton on Israel/Palestine

Supporters of the international legal framework – which has, with mixed success, governed international affairs since the end of World War II – have long expressed concerns over the prospect of former senator and secretary of state Hillary Clinton becoming president. Her support for the US invasion of Iraq (a flagrant violation of the UN Charter), as well as her hostility toward the International Criminal Court, her support for international recognition of Morocco’s illegal annexation of occupied Western Sahara, and her attacks against the United Nations and a number of its key agencies raise concerns that her election would bring a return to the Bush administration’s neoconservative rejection of longstanding international legal principles.

One of the big challenges regarding the application of international law is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which involves a foreign belligerent occupation, illegal colonization, war crimes committed by both the occupying power and at least one arm of the resistance, and scores of UN Security Council resolutions. As senator and subsequently, Hillary Clinton has developed a reputation as one of the most right-wing Democrats on Israel/Palestine, repeatedly siding with Likud-led governments against Israeli progressives and moderates, and taking a dismissive attitude regarding the application of international law or any role for the United Nations.

As a senator, Clinton defended Israel’s colonization efforts in the occupied West Bank and was highly critical of the United Nations for its efforts to uphold international humanitarian law, which forbids transferring civilian populations onto territories under foreign belligerent occupation. Clinton criticized the UN’s enforcement of four UN Security Council resolutions calling on Israel to end the practice, and even took the time for a 2005 visit to a major Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank in a show of support. She moderated that stance somewhat as secretary of state in expressing concerns over how the right-wing Israeli government’s settlement policies harmed the overall climate of the peace process, but she has refused to acknowledge the illegality of the settlements or demand that Israel abide by international demands to stop building additional settlements. Subsequently, she has argued that the Obama administration pushed too hard in the early years of the administration to get Israel to suspend settlement construction.

In 2011, Clinton successfully pushed for a US veto of a UN Security Council resolution reiterating the illegality of the settlement drive and calling for a settlement freeze. The UN Security Council has traditionally been the vehicle for enforcing international law in territories under foreign belligerent occupation, but Clinton noted, “We have consistently over many years said that the United Nations Security Council – and resolutions that would come before the Security Council – is not the right vehicle to advance the goal,” despite the US failure to stop this colonization drive on its own.

Moreover, when the Netanyahu government reneged on an earlier promise of a temporary and limited freeze and announced massive subsidies for the construction of new settlements on the eve of her 2011 visit to Israel, Clinton spoke only of the need for peace talks to resume. She even equated Palestinians’ legal right to have their state recognized by the United Nations with Israel’s illegal settlements policy as undermining the peace process.

Clinton has insisted, “We will not deal with nor in any way fund a Palestinian government that includes Hamas unless and until Hamas has renounced violence, recognized Israel and agreed to follow the previous obligations of the Palestinian Authority.” However, Clinton has called for increasing US military aid and diplomatic support for Israel’s right-wing government, which includes ministers from far right-wing parties who support violent settler militias that have repeatedly attacked Palestinian civilians, oppose recognition of a Palestinian state, and reject the Oslo agreement and subsequent agreements by the Israeli government.

More recently, Clinton has been making a series of excuses as to why Israel cannot make peace, despite the Showing Authority’s acquiescence to virtually all the demands made by the Obama administration. For example, The Washington Post noted how she “appeared to blame the collapse of direct Israel-Palestinian talks on the wave of Mideast revolutions and unrest during the 2011 Arab Spring, although talks had broken off the previous year.” Clinton has also said that Israelis cannot be expected to make peace until they “know what happens in Syria and whether Jordan will remain stable,” which most observers recognize will take a very long time, thereby enabling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to further colonize the West Bank to the point where the establishment of a viable Palestinian state is impossible. What kind of peace settlement she envisions has not been made clear, but she did endorse former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s 2004 “Convergence Plan,” which would have allowed Israel to annex large areas of Palestinian territory conquered by Israeli forces in the 1967 war, despite the longstanding principle in international law against any country expanding its territory by force and the fact that it would divide any future Palestinian state into a series of small, noncontiguous cantons surrounded by Israel.

She has vigorously defended Israel’s wars on Gaza. As secretary of state, she took the lead in attempting to block any action by the United Nations in response to a 2009 report by a UN Human Rights Council fact-finding mission – headed by the distinguished South African jurist Richard Goldstone (a Zionist Jew) – which documented war crimes by both Israel and Hamas. She has implied that the report denied Israel’s right to self-defense, when it in fact explicitly recognized Israel’s right to do so. Since the report’s only objections to Israeli conduct were in regard to attacks on civilian targets, not its military actions against extremist militias lobbing rockets into Israel, it appears that either she was deliberately misrepresenting the report, never bothered to read it before attacking it or believes killing civilians can constitute legitimate self-defense.

More recently, in response to concerns raised by Israeli and international human rights groups about the nearly 1,500 civilians killed by Israeli forces during the 2014 war on the Gaza Strip, she insisted, “I think Israel did what it had to do to respond to Hamas rockets. Israel has a right to defend itself.”

When Israeli forces attacked a UN school housing refugees in the Gaza Strip in July 2014, killing dozens of civilians, the Obama administration issued a statement saying it was “appalled” by the “disgraceful” shelling. By contrast, Hillary Clinton – when pressed about it during an interview with The Atlantic – refused to criticize the massacre, saying, “[I]t’s impossible to know what happens in the fog of war.” Though investigators found no evidence of Hamas equipment or military activity anywhere near the school, Clinton falsely alleged that they were firing rockets from an annex to the school. In any case, she argued, when Palestinian civilians die from Israeli attacks, “the ultimate responsibility has to rest on Hamas and the decisions it made.”

Though President Obama has provided more aid to Israel than any previous US administration and taken a number of other unprecedented steps in support of Israel, Clinton has criticized him for being too critical of Israel’s right-wing government. In response to the chilly relationship between Obama and Netanyahu, she has promised to invite the right-wing Israeli prime minister to the White House within a month of coming to office. She has rejected taking a position of “tough love” advocated by Israeli moderates and liberals and says that any disagreements with Israeli policies should be only done “in private and behind, you know, closed doors” on the grounds that otherwise “it opens the door to everybody else to delegitimize Israel.” In Clinton’s view, then, supporting Israeli moderates by publicly opposing efforts to undermine the peace process and ongoing violations of international humanitarian law by the country’s right-wing government is the same as “delegitimizing” the nation itself. And since, under her leadership, the State Department formally listed efforts to “delegitimize” Israel as part of its definition of anti-Semitism, it may give some indication as to how her administration would characterize those who do publicly raise concerns regarding certain Israeli policies.

Clinton further argues that it is illegitimate to use sanctions or other pressure to “dictate” that an allied occupying power like Israel should end its illegal colonization of occupied territory and withdraw to within its internationally recognized boundaries in accordance with UN resolutions and international law. Though there have been a number of successful efforts since the founding of the United Nations in 1945 in which the international community chose to “dictate” that occupying powers withdraw, she rejects any kind of “outside or unilateral actions” against such flagrant violations of international legal norms if the perpetrator is deemed to be a strategic ally of the United States. Though a series of UN Security Council resolutions, rulings by the World Court and longstanding international legal principles recognize the illegitimacy of any country expanding its borders by force and moving settlers into occupied territory, she insists that whether and to what extent Israel withdraws its occupation forces or its settlements should be solely based upon negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, ignoring the gross asymmetry in power between the two parties. Disregarding how such unilateral Israeli actions such as the expansion of illegal settlements is imposing Israeli control over the occupied West Bank, Clinton has insisted that neither restrictions on Israel’s colonization drive nor resolution of the conflict overall should be “imposed from the outside,” such as through the United States or the United Nations. She is therefore rejecting initiatives like the parameters for a viable two-state solution outlined by her husband in December 2000 in what became known as the Clinton Plan, which the Palestinian Authority belatedly endorsed but successive Israeli governments have rejected.

Perhaps the single most revealing episode showing Clinton’s rejection of international law as a basis for Israeli-Palestinian peace occurred in reaction to a landmark 2004 advisory opinion by the International Court of Justice.

The World Court

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), or “World Court,” has adjudicated disputes between nations since 1899. Since the founding of the United Nations in 1945, it has functioned essentially as the judicial arm of the UN system. Designed to better enable nations to settle their disputes nonviolently based upon the rule of law, the ICJ has been used by Washington on a number of occasions over the years to advance US foreign policy interests ranging from fishing disputes with Canada to the seizure of American hostages by Iran.

The ICJ ruled by a 14-1 vote (with only the US judge dissenting, largely on a technicality) that Israel, like every country, is obliged to abide by provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention on the Laws of War, and that the international community – as in any other case in which ongoing violations are taking place – is obliged to ensure that international humanitarian law is enforced. At issue was the Israeli government’s ongoing construction of a separation barrier deep inside the occupied West Bank, which the World Court recognized – as does the broad consensus of international legal scholarship – as a violation of international humanitarian law.

The ICJ ruled that Israel, like any country, had the right to build the barrier along its internationally recognized border for self-defense, but did not have the right to build it inside occupied territory as a means of effectively annexing Palestinian land. In an unprecedented congressional action, Hillary Clinton, then a US senator, immediately introduced a resolution to put the Senate on record “supporting the construction by Israel of a security fence” and “condemning the decision of the International Court of Justice on the legality of the security fence.” In an effort to render the UN impotent in its enforcement of international law, her resolution (which even the then-Republican-controlled Senate failed to pass) also attempted to put the Senate on record “urging no further action by the United Nations to delay or prevent the construction of the security fence.”

Clinton’s resolution claimed that Israel had built a similar barrier “in Gaza [that] has proved effective at reducing the number of terrorist attacks.” Also, according to the resolution, “The United States, Korea, and India have constructed security fences to separate such countries from territories or other countries for the security of their citizens.” Such comparisons, however, fail to note – as did the World Court – that these other barriers were placed along internationally recognized borders and were therefore not the subject of legal challenge. Clinton’s resolution also claimed that “the International Court of Justice is politicized and critical of Israel,” ignoring that the World Court has actually been quite consistent in its rulings on such matters: In the only other two advisory opinions issued by the ICJ involving occupied territories – South African-occupied Namibia in 1971 and Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara in 1975 – the court also decided against the occupying powers.

In an apparent effort to misrepresent and discredit the United Nations, Clinton’s resolution contended that the request by the UN General Assembly for a legal opinion by the ICJ referred to “the security fence being constructed by Israel to prevent Palestinian terrorists from entering Israel.” In reality, the UN request said nothing regarding security measures preventing terrorists from entering Israel. Instead, the document refers only to the legal consequences arising from “the wall being built by Israel, the occupying Power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.” Moreover, the UN statement referred to the UN secretary general’s recently released report on the occupation, which reiterated the longstanding international consensus that occupied Palestinian territory refers only to the parts of Palestine seized by Israel in the 1967 war, not to any part of Israel itself.

The World Court decision explicitly upheld Israel’s right to build a separation barrier along its internationally recognized border, but noted that Israel could not legally build it deep inside territory recognized as under foreign belligerent occupation. Therefore, Clinton’s claim at a right-wing rally at the United Nations protesting the decision that “It makes no sense for the United Nations to vehemently oppose a fence which is a nonviolent response to terrorism rather than opposing terrorism itself” was false in that both the UN and the World Court were only objecting to the barrier being built beyond Israel’s borders. Indeed, in her resolution and elsewhere, she appeared to claim that opposition to the plan of illegally building a barrier in a serpentine fashion deep inside occupied territory as part of an effort to effectively annex illegal Israeli settlements and other large swathes of the West Bank into Israel was denying Israel’s its right to self-defense and therefore was proof of an “anti-Israel” bias.

The lengthy and nuanced ruling was quite consistent with longstanding international legal standards regarding the responsibility of the occupying power in territories under foreign belligerent occupation. Indeed, in the only other two advisory opinions issued by the ICJ involving occupied territories – South African-occupied Namibia in 1971 and Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara in 1975 – the court also decided against the occupying powers. In her effort to discredit the World Court, however, she nevertheless insisted that “the International Court of Justice is politicized and critical of Israel” and Israel should therefore ignore the ruling.

Human Rights Impact

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Red Cross and a number of Israeli human rights groups have documented the devastating impact of the separation barrier on the economic and social lives of Palestinians, including blocking access to schools, health care and employment. These findings were confirmed in the ICJ ruling. However, in an effort to discredit these reputable human rights groups along with the World Court, Clinton’s resolution contested their assertions that the route chosen for the wall has had such a negative impact, declaring that “the Government of Israel takes into account the need to minimize the confiscation of Palestinian land and the imposition of hardship on the Palestinian people.” Not long afterward, Senator Clinton took part in a photo opportunity at the illegal Israeli settlement of Gilo, in which she claimed, while gazing over the massive wall bisecting what used to be a Palestinian vineyard, “This is not against the Palestinian people. This is against the terrorists.”

Ironically, despite these claims – along with her insistence that Israel’s barrier is a “proportional response to the campaign of terrorism by Palestinian militants” – the Israeli Supreme Court on several occasions subsequently has ordered the government to reroute sections of the wall bisecting some Palestinian towns, because the “relationship between the injury to the local inhabitants and the security benefit from the contraction of the Separation Fence along the route, as determined by the military officer, is not proportionate.”

The Fourth Geneva Convention forbids countries from transferring civilians onto territory seized by military force. No less than four UN Security Council resolutions, along with the World Court decision, have confirmed its applicability to the West Bank settlements. Senator Clinton, however, has long insisted that the Israeli settlements, the route of the wall and other matters of international law should not be matters for the United Nations or the World Court to contend with, but should be left solely to negotiations between representatives of the Palestinians and the right-wing government of their Israeli occupiers, which has steadfastly refused to end its occupation or its colonization of the West Bank.

Clinton claims that the Palestinian decision to take the issue of the separation barrier to the World Court violates the 1993 Oslo agreement that none of the parties take any unilateral initiatives that would prejudice the outcome of the peace process. But she has been loath to criticize Israel for how its governments have prejudiced the outcome of the peace process through their ongoing construction of illegal settlements in the occupied territories and other unilateral initiatives.

Indeed, she must have recognized that the wording of her resolution and her related statements effectively constitute the legitimization of the expansion of a country’s territory by force, a clear violation of the UN Charter. As a graduate of one of the top US law schools, Clinton surely recognized the significance of her insistence that the World Court somehow no longer had jurisdiction on matters related to international humanitarian law in territories legally recognized as under foreign belligerent occupation.

Broader Implications

The World Court made a definitive ruling that member states of binding treaties, conventions and charters such as the Fourth Geneva Convention and the UN Charter are obliged to ensure that other member states live up to their legal obligations under those agreements. Specifically, the court insisted that every country that is party to the Fourth Geneva Convention must “ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian law as embodied in that Convention.”

This may be what disturbed Clinton so much. Any such strict and uniform application of international law would interfere with US policy objectives in the region, which rely heavily on the use of military force, including conquest and occupation. This is why any attempt to enforce international humanitarian law must be met by slander, condemnation and other attacks against the credibility of the international organizations daring to suggest that the United States and its allies are not somehow exempt from such legal obligations.

In its ruling, the ICJ also determined that “the United Nations, and especially the General Assembly and the Security Council, should consider what further action is required to bring to an end the illegal situation resulting from the construction of the wall.” As a result, Clinton’s resolution specifically urges the administration “to vote against any further UN action that could delay or prevent the construction of the security fence and to engage in a diplomatic campaign to persuade other countries to do the same,” effectively saying that despite the nearly unanimous World Court decision to the contrary, parties to international agreements are not bound to abide by or enforce them.

Given that the World Court enjoined the United States and other signatories to “ensure compliance by Israel with international humanitarian law,” any refusal by the US government, which – as Israel’s primary military, economic and diplomatic supporter – is in the best position to “ensure compliance,” places the United States in violation of the World Court, as is Israel. However, just as Hillary Clinton chose to ignore the UN Charter by voting to invade Iraq, she also believes the United States should be able to ignore the world’s highest court.

The United Nations and the Fourth Geneva Convention came into being in part as a result of the efforts of Democratic presidents like Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman. That the Democratic Party may nominate someone who is willing to reject such basic tenets of international law is indicative of how far Democrats have gone in abandoning traditional liberal values.

Chancellor’s opposition to student resolution problematic

UC Santa Cruz Chancellor George Blumenthal, in an all-campus mailing sent out Nov. 19, expressed his opposition to a recently passed resolution by the Student Union Assembly in a manner which has raised serious concerns among supporters of corporate responsibility and academic freedom. It is virtually unprecedented for a chancellor or other high-level administration to criticize student representatives for participating in a democratic process of debate and decision making, even on contentious issues.

As issue was a vote by the UCSC Student Union Assembly to reinstate a call for the University of California to divest from companies that profit from military support for the Israeli occupation or from companies that invest in illegal settlements or the illegal separation barrier in occupied Palestinian territories.

Many observers, on campus and off, found the chancellor’s response problematic for a number of reasons:

First of all, the letter falsely claimed it was a vote to “divest from Israel,” when in fact the resolution called only for divestment from four primarily U.S. companies that directly support the Israeli occupation.

Secondly, the chancellor’s claim that taking this principled stance in support of corporate responsibility in reference to international law and human rights could somehow “have a chilling effect on individuals within our campus community” appears designed to discourage the very kind of activism that UCSC students have practiced for decades without interference from previous chancellors.

Thirdly, the letter implies that supporting a socially responsible investment policy would somehow contribute to a possible climate of harassment or worse for students who disagree. Based on similar divestment campaigns regarding apartheid South Africa, sweatshops and carbon polluters, however, there seems to be little merit to concerns that opponents of this initiative would be targeted in such a way.

Perhaps the most disturbing part the letter was Chancellor Blumenthal’s claim that the resolution “may create an environment in which some of our Jewish students feel alienated and less welcome on our campus.” The implication that “Jewish students” are a homogenous group who will somehow be offended simply by opposition to certain policies of Israel’s right-wing government is ludicrous. Not only is opposition to the Israeli occupation widespread among Jews in the United States, Israel and elsewhere, Jewish students were among those who voted in favor of the divestment resolution.

This is why posting a letter conflating Israeli-occupied territories with Israel and conflating Israel with Jewish students is so problematic. In failing to make these critical distinctions, Chancellor Blumenthal is effectively equating opposition to what is recognized by the international community (including the U.S. State Department) as a foreign belligerent occupation and a call for divestment from corporations supporting it as somehow encouraging bigotry toward a minority group.

There are also concerns the chancellor’s decision to express his opposition to the SUA resolution in such a public way could be intimidating for non-tenured faculty and others who might support this and other initiatives in support of human rights, international law and corporate responsibility. Indeed, the letter warns of how such efforts “can exacerbate tensions and contribute to what some experience as a hostile environment” and ominously notes, how, “Globally, we’re seeing how hatred can lead to unimaginable acts of violence.”

Increasingly, well-funded right-wing groups supportive of the Israeli occupation have been pressuring administrators to crack down on activism and scholarship critical of such policies in the name of protecting the ethnic or religious sensitivities of students, usually by intemperate and exaggerated characterizations of the statements or scholarly work of those they target.

Anti-Semitism — like racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression — is a real problem that UCSC and other academic institutions should indeed take seriously. However, as noted in a recent letter to Chancellor Blumenthal from California Scholars for Academic Freedom, “While both federal and state law as well as university policy protect students from discrimination or antagonism based on their religious, ethnic, gender and other identities, it is completely unreasonable — as long as such discourse is conducted in a non-coercive and nonviolent manner — to try to protect people from hearing challenges to their political beliefs simply on the grounds of their identification with them.”

It is disappointing that Chancellor Blumenthal appears to be confused about this important distinction