Thursday, May 30, 2024

Prof. comments on editorial


 I am both bemused and saddened by your editorial of Oct. 26 addressing the current catastrophe in the Levant, “We can’t ignore war crimes – Updated.”  

At best your commentary is a cry from collective hearts anguished by the plague called war.  Such a reading is as understandable as it is forgivable. For those surviving its horror, war is often a life-altering experience.

At worst it serves as a polemic of half-truth arguments from the victim-oppressor worldview ascendant in the politics of identity. A view of what may be the latest campaign in a war against Western Civilization should do more. 

The Ottoman Empire had no “seat at the table” for the 1920 San Remo Conference because it was a member of the Central Powers and its Empire was defeated in the Great War. The Ottomans nourished what became the lost generation with its unprovoked and unlawful armed attacks on Russia’s Black Sea ports in October, 1914.  So, too, it prosecuted the murderous Armenian “cleansing” beginning in 1915. Of this disaster Polish lawyer and scholar Raphael Lemkin first used the term genocide.  

What is referred to as “Palestine’’ has never in history fulfilled requirements sufficient for statehood under customary international law or the Montevideo Convention of 1933.  Palestine is a geographic designation, not a sovereign one. It stands apart due to recurring conflict, but is otherwise comparable to what we call the “North Country” or “Staten Island.” Palestinians today are primarily descendants of nationals of what was recognized in international law prior to 1949 as Transjordan. According to Israel’s latest census, Palestinians living and working in Israel make up more than 20 % of its population.

Before the current disaster, Israel had withdrawn all settlements and its armed forces from Gaza nearly 20 years ago. It is logically inconsistent to assert that Palestine (Gaza and the West Bank?) is a state in international law and that it is, at the same time, occupied by Israel. Which is it? It cannot concurrently be both.  Students would do well to study Article 42 of the 1907 Hague Convention, which still provides the legal definition of “occupied territory.” 

Assuming, for the sake of argument, it is apt to call Gaza an “open air prison,” it is thus primarily so because Hamas has repeatedly squandered billions of dollars in foreign assistance expending it to wage war on Israeli civilians rather than forging the communal infrastructure and adopting those policies necessary to foster what could be a Singapore on the Mediterranean.

The state of Israel, unique in its creation for sure, has repulsed repetitive unlawful attacks from foreign invaders – in 1948, 1973, 1978 and now 2023. It launched a preemptive strike under the customary doctrine of anticipatory self-defense in 1967 to thwart foreign aggressions against its territorial integrity and political independence. The Oct. 26 Cardinal Points piece asserts that Israel, in the years following its independence, “continued its expansion beyond . . . proposed borders” with no analysis – or even recognition – of its having done so for purposes of security and in each instance as a consequence of having defeated antecedent aggression and invading armies. 

Israel has of necessity defended itself from unlawful perfidious attacks that intentionally target noncombatants by terrorist “militants” – long categorized as unprivileged belligerents under the laws of war – throughout its existence.

Today Israel is entitled, consistent with longstanding principles of customary international law and the structure of Article 51 of the UN Charter, to defend itself following an evil armed attack, extant to all willing to acknowledge it, of the Oct. 7 cross-border barbarism perpetrated by the “military group” Hamas.

Finally, regrettably, editorial language that employs provocative but precise terms such as “war crime” and “genocide” serves to showcase your staff’s understandable misapprehension of their meaning and a fundamental misunderstanding of those articulate violations of public international law. 

Cardinal Points writes “[a]s the media, we bear enormous responsibility in framing the war and informing our audience . . .” I concur with you in part. To be sure the media’s role is to inform.  In a dark time it strikes me that the first duty of a free press is to shine a light that fully illuminates dangers. Similarly, the duty of free people everywhere – but especially in the Academy – is to call all things by their proper names.   

To be clear, please know I sincerely agree with and share your declining to fall silent on fractious issues out of fear of being heard.  I fully applaud your “tak[ing] a stand” on this, still another ugly war, in a proper, peaceful manner.  

As Cardinals, I trust that we agree the humanitarian horror of lives lost and unimaginable suffering of Palestinians and Israelis alike is a disaster worthy of civilization’s urgent and most careful attention. And let us not forsake others – like those American nationals – trapped in Gaza by circumstance or bound over as hostage.

We might all do our part by engaging in open and civil discourse on the pressing issues of our times. 


Wm. Peters

Associate Professor of Criminal Justice

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