International Humanitarian Law: The Law of Armed Conflict


Global issues on the legality of the Israeli occupation and control of the territories seized in the 1967 war, specifically Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank , the annexation of Crimea by Russia and the seemingly wanton killing of civilians and destruction of hospital in Raqqa by the Syrian and Russian military demand an appreciation and invocation of international humanitarian law to counter such barbarity. The realm of international law comprising of international humanitarian law ‘grew out of centuries of primarily customary law.’ (Alston, p.70). Such customs were the historical result of multilateral declarations and treaties of sovereign states governing the rules for waging war and treatment of civilians. Issues pertaining to the ‘protection of wounded combatants, prisoners of war, civilian populations and medical and religious personnel’ are regulated by the four Geneva Conventions and its two protocols. For insrance, Protocol I ,171 parties and Protocol II, 166 parties ‘constitute the principal contemporary regulation of jus in bello: of how war is to be fought. These treaties, together with the Hague Conventions, underpin ‘the ideal of reducing human suffering’ by laying down:
‘broad standards like proportionality in choosing military means or like the avoidance of  unnecessary suffering …employed to draw the line.’ ( Alston, p. 70)
The Israeli Defence Force’s purported use of lethal force in the Gaza Strip since March 30th 2018 against Palestinian demonstrators who posed no imminent threat to life may amount to war crimes.’ ( Human Rights Watch 2018). Over a 100 Palestinians were killed by Israeli snipers and thousands were wounded with live ammunition while 4 Israeli soldiers were wounded according to the Human Rights Watch.  Israel’s claim that most of those who were shot by the IDF belonged to Hamas or supported the organisation is unsupported by witnesses interviewed by the Human Rights Watch.
 ‘Human Rights Watch interviewed Abd el-Rahman Abu Qamar, a 14-year-old boy, at his bedside at al-Shifa hospital on May 17. He said he was running away from teargas and shooting and was about 200 meters from the fences east of Gaza City when he was shot in the leg at about 2 p.m. on May 14. His brother, Malek, 18, who went with his brother to the demonstration, said they were in a large group “chanting for Jerusalem.” Malek said Israeli forces fired on the group and he hit the ground to avoid the bullets, and then saw a paramedic and a civil defense worker evacuating Abd el-Rahman.’ ( Human Rights Watch 2018)
Are the Palestinians in Gaza protected by the Geneva Convention? Consider whether the Israeli government’s argument that they had acted only in self-defence to prevent a breach of the Gaza fence was justifiable. Was Hamas making use of Palestinians as human shields to further violence against Israel?
Israel: Apparent War Crimes in Gaza, Human Rights Watch, June 13, 2018.