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Professor Marjorie Cohn
Thomas Jefferson School of Law
JURIST Contributing Editor

The government of Israel faces a serious dilemma. Its population lives in legitimate fear of terrorist suicide bombers. But its reprisals against the Palestinian civilian population have been so heavy-handed that they are creating dissension within the ranks of Israel's own army.

Indeed, a February 4 editorial in The New York Times, a long-time supporter of Israel, said: "The growing harshness of Israeli military practices in the West Bank and Gaza is creating thousands of potential suicide bombers and Israel haters as well as coarsening a generation of young Israeli soldiers."

More than 100 Israeli army reservists have declared they will no longer fight in the West Bank and Gaza Strip "with the aim of dominating, expelling, starving and humiliating an entire people." These Israeli soldiers follow in the tradition of scores of American GI's who refused to kill Vietnamese civilians during the 1960s and 1970s. After Seymour Hirsch exposed the cover-up of the My Lai Massacre, where U.S. soldiers killed thousands of civilians, Lt. William Calley was tried and convicted of murder. Calley unsuccessfully claimed he was just following orders. That defense theory has been rejected by the Nuremberg Tribunal and the International Criminal Court.

In their declaration, the Israeli resisters said: "The price of occupation is the loss of the Israeli Defense Forces' semblance of humanity and the corruption of all of Israeli society." They reported firing at Palestinians who hadn't endangered them, stopping ambulances at checkpoints, and stripping areas clean of groves and trees necessary to people's livelihoods. Some fear their treatment of Palestinian civilians constitutes war crimes. Attacks on a civilian population as a form of collective punishment violate Article 50 of the Hague Regulations and Articles 33 and 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

The dissenting Israeli reservists made clear their statements were not aimed at the Israeli army, but rather at the political system. A recent poll conducted by Israel Radio found 30 percent of Israelis supported the reservists' protest.

Last month, the Israeli army's demolition of 52 Palestinian homes, which left 411 people homeless, drew rare criticism from Israeli Cabinet ministers and journalists. The demolition was condemned by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. B'Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, said: "House demolitions are a blatant violation of human rights and contravene international humanitarian law, which forbids destruction of property, collective punishment and reprisals."

The Israeli government has called the reservists' declaration "dangerous and antidemocratic." Israeli Premier Ariel Sharon threatened to sever all communication with Palestinian Authority President Yasir Arafat after the interception of a shipment of arms that Israel claims were bound for the Palestinians last month. With Arafat out of the picture, however, Israel would have no one with whom to negotiate except the extremists.

The Palestinians live under a system of apartheid, according to a report issued by the National Lawyers Guild delegation to the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel last year. In December, the United Nations General Assembly condemned Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and called for international observers to be dispatched to the Palestinian territories, which Israel rejects. The U.S. government has consistently opposed U.N. resolutions critical of Israel's policies. The U.S. staged a walkout from the United Nations World Conference Against Racism last year when it criticized Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. The National Lawyers Guild report said most of the weapons Israel has used to inflict indiscriminate attacks with excessive force on the Palestinian civilian population were manufactured in the United States.

Lev Grinberg, Director of the Humphrey Institute for Social Research at the Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, says: "Unless we, the Israelis, cast off our arrogant mode of thinking, and our position as an occupying power, the present cycle of bloodshed can only intensify, with Arafat and even more so, in his absence."

In his op-ed in The New York Times on February 3, Arafat unequivocally condemned terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. He invoked U.N. resolutions, which call for the return of the Palestinian refugees, and the Oslo Accords, where the Palestinians recognized Israel, renounced their claim to historic Palestine, and settled for 22 percent of the land (the West Bank and Gaza). He described the Palestinian vision, which would have Israel and a Palestinian state co-exist equally with peace and security for both. But, he said, "two peoples cannot reconcile when one demands control over the other...we will only sit down as equals, not as supplicants; as partners, not as subjects."

The popularity of Sharon, known as "The Bulldozer," has declined in Israel since his election last year. Resistance to the Israeli government's occupation of the Palestinian territories is now growing within Israel. Forty-five percent of Israelis polled by Israel Radio said they thought more reservists would join the resistance and refuse service in the West Bank and Gaza. They will do so at great risk to themselves. Many resisters have been disciplined and jailed. But it will take a large resistance movement within Israel to ultimately stop the collective punishment of the Palestinians, end the occupation and halt the killing of both Israelis and Palestinians.

The war between Israel and the Palestinians has claimed too many lives on both sides. It is essential that a neutral international body try to negotiate an end to the bloodshed. International observers should be allowed in, and there should be an emphasis on reconciliation, not cutting Arafat out of the equation.

Marjorie Cohn is an associate professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, where she teaches international human rights law. She is on the national executive committee of the National Lawyers Guild.

February 6, 2002


JURIST welcomes your reaction to our columns and op-eds...

  • Tuesday February 26, 2002 at 10:44 pm
    Attacks on a civilian population as a form of collective punishment violate Article 50 of the Hague Regulations and Articles 33 and 53 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. So why isn't there a case before EU courts seeking to enforce these treaties? The EU members are signatories to these treaties. The EU courts can entertain a suit seeking injunctive relief prohibiting any EU member from lending any aid, comfort or support to Isreal unless and until these provisions are strictly complied with. While the action would not be binding on Isreal, it would be binding on EU members. Carefully crafted injunctive relief could push Isreal into a realistic response to the Palistinian problem. kw

    R. K. Weaver

  • Thursday March 28, 2002 at 6:49 pm
    Without appropriate sanctions from the United States it is very unlikely that the Sharon government would bow to any form of international pressure. This seems quite clear in present circumstances when the US wants peace, or at least less violence, in the Middle East so that it can manufacture consent for its prospective war against Iraq but finds it impossible to persuade Israel to even react proportionately to the activities of Palestinian militants. The policy of the Sharon government has little to do with solving the problem and much more to do with exacerbating it. Sharon finds himself in the difficult position of not being able to risk taking the kind of military action against the Palestinians he would like to (i.e. annihilating them) for fear of loosing US support (I think he probably shouldn't be so worried about that) whilst not wanting to allow the conditions for peace to develop. His answer to his problem is perhaps quite ingenious (if not wholly original). He has simply focused his efforts on annihilating the Palestinian security services whilst simultaneously demanding that they make more of an effort to round up terrorists and, incredibly, insinuating that they are in fact one and the same as the terrorists. Thus he undermines the ability of the Palestinian Authority to deal with militants in two ways at once. Its security services are severely weakened by constant attacks both aimed at infrastructure and at personnel and, unsurprisingly enough, the personnel of the Palestinian security services are radicalised with each passing day. Sharon痴 suggestion that groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the Palestinian security services are all part of the same 'terrorist' problem is steadily becoming truer. Sadly although Professor Cohen ends her article on the seemingly positive note that support for Sharon within Israel is diminishing she fails to note that this is because the majority of Israelis do not feel that Sharon is dealing with the Palestinians in a sufficiently brutal fashion.

    Laurie Ray

  • Thursday May 02, 2002 at 1:25 am
    I believe that sharon's " answer " which is obviously not an answer will be his so-called " buffering zones. " In effect these buffering zones will amount to a very strictly bordered area between Isreal and the west bank. A border area which is much like that between the west bank and Jordon. This will of course include concrete " obstacles " and most probably bunkers and barbed wire, huge ditches dug into some areas, and fences, all of it manned by the Israeli forces. When you take into account what kind of border the Isreali's have in place with Jordon this will completely encircle the Palestinians. This is not a " peace " plan at all and it will of course be the main " contingent " of the Isreali's sitting down for any kind of " peace conference. " So what will happen? The United States will pay for it, that is what will happen. Billions more of American tax dollars to pay for their " buffer zone. " And then what? Years from now after years of " sitting " and suppossedly " negotiating, " the " peace talks " will break down because by then the Isreali settlements will also continue to be built ( some of this also with money from the United States ) and the Palestinians will be squeezed into a tiny little area with hardly any water and no resources but primaily to work for the Israeli's at day jobs (basically hard labor jobs). This does wonders for the Israeli's economy. Which thanks to the assistance from the United States is not so horribly in debt as the countries throughout Africa because this assistance means they don't have to go the IMF and the World Bank for loans that will mean structural adjustment programs and all of the poverty and turmoil that goes with it. Of course while all of this is happening there will still be occasional terrorist attacks and the Israeli's will blame everything on the Palestinians and the United States will of course accept this explanation, of course again attempting to give the appearance of impartiality. In effect it will put the Palestinians into a situation very much like what Jews in europe experienced for many years which is a militarily bordered ghetto. A ghetto which like all ghettos can be invaded by troops anytime the state of Isreal wishes. No International resolutions mean anything at all to Israel. So long as the United States and the EU continue to carry on trade with them and the United States gives them special status by giving them 3 to 4 billion dollars a year in foreign aid and billions more in military armament the Israeli government, whether under Sharon or some else, even Peres, will continue on their self-destructive course in the middle east. Without a strict embargo of Isreal by both the United States and EU, Israel will do all of this with all the consequences that will come with it. I hate to say it but this is not going to happen and we all will have to pay whatever dire consequences we will have to pay. This is going to be the " free world's " price for supporting what is basically a racist, oppressive, internationally illegal, occupation of the west bank by the state of Isreal, the only state by the way with no declared national boundries(the constitution of the likud party includes the area east of Jordon in their consideration of Isreal) So perhaps five to ten years from now we will be hearing about the Israeli invasion of Jordon to " reclaim " their national heritage. And of course again the " free world " will stand by and attemt to " talk? " I think this is about where I came in. I was born in 1950. Just two years after the original state of Israel was " born. "

    David Dagney
    Pennsylvannia, United States.

  • Thursday July 25, 2002 at 1:04 am
    It is time for intervention to stop the madness. Let the Arab countries send in relief parties to help restore the destroyed houses ande buildings. Let them be armed in order to defend themselves against interference from the paranoid Israeli's.

    The assistance should be adequate to forestall Israeli attempts to prevent reconstruction, perhaps two million men or so. Such an armed relief force could also function as an effective security agency.

    Let the recruitment begin.

    Omar Rumi

  • Tuesday July 30, 2002 at 6:22 am
    Professor Marjorie Cohn, is the title, 選SRAELI RESISTERS AND PALESTINIAN RIGHTS & your statements

    溺ore than 100 Israeli army reservists have declared they will no longer fight in the West Bank and Gaza Strip "with the aim of dominating, expelling, starving and humiliating an entire people."

    鄭 recent poll conducted by Israel Radio found 30 percent of Israelis supported the reservists' protest.

    擢orty-five percent of Israelis polled by Israel Radio said they thought more reservists would join the resistance and refuse service in the West Bank and Gaza.

    intended to convey to the reader that this is a reflection of the possible increasing wave of emerging Moderate Views from Israelite & /or Palestinian sides?

    Ms. Lu Yi Ling (family name, Lu)

  • Wednesday January 22, 2003 at 8:04 am
    To Shibl and R.B. both of Canada and Moshe Achmon of Israel, please refer to in response to R.B.'s last analysis of 21st January 2003 on "How should the latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict be resolved?" Have a good year 2003 :-)

    Yi Ling

  • Wednesday January 22, 2003 at 8:27 am
    Moshe, there is hope, see "A speech made by Dr. Gershon Baskin, Israeli Co-Director of IPCRI... : In this new school year these programs will be taught in more than 60 schools on both sides. There will be more than 400 Israeli and Palestinian teachers participating in the programs with more than 4,500 students involved"

    Yi Ling

  • Friday February 13, 2004 at 2:29 pm
    hello i am looking for an organizaion or a private indevidual that would consider helping me fund an idea to bring closer the two nations that live here in Israel


  • Wednesday March 31, 2004 at 11:13 pm
    Good grief. The author is looking at a purely cosmetic effect of the 1967 war and later wars and pontifictes on Irael as if she knows what she''s talking about.The author, and many other comments posted here need to be educated. Please read "The History of Israel". VolI & II, by Howard Sachar. Then talk!

    martin kessler

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JURIST Contributing Editor Marjorie Cohn is an associate professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, where she teaches Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Evidence, and International Human Rights Law. A news consultant for CBS News and a commentator for Court TV, she has co-authored a book on cameras in the courtroom with former CBS News Correspondent David Dow. Professor Cohn has also published articles about criminal justice, international human rights, U.S. foreign policy and impeachment. She is editor of the National Lawyers Guild Practitioner and is on the Roster of Experts of the Institute for Public Accuracy. A criminal defense attorney at the trial and appellate levels for many years, Professor Cohn was also staff counsel to the California Agricultural Labor Relations Board. She has lectured at regional, national and international conferences, and was a legal observer in Iran on behalf of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers.

Professor Cohn is a graduate of Stanford University and the University of Santa Clara School of Law.