Israel's assault on Gaza continues. Yesterday, the BBC reported that Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, was not happy:"The United Nations' most senior human rights official said last night that the Israeli military may have committed war crimes in Gaza. The warning came as Israeli troops pressed on with the deadly offensive in defiance of a UN security council resolution calling for a ceasefire."My colleague Morgan wrote about the situation in Gaza last Thursday:"The rest of the world is happy to criticize Israel for its aggressive actions, because it's not them having their people shot at. Any other country would do the same, and with the same amount of concern for the civilians on the other side. This isn't rogue teams of Palestinians shooting rockets, this is the government of Gaza. That makes this a war between two countries, and in wars, civilians get hurt. Israel isn't being any more or less brutal than they should be."I think what Morgan means here is not that 898 Palestinian casualties and 3,695 injured is exactly the right amount of brutality, but rather that because war is inherently brutal, it's absurd to distinguish between different degrees of brutality.If that's his position, I disagree. We have the Geneva Conventions and the notions of "war crimes" and "crimes against humanity" precisely to distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate brutality in war. The boundaries are fuzzy, and Israel isn't torturing POWs, but when the U.N. high commissioner for human rights raises the concern that you might be committing war crimes and the Red Cross calls your conduct "unacceptable," those are pretty good indicators you're straying towards the wrong end of that spectrum.But, moral issues aside, I'm worried that this violent campaign of "self-defense" simply won't achieve Israel's stated aims. The Hamas rocket attacks have continued unabated throughout the assault, and there's little reason to think they'll stop when it ends. This will likely only further radicalize the Palestinian population and lead to more casualties-for both sides-in the future.
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