united nations 88.
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Last Friday, an explosion on a beach in the Gaza Strip killed seven Palestinian civilians. While it was not immediately clear what caused the incident, and while Israel said it would investigate, that didn't prevent an immediate chorus of condemnation from around the world in which Israel was unanimously blamed for the deaths.
The US State Department, for example, expressed its regret for "the killing and wounding of innocent Palestinians as a result of artillery fire by the IDF." The UK Foreign Office stated its deep concern for "the deaths from Israeli shelling of civilians." Not to be outdone, the French Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying it "deplores the Israeli bombing on a beach in the Gaza Strip...," while India and Japan made sure to blame Israel as well.
Perhaps most notable was the reaction of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who demanded an investigation into the incident and then reportedly called Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Saturday night and asked that Israel respond proportionately to the fire from Gaza.
Olmert is said to have responded: "Why didn't you phone me after 30 rockets were fired at Israel and say you wanted this investigated?" Astonishingly, Annan reportedly replied that he was not aware of the extent of the Kassam attacks.
Then, hours before Annan and the world got the results of the IDF investigation - which concluded the IDF was not responsible for Friday's blast - the situation became even more complicated on Tuesday when Israel struck an Islamic Jihad terror cell on its way to launch long-range Katyusha-type (Grad) rockets. Three terrorists were killed, but so were eight Palestinian bystanders.
Annan subsequently announced he doubted the results of the IDF investigation into Friday's explosion and said he would send a representative to investigate the beach blast on his behalf. He also called on Israel to "respect international law and human life."
Despite the breathless pace of events and precisely because of the truly regrettable loss of innocent lives, we strongly suggest that Annan and the world community take his own advice to heart.
It is international law which cuts through the seeming complexities of the latest developments, based on a simple fact: Palestinian aggression, in the form of unprovoked rocket attacks, is responsible for the recent events.
The first article of the UN Charter requires the UN "to take effective collective measures for... the suppression of acts of aggression." The Geneva Convention on civilian populations prohibits indiscriminate attacks, defined as "those which are not directed at a specific military objective." And if these aren't enough to convince the international community of its obligation to pressure the Palestinians into ceasing their aggression, perhaps the founding statute of the International Criminal Court will help. It gives the court jurisdiction in cases of "war crimes" which it defines, in part, as "intentionally directing attacks against civilian population." All of these laws are applicable to the Palestinians firing rockets at Israeli civilian targets.
What is indeed "regrettable" and "deplorable" over the last few days is the lack of international will to apply these laws to the Palestinians as a result of their deluge of rockets on Israeli civilians - and not any lack of respect for such laws on Israel's part.
The absence of determination to hold the Palestinians accountable under such laws is no less than an abuse of the principle of deterring aggression on which these laws are founded. As long as this situation continues - and the world has turned a blind eye to the hundreds of rockets launched from the Gaza Strip since Israel withdrew 10 months ago - the Palestinians will not be deterred and the violence will continue.
We welcome Annan's call for an independent investigation into Friday's deadly Gaza beach explosion. But Israel should condition its cooperation into such an inquiry on the UN's willingness to conduct a parallel investigation - and to demand application of the full measure of international law for any wrongdoing found under such law - into Palestinian rocket attacks against Israel.
The world community has the ability to help end Palestinian attacks through the force of law. In absence of such action or other solutions, Israel must invoke its "inherent right" to self-defense as defined in the UN Charter.