Leaflets may counter 'war crime' claims

Mazuz: Israel preparing for "wave" of international lawsuits in response to Operation Cast Lead.

Gaza rubble 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Gaza rubble 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The leaflets that the IAF has dropped over Gaza during Operation Cast Iron warning civilians of impending air strikes and ground movements could help the army argue that it has not committed war crimes in Gaza, said Amos Guiora, an expert on international law, operational counterterrorism and the Middle East. The former commander of the IDF's school of military law and 19-year veteran of the Judge Advocate General Corps told The Jerusalem Post Monday that by dropping warning brochures, the IDF was "perceived as making an effort to reduce collateral damage," a condition required by international law. After doing so, the IDF still must prove that the sites targeted were in fact combatant targets, such as public buildings used as arms depots. The comments came a day after Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz warned that Israel was preparing for a wave of international lawsuits related to Operation Cast Iron. "I would imagine that due to the events in Gaza, our office's efforts will need to be focused and intensive," Mazuz said, adding that representatives of the IDF's Judge Advocate General were present in the operation's planning center and approved each target. Mazuz emphasized regarding last Tuesday's strike at the UNRWA school that the IDF "doesn't shoot in order to hit a school with 150 pupils. The IDF has its version of events, and it will carry out probes to see what happened there. It is clear to all that the IDF doesn't shoot with the goal of hitting civilians." This past week, Israel faced heavy international criticism for the strike on the UNRWA-sponsored school, as well as for reported use of artillery shells containing white phosphorus. White phosphorous has been in military use since World War I, and is permitted under international humanitarian law when used to create smoke-screens or to provide light. It is forbidden to use the substance as an anti-personnel munition. A report by Human Rights Watch that blasted Israel for the substance's use did not, however, allege that Israel used it for this purpose. Instead, the group argued, "the use of WP in densely populated areas of Gaza violates the requirement under international humanitarian law to take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian injury and loss of life." It is in such situations, Guiora explained, that proper leafleting - provided it really provided sufficient warning for civilians to flee - could be essential in defending Israel against such allegations. "If you used legal weapons and you gave proper warnings, pinpointed attacks can be fine as long as you're not using the weapons indiscriminately," he said. Guiora emphasized that in his final position in the IDF, he worked on developing a moral code that called on commanders to be convinced that their actions were moral as well as legal, and said that this constituted the first of a number of legal hurdles that also include the High Court of Justice and, only after that, the international courts. Guiora argued that the conflict in Gaza would prove to be a precedent-setting one for the application of international law in war, pushing forward understandings of such concepts as what constitutes self-defense and reinforcing the need to question the status of "voluntary human shields," civilians who volunteer to protect armed combatants.