Our indifference to Gaza
By H. Harry L. Roque Jr.
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:29:00 01/14/2009
It is unfortunate that the crisis at the Gaza Strip has taken a back seat
to two ongoing domestic issues: those of the Alabang boys and the
Pangandaman Valley Golf incidents. While perhaps the distant location of
Gaza and its lack of “soap opera” appeal may largely be to blame for the
lack of serious discussion on the Gaza issue, it is imperative that equal
importance be accorded to Gaza since it involves important rule of law
issues that are equally relevant to the Philippines, what with our armed
conflicts against the New People’s Army and the Moro Islamic Liberation
Front, as well as our unresolved territorial controversies that may also
lead to further armed conflicts.
Thus far, the bulk of the reportage by Philippine media on the Gaza crisis
has been on the plight of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who continue to
be stranded in the place of conflict. This is a sorry reflection of how
Philippine foreign policy has been crafted of late: parochially reduced
only to how events overseas may directly affect our overseas workers
constituting the Diaspora. Not much has been said as to why there are
mammoth rallies around the globe against this latest instance of Israeli
adventurism. That is, that by unilaterally resorting to the use of force,
Israel has again showed its defiance of International Law, which prohibits
the use of force and restrictively allowing the same only to circumstances
constituting self-defense or when authorized by the Security Council of
the United Nations. Imperfect as the UN may presently be, it has
nonetheless been largely instrumental in preventing what the UN Charter
describes as “scourges of war.” This prohibition on the use of force is in
fact the most important rule stated in the UN Charter and one that has
proven largely effective in preventing armed conflicts of the scale that
ravaged humanity in the past two world wars.
Why Israel has not opted to have the Hamas issue debated in the Security
Council is open to speculation. The fact though is that if the missile
attacks are indeed threats to international peace, the international
community has already granted the Security Council primary jurisdiction to
deal with these types of threats. For Israel and its ally, the United
States, to now insist on unilateral use of force is a blatant disregard of
a cardinal rule recognized by all civilized states.
Israel of course will claim that its recent offensive is but an exercise
of self-defense. In fact, it has stated that it will only stop when and if
Hamas stops launching missiles into Israeli territory. But the question
is: self-defense against whom?
Hamas is a non-state party
that Israel accuses of operating in the territory of its neighboring
states. Without accusing either Palestine or Lebanon of aggression, it has
waged wars against both these states solely on the ground that Hamas
operatives are found in the territories of these two states.
Meanwhile, the death toll as a result of the crisis continues to rise.
Among the victims are protected individuals under humanitarian law, such
as civilians, including women and children. What is the sense, for
instance, of targeting even the 11 children and four wives of an alleged
Hamas leader? Has there since developed a principle attributing criminal
guilt to a person solely by virtue of family relations?
The fact that Israel has been targeting civilian homes is a breach of
humanitarian law itself since the Geneva conventions prohibit combatants
from targeting civilian infrastructures. And yes, the fact that Israel has
been violating the non-derogable norms of humanitarian law apparently with
impunity is equally deplorable since these grave breaches weaken the
rule-enforcing value of the law. Why should our own soldiers in the Armed
Forces of the Philippines, or the New People’s Army and the Moro Islamic
Liberation Front, desist from targeting civilians when the Israelis have
seemingly gotten away with it?
Ultimately the Gaza issue should be accorded equal importance as the case
of the Alabang boys and the Valley Golf incident because it undermines the
rule of law on the prohibition against the unilateral use of force and the
non-derogable rule according protection to civilians and other
non-combatants in times of armed conflicts. The Gaza issue could spell
disaster to countries like the Philippines. For while Israel may have the
confidence to engage in military adventurism and commit grave breaches of
humanitarian law owing to its superior military strength, countries like
the Philippines can only rely on other countries’ compliance with the rule
of law against threats of these nature. Think of the Spratlys. Think of
China. Think of Malaysia. Think of terrorists operating in Mindanao. This
is why Filipinos should take the Gaza incident more seriously. Because
unless the rule of law is observed, our “tora-tora” planes will simply be
no match to the military might of our potential state adversaries.
Prof. H. Harry L. Roque Jr. teaches Public International Law at the UP
College of Law and at the Philippine Judicial Academy. He is also chair of
the Center for International Law (CENTERLAW).