Ido Rosenzweig

Especially Now: International Law Is Not Nonsense

I hear a lot of statements about how it’s not the time for “nonsense of international law” and that the laws of war are not suitable for fighting against a terrorist organization.

So, we need to clarify something very clearly: the laws of war (aka international humanitarian law) and international law do not prevent military activities, including very aggressive actions. The laws of war are designed to regulate warfare and prevent unnecessary harm to civilians.

I’ll start with the bottom line — the laws of war apply in times of armed conflicts, in every armed conflict — including against a terrorist organization. They can be divided into black (forbidden), white (permitted), and gray (questions of interpretation and judgment).

No one prevents the military from doing what is permitted. No one with a sound mind will require the military to do what is forbidden. Regarding questions of interpretation and judgment, discretion lies with the commander in the field, and not with the lawyer.

When targeting legitimate military objectives, it is permissible to cause collateral damage to civilians with full knowledge, but it must not be excessive — it should be proportionate to the military advantage anticipated from the attack. In other words, the higher the military advantage, the higher the permissible collateral damage.

On the other hand, there is a requirement to do everything possible under the circumstances to prevent or at least minimize collateral damage.

What is absolutely forbidden is to directly attack uninvolved civilians. The fact that it’s the despicable fighting method of Hamas does not make it legitimate, and it should not be made legitimate.

Those who think it is legitimate to target and kill children, infants, pregnant women, the elderly, the disabled, and the like have no difference between them and Hamas.

About the Author
Dr. Ido Rosenzweig is the co-founder and chairman of ALMA - Association for the Promotion of International Humanitarian Law, and the Director of Research (Terrorism, Belligerency, and cyber) at the Minerva Center for the Rule of Law under Extreme Conditions in the University of Haifa [Photo by Flash90]
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