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Two Kinds of International Law

In an absurd way, president Bush also justified the Iraq war as "self-defense." Lebanon and its population have the same right to security, territorial integrity and inviolable borders as Israel.. Israel's right to exist is not a reason for violating the rights of others.

Middle East: The Unequal Treatment of Israelis, Lebanese and Palestinians is Unacceptable

By Jochen Hippler

[This article published in: Freitag 37, 9/15/2006 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.freitag.de/2006/37/06370101.php.]

A few weeks ago one did not hear such clear words from Michel Aoun. The Christian, leader of the Lebanese opposition, had called for a "liberation war against Syria" at the end of the 1980s. Today he also condemns what he calls "Israel's aggression against Lebanon and a war against all Lebanese." "Israel has revealed its true face," he says. "Israel is the only country that does not respect international decisions. Through the UN Security Council, the community of states condemned a miniscule operation in which two Israeli soldiers were captured and classified it as an act of terror. When Israel bombed the Lebanese and killed thousands of civilians. Unfortunately these actions were not condemned. No one condemned the use of cluster bombs and phosphorous bombs by Israel. Israel had to respect the rules of war and the Geneva Convention. With disproportionality, its army destroyed our infrastructure and killed civilians."

These sentences come from a moderate Christian, not from an Islamic agitator. There is no question - kidnapping the two Israeli soldiers was reprehensible and politically dumb. Nevertheless Aoun's criticism can hardly be disputed. International law is in force for all actors, for European countries, the US and Israel. However a recently published report by Amnesty International shows that the Israeli warfare in Lebanon broke international law and many human rights. Nearly every supermarket in southern Lebanon was destroyed by air attacks along with the largest dairy of the country and the airports. Streets full of refugees and more than 80 bridges came under fire. How could these attacks help free two kidnapped soldiers or stop rocket attacks? This not only needs an explanation; it is first of all against international law.

The international community and the German government have used two kinds of measurements here. At the beginning of the war, foreign minister Steinmeier declared Israel has a right to self-defense. That is undeniable. According to Article 51 of the UN Charter, all states have this right. However Steinmeier's statement seems like an attempted justification on the background of the ongoing combat actions.

In an absurd way, US president Bush also justified the Iraq war as "self-defense," although he still owes us evidence today for Saddam's planned aggression. Two private Germans were kidnapped in east Nigeria at almost the same time as the abduction of the two Israeli soldiers. Should Germany have destroyed the infrastructure and housing districts of the West African country as "self-defense"? Such conduct would rob international law of its legal character and degrade international law to a mere weapon against political rivals. We should not accept this.

What should we say about the new international peace force for Lebanon? A blue helmet presence there is certainly sensible and desirable. But every international military contingent does not deserve to be called a peace force. Unlike occupation - or intervention- units, a peace force must impartially protect both parties to conflict from each other.

Its mission is complicated. The blue helmets must be willing and prepared to protect Israel from Lebanese attacks and the firing of Katjuscha rockets. Beyond this, they should contribute to disarming Hezbollah. As everybody knows, the UN and Lebanon resolved this. How the peace force can accomplish this without becoming a warring party itself is very unclear.

At the same time, the Lebanese should be protected from Israeli attacks on land and from the air and sea - irrespective of their religious membership. Lebanon and its population have the same right to security, territorial integrity and inviolable borders as Israel and the Israelis. That is a foregone conclusion in international law and a presupposition for creating a stable peace in the region. This can only succeed in the long run if the people of all Middle East countries live in security. Otherwise the next round of violence is only a question of time. For Israel's lasting security, its neighboring states must also be able to exist stable and unthreatened.

Finally, protecting peace in Lebanon is not enough. The fate of Lebanon is tied to the Middle East conflict. This conflict is a symbolic and real hindrance for a comprehensive peace solution in the region. The constant air attacks on Palestinian targets, the repeated land offensives, the targeted murders and abductions of elected officials and members of government are wrong and pour more oil on the fire. Israel's right to exist is not a reason for violating the rights of others. The international community must act with greater resolve and clearer impartiality in these questions.

A possible two-state solution threatens to break down in a climate of violence. Therefore a robust international peace force is necessary for Lebanon and for the autonomous Palestinian areas.

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