The International Red Cross has put the death toll in Ghaza, during the ongoing Israeli “Operation Protective Edge”, at 1,600 souls, more than quarter of who are children. It is claimed that there is no family in Ghaza, no child growing up, who has either not suffered a personal loss, or not seen the loss of a relative or a friend. An entire generation of Palestinians (if they survive) will remember bloodshed as their first childhood memory. All this, and much more, is happening under the auspiciousness of the Western powers, and in plain sight of international media and human rights organizations.
Still, there is no real threat or challenge to the impunity of Israeli forces or the hypocrisy of the international media. There is no umbrella of International Law, no resolution of the United Nations, no might of the Security Council, or compassion of the Arab League, that the Palestinian plight can find refuge in.
How have we arrived at this juncture? What, if any, law or protection can be extended to the hapless civilians in Palestine? Is there any (legal or moral) paradigm that governs, and can prosecute, Israeli atrocities? Or is international legal order meaningless when pitted against the might of powerful nations?
My International Law Professor, the illustrious Dr. David Kennedy, in the midst of a heated class discussion, once remarked that there is a very compelling argument to be made that “there is no such thing as International Law.” That international conflict and state sovereignty are ideas governed only through the barrel of gun. A gun that is not beholden to any written law or convention, but instead only to that most primordial of human truths: might is right!
By way of background, however, when horrors of the First and the Second World War – its cruelty and its barbarianism – shook the conscience of our human race, some, among the victors, resolved that never again would the world be permitted to transgress the bounds of humanity. That never again would children be massacred. Never again would hapless civilians suffer at the hands of unconscionable oppressors. That never again would the darkness of our rage be allowed to overshadow the inviolability of our souls.
This ideal gave birth to the International Humanitarian Law (IHL), and the International Human Rights Law (IHRL). The primary (and generalized) distinction between the two is that IHL – with its basis in the Geneva Conventions of 1949 – govern the sphere of war and protection of civilians caught in the midst of armed conflict, whereas the IHRL – with its roots in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights – relates primarily to peacetime affairs (including safeguards as to fair trial, freedom of expression, and civil liberties). While these two branches overlap in numerous areas, the most commanding international law principles that govern the genocidal “Operation Protective Edge” are those pertaining to IHL.
In this regard, under IHL, five core principles govern all lawful armed conflict: 1) civilian immunity (prohibition against targeting civilians or treating them as combatants); 2) distinction (necessity to distinguish between ‘civilians’ and ‘combatants’); 3) proportionality (requirement to use force in a manner that is proportionate to the military value or threat of the target); 4) necessity (obligation to justify all military strikes with a corresponding necessity to achieve legitimate military goals); and 5) humane treatment (prohibition against torture, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners, and the requirement to guard civilians in occupied territories).
Violations of these cardinal principles, or disregard of them (as has been done by the Israeli forces in the ongoing Ghaza offensive) constitute what international law deems “war crimes”, prosecutable by the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague.
But prosecuting Israeli commanders, or Netenyahu, for the most manifest of war crimes, in this day and age, is wishful thinking at best.
Reason? Professor Kennedy was right. There no such thing as International Law. It does not exist on a battlefield where one side is blue-eyed and powerful, while the other is ragged and parentless. There is certainly no inconvenience of law when the ongoing atrocities are framed as part of the larger clash of civilizations. A battle between ‘good’ and ‘evil’. A conflict between a three thousand year old divine promise, on the one hand, and the cost of a few thousand lives, on the others. A concept that was understood all too well by Bush in Babylon, and Netenyahu in Ghaza.
It is hopeless to clamor for justice. It is useless to expect the Western powers to hold Israel to the same moral and legal standard that they expect other nations and leaders to adopt. It is futile to draw comparisons between Slobodan Milošević and Benjamin Netenyahu. Let us stop beating our chest for Security Council intervention. Let’s stop screaming for a dispassionate coverage of the atrocities by BBC and CNN. Lets dispense with the idea that justice is blind in the face of criminality. That humanity is equal at the altar of history. Because we live in a world that is clearly divided between the rich, and the poor; the privileged, and the struggling; the technologically advanced, and the desert nomads. And there is no law, no convention, no court, no international agency that can level this playing field.
And in this world, Goliath’s offensive, will remain kosher. David’s fighting back, will continue to be terrorism
The truth is that law, specifically international law, is the greatest of all modern fictions. The ongoing rape of Ghaza has unequivocally demonstrated that international law, and the rhetoric of human rights, is merely a tool of hypocrisy, designed to serve the interests of the mighty and powerful, as and when they choose.
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” We must resist the temptation to blame Israel’s military, or its non-compliance with elusive International Law standards, or the Western leaders and media, for the plight of Palestinian people. It is us, the Muslim World, that is to be blamed for our own state of affairs. It is the impotence of the Arab League, or of Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia, and the rest, that prevents us from being able to defend our own. It is our fault for possessing neither the economic muscle, nor the military might, nor the international resolve, to defend our frontiers and our faith. And consequently, the solution – be it now or in a thousand years – must also emanate from us.
History bears witness to the fact that when Europe was reeling in the Dark Ages, when America was yet to be discovered, and when the Far East was only a secluded frontier, the civilization of the world was ruled by a powerful and mighty Muslim empire. One that believed in technology and commerce. One that cherished education and science. One that was built upon compassion, and a divine sense of justice. Could anyone have imagined subjecting Palestinians to such grave atrocities in that world?
We must, all of us, find a way back to those days. And in all the time, from this day to that, we must live with the guilt that it is us – and no one else – who is responsible for our plight, and that of our brothers.

   The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School.