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Beyond “Battle of Algiers” The Middle East as a War Crimes Zone.

August 24, 2014
by Lawrence Gulotta

There was savagery in the deserts of the Middle East during World War I. Interestingly,  the historic internecine conflict between  Sunni & Shite  did not play  a major role.

I’ve recently read  “Lawrence In Arabia ” War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East” by Scott Anderson (     ) and attended a lecture by Michael V. Korda, author of  “The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia.”    (  The author was joined by Dr.Henry Kissinger, former Secretary of State,  with  New Yorker magazine writer Adam Gopnik moderating,  at the Society of Ethical Culture Auditorium on Central Park West at a New York Historical Society event.  During his tenure as editor-and-chief at Simon & Schuster, he worked with Dr. Kissinger on his various books and they have remained friends.  I thought Dr. Kissinger served as Korda’s  “hood-ornament”  at the podium. Korda’s presentation was spirited and accompanied by visuals. I have not yet read his book.

My perspective on the Great War has been sharpened by Margaret MacMillan’s “The War that Ended Peace;  the road to 1914. ”{%221%22%3A%22RI%3A6%22}

Based on this brilliant, though limited introduction, I offer the following observations on war and warfare in the Middle East on the 100th Anniversary of World War I:

The Arabs, like the British & French, could be savage but I’m skeptical that the level of savagery ever reached the intensity of today’s barbarisms in Iraq and Syria.  Trench warfare in WWI was barbaric. Desert warfare was savage and cruel.  Suicide bombing was not used by the Arabs during the various WWI campaigns involving Lawrence.  I’m aware of Japan’s use of the suicide bomber and all the ritual display of piety to the Sun God and Emperor. I’ve seen the Hamas, Hezbollah and Palestinian sects performing comparable religious rituals preparing for martyrdom.  The Japanese targeted warships and the Arabs have targeted civilians. The FLN in Algeria is often cited as precedent for terrorist action against colonialist patrons at pizzerias, cafes, bus stops, markets, train stations. The attacks against civilian colonial French were murderous actions but not suicide bombings, per se. Who can ever forget the Gillo Pontecorvo’s movie, “Battle of Algiers” (  ). With the latest Gaza-Israel war still smoldering, we have seen truly deadly,  bizarre behavior from Hamas and the deaths of approximately 2,200 innocent civilians in Gaza. It is impossible to fight a conventional war against Hamas without committing a war crime. The conflict is designed to achieve this end. War crimes are the lingua franca of modern wars. Both sides commit war crimes. The Middle East has devolved into  a war crimes zone. War crimes can materialize at anytime and place.

There is some mention of using civilians as shields during WWI & II but it doesn’t appear to be the modus vivendi for nation state armies. You can find examples of city-states or small nation states, or ghettos, whose people’s backs were against the wall and you will not find anything comparable to Hamas’ use Gazan children, though the stories are also horrifying.  If you fight against Hamas you will commit war crimes. It is part of the definition of warfare in the Region.  David Mc Reynolds calls Hamas “irresponsible.” Certainly a starting point but adolescents are irresponsible. Hamas shouldn’t be treated like a haughty adolescent, or an errant child. If you are a “non-nation state,”  I suppose you may think you can get away with barbarism and war crimes.

 The latest revelations concerning the kidnapping of the three Israeli teens continues the bloody,  surreal, byzantine subterranean saga of the Palestinian Arab at war. Kidnapping and murder are the preferred method to “spark” conflict. Ransoming of kidnapped victims has become a  dependable income stream for ISIS. The income stream from ransom activity could be collateralized  for more weapons purchases and military aide.  ISIS is inclined to commit war crimes establishing its reactionary Caliphate. “Who lost the Tigris and Euphrates ?”

I believe it is a mistake to ignore  war crimes committed during Protective Edge 2014 by either side.  The Hamas military’s use of civilians is scandalous and criminal. The apparent disproportionate use of force by Israel in areas of civilian habitation is intolerable. Hamas & Hzbollah use homes and apartment buildings as sites for missiles and storage of missiles. The statement by Marjorie Cohn needs a re-write. It needs to find balance and proportion in the assignment of blame for war crimes, especially when the Middle East itself is an enduring war crimes zone.

This is the statement by Marjorie Cohn

National Lawyers Guild, Other Legal Organizations Urge International Criminal Court to Investigate War Crimes by Israeli, U.S. Leaders in Gaza

The National Lawyers Guild (NLG), Center for Constitutional Rights, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, Arab Lawyers Union, and American Association of Jurists (Asociación Americana de Juristas)sent a letter on Friday, August 22 to Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), urging her to initiate an investigation of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity committed by Israeli leaders and aided and abetted by U.S. officials in Gaza.  Under the Rome Statute, the ICC has the power to hold individuals criminally accountable for the most serious of crimes.

“In light of the extreme gravity of the situation in the occupied Gaza Strip, in particular the large number of civilian casualties and large scale destruction of civilian property, including schools, mosques and hospitals, and the ongoing incitement to genocide perpetrated by Israeli political figures and leaders, the [NLG] and endorsing organizations strongly urge the Office of the Prosecutor to use its power under Article 15 of the Rome Statute to initiate a preliminary investigation” of crimes within the ICC’s jurisdiction.

“[Under the Rome Statute, an] individual can be convicted of a war crime, genocide or a crime against humanity  . . . if he or she ‘aids, abets or otherwise assists’ in the commission or attempted commission of the crime, ‘including providing the means for its commission’,” the letter reads.  “By transferring financial assistance, weapons and other military aid to Israel, members of the U.S. Congress, President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel have aided and abetted the commission of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity by Israeli officials and commanders in Gaza.”

The letter states that on July 20, 2014, in the midst of criminal behavior, Israel requested, and the U.S. Defense Department then authorized, the transfer to Israel of ammunition from the War Reserve Stockpile Ammunition.  And in August 2014, Congress overwhelmingly approved, and Obama signed, a $225 million payment for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.

“Israel’s clearly disproportionate use of force against the 1.8 million residents of Gaza appears to have little to do with any claim of security,” the organizations wrote, “but seems to be calculated to exact revenge against Palestinian civilians.”  The letter quotes statements of Israeli officials advocating vengeance against “the entire Palestinian people” and “calling for the internment of Palestinians in concentration camps in Sinai and the destruction of the civilian infrastructure in Gaza.”

Allegations of War Crimes

The letter lists the following war crimes, and cites supporting factual allegations for each crime:

  • willful killing (over 2,000 Palestinians, 80% civilians)
  • willfully causing great suffering or serious injury (wounding nearly 10,000 Palestinians, 2,200 children)
  • unlawful, wanton and unjustified extensive destruction and appropriation of property (tens of thousands of Palestinians lost homes, severe damage to infrastructure)
  • willful deprivation of fair trial rights (450 Palestinians held without charge or trial)
  • intentional attacks against civilians or civilian objects or humanitarian vehicles, installations and personnel (bombing of numerous schools, UN places of refuge, hospitals, ambulances, mosques)
  • intentionally launching unjustified attacks, knowing they will kill or injure civilians, damage civilian objects, or cause long-term and severe damage to the natural environment (use of ‘Dahiya Doctrine’ to apply “disproportionate force” and cause “great damage and destruction to civilian property and infrastructure, and suffering to civilian populations,” as defined in UN Human Rights Council [Goldstone] Report) (Israel virtually flattened town of Khuza’a).

Allegations of Genocide

Article 6 of the Rome Statute defines “genocide” as the commission of any of the following acts with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group: (a) killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily harm to members of the group; or (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its destruction in whole or in part.

The letter says, “In light of the fact that Palestinians in Gaza had no ability to flee for safety, it must be assumed the responsible Israeli officials knew that huge casualties and destruction of civilian property and infrastructure were certain during the massive bombardment by land, air and sea of the occupied Gaza Strip.”  The letter also lists “the repeatedly inciting public statements made by Israeli officials before and during the course of Operation Protective Edge and the history of Israel’s repeated bombardment of Palestinian refugee camps and populations in Lebanon and in Gaza” as evidence that “Israeli officials may be implementing a plan to destroy the Palestinian population, at least in part.”

Allegations of Crimes against Humanity

Article 7 of the Rome Statute defines “crimes against humanity” as the commission of any of the following, when part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack: (a) murder; (b) persecution against a group or collectivity based on its political, racial, national, ethnic or religious character; or (c) the crime of apartheid(inhumane acts committed in the context of an institutional regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over another racial group, with the intent to maintain that regime).

The letter states, “Israeli forces have killed, wounded, summarily executed and administratively detained Palestinians, Hamas forces and civilians alike.  Israeli forces intentionally destroyed the infrastructure in Gaza.”  It also says Israel keeps Palestinians caged in “the world’s largest open air prison,” and “controls all ingress and egress to Gaza, and limits . . . access to medicine and other essentials.”  Finally, the letter cites arbitrary arrest and administrative detention; expropriation of property; destruction of homes, crops and trees; separate areas and roads; segregated housing, legal and educational systems for Palestinians and Jews; the illegal barrier wall encroaching on Palestinian territory; hundreds of illegal Jewish settlements on Palestinian land; and denying the right of Palestinians to return to their homeland because they are not Jews.

The signatories to the letter conclude that “[t]he initiation of an investigation would send a clear message to all involved either in committing or in aiding and abetting of the aforementioned crimes that they stand to be held personally accountable for their actions.”

It remains to be seen whether the ICC will exercise jurisdiction in such a case since neither Israel nor the United States is a party to the Rome Statute.  But if the ICC determines that Palestine can accede to the Rome Statute, the ICC could take jurisdiction over crimes committed by Israelis and Americans in Palestinian territory.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former president of the National Lawyers Guild.  She is also deputy secretary general of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and the U.S. representative to the American Association of Jurists (Asociación Americana de Juristas).  Her next book, Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral and Geopolitical Issues, will be published in September 2014.

The Opinion Pages | Op-Ed Contributor Reprinted from the New York Times

Saudis Must Stop Exporting Extremism

ISIS Atrocities Started With Saudi Support for Salafi Hate

Last week, Saudi Arabia donated $100 million to the United Nations to fund a counterterrorism agency. This was a welcome contribution, but last year, Saudi Arabia rejected a rotating seat on the United Nations Security Council. This half-in, half-out posture of the Saudi kingdom is a reflection of its inner paralysis in dealing with Sunni Islamist radicalism: It wants to stop violence, but will not address the Salafism that helps justify it.


Let’s be clear: Al Qaeda, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Boko Haram, the Shabab and others are all violent Sunni Salafi groupings. For five decades, Saudi Arabia has been the official sponsor of Sunni Salafism across the globe.

Most Sunni Muslims around the world, approximately 90 percent of the Muslim population, are not Salafis. Salafism is seen as too rigid, too literalist, too detached from mainstream Islam. While Shiite and other denominations account for 10 percent of the total, Salafi adherents and other fundamentalists represent 3 percent of the world’s Muslims.


Unlike a majority of Sunnis, Salafis are evangelicals who wish to convert Muslims and others to their “purer” form of Islam — unpolluted, as they see it, by modernity. In this effort, they have been lavishly supported by the Saudi government, which has appointed emissaries to its embassies in Muslim countries who proselytize for Salafism. The kingdom also grants compliant imams V.I.P. access for the annual hajj, and bankrolls ultraconservative Islamic organizations like the Muslim World League and World Assembly of Muslim Youth.
After 9/11, under American pressure, much of this global financial support dried up, but the bastion of Salafism remains strong in the kingdom, enforcing the hard-line application of outdated Shariah punishments long abandoned by a majority of Muslims. Just since Aug. 4, 19 people have been beheaded in Saudi Arabia, nearly half for nonviolent crimes.

We are rightly outraged at the beheading of James Foley by Islamist militants, and by ISIS’ other atrocities, but we overlook the public executions by beheading permitted by Saudi Arabia. By licensing such barbarity, the kingdom normalizes and indirectly encourages such punishments elsewhere. When the country that does so is the birthplace of Islam, that message resonates.
I lived in Saudi Arabia’s most liberal city, Jidda, in 2005. That year, in an effort to open closed Saudi Salafi minds, King Abdullah supported dialogue with people of other religions. In my mosque, the cleric used his Friday Prayer sermon to prohibit such dialogue on grounds that it put Islam on a par with “false religions.” It was a slippery slope to freedom, democracy and gender equality, he argued — corrupt practices of the infidel West.
This tension between the king and Salafi clerics is at the heart of Saudi Arabia’s inability to reform. The king is a modernizer, but he and his advisers do not wish to disturb the 270-year-old tribal pact between the House of Saud and the founder of Wahhabism (an austere form of Islam close to Salafism). That 1744 desert treaty must now be nullified.



Dr. Ziad Majed

Professor for International Relations, American University (Paris)

Right and Left against the revolution

24. May. 2013

Support to Syria revolution against Assad regime in Yemen. Picture: FreedomHouse2, Original:, License: CC BY 2.0

Why is it that the far Right and certain far-Left groups in a number of Western nations agree in their hostility to the Syrian revolution?For a while now this question has nagged at a number of Syrian friends, who have been shocked by the positions and commentary of various writers and journalists, all of whom criticize the revolution from an overtly hostile perspective, or even defending the regime.

We may go further: Why is it that the Syrian revolution fails to mobilize activist circles within global (or “Western”) civil society, despite the media’s near constant coverage of events and the consequent fact that there exist thousands of images and films depicting the tragedies that Syrians are living through?

The answer to this question appears to be complex, dependent on a set of factors, which are governed both by aspects of the political and cultural perspective on the Arab region as well as the political and ethical standards that guide stances and written opinions on the region’s affairs. These influences contrive to make sympathy or solidarity with the revolution very timid, at least when compared with the zeal with which attacks on the revolution are expressed.

The “complexity”

One of these factors is the fact that many political parties and movements are afraid of taking positions on “conflicts” in the Middle East. They sidestep the issue by pleading their “complexity”: too much wars and conflicts, and increasingly divisive religious sectarianism, many of whose effects might reach out across the Mediterranean to its northern shores.

Another factor is the culturalistic approach employed by researchers whose task is to compare and categorize global issues and conflicts, especially those associated with the Arabs and their countries. To these culturalists, Arabs appear to be a people who “favour violence as a means of resolving conflict”, drink deep from the well of extremism and whose ability to shrug off the burden of Oriental despotism and move to democracy or liberation is ever in doubt. Seen in this way, the violence that accompanies the revolution is not exceptional, not in a broader context of perpetual civil war, and neither does it call for outrage or urgent action.


One more important issue is Islamophobia, embraced by the extreme Right for racist reasons, and by certain Left-leaning groups on the pretext of espousing secularism, freedoms and women’s rights. So it is that the wordsmiths of the far-Right find common ground with certain individuals on the far-Left in their support for the Assad clan, the first motivated by hostility to “Islamists”, the second by their “secularizing and modernizing discourse”. To these we may add the “minorities” obsessives, whose constant, wretched refrain is the threat posed by the “majority”. To summarize or translate, all of the above might justify the murder of Syrians on the basis that they are socially conservative Islamists and prefer tyranny because it oppresses the majority to keep the minority safe and sound.In this they commit a grave moral failing and give voice to a religious racism and assorted stereotypes diametrically opposed to the human rights and progressive values they claim to respect.

Yet another aspect is the ease with which many political activists have surrendered to conspiracy theories, out of fascination, the desire to give an impression of understanding the way things really work and a conviction that international relations are essentially malevolent in nature. Some on the Left are pretty much addicted to this kind of thing, though they lost their monopoly on their production some time ago now. Bolstered by such beliefs, they refuse to look at the Syrian people, their aspirations and their sufferings and instead make do with clichéd claims about international relations and regional conflicts in terms that explain the “hidden truth” behind the surface appearance.

The conspiracy-theory

The conspiracy-theory is closely linked to another matter: the condescending attitude displayed by certain progressive writers and opinion-makers in analyzing issues that affect populations in the Arab world. They tend to ignore questions such as human dignity and individual freedom, and they rarely touch on aspects of political sociology in their analysis. What concerns them are borders, oil, geo-strategy, the influential roles of regional states and the “decisions” the West makes about them. Some, of course, look to China and Russia, hoping a return to the Cold War. In this they too touch on racism, albeit from a position of “defending” what they consider to be “the interests of Arab world” against “Western imperialism”, dealing with whole nations as if they were abstract entities devoid of flesh-and-blood people with rights of their own, or as if these populations were mindless, mute monoliths whose progress must always be plotted for them, misled by Western lies and mobilized by the media (as if by remote-control). The only solution? To rally around the one who “protects” them from “foreign attack”, even if he crushes them in the process.

There are also those intellectuals and thinkers, many of whom have bravely championed the Palestinian cause, who have steadfastly refused to back the Syrian revolution pleading their fear of Syria’s fragmentation and the spread of chaos, a situation which would “play into Israel and America’ hands” as they say.

Finally, we have those western writers whose fame and credibility rests on decades spent resident in Arab countries criticizing their home countries’ policies towards the region, who are now ready to lie and deceive just to keep their place in the spotlight, stir controversy and counter what they portray as complacent “mainstream” attitudes in their media. Now of course, these mainstream attitudes are no longer in conflict with the “humanist” values they always claimed to take into account.

We could add other factors, of course: the viewer-fatigue and boredom displayed by large segments of Western public opinion towards Arab revolutions, particularly in the wake of the Muslim Brotherhood’s electoral triumphs in Egypt and Tunisia, the war in Libya and the protracted nature of the Syrian revolution itself. We could mention the geographical location of the Levant, the US’s failure in the post-Saddam experience in Iraq, the (legitimate) doubts over roles played by Saudi Arabia and Qatar in Syria and the region, and concerns over the impact of Syrian instability on the region as a whole (Israel first and foremost). No must we forget the exertions of the Syrian regime and its allies (Lebanese and Arab, plus a few European “experts”) who disseminated articles and information (sometimes fabricated and sometimes correct but taken out of context) about the revolutionaries, their activities and the horrors awaiting Christians in Syria and the Levant as a whole.

The Syrian regime and the revolt

All these factors combine to efface the underlying truth, which is uncomplicated and demands no great effort to take a reasonable moral and political position on it: the majority of a population in revolt against a regime that has ruled Syria since 1970, in which time it has shown not the slightest hesitation to commit massacres, to imprison citizens, to rob and exile them, all for the sake of holding on to its (dynastic) power and (mafia-like) privileges. As for talk of regional and international conflicts, of interests and political manifestos and alliances and fears, it certainly has a place in forming positions on this revolution (whether on the Right or Left) and should be expressed, but only after a firm position on the original issue has been stated: the Syrian people’s right to fight until they turn the page of 43 years of tyranny.

To conclude, the Syrian revolution today is not just fighting a brutal regime like the Assad regime, but it is also fighting this regime’s allies – Russia and Iran especially – and furthermore it is dealing with the putrid concepts, alternately racist, indifferent and immoral, bandied about by many Leftists and “anti-imperialists”. Until now, and for many reasons that should be looked into, it has not possessed a political leadership or media office responding regularly to all its enemies and their arguments. To make up for this lack so far, it is counting on bravery and perseverance, on exceptionally courageous and creative intellectuals, artists and activists, and on a great store of patience and hope which has allowed it to soldier on; a store not likely to be exhausted even as the pressure grows and difficulties mount, both within Syria and around it.


Posted by: Danny Postel <>

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I’m posting this to the Middle East list and want to make, briefly, some points.

First, I have no idea what contact the German author has with the American Left, but with the exception of a tiny fragment of the Left, which is supporting Assad (the same fragments supported Saddam Hussein), if there is a lack of support for the democratic revolutionary forces in Syria you can find the reason by skipping to the last paragraph – the failure of the “Syrian Revolution” to define itself, to achieve clear
leadershp. (I do not mock the opposition to Assad by quotes – but to underline the hard reality that the opposition to Assad includes a broad range of groups, some of which have pretty bad records of human rights violations – as does the Assad regime).

Second, assuming that all of us are united in opposing ISIS, it does not help the author’s position to argue that Assad is supported by Russia and Iran. It is true, they do support Assad, but the “rebel factions” which have no common front, no clear leadership, ar supported by the US, Britain, France, Saudi Arabia, etc.

Third, the Syrian tragedy is just that – a monumental tragedy. I do not have an answer for it – neither does the German author. There is a profound danger that if Assad is simply overturned we will see in Syria a repeat of events in Libya.
If I urge an end to all foreign arms to Syria (and I do), that is not an answer because I have no way to enforce it. Most tragic, many of those who are part of the US coalition against ISIS have made it clear that their priority is not the defeat of ISIS, but the defeat of Assad!!

David McReynolds
New York City
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