The Egyptian Journalist as War Criminal

It’s time somebody issued a word of caution to those scribes at Al Ahram for their support of Egypt’s participation in the illegal siege of Gaza because their actions could very well turn out to be prosecutable war crimes. And if these journalists think this is a stretch, they are well advised to review the proceedings and findings of the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal for Nazi War Crimes. That’s the legal body that, in 1946, sentenced Julius Streicher, the editor of Der Sutmer, to hang. In imposing the harsh verdict, the court cited evidence that “with knowledge of the extermination of the Jews in the Occupied Eastern Territory, this journalist continued to write and publish his propaganda of death.”

There is an even more recent case that’s worth paying a little attention to. In 2004, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda convicted three Hutus for their role in inciting genocide against Tutsis. That case set a legal precedent and a warning to journalists and editors who use their pens to aid and facilitate war crimes. As I noted in a previous article “One of the Hutus convicted by the Rwanda Tribunal was Hassan Ngeze, the editor of Kangura, an extremist magazine. He was convicted based on articles that were written several years prior to the onset of the Rwanda genocide. The court found that he had participated in creating a psychological environment that made the genocide possible.” The Rwandan Tribunal went so far as to press charges against Simon Bkindi for composing and singing jingoistic ballads that incited Hutus to kill Tutsis.

A siege by its very definition is an act of war. In the case of Gaza, the Egyptian/Israeli siege amounts to collective punishment against an innocent population that committed the unpardonable sin of electing a leadership that is anathema to Cairo and Tel Aviv. It is an act of war that is not sanctioned by the international community. Moreover, it is an extension of last year’s barbarous Israeli invasion of Gaza. The scribes at Al Ahram and other Egyptian government papers can’t have failed to notice that the former Israeli Prime Minister, Tzipi Livni, and other Israeli officials are now facing prosecutable war crime charges as a consequence of the illicit and unjustifiable murder of nearly 1,600 civilians. And there is no arguing the fact that the Egyptian regime gave tacit approval to that invasion.

But the other thing to pay attention to is that international law against war criminals is constantly evolving. So what might not qualify as definitive prosecutable crime today could very well be considered a crime in a decade or two. And the thing about war crimes is that they are retroactive and the passage of time gives no immunity to the perpetrators. Add to that the prospect that you never know what’s going to happen in Egypt or what kind of government will ascend to power in the coming years. Egypt’s current hostility towards the Palestinians could turn on a dime and new authorities might be inclined to take extraordinary measures against those who participated in promoting the illegal siege of Gaza.

As a result of the siege, hundreds of Palestinians have died due to the lack of medication, food and shelter. I’m not a lawyer but I think one can make the case that collective punishment that results in the death of innocent civilians is a war crime.

If anybody doubts that Al-Ahram and its journalists are directly aiding and abetting the illegal siege, they can easily cast aside such doubts by taking a glance at the front page of the paper’s January 8th edition. A day after religious extremists attacked and murdered six Coptic worshipers at a Christmas service in Naga Hamadi, the front page headlines focused on the death of an Egyptian soldier at the Gaza border. He was apparently killed by a Palestinian gunman. While Al Ahram’s scribes correctly made the case that the vicious killers at Naga Hamadi are by no means representative of the Egyptian people, the same paper is attempting to justify the siege by blaming the murder of the soldier on the entire population of Gaza. That’s an inflammatory and calculated act of incitement to justify war crimes against the people of Gaza.

War crimes aside, there is currently no excuse for supporting Egypt’s disastrous and embarrassing policy. The only rationale for Egypt’s continued participation in the siege is the stubborn rigidity of its foreign policy architects and their unwillingness to reassess the consequences of a tactical decision that was made under pressure from the Bush administration. There’s a new man in the White House and this might be a good opportunity to test him on the wisdom of America’s continued support for the siege. Even Obama is not immune from future war crime charges relating to the siege of Gaza.

Make no mistake, there’s a war crime going on in Gaza and everybody involved in aiding and abetting it should take a little time to consider the future price they might pay for their active participation. This is a call to every Egyptian journalist to exercise caution. Nobody is suggesting they confront the dictatorial regime that cuts their pay checks. But this might be a good time to exercise cautious passivity. So here’s a word to the wise – refuse all assignments to write articles supporting the siege.