Every state is composed of human beings, the vast majority of whom accept and act upon a set of moral principles, aspects of a general code of distinguishing right and wrong. All human action may be judged, with varying accuracy and relevance, in moral terms. The moral issue becomes pertinent when commands of the state to the individual represent a direct contradiction of what that individual has been taught to regard as right and good. The classic instance is the taking of human life.
Following a provocative visit by Israeli war criminal Ariel Sharon to the holy site of Al-Haram al-Sharif in occupied Jerusalem and Israel’s excessive and disproportionate violent agression against the Palestinian people, killing 319 Palestinians and wounding more some 10,000, once again we arereminded that peace does not come without justice. Once again we are reminded that no peace will be just and durable when it is not based on a foundation of universal human rights and international law, that is built on morality and ethical conduct.
No moral code makes a senseless death morally justifiable, and sanity argues that the continued existence of humankind is a desirable goal. The force of international morality is given form by means of an international consensus. Whether expressed formally in the resolutions of the United Nations or informally by a rather amorphous “world public opinion” shaped and directed by global broadcast media, collective moral judgment is now a factor that policymakers cannot avoid taking into account. The global concern over human rights is a prime example.
However, the basic rights of Palestinians are still denied. The world agreed that Palestinians are human beings with the right to life, liberty and security of person. The world believed that the process of liberation is irresistible and irreversible and that, in order to avoid serious crises, an end must be put to colonialism and all practices of segregation and discrimination associated therewith. The subjection of the Palestinians to Israeli subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a denial of fundamental human rights, is contrary to the Charter of the United Nations and is an impediment to the promotion of world peace and co-operation.
Likewise, the world, formally recognised the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, their right to their property and to the income derived from their property. The world, through the United Nation, recognised that the continued displacement and dispossession of Palestinian refugees has arisen from the denial of their inalienable rights under the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and declared that full respect for the inalienable rights of the people of Palestine is an indispensable element in the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.
The distinguished American prosecutor at Nuremberg, Robert H. Jackson, formerly a US Supreme Court Justice, made this famous assertion in his opening statement: “And let me make clear that if this law is first applied against German aggressors, the law includes, and if it is to serve a useful purpose it must condemn aggression by other nations, including those which sit here now in judgment.” This crucial promise to the future has not been kept.
There have been no serious effort to apply these legal standards, despite the numerous occasions on which universal human principles have been flagrantly violated by Israel. The international community has failed to carry out their moral responsibity. The terrible events that take place in Palestine, involving the loss of lives of hundreds of Palestinian men, women and children, raise important issues concerning the legal responsibility of the political and military leaders of Israel.
The world cannot overlook the extent to which Israeli participation in prior massacres directed against the Palestinian people creates a most disturbing pattern of a political struggle carried on by means of mass terror directed at civilians, including women, children and the aged. Many well-documented occurences of Israeli terror over the years have taken place.
Israel is clearly responsible for grave violations of international law, and the political and military leaders involved in the undertaking are individually liable for their roles in aiding and abetting the perpetration of massacres, as well as for their failure to apprehend, or even to accuse or lay complaint against, those principally responsible for directing the massacre and those who committed these atrocities.
Human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. This approach, adopted by the international community at the World Conference on Human Rights, applies also to peace. Strict adherence, de facto and de jure, to international human rights law and international humanitarian law is the prerequisite for creating trust and strengthening security in the wider sense. The Israeli occupation of Palestine is the root cause of human rights violations in the area.
However, until such time as authoritative institutions enforce these rights and the world recognises that its morality will be judged on its fulfillment of its legal and moral obligations, morality will continue to be a limitation on state action, difficult to define but impossible to ignore.