Thus wrote George Orwell in England Your England in 1941. He went on to explain:
“They do not feel any enmity against me as an individual, nor I against them. They are ‘only doing their duty’, as the saying goes. Most of them, I have no doubt, are kind-hearted law-abiding men who would never dream of committing murder in private life. On the other hand, if one of them succeeds in blowing me to pieces with a well-placed bomb, he will never sleep any the worse for it. He is serving his country, which has the power to absolve him from evil”.
I refer to this passage here in connection with Judge Richard Goldstone’s report, about which I’ve written in a previous post, where the judge accuses Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes and possible crimes against humanity during their three-week war in Gaza in January 2009.
Last week, the UN human rights council voted to endorse this report and this might well lead to an international criminal court investigation should Israel and Hamas fail to mount their own credible independent inquiries into the war crimes allegations within six months.
And why mention Orwell? Because many in Israel, and elsewhere, still believe, if to use Orwell’s words, that as they are “only doing their duty” then their country will “absolve them” should things go wrong; for instance if 252 children under the age of 16 perish as a result of indiscriminate fire used in the course of a military operation.
Well, some things have changed since Orwell’s days and current international law requires armies to discharge their duties while adhering, even in the heat of battle, to certain rules. When countries seem to try and hide unlawful actions and “absolve” suspected war criminals, the international community often intervenes, as it does in the above case.
While it is impossible to bring such abstract entities as “countries” to justice, it is indeed possible to ask individuals – soldiers, generals, even ministers – to account for their actions. Quite frankly, I think it is a good thing that some Serbs, Africans, Arabs and – yes Israelis too – who have been involved in conflicts, have their balls (excuse my French) shaking a bit, before landing in such places as Britain, Spain, Belgium, out of fear that upon emerging from their aeroplanes they might be shown the connection flight to The Hague.