IDF violates obligations “Double standard on Gaza” (editorial, WJW Aug. 7), distorts the obligations of Israel, and all parties to conflicts, to minimize civilian casualties in war. The choice is not, as you put it, between “worrying more about civilian losses” and “survival,” but in adhering to obligations under the Geneva Conventions to protect civilians during the conduct of war. That means discriminating between military and civilian objects, assuring that military means are proportionate to the objective and minimizing harm to civilians even where military targets are nearby. The evidence from Gaza is that the IDF violated these obligations by, for example, shelling in the vicinity of schools and hospitals. The fact that Hamas flouts the laws of war is no excuse for Israel to do likewise. Thus, the State Department and President Obama’s criticisms of IDF shelling of schools and hospitals did not hold Israel to a different or higher standard than the U.S. applies to itself and others. Aware of its obligations, the U.S. military has sought to avoid or reduce civilian casualties, for example in Afghanistan, such that incidents of civilian deaths become newsworthy and subject to investigation. Yes, the U.S. has committed violations of the laws of war in recent years, most notably in the torture of detainees, and they warrant condemnation. But we have come a long way since Vietnam, where indiscriminate bombing as occurred there would today likely be considered off-limits as a war crime. As there is only one standard, when Israel – or the U.S. or any other country – violates the laws of war, resulting in grievous harm and death to civilians, it should be accountable. The State Department and the president were right to demand it, and so should we.
LEONARD RUBENSTEIN Alexandria