Civilians in war

I’m in rural France and barely able to read the news let alone comment on events in Gaza. The article below by Christiane Wilke, however, should not be missed. A slightly different version appeared on the Critical Legal Thinking blog last week. This powerful excerpt is from that piece (and the reference is to the important work of Helen Kinsella and her book ‘Image Before the Weapon’):

“The shadow side of international law’s interest in protecting civilians is that those to be protected are expected to be passive, innocent, and submissive. The civilian is a caricature of the helpless woman or child who does not take part in politics.3 This ideal civilian doesn’t exist in war zones. Where people live under military occupation figuring as liberation, they engage in political action against foreign rule instead of patiently waiting for deliverance. Yet in Gaza and elsewhere, those who politically support anti-​occupation politics are easily cast as un-​civilian.”

Ottawa Citizen

In the media coverage of war, whether reports on individual incidents or the numbing tallies of casualties, the distinction between civilians and combatants is central and frequently contested.

The killing of the four boys who had been playing soccer on a Gaza beach has become emblematic for Israeli violence against Palestinian civilians because the boys were clearly recognizable as children and therefore civilians. When news outlets report the death toll of the uneven conflict, they give details that bolster and yet complicate the distinction between civilians and combatants.

For example, the Washington Post reports that as of July 25, 34 Israeli soldiers and three Israeli civilians were killed in the recent war, whereas 122 armed Palestinian militants, 77 Palestinians with unknown roles, and 645 Palestinian civilians, including 102 women and 122 children had been killed. The level of detailed information on the Palestinian deaths suggests an uncertainty about which Palestinians…

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