A few months ago I decided that I needed to further my education. Whether it was my alarming descent into middle age that sparked this panic, or genuine love of academia, I am not certain, but either way I found myself meeting with the Dean of English in order to discuss how they could accommodate my irrational desire to complete my English Honours, given the fact that I have little free time, and am very lazy. It turns out that they would manage to do so, but I would not. And so we parted ways, promising that I would be back when ready to commit. I might even have meant it and suspect that in the near future we will be sharing a tea (the coffee at Wits has not really improved since my day), and discussing the need to include Comparative Literary Theory in the course.
It reminded me of a further futile exercise I conducted some years ago when I felt that it was imperative to register and study for my LLM (Masters of Law) with a particular focus on International Law. It does need to be said that my strategy then was to be armed with every argument possible for when the Department of Minerals and Energy would come and confiscate mines and minerals. Of course they turned out to be smarter than that, and had no real interest in taking over the mines, because mining is hard work and they settled for allowing you to toil for them after which they taxed the spoils. But that is an aside.
What I did realize during my very brief courtship with International Law is that it is very complex. It is really not simple at all – and I even have some books to prove it. I consider myself fairly competent, but this was not for sissies. Which is why I am so impressed with every article that I am reading with regard to Israel and its actions and when some throw around accusations and theories all relating back to this rather complex area of law. I could barely understand where International Law starts and domestic or regional law begins, and don’t even get me started on the intricacies of jurisdiction, which really confused the hell out me. Add to that multiple resolutions that govern everything from tuna to tungsten, rules of engagement and protocols, international courts, United Nations resolutions and investigations and committees and sub committees and “Human Rights” Councils and NGOS and I am left scratching my head wondering how anyone can suggest with any that Israel is breaking a whole bunch of them. And do so with confidence.
But they do, and we even argue back. It reminds me of a time soon after we retuned to South Africa from living in America when my 4 year old son asked my 6 year old if they supported Bafana Bafana or the Yankees? It’s not an argument that can make much sense – but it is age appropriate.
We however are adults (some of us are even almost nearly middle aged) and the question is simply, as hardly any of us have a clue what we are talking about, do we engage with the accusation of Israel transgressing every international law known to man, and if so, where does our responsibility lie? Are we required to become experts in the field (I have some books that I can let go at a very reasonable price) or is it best to leave it well alone?
Thankfully we have amongst us people of intellect who actually do know what they are talking about. I refer to Hillel Neuer of UN Watch, to Allan Dershowitz, to Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, to name a few. I refer to those such as Elie Wiesel who have lived our history but are working to protect our future. The answer is to read their articles on Israel’s so called transgressions of International law, follow their process and not get caught up in the emotional aspects of a rational argument. An allegation of the breach of International Law (or any law for that matter) is one of fact, there was a breach or there was not. But when the allegation is confused by the presentation of pictures of dead babies it becomes difficult to separate all the factors, as we all feel the pain and the heartache of those who are victims of this war.
The conflict between rationally knowing that Israel is doing that which needs to be done, and the feeling that we want it all to stop so that killing ceases and our boys can come home, is our challenge. It is the challenge of knowing that taking steps to protect our people will make us the pariahs of the world. It is the challenge of knowing that although Hamas and the ineffectual UN shoulder the responsibility for much of the damage to the people of Gaza, we still feel the pain of their suffering. We need to be clear and we need to be rational. It is not he who shouts accusations the loudest who wins but those on the side of fairness and peace and human dignity. And whereas we know that we live in an unjust world, where the media does not adhere to its own lofty goals, where the United Nations struggles with its own relevance and integrity, where anti-Semitism lies in-wait even in calmer times, what choice to do have but to rely on our own moral compass that we have followed from the times of Abraham.