The Law of the Innocents – 19 October 2023


The idea of protecting civilians in conflict is longstanding, not just through the Geneva Accords and other international rules established following horrific world wars. Some 1,300 years ago, the protection of women and children was invoked by St Adomnan of Iona, noted as St Columba’s biographer.

In 697 AD at Birr, Ireland, he promulgated the “Law of the Innocents” to try and ensure the safety of women and children during wars between Celtic tribes. Though other aspects of this code would still be viewed as barbaric, with mutilation prior to execution in some instances, the protection of women and children was sacrosanct.

That, all these centuries on, we see barbarism against innocents is horrific. All such attacks are to be deplored irrespective of who perpetrated them, and Hamas stand condemned for their barbarity. But Israel’s response is disproportionate, crossing lines and breaking laws, not just the Geneva Accords but also Adomnan’s.

The Gaza bombardment has seen more bombs dropped in six days than the USA did on a monthly basis against Isis or in a year in Afghanistan. Not only is the ordnance used greater but the location’s smaller and more densely populated. The idea that one million people could relocate to southern Gaza would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic. Bombing schools, hospitals and even UN Relief and Works Agency buildings is unacceptable, even if fighters were there. Yet they’re not, according to UNWRA’s declaration regarding their own sites.

The medieval siege being conducted against the enclave’s in breach of international laws and values we seek to ensure are upheld, even in the worst of times. As Tory MP Sir Crispen Blunt has suggested, it may constitute a war crime. Although the USA and Israel reject the authority of the International Court of Justice, the UK does adhere and should beware of supporting actions lest it find itself implicated.

War on Gaza is bad enough for those already suffering there and that includes those shamefully kidnapped by Hamas. But another intifada in the occupied territories and war in Lebanon are possible. A widening of the conflict threatens the security of all. Israel has nuclear weapons, Iran may well do and, as has been shown, both have leaders prepared to act abysmally.

Protecting your citizens is one thing, subjugating others quite another. The Hamas violence didn’t occur in a vacuum. It came about after more moderate Palestinian leaders have been marginalised, seen as powerless in the face of Israeli aggression. It’s only a few months since I read Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish’s magnificent book “I shall not hate”, detailing life in Gaza and the loss of three of his children to past Israeli bombing. I fear his reaction then will not be the attitude of most now.

In Gaza with over two million citizens, half under 21 and where unemployment is endemic, the future’s bleak for most. They’re ripe for falling prey to voices offering martyrdom and the supposed glory that goes with it. Seeking to destroy Hamas will simply continue the cycle of violence, especially when it threatens the lives of innocent women and children.

A ceasefire and the de-escalation of an increasingly dangerous situation for the world is required. But there also must be justice for the Palestinian people.