An inevitability of war is those responsible for starting it will go to extremes to absolve themselves of responsibility for the war’s consequences. Mostly, the ultimate consequence is born by civilians as we saw in the Ukraine on Thursday, and the lesser reported conflict in Gaza on the same day.
The difference between the two conflicts lies in the way political leaders seek to absolve themselves from the injury or deaths of civilians. Putin is using the less imaginative approach of casting blame on the Ukraine. Israel is attempting to gain absolution by taking a pseudo legalistic approach. It is asking the journalists who enter Gaza to sign a waiver absolving Israel of any responsibility.
The form says:
I am aware that neither the MOD nor the IDF shall bear any liability whatsoever for damage or [unreadable] resulting from military operations in and around Gaza or otherwise caused to my person or [p...] during, or as a result of, my presence in or entrance to Gaza.
Of course, there is more to the document. It states that the signee shall not sue the MOD or IDF for damage sustained during or resulting from their presence in or entrance to Gaza. Just to make sure all the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed, the signee agrees to compensate the IDF if any individual or company sues the IDF on their behalf.
The United States had a similar waiver for journalists covering the war in Iraq.
An ugly truth of war is both sides have the same interest in spinning the “facts” of civilian deaths in their favor. Reporters are the closest there is to a neutral third party to report on the events as they occurred. The only difference between a journalist reporting on the conflict from within Gaza and other civilians is the journalist is there to tell the story, ideally independently from the spin of either side in the conflict.
They are also civilians like the people on the Malaysian aircraft, and the people attempting to going about their lives in Israel and in Palestine.
All civilians have the same rights and it means that the combatants have the same responsibility to take all reasonable steps to avoid killing them. Whether the civilian in question is a comatose patient in a hospital, or a reporter telling the story of war their rights are the same, and the respective combatants obligations are the same.
So what does the Netanyahu government hope to gain by forcing reporters to sign waivers intended to absolve Israel of any liability in the event of the journalist’s injury or death, or any potential property damage?
Obviously, a part of it is an attempt to absolve Israel of the responsibilities that go with armed conflict – at least in the courtroom.
There is something more sinister involved, as Amnesty International pointed out when it condemned the 2003 version of the journalist’s waiver.
The organisation is concerned that one aim of these new and drastic restrictions is to prevent outside monitoring and scrutiny of the conduct of the Israeli army. It is also concerned that these restrictions will lead to more killings in Gaza and calls on the army to immediately end the use of excessive and unlawful force.
The organisation has repeatedly demanded that international human rights monitors be deployed in Israel and the Occupied Territories to ensure that international standards are abided by.
These waivers are an effort to control the narrative by discouraging journalists from monitoring and scrutinizing the conduct of Israel’s military. Reducing or eliminating the scrutiny means winning in the court of public opinion.
In short, governments that require journalists to sign such waivers want to assure that truth is the first casualty of a war, with the protection of civilians a close second casualty.
It means that war will become increasingly barbaric with fewer people knowing just how barbaric it has become.