Former Supreme Court president Lord Neuberger has joined other high-profile Jewish lawyers to call for Israel to be guided by the law in its response to the Hamas attack.
The group, which also includes Philippe Sands KC, Richard Hermer KC, Danny Friedman KC, Anthony Metzer KC, Jon Turner KC, Adam Wagner and Sandra Fredman of the University of Oxford, have written an open letter in the Financial Times stressing the importance of international law ‘as a guide to all’.
They described the Hamas attacks on Israel earlier this month as war crimes and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, saying the group’s actions ‘were not simply a moral outrage but an egregious violation of all norms of international law’.
The group, writing in their capacity as Jewish lawyers, stressed that Israel has a clear right in international law to respond in self-defence and a duty to defend its citizens.
But they said international law must also provide a framework for governing how Israel must respond, and that any nation conducting armed conflict was bound by this, no matter what the provocation.
‘To be clear, collective punishment is prohibited by the laws of war,’ said the letter. ‘Equally, international law requires combatants to ensure minimum destruction to civilian life and infrastructure. An intent to cause indiscriminate damage, rather than behaving in a precise manner to minimise damage would, if established, constitute a grave violation of international law.
‘In the conduct of any military campaign, politicians and commanders alike must be careful to ensure that their words do not imply to their troops that the laws of war can be disregarded, nor employ language whose effect is to dehumanise a civilian population.’
The group acknowledged that in these early days when emotions are so raw, many might be reluctant to remind Israel of its international law obligations, but they disagreed.
‘In these times of pain and terror the notion that there are laws that we must all live by is challenging but essential. Jewish history teaches us that we cannot give up on them.’