The Jerusalem Post reports that the Observer newspaper has been forced into a retraction by the Israeli embassy in the UK after it ran an oped highlighting the west’s hypocrisy in its current threats towards Syria. The author compared Israel’s known use of white phosphorus in Gaza to the alleged use of sarin by Bashar Assad in Syria.
The Observer backtracked at the weekend, stating: “Contrary to the impression given in ‘Assad is a war criminal, but an attack will do nothing for the people of Syria’ (Comment, last week, page 34), white phosphorus, used by Israeli forces in Gaza in 2008, is not a chemical weapon as understood by the Chemical Weapons Convention, and its use is in itself not ‘in breach of all international conventions’.”
The problem is that the correction is not a correction; it simply pollutes any understanding of international conventions. White phosphorus, which burns through victims’ skin and can burn through lungs if inhaled, certainly is a chemical weapon if it is used in areas where humans – civilians or combatants – are likely to be found. Such as the centre of Gaza City. It is only allowed if its sole use is to provide a smokescreen for military operations on the battlefield. Israel clearly violated the terms of such usage and used phosphorus as a chemical weapon.
Rather than apologising to the Israeli embassy, the Observer itself – rather than one (“corrected”) pundit – ought to be running serious commentary denouncing the west, including the US and UK, for their hypocrisy. The US is documented to have used white phosphorus in Falllujah, Iraq – not least by Israel, which cited that as a precedent to use it in Gaza. And whether or not they are covered by the Chemical Weapons Convention, munitions based on depleted uranium, widely used by the US-UK allies in Iraq, have caused innumerable deaths, horrific birth defects and suffering.
There is simply no moral high ground from which the west can lecture other countries.