Our religion and history are steeped in a belief in the importance of law, including the laws of war.
These are part of our heritage as Jews, many of them codified after the Second World War to ensure that the terrible tragedy that befell the Jewish people could never happen again. These laws recognise that there are circumstances in which military action is legal and necessary for self-defence. However, they also place clear limits on what harm can be done to civilians. It is precisely at times of unimaginable pain and suffering that we need these laws to ensure that our behaviour reflects our humanity. They apply to all irrespective of the conduct of an enemy and no exceptions to those rules can be derived from the level of suffering caused by that enemy. It is no contradiction for Jews to uphold these laws in defence of ourselves and for the protection of others.
As an open letter by some of this country’s most prominent Jewish lawyers set out in the Financial Times, “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.”
International Law cannot be seen as an “unnecessary burden” that can be dismissed in the face of tragedy. It is at these times that it is most important, as Dr Ido Rozensweig, Director and Founder of the Israeli International Humanitarian Law (IHL) non-profit Alma, argues in The Times of Israel.
We are thankful for the expertise of human rights lawyers like Michael Sfard, whose briefing to Parliament in October set out the obligations, considerations and risks relevant to the war in Gaza. Gisha, an Israeli NGO focused on rights and international law in Gaza, has been working for years on this issue and in the past month has released reports, especially about the safe movement of people and aid.
The following video is a news interview by Democracy Now with Michael Sfard, about keeping our humanity.
The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) is Israel’s largest civil rights organisation, and they have been outspoken about the importance of upholding the right to protest and protecting the legal rights of Palestinians in the West Bank, which have both been challenged while the war in Gaza has held public attention.
As top legal experts have repeatedly explained, we have an obligation to uphold the law for all, always.
We have curated resources and links to organisations that help explore further the values within our statement, mainly through the work of organisations in Israel. Our Jewish Values do not necessarily agree with or endorse every word and every position in each resource or from each linked organisation.