Now this is the Law of the Jungle—as old and as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles the tree-trunk the Law runneth forward and back—
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.
––Rudyard Kipling, The Law of the Jungle, 1894
Tales of oppressors and oppressed abound in human folklore. According to one, there in the Valley of Outlaws was an unfortunate village traumatized by a marauder and a handful in his band. That democracy ruled the flock was their favorite boast and that no outsider was allowed to join them was their absolute insistence. The chief had long proclaimed that everything outside the flock was theirs –– so God had willed, he claimed. Hence his men will take it all one by one. Armed with lethal weapons the marauding gang frequently attacked the village on the edge of the Valley. The raiders destroyed the villagers’ crops, looted and burned their property, violated the dignity of women, did not spare children playing hide and seek in orchards. Drunk with power, carrying guns and swords, the band of outlaws inflicted a reign of terror on the villagers by day, even more by night. Those brave enough to complain and lucky enough to reach the powers that be promptly found the judge to be from the pack. The outcome was predictable. The complainant had no chance.
Then there are episodes in recorded history that depict man’s cruelty against fellow humans. Harvey Newbranch, in a powerful editorial published in the Omaha Evening World-Herald in 1920, decried the lynching of a black man outside the Douglas County Courthouse. “The lack of efficient government in Omaha, the lack of governmental foresight and sagacity and energy, made the exhibition possible,” said Newbranch. “It was provided by a few hundred hoodlums, most of them mere boys, organized as the wolf-pack is organized, inflamed by the spirit of anarchy and license, of plunder and destruction.” Further Newbranch observed in his editorial, “Ten thousand or more good citizens, without leadership, without organization, without public authority that had made an effort to organize them for the anticipated emergency, were obliged to stand as onlookers, shamed in their hearts, and witness the hideous orgy of lawlessness.”
The spirit of Newbranch’s editorial rested in a sentence in which he said that “there is the rule of the jungle in this world, and there is the rule of law.” However we still live in a world where the rule of law is nothing but the rule of the jungle.
The report by Israel’s Turkel Commission endorsing the Israeli attack on the Gaza-bound aid flotilla in international waters in May 2010 was entirely predictable. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed the Commission against worldwide protests two weeks after the killing of nine Turkish activists on board the lead ship the Mavi Marmara. The flotilla was on the open sea as it approached Gaza, its one-and-a-half million population living under an Israeli blockade. In setting up the Commission, the Israeli government rejected calls from the United Nations and governments for an international inquiry. The Commission’s members were all Israeli, with two observers, the Northern Ireland Protestant politician David Trimble and Brigadier General Ken Watkin, former Judge Advocate General of the Canadian Forces. News organizations described them both as “friends of Israel.” Even so, Trimble and Watkin had no right to vote on the Commission’s conclusions, making the inquiry an all-Israeli affair. The inquiry was to look into a bloody event that occurred well outside the domain of Israeli law in international waters. Still in Washington, officials of the Obama administration leapt to assert that Israel had the right and the competence to hold such an inquest.
The Israeli government will feel that the Turkel report has served its immediate need for a basis to counter the hostile world opinion. Prime Minister Netanyahu will be relieved at Turkel’s findings: the Israeli military’s interception and capture of the vessels in the flotilla conformed with international law; in most cases the use of force also complied with international law; Israeli commandos acted professionally; and the Israeli blockade of Gaza is legal, there is no violation of humanitarian law. What else could Netanyahu have wished for? Nonetheless, glaring oddities haunt the credibility of Turkel and Israel. Those who were traveling on the Mavi Marmara have numerous accounts of brutality committed by Israeli commandos to tell. There is enough film footage to reveal the behavior of Israeli soldiers during the operation. Yet the Turkel inquiry was barred from questioning the soldiers who took part in the operation, exposing its one-sided character. Prime Minister Recep Tayyib Erdogan of Turkey has led the criticism of the Turkel report saying it had “no value or credibility.”
This is a return to the Law of the Jungle in the twenty-first century, where might is right. Attacking the young and the old, the frail and the sick, male or female in open sea––legal. Axes, clubs, iron bars, slingshots and metal objects are weapons. “In the face of extensive and anticipated violence,” using one of the world’s most advanced military forces to neutralize activists ––self-defense. The soldiers’ conduct –– professional and reasonable. Never mind worldwide condemnation. Law is merely a tool. We are back to medieval barbarism where it is a crime to be an underdog and the victim is responsible for what has happened.