How we align ourselves in international conflicts, and with international law & human rights

It’s interesting to see how people respond to the current wars in Ukraine and Gaza.

Some align themselves with the official mainstream US view. They support Ukraine and Israel.

Some align themselves with the reverse and support or justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and support the Palestinians.

Some align themselves with the underdogs – Ukraine and the Palestinians. (I tend to have sympathy with the underdogs and it’s also a common Norwegian view.)

Some may even support Russia & Israel. I imagine some jews in Russia would.

The above is more of a tribal orientation. Our priority is to support one or the other for ideological, identity, or strategic reasons. And it leads us to sometimes overlook or minimize clear violations of international law and human rights.

Some align themselves with human rights and international law and prioritize these over any other sympathies and affiliations. All sides in these conflicts have likely committed war crimes and human rights violations, and it cannot be justified. This is, obviously, more of a modern orientation.

Where am I in this? It’s probably clear from how I write. I am definitely in the last category. I am on the side of international law and human rights, and on the side of the civilians.

Russia is clearly breaking international law by invading Ukraine and committing war crimes. (I am all for supporting Ukraine in defending itself, that’s what I would want for Norway if we were attacked.) The horrific Hamas attack on Israeli civilians is clearly against international law. Israel has committed systematic human rights violations against Palestinians for decades. (Which has fueled a lot of resentment and hatred.) The international community has allowed them to do it, which is clearly very problematic. And Israel is violating international law and committing war crimes in their current and equally horrific attacks on civilians in Gaza. We can understand some of the background for what’s happening – for instance, historically and through a collective trauma lens. And there is absolutely no justification for these actions.

Of course, I am a child of my culture as much as anyone else. These views reflect the views of many in Norway. We tend to be on the side of the underdogs since we often have been the underdogs historically. International law and human rights are highly valued. We want to support Ukraine since we would want to be supported if we were invaded. And there has been a long tradition of sympathy with the plight of the Palestinians in Norway.

Why do I write about this? It may seem obvious to me and many others and it’s still a vital reminder. The essentials cannot be repeated too often, and it’s especially important at a time when tribalism of different types seems to thrive. And even more so because we live in a time when our civilization is under increasing pressure, especially from collapsing ecosystems, and we can expect even more tribalism in response.

This is a time when valuing human life – and prioritizing it over tribalism, ideologies, identities, and desire for revenge – is more important than ever. Not just for their sake, but for our own sake. And not just because escalating the cycle of violence eventually comes back to hurt us, but because it hurts us immediately.

We dehumanize ourselves when we dehumanize others. We hurt ourselves when we hurt others. That’s not just a poetic or wishful way to look at it. It actually happens and we’ll find it when we look.

Image by me and Midjourney

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