What came first? The chicken — or Protocol I Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949?
Commenter Alex thinks my concern about the killing of chickens belonging to Palestinian civilians during the bombing of Gaza doesn't really capture the gravitas of the Gaza situation:
And since I think this might be a common misconception, I did some legwork and dug up the relevant legal points for you, gentle reader.with all do respect to the atrocity of killing 31,000 chickens: it is horrible and unmoral but it is not a humanitarian crime or a crime against humanity. We can protest, but we can't trial people for that
You might not think that killing chickens could be a crime against humanity, but it can be, and in this case, it is.
What follows is my reply to Alex, lightly edited for clarity:
As to your last point I must disagree in the strongest possible terms. International Humanitarian Law is crystal clear on this matter. The demolition of the chicken farm was completely and obviously illegal. It was a war crime, and quite possibly a crime against humanity.
The first and most clear violation is of article 52 of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, ratified in 1977. Which, notably, Israel has not ratified. However, it is now accepted throughout the world as being customary international law, and the IDF is completely bound by it.
Art. 52 of Protocol I states that
I don't seem to remember chickens having military applications, unless of course the Palestinians have somehow gotten hold of a "Blue Peacock" nuclear device. And foodstuffs that are also (indeed, primarily) used for civilian populations are not legitimate targets.1. Civilian objects shall not be the object of attack or of reprisals. Civilian objects are all objects which are not military objectives as defined in paragraph
2. Attacks shall be limited strictly to military objectives. In so far as objects are concerned, military objectives are limited to those objects which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action and whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage.
3. In case of doubt whether an object which is normally dedicated to civilian purposes, such as a place of worship, a house or other dwelling or a school, is being used to make an effective contribution to military action, it shall be presumed not to be so used.
Secondly, this is also a blatant violation of article 55 of the fourth Geneva Convention, ratified in 1949, and which Israel HAS ratified. Article 55 states that:
In case you were wondering, "imperative military requirements" does not include "because we've blocaded Gaza again", "because we're busy bombing the civilian population" or "because we felt like it".To the fullest extent of the means available to it, the Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population; it should, in particular, bring in the necessary foodstuffs, medical stores and other articles if the resources of the occupied territory are inadequate.
The Occupying Power may not requisition foodstuffs, articles or medical supplies available in the occupied territory, except for use by the occupation forces and administration personnel, and then only if the requirements of the civilian population have been taken into account. Subject to the provisions of other international Conventions, the Occupying Power shall make arrangements to ensure that fair value is paid for any requisitioned goods.
The Protecting Power shall, at any time, be at liberty to verify the state of the food and medical supplies in occupied territories, except where temporary restrictions are made necessary by imperative military requirements.
The definition of "crimes against humanity" contained in the Rome Statute of the ICC is basically really bad things – including war crimes – being done in a systematic way. A system of oppression which derives a people of basic neccesities easily falls under this heading. The destruction of the chicken coops may have been tougher on the chickens than the people in the area. But it was also beyond a shadow of a doubt a crime of war and almost certainly part of a system of abuse which constitutes a crime against humanity.
(all photos by Flickr user Rafahkid, CC-BY-SA. The photos do not display the destruction of this particular chicken farm, but of another destruction of a chicken farm. You could almost think they were targeting chicken farms intentionally! Rafahkid has more photos of this incident in his photostream.)