One of the more positive developments related to the controversy over Middle Eastern studies at Columbia University is that professors who teach in the field no longer enjoy immunity from criticism. Without checks and balances or, as Columbia law school dean David Schizer put it, when controversial opinions are "encrusted as orthodoxy," professors are given license to misrepresent contested or weak ideas as undisputed fact. Such a state of affairs at Columbia helps to explain why the director of Columbia's Middle East Institute, Rashid Khalidi, has felt free to misstate international law as relates to the killing of Israeli soldiers.
On at least four occasions, Mr. Khalidi has publicly stated that Palestinians have the legal right under international law to resist Israel's occupation. In a June 7, 2002 speech he delivered before the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Mr. Khalidi said: "Killing civilians is a war crime. It's a violation of international law. They are not soldiers. They're civilians, they're unarmed. The ones who are armed, the ones who are soldiers, the ones who are in occupation, that's different. That's resistance." The following year he was quoted as saying, "Killing civilians is a war crime, whoever does it. But resistance to occupation is legitimate in international law."
Queried for an October 23, 2003, article in the Sun reporting that Israel's education minister had lodged a formal protest with Columbia over the Khalidi remarks, Mr. Khalidi responded by saying in an e-mail to the Sun that it is "disgraceful that a minister in a government that commits similar war crimes against civilians on a far greater scale - with complete impunity and without the slightest remorse - should have the gall to protest my reported comments on legitimate resistance to an unlawful and violent occupation now in its 37th year." To the New York Times, in an article that appeared on February 28, 2005, Mr. Khalidi said: "Under international law, resistance to occupation is legitimate."
The time is overdue to challenge Mr. Khalidi's statements in respect of international law. Going by his 2002 speech quoted above, Mr. Khalidi is arguing that Israeli soldiers serving in the West Bank are belligerent combatants and thus legitimate targets of violence. The key question that Mr. Khalidi omits is who is entitled to attack the soldiers under international law, or, in other words, under the Geneva and Hague conventions and the relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions and binding treaties. Mr. Khalidi doesn't distinguish between Palestinian combatants and noncombatants, which suggests that in Mr. Khalidi's view all Palestinians have the right of "resistance."
According to the Geneva conventions, however, only lawful combatants are given permission to kill other combatants in the course of armed conflict. Or as Nicholas Kittrie, a university professor at American University law school, says, "If you are not a law belligerent, you are not given that license to kill anybody." Who is a lawful combatant? It turns out that in international law - we speak of Article IV of the Third Geneva Convention - the particulars are spelled out, including carrying arms openly and having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance. The "resistance" carried out by the Palestinians against Israeli soldiers flagrantly violates those conditions. A suicide bomber who blows up soldiers at a checkpoint does not qualify. Or, as Alan Baker, legal adviser to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, put it in a report from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, "There is no such right of resistance to occupation in international law."
If it weren't for a Columbia law professor, George Fletcher, who last month challenged Mr. Khalidi to a debate, one might have assumed that either everyone at Columbia either agreed with Mr. Khalidi or simply did not care that he was wrong. President Bollinger has rattled on about the fine points of First Amendment law, but his employee is running around misrepresenting the particulars of international law. It seems that if it concerns the murder of Israeli soldiers, Mr. Bollinger is not going to confront the head of his Middle East Institute. It is the great tragedy of the situation at Columbia, which has become a college at which the authorities seem indifferent to the substance of the arguments made by those who teach the students.