August 24, 2014 § 1 Comment
A Travis County grand jury has charged Governor Rick Perry with having violated two sections of the Texas Penal Code: 39.02 and 36.03. Those sections are as follows:
§ 39.02. ABUSE OF OFFICIAL CAPACITY. (a) A public servant commits an offense if, with intent to obtain a benefit or with intent to harm or defraud another, he intentionally or knowingly: (1) violates a law relating to the public servant’s office or employment; or (2) misuses government property, services, personnel, or any other thing of value belonging to the government that has come into the public servant’s custody or possession by virtue of the public servant’s office or employment.
(b) An offense under Subsection (a)(1) is a Class A misdemeanor.
(c) An offense under Subsection (a)(2) is: (1) a Class C misdemeanor if the value of the use of the thing misused is less than $20; (2) a Class B misdemeanor if the value of the use of the thing misused is $20 or more but less than $500 ; (3) a Class A misdemeanor if the value of the use of the thing misused is $500 or more but less than $1,500; (4) a state jail felony if the value of the use of the thing misused is $1,500 or more but less than $20,000; (5) a felony of the third degree if the value of the use of the thing misused is $20,000 or more but less than $100,000; (6) a felony of the second degree if the value of the use of the thing misused is $100,000 or more but less than $200,000; or (7) a felony of the first degree if the value of the use of the thing misused is $200,000 or more.
(d) A discount or award given for travel, such as frequent flyer miles, rental car or hotel discounts, or food coupons, are not things of value belonging to the government for purposes of this section due to the administrative difficulty and cost involved in recapturing the discount or award for a governmental entity.
Sec. 36.03. COERCION OF PUBLIC SERVANT OR VOTER. (a) A person commits an offense if by means of coercion he:
(1) influences or attempts to influence a public servant in a specific exercise of his official power or a specific performance of his official duty or influences or attempts to influence a public servant to violate the public servant’s known legal duty; or
(2) influences or attempts to influence a voter not to vote or to vote in a particular manner.
(b) An offense under this section is a Class A misdemeanor unless the coercion is a threat to commit a felony, in which event it is a felony of the third degree.
(c) It is an exception to the application of Subsection (a)(1) of this section that the person who influences or attempts to influence the public servant is a member of the governing body of a governmental entity, and that the action that influences or attempts to influence the public servant is an official action taken by the member of the governing body. For the purposes of this subsection, the term “official action” includes deliberations by the governing body of a governmental entity.
The Factual Background
The Travis County District Attorney presides over the Public Integrity Unit, an agency charged with investigating and prosecuting public officials who are found to have misused their authority in some corrupt or criminal manner. That unit is funded with money appropriated by the Legislature.
In April, 2013, acting on a phone tip from a motorist in Austin, the police arrested Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg and charged her with DWI. A video of her arrest and jailing, later released to the media, showed her behaving in a drunken and embarrassing way. She plead guilty and served half of a 45 day jail sentence.
DA Lehmberg is a Democrat. Perry is a Republican.
On June 14, 2013, Governor Perry vetoed the appropriation of funding for the Public Integrity Unit. Before doing so, he publicly demanded the resignation of DA Lehmberg and stated that, unless she resigned, he would veto the funding. She refused to resign. According to press reports, the Governor and members of his staff engaged in negotiations before June 14, offering to appoint a Democrat to replace Lehmberg if she would resign. Those negotiations were not successful.
At the time the funding was vetoed, the Public Integrity Unit was engaged in an investigation of possible criminality related to the handling of millions of dollars worth of public funding for a cancer research facility. There were allegations that supporters and large contributors to the political campaigns of the Governor and other GOP officials were wrongfully benefited.
According to press reports, two other Texas District Attorneys were found guilty of DWI in the recent past, during Perry’s term of office. One of those DWI charged involved the DA’s collission with another motorist. The Governor took no notice of those convictions, nor did he question the budgets for the offices of those DA’s. Both of them were Republicans.
The Facts Surrounding the Indictments
In June, 2013, Texans for Public Justice, a liberal group, filed a criminal complaint against the Governor, charging him with wrongfully using the threat of a veto to force the resignation of DA Lehmberg.
Ms Lehmberg recused herself from any action or decision based on that complaint.
A District Judge in San Antonio, a Republican appointed by then Governor George W. Bush, appointed Mike McCrum to act as special prosecutor to handle the complaint. McCrum had served as an assistant U.S. Attorney when G.W. Bush was President. His nomination to become U.S. Attorney was supported by Republican Senators John Cornyn and Key Bailey Hutchinson.
McCrum, according to a report by a San Antonio reporter, interviewed over 40 witnesses in the course of investigating the charges against Perry. He presented the evidence to the Travis County grand jury which, as stated, handed down a “true bill”, reflecting their opinion that there was cause to believe that Perry had committed crimes,, sufficient to warrant a trial based on those charges.
The Issues and the Non-Issues
Governor Perry has not been charged with wrongfully exercising his right to veto the funding for the Public Integrity Unit. He has not been charged with publicly calling for DA Lehmberg to resign. Like any citizen, he was and is free to express his opinion about her or any other public official. Perry’s indictment does not have anything to do with whether or not DA Lehmberg should have, or should now, resign and discontinue her duties as District Attorney. That is a matter for her and the voters of Travis County to decide.
It is a crime, however, for him or any other public official, to use his authority to force, or to try to force, another public official to stop performing his or her duties, or to perform them in some way contrary to his or her oath of office. That is what Rick Perry is charged with having done.
So, all the high-toned pontificating by the likes of Professor Alan Dershowitz and David Axelrod about the “sketchy” charges and the “criminalization of politics” has more to do with their cherished images of moral rectitude than with their understanding of the facts and the law.
As usual, the Texas Observer has the best balanced account of the controversy I have read. Here is a link.
August 23, 2014 § 2 Comments
My Judgment of Protective Edge
I have recently been critical of Israel’s conduct of a war on the Palestinians living in Gaza. I agree. of course, that Israel had the right, indeed was obligated, to respond to Hamas rockets fired toward Israeli civilians. When, after the war started, Israel discovered Hamas tunnels enabling Hamas forces to launch surprise attacks in Israeli territory, Israel had the right to destroy them.
By criticizing Israel’s Protective Edge war in Gaza I do not intend to equate Israel with Hamas. The declared aims of the two are completely different and the standards of morality professed by Israel are different from that of Hamas, especially with respect to their willingness to injure and kill innocent civilians.
These differences do not, however, excuse Israel from culpability for the results of the tactics and weaponry they have used to wage war. I reject the idea that one combatant in a war is entitled to wage war according to the moral standards of its opponent. That idea leads to a downward spiral of barbarity. It is the equivalent of what in our own country’s recent history was known as lynch law: Where the cruelty of the crime claimed to have been committed by the suspect is offered as an excuse to lynch him.
Israel does not disagree with this analysis. They do not claim the right to respond to barbarity with barbarity. They do, however, respond to criticism of their tactics in Protective Edge by pointing to the nature and history of Hamas. They point to the thousands of rockets launched by Hamas toward Israel. Israel claims that they take reasonable measures to avoid civilian casualties, while Hamas deliberately seeks civilian casualties.
As the days and weeks of the conflict elapse, Israel’s defensive rhetoric becomes less and less persuasive. The numbers and the pictures do not match the words.
Hamas has killed 64 Israeli soldiers and 2 Israeli civilians. No significant damage has been done to Israeli infrastructure.
Israel has killed over 2,000 people living in Gaza, approximately 2/3 of whom were innocent civilians. Over 10,000 homes of Gaza citizens have been destroyed and an estimated 30,000 more have been damaged. The infrastructure of Gaza, its water, electricity, schools and health facilities have been either destroyed or significantly damaged. The surviving population in Gaza are living in primitive conditions.
Some Historical and Current Resources
I have been reading some sources of information about the history of the present conflict. It seems that every conflict in the Middle East is an episode in a long history that sometimes encompasses many centuries. I have made no effort to become an expert on this trove of information, but I have found a few summaries that were interesting. By citing them, I do not assert that they are unbiased. I have found very little that would pass that test.
Here is an editorial from Haaretz dated July 28, 2014.
Here, for some comic relief, is an interview on Fox News of Rick Santorum concerning Obama’s “failure to support Israel”. Toward the end of the interview, you can almost see the impatience of the Fox guy when Santorum fails to use the leading questions to attack Obama sufficiently to satisfy Fox.
Ari Shavit is a favorite of mine. I have previously written about the valuable information I gained by reading his recent book, “My Promised Land”. He impresses me as a clear-eyed Israeli who, despite and, in some ways, because of his love and admiration for his native land, writes with skill and truth about its conflicts and challenges. Here is his op/ed piece in Haaretz. He challenges liberals like me to recognize the evil of the various Muslim groups that have emerged in the Middle East. He warns against treating them as innocent victims while criticizing the excesses of Israel’s response to them. In his final paragraph he acknowledges the “. . .justified criticism against Israel (for the occupation, settlements, racist fringes). . . .”
Finally, here is a powerful article written by Ari Shavit for Haaretz a couple of days ago. It expresses better than I can, the way I feel about Israel and the proper reaction to its policies.
Ari Shavit places me squarely where I often find myself: Opposed to the acts or omissions of one side of a conflict while equally or, as here, even more opposed to the opponents of that side. I remember well years ago when I wrote a brief and a law review article about the right of “Remonstrance” and received very complementary responses from people eager to use my effort as justification for their hatred of government – the so-called “militia” crazy fringe groups.
Finally, here is an article by a Haaretz blogger, an Israeli liberal, who expresses the kind of troubling issues that have affected me for the past six weeks.
The View From Palestine
In addition to Haaretz, I have been reading articles posted by Nadia Harhash, a Palestinian woman who has managed to retain her gentle intelligence while living in the chaos of Protective Edge, an achievement I regard with admiration.
Here is a long essay posted by Ms. Harhash. It reads like a “stream of consciousness” rendition of how she reacts to living in Gaza. I posted a comment, dissenting from a sentence in her essay and she replied. English is not her native language but she manages to convey some of her feelings and thoughts.
The Dahiya Doctrine and Other Legal Issues
Here is a long essay by an American anthropologist, Jeff Halper, who has lived in Israel since 1973. He is a well educated critic of Israel who has written several books about the Israel-Palestinian conflict. It is worth noting that his presence in Israel, free to express his opposition to the policies of its government, is strong evidence that Israel practices admirable tolerance of dissent.
The Dahiya Doctrine was approved in 2006 during an Israeli conflict with Lebanon. Here is the way Dr. Halper describes it, quoting an Israeli military commander:
“In the second Lebanon War in 2006, after destroying the Dahiya neighborhood in Beirut, the Hizbollah ‘stronghold,’ Israel announced its ‘Dahiya Doctrine.’ Declared Gadi Eisenkott, head of the IDF’s Northern Command,
‘What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006, ‘will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on…. We will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases.… This is not a recommendation.This is a plan. And it has been approved.'”
Four years later, during another conflict, the Jerusalem Post article stated that the Dahiya Doctrine was still being debated within the Israeli military leadership. I don’t know whether that doctrine governs today’s IDF strategy in Gaza, but some of the reports of attacks on civilian locations look suspiciously like it.
For example, here is story from yesterday’s Haaretz reporting that Israel’s bombs killed three military leaders of Hamas. Buried in the account of this success is the following description of last Tuesday’s effort to kill Mohammed Deif, the commander of the Hamas military wing:
“Even more significant would be the death of Mohammed Deif, the shadowy figure who has survived several previous Israeli assassination attempts with severe injuries and was the target of Tuesday night’s attack. Mr. Deif’s fate remained unknown Thursday, though the body of his 3-year-old daughter, Sara, was recovered from the rubble of the Gaza City home where five one-ton bombs also killed Mr. Deif’s wife, baby son and at least three others.“
This raises a question: Was ten thousand pounds of explosives an appropriate way to react to a report that the subject of a long hunt was in a home? Was there no way for troops on the ground to go to that location and either kill or capture Deif without killing his wife, son and three others?
This has absolutely nothing to do with anything serious. I will add it because, when I read it, I escaped, for a few moments, from death and war and fear. Here is today’s post from skywalker>
August 5, 2014 § Leave a comment
I have recently equated Benjamin Netanyahu with what I perceived as an excessive and occasionally immoral assault on innocent civilians in Gaza. I read Haaretz every morning. Its coverage of the war in Gaza includes criticism of the IDF’s bombing and shelling of civilian targets in Gaza, as well as support for the Israeli effort to destroy the tunnels and confiscate the rockets that are designed to kill and injure Israeli civilians. Its opinion pages reflect several ways to see the conflict, some of them squarely contradictory to others.
Netanyahu The Moderate?
I am now beginning to understand more about the political context in Israel. This morning’s paper links to a taped interview that discusses the political campaign now beginning that will determine Netanyahu’s future as an elected Israeli official. It appears , contrary to some of my comments about him, he may be a moderate voice in a fractious political situation, responding to an electorate insistent on a strong military attack on Hamas, but trying to limit the extent and duration of that attack to something short of an all out war of total destruction and annihilation. Without being too simplistic, it appears that he, like some members of our GOP, has his own Tea Party to contend with And, again like the GOP, this does not make him a leftist, just not a fire-breathing advocate of unconditional surrender as the only honorable goal.
Here is a link to the Haaretz story: Netanyahu .
I do not think these facts alter the moral issues I have been writing about. Politics does not excuse decisions, but it does explain the forces affecting the behavior of politicians.
Chutzpah – The Ridicule and Trashing of Obama and John Kerry
Even given the political context, I think Netanyahu, has been unwise to allow himself and his political allies to attack John Kerry and Barack Obama. I know he has insisted that “America has been terrific.” But he has been quiet during a week when Israeli media and various political spokesmen labeled John Kerry a “nebbish”; pillioryed him for drafting an outline for a negotiated settlement of the conflict in Gaza that included lifting Israel’s blockade, even though it also included a statement requiring attention to security for Israel,; and called him naive for appearing in public apparently friendly with representatives of Turkey and Qatar.
This episode is only the latest of several which reflected the hostile nature of Netanyahu;s personal relationship with President Obama. This dates back to the election campaign of 2008, when Netanyahu made clear his hope that Romney would become President. It echos George W’s defiant declaration that those who were “. . . not for us will be regarded as allied with those against us.” [I have not taken the time to go back and get George's exact words. This expresses the substance of his contribution to our nation's historic rhetoric.]
Before Israel decides to become a partisan participant in U.S. political conflicts by attacking its President and Secretary of State, it should remember that foreign policy is conducted by the President, not by the House of Representatives or the Senate. Barack Obama is the President and Hillary Clinton is probably going to be the next President. I don’t think it is a winning strategy for Israel to try to dictate the foreign policy of this country by undermining confidence and political support for our President. At some point, political attacks evoke political reactions and, for Israel, a political war with the U.S. is not a good idea.
Some History of the Close Relationship Between Israel and the United States
In 1948, while memories of the Holocaust were fresh, President Harry Truman was the first national leader to recognize the new nation of Israel. For more than twenty years thereafter America’s support of Israel came without serious consequences because our adversary was the USSR, not Islam or the neighbors of Israel in the Middle East.
This changed on September 11, 2001, when Al-Qeada successfully attacked us. Since then, every development in Israel’s continuing conflict with its neighbors in the Middle East has directly affected the security of America and its international relationships. That dramatic change has not prevented the United States from remaining steadfast in its support of Israel, financially, politically and militarily, even when the U.S. was alone, opposed by a majority of other nations.
These circumstances and this history does not, of course, give the U.S. the right to control Israel’s politics and policies. It should, however, discourage Israel from publicly attacking America and its government. IWe are partners. We may sometimes disagree, but those disagreements should be respectful, and not regarded as appropriate for making domestic political points. John Kerry has done nothing to indicate any lack of support for Israel. He is doggedly working toward a peaceful end to Israeli wars. It is a thankless job. He is entitled to respect, not opprobrium.
August 3, 2014 § Leave a comment
The response to my latest post on this blog included one from a woman in Palestine. Check out her blog @ http://www.nadiaharhash.wordpress.com
She has an administrative position at Al-Quda University in Palestine. Her comments confirm my assumption that Palestinians will not blame Hamas for the bombing and shelling of their homes and neighborhoods; they blame the ones firing the missiles and shells and dropping the bombs. I don’t suggest exploring her blog because I agree with everything she writes. I suggest it because Israel has now required that all journalists covering the conflict in Gaza submit their stories to Israel for censorship. I don’t know whether the Guardian, Al Jazeera, CNN et al. will submit to this but, if they do, getting information will become difficult.
That doesn’t mean that opinions from Palestinians will be reliable. They may or not be. It just means that it may become difficult to get opposing viewpoints and comparing opposing ideas is helpful.
It saddens, but does not surprise me to read the bitter anger expressed in some of her writing. Her blog also includes a link to a cartoonist who posts pictures depicting both Israeli and U.S. figures as heartless enemies of women and children. I fear this outrage will reinforce the determination of Palestinians and their supporters around the world to resist efforts for peaceful coexistence with Israel and reconciliation with its American ally.
A Surprising Statement By Mark Regev
Awhile ago, I was watching CNN as Wolf Blitzer interviewed Mark Regev, Israeli spokesman, about the disparity between civilian Palestinian casualties and Israeli civilian casualties. Regev said that the disparity had nothing to do with the relative intentions of the Israelis and Hamas. He said that Hamas had fired 3,000 rockets at Israel and that 200 of them had been “intercepted” by Israeli’s defensive shield. I replayed that statement three times, thinking I had misunderstood it.
That means that 2800 rockets were fired, landed in Israel and succeeded in killing less than five civilians. Until I heard that, I thought the “Iron Dome” umbrella was responsible for the impotence of Hamas rocketry. I now wonder what the targets of those rockets are. By mentioning this I do not mean to trivialize the injustice of Israeli civilians enduring nightly air raid sirens and the sound of explosions near their homes. I just found it amazing that those Hamas rocket launchers are apparently so hopelessly incompetent while the Israelis are killing and wounding a large number of Palestinians in spite of their claimed efforts to avoid civilian casualties.
The Cease Fire Argument
The Israeli talking points about this conflict emphasize the fact that Israel has been willing to stop shelling and bombing Gaza during brief cease fire periods while Hamas has either been unwilling to agree or, having agreed, has not stopped launching rockets during the cease fire period. I assume this latter claim is based on the Friday night incident when a fire fight broke out at the entrance of a tunnel near Rafah.
I think these Israeli claims should be weighed in light of the peculiar meaning given the phrase “cease fire” in this conflict. Israel has insisted on continuing its destruction of tunnels during the “cease fire”, but is outraged that Hamas continued to resist the destruction of the tunnels during the “cease fire”. I think it is absolutely understandable that Israel wants to destroy the tunnels. I am less impressed with the idea that, during a “cease fire”, Hamas was supposed to watch passively while Israel proceeded to destroy them.
I think one reason Israel is losing the public opinion war is that most people look at pictures and listen to opposing claims and, consciously or unconsciously, think to themselves, “If that was me, how would I react to that event or to those arguments?” Expecting soldiers engaged in a war to stand down while their opponents continue hostilities does not fit most people’s expectation of wartime behavior.
August 2, 2014 § 5 Comments
Winston Churchill famously declared, “In wartime, truth is so precious she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” As I try to sift through the cacophony of accusations about blame for the deaths and injuries of innocent civilians in Gaza, I recall that statement. The Friday evening suspected capture of an IDF officer by Hamas has evoked a violent response that appears to have extinguished, at least for now, the flickering candle of hope that the carnage might soon end.
Friday evening, about 9:30 pm local time, some Hamas soldiers emerged from a tunnel near the Israeli/Gaza border. IDF soldiers, arriving there to destroy the tunnel, encountered them. One Hamas soldier appeared to be wearing suicide explosives. A firefight ensued. Both sides sustained casualties and an IDF officer was seen being dragged into the tunnel. It has been assumed that he was captured. Hamas has denied that they have him. President Obama has called for his immediate and unconditional release.
This incident occurred during the first hour of an agreed ceasefire. It was a plain violation of that agreement. Some have suggested that the Hamas troops may have been unaware of the ceasefire. Brief cease fire periods had occurred intermittently during the previous ten days. The fact that the firefight occurred less than an hour after the cease fire began lends some credence to that possibility, but there is no evidence either to confirm or refute it.
Israel immediately declared that the ceasefire arrangements had been breached and, within an hour, began a wholesale assault on Rafah, a small village near the incident’s location. using both tank-mounted artillery and areal bombardment. At least 65 Palestinian civilians were killed and about 350 were injured. Since then, Hamas has renewed the launching of rockets into Israel and Israel has resumed assault on targets in Gaza as well as a wide-ranging search for the captured soldier.
The Guardian has posted a comprehensive account of the incident. Here is a link: Guardian
Media Reports and Reactions
These events have been reported and discussed at length by journalists and commentators in Israel and around the world. Some have likened the capture of the IDF soldier to the kidnapping of an Israeli man several years ago, which led to extended negotiations. Finally, after five years in captivity, the Israeli was released in exchange for the release of over a thousand Hamas members and supporters held by Israel. Others have objected to this comparison, arguing that capturing opposing soldiers is a normal and generally accepted occurrence during a war, not usually thought of as a kidnapping.
Here is another account of the incident from BBC which I found helpful because it includes a timeline and some details conveniently organized as well as a video of the newscast. BBC .
Here is blog post by a Haaretz writer, Peter Beinart. Beinart This blogger is a liberal American journalist who has been writing and reporting on Israeli issues since 1985. He is a practicing Jew whose parents were Holacost survivors. He has definite opinions that conflict squarely with those of Benjamin Netanyahu and his political supporters, opinions he makes no effort to conceal.
I offer his views of the background of the present conflict because the facts he cites are different from those often cited by both American and Israeli news sources. Beinart is a controversial but respected journalist, having worked for the N.Y. Times, New Republic as well as Haaretz. He has written a book about some aspects of Israeli history.
The current dispute was briefly debated by Beinart and Alan Dershowitz and another commentator during a news program I found interesting. Dershowitz .
Some Thoughts of Mine
I am put off by the constant claim by spokesmen for Israel that Hamas uses “human shields” as tactics in their war against Israel. I am skeptical of these claims.
First, when a family is destroyed while in their home because the building where their home is located is flattened by Israeli-launched missiles or bombs, it is a stretch for me to accept the idea that they were “human shields”. The Israeli spokesmen explain this kind of carnage results because someone from the building fired on IDF troops; or because the IDF had information that some Hamas member was in the building; or because Hamas told the occupants not to respond to an Israeli warning by leaving the building. The first two of these justifications seem insufficient to me and the third seems extremely improbable.
Taking number three first, I find it incredible that a mother would put her children, herself or her other family members in danger out of loyalty or devotion to Hamas. My advice to Israel: Stop using this one. It won’t sell.
One and Two are also troublesome to me. They would be reasonable rules of engagement if opposing armies were facing each other on a battlefield where lines were drawn and plainly recognizable. In that case, if fired upon, any army would fire back with whatever force was available. But the war in Gaza is urban warfare conducted in tightly packed neighborhoods where there are very limited numbers of safe places. In those circumstances, I think it is incumbent on the IDF to make diligent efforts to determine whether a building is occupied by innocent civilians before destroying it. The pictures I have seen don’t show little cottages where single families live. They show multistory buildings where several apartments are located. The occupants can’t control every nook or cranny where some marksman may be crouching. It is not reasonable to me that anything less than a complete atmosphere of passivity and tranquility is required to avoid being targeted for a massive assault.
Finally, like anyone else, I bring to these judgments my own history. WWII occurred when I was ten or eleven. I read Life magazine and watched newscasts in darkened theaters, waiting for Saturday afternoon cowboy movies. One episode I remember very well concerned Lidice, a small town in Czechoslovakia. Some British commandos killed Reinhard Heydrich, a Nazi official and a close friend of Hitler, near that town. There was a claim that one or more people in Lidice were complicit in the killing. In response, the Germans executed 192 men and sent all the women and children to concentration camps, where most of them died. Here is link to an a account of that event: Lidice .
To my young eyes and ears, that was a frightening event. I thought it was unbelievably brutal and vicious. The idea of mass punishment for the acts of specific individuals was shocking to me. I am long years away from that memory. My judgments are now informed by many other events. I neither equate nor relate Israel to the evil minds that caused that horror. But I realize that childhood experience affects my reaction to justifying innocent death and injury by citing hostile actions of unrelated combatants.
My Tort Lawyer Brain
For over fifty years I made my living trying lawsuits and arguing about liability for civil wrongs, or torts. A fundamental principle underlying the concept of tort law is: Every person is responsible for the natural consequences of his or her acts and omissions. The application of this principle to human intercourse depends on the concept of causation. That is, “What are the ‘natural consequences’ of particular acts or omissions?” Centuries of experience with these ideas has crafted some rough outlines to guide and inform the answers to this question.
One answer is: A person’s behavior will not be judged according to his claim of personal intent. Adults are not allowed to protest, like thoughtless children, “I didn’t mean to.” Their acts and omissions will be measured against the behavior of a fictional and imaginary “reasonable person.” So, when Israel’s defenders say, “Hey! You know us! We don’t believe in killing innocent children. Those are the beliefs of the other guys, not us.”, their acts and omissions will drown out their words unless they conform to “reasonable person” rules.
Some things are undeniable: Artillery shells and bombs are not precision killers. When they are aimed at civilian neighborhoods, the intent to kill civilians is obvious unless reasonable steps have been taken to insure that civilians have been evacuated. But, even if this is impractical, the shelling and bombardment may be excusable if it is the only way to accomplish a reasonable goal. This, as I understand it, is Israel’s defense. That’s why they destroy the electric power system that is essential for providing potable water. That’s why they shell and bomb Rafah because it might be harboring the captors of an IDF soldier.
One thing about which I have seen little comment is the ability of Israel to visually monitor everything and every movement within Gaza.In my last post on this blog I included a link to a July 23,,2014, Haaretz story. The link was labeled “Revenge”. The writer described an incident when some Hamas soldiers emerged from a tunnel wearing IDF uniforms. At first, the Israeli forces were confused. Then they used an areal photograph, taken by a drone, which enabled them to see that the Hamas soldiers were carrying Kalashnikov rifles, not IDF rifles.
This raises a question: If that kind of surveillance is available, why can’t the IDF tell whether women and children have entered a building and have not emerged? Are they using the technology available to them to avoid killing innocent people, or are they using it only to more efficiently destroy neighborhoods?
Further Discussion of the Human Shield Argument
The universally condemned “Human Shield” tactic is designed to prevent an opposing force from attacking the shielded force by hiding behind innocent civilians. The success of the tactic requires that the attacking combatants be made aware of the civilian shield.
In order to fit the IDF’s assault on civilians in Gaza into this model, it must be assumed that they are aware that they are killing and wounding innocent civilians. This precludes any claim that they do not intend to harm innocent civilians. It assumes that the IDF is aware that their rules of engagement endanger innocent civilians and elects to proceed anyway.
I don’t see how they can have it both ways. Either they don’t know that innocent civilians are endangered when they loose their missiles or drop their bombs, or they know they are slaughtering innocent civilians and have made the moral calculus that killing their target is sufficiently important to justify the “collateral damage”.
The tragedy of the Gaza conflict is that Hamas gains strength and leverage, regardless of which alternative is true. In this time of 24-hour-news-cycles and ubiquitous TV screens, Youtube and Iphone cameras, the pictures of grieving mothers and dead children are doing more damage to Israel than the generally ineffective Hamas rockets. Israel should heed the bitter lessons learned by Bull Connor and LBJ: Pictures of children attacked by police dogs are powerful weapons. The picture of a naked Vietnamese girl, skin burned by Napalm, standing alone in the middle of a road, was indelibly etched on enough brains to defeat the war plans of a President determined to win against a much less powerful adversary.
The Moral Difference
When I think about these issues I never forget or ignore a vital fact: Israel represents and embodies a core of compassion, morality and devotion to justice that is, so far as I can discern, entirely foreign to Hamas. Israel would never identify with, or ascribe to, the kind of hatred expressed in the founding document upon which Hamas is based. The first paragraph includes this statement: “Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors.‘ The document goes on for several pages and never deviates from this kind of violent rhetoric. I don’t recommend that my readers waste their time reading the whole document but, so that it will be available for reference, I offer this link: Hamas .
The pages of Haaretz demonstrate that, even in the emotional cauldron of war, while sons and daughters are in uniform and in harms way, there is an active debate within the Israeli community. While most Israelis support the actions and tactics that I find objectionable, there is a vocal and articulate minority that opposes them. And that minority has not been muzzled or suppressed. It is easy to imagine how differently this kind of public debate would be treated by Hamas.
The tragedy of the Gaza conflict in Gaza is, as I see it: Israel is behaving in ways that are contrary to the ideas and principles that have guided it during centuries of struggle and strife. We should never do anything to weaken or threaten Israel, especially when their enemy is so bereft of morality and justice. But we should do whatever we can to stop them from furnishing their enemies with ways to undermine their reputation for humane justice, not merely because of our concern for Israel, but also because the better part of our own cultural values demand it.
July 29, 2014 § 1 Comment
I have subscribed to the English language digital edition of Haaretz, a major newspaper in Israel. I want information about what is going on in Israel and Palestine unfiltered by the editorial judgment of U.S. journalism. Haaretz is a newspaper with a political viewpoint. It is a liberal newspaper in a country where the right wing is presently in total control of its legislature as well as its leader, Benjamin Netanyahu. So, especially in this time of war, I understand Haaretz will not afford me an accurate view of majority sentiment in Israel. I choose Haaretz because I trust it to be honest. I expect it to be willing to acknowledge contrary viewpoints.
Ari Shavit is a major contributor to Haaretz and I trust him because his book, “My Promised Land”, impressed me with its evenhanded treatment of the relationship between Israel and the Arabs.
Recent Items From Haaretz
So, having explained my choice, I offer some items from recent editions of Haaretz. They surprised me because they were written by people whose lives are regularly disturbed by the wail of sirens, Hamas rocket explosions, hurried trips to underground shelters; whose friends and relatives are serving in the IDF (Israeli Defense Force). Despite the context of their lives, they write with compassion and acute concern about the behavior of their country toward its adversaries.
Here is an article from the July 28, 2014 edition of Haaretz: Morality
Here is an article from the July 23,2014 edition: Revenge
Here is a frontpage article from tomorrow’s edition: Law Professor
Tolerance and common sense are the usual casualties of a war, so a hapless law professor is labeled as a treasonous villain because he includes a solicitous remark about his students’ safety in a routine email about the timing of exams.
Complexity From David Brooks
David Brooks is not a favorite of mine. He occasionally reviews a book or an article that is interesting but his analysis of current events often buries the truth in wide ranging complexity and ambiguity. His article in today’s Times entitled “No War Is an Island” is a good example.
According to Brooks, the conflict in Gaza is a puppet show manipulated by string-pullers as diverse as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Qatar, Iraq and, I don’t know (I may have nodded off), maybe Lithuania. He claims that Hamas’ rocket attacks on Israel are really aimed at Egypt, because Egypt blocked tunnel commerce with Palestine; and Egypt did so because they wanted to weaken Hamas; because Hamas was allied with Turkey and . . . . I could go on with this but it would waste your time.
I don’t think Hamas needed any prodding from Egypt to wage war against Israel. It is true that the aftermath of the “Arab Spring” has been a series of conflicts throughout the Middle East, generally based on religious conflicts between different factions of Islam. I doubt those conflicts explain the animosity between Israel and Hamas.
The war in Gaza and Palestine is an example of how modern technology and tactics have transformed warfare. This began following the Revolution in France in 1789. The revolutionaries faced united opposition from the surrounding European and British monarchies. In response, the leaders of the Revolution called on all able bodied French citizens to arm themselves and become a citizens army to defend the revolution. This army, subsequently led by Napoleon, ended the era when professional armies, equipped and supplied by rival Kings and Queens, faced each other in set-piece battles to resolve arguments over disputed territories.
This trend reached new levels of horror in the American Civil War, when Sherman’s “March to the Sea” destroyed Southern plantations, crops and towns, deliberately waging war on civilians in order to crush the rebellion.
It finally attained its ultimate development during WWI and WWII, when whole populations were destroyed by artillery, bombs, poison gas, machine guns and nuclear weapons that did not discriminate between soldiers and innocent women and children.
In the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel has employed a time-tested weapon of mass punishment: the blockade, which is designed to impoverish and starve into submission an entire population. After several years of experience as blockade victims, the Palestinians, led by Hamas, struck back with anti-civilian weapons of their own: rockets generally aimed at Israeli civilians. For the past two weeks, the Israelis have responded by attacking the densely populated Gaza neighborhoods with bombs, missiles and naval bombardment.
Although Israel claims that they take pains to spare civilians, their “pinpoint precision” has proved to be destroying a building full of families if a shot is fired from that building. There is little evidence that attention is paid to the number of innocent civilians who are sacrificed in order to kill a single suspected Hamas military official. Israel claims that warnings are given before the shells are launched, but there is no evidence that such warnings are accompanied with suggestions about where the targeted victims are supposed to seek refuge.
Such warning claims are hard to credit, given the well known obstacles to movement imposed by Israeli occupation, even before those barriers were enhanced by the addition of thousands of well armed troops.
One justification for the invasion is the Israelis’ understandable interest in finding and destroying a network of tunnels dug by Hamas as avenues to invade Israeli population centers, attack them by surprise and commit mass murder. Every fair-minded person can understand that Israel has a right to prevent such assaults.
What I find less understandable is why finding and destroying these tunnels requires the wholesale destruction of buildings and homes surrounding them. The tunnels are not destroyed by dropping bombs on them. They are destroyed by placing explosives in them and at their entrances, collapsing them. Women and children presumably are not living in tunnels and if they are in a tunnel, getting them out before setting off explosive charges would seem like a reasonably easy task.
Suppose the police learned that a vicious gang was operating in Houston’s Fifth Ward; that caches of weapons and drugs were rumored to be located there. No one would conclude that drone strikes should be called in to drop bombs on those living there. If a strike force of police was dispatched to search the area, apprehend the gang leaders and confiscate the caches of contraband, it might lead to some abuses, like groundless “stop and frisk” incidents and some unnecessarily destructive searches, but it would not lead to shooting hundreds of innocent men, women and children.
Such a circumstance might lead to some firefights between gang members and police. Some innocent people might be hit accidentally. But the police would not destroy every house from which a shot was fired at them. They would not drop a bomb on every building in which a gang leader was living.
Okay, I know that Hamas is a more formidable enemy than a Houston gang, but the IDF is better armed and equipped than HPD. The differences don’t, to me, explain why the IDF finds it necessary to devastate an entire neighborhood in order to locate and destroy tunnels.
I don’t apologize for my opinions. I may be wrong. It wouldn’t be the first or the last time. I have thought about these issues a long time. A few years ago, I read Jimmy Carter’s book. I thought he was too harsh in his judgment of Israel, but I respected him as a man of character and compassion. When I read “My Promised Land”, it struck me as exactly what I was comfortable with: An account by a proud and loyal Jew that expressed honest opinions about the policies and history of Israel.
I write this blog post with hesitation and reluctance. My family includes cherished members who are Jews. I understand and appreciate the importance of Israel, a nation bought with oceans of Jewish blood and earned by centuries of survival in the face of unimaginable evil and hatred. American Jews have long served as a conscience for American liberalism, always at the leading edge of every battle for idealism and justice. I believe, however, they are now on a course that will lead only to endless and escalating war that will undermine the trust and affection they have enjoyed from supporters throughout the world.
I think Netanyahu has faced himself and his nation with a dilemma: Hamas and Fatah can agree to an end to the conflict only if it also relieves their constituents from the oppression of Israeli occupation and the blockade. But Netanyahu cannot agree to any concession without presenting Hamas with a victory that will enhance their political strength and ability to attract more support. There is a whisper in today’s press that Netanyahu would agree to an international force assuming control over Gaza; disarming Hamas and reopening the borders and internal passages to normal traffic and commerce. I don’t know whether that is a possibility but it would certainly be an improvement over the alternative.
Such a solution would provide a temporary “out” for the conflicting parties and would merely presage further negotiations concerning Jerusalem, the settlements and the Palestinians’ “right of return”. If peace could prevail and some reasonable degree of normality achieved, those other issues could be debated indefinitely, as I suspect they will be. Meanwhile, children could return to school and adults could resume normal lives with access to health care, jobs and physical security.
July 27, 2014 § 1 Comment
Today I spent five or six hours at a “Summit Meeting” of activists and organizers working for Wendy Davis’s campaign. I thoroughly enjoyed it; met some interesting people; learned some digital tricks about political organizing and listened to some very smart, articulate youngsters present some very smart ideas about how to prepare for and execute an effective get-out-the-vote [GOTV to the cognoscenti] program.
Wendy Davis attended the meeting and made a rousing speech.
The organizers convinced me they have an amazing database of potential supporters, complete with voting histories and other clues to the likelihood that, if they vote, they will or will not probably vote for Wendy Davis. Those who issued the invitations to this meeting presumably had access to this database. [I was invited because I have done some phone-banking and hobbled around a neighborhood one Saturday afternoon with a third-year political science major from Harvard who is spending the summer doing some field work with Battleground Texas.]
My problem is: I looked over the audience, probably about 150 people from Harris, Ft. Bend and Montgomery counties, and saw only four or five Chicanos, none in leadership positions. When Wendy spoke, she said nothing about the migrant children flooding our Mexican border or the vicious and callous reaction of the Tea Party-dominated Texas Republican Party. Here is a link with some information that apparently has been overlooked by the Davis campaign. Chronicle
The irony of the experience, at least for me, was that the meeting was held in the Ironworkers union hall on Dahlia street in the East End of Houston. The route to that location is along Lawndale, a major street in that part of town, where the signs on the shops and restaurants are in Spanish and the area is obviously a Hispanic neighborhood.
I made my pitch to a couple of the organizing staff and they listened politely. I, of course, have no credentials to be giving advice to political organizers, but I do so anyway. I am very tired of living in Texas under the domination of jackasses like Rick Perry, Ted Cruz and Dan Patrick. And it seems obvious to me that, unless Wendy Davis can interest Chicanos in her campaign and can overcome their notorious failure to vote in off-year elections, she cannot be elected.
Well, enough about that. My friend, Dave Shapiro, who constantly shops the Cloud for pertinent political commentary and generously emails his finds to his friends, sent me an article in Politico Magazine, written by Doug Sosnik, a political consultant and former adviser to President Bill Clinton. Here is a link: Sosnik
In this article, Sosnik sounds the alarm that the Democratic Party is in danger of being “taken over” by liberals. He writes that the Blue Dogs are being replaced by “populists” who may even be able to force Hillary to move leftward. Horrors! He apparently believes that the days of “triangulation” and the DLC may be gone forever.
Sosnik cites polls showing that Americans have lost faith in their government. He concludes, based on this evidence, that the “big government” policies of political liberals may be a doomsday prescription for the Democratic Party unless the leftists can “reconcile” their ideology with less government.
I think this reasoning is nonsense. Working class Americans have every reason to distrust government based on the policies of Sosnik’s old boss and the Bush policies that took over where Clinton left off. Thomas Pikkety has furnished a boatload of data to show that unregulated or inadequately regulated capitalism leads to steadily increasing degrees of wealth inequality that enriches the few at the expense of the many. Clinton’s repeal of Glass-Steagall was the exact wrong way to prevent Pikkety’s nightmare scenario. His reckless facilitation of NAFTA style globalization only added to the destruction of American working class economic health. Here is a link to an article that catalogs some of that story: Glass-Steagall [I have written about this at some length in a post entitled "The Bankenstein Fiends".]
Economic justice in America will not be restored by weakening government. It will be restored by government policies designed to benefit the ninety-nine percent who don’t have tax loopholes and 15% capital gains rates, whose taxes are withheld from their wages without benefit of clever accounting tricks and overseas hiding places. It will be restored by pro-union policies that protect the right to organize and bargain collectively with company ownership. It will be restored by programs that hire workers to rebuild infrastructure. That will not happen if economic policy is left in the hands of private corporations and billionaires and politicians beholden to them.
In other words, government will be trusted when it becomes trustworthy. And that doesn’t equate with indifference to the plight of ordinary Americans.