December 26, 2016 § Leave a comment
The Loss of Ari Shavit
For several decades Ari Shavit was a talented and intelligent columnist in Israel’s left-of-center newspaper Haaretz. A few years ago he published a very good book describing the origins of Israel and an incisive analysis of its culture and modern history: The Promised Land. I was charmed by it and, three years ago, expressed my admiration and reaction on this blog:The Broken Promised Land. https://wordpress.com/post/bobsremonstrance.com/2757
Now, a few months ago, as Israel faces what I believe is an international crisis, for Israel as well as the rest of us, Ari Shavit was disgraced and banished from public discourse because he made an astonishingly stupid assault on a woman, a respected journalist, who visited him for an interview. He admitted his guilt and apologized but, as a person with a list of political enemies as long as his list of supporters, he was fired by Haaretz and voluntarily discontinued public professional life.
Here is an article from The Forward, a more than century old weekly newspaper published weekly in New York with news about Jews and Israel. http://forward.com/news/israel/352891/ari-shavit-sorry-for-trump-style-sex-assault-many-israelis-arent-buying-it/
Without defending Shavit’s indefensible behavior, I can’t resist reflecting how his treatment contrasts so sharply with our political embrace of our own braggart about his history of sexual exploitation of women.
I know Ari Shavit, aside from this scandal, has been attacked from both right and left in Israel. He has vigorously defended Israel’s right to exist and has never ceased criticizing the Palestinians for failing to officially acknowledge it. Still, I wish he were around to offer some measured analysis of the present situation.
The Tragic Timing of Shavit’s Foolishness
It seems apparent to me that Israel is now the hub of an international earthquake that could threaten the safety of the United States and, given the recklessness of three men, perhaps the future of our planet.
The three men? Donald Trump, Bibi Netanyahu and Vladimir Putin.
Remember how WWI began? It began in Austria with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and Sophie, his wife, by a Serbian rebel. WWIII could begin in Israel, a country long characterized as the hub of conflict between violent internal and external ethnic and national groups. One difference: In 1914, there were no nuclear bombs.
In the past decade Israel, led by Netanyahu, has used its huge military force to control the Palestine population by killing its civilian population and encircling it with a network of barriers, hindering its ability to care for its citizens as a free and separate nation. This has been explained and justified with claims of encroaching rockets launched by Palestine’s small cadre of outraged rebels. The rockets rarely reached population centers and the number of their victims were far outnumbered by the all out responsive assault by the Iraeli military.
So, again, I wish for some calm reasoned ideas from someone like Ari Shavit. But his fatal foolishness has disqualified him.
One feature of this conflict has been the erection of “settlements” i.e. housing for Israeli citizens on Palestinian land. These “settlements” have flourished and expanded thanks to the deliberately passive and permissive unwillingness of the Israeli government to stop them. They are in plain violation of international law. The United Nations assembly has repeatedly tried to declare them to be unacceptable. Until last week those efforts were thwarted by vetoes by the U.S..
Last week, finally, the U.S. abstained and the UN measure was adopted with a large majority vote.
The Dangerous Reaction
Netanyahu reacted angrily, claiming that the UN resolution was a betrayal of Israeli and was “engineered by Barack Obama”, with whom Netanyahu has waged an endless political war during Obama’s terms in office. The intrusion into US politics has always been treated with enthusiastic acceptance by the GOP and, ironically, by the so-called evangelical wing of the protestant church in America. Until Putin’s hacking interference with the recent election, Israel was the only foreign power granted permission to meddle with US politics. See: http://forward.com/news/breaking-news/358334/benjamin-netanyahu-seeks-to-rally-israelis-with-no-holds-barred-attack-on-u/
This time, Netanyahu’s tantrum has exceeded his past performances. He has recalled Israel’s ambassadors from the nations who sponsored the UN resolution. and expelled the diplomatic representatives from Israel. Trump has denounced the UN resolution and Obama’s failure to oppose it. Putin, so far as I know, has not yet waded into this morass but I am confident he will perceive how the attacks on the United Nations can serve his international ambitions.
So, as a dangerously ignorant and reckless man becomes President of the U.S., a situation fraught with peril develops in the world’s most dangerous place: The Middle East, where religious conflicts cause common sense diplomacy and rationality to be regarded with suspicion and hostility. To fanatics, dying in a nuclear holocaust evoked by religious zeal would be a privilege.
A second national leader , Netanyahu, is a single minded, religiously oriented, reckless man whose policies invariably choose military might over reasonable searches for peace. His success has depended on the support of the United States and its military strength as well as its alliances and reputation with the nations surrounding his tiny nation. I believe he will eagerly accept the support of Vladimir Putin, who shares his hostility toward the nations of Western Europe.
And Putin will surely see the opportunity to weaken the alliance between the United States and the Western European nations as a means of realizing his goal of restoring the empire which disappeared with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
These three dangerous men have one thing in common along with their militant policies: Possession of nuclear weapons. That is what frightens me and should concern the political leaders who obediently regard Donald Trump as a useful means of attaining their long cherished wish for a collapse of the political and governmental power to limit the corporate greed that nourishes them. They should remember that nuclear war will not distinguish between liberals and conservatives or Christians and Muslims. The dust from their incinerated bodies will mix indiscriminately.
November 22, 2014 § 1 Comment
In response to the murderous attack on Jews worshiping at a Jerusalem synagogue, Netanyahu ordered the demolition of the family homes of the two murderers. He also ordered the demolition of the family homes of two others who recently committed violent attacks in Jerusalem.
All of the attackers are dead. The razing of their homes does not punish them. It punishes their families. The United States has declared this reaction by Israel “counterproductive”. Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Great Britain have denounced it.
This kind of collective punishment is a continuation of the policy that produced the war on Gaza that destroyed thousands of homes and killed over two thousand Palestinian civilians in response to mostly ineffective missiles launched from Gaza into Israel.
Here is a link to a Haaretz article that describes the issue: Demolitions
I believe this persistent policy raises an ethical policy well known to lawyers:
A client is entitled to be zealously defended by his lawyer, regardless of how immoral or illegal his conduct has been. But a lawyer may not, in any way, facilitate a client’s engagement in illegal or immoral conduct. If he does, the lawyer becomes complicit in the illegal or immoral activity.
I believe Israel has placed the United States squarely in the middle of this dilemma. We continue to furnish arms, supplies and money to Israel while Israel continues to engage in conduct that offends basic rules of fairness and justice. Collective punishment imposed on innocent people in response to violent acts by individuals violates international law.
This latter principle is sometimes subject to nuanced exceptions. For example, when a drone bombs a house to kill an enemy, innocent people are often killed. Such tragedies are excused as “collateral damage”. In my opinion this excuse is a lame one in some instances but, regardless of that argument, the Israeli policy of home demolition is different. The home demolitions ordered this week are specifically aimed at innocent victims.
We impose “sanctions” on Iran and Russia when they pursue policies that violate our values. I think we should consider whether sanctions should be imposed when Israel does the same thing.
It also seems chutzpah for Netanyahu to accuse Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas of “inciting” the violent episode at the Jerusalem synagogue. The “incitement” is plainly related to the brutal occupation of Palestine by Israel, the expansion of illegal settlements on the West Bank, the network of checkpoints that serve as daily interference with normal travel by Palestinians and conflicts between Jews and Muslims at Jerusalem’s holy sites. The demolition of homes of families who had nothing to do with the crimes committed by two now dead family members will certainly incite more violence.
One final thought: Suppose, after two brothers bombed the Boston Marathon, Barack Obama had ordered the demolition of their families’ homes. Do you have any doubt that a federal court would have granted a Temporary Restraining Order, prevented the demolition and probably ordered an immediate psychiatric examination of Obama to see if he was deranged?
During the recent Israeli war on Gaza, Netanyahu often said, “How would you Americans react if Mexico was lobbing missiles into your country?” It was an effective argument because our history is replete with disproportionate responses to minor events. The explosion on the Maine and subsequent war against Spain; the naval bombardment of Vera Cruz on 1914, in response to the arrest of 6 sailors in Tampico; and the assault on Ft. Sumter triggering the Civil War come to mind. But I’ll bet he doesn’t make a similar argument about the home demolitions, because we have a legal system that wouldn’t permit it and a set of values that wouldn’t condone it. We don’t punish the families of wrongdoers.
August 23, 2014 § 3 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 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.