March 9, 2015 § 3 Comments
Forty-seven Republican Party Senators dispatched a letter to the Nation of Iran warning them that any agreement between Iran and the United States negotiated by the President of the United States would be worthless and revocable in two years when a new president is elected. Iran responded to the letter with a classic example of politely, but firmly, labeling the Senators’ letter for what it is: Ignorant meddling into serious business being conducted by competent responsible agents of six nations.
Jay Bookman, columnist and blogger for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, has commented on this episode in a blog post. It expresses my reaction better than I could. Here is link to his blog post. I urge all readers of this blog to read it.
Oh, by the way, I assume that it is superfluous for me to satisfy your curiosity: Both Texas Senators signed the letter. Texas has replaced Mississippi as a haven for jackasses and launching pad for every stupid governmental policy idea floating around. We have not one, but three Texas Coo-Coo Birds readying themselves for campaigns to become President of the United States. Stay tuned.
Here is a link: Jay Bookman
February 27, 2015 § Leave a comment
When I posted the Dr. Strangelove piece I thought Bibi Netanyahu was merely trying to thwart the efforts of the United States to negotiate a peaceful settlement with Iran. And by the way, I forgot to mention that five other nations are participating in that effort. I now have new information, thanks to my friend Sissy Farenthold, that Dr. Strangelove is probably not content to sabotage the peace process. He has already arranged for his next move if, despite his efforts, peace talks are successful.
Here is link to an article that describes his Plan B: Bombs .
According to this article, he has obtained the Saudis’ permission for his bombers to cross Saudi Arabia on their way to bomb nuclear sites in Iran. He apparently believes that, even if his bombs are not effective to destroy Iran’s nuclear capability, the lawless damage would make it politically impossible for Iran to continue to negotiate for peace.
It took me awhile to appreciate the true evil of this plan. Are we supposed to defend it? If it evokes a response that threatens Israel are we obligated to protect Israel? Just how far should we continue our sponsorship of this guy and his “to hell with international law” political friends in Israel? Is our “special relationship” asymmetric; Israel does as it pleases and our judgment and policies are ignored, opposed and publicly denounced? Mutual defense pacts are commonplace in international relations. Does our “special relationship” delegate to Israel the authority to decide whether we abandon peace efforts and wage war against Iran?
I’ll tell you what I would do if I were Iran: After demanding International denunciation of Israel’s unprovoked attack I would calmly proceed with the peace process, coupled with a demand that, as evidence of good faith, western powers agree to assist in repairing the damage done by Israel’s bombs. I would seize the episode as a means of decoupling or at least weakening the “special relationship” between the United States and Israel. As a Shiite Muslim nation, I would see this as an opportunity to gain allies against the threat of ISIS and potential threats from Sunni nations like Saudi Arabia. The relinquishment of any ambition to have nuclear weapons would be a small price to pay for reducing the military prowess and influence of Israel. I would also, of course, appeal to the United Nations to brand Israel’s bombing as a breach of international law.
I know this suggestion is unrealistic: Expecting a proud nation to react to an attack by continuing efforts to make peace. I believe, however, if it were possible, it would gain Iran valuable prestige and allies. It would also highlight Israel as a reckless rogue nation. I think the United States and other secular democracies would be quick to support Iran’s choice of peace instead of war. Iran’s economy would benefit from establishing itself as a safe and stable place for investment. An Iranian leader with the courage and talent to accomplish the result I suggest would become a strong candidate for the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize.
Both the U.S. and Iran would benefit from establishing a new and cooperative relationship. We supported the Shah who was deposed by a revolution. The aftermath of those events included the hostage controversy during the Carter administration. Iran is one of four nations labeled sources of terrorism, subject to severe economic sanctions. As we face conflict with ISIS and its allies, Iran, a Shiite Muslim nation, is a natural ally. If we could establish a new, tolerant relationship with Iran it would reduce the chances that it would pose any military threat to Israel.
I hope the article I’ve cited is not correct. If it is, I believe it describes tactics that will do incalculable harm to Israel. My respect and admiration for Israel is old and deep, reinforced by my love for my Jewish grandchildren. I regard these developments with the same sadness I feel when I see my own government wrecked by right wing zealots. [Given their present position on immigration, I think of them as white wing zealots.]
I post this so my readers can share my fears and, perhaps, with their comments, convince me that I am being too pessimistic.
February 26, 2015 § 3 Comments
The House Call
John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, without consulting with the President and heedless of its potentially disruptive effect on current negotiations with Iran concerning its nuclear program, has invited Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister facing a serious election contest within a few weeks, to address a joint session of Congress, an opportunity rarely offered to a foreign leader and never before offered as a brazen act of hostility toward the President of the United States.
Mr. Netanyahu, also without consulting the President, accepted the invitation and has declared his intention to deliver a speech deliberately designed to undermine and disapprove the President’s efforts to reach a peaceful negotiated agreement that would ease fears that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.
Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 cult classic anti-war comedy was entitled Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. The movie was about a demented person’s delusional effort to start a nuclear war.
Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister, is determined to force a war between the United States and Iran. That war, given the volatile state of world politics and the current number of overlapping and interlocking conflicts, could, if there is a miscalculation by any of the combatants or their allies, result in a nuclear tragedy.
The Middle East, where most of the probable participants are located, is a place where suicide bombing is a weapon of choice. The phenomenon usually referred to as “mutually assured destruction” has so far been an effective deterrent to nuclear war. In most Middle Eastern countries it would not serve because the religious zealots who live there eagerly await the Apocalypse and have little apprehension about dying for reasons believed required by their religious beliefs.
For the past few years, the United States has been trying to dissuade the government of Iran from developing nuclear weapons. That effort has employed progressively serious economic sanctions coupled with both formal and informal negotiations.
In recent months, following Iran’s election of new and less bellicose government leadership, a team of negotiators led by our State Department has engaged in serious negotiations with representatives of Iran’s government concerning this issue. Those negotiations have now reached a crucial stage. According to published reports, there is some hope that Iran may, at last, agree to enforceable measures that will, at least, slow and postpone development of its nuclear capability and provide hope for verifiable steps insuring that it will not develop nuclear weapons.
A vital factor affecting the negotiations is the opinion of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Here is a link to an informative and somewhat hopeful article from the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists concerning this issue: Khamenei Like all negotiations, success depends on shared confidence that proposals are made in good faith; that if accepted, they would be adhered to.
The failure of this effort at peaceful settlement of these issues can, and probably will, have grave consequences for Iran, the United States and Israel. If Iran insists on a course that could lead to a nuclear attack on Israel, the United States will be forced into yet another Middle East war. As stated above, such a war would be dangerous and its outcome and long term consequences impossible to predict. The recent emergence of ISIS and various other similar military groups adds to the complexity and risks that will confront the United States if it becomes enmeshed in such a war.
Enter Dr. Strangelove
The United States confronts these dangerous possibilities because it is committed to safeguard the safety of Israel. Instead of supporting efforts to forestall a possible nuclear holocaust that could obliterate Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu has joined factions of his supporters in opposing all efforts intended to achieve a peaceful settlement with Iran.
Some articles related to such efforts have equated them with Neville Chamberlain’s negotiations with the Nazis in the 1930’s, and equated Chamberlain with President Obama. History has labeled Chamberlain naive and branded him with his speech upon returning from Munich which featured the often quoted phrase, “Peace For Our Time”. [Usually misquoted as “Peace in our Time”]
According to Netanyahu, Iran cannot be trusted to abide by any agreement and, hence, negotiations are merely a ploy to buy time to build nuclear weapons to destroy Israel. The inevitable logic of this argument is that war between the United States and Iran is the only sensible solution. All indications that peaceful negotiations are succeeding evoke more intense and raucous efforts to sabotage them from Netanyahu. The sabotage tactics have now culminated in this unprecedented effort by a foreign elected leader openly to engage in political conflict with the elected leader of another sovereign nation.
Our Form of Government
Lest it be forgotten, we are governed by a Constitution. Article II describes the duties of the President. It states, in part, “He shall have power, with the advice and consent of the Senate, to make treaties . . . .” This authority has been construed to give the President the authority to negotiate with other countries. The Supreme Court, in a 1936 decision sustaining the right of the President to impose an embargo on the export of arms, wrote, “The President is the sole organ of the federal government in the field of international relations – a power which does not require as a basis for its exercise an act of Congress, but which, of course like every other governmental power, must be exercised in subordination to the applicable provision of the Constitution.” United States v. Curtis-Wright Export Corporation.
It is very plain that neither the House of Representatives nor Benjamin Netanyahu, as an elected leader of the State of Israel, should intrude like bulls in a china closet into the fragile and important negotiations between the United States and the nation of Iran. It is time for our government to send Netanyahu home with a message: Our President will respect your proper concern for the safety of your country, but we will not countenance your effort to dictate the policies we design in the interest of our country. Our obligation to Israel is to protect it from harm but the tactics and policies related to that matter must be and will be made and designed by us, based on our judgment and our system of government. Their design will not be and has not been delegated to you or your government.
There are two Jewish lobbyist groups in the United States. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, usually abbreviated AIPAC, generally supports and promotes Netanyahu’s policies. The other, Jewish Voice for Peace, operates as a grass roots political organization. Its membership is not limited to Jews. It supports, advises and furnishes information to elected officials generally identified as liberals. Its primary aim is to promote peace between Israel and Palestine based on security and fairness. Here is a link to an article written by a spokesperson for that organization concerning the issues discussed here: JVP
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.
March 9, 2014 § Leave a comment
This is my reaction to Ari Shavit’s book, “My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel”. The book describes the creation of Israel in sixteen chronological chapters beginning in 1897, when the first Zionist pioneers arrived and established a small colony and ending with a shrewd discussion of the present internal and external conflicts which dominate the headlines about Israel. I will try to express my own opinions with humility appropriate for a gentile non-believer whose previous knowledge of Israel’s history was based on the Exodus movie starring Paul Newman and Sal Mineo and the novel on which it was based. Although I have a Jewish son-in-law and three treasured Jewish grand-children, I have no claim to “insider” status. Shavit, a talented journalist, states plainly his own opinions but also includes those of others with whom he disagrees. I think his book contains important information that will aid those trying to understand the present issues that threaten peace in the Middle East.
Ari Shavit is well known in Israel as a columnist for Harretz, a major newspaper as well as a TV commentator on Israeli politics and government policy. This book also was, to me, convincing evidence that he is a gifted writer. Every page is strewn with apt metaphors and graceful word-pictures that seem to flow effortlessly from his mind. Here are some examples:
His great-grandfather was Herbert Bentwich, a wealthy successful British copyright lawyer. He was one of the earliest Zionist leaders who began the process of establishing what became Israel. Here are a couple of sentences from Shavit’s description of Bentwich’s first trip to Palestine. “. . . as the flat-bottomed steamer Oxus carves the black water of the Mediterranean, Bentwich is still an innocent. My great-grandfather does not wish to take a country and to establish a state; he wishes to face God.” And later: “He arrives on April 16 at the mouth of the ancient port of Jaffa. I watch him as he awakens at 5:00 a.m. in his first-class compartment. I watch him as he walks up the stairs to the oxus’s wooden deck in a light suit and a cork hat. I watch him as he looks from the deck. The sun is about to rise over the archways and turrets of Jaffa. And the land my great-grandfather sees is just as he hoped it would appear: illuminated by the gentle dawn and shrouded by the frail light of promise.”
Throughout the book, Shavit shifts back and forth from third-person narrative to first person participant. At least half of the book consists of transcripts of his interviews. He gained access to the principal actors in each of the historical segments that comprise the chapters in his book. The other half is Shavit’s informed commentary on the background and context surrounding the men he interviewed.
Here is a taste of his chapter entitled, “Sex, Drugs, and the Israeli Condition, 2000”. “They call themselves the Nation. The Dance Nation. At 3:00 a.m. on most Thursday nights, Allenby 58 [a Tel Aviv club occupying a former movie theater] is at its peak. . . . And when the lights cut the dark hall with pulsating rays of pink and white, and the floor is full, and the stairways are crowded, and the top balconies are heaving, it seems that there is something here that is more than nightlife, something more than one more hot night in one more hot city at the dawn of the new millennium.”
I know that those with more sophisticated taste may find Shavit too richly flavored but I was captivated.
The Zionist Beginning
In the first few chapters of the book Shavit traces the establishment of the first Jewish colonial outposts, settlements and industries in Palestine. The Zionist organization began in the late 1800’s as an effort to re-establish a Jewish nation in a part of North Africa then controlled by the Ottoman Empire. Shavit portrays early Zionism as a secular socialist movement financed and led by Ashkenazim from Europe and Britain. He follows the travels of a small group of Zionist-sponsored Brits, led by his great-grandfather. As they explore Palestine, he portrays their perceptions so encapsulated by their cultural expectations that they fail to consider, or even to see, the dozens of primitive Arab villages that dot the land. To the Zionists, this is the land of the Jews, to which they will return after centuries of Diaspora.
Much of the land is purchased from wealthy Arab landowners but, again, no serious thought is given to thousands of Arab farmers and villagers, descendents of families who occupied the land for centuries.
At first, this is not a problem. The first Jewish immigrants live peacefully with their Arab neighbors. They use technology and engineering to drain swamps, re-surface the land, irrigate it and convert deserts into flourishing groves of fruit trees. Primitive villages become comfortable bustling towns The indigenous Arabs are hired to work the new farms and they benefit from a healthier and more prosperous environment.
There’s No Place Like Home
Robert Frost wrote, ““Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” The Zionists established Frost’s aphorism as the unique immigration policy for their colony in Palestine. The Jews faced two conflicting imperatives: On the one hand, their culture was endangered by assimilation in Europe and the United States. Intermarriage and the advantages of simply abandoning Jewish identity threatened extinction of Judaism. In Eastern Europe Jewish shtetls were targeted by pogroms and other forms of anti-Semitic oppression. On the other hand, the managers of the small North African colony, operating with limited resources and no formal support from any nation, would be sorely taxed to accommodate limitless waves of immigrants. Also, sudden expansion of Jewish immigration would disturb the peaceful acceptance by the Arab population and the Arab countries surrounding the slim sliver of land between Jordan and the Mediterranean.
Shavit describes with obvious pride the way the Jews responded to these challenges. They developed a young, committed and well trained military force. He describes how it was inspired by the historical story of Masada, a mountain fortress where a small group of Jewish defenders chose suicide rather than surrender to a Roman army. He devotes a chapter to the hurried construction of a huge complex of apartments to house arriving boatloads of immigrants.
These were the glory days of democratic socialism and secular political power. The leaders were Ashkenazim from Europe. Farms were created and run by kibbutz organizations. Shavit acknowledges that this sudden expansion of immigration overwhelmed and, in some instances, destroyed Arab village life and forced Arab families to flee to neighboring countries. He offers no defense for this except to deny the efforts of some to equate it with the brutality of Nazi expansion into Austria and Poland. He writes, and I agree, that the Jews’ motives and methods were not analogous to the Nazis. The Jews never embraced the kind of vicious philosophy that was at the Nazi core. The clash between Zionist immigration and the indigenous Arab population was probably inevitable. The Jews did not hate Arabs but they could not let anything thwart what they perceived as their historical claim to their “promised land” and the preservation of Judaism.
The Wars – The Glory and the Shame
In the 1930’s and 40’s, Jews and Arabs fought guerrilla wars with each other and with the British, who had succeeded the Ottomans as Palestine’s empirical overseer. Jewish terrorist organizations carried out violent bombing attacks on civilians, Arab and British. The British and Arabs retaliated with similar brutality. As stated earlier, the Masada-inspired military organization was created and became the IDF, the Israeli Defense Force, after the British withdrew from Palestine and the Nation of Israel was established in May, 1948.
The Arab countries surrounding Israel declared war when the Israel nation was formed. The war was brilliantly led by Israeli generals, including Moshe Dayan. The Israelis swiftly defeated the combined armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, a humiliation that insured a neighborhood surrounding the new nation suffused with hatred and a festering desire for revenge.
This victory, however, was stained by incidents of harsh brutality, incidents recorded with unflinchingly vivid descriptions by Shavit, who writes about them with obvious regret and sorrow. He describes the savage interrogations of Arab prisoners by an Israeli military man whom he does not name except to refer to him as “Bulldozer”. He describes the deliberate killing of Arab civilians. He devotes an entire chapter to the atrocity in Lydda, a medium sized Arab city located on the West Bank about 40 miles southeast of the Mediterranean port of Jaffa.
After Lydda surrenders to Israeli forces, negotiations commence between Israeli leaders and Arab civilian representatives. A large number of Arabs take refuge in a mosque. An Israeli armored vehicle enters the city and is fired upon. It then fires a missile into the m0sque, killing the occupants. The Israeli military then rounds up the remaining Arab population and forcibly evacuates them from Lydda in a long march of refugee men, women and children out of Israel into Jordan. There is little water or food. Stragglers are urged onward by Israeli soldiers firing over their heads. Shavit ends this painful chapter, “I see the column marching east. So many years have past, and yet the column is still marching east. For columns like the column of Lydda never stop marching.”
The 1967 “Six Day War” was another decisive victory for the Israeli military. A series of skirmishes between Israel, Syria and Egypt culminated in an Egyptian invasion of the Sinai desert and blocking the Straits of Tiran, a narrow passage that enabled Israel shipping access to the Red Sea. Israel responded by destroying the air forces of four Arab states, driving the Egyptian army out of the Sinai. The war ended with Israel expanding its territory into the Sinai, the Golan Heights and the West Bank.
The 1973 Yom Kippur War was another victory for Israel. But this time, the Israelis were caught by surprise. They came closer to disaster than in any previous conflict. Their self confidence was shaken. They strengthened their resolve to guard against future threats.
The Settlements – Barrier to Peace
Ari Shavit describes the origin of the settlements that now house 400,000 Israelis living illegally on the West Bank between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. A military outpost stationed in the West Bank to guard against a surprise attack on Israel was surreptitiously converted into a housing complex inhabited by a group of Orthodox Jews who regarded the West Bank as part of the land promised to Israel by God. The settlement grew out of a mass movement within Israel to confront the weak Labor government with demands that Israel expand into the biblical lands set aside for the Jews. When the government did not sanction, but did not take any action to force the withdrawal of the first settlement, the political forces supporting the settlements grew stronger. In a short time, the West Bank became a permanent part of Israel.
Shavit does not conceal his belief that this development was and is a serious error. His pessimism about the future of Israel is based, in large part, on this development. He sees no likelihood that a “Two State Solution” will come to pass because he does not believe it is possible without dismantling the settlements. And he sees no possibility that the Israeli government will find the courage or the ability to accomplish that.
One of the most interesting segments of Shavit’s book regards the remarkable achievement represented by Israel’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. He has done some skillful research about how this was done. He describes the results with care not to reveal classified material obtained from Israeli sources. He interviewed one of those who helped establish the complex at Dimona, where the nuclear capability was created by adding Jewish brain power to material and knowledge acquired from external sources, primarily from the French. The transcription of the interview is like a striptease dance. Each dancer reveals almost everything necessary to guess the rest. Israel has never formally declared their possession of a nuclear weapon but it is one of the worst kept secrets. One jolting disclosure comes when the scientist being interviewed states that he is sure that Iran already has a nuclear weapon, regardless of Obma’s insistence that he will never allow it. He, the scientist, does not state the basis for his belief, but he doesn’t sound like a man given to careless statements.
The Difference Between Perception and the Truth
As I read this book, packed with information and history new to me, I realized how carefully fashioned my perception of Israel was. Without being unduly boastful, I claim to take an interest in public affairs, politics and history. When I finished Shavit’s book, I realized that, while I had not been lied to about Israel for the past fifty or sixty years, there was a lot of information that I believe was willfully omitted from the news sources I relied on.
I used the Internet to look at the New York Times in July of 1948, when the events in Lydda were occurring. The July 12, 1948 edition of the Times had a lengthy report on the Israeli war. The headline was, “Arabs Encircled at Vital Highway, Surrender Lydda”. It included the following paragraph: “Mopping up operations were still going on tonight, with armored car (sic) of both sides darting back and forth, with mortor fire crashing about. . . The Arabs were left little choice of direction in their withdrawal. They had to flee eastward and over camel trails. . . .” I looked both before and after this story, but found no hint at the wholesale slaughter of civilians or the brutality of the “Lydda column” portrayed by Shavit. The implication of the Times story that the “Arabs” were military forces was plainly misleading. The ones on those “camel trails” were civilian refugees expelled from their homes.
Protesters in Arab countries celebrate every summer what they call “Akba Day”. “Akba” is the Arab word for the expulsion of Arabs by the Israelis following the May, 1948 wars. The October 16, 2012 New York Times contains a remarkable story containing video and interview transcripts of both Arabs and Israelis who were in Lydda in July, 1948. Both describe the horror and express profound sadness still present in their memories after more than sixty years.
I had several reactions to Shavit’s book, some of them required a few days of reflection before they surfaced. At first, when I read of the atrocities and the terrorist attacks on civilians, the torturing of prisoners, I was appalled. Later, I finally realized what really bothered me: The more apt analogy is the American expansion into the West. The progression from peaceful co-existence with the indigenous Indians, to fitful and unsuccessful efforts at negotiated peace arrangements, to brutal genocide that destroyed all but a few remnants of Indian culture and population – there are striking parallels, but with significant differences. The forced removal of five Indian tribes from their homelands in the eastern part of the United States to reservations in Oklahoma in the 1830’s, now known as the “Trail of Tears”, is only one episode in the destructive record of our country’s history with Indian tribes.
The difference is that, while Israel removed the Arabs who obstructed the occupation of their “promised land”, they did not destroy them as we destroyed the Indian nations. They were not guilty of genocide. Their collective conscience and their culture precluded it. They created enemies with long memories who now surround them. And we now have an unqualified commitment to defend Israel from the consequences of that sequence of choices. And we face that obligation as the Middle East appears to be on the threshold of an arms race involving nuclear weapons. Shavit’s book is well written and packed with useful and interesting information, but it describes a future fraught with peril.