February 28, 2015 § 1 Comment
Today’s Haaretz newspaper included three reactions to Netanuahu’s current effort to court Israeli political support by attacking President Obama and advocating the abortion of peace negotiations with Iran. The effects of the controversy are presented as viewed in Israel and as viewed by Jews living in America.
I offer this commentary for consideration because I am convinced that the ultimate outcome of our effort to avoid another “preventive” war in the Middle East could involve a process leading to a long bitter and costly war – costly not just in dollars but also in lives. If decisions about this grave matter are submitted and determined, not by statesmen and knowledgeable negotiators, but by politicians focused only on electoral advantage, it will amount to a failure of democracy to prove itself capable of managing serious issues based on rationality and common sense.
WWI was the result of unwitting decisions hastily made with small understanding of their terrible consequences. In our time of nuclear weapons, we cannot afford a repeat of that foolishness.
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.
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.