By Jamie Palmer
At a time when the Middle East is convulsed by conflicts in which neither party has much to recommend them, the war in Gaza benefits from a rare moral clarity. A liberal democracy and the world’s only Jewish State came under attack by an openly eliminationist and genocidally anti-Semitic totalitarian terrorist organization. In a saner world, support for the former from democrats of all stripes would be a foregone conclusion. But, alas, we live in this one.
The Left’s deranged hesperophobic tendency has, of course, gone completely berserk. But images of broken Palestinian children being removed from the rubble of Gaza – often presented as if the conflict is about nothing else – have helped to give their hysterical views a veneer of reasonability, and their madness has begun to infect the opinions of otherwise clear-minded people.
One such person is Sunny Hundal. I have many differences with Hundal, but he is not someone who can be readily bracketed with anti-Western head-bangers like Mehdi Hasan and Owen Jones. Hundal supported military intervention in Syria and, domestically, he has been supportive of counter-extremism efforts by organisations such as Quilliam to combat homegrown radical Islam.
The Gaza war, however, has completely screwed up his critical perspective, and he has gone beyond simply condemning Israeli policies and actions, and has endorsed the Tricycle Theatre’s recent refusal to host London’s annual Jewish Film Festival as long as it accepts funding from the Israeli embassy.
His recent Guardian debate with Nick Cohen on the subject opens with a paragraph of anti-Israeli half-truths, canards and falsehoods, and since they form the moral basis of his call to boycott the Festival (to which I’ll return), they should be dealt with.
The issues are complex, and the first of them unfortunately necessitates a stat-heavy response, but I’ll be brief as I can:
“There is a very strong case Israel is systematically abusing human rights by keeping Palestinians under a goods and people blockade.”
The Israelis are not capable of unilaterally enforcing a blockade of Gaza since Egypt controls the Rafah border crossing. Furthermore, a post by Elder of Ziyon has just reminded us of the following:
- Crossings closed due to their vulnerability to terrorism have no effect on imports because those remaining open are more than capable of meeting Gaza’s needs. Israel invested 80m shekels expanding the Kerem Shalom crossing for this purpose and it is never at maximum capacity.
- Israel does not impose a limit on Gaza’s exports (although Israel no longer imports them).
- Besides a small list of “dual use” materials, Israel imposes no restrictions on Gaza imports either, and allows dual-purpose goods to be imported under certain conditions. Israel’s anxiety about such materials has been vindicated by the discovery of the sheer scale of the tunnel network Hamas has been busily constructing.
- Israel’s naval blockade, like the closure of crossings, is a response to Hamas terrorism not its cause. Incidents like the Karine-A affair have made Israel understandably nervous about arms arriving in Gaza by sea.
The Kerem Shalom crossing, incidentally, remained open throughout the conflict, despite continuous Hamas rocket fire from Gaza, until – in an act of Palestinian incompetence or perversity – it was itself subjected to rocket attack on Sunday August 10.
Before that, according to the Israeli Ministry for Foreign Affairs:
On August 6, 236 trucks carrying 4,196 tons of goods and supplies entered Gaza via Kerem Shalom Crossing. Among the trucks that entered were:
131 trucks carrying 2,526 tons of food
5 trucks carrying 27 tons of medicine and medical supplies
43 trucks carrying 313 tons of humanitarian supplies
6 trucks with 110 tons of equipment to help repair infrastructure.
1 truck carrying 7 tons of agricultural supplies
A team of 22 doctors from the West Bank entered the Gaza Strip in order to assist current medical staff.
Further shipments are detailed on the same site, but overall between the start of Operation Protective Edge on 8 July and the ceasefire on 5 August, Israel transferred 40,550 tons of supplies into Gaza via Kerem Shalom.
Since Israel imposes no restrictions on food, fuel and medicine passing through the crossings, Hundal should be required to explain why he is blaming Israel for Gaza’s terrible hardship and exonerating Hamas and the PA of their own responsibilities to Palestinians.
The medical shortage – according to the PA – is caused by Hamas theft. The fuel shortage is caused by Hamas’s refusal to pay market prices for fuel from Israel or to accept Egyptian fuel through Kerem Shalom. Hamas found it could enrich its officials at Gazans’ expense by imposing exorbitant taxes on fuel and other materials imported illegally through the smuggling tunnels. Which is why it is Hamas and not the Israelis who impose limits on what may enter Gaza legally through the crossings.
As Ynet recently reported, the upshot of all this is that while Gaza languishes in poverty, rampant theft and corruption has allowed Hamas to become “a movement of millionaires”.
As for people:
The IDF acceded to the request of hundreds of Palestinians who hold foreign citizenship to leave the Gaza Strip. The Erez Crossing in northern Gaza also remains open to Palestinian pedestrians for humanitarian cases.
Does Hundal realise that last year, the nation he accuses of being a systematic abuser of human rights treated 180,000 Palestinians in Israeli hospitals? Or that Israel opened a purpose-built field hospital on the Gaza border to treat Palestinians injured in the current conflict?
For good measure, Hundal goes on to claim that Israel “denies Palestinians clean water”. This is also false, not to mention inflammatory. Israel has met and even exceeded its obligations under Oslo with respect to the division and provision of water resources. Hamas, on the other hand, has been in repeated breach, and it is the excessive drilling of ‘pirate wells’ that has caused Gaza’s water supply to become contaminated by seawater.
For a full analysis of the various issues relating to water resources, see this fairly comprehensive article and supporting documentation posted at the Gatestone Institute.
“There is a very strong case Israel is systematically abusing human rights by continually building illegal settlements on their land despite international agreements”
Even if one puts the illegality of the settlements beyond dispute, this is a ridiculous assertion. While I share Hundal’s implied dislike of Israel’s ideologically irredentist strain, the actual construction of settlements beyond the Green Line does not necessarily prejudice a 2 State agreement, still less constitute a “systematic abuse of human rights”.
Many of the largest settlement blocks will be incorporated into Israel anyway under an agreement, and compensated with land swaps from Israeli territory bordering Palestine. Outposts will be dismantled and evacuated, just as they were when Israel withdrew from the Sinai and Gaza. It will be difficult and painful, and the Israeli government needs to do more to prepare public opinion for these concessions, but in the event of an agreement it will get done.
Meanwhile, Hundal may wish to ponder why it is that the settlement of Jews within what will one day be Palestine is such an egregious sin in the first place. Approximately 1.7m Arabs live safely and freely as members of Israeli society, afforded equal rights, protections, and equality before the law. Will Palestinian Jews be permitted to remain in their West Bank homes should they wish to do so? Will it be safe for them to do so? Or will a 2 State agreement necessarily require the removal of all Jews from the territory?
When people agonise about the construction of Jewish settlements, I can’t help noticing that there are very few Jews left in the rest of the Middle East. Ancient Jewish populations have long since fled or been driven out of neighbouring Arab countries, their remaining numbers reduced to triple, double or even single digits. It would seem there are those for whom it is an act of forbearance to hem Jews into the sliver of the Middle East constituting Israel proper.
Hamas, of course, with whom Israel is at war, refuse to grant even that. Israel is often accused of being a racist nation. But the stark contrast between Israel’s imperfect but genuinely pluralist society and those of its neighbours is one worth considering when assessing the moral balance in this conflict.
“There is a very strong case Israel is systematically abusing human rights by ignoring the peace process”
No there isn’t and this allegation reveals an astonishing ignorance both of what actually happened during the most recent round of negotiations, and of the reasons for their failure. Beginning with the second of these, the talks most certainly did not collapse due to Israeli indifference. On the contrary, as The New Republic’s report disclosed, Israel’s chief negotiator Tzipi Livni tried to persuade the Palestinians to return to the table.
Lest it be forgotten, Israel released 78 pre-Oslo Palestinian prisoners, many of whom were serving time for the murder of Israeli citizens. Israel got nothing tangible in return. Only a commitment to temporarily suspend applications to international bodies, which, in any case, the Palestinians violated before the talks had even fully collapsed.
When it became clear that the Palestinians were unprepared to commit to continued negotiations, irrespective of whether the final prisoner release went ahead or not, Israel cancelled it. The announcement of a unity government with Hamas destroyed whatever remained of the process.
But, more to the point, belief in the idea that Israel has ignored the peace process requires a wilful failure to appreciate the commitment and flexibility Bibi Netanyahu and Livni showed on the core issues during negotiations themselves.
For a detailed analysis of the Kerry talks and the reasons for their failure, see this excellent post over at the anonymous mugwump blog (which also addresses the issue of settlements in more depth).
“Last week both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International accused [Israel] of war crimes, and it wasn’t the first time.”
It sure wasn’t! But an accusation made is not an accusation proven, and Hundal would do well to handle Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International reports relating to Israel with greater caution.
In 2010, the Gita Sahgal affair revealed the scale of Amnesty’s moral confusion concerning theo-fascist ‘resistance’ movements. A similar confusion can be detected in their credulous coverage of the latest Gaza war. Despite abundant evidence provided by the IDF that Hamas uses human shields to protect military targets, and uses hospitals and ambulances for military purposes, Amnesty reports it is agnostic on these matters, while entertaining no such doubts about allegations of Israel’s egregious wrongdoing.
Both Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have played fast and loose with the terms “indiscriminate” and “disproportionate” to describe Israeli military actions during this war, to the point where the seriousness of such language doesn’t appear to merit a second thought.
When the BBC published a report pointing out that a disproportionate number of Gazans killed by Israel during the war were fighting-age males, it appeared to dent HRW’s repeated charge that Israeli shelling of Gaza had been untargeted. Not to be deterred, HRW’s executive director Kenneth Roth responded by carefully balancing the likelihood of Hamas disinformation with the possibility that Israel had simply been targeting young men, irrespective of whether or not they were combatants.
The fact that both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty draw significant numbers of their staff pool from pro-Palestinian activist groups like the International Solidarity Movement and even pro-militant propaganda outlets like the Electronic Intifada, should give the fair-minded pause. As should the uncritical repeating of highly unreliable eyewitness testimony and uncorroborated statements by Hamas officials in their readiness – no, eagerness – to accuse Israel of war crimes before all the facts are in.
In October 2009, Robert Bernstein, the founder of Human Rights Watch and its chairman for 20 years, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in which he expressed his dismay at the direction Human Rights Watch had taken since his departure, particularly in its approach to the Middle East. Earlier in the year, the organisation had accused Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead. To which Bernstein objected:
In Gaza and elsewhere where there is no access to the battlefield or to the military and political leaders who make strategic decisions, it is extremely difficult to make definitive judgments about war crimes. Reporting often relies on witnesses whose stories cannot be verified and who may testify for political advantage or because they fear retaliation from their own rulers.
Amnesty and Human Rights Watch reports on Israeli crimes and violations are not to be dismissed outright, by any means. But, regrettably, nor do they have the automatic moral authority in this context that Sunny Hundal appears to assume.
In the opening paragraphs of his article, Bernstein also made a point pertinent, not only to the Middle East conflict in general, but also to the side-show quarrel over the Tricycle boycott:
At Human Rights Watch, we always recognized that open, democratic societies have faults and commit abuses. But we saw that they have the ability to correct them — through vigorous public debate, an adversarial press and many other mechanisms that encourage reform.
That is why we sought to draw a sharp line between the democratic and nondemocratic worlds, in an effort to create clarity in human rights. We wanted to prevent the Soviet Union and its followers from playing a moral equivalence game with the West and to encourage liberalization by focussing on dissidents[.]
One of these self-critical mechanisms is culture. Advocates of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement are attacking Israeli culture and academia, in order to narrow the available platforms on which pro and dissenting Jewish and Israeli voices may meet their opponents. For them, the debate is over.
This leads Hundal to justify his position on the boycott of the Jewish Film Festival with precisely the kind of moral equivalence Robert Berstein cautioned against. Hundal to Nick Cohen:
Britons have very limited options to influence the Israeli government, and boycotting their money is one of their very few tools. You’ve advocated boycotting Press TV and raised concerns about Russia Today in the past, partly because they are state-funded and toe that line. What if people accused you of singling out Persians or Russians? I’m sure you would agree with me in applauding any group that rejected Syrian, Hamas or Russian state money too.
The Tricycle was guilty of this same moral failing when – absurdly – its director protested that she would not hesitate to ban a Hamas-funded film festival on the same grounds.
If Hundal and the Tricycle, in their hurry to be seen as scrupulously even-handed, cannot see an objective difference between the propaganda arm of a totalitarian theocracy and the free forum for ideas represented by the Jewish Film Festival, then I suppose it follows that they should see no particular reason to support a liberal democracy as it defends itself from a fascist foe.
Bernstein’s article is an eloquent reply to this thinking:
Israel, with a population of 7.4 million, is home to at least 80 human rights organizations, a vibrant free press, a democratically elected government, a judiciary that frequently rules against the government, a politically active academia, multiple political parties and, judging by the amount of news coverage, probably more journalists per capita than any other country in the world — many of whom are there expressly to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Meanwhile, the Arab and Iranian regimes rule over some 350 million people, and most remain brutal, closed and autocratic, permitting little or no internal dissent. The plight of their citizens who would most benefit from the kind of attention a large and well-financed international human rights organization can provide is being ignored as Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division prepares report after report on Israel.
Hamas is not a noble resistance movement and it has no interest in responsible or even competent governance. It is simply another head on the Salafi jihadi hydra currently tearing the Middle East to pieces. These groups are cults of death which will somehow have to be destroyed. When that finally happens it will be a deliverance for all those they terrify and control, including Gazans. If anyone’s skeptical on this point, I recommend spending some time listening to what Hamas actually say. And reading their foundational Charter.
Israel – tragically – is trapped in an occupation from which it has been unable to disentangle itself. Not because it is “ignoring the peace process” but because its government and its people understand the threats they face far better than Sunny Hundal and the deeply unsympathetic NGOs he cites.
As Israel responds to rockets fire and low-level incursions, Hundal prefers to offer tendentious claims about settlements and sanctions, and manages to excuse Hamas any responsibility for the dire state of the polity it governs. All to justify an attack on artistic expression; itself a spiteful proxy attack on the Middle East’s embattled democracy.
The situation in Gaza is so complex and tragic. As always where conflict arises the innocent suffer. You might be interested to read about how British Rock Band ‘Marillion’s’ epic song about the conflict affected me over this past weekend http://wp.me/p4Fvr2-g6
You say “Gaza is to all intents and purposes being colonised by the Israeli’s” and this is pure BS. Israel left Gaza while the Oslo accord was in effect. Under that accord, Gaza had an airport and a sea port. It also was to be demilitarized. Once Hamas took over that area, it repudiated the Oslo accord and started bringing missiles and other heavy arms into Gaza. At that point, Israel established a blockade on the sea, land and air. Israel allows all exports from Gaza and all imports except for few dual-use materials (whose dual use has indeed been proved on the ground in this war). Gaza had all it took to show that the Palestinians could build their own Hong Kong in the Middle East but that is not what they look for. They look for the destruction of Israel (they say so explicitly) and all other goals are rendered irrelevant.
Israel is willing, even now, to go back to the situation before under the Oslo accord. Hamas, which defines itself in terms of killing the Jews and abolishing Israel is not willing to make an honest peace (well, at least they are honest about that).
The situation in Gaza is complex only if you are morally and mentally challenged.
Or of course if you are too ignorant to see both sides of a conflict!!
I more or less agree with most/all of what you have said and the nuances pointed out are important for ‘the left’ to take on board. There is a lot of antisemitism which tends to pop up and simplify the Israel-Palestine situation in people’s minds and it is good to point out that things are not that simple.
I regard myself as a card carrying eustonite and student of Norman geras. However the saddest thing about this conflict, for someone who is interested in western values and human rights, remains the death toll of the palestinian people. I am not at all interested in the death toll of Hamas fighters.
Remove all claims to righteousness such as the fact Israel is a democracy (hugely valuable) or that the Palestinians do not have a state (not unimportant) and I still see a lot of dead poor people.
Too often people justify their position on this conflict to themselves on the basis of being able to win arguments about words/language, or tangle someone up in their own logic. The fact that everything you say about Israel is true doesn’t mean that concern for the death toll of the world’s poor shouldn’t be the overriding concern of people concerned with human rights and western values.
The fact that the well meaning lefties at the tricycle made a stupid decision on the basis of some half-baked logic, doesn’t detract from the death toll in a terrible conflict.
Yes, that’s all true.
It is worth mentioning however that a particularly ugly aspect of the way in which that the Gazan war dead have been unscrupulously used as a weapon in the propaganda war against Israel, has been to discount and mock any expression of empathy for those war dead on the part of Israelis or their supporters. The implication is that if you support Israel’s case you must be a murdering baby killer. Hamas of course get off scot free in this moral quagmire.
thank you for the thoughtful article. My comments are not directly related to your article but it has been weighing on me. This entire Gaza situation and the world’s response has been very distressing to me. The numerous comparisons of the Israelis to the Nazi’s astound and anger me. I am not diminishing the pain of the Gazan and Palestinian Arabs but I am increasingly puzzled by the difference in the reaction of 2 tragedies-for the Jews-the European Holocaust (my in-laws were survivors) and for the Arabs-the Naqba-the creation of Israel. Throughout this most recent nightmare, one thought keeps popping into my head-why aren’t my children refugees. Why did the Jewish people, when faced with a horrific tragedy, not stay in refugee or displaced person camps for generations and the descendants of the survivors commit violent acts against Germany, Poland, etc? Why are my children not considered refugees? My in laws lost everything and they certainly could not stay in Poland-in essence they were stateless people. I think how different my children’s existence would be if the surviving Jews in Europe chose the path the Palestinians chose. When I read on the internet the pure venom from many Arabs, I lose all hope. The Israelis are far from perfect but they are hardly Nazi’s. Wrongs have been committed on both sides but if the jewish people were able to start over and start living productive lives after suffering a horrific tragedy, why didnt the Palestinians/Gazans? To steal a line from the movie The Shawshank Redemption, Get busy living, or get busy dying. And that is the essence of the problem in a nutshell-one group chose living and the other chose dying. T
Very good and well argued article, Jacobean. Especially on the issue of water supplies and the blockade, about which many myths have emerged. On the issue of the peace process, I believe that the Arab leaderships have been cowardly and unwilling to face reality and sell their peoples all sorts of lies and myths which don’t enhance the prospects for peace.
The only bit I have to disagree with you on is the issue of settlements. The continued expansion of settlements sends a terrible signal to the world community and to the Palestinians as its indicates to them – and I can understand them – that Israel isn’t sincere in its offers of a two-state solution and really wants to retain the West Bank as a sovereign Israeli piece of territory. That’s why I believe there should be a freeze on settlements. Your comparison with the Israeli Arabs does not really work in my view – because the Israeli settlement blocks are under Israeli jurisdiction and law and are protected by the Israeli Army, and the Israel government is quite clear about its intention of bringing as many under Israeli sovereignty as possible – the Israeli Arabs are not in a similar position within Israel. Many criticisms of Israel are ill founded as you rightly point out, but I think the criticisms regarding settlements are more justified.
Using twitter a/c this time…..
Sure, but a ‘terrible signal’ does not make for the ‘systematic abuse of human rights’ and has zero to do with the Gaza war (and therefore Hundal’s justification for the boycott) since there are no Jewish settlements in Gaza. Settlements, and outposts in particular, *are* an obstance to peace, but they are not an insurmountable one, nor by any means the most challenging. Yet they are consistently invoked as the only thing keeping Palestinians from their state. Part of the problem here is that the issue and the distinctions I drew betweeen different kinds of settlement activity are poorly understood, and shamelessly used by the Palestinians for political expediency when desirable (see the announcement of the construction in Gilo, which they claimed had sabotaged talks they’d long lost interest in). If Palestinian leadership took greater care to explain the issue to their public, it would be a lot less toxic. That said, I would love to hear a commitment from Israel to discontinue all outposts and restrict building exclusively to areas to be annexed by Israel in the event of an agreement.
Jamie… will you be posting this on the Breibart sites as well, or will you only be providing them with exclusive columns? As with all your work, it would be a perfect ideological fit there.
I don’t think so, Bryan. With my own blog posts it’s a bit different… Feel free to email or DM me on twitter to discuss.
I agree with much of this. But just picking up on Suada’s comment – that was more or less my own main thought as I don’t think there is symmetry between the status of Israeli settlers in the WB and Arab-Israelis in Gaza. It could be argued that in both situations the Jewish Israelis are privileged.
As this post demonstrates, many of those attacking Israel are guilty of inaccuracy, exaggeration or worse. But here’s to someone who seems to engage pretty carefully and sympathetically with the arguments which can be made in defence of Israel’s actions, while still offering some criticisms.
I meant ‘Arab-Israelis in Israel’ of course.
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I am coming a bit late to this discussion. I have glanced over the comments both here on Harry’s Place, as well as in the Jacobinism (original) site, and I see that some posters agree with what I am about to say.
I almost always support all of your posts, Jacobin, and I do so here–with regard to the Sunny Hundal (whose opinion pieces I used to read in his now-defunct blog, Pickled Politics, in which I often found him disingenuous regarding the I/P problem)–and I agree about the specific issue here (I do not support BDS)–and I agree that there is a vile set of lies leveled against Israel, often accompanied by antisemitic trappings, in particular Nazi references, not to mention the overdone focus on Israel, at the expense of so many other problems–and I fully agree that there has been no comparison between Israel and its neighbors in connection to following democracy and attending to rights (at least, within Israel proper). Regarding HAMAS–I have little to say–that is, nothing good to say.
However–I have serious concerns about the settlement project/occupation (which I do not view as only tangential to the current hostilities, and certainly not to the wider problem in which the current hostilities have occurred. This set of affairs is enormously costly, not only in money, but in resources, soldiers’ lives and well-being, political support (both from within and without Israel)–and that is before we get to the effects on the Palestinians. And, I am sorry to say that my reading of the matter does see an intransigence on the Israeli side (as well as on the Palestinian side) because it has long been a Likud orientation to not give up the West Bank land (all of it)–which further causes despair and radicalization on the Palestinian side.
I think Netanyahu now appreciates the dangers that holding onto the entire West Bank poses, with its disenfranchised Palestinians–and I suspect he wants to get out of the bind–but the demands of his more right wing/messianic-style religious coalition partners–and the influence of supporters of the settler project–all of which have kept him in power up until now–present him with a challenge. I am one of those who think he should have accepted HAMAS as part of a unity government on the Palestinian side–a move which had a good chance of sidelining the latter–as noted variously throughout the Israeli press.
In addition–I have serious concerns about the killing of civilians–however unintentional (which I have already remarked on in other HP threads)–and by the rise of right-wing intolerance in Israel, that is threatening its democratic nature.
These matters are scarcely addressed by many supporters of Israel–who will find it increasingly difficult to make the case for Israel’s democratic nature without addressing these matters. If they don’t want hating left-wingers to bring this up–then Israel-supporters must own these matters. To avoid this is dangerous for Israel.
I will let the following links speak more for some of the things I am thinking:
From respected literary figure, David Grossman:
“An Israel Without Illusions: Stop the Grindstone of Israeli-Palestinian Violence”
From distinguished long-time left-wing Israel supporter, Prof Michael Walzer:
“Israel Must Defeat Hamas, But Also Must Do More to Limit Civilian Deaths”
From long time Israel-supporter journalist, Leon Weiseltier:
“Israel and Gaza: A Just and Unjust War”
and from Prof Zeev Sternhell–renowned Israeli historian who was himself, the object of a bomb attack (which he survived) by a right-wing Jewish terrorist due to his criticism of the settlements and other right-wing/messianicreligious doings:
“Signs of fascism in Israel peaked during Gaza op, says renowned Israeli scholar”
Firstly apologies for the delay in publishing your comment. For some reason it got held back and I only just noticed.
The settlements have nothing whatever to do with the most recent conflict. To Hamas, Tel Aviv is as illegitimate as Ariel. Their Charter and public statements are unequivocal: ‘liberate’ historic Palestine from the River to the Sea. Period. Even the anti-Israel press haven’t ventured down this blind alley during the saturation coverage of the conflict, as they beat Israel with every other rhetorical cudgel they have to hand.
I address it – briefly – because it is one part of the litany recited by rote by journos like Hundal too lazy to engage with the issue. As I said to Suada upthread, the settlements *do* constitute an obstacle to peace for various reasons, but they are not evidence of the “systematic abuse of human rights” Hundal alleges. They are also by no means the most serious obstacle to peace (although defending this position would require a separate post).
Btw, you didn’t address the questions I raised. To wit: When people talk about settlements, they are in fact talking about where Jews should be allowed to live. In the event of partition, why should Jews not be permitted to remain in Palestine when 1.7m Arabs live safely within Israel? Settlement expansion as an obstacle to peace presupposes that anything being built will need to be destroyed, so continuing construction is evidence of bad faith. But why must Palestine be the latest Arab State to be cleansed of its Jewish population? How is this a remotely progressive demand? (Abbas, incidentally, when asked if Jews will be allowed to accept Palestinian citizenship, says different things to different people.)
As for civilian deaths, thank you for the links. I’ll read. But I did read the Wieseltier piece when it was first published and I was not impressed. I hope it goes without saying that I don’t like seeing the bodies of Palestinian children pulled from destroyed houses any more than he does or you do. But does he really think his concerns have not been considered by the Israeli government? The IDF? The Israeli centre and left? The public (an overwhelming majority of whom supported the war)?
Wieseltier, by the way, has argued for military intervention in Syria. Are we to take it he’d be having second thoughts about the morality of that decision too, at the first sign of collateral damage, or the first stray US missile?
Israel has perhaps the most scrutinised military on the planet (ahead of even the US) and is keenly aware of the need to minimise the loss of innocent life so she goes to considerable lengths to do so. Wiesletier knows this. And he also knows that Hamas has put Israel in an impossible situation. if Wieseltier has any suggestions about how the war could be fought in a less costly manner, then he keeps them to himself.
At a time like this, I’m afraid I take a dim view of fair-weather friends taking the opportunity to wring their hands in public about alleged Israeli recklessness before the evidence is in. A note of caution: most of the figures we have been seeing are provided by the Gazan Health Ministry (ie: Hamas), and groups working with Palestinian figures or under very difficult conditions in Gaza itself. The true scale of the death toll and the ratio of combatants to civilians will only emerge in due course once a proper analysis of the available data has been conducted. There will inevitably be tragic accidents as well as crimes and violations which will need to be investigated and charges brought where appropriate. This is the case in all wars. And it should be added that Israel has prosecuted her own soldiers in the past when they have broken Israeli or international law, which is more than can be said for her enemies.
Like I said at the top of the post – on every front, the contrast between Hamas and Israel is one of night and day. All war is hell, some are necessary and just. This is (was?) one of them.
Specifically with respect to “human shields”, I think it is worth considering the argument made by Norman Geras in 2006:
What happened at Qana is a tragedy. But it isn’t enough to say so, nor to say that it was a ‘mistake’. And it isn’t enough, either, to insist that Hizbollah bears responsibility for the deaths of civilians from Israeli bombing, because of the way that organization uses the civilian population to shield its military resources and activities. It does bear that responsibility – and those currently lauding it as a resistance movement have crossed a significant moral and political threshold (of which more later). But it also isn’t enough to point this out.
Israel’s action at Qana is inexcusable. I say this as someone who supports Israel’s right to defend itself against those who attack it, those who send missiles against its civilians and who intend its destruction as a state. But if Hizbollah bears the responsibility identified above, Israel also has a clear responsibility under the laws of war to try to minimize civilian casualties; and this applies even in the case where its enemy resorts to the use of human shields (as explained here by Michael Walzer). I don’t believe the position of the IDF – that civilians had been warned to evacuate the area – adequately acquits it of that responsibility. It is not a reasonable expectation, especially not in conditions of war, that all civilians living in an area will move away in good time, or be able to do so, when warned by one of the warring parties.
I will read this in depth when I have a bit of time, but with respect to freedom of movement and access to medical care, among the 180,000 Gazans who were accorded treatment in Israeli hospitals within the last year or so were two close members of Ismail Haniyah’s family — a very sick infant granddaughter and his mother-in-law, at the same time he and his gang of thugs were diverting building materials Israel shipped into Gaza for the purpose of building hospitals, schools and public institutions following pressure from UNRWA and assorted NGOs in order to build a maze of terror tunnels into Israel to facilitate a subterranean invasion timed for the upcoming Jewish high holidays.
Only the most morally decrepit people could fail to be repulsed by this.
“There is a very strong case Israel is systematically abusing human rights by keeping Palestinians under a goods and people blockade.”
The Israelis are not capable of unilaterally enforcing a blockade of Gaza since Egypt controls the Rafah border crossing.
I’ll just pull this section out to make a point, rather than tackle the whole thing together.
I read Professor Norm for years and had serious disagreements with the geezer. Nonetheless, I’m not sure that he’d accept “Oh, I can’t be punching your face because the Egyptian dictatorship is holding my jacket while I am in fact demonstrably punching your face live on worldwide television” as a valid argument.
Like I say, this is just one section, the first obvious howler that I’ve pulled to make a point. The part about the settlements alone would also be fertile ground for multiple similar objections.
So, you know. Are you going to do anything about this, or are you going to let it stand, along with various other really nutty assertions in this piece?
The crux of this article is this quote from Robert Bernstein:
“In Gaza and elsewhere where there is no access to the battlefield or to the military and political leaders who make strategic decisions, it is extremely difficult to make definitive judgments about war crimes. Reporting often relies on witnesses whose stories cannot be verified and who may testify for political advantage or because they fear retaliation from their own rulers. ”
Which is a general problem about covering war crimes, applicable everywhere including with Iraq and ISIS. Yes indeed we can always try and discredit eye-witness accounts and that may work in a court of law but when you are faced with a mountain of evidence most people can easily make a judgement on balance of probabilities. Very weak stuff.
More disturbingly the use of the word “hesperophobic” is really strange in context. It doesn’t matter much if one gets one’s news from some Salafi website or from Socialist Worker or from the Daily Telegraph. Israel’s atrocities have been well covered by most outlets. Pro-Western conservatives can have a sense of compassion too, you know. To assume that horror at Israel’s actions in Gaza are due to anti-Western feeling is to impose a very peculiar and suspect East versus West narrative.
”A liberal democracy and the world’s only Jewish State […]”
Anyone who’s followed Israel’s colonial project and internal politics for the last twenty years and more would not describe the Zionist Entity as a ‘liberal’ democracy. Apart from its continuous slide towards the proto-fascist far Right and the election of a succession of rejectionist governments (the next one usually more rejectionist than the previous one), widespread discrimination against Israeli Arabs at multiple levels has been extensively reported on by various Rights organizations, including several Zionist ones.
BTW, would it matter if it was the ‘only Zoroastrian State’?
As another small taster of just how liberal that democracy is, here’s the JTA:
The Israeli Supreme Court no less… The defendants haven’t been convicted yet but it rubber stamps the collective punishment of their families. The Gestapo would blush…
With regards to Netanyahu, never before has the man made it clear that there will be no Palestinian state, if he can help it:
On “hesperophobia” (what Anders Breivik would call ‘Caucasophobia’?) and ‘anti-Western head bangers’: isn’t that just a tad ‘with us or against us’?