Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Few More Thoughts on Gaza

Today, I want to touch on a few more points regarding the ongoing situation in Israel and Gaza.

First, I want to revisit the issue of casualty counts among the Palestinians in Gaza. As a preliminary matter, please recognize that I have enormous sympathy for innocent civilians killed, whether in Gaza or Israel (or Syria, Congo, Myanmar, or the ever-more bloody streets of Indianapolis), whether Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Druze, or any other religious or ethnic group. I yearn for a peaceful resolution to conflicts that have taken far too many lives and caused far too much devastation all across the world. Now, with that being said, I have no sympathy whatsoever for terrorists who resort to suicide bombings and indiscriminate rocket fire aimed at civilian populations. And please don’t give me any nonsense about “legitimate resistance” or the like. If Palestinians and other Muslims are “legitimate” in their use of terrorism as a tactic, then I presume that you’d feel the same if Native Americans were to begin using similar tactics against American citizens? Ah, but I’m getting a bit off topic… My sympathy for those who choose to act as human shields isn’t much greater. If you try to protect weapons with your body (and life), then you’ve made yourself into a combatant, haven’t you?

But anyway, back to casualty counts. Query this: Who has a bigger incentive for casualty counts that include large numbers of “civilians”? How does it help Israel to appear to be responsible for large numbers of dead civilians? On the other hand, the more “civilians” who die, the easier it is for Hamas to stir up world opinion against a country that the world already dislikes. In other words, there is incentive for Hamas to exaggerate casualty counts, both in terms of the total number of casualties and their classification as civilian or combatant (or child instead of adult). Unfortunately, most “journalists” simply accept the data provided by Hamas without any sort of critical analysis or questioning. Especially given that Hamas has been shown to have exaggerated casualty counts in the past (or even fabricated an alleged massacre in Jenin), then why would journalists simply accept information from Hamas now?

It’s also worth recalling a point that I’ve made previously: Just who is a civilian? For example, consider the following story from Palestinian Ma’an News Agency:

When their next-door neighbors received a “warning call” from Israel to evacuate a home in Jabaliya refugee camp, Yousef Qandil and his son Anas fled their property, fearing that they could be killed or injured by shrapnel.

Both men took refuge under a tree near the site, awaiting the imminent airstrike which they expected to hit the house, or neighboring properties.

Yousef had already sent his wife and younger children to their parents’ house to protect them from harm.

Moments later, both Yousef and Anas were killed in an airstrike that targeted a group of Gazans sheltering under a tree for protection.

Neither their neighbors’ home, nor theirs, was hit.

“Anas was a high school student and Yousef was a tailor. What threat or danger were they to Israel sitting under a tree?” Yousef’s brother told Ma’an.

However, according to Islamic Jihad (the link to the original article takes you to a page in Arabic behind a security wall), Yousef was a leader in the Al Quds Brigades and both Anas and another of those killed were mujahid (soldiers of Al Quds Brigades).

So do we count those men killed under the tree as “civilians” or “combatants”? Does Anas count as a “child” or as an adult combatant? Before answering, ask yourself this: Why did Yousef send his wife and younger children away while he and 17-year-old Anas stayed?

photo 2For a detailed look at many of the activities that have taken place during the current fighting (at least through noon on Tuesday), I’d recommend this Update from The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. According to that document (Section 10, page 5), of the casualties reported, approximately 72 were operatives of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or other terrorist groups, 80 were civilians, and 41 couldn’t yet be categorized. One thing worth noting is that one of the ways that the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center determines whether a person was a combatant or a civilian is to look that person up online and see what they say on Facebook or whether one of the terrorist groups lists that person as a member.

Furthermore, consider the allegation that Israel is indiscriminately targeting and killing civilians. If that was true, you’d expect the ratio of men to women killed to be relatively similar, no? You’d expect the deviation among those killed to roughly match population counts (in terms of age, gender, and so forth), no? Yet data published by Al Jazeera and analyzed by CAMERA (and The Algemeiner) shows a disproportionate number of those killed to be males between 16 and 39, which would seem to fall within the range of those most likely to be engaged in combat-related activities. Similarly, though the population of Gaza is approximately 50% female, only about 12% of the casualties were female. Is that consistent with indiscriminate targeting of women and children?

Another point to consider when thinking about casualties: Why do we presume that all casualties are the result of Israeli actions? Many of the rockets that Hamas fires toward Israel never make it over the border and fall, instead, on Gaza. Others explode on launch or during transport. Are casualties caused by errant Hamas rockets or by … um … dangerous workplace conditions … to be blamed on Israel? For example, during the November 2012 fighting, Israel was blamed for the death of an infant and a 19-year-old woman. The incident received vast coverage because the infant was the son of a BBC reporter. But guess what? In March 2013, a United Nations report (and remember, the United Nations is no friend of Israel…) concluded that the woman and infant were killed by shrapnel from a rocked fired by Palestinians that was aimed at Israel but fell short (link is to a story from Times of Israel).* Similarly, do Hamas casualty numbers include alleged “collaborators” summarily executed by Hamas or members of Fatah killed as part of the ongoing power struggle between the two organizations?

As I’m writing this, news has broken about four children killed by a missile strike in Gaza. Those deaths are a terrible shame. But we should ask a few questions: First, why was a missile targeted at that location? One report that I read said that the boys were playing in or around a shipping container. Could it have been the target? Another report noted that Hamas frequently launched missiles from that location. Those are factors to be considered in the course of events. Second, are we sure that Israel was responsible for the attack? As mentioned above, some rockets fired by Gaza have fallen short of their targets. No matter the reason, the deaths of children are tragic. But care must be taken before assessing blame and determining culpability.

Finally, ask yourself how many of these people had to die at all. Had Hamas not begun firing rockets, there would be no reason for Israel to launch air strikes. Had Hamas not continued firing rockets, there would be no reason for Israel to continue launching air strikes. Had Hamas accepted the proposed cease fire … well, there would have been a cease fire. Remember: Israel accepted the cease fire and refrained from attacks for 6 hours during which Hamas continued to launch rockets.

photo 3

Here is a video well worth a few minutes of your time. In it, the Palestinian envoy to the United Nations Human Rights Council, interviewed on an Palestinian TV, states, quite bluntly, that the actions of Hamas constitute war crimes. He also notes that Israel has not committed a war crime when it targets a house after issuing a warning to the civilians to leave. I did mention that he was the Palestinian representative to the UNHRC, didn’t I?

Next I want to turn my attention to one of the most disturbing aspects of the discussions surrounding this newest fighting: The increase in brazen, anti-Semitism. I’ve said before and I’ll repeat: Criticism of Israel is not necessarily anti-Semitic. However, when that criticism crosses certain lines it ceases being simply “anti-Zionist” and becomes something else, something far older, something far uglier, something far, far more dangerous and deadly.

Thus, for example, if you say that you think that Israel is over-reacting or using too much force in its response to Hamas rocket fire, then you are engaged in legitimate (if wrong) criticism. But when your criticism goes on to posit that Israel is intentionally targeting children because of some sort of bloodlust, then your criticism has crossed a line. If you take the next step and accuse Jews of needing that blood for ritual purposes, then please, please seek help.

If you say that conditions in Gaza are difficult and argue that Israel should ease the blockade designed to prevent more missiles from being smuggled into Gaza, then I’d again say that your criticism is legitimate and I’d be more than willing to discuss the issue and possible resolutions. But when you begin to compare conditions in Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto or Auschwitz, then once again your criticism has crossed a line. Yet many go beyond even that point and accuse Israel (or “the Jews”) of committing a “genocide” against Palestinians.

How bad has it gotten? Over this past weekend two hashtags that were “trending” on Twitter were "#HitlerWasRight and #HitlerDidNothingWrong. Images like this were tweeted and re-tweeted across the globe:

photo 1In Antwerp, a mob allegedly chanted “death to Jews” and invoked “Khaybar”. In France, a synagogue was firebombed while congregants were trapped in another synagogue by a rampaging mob. In North Africa, a rabbi was beaten. And in Seattle people held signs depicting Jews eating the blood of children (see image below, sign in the middle left) and claiming that Israel was intentionally targeting children. A prominent British “moderate” Imam tweeted that Jews were used to killing Palestinians and included the charge of deicide against the Jews who killed “Palestinian” Jesus. None of that is legitimate criticism of Israel. That is pure and simple anti-Semitism. And those are just some of the major incidents. The absolute hate, directed both at Israel in particular, and at Jews more generally, was (and continues to be) absolutely stunning. I could provide numerous further examples, but frankly you don’t want to read them and I don’t want to reprint them here. If you really want to sample some of this, here’s a blog post with a slideshow of some of the #HitlerWasRight posts.

The point, I guess, is to be aware. When you hear criticism of Israel, ask yourself whether the criticism is fair. The issue isn’t whether you agree or disagree with the criticism; rather, does the criticism invoke stereotypes against the Jewish people? Does the criticism hold Israel or Jews to a different standard than is applied to others, especially Palestinians, Arabs, or Muslims. Is the criticism based in fact or policy or does it invoke conspiracy theory, ancient prejudices, or a willingness to believe the worst about Jews? Does the criticism evoke the ancient blood libel or premise Israeli behavior on “Jewish greed?”"

It’s also important to consider the speaker when certain criticisms are leveled. Generally, an ad hominem attack isn’t an appropriate way to respond to a point in a debate or discussion. However, when the speaker has a reputation for hatred, for lying, for bigotry, or for acting as the mouth piece of a particular ideology, then those factors can be worth considering in determining how much credence to give to that speaker’s views. Thus, for example, when you see or hear Dr. Mads Gilbert talking about casualties in Gaza, it may be worth noting that he believes that al-Qaeda had a “moral right” to attack the World Trade Center and Pentagon on 9/11, supports “bloody” revolutions, is a member of a Maoist political party that supported the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and apparently refused calls to help victims of the civil war in Syria. Nevertheless, he is offered as an expert on matters in Gaza.

Finally, I want to link to several articles that I came across yesterday and today that are, I think, worth reading (and I’ve included a few paragraphs to whet your appetite):

There’s Something Very Ugly in This Rage Against Israel by Brendan O’Neill in Spiked Online

Why are Western liberals always more offended by Israeli militarism than by any other kind of militarism? It’s extraordinary. France can invade Mali and there won’t be loud, rowdy protests by peaceniks in Paris. David Cameron, backed by a whopping 557 members of parliament, can order airstrikes on Libya and British leftists won’t give over their Twitterfeeds to publishing gruesome pics of the Libyan civilians killed as a consequence. President Obama can resume his drone attacks in Pakistan, killing 13 people in one strike last month, and Washington won’t be besieged by angry anti-war folk demanding ‘Hands off Pakistan’. But the minute Israel fires a rocket into Gaza, the second Israeli politicians say they’re at war again with Hamas, radicals in all these Western nations will take to the streets, wave hyperbolic placards, fulminate on Twitter, publish pictures of dead Palestinian children, publish the names and ages of everyone ‘MURDERED BY ISRAEL’, and generally scream about Israeli ‘bloodletting’. (When the West bombs another country, it’s ‘war’; when Israel does it, it’s ‘bloodletting’.)

Anyone possessed of a critical faculty must at some point have wondered why there’s such a double standard in relation to Israeli militarism, why missiles fired by the Jewish State are apparently more worthy of condemnation than missiles fired by Washington, London, Paris, the Turks, Assad, or just about anyone else on Earth. Parisians who have generally given a Gallic shrug as French troops have basically retaken Francophone Africa, stamping their boots everywhere from the Central African Republic to Mali to Cote d’Ivoire over the past two years, turned out in their thousands at the weekend to condemn Israeli imperialism and barbarism. Americans who didn’t create much fuss last month when the Obama administration announced the resumption of its drone attacks in Pakistan gathered at the Israeli Embassy in Washington to yell about Israeli murder. (Incredibly, they did this just a day after a US drone attack, the 375th such attack in 10 years, killed at least six people in Pakistan. But hey, Obama-led militarism isn’t as bad as Israeli militarism, and dead Pakistanis, unlike dead Palestinians, don’t deserve to have their photos, names and ages published by the concerned liberals of Twitter.) Meanwhile, hundreds of very angry Brits gathered at the Israeli Embassy in London, bringing traffic to a standstill, clambering on to buses, yelling about murder and savagery, in furious, colourful scenes that were notable by their absence three years ago when Britain sent planes to pummel Libya.

Such are the double standards over Israel, so casually entrenched is the idea that Israeli militarism is more bloody and insane than any other kind of militarism, that many Western liberals now call on their own rulers to condemn or even impose sanctions against Israel. That is, they want the invaders and destroyers of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere to rap Israel’s knuckles for bombing Gaza. It’s like asking a great white shark to tell off a seal for eating a fish. America must ‘rein in Israel’, we are told. ‘The international community should intervene to restrain Israel’s army’, says a columnist for the Guardian, and by ‘international community’ he means ‘a meeting of the UN Security Council’ – the Security Council whose permanent members are the US, UK and France, who have done so much to destabilise and devastate vast swathes of the Middle East and North Africa over the past decade; Russia, whose recent military interventions in Georgia and Chechnya suggest it is hardly a devotee of world peace; and China, which might not invade other countries but is pretty adept at brutally suppressing internal dissent. On what planet could nations whose warmongering makes the current assault on Gaza look like a tea party in comparison seriously be asked to ‘rein in’ Israel? On a planet on which Israel is seen as different, as worse than all others, as more criminal and rogue-like than any other state.

Go on… read the whole thing.

The Left’s Intolerable Voice by Sagi Bermak in Haaretz.

While Israel is criticized over every idea or perspective to which it gives rise (as it should be in a free society), the Palestinians are idealized, ridiculously, without any kind of criticism whatsoever.

The truth is, for those same enraged commentators, the Palestinians are nothing but eternal victims who have no hand in their fate. In their world, Palestinian behavior is a phenomenon devoid of form, consciousness or consideration, a kind of repetitive reaction to Israeli brutality, which is the power that truly undermines “peace” in the Middle East.

This is the only way to explain how Landsman, for example, attributes our tragedy to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (An Israeli Tragedy, Haaretz, July 9) instead of figures like Khaled Meshal, Ismail Haniyeh or Hassan Nasrallah. Failing to seriously mention the barbaric forces at play in the Arab world in general and among the Palestinians in particular attests to one of two possibilities: either political naiveté that cannot be taken seriously, or a complete loss of any kind of moral compass. Unwillingness to stand behind the Israeli leadership in a conflict against an Islamo-fascist organization like the Muslim Brotherhood is nothing short of shameful.

Thus there is also no reason to be surprised that the possibility to place the blame on Palestinian civil society just does not exist, according to them. When is the last time you read an article written by a fair-minded person that condemned the lack of a free Palestinian press? Or the fact that the Palestinians fail to rise up against Hamas and expel it from their midst?

The same logical reasoning, devoid of criticism or morality, paints Gaza residents as innocent souls that fell victim to a hostile alien takeover at the hands of Hamas (thereby distorting the fact that the Palestinian public voted the organization in, through a democratic election). Those same commentators are creating a false division between many good, innocent people and a bloodthirsty Hamas minority.

At the same time, and in the same breath, they refuse to make that same fake distinction within Israeli society. They refuse to present the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir as an act of fanaticism disconnected from the wider context of Israeli society. Not only have they lost the ability to differentiate between good and evil, but also their basic intellectual reasoning.

It’s time to bust the “Israeli blockade led to Hamas’ rockets” myth by Alan Johnson in The Telegraph.

Here is the widely believed fallacy: the Israeli blockade of Gaza led to the firing of Hamas rockets from Gaza.

And here is the little known truth: it was the firing of Hamas rockets from Gaza that led to the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

The fallacy distorts our understanding of why these escalations keep happening and what will make a durable peace possible. The fallacy frames the Israeli blockade of Gaza as motiveless and cruel at best, demonic at worst, while it presents the firing of Hamas rockets on Israeli civilians as acts of resistance. The fallacy makes us think that if only Israel "lifted the blockade" then peace would break out.

The fallacy spreads because of ignorance.

People do not know that when Israel left Gaza in 2005, the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon – who, like Rabin and Barak before him, and like Olmert after him, had crossed his Rubicon, finally accepting the need to divide the land – said: “We desire a life living side-by-side, in understanding and peace. Our goal [in disengaging] is that the Palestinians will be able to live in dignity and freedom in an independent state, and, together with us, enjoy good neighbourly relations.”

They do not know that the reply from the Hamas bomb-making chief Mohammed Deif was instant. On the website of the Izz-al Din Qassam Brigades he declared: “I thank Allah the exalted for his support in the Jihad of our people. I ask for your assistance to our jihad… We shall not rest until our entire holy land is liberated … To the Zionists we promise that tomorrow all of Palestine will become hell for you…”

The Middle East debate has more to do with the fashion for revolutionary tourism than real politics by James Bloodworth in The Independent

Because when Arabs are killing Arabs no one cares

The loss of life in Gaza and the Hamas rocketing of Israel is certainly regrettable, but both pale in comparison with the situation in Syria. Pro-Palestinian ‘activists’ often make a point of emphasising the large number of Palestinian deaths in contrast to the relatively few Israelis killed in the conflict between the two nations; but one might say the same about Syria when compared with Gaza and the West Bank. Where was the placard-wielding self-righteousness about the gassing of children in Damascus last year? Indeed, most ‘anti-war’ protests were mobilised for the purpose of deterring any action to punish the dictator who had been starving Palestinian refugees in Damascus.

To those who say that one Israeli life equals the lives of 10 Palestinians – well perhaps that is true. But 10 dead Palestinians equals about 1,000 dead Syrians (or 10,000 dead Africans). A great deal of the ‘concern’ for Palestine appears not to really be about human life at all, but rather about the politics and making a fashionable gesture.

*Query whether the United Nations investigates each and every casualty in other conflicts around the world with the sort of obsessive attention that is paid to the deaths of Palestinians. Is there a report for each of the 120,000 or more killed in Syria? What about Libya? Rwanda? Yugoslavia? Ukraine? Or is it just conflicts involving Israel that garner this sort of analysis. And if so, why?

Update (April 14, 2016): Fixed numerous typos.

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