Saturday, October 20, 2007

Clearing the Record: A Response to Pozzi's 10/18 lte and Mast's 10/19 Op-ed

A response to some of the accusations and counterpoints raised by Lorraine Pozzi in her 10/18 lte and Ed Mast in yesterday's opinion piece: Had I the luxury of more space, I would have gladly addressed some of their predictable concerns in my 10/10 op-ed,"Despite concerns, Israel a vibrant country."
My blog dispatches from Israel do anticipate some of their points, especially the Saturday, September 15 post,
Conversations: What 'Ordinary' Israelis Think about Ha'Matzav' or 'The Situation'
In that dispatch I endeavored to show that Israelis are not indifferent to nor ignorant of the sufferings of ordinary Palestinians. They've just gone into a self-protective mode while they wait for a more sane leadership and populace with which to engage. Psychologically, they're experiencing 'Compassion Fatigue' and as I wrote,
"Following the first Intifada and through the Oslo years, there was a major shift in consciousness among most Israelis, when they came to see the legitimate concerns and rights of Palestinians, and were willing to act on rectifying past wrongs. That was what Oslo was all about. But with the eruption of the second Intifada and the barbaric, deliberate bombings of civilians inside the Green Line, even the mainstream Left in Israel came to understand that this was about far more than 'land for peace' and reasonable compromise among civilized peoples with border disputes. This was an existential war and it was hard for Israelis to not see the other side as wanting to displace them from their homeland of Israel proper. Now, two years after the withdrawal from Gaza and the relentless Qassam attacks from its northern precincts and one year after the war in Lebanon (launched from where Israel also relinquished territory in May of 2000), and 20 months after Hamas' election victory, Israelis feel less than sanguine about 'peace' prospects with their neighbors. Moreover, they have little psychic space left over for empathizing with the plight of the Palestinians (they fully acknowledge that the Palestinians are suffering), who they see as largely having made their own bed. Where in the 90's there was much empathy and goodwill toward Palestinians, today there is more of an attitude of 'we wish you well in creating a civil society and maybe eventually having normalized economic and even social interactions with you; but the burden of proof is now on you to create such a society--and the signs so far are not encouraging; we withdrew from Gaza completely, even left you the Greenhouses, and instead of making a pilot project of independence and building democratic, civil institutions, you destroyed what beginnings were left to you and voted in a fundamentalist, Islamist party who is more interested in destroying our State than in building yours; so you'll excuse us if we continue constructing our separation barrier and get on with our lives. As King Lear once intoned to his wayward daughter Goneril: "Mend when thou canst; be better at thy leisure: I can be patient..."At least that's how I read how many Israelis feel today." and

"In one of my conversations with a friend of a dear Israeli friend of mine, he related a very interesting take on this very issue by Israeli commentator Tzvi Yehezkeli at the 'Arab Desk' on Channel 10. According to Amnon, Yehzkeli spoke of the incredible patience of those in the Arab world. That they understood time very differently than those of us in the Western world where we tend to see things much more short-term and present-centered. When an old Arab man was asked how he felt about seeing Israeli tanks roll in front of him, he replied that it didn't phase him all that much because in the long run, over decades or even centuries he was confident that the land would be returned to the Arabs (reminded me of Ali's pronouncements in the staircase scene with Avner in Munich). But on a more promising note, Yehezkeli also noted that in his conversations with average Palestinians, there was a growing recognition that they could no longer lay all their problems at the feet of the Israelis. That there was growing acknowledgement that their legacy of electing/supporting poor leadership was at the heart of their predicament. That corruption is rampant, tribal affiliations are superseding larger associations, and that until they begin the process of correcting these flaws, they will likely continue to languish behind while they watch Israeli society flourish and prosper. There is a growing understanding that as Israelis feel more secure behind their security barrier, they will be less concerned with the plight of the Palestinians, until they see concrete, on the ground changes."
On to specific charges/accusations
Ms. Pozzi writes below of my "appalling distortions of fact" but of course, doesn't provide any evidence whatsoever of those 'distortions.' She unsurprisingly insists on referring to the security barrier-which I took great pains to point out is over 95% chain link fence-as a wall (as does Ed Mast; repeatedly), and asserts that Israeli snipers manning that 'wall' "have shot and killed Palestinians, many of them children, without warning." This, of course, is patently false. Even where the barrier is a concrete wall, Palestinians are not wantonly shot at, without warning. The IDF takes great pains to avoid Palestinian civilian casualties, sometimes at the risk and cost of Israeli soldiers' lives. Gaza is a prime example. The separation barrier there is almost entirely a fence, and while at one of the Israeli army outposts, I could see areas where Israel indeed did fire back, after repeated Qassam attacks from Gazans on the other side of the fence. Israel gives repeated warnings that they will be forced to respond to those unprovoked attacks, and in one instance has enforced the clearing of a hill from where many of those Qassams were launched. What Israel cannot do is prevent Palestinians from shooting missiles and then running back into densely populated civilian areas. It also cannot prevent Palestinian parents from allowing their children to go and "play" in war zones that have been designated as military zones by the Israelis. Would that the Pozzi's and Mast's of the world exact a modicum of accountability and responsibility to those they so willingly defend as blameless.

Ed Mast trumps out the usual litany of Israeli abuses, 'land grabs,' unnecessary suffering imposed on the Palestinian population, and "the many ways that the Israeli occupation crushes people with poverty, violence and injustice." Naturally, there is not even a hint of what may be behind some of Israel's self-protective measures. It is as if the Palestinians are peace loving Canadians who want only to share their water aquifers with Jews. What is most disturbing to me is Ed's insistence that Israelis kill Palestinians with a wanton disregard for civilian life. I have spoken personally with Ed (we are, alas, neighbors--he lives on the very same block as me in Seattle--no fences) on this subject, and in fact, it is one of the reasons I stopped engaging him on the conflict. His insistence that Israelis in the IDF deliberately target Palestinian civilians with the same frequency as Palestinian suicide bombers who blow themselves up in civilian areas like buses and coffee shops, puts him beyond the pale of reasonable disagreements among reasonable folks who don't always see eye to eye on complex and emotionally laden subjects. And he repeats a variation of this heinous accusation in yesterday's piece.
"Over the past seven years, the Israeli army has killed more than 4,000 Palestinians. The majority of these, even according to Israeli statistics, have been unarmed civilians. Many thousands more have been wounded or kidnapped."
Of course innocent Palestinians have been tragically killed in the crossfires of what has been an ongoing war between the two sides, especially during the heyday of the second Intifada. But to suggest, as Ed Mast has done repeatedly, that the IDF as a matter of policy deliberately targets civilians, flies in the face of both reality and logic. If Israel really was indifferent to Palestinian life, why wouldn't they just bomb from the air and retaliate with the full brunt of their military might? In Jenin in 2002, rather than follow the NATO strategy of bombing Kosovo from 35,000 feet, the IDF went in hand-to-hand combat into the terror-laden streets of the Jenin refugee camp, a hotbed of known terror organizations (conveniently protected under the aegis of the United Nations at the time), and sacrificed the lives of 23 Israeli soldiers in an effort to keep Palestinian civilian casualties to a minimum. Before the smoke cleared, the accusations of an Israeli massacre were hurled about with abandon, only to find out that just over 50 Palestinians had actually been killed, the great majority gun-toting, bomb-bearing fighters. Naturally, apologies for the horrendous accusations against Israel are still not forthcoming.
Another problem with just looking at raw numbers is that it distorts the picture of cause and effect, creating a false dichotomy of casualties suffered by the two sides. Notions of proportionately in war are greatly misunderstood. Space does not permit a more lengthy exploration of this topic, but suffice it to say that in asymmetrical warfare where one side is undeniably targeting civilian populations, the moral question of how to respond is greatly complicated, especially when it is a democracy that is faced with these dilemmas. For an in depth look at this subject, I highly recommend Yaacov Lozowick's Right to Exist : A Moral Defense of Israel's Wars.
See also, Jeff Denaburg´s letter to Amnesty International, "Could Amnesty International be further from reality?"
and Amos N. Guiora, "Teaching Morality in Armed Combat -- The Israel Defence Forces Model," Case Legal Studies Research Paper No. 05-24 (August 2005). "The IDF Model . . . is the most advanced and developed model around."
Okay, just a few examples demonstrating that the majority of the over 4,000 Palestinians killed since 2000 have in fact not been civilians.
This, from Tamar Sternthal
CAMERA: B'Tselem, Los Angeles Times Redefine "Civilian"

After reviewing B’Tselem’s detailed lists of month-by-month Palestinian casualties, it is easy to understand why their numbers are so different from ICT’s (the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism) B’Tselem (>) has a very loose definition of the term “civilian,” (to say the least!) including countless Palestinians who were killed while they attacked Israelis, like opening fire at a bat mitzah celebration in Hadera, killing six and injuring 35, setting off bombs, infiltrating Israeli communities and killing or injuring residents, and fighting with Israeli troops.
For example, out of the 31 Palestinians listed under B’Tselem’s category “Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli civilians in the Occupied Territories,” 13 were engaged in attacks at the time of their death. Fortunately, B’Tselem provides useful details about the attacks launched by these Palestinian “civilians.” Representative incidents include:
* Dec. 24, 2001: Jamil Mouhammad Abu ‘Adwan, killed by gunfire of an Israeli civilian whom he and two other Palestinians had shot and severely injured at Ramin Junction
* Feb. 22, 2002: Tawfiq a-Shimali, killed by an Israeli civilian’s gunfire, after having operated an explosive device in a supermarket in the settlement Efrat
* March 18, 2002: Muhammad ‘Awad, killed by Israeli civilian gunfire in Netzarim settlement, after he entered the settlement and shot a soldier to death
* May 17, 2002: ‘Ali Idris Hamdan, killed in the settlement of Beit El by the security officer of the settlement, after Hamdan entered the settlement and stabbed the security officer
Likewise, similar cases abound in the lists of “Palestinian civilians killed by Israeli security forces in Israel.”
* Jan. 17, 2002: ‘Abd a-Salam Sadeq Hasouna, killed by IDF gunfire after having fire at Israeli civilians in a Hadera banquet hall, killing 6 guests at a bat mitzvah
* Nov. 28, 2002: ‘Omar Mahmoud Abu Rub and Yusef Muhammad Abu Rub, killed by border police gunfure after they entered Beit She’an, opened fire, and killed six Israeli civilians
These cases are innumerable, thereby disqualifying B’Tselem as a source “credible to support the contention as stated in the essay that ‘most’ killed on the Palestinian side have been civilian.”

How are we to have serious, respectful conversations when the premises for discussion are so warped with ideology masquerading as incontestable fact? Time and again I have acknowledged the horrendous mistakes, errors in judgement, miscalculations and unintended consequences of poorly planned operations that have cost Palestinians (and I might add Israelis) dearly. We are not perfect. Far from of it. But we admit our shortcomings and strive to make the necessary correctives. Of course the Palestinian people are suffering terribly. And of course my heart goes out to all the decent people there who suffer under the yoke of oppressive and corrupt leadership. But as a therapist and a humanist, I suggest that we will only improve things by a more honest appraisal of the situation. Again, to quote Ambassador Dennis Ross,
"Peace will come to the Middle East when Arab political culture moves away from Victimhood and towards Accountability and Responsibility".
I also have to say that I find it interesting that Ed Mast did not on this trip make his way into Gaza, or if he did, he chose not to report on what is going on there. It's got to be pretty hard these days to find a silver lining in the Hamas controlled entity that Israel has now deemed "Hostile."
But no doubt, Mast and his ilk will still lay the blame for the woes of Gaza at the foot of the Israelis. After all, as well all know, the "Occupation" is at the root cause of most everything, short of Avian Flu. And who knows about even that?
David Brumer

Description at odds with recent accounts Given David Brumer's appalling distortions of fact in his March 18 Focus column about Rachel Corrie, it was no surprise to read his misleading statements about Israel (Oct. 10 guest column) as a "vibrant country," a description at odds with most recent accounts, which cite the violence, corruption and disillusionment that plague Israeli society today.
Nowhere does he seriously address the brutal, illegal occupation of Palestinian land. The barrier (wall or fence) has been successful, he asserts, because it has stopped crazed Palestinian suicide bombers from killing innocent Israelis. He does not mention the snipers manning the wall who have shot and killed Palestinians, many of them children, without warning. Nor does he describe how the wall has carved up Palestinian territory into bantustans, furthering a policy of apartheid and ensuring that a viable Palestinian state will be impossible.
And nowhere does Brumer point out that this "vibrant" country with its booming economy demands billions in aid from U.S. taxpayers every year to sustain its "vibrancy."
Free speech must be defended, of course, but the P-I has published several of these factually challenged articles by Brumer, helping to publicize and legitimize him as an authority on Middle East affairs. It also publicizes his blog, which presents a similarly uncritical (indeed obsequious) picture of Israel and its leaders. Your readers deserve a more truthful account of the situation in the Middle East.
It costs us dearly to see such a one-sided and inaccurate article presented as fact.
Lorraine Pozzi

On a visit to Tel Aviv last month, I asked some Israeli friends what people in Israel were saying about the Palestinian situation. Not much, they told me. Israelis are more concerned about the corruption charges against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, coming on the heels of corruption charges against previous governments. Palestinians and their issues, my friends told me, are becoming more and more invisible to the Israeli people.
Palestinian lives are kept invisible in David Brumer's Oct. 10 guest column, "Despite concerns, Israel a vibrant country." Also invisible are Israel's military occupation and the ongoing takeover of Palestinian land. If Brumer had traveled to the other side of the wall, as I did, he could have witnessed the many ways that the Israeli occupation crushes people with poverty, violence and injustice.
Before visiting Tel Aviv, I spent two weeks working with a theater in the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the West Bank. During that short time, the Israeli army killed at least 15 Palestinians in the occupied territories; several killed were children. For Palestinians, these are regular occurrences. Over the past seven years, the Israeli army has killed more than 4,000 Palestinians. The majority of these, even according to Israeli statistics, have been unarmed civilians. Many thousands more have been wounded or kidnapped. The severe underreporting of Palestinian casualties in the U.S. and Israel can leave the impression that Palestinian lives have less value.
While I was there, Brian Avery came from the United States to testify in Jerusalem against the Israeli army. Avery is a peace activist who was shot in the face by the Israeli army in 2003. At first the Israeli army denied that the shooting took place, but has been forced to launch an investigation now that Avery is bringing a suit.
In Ramallah, I learned that, though there is plenty of water near the city, the several hundred thousand residents had spent the summer with running water available only three or four days each week. That sort of fact tends to be invisible to Israelis, along with the reasons.
Ramallah is near the cluster of West Bank aquifers, which are the main sources of water for both the West Bank and Israel, but 80 percent of the West Bank's water goes to Israel and Israeli settlements. For decades, Israel has used its military occupation of the West Bank to build an illegal network of settlements around the water sources. Palestinians have been beaten, killed and driven away to make space for these settlements, and Israel has built a continuous wall, not on the border of Israel but inside Palestinian territory, which effectively annexes the settlements and water resources into Israel.
Israelis are told the wall is for their security. Palestinians call it the annexation wall, and it is difficult for them to believe Israel can be a partner for peace while the Israeli government continues taking Palestinian land for settlements, building the wall to annex them and maintaining the system of checkpoints that paralyze movement and life in the West Bank.
With some colleagues, I spent one day traveling from Ramallah to Jerusalem. The eight-mile trip took 2 1/2 hours. In Ramallah, the wall is 25 feet high, and the Israeli checkpoint is like an airport security station. We lined up for more than half an hour with Palestinians at a remote-controlled 8-foot turnstile where people had to crowd like cattle and wait for a green light to get as many through as possible before the light turned red.
Once past X-ray security and more turnstiles, we boarded shared taxis for what should have been a short ride to Jerusalem. However, the Israeli military had set up an additional temporary "flying checkpoint" some 1,640 feet down the road, forcing several lanes of traffic down to a single lane for stopping and searching. That took almost an hour.
Business in Ramallah is at a standstill. Poverty is everywhere; jobs are not to be found. The people at the checkpoint said to us, "Take pictures. Tell people what is happening here."
Some Israelis, such as my Tel Aviv friends, no longer accept the excuse that the virtual imprisonment and killing of Palestinians are justified by the need for security.
The Israeli government has recently confiscated more Palestinian land near Jerusalem to build a segregated road, literally underground, for Palestinians. Israeli settlers will be able to commute back and forth from the territories without having so much as to see a Palestinian. Invisibility here is no accident.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Brumer

After your Oct 10th opinion piece in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, I followed up to your blog site and found your approving citation of an article by CAMERA supposedly refuting information from Btselem’s website regarding Palestinian civilian casualties (above). Have you looked at the Btselem site yourself? I did some research, and found the following:

The Btselem site does NOT call Palestinians killed while fighting “civilians”. The site has a category of “Palestinians killed by Israeli civilians”, the title of which is misquoted by CAMERA. CAMERA’s statement that B’Tselem’s definition of the term civilian includes “Palestinians who were killed while they attacked Israelis” is simply untrue.

Furthermore, even in the example that CAMERA quotes, only 13 out of 31 Palestinians were killed while engaging in hostilities. So even in CAMERA’s misquoted sample, the majority of Palestinians killed were not engaging in hostilities.

(Btselem’s current total number of Palestinians killed by Israeli civilians is only 41, so it is highly unlikely that there was a separate additional category for “Palestinian non-civilians killed by Israeli civilians” in 2003.)

CAMERA did not use examples from the section on Palestinians kllled by the IDF, probably because there are no such examples. Btselem divides the section on Palestinians killed by Israeli Security Forces into separate sections for Palestinians killed while engaging in hostilities, Palestinians killed while not engaging in hostilities, and Palestinians killed while not known if engaging in hostilities.

In the category "Palestinians who did not take part in the hostilities and were killed by Israeli security forces ( not including the objects of targeted killings)”, there were at last count 2038 fatalities. In the “not known if engaging in hostilities” section, there are 605. This is out of a total of 4240. Even if less than one-fifth of the “unknown” category were civilians not engaged in hostilities, these numbers clearly show that more than half of Palestinians killed by the IDF are not engaged in hostilities. Less conservative interpretations would justify percentages as high as 70%.

The last two examples CAMERA cites -- Abd a-Salam Sadeq Hasouna, Omar Mahmoud Abu Rub/Yusef Muhammad Abu Rub --can be found under Btselem's category, "Palestinians who took part in the hostilities and were killed by Israeli security forces" within Israel. Hence they clearly label these Palestinians as taking part in hostilities, not as civilians.

CAMERA cites numbers from ICT, a pro-Israel site run by Israelis inside Israel, so those numbers are just as suspect as you might find a site run by Palestinians. Btselem, on the other hand, is run by Israelis and tabulates human rights violations by both Palestinians and Israelis, and so has earned a reputation for being scrupulous, cautious and precise. As the above evidence indicates, CAMERA seems willing to distort and fabricate, so you may be undermining your credibility by citing them.

Scott McClay
Seattle WA

David Brumer said...

NGO Monitor:

Don't be so sure about B'Tselem's scrupulousness, cautiousness, and precision. They are highly politicized and get significant funding from European donors. They have an agenda and cannot hide behind the cover of being impartial.
You might look at NGO Monitor cited below, an organization that was created for the precise reason that the foxes were guarding the henhouses. It's important that we hold all the NGO's, including CAMERA, up to closer scrutiny. Thanks for pointing out what may be inconsistencies in CAMERA's accounts. They are certainly not above making errors as well, although I would have to look into your assertions.
David Brumer

Israeli NGO founded "to change Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories."
Prolific producer of reports from the West Bank and Gaza Strip that are regularly used by international NGOs such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch as well as a number of Palestinian NGOs.
Despite its self-declared political aims to change policy, it receives considerable international funding, mainly from European governments.
Recipient of Ford Foundation funding.

Claims in B´tselem/Hamoked report lack credibility, NGO Monitor, May 07, 2007

Betselem: The Ambiguous Boundary between Public Education and Political Activism, NGO Monitor Digest (Vol. 2, No. 2), October 04, 2003

Letter to Jerusalem Post in response to Oped by Jessica Montel, Executive Director of B'Tselem, "Palestinian civilians as political currency" Letter to Jerusalem Post in response to Oped by Jessica Montel, Executive Director of B'Tselem,