I say probably because as Tel Aviv University philosophy professor Asa Kasher explains, it's hard to quantify these things. What is clear though is the extraordinary lengths the IDF goes to in order to ensure that its soldiers conduct themselves in as ethical a fashion as possible. He points out that where failures do occur, it's more often a result of a lack of proper training and professionalism. Yes, the IDF could do even better and the good news is they're working at it.
A fascinating interview with the man who helps set the IDF's ethical parameters.
Asa Kasher co-authored the first IDF Code of Ethics and continues to work on the moral doctrines that shape the parameters of the IDF's actions.
I've included some excerpts. The interview is well worth reading in its entirety.
Tel Aviv University philosophy professor Asa Kasher co-authored the first IDF Code of Ethics and continues to work on the moral doctrines that shape the parameters of our army’s actions.
He has taught at the IDF colleges since the late 1970s and for a long time was the only professor talking to officers about military ethics. When the IDF decided to try writing a Code of Ethics, he was approached and appointed head of a team of generals that wrote a draft and then the final version of the 1994 code, which was approved by chief of staff Ehud Barak and prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.
In the wake of Richard Goldstone’s belated withdrawal of the accusation that Israel deliberately targeted civilians in Operation Cast Lead, and the fresh round of moral argument the judge’s climbdown has provoked, I contacted Kasher to discuss the IDF’s ethics. I wanted to understand the thinking that underpins IDF dos and don’ts, the problematics of grappling with enemies that do not follow any such rules, and the gaping discrepancy, Goldstone’s reversal notwithstanding, between most Israelis’ certainty of the IDF’s morality and the international diplomatic, media and legal community’s relentless opprobrium.
Kasher said much that I might have anticipated, but a great deal more, too, that placed Israel’s recent wars in a context that I had not fully drawn before. I was particularly struck by his explanation for the change in IDF approach over recent years to the endangering of its soldiers – the altered balance it has drawn, prompted by Kasher, when it comes to the safety of its personnel, on the one hand, and the “non-dangerous neighbors” of terrorists, on the other.
People think, he said, “that soldiers are there to be put into danger, that soldiers are there to take risks, that this is their world, this is their profession. But that is so far from the reality in Israel, where most of the soldiers are in the IDF because service is mandatory.” When it comes to Israeli soldiers, “I, the state, took them out of their homes. Instead of him going to university or going to work, I put a uniform on him, I trained him, and I dispatched him. If I am going to endanger him, I owe him a very, very good answer as to why. After all, this is a democratic state that is obligated to protect its citizens. How dare I endanger him?”
Horovitz: Our responsibility is to maintain our moral standards. That’s a very important starting point because in matters of war it can sometimes get blurred. People are always talking about factors like international law, public opinion, the Western world – that is, outside factors that we’re supposed to match up to. No, I say we have to uphold our own standards.
What are those standards?
Kasher: We take decisions that reflect our acceptance of some aspects of international law; other parts, we have not accepted. The prime question, in these fields of morals and ethics, is what I see when I look in the mirror – not when I watch the BBC.
When the enemy becomes more ruthless and harsher than it was in the past, then we have to protect ourselves in smarter and different ways, but still according to the standards that we have set for ourselves.
If our enemy would fight on the battlefield, on open ground, in uniform, carrying his weapons openly, then it would be a case of an army facing off against a force that behaved like an army, and children and other non-dangerous people would not get hurt. But the enemy has changed the way it fights. So we have no choice. We have to protect ourselves as necessary.
Now there’s a basis to what we have to do: We are a democratic state. And that means two things. One, we are obligated to effectively protect our citizens from all danger. So we have a police force, to protect against crime. A Health Ministry, to protect against medical dangers. A Transportation Ministry, against the dangers on the roads. And we have a Defense Ministry, to protect us against the dangers our enemies represent.
The state cannot evade this obligation. It can’t say, “I am busy, I have more important things to do.” There is nothing more important than protecting citizens’ lives. Nothing.
At the same time, the moral foundation of a democratic state is respect for human dignity. Human dignity must be respected in all circumstances. And to respect human dignity in all circumstances means, among other things, to be sensitive to human life in all circumstances. Not just the lives of the citizens of your state. Everybody.
This applies even in our interactions with terrorists. I am respecting the terrorist’s dignity when I ask myself, “Do I have to kill him or can I stop him without killing him?”
And I certainly have to respect the human dignity of the terrorists’ nondangerous neighbors – who are not a threat. We always talk about “innocents,” but “innocence” is not the issue here. The issue here is whether they are dangerous. So the correct translation is “non-dangerous.”
Fine. We have to protect our citizens and we have to respect human dignity. But when it comes to a war like Operation Cast Lead, those two imperatives are likely to clash. I am obligated to protect my citizens, but I have no way to protect them without the non-dangerous neighbors of the terrorists becoming caught up in the conflict. What am I to do?
Two things: First, you decide what is more important in the given situation. And second, you do whatever you can so that the damage to the other side is as small as possible: Maximizing effective defense of the citizens; minimizing collateral damage.
How do I decide which of the conflicting imperatives is more important? People don’t like this idea, because they don’t understand it: They think it is immoral to give priority to the defense of the citizens of your state over the protection of the lives of the neighbors of the terrorists. They don’t understand that the world is built in such a way that responsibility is divided.
H: Please elaborate.
K: We are responsible for the residents of the State of Israel. Canada is responsible for the residents of Canada. Australia, for Australia. And that’s just fine. We are not responsible for the lives of Canadians in the same way as we are for the lives of Israelis and vice versa. This is completely accepted and completely moral and no one questions this. We don’t have one world government that is responsible for everything. We have states with their own responsibilities.
Now from this stems the fact that when you have clash of imperatives, this responsibility for one’s own citizens takes precedence over the other responsibility to the non-dangerous neighbors. This isn’t anything to do with us being Israel, or Jews. The same applies to the United States or to Canada or to any other country.
I cannot evade my prime responsibility to protect the well-being of the citizens of my country. Now, among all the means I could use to protect them, I will choose those that are better morally – better from the point of view of the effectiveness of the protection and the minimalization of the damage to the neighbors of the terrorists.
H: And what do we do to minimize the harm done to the neighbors of the terrorists?
K: So Israel, the IDF, carries out very intensive warning operations. Unprecedented. There are those who don’t like the term, “the most moral army in the world.” I think it’s a very complex phrase, and one has to make all kinds of professional diagnoses. You can’t just blithely invoke it. But let’s look at that claim in this particular context.
Who tries harder than we do to warn the neighbors [to leave a conflict zone]? Who does it better than we do? I don’t know if the public realizes this, but we recently carried out precisely such an act of warning – by publishing a map of Hezbollah positions in south Lebanon. Israel released details of hundreds of villages where Hezbollah has a position deep inside the village. From there, they’ll fire on us if and when they want to, and we will have to protect ourselves. That means we’ll have to fire into the village.
The publication of this map is a warning: We know, it says, that Hezbollah is intertwining its terrorists with non-dangerous neighbors. Understand that to protect ourselves in this situation will mean endangering the populace. The populace has to know that it is in a dangerous situation.
What to do in this dangerous situation? We don’t know. We’re telling those non-dangerous neighbors to give it some thought. Try to kick out Hezbollah? That is apparently very difficult. Move away from the Hezbollah position? Perhaps that is possible. Get away when the time comes? That may sound theoretical at present, but when the time comes, who knows? The fact is, this is an advance warning.
Now let’s come to Operation Cast Lead in this context. We distributed leaflets [to Gaza civilians, telling them that they should leave a potential conflict zone]. It may be that we can do that better – distribute better leaflets, more detailed, with more precise guidance on how to get away. We broke into their radio and TV broadcasts to give them announcements, to warn them. That can be done still more effectively.
We made phone calls to 160,000 phone numbers. No one in the world has ever done anything like that, ever. And it’s clear why that is effective. It’s not a piece of paper that was dropped in my neighborhood. The phone rang in my own pocket! Yes, it was a recorded message, because it’s impossible to make personal calls on that scale. But still, this was my number they dialed. It was a warning directed personally to me, not some kind of general warning.
And finally, we had the “tap on the roof” approach. The IDF used nonlethal weaponry, fired onto the roofs [of buildings being used by terrorists]. That weaponry makes a lot of noise. It constituted a very strong, noisy hint: We’re close, but you still have the chance to get out.
We issue warnings in an unprecedented way – not one warning, but many. We make enormous efforts to get the neighbors away from the terrorists.
H: So there’s a difference between what we did in Jenin [during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, where 13 soldiers were killed in an ambush] and what we did in Gaza?
K: Yes, we changed our approach. The approach is more appropriate now. I think what we did in Jenin was a mistake. There was a primitive conception that “it’s all right to endanger soldiers.” Every time there was a dilemma like this – soldiers here and non-soldiers on the other side – the soldiers were endangered.
H: Why was that wrong?
K: You need, to a certain limit, to warn the people to get out. At a certain point, the warnings are over and there are two possibilities. That people have stayed because they don’t want to leave or because they can’t leave. If they can’t leave, despite all the warnings, despite the possibilities to get them out, even to send ambulances to get them out, that’s interesting to me, and we’ll come back to that.
But if a neighbor doesn’t want to leave, he turns himself into the human shield of the terrorist. He has become part of the war. And I’m sorry, but I may have to harm him when I try to stop the terrorist. I’ll do my best not to. But it may be that in the absence of all other alternatives, I may hurt him. I certainly don’t see a good reason to endanger the lives of soldiers in a case like that.
H: And what, now, of the issue of civilians who are prevented by the terrorists from leaving a conflict zone?
K: This has to be handled in a graduated fashion. I’ll explain. Let’s imagine a fictitious situation, whereby the terrorists have forced 20 children onto the roofs of every single building in Gaza that has been marked as a target because it has terrorists in it. That’s what I see in my reconnaissance photographs. Every single roof is covered with children.
That means that I can’t fire on those buildings. But they’re firing at me from those buildings. There are 20 children on the roof, and from the house the terrorists are firing. It’s the same in every house. If I can’t fire on any house because there are children on the roof, I have lost my capacity to protect myself. There is nothing I can do.
Always in those circumstances, people say, “Well, make peace.” Fine. Great. I want peace. We have to seek peace. But right now I’m facing these houses and they’re firing at me. Talking about a peace conference now is not really the point. Or people say, as with the cop facing the murderous bank robber, “Don’t shoot him. We need to clean up the neighborhood so that the people have jobs and don’t turn to crime.” Again, great, yes, that’s true. We have to create a situation where there aren’t criminals in that neighborhood, but right now I’ve got an armed robber in the bank and he’s threatening to kill his hostages. So, right now I have to protect the citizens of my state, and if I don’t fire at any of the houses that have children on the roof, then I won’t be able to protect my civilians. And that’s unthinkable, out of the question.
So, what I have to do, and it’s tragic however you look at it, is fire at one of those houses. The first place that they fire at me from, even though there are children on the roof, I will immediately fire on it, and some of those children will be killed – because I have no choice, because I have no other means to protect myself. The terrorists took away from me the normal means of self-defense. It’s out of the question that I not protect myself, so I hope the terrorists will take the children off the roofs, and I will wait for them to take the children off the roofs in order to defend myself against the terrorists, but if they don’t take the children off the roofs, I will continue. I have no choice. A state cannot say “I will allow my citizens to be killed because the enemy has placed children on all the roofs and I will not kill children.”
K: I was born here and my parents came here long before World War II. I didn’t go through the Holocaust. My wife did. My wife is a survivor. What lesson do I learn from World War II? That we cannot rely on anybody else. That when it’s time to protect ourselves, there’s no one else we can rely on. And we have no exemption, ever, from thinking about how best to protect ourselves. And if the enemy puts children on all the roofs of the buildings from which it fires on us, we will not capitulate to them. It’s a tragic situation, but we won’t capitulate.
This also requires leadership that is capable of explaining to the soldiers why they have to do this – why they have to do something totally counter-intuitive.
These Palestinians and Hezbollah, they’re playing this win-win game and it’s depressing to see. If Israel doesn’t fire at them, they’re very happy, and I can understand that. But if Israel does fire on them, and children are hurt, they’re also happy. They celebrate. I believe that these losses destroy the mothers and the fathers. But the community is ostensibly happy: “Great, we’ve got something nasty to say against Israel. Israel kills children.”
And you have this whole community, including parts of the international media and some Israelis, who look at these episodes with one eye. This community sees only the poor children who have been killed. And they really are pitiful children. What’s the emerging narrative? That Israel kills children and doesn’t care about it. Such aggressors. Such barbarians. And all the thousand things we do precisely to avoid such situations are ignored.
This community and various international political bodies tell us, “Yes, you’re entitled to defend yourselves. We can’t take that away from you. The right to self-defense is in the charter of the United Nations. So yes, you have to protect yourselves. But you mustn’t harm anybody who isn’t dangerous.” There is no such reality. Not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan.
H: Well, they ask that Israel not be disproportionate, that it not be too heavy-handed.
K: It’s good that you mentioned that. The world in general doesn’t have a clue what proportionality is. Proportionality, first of all, is not about numbers. The question of proportionality, according to international law, is whether the military benefit justifies the collateral damage. And secondly, also according to international law, it is a consideration for the commander in the field, because only the commander in the field can make the judgment: What does he gain from what he’s about to do and what is the collateral damage he is likely to cause? With Israel, we fire and two minutes later, the UN secretary- general is already accusing us of using disproportionate force. On what basis does he make that assumption? How can he possibly know?
And, finally, this whole concept of proportionality exists in international law only in situations where you know that you’re going to harm non-dangerous people. It’s not relevant in other circumstances. This is designed for situations where noncombatants will be hurt and in those circumstances the commander in the field must weigh the benefits and the damage. The questions of proportionality are clear only at the extremes. Between those extremes, only the commander in the field can weigh the balance. It’s very hard to give him a formula.
H: I want to put to you some of the criticisms that have been raised about why and how the IDF conducted Operation Cast Lead, including objections raised by columnists in this newspaper. It’s been asserted that we, Israel, invaded their territory, and they were defending themselves against us. The kill ratio, of approximately 100 to 1, has been highlighted as ostensible evidence of the IDF’s disproportionate use of force. It’s been argued that, of course Hamas didn’t engage in open, conventional conflict with us – army to army, in uniform – because they would have lost. Their only chance was to fight from within residential areas. And it’s been asserted, again as evidence of an ostensible Israeli overreaction, that while Israel sustained a little over two dozen fatalities from their attacks on us between 2005 and 2008, their losses in that period totaled 1,250.
K: First of all, it’s absolutely ridiculous, and I have no other word, to say that we invaded their territory and therefore they were defending themselves from us, as though we stormed in out of the clear blue sky and they were protecting themselves. The true picture is that they attacked Israel non-stop and Israel was defending itself from their relentless attacks. If they had not relentlessly attacked us, the IDF would not have gone in.
Look at the Second Lebanon War. It began with the kidnapping of soldiers and the killing of soldiers. Does that mean that I am allowed only to kidnap or kill a few Hezbollah soldiers? No. I have to ensure that Hezbollah is not able now or in the near future to carry out a similar action. Self-defense extends to attacking the source of the attack he has just carried out and from which he would be able to attack me again in a moment. If I don’t take action, he will presumably attack me again. He always wants to attack me. I have no reason to think that there will only be one Kassam or Katyusha. He’ll fire another.
So, coming back to Cast Lead, this was certainly not our invasion and their defense. When facing the armies of the United States and the Soviet Union in World War II, did the Germans have the moral right to self-defense because those armies invaded their country? The entire invasion of the allies into Germany was self-defense against Nazi Germany. To claim that, in Gaza, they are defending themselves against our invasion is really a not-serious objection.
Now, as to the matter of kill ratio. That’s not the point. It’s not a sporting contest. You ask yourself, “What is he doing to me?” – not in terms of the damage but in terms of the danger.
Look at what happened with the recent attack on the school bus. Only one child was killed. “Only one.” One too many. But if the terrorist had fired five minutes earlier, there would have been dozens of children killed. The fact is that there’s a danger to the lives of children traveling in a school bus on the roads of Israel. That [most of the children] were lucky this time, that one child was killed and the rest not, does not enter the equation.
As for the numbers of those killed on the other side, that needs to be examined without any connection to how many were killed on our side. Hamas today admits to having lost very high numbers of people who were directly connected to Hamas. All those “policemen” [killed in IAF attacks at the start of Cast Lead] were not policemen in the Western sense of the word. Those weren’t people employed to give speeding tickets. Information published soon after Cast Lead detailed their combat deployment, the role each of them was to play when the IDF came in. This was a support force for the Hamas army. We hit them legitimately.
Now, there were 200 people who were not dangerous who were killed.
H: Just 200?
K: Yes, 200 who had no link to Hamas. All the rest had a clear tie to Hamas. And each of the cases in which those 200 were killed must be checked. Those 200 are, of course, 200 too many. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have carried out the operations of Cast Lead as we did. But it does mean that if there’s a Cast Lead II, we’ll have to use approaches that mean there won’t be the 200 – that there’ll be the fewer the better.
We can learn from each of the circumstances in which the 200 were killed. On the margins, some of those deaths stemmed from a lack of professionalism, where a soldier didn’t do what he should have done. Obviously there are things to correct.
But I would stress that to have the military police question hundreds of soldiers after an operation like this, while I understand the political effect, is not good for the army. It won’t save lives. You have to rely on the probes that the army itself carries out.
Internal army investigations are the correct forum for addressing this, initially at least. If it turns out to be necessary, you have a military prosecutor and it becomes a legal matter.
H: I want to return to those Hamas policemen who were killed on day one of Cast Lead. On that day they weren’t engaging in terrorism. They were at a graduation ceremony. And yet you say it was morally acceptable to kill them?
K: When you enter a place, you have to think about not only who is firing on you, but on who will be firing on you. That’s the rationale behind the laws of war. In this case, those forces certainly had the potential to hurt the IDF. Gaza is a very small place. This is Hamas. These were the forces that were helping Hamas. And therefore it was clear that tomorrow they would be joining up with the forces trying to hurt the IDF.
H: What about the argument that Hamas would obviously be defeated by the IDF in a conventional war and therefore its only chance is to fight from within residential areas?
K: Listen, we’re not living in the Middle Ages. These are not wars between knights, where it’s not fair if one has a big spear and the other has a little dagger. This is about the obligation to provide effective protection for my citizens. The fact that you are weak militarily does not exempt you from the measures I have to take to protect my citizens.
Israel will protect itself in the light of the way that it is attacked. If the enemy doesn’t have tanks, then it won’t be a battle of armored forces against armored forces. But it will be a battle, and I will protect myself against whatever you use to attack me. The fact that you don’t have tanks and planes does not justify terrorism. That’s no moral justification. Moral justification is not a function of the means you have. It relates to the limitations on the means that you use.
H: Yet international public opinion is hostile, and that influences political opinion, which impacts the international climate, which ultimately can limit Israel’s capacity to protect itself...
K: Let’s dissect that concept of public opinion and governments and the international climate. Governments follow their own interests. When they have an interest in criticizing us, they criticize us. When they have an interest in defending us, they defend us.
When the Goldstone Report was published, I immediately said that we had nothing to fear from the point of view of implementing international law – because we are more moderate than the rest of the world, and if those were the standards, we would not be able to do anything to protect ourselves, but neither would the US or NATO or anyone else in Iraq or Afghanistan. And therefore the US and NATO could not allow that report to have a practical impact. Now that Goldstone’s written his article, shifting a little, that’s even more the case.
H: Would Israel have carried out all these investigations without Goldstone?
K: Yes. And look how few indictments were served in the end. It would have been the same without Goldstone.
So you have these governments whose actions are a function of their interests. You have the Human Rights Council of the United Nations – excuse me, but if people don’t think this is all about politics, just look at this body, which was chaired by Libya and 80 percent of whose decisions are against us. Everyone’s talking differently about Libya today, but this Libya they’re all attacking now is the same Libya that acted against us all the time.
H: But the fact is that Israel feels itself increasingly isolated, and there are potential practical implications.
K: Really? What potential for practical consequences? We as Jews – and I understand this, but we have to stop it – are acutely sensitive to every attack on us. Not only when it’s anti-Semitism or anti-Israel. Even when someone attacks us for this or that government’s politics. The lights go on. “They’re attacking us.” It seems to us to be absolutely terrible. I understand that feeling. We don’t have a history of being loved by everyone. Quite the reverse. But some perspective is required. Obviously we have to be active on all fronts. The international media is a front. So you have the IDF Spokesman. You have the Ministry of Public Diplomacy. Everyone must do what they can to improve this situation. But it’s not that important.
K: I don’t need to wait for a Bar-Ilan speech by Prime Minister Netanyahu, and for all kinds of interesting observations from prime minister Sharon, to recognize that it is essential that there be a Palestinian state. The State of Israel, in its Proclamation of Independence, recognized the Palestinian state. It declared that “the right of the Jewish people to establish their state is irrevocable. This right is the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate, like all other nations, in their own sovereign state.” Like all other nations! The Zionist mainstream supported the Partition decision, which provided for a state for the Jews and a state for the Palestinians. We recognized a Palestinian state from the very start.
That’s nothing new. That’s not doing a favor to anyone. The question is under what circumstances will a Palestinian state be established. I don’t have to help in the establishment of something that wants to wipe me out. But that the Palestinians have the right to be a people in their own state, in their territory somewhere between the river and the sea, goes without saying.
H: I want to come back to the objections to what the IDF did in Gaza. You note that we pulled out all our people, but the objection is that we didn’t free Gaza. We still prevent products going in. We still control the borders. We haven’t given them full control.
K: Since they are arming themselves relentlessly, via weapons-laden ships, via the tunnels, my self-defense requires those controls. I don’t want to have to depend on Iron Dome to shoot down the missile. I want the missile not to reach Gaza from Iran in the first place. So I maintain the sea blockade, which is unquestionably legitimate according to all the laws of war at sea, to prevent them from bringing in the weaponry. And the same goes for the land crossings. We don’t allow free access, because it is likely to endanger us.
We have “effective control” at the borders – on what goes in and out. But we don’t have effective control inside. Hamas is the de facto government of Gaza; Hamas has effective control there. And therefore Hamas is responsible for the fact that there are terrorists mixed in with their non-dangerous neighbors. They carry the responsibility for that.
Apart from that, we take care that there not be a humanitarian disaster in Gaza from the point of view of food and medicines and needs.
K: But now, when we are in a war with organizations, not states, all the assumptions collapse. Why are states signed up to international treaties? For reasons of political prudence, not high morality: If I don’t harm his civilians, he won’t harm my civilians, and we’ll both benefit. If I won’t kill his prisoners, he won’t kill my prisoners; I won’t fire chemical weapons at him, and he won’t fire chemical weapons at me. It’s all reciprocity.
But now, in our situations, there is no reciprocity. Israel is always trying to minimize the collateral damage it causes its enemies, and its enemies are always trying to maximize the damage – not collateral; they are really aiming for the citizens.
This takes us back to where this interview started: It doesn’t mean Israel will now act in the way its enemies do. But you see now that Israel has to act according to its interests and its standards, and not according to some kind of picture that is common to Israeli and its enemies. This whole notion of reciprocity has disappeared.
I’m not saying we need to change the rules of war. But we need to widen them. Don’t cancel anything, but understand that in these new wars, you need something else. Something else that rests on the same moral basis: to “alleviate the calamities of war,” as someone put it in an international document two hundred years ago.
In the first years of the 2000s, we fought against a civilian organization that dispatched suicide bombers from a political entity – the Palestinian Authority – but not from a state.
Then we had the Second Lebanon War, with Hezbollah, a semi-military organization, supported by the Iranian and Syrian armies, sitting on the territory of the state of Lebanon, and some of its activities were terrorism, and some were guerrilla activities against soldiers.
Then came Operation Cast Lead. Again, not against a state – the PA is in charge, but it’s not a state – but against a semi-military organization, getting support from the same places, from Iran and from Syria, and it is the de facto government. Which was not the case in the two previous cases.
And now, if there’s a Third Lebanon War, Hezbollah sits in the Lebanese government. It is no longer a militia sitting in south Lebanon. It is a party in the Lebanese government. So if it fires on us, we’ll need a different doctrine covering what to do. The Lebanese government includes a party that has a militia that is firing on you. It’s not the Lebanese Army that is attacking you, but you are being attacked by a force that is in the government.
These appropriate doctrines must be informed by the same spirit: we are a democratic state, we must protect our citizens, we respect human dignity, we must minimize collateral damage in every effective means...
K: I hear the same thing everywhere in democratic states. I’ve been to something like 15 of them, from India to Canada. There is no one who will say I don’t have to protect my civilians and to minimize the damage [to the other side]. There is no one who will say I must not harm the other side and minimize the damage to my civilians. No one will say that. No one. Nowhere.
H: Have there been things that Israel has done, that the IDF has done, that do trouble you?
K: We do need to greatly improve our professionalism – not only in terms of operating weaponry, but in terms of better understanding the principles I’ve set here.
I’ll give you an example: I heard a certain person say, during Operation Cast Lead, that we have to cause the other side to understand that ba’al habayit hishtagea – that Israel has “gone crazy.” That’s absolutely unacceptable. In fact, we have to cause them to appreciate the very opposite: that Israel is anything but crazy. That Israel acts aggressively only because it has no chance. It hits people only because it has to. It hits non-dangerous people only in a case of collateral damage, while making immense efforts not to harm them.
H: What do you think of the Israeli media’s coverage of Operation Cast Lead and of the local NGOs, including the rush to highlight the subsequently discredited Rabin military academy allegations in March 2009 that soldiers had deliberately targeted civilians?
K: Local media is guilty of sensationalism and a lack of responsibility. Haaretz has an agenda and skews everything in the service of that agenda. And others, like Yediot and Ma’ariv, are just sensationalist. There is no connection even between their headlines and the content.
I read the protocol of that discussion in the Rabin academy. I also read everything that the Breaking the Silence soldiers said. I read the full document. That full document emerged only after the international media came to me for a response to the alleged summary that had come out a few days earlier. From that summary, you might have thought they had exposed a huge wave, a tsunami, of war crimes, which it was very hard to believe could be possible. And in fact, it wasn’t possible. Everything was skewed in that report. This is a political body with a political agenda which is legitimate, but it uses methods in my opinion that are not legitimate in terms of media ethics and NGO ethics.
As for B’Tselem, and international NGOs like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty, they all have double standards. For them, there is the poor, pitiful side and the strong side. Testimony that comes from the pitiful side is taken at face value. Whatever comes from the strong side is tainted – “it’s a spokesman, it’s a whitewash.” Radical suspicion for one side and virtually an unlimited readiness to accept everything that comes from the other. That’s a double standard and it creates an utterly skewed picture. I don’t rely on them.
On the other hand, it doesn’t matter where an accusation comes from, the IDF must take a look at it. The IDF must look into every story from B’Tselem, every story from Machsom Watch, every story from Amnesty International. Not because I rely on them. I don’t. But you don’t have to rely on them to do your work properly. Look into every story. There’s a tiny, microscopic proportion that has some basis, so look, check, find out..
Sunday, April 24, 2011
I say probably because as Tel Aviv University philosophy professor Asa Kasher explains, it's hard to quantify these things. What is clear though is the extraordinary lengths the IDF goes to in order to ensure that its soldiers conduct themselves in as ethical a fashion as possible. He points out that where failures do occur, it's more often a result of a lack of proper training and professionalism. Yes, the IDF could do even better and the good news is they're working at it.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
The Duality of Pesach: Remembering that we were 'Strangers in a Strange Land' yet that 'in Every Generation there are those who Rise Up to Destroy Us'
First Day of Pesach D'var: Congregation Beth Shalom, Seattle, WA
April 19th, 2011
The Duality of Pesach: Remembering that we were once 'Strangers in a Strange Land' yet that 'in Every Generation there are those who rise up to Destroy Us'
Passover commemorates our journey from slavery to redemption as a people.
Over thirty-three hundred years ago, we as a people rose up, and with the help of the Almighty, orchestrated history's first emancipation movement, challenging the status quo and insisting that the values of freedom, justice and peoplehood were both sacrosanct and achievable. A remarkable accomplishment. The Jews of Egypt left the sweaty swamps of the Nile for the arid deserts of Sinai, and ultimately Israel.
And today, over 33 centuries later, we still retell this miraculous story of our exodus and redemption as a free people as we sit around Seder tables all over the world. More than Yom Kippur or the Sabbath, the first night of Pesach remains the most observed holiday in the Jewish calendar. In Israel, even the most secular of Israelis find meaning and value in the Seder ritual.
It is said that we are a people of the book, but before we had "the book" we had stories; and a powerful oral tradition that transmitted those narratives. We remain profoundly connected to our past, as we give new meaning each year to the injunction "to remember the exodus as if we ourselves were enslaved, and we went out to freedom and were redeemed."
Our tradition is richly imbued. We are asked to remember the Exodus each year, and at least 36 other times during the year we are enjoined to remember that we were "once strangers in a stranger land" and to treat the 'stranger' among us with that consciousness. In Leviticus Chapter 19, Verse 34, we are told:
"When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."
And yet, we begin our Seders with the memory of:
Ayleh shebechol dor va'dor, Omdeem Aleinu L'Chaloteinu!
In Every Generation there are those who Rise Up Against Us and Seek to Destroy Us.
It is the greatness of our tradition that reminds us that even in the face of those threats, we must find ways to reassert our humanity and never lose sight of this central tenet of our faith: To act morally towards the 'Other.'
A formidable challenge which I'll return to later.
But first, let's go back to this "In Every Generation there are those who Rise Up Against Us and Seek to Destroy Us" business.
What's amazing is this was written long before the Crusades, the pogroms, or the Holocaust: Likely sometime between 200 BCE and 200 CE. It's amazingly clairvoyant in its prognostication that one of the world's oldest sicknesses, anti-Semitism, will continue to afflict. From the Pharaohs to the Philistines, Nebuchadnezzar to Haman, the Greek-Assyrians to Titus and the Romans, the Crusaders, Torquemada and the Inquisition, the Cossacks, Hitler and all the way up to Ahmadinejad, Hamas & Hezbollah, people have sought to destroy us because we are Jews.
Yet we have persevered, survived, empowered ourselves and prospered. We as a people have maintained a continuity to our ancestors in Egypt, in part by retelling the story of the Exodus every year at our Seder tables. We have fortified ourselves with the promise, unrequited for almost 2 millennia, L'Shana Ha'ba-ah B'Yerushalayim!
And for the past 63 years that promise has been realized. The miracle of our people's return to Zion has occurred. We are indeed a "stiff-necked" people; a people of resolve, with profound reservoirs of memory.
So why are we also so prone to forget? We forget the miracle of our redemption, both in ancient times as well as modern. The recreation of the modern state of Israel is perhaps the greatest miracle yet, and equally miraculous is the fact that in the face of unmitigated attacks, 63 years of wars and terror, surrounded by many hostile states and non-state actors dedicated to our destruction, we have not only survived but thrived. Israel remains a beehive of creativity, innovation, invention, and cultural renaissance. World class writers like Amos Oz, Alef Bet Yehoshua, and David Grossman continue to produce inspired literature. In science, cutting edge technologies garner Israel more nobel laureates per capita than anywhere in the world. Israel continues to send humanitarian relief teams to disaster sites like Haiti, Japan, and the Muslim world, when permitted. And Israel remains the safe haven it was created to be for Jews the world over. The in-gathering now includes tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews and over a million from the former Soviet Union.
It's so easy to see all the ills that plague modern Israel and forget the miracle of what's been created in such a short historical time. The nay-sayers tell us that the sky is falling on Israeli democracy, that fascism is slowly taking over, that civil rights are fatally endangered and that the country is headed for disaster.
To be sure, problems abound, and Israel has made many mistakes (as I might add, have all democracies). Helping create Hamas was certainly a doozy. Israel's parliamentary system breeds the worst in coalition governing, where horse trading is the coin of the realm. But let's remember, Israel moved to a center-right government not because Israelis are inherently xenophobic, racist or paranoid, but because the Left in Israel was decimated (and devastated) by the failures of the peace process and the last ten years of terror and asymmetric wars launched even after more territory was relinquished, in Lebanon, the northern West Bank and all of Gaza.
And yes, the Occupation is untenable, it's morally destructive to the Israeli soul, and as bad as it is for the Palestinians, it's also corrosive to the basic tenets of Zionism. All of us agree that a two state solution is what we are striving for. The conundrum is how to achieve it and maintain Israel's security, while keeping Hamas from turning a Palestinian state into an Islamist launching pad in range of Ben Gurion Airport, Jerusalem, and Tel Aviv.
So, what's all this have to do with Passover, you ask? Well, let's go back to the challenge of remembering: Remembering we were strangers in a strange land, to treat the 'other' accordingly, and at the same time, Remember that "In Every Generation there are those who Rise Up Against Us and Seek to Destroy Us."
Israel has enemies today, and they are formidable. There is of course, Hezbollah and Hamas, who openly acknowledge that they are dedicated to Israel's destruction, and their state sponsor, Iran, who is doggedly pursuing a nuclear option to realize their leadership's dream of unleashing a second Holocaust, even as they deny that a first one ever took place. Still, militarily, Israel does not face anything close to an existential threat today, although a nuclear Iran would change that. But our enemies are nothing if not resourceful and adaptable. Much of the war against the Jewish State has shifted tactically from the military realm into the ideological and psychological.
Our enemies wage asymmetric wars, blurring the lines between combatants and civilians, cynically hiding amongst their own populations even as they are deliberately firing on Israeli civilians. They then use international NGO's, UN committees, and the court of world opinion to try Israel as the aggressor and war criminal. A new term has been coined to describe this: Lawfare.
And even though Judge Goldstone, who headed the UN Human Rights panel commissioned to investigate alleged Israeli war crimes during the Gaza War, retracted his major accusations earlier this month, the damage the Goldstone report caused over the past two years cannot be so readily undone. As Jeffrey Goldberg commented, "it's not so easy to retract a blood libel." The "Goldstone Report" has had the ironic effect of lessening Israel's willingness to make compromises for peace and withdraw from further territories, for fear that if attacked from those territories and it legitimately defends itself, it will again be accused of 'war crimes.'
BDS, or the Boycott, Divestiture, and Sanctions movement is another insidious effort to undermine the very legitimacy of the Jewish State. Last week, President Obama's Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, Hannah Rosenthal was in town. At an AJC breakfast I asked her if her office was taking a public stand against BDS. She said it wasn't because they saw the movement as largely ineffective. That the BDS movement was having a negligible economic impact. I suggested to her that she was missing the ideological and psychological success it was having, helping to isolate and alienate Israel, adding fuel to international efforts to delegitimize Israel and make her a pariah state.
In the Haftorah today, Joshua approaches a man who holds a drawn sword in hand and asks him, "Halanu Atah eem L'tzareinu? Are you one of us or one of our enemies?"
To the modern ear, this may sound like simplistic reductionism that no longer bears relevance to today's complex realities and shifting paradigms. To the ancient ear, this was a natural inquiry. I would argue that regardless of today's complexities, on certain questions, we as a people have a right to know if you're with us or against us, are you friend or foe, a supporter of Delegitimation and Demonization efforts, a supporter of Standards and Expectations applied to Israel but to no other country on the face of the earth?
Are you an apologist for enemies of our people who shoot anti-tank missiles at a school bus or butcher a family of five in their home on Shabbat?
Or do you believe, as believe it or not, I have heard from members of Seattle's Jewish community, that "There are no enemies out there; only Friends we haven't yet made."
We as a people can't afford the luxury of that kind of naivete.
We have to have more seichel because for a smart people we can sometimes act pretty dumb.
We need to acknowledge that we have enemies. Organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas, who are dedicated to our destruction and are happy to say so, are our enemies. There is no place for moral equivalency when people fire missiles at a school bus or butcher to death the Fogel family, or those who then celebrate such heinous acts. A jihadist organization like Hamas who kidnaps Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and then holds him in captivity for almost five years, completely isolated from his family, without benefit of a visit by the Red Cross, is an enemy, and they are evil, and we shouldn't be afraid to say so.
But lest I be seen as being some kind of paranoid, fear-mongering Islamophobe, let me clarify. Many, many in the Arab world and Palestinian society are not our enemies. We should be--and are--relentlessly searching for ways to live in harmony with our neighbors. And, I would even go so far as to say we may even have to talk to and negotiate with enemies like Hamas, but let's not delude ourselves that everyone in this world is interested in pluralism. Or that all groups and ideologies are redeemable.
Today's reality is that while Israel may not face an immediate existential threat militarily, the threats from Demonization and Delegitimation do pose an existential urgency. And we need to stand together, Left & Right, Religious and Secular, Orthodox & Reform and assert unequivocally that Israel's right to exist as a Jewish State is not only non-negotiable, but that it is a primary responsibility. This is not to say that we don't need to work harder to create a more civil, just and decent society in Israel. We do; and it is all Jews' responsibility. But we must acknowledge that if we don't collectively battle the forces dedicated to our demise, we will not survive to create a better society that we can all be proud of. All else pales when compared to this challenge.
Just last month, Reform Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch addressed the Central Conference of American Rabbis in New Orleans
He asserted what he deems to be Red Lines for our community, lines that go way beyond disagreements over a particular government or that government's policies. I think they're important enough to repeat
-- If Jews in the name of Judaism and the Jewish community advocate boycotting Israel
--If Jewish organizations lobby for UN and international sanctions against Israel
--or Pressure Congress to reduce foreign aid to Israel
If Jews support and promote such actions,
Then the organized Jewish community must oppose these forces with everything we've got.
First: b/c these views are marginal in the Jewish community.
Second: b/c these views threaten the very existence of Israel. I draw the line at restricting Israel's right or capacity to defend itself.
Third: These views are morally outrageous, especially if you express them in the name of the Jewish people.
Not in my name.
Anti-democratic regimes are boycotted; not democracies. Libya should be sanctioned, not Israel. Myanmar should be boycotted, not Israel. Divest from China if you care about human rights, not Israel.
By joining those who speak only of Israel's faults and not the enormous contributions that Israel has made to the welfare of Jews and the world; by allowing unimpeded Israel-bashing masquerading as justice, human rights and international law, we distort reality.
And it is our role to put the discussion about Israel in proper and more balanced context.
Life is about context. Truth is about context. In Israel, this context is already taken into account when people protest and assert rights. But abroad the context is often dominated by Israel's enemies.
There is a campaign [in the world] to delegitimate Israel. To deny this is to deny reality. There is a campaign to portray Israel in the most negative light possible. This is an existential threat to Israel--a far greater threat than apartment complexes in Efrat, which in any case, will remain in Israel in any permanent solution.
We rabbis, the Jewish establishment, and all others who define themselves as pro-Israel--cannot place ourselves in circumstances where we actually give aid and comfort to those who seek Israel's destruction, or weaken Israel in any way, especially in its capacity to defend itself.
So, back to the challenge of maintaining our values, teaching our children derech eretz, fostering pride in our heritage and literacy in our history, and remembering we were strangers in a strange land...
To paraphrase Rabbi Hirsch; context is everything.
Israel was severely tested from 2000-2004 when the terror war launched by Arafat and his minions turned the schoolyards, buses, cinemas, malls, restaurants, discotheques and ordinary city streets of Israel proper into a battlefield. Under the circumstances of this unprecedented existential attack against their nation, the Israeli people handled themselves with exceptional restraint and great dignity. No modern democracy has sustained that kind of unabated barrage of terrorist attacks, day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. It is only in that context that Israel's defensive measures to protect her citizenry should be scrutinized.
And the same goes for the restraint Israel demonstrated over 3 years following its complete withdrawal from Gaza, only to see literally thousands of rockets and mortars fired into civilian areas in southern Israel. One has only to conduct a simple thought experiment and ask, what would America's response be if Mexico was launching rockets into San Diego and even further up the California coast? What would France do if irredentist Germans in Alsace-Lorraine decided to lob bombs into Burgundy and Paris?
Rather than judge Israel by an unrealistic standard of perfection, we must ask ourselves how well other democracies would have stood up to such assaults.
It's easy to act kindly when you're Switzerland. But the true test of a decent and moral society is how it conducts itself when it finds itself under siege. I respectfully suggest that this Passover we ask ourselves the hard questions of how a society ensures the safety of its own citizenry and respects the human and civil rights of all, starting with the most basic of human rights, the right to life and the right to exist.
I have a confession to make, even though it's the wrong holiday.
Much of my born-again Zionism is an organic result of my work over the past 15 years with our Jewish elders. And today's parsha begins with Moses summoning all the elders
together. Elders are venerated in our tradition, even when they become weak, frail and less than whole. In the Babylonian Talmud, it is said that Moses shattered the first set of stone tablets with the 10 Commandments, in his ire at seeing the sinning Israelites. Yet the shards of those shattered tablets were placed in the Holy Ark in the Tabernacle alongside the second, whole set of tablets. The broken tablets are esteemed the same honor and value as the whole ones. And so it is with our elders...
I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a final moment to mention the advent of Jewish Hospice in Seattle. I’m proud to be leading this program under the auspices of the Kline Galland. We’re the first Jewish Hospice in the Pacific Northwest. Our spiritual and philosophical underpinnings emanate from Jewish practices around death and dying. In a word, our motto is “Honoring Life.” Rather than focus on death, we put our energies into helping individuals live fully and meaningful until their last breath. We embrace hope even as we acknowledge the impinging realities of life-limiting illnesses.
As Jews, we're comfortable with paradox and balancing sometimes competing realities. Despite those who may rise up in every generation and try to destroy us, we affirm life, we counter anti-Semitic hate with love; we choose building and creating when others strive to destroy us; Our way, the Jewish way, is to defeat evil and ignorance and hatred with constructive acts of tikkun olam.
I’ll end with a passage from Psalms
Teach us to use all of our Days, that we may Attain a Heart of Wisdom…
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Speaking truth to serial propagandists, who wear the false mantle of 'defenders of the oppressed' --very refreshing to see; and hopeful
Black student leaders slam 'apartheid' characterization
By JORDANA HORN, JPOST CORRESPONDENT
Letter says "decency, justice and hope compel us to demand immediate cessation to deliberate misappropriation of words."
NEW YORK – African-American student leaders from a variety of historically black colleges and universities took out full page ads in numerous American college newspapers Thursday, displaying an “Open Letter to Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP),” to convey that they were offended by SJP’s use of the term “apartheid” at recent Israel Apartheid Week events at campuses across the country. The 16 signatories to the letter are students and alumni from historically black colleges and universities who are members of the Vanguard Leadership Group, a leadership development academy and honor society for top students. The letter ran or is slated to run in student newspapers at Brown University, University of California- Los Angeles, University of Maryland and Columbia University over the next few days. "The Students for Justice in Palestine’s labeling of Israel, an extremely diverse and vibrant country, as an apartheid state is not only false, but offensive,” Vanguard President Michael Hayes told The Jerusalem Post. “Additionally, this rhetoric does absolutely nothing to help Israel-Palestine negotiations or relations. We feel this type of action serves to hinder the peace process domestically and abroad, and have made it our priority to take a stand to shift the tide of understanding.” In a statement released by the Vanguard Leadership Group as to why they authored the open letter to SJP, Vanguard described itself as “proudly involved in the pro-Israel movement in America. “The use of the word ‘apartheid’ by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) in its characterization of Israel is patently false and deeply offensive to all who feel a connection to the state of Israel,” the letter reads. “Your organization’s campaign against Israel is spreading misinformation about its policies, fostering bias in the media and jeopardizing prospects for a timely resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Such irresponsibility is a blemish on your efforts.” The letter continues to state that “[p]laying the ‘apartheid card’ is a calculated attempt to conjure up images associated with the racist South African regimes of the 20th century,” and calls the strategy “as transparent as it is base.” “Beyond that, it is highly objectionable to those who know the truth about the Israelis’ record on human rights and how it so clearly contrasts with South Africa’s,” the letter reads, noting that under apartheid, black South Africans had no rights in a country in which they were the majority of the population. Saying that the analogy manipulates rather than informs, the letter requests SJP to “immediately stop referring to Israel as an apartheid society and to acknowledge that the Arab minority in Israel enjoys full citizenship with voting rights and representation in the government.” “Decency, justice, and the hope of peace and reconciliation in the Middle East compel us to demand an immediate cessation to the deliberate misappropriation of words and of the flagrant mischaracterizations of Israel,” the letter concludes. “Your compliance with this request will be viewed as a responsible and appropriate first step toward raising the level of discourse.”
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Thank you Rabbi.
Well, the timing certainly couldn't be better for this talk. Glad I picked April, since April Fools Day was the date Judge Goldstone picked for his mea culpa in the Washington Post.
So, a little background before we plunge into the Report itself and its pernicious ramifications.
As many of you probably remember, Israel withdrew completely from the Gaza Strip in August of 2005. More on that later. Hamas won the Palestinian elections in January of 2006. On June 25th of 2006, Gilad Shalit was kidnapped by Hamas and has languished in captivity to this day. In June of 2007, Hamas staged a bloody coup in Gaza, driving out all remnants of Fatah leadership. Kassam rockets were being launched from Gaza into Israel at an ever increasing pace, culminating with the breaking of a temporary calm or tahidye, on Dec 19th, 2008. Upwards of 70-80 rockets a day were falling into civilian areas in southern Israel in an ever widening radius. On December 28th, the IDF launches Operation Cast Lead.
I want to read a few passages from two articles I wrote for the Seattle PI, now of course defunct, which make for bookends to the Gaza withdrawal and the subsequent consequences of that withdrawal.
July, 2005 Seattle Post Intelligencer
In less than one month, Israel will take a bold and historic action. Disengaging from all of Gaza and part of Samaria, commonly referred to as the West Bank, will forever alter Israel's posture toward the territory it acquired in the Six Day War in 1967.
It is important to understand the lengths that Sharon and the Israeli people are willingly to go to in order to move in the direction of a two-state solution and lasting peace. Israeli society is deeply divided over the wisdom of disengagement, as can be readily observed from last week's mass protests against the government's planned withdrawal. Even those who support the dramatic gesture recognize that in many ways it could prove counter-productive and send a very dangerous message to the Palestinians (and the world at large) that terror works, and that, if one is patient enough, ultimately terrorism is rewarded.
As the disengagement draws closer, public support has dwindled from a high of more than 70 percent to where it now hovers at just over 50 percent, according to the most reliable recent Israeli polls. Israelis are increasingly skeptical because they have not seen their willingness to make excruciatingly painful sacrifices reciprocated on the other side.
So what exactly are ordinary Israelis sacrificing? For starters, all claims to land in Gaza and the four settlements in the northern West Bank, totaling 440 square miles. The 25 settlements that will be uprooted are comprised of 1,700 families. Those families will witness the closing of 42 daycare centers, 36 kindergartens, 7 elementary schools and the dismantling of 38 synagogues. The approximate cost to the Israeli government (and by extension to the Israeli taxpayer) for the withdrawal initiative is 7.5 billion shekels, or more than $1.5 billion. Thriving agricultural communities with state-of-the-art technologies will be uprooted. These communities produce 60 percent of Israel's cherry tomato exports, 70 percent of all of Israel's organic produce, 60 percent of the herbs exported from Israel. All totaled, 15 percent of Israel's agricultural exports originate in Gaza, exports that will be lost following Israel's withdrawal.
Perhaps most painful will be the 48 graves that must be disinterred. The families of many of those buried in the cemetery of Gaza have already suffered tragedy from terrorist violence; six graves contain area residents murdered by terrorists. The land in which one's ancestors are buried is considered sacred under Jewish law, and rarely, if ever, are bodies exhumed. It is considered disturbing the dead. The fact that Israel is moving the graves of terrorists' victims is a powerful symbol of how much Israel's disengagement initiative is a permanent sacrifice in the quest for peace.
It is in this light that the world should carefully consider Israel's earnestness to create a new Middle East where all peoples can live together in peace. Israel was severely tested over the past five years when the terror war launched by Arafat turned the schoolyards, buses, cinemas, malls, restaurants, discotheques and ordinary city streets into a battlefield. Under the circumstances of this unprecedented existential attack against their nation, the Israeli people handled themselves with exceptional restraint and great dignity. No modern democracy has sustained that kind of unmitigated barrage of terrorist attacks, day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. It is only in that context that Israel's defensive measures to protect her citizenry should be scrutinized. And it is in that context that the disengagement should also be viewed.
Israel is again proving her resolve to do whatever it takes to move towards peace, even at the cost of the rending of much of Israeli society over this issue. Disengagement, anticipated for two years now, is rapidly approaching and promises to permanently change the landscape of Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab relations.
Whether this opportunity can be translated into the beginning of a new era, or is only seen as a retreat and capitulation by Israel, remains to be seen. Whatever the results, it should be noted that ordinary Israelis are willing to sacrifice a great deal and put everything on the line.
My nephew Amir, the son of my wife's brother who is in his second year of conscription in the Israel Defense Forces, will be putting his life on the line, along with thousands of other Israeli soldiers and police, and this for the glimmer of hope that their children can grow up in a more peaceful, secure state
December 30th, 2008
Israel's Moral War Against Hamas: Op-ed in Seattle Post Intelligencer
Once again, tens of thousands of Israelis are forced to spend days and nights in bomb shelters, victims of ongoing missile assaults in towns and cities within a 35 km radius from Gaza. While much of the news focuses on Israeli air attacks against Hamas' military outposts and installations, Iranian backed Hamas killed three Israelis in separate rocket attacks on Israeli cities on Monday, December 29th. An Israeli-Arab construction worker was killed in Ashkelon, a woman was killed in Ashdod, and scores of Israelis were wounded.
Tragically, Palestinian civilians have also been killed in the fighting, victims too of Hamas' refusal to renew an already tenuous six-month 'calm,' or tahidya, which ended on December 19th.
Palestinian Authority President and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas said that Hamas could have prevented the "massacre" in the Gaza Strip. In Cairo on Sunday, he said, "We spoke to them and told them, 'Please, we ask you not to end the ceasefire."
The Egyptian Foreign Minister, condemned Hamas, saying they prevented those wounded in the Israeli offensive from passing into Egypt to receive medical attention. When asked who was to blame for the dire situation in Gaza, he replied, "ask the party that controls Gaza."
During the past year alone, Iranian backed terror groups in Gaza have launched over 3,000 rockets, missiles and mortars, deliberately targeting Israeli civilians in southern Israel (over 6,300 since Israel relinquished all of Gaza to the Palestinians in 2005). The only Israeli left in Gaza is Gilad Shalit, the soldier abducted by Hamas in June of 2006 in a cross-border raid. To this day, his whereabouts are unknown, and not even the International Red Cross is permitted to see him or report on his condition.
This is the backdrop to Israel's recent air attacks on Hamas military installations, command centers, training facilities, tunnels for weapons smuggling, and bomb factories. Hamas deliberately insinuates itself in civilian areas, holding fellow Palestinians hostage as human shields.
During the current hostilities, criticisms abound concerning Israel's obligation to uphold international humanitarian and human rights law. Ironically, the most basic of human rights, the right to life itself, is often ignored when it comes to Israelis who have endured an unceasing barrage of missile attacks from Gaza over the past three years. Instead, Israel is condemned for using 'disproportionate force,' a term referring to very specific wartime rules of engagement, grossly misunderstood and misapplied. In short, proportionality is defined by reference to the threat proposed by an enemy and not by the harm it has actually produced. Surely, the loss of any civilian life in war is regrettable and tragic. However, as political philosopher Michael Walzer noted in 2006: "When Palestinian militants launch rocket attacks from civilian areas, they are themselves responsible - and no one else is - for the civilian deaths caused by Israeli counterfire."
Currently, the objective of the Israeli military operation is to cripple the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza, and prevent Hamas from launching further attacks against Israeli citizens. Since it is the primary responsibility of any sovereign state to protect its citizenry, the Israeli government should be expected to do nothing less. In fact, many irate Israelis, especially those in missile distance from Gaza, believe that the enactment of this fundamental governmental responsibility has been long overdue.
President-elect Obama, during a visit to Sderot last summer, unequivocally defended Israel's right to protect its citizens from such attacks: "If somebody was sending rockets into my home where my two daughters sleep at night, I would do everything to stop that, and would expect Israel to do the same thing."
Rather than assail Israel for overreacting, the world should instead be in awe of its restraint. Israel's uniquely high standard of morality and respect for human life accounts for its remarkable restraint in the face of Hamas' unbridled provocations.
The actions of the Israeli Defense Forces would have been unnecessary had Hamas forsook terror and agreed to renew the tahidye. Israel is engaged in self-defense and it must be reiterated that Israel takes great pains to direct its military actions exclusively against terrorist targets, while Hamas deliberately positions its forces inside the most vulnerable of civilian areas; schools, religious institutions, residential areas and the like. Furthermore, Hamas launches its attacks from crowded civilian areas. Israel is dealing with a foe that sees Israeli deaths as very good, but deems Palestinian deaths as even more valuable.
Hard as it is to fathom from our perspective, Hamas callously calculates that if enough Palestinian civilians are inadvertently killed, the international court of opinion will view Israel as the guilty party, regardless of Hamas' cynical manipulation of the media with gruesome pictures of self-inflicted carnage against their own people. And despite protestations to the contrary, Israel has done everything possible to avert any humanitarian crisis in Gaza. Again, it is Hamas that has subverted and sabotaged the entry of supplies and international aid into areas under its jurisdiction.
Those of us who still work and hope for a two-state solution for the two peoples, understand that Hamas stands in the way of progress towards that goal. Hamas is an anti-nationalist party, more interested in destroying Israel than in creating true Palestinian independence. It remains the fervent hope of the vast majority of Israelis that Hamas will be defeated, breathing renewed hope that the Palestinians can reclaim their right to responsible leadership. Only then can an authentic peace process be renewed and the hope rekindled that Palestinians can achieve independence and live in harmony with their Israeli neighbors.
Okay. Now let's cut to the aftermath of Operation Cast Lead
Mary Robinson, Former President of Ireland and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, from 1997 to 2002 (not exactly an uber-Zionist herself) turned down the offer by the UN Human Rights Council to head the mission to investigate alleged Israeli war crimes
So too did former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari
Here’s what Robinson said on March 9, 2009, about the resolution that created the mission ultimately headed by Judge Goldstone:
[U]nfortunately, the Human Rights Council passed a resolution seeking a fact-finding mission to only look at what Israel had done, and I don’t think that’s a human rights approach.
One has to ask: since the January resolution opens with a Paragraph 1 that “strongly condemns” Israel as guilty of “massive violations,” what is it exactly that the Goldstone mission is investigating?
And what countries were represented on the UN's Human Rights Council at the time?
Such bastions of human rights like Pakistan, China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, and of course Libya
But Judge Goldstone accepted the mantle, from a UN organ renowned for its virulent anti-Israel bias. In the last five years, the council has issued 51 human rights condemnations against countries, of which 35 were against Israel.
Now, of course, two years later, Judge Goldstone offers his mea culpa, with this astonishing admission:
“In the end, asking Hamas to investigate [its own crimes] may have been a mistaken enterprise.”
It took Judge Goldstone two years to come to the conclusion that asking a terrorist organization to impartially report its own atrocities was maybe not the smartest idea.
Goldstone wrote that the UN Humans Rights Council, which commissioned his report, has a “history of bias against Israel [that] cannot be doubted.”
(So he admits that Israel was being asked to cooperate with an investigation commissioned by an authority inherently prejudiced against it, which, of course, explains why it rightly refused to participate).
So what's the significance of all this?
It's precisely because of Judge Goldstone's stature, as a world renowned Jurist, and a Jew, and a self-professed Zionist, that he has contributed probably more than any other single individual to the Demonization and Delegitimization of Israel
And its precisely because he's a South African Jew, well versed in the crimes of Apartheid, that his judgement stung so deeply
Increasing worldwide mov't of BDS--Boycotts, Divestment, & Sanctions against Israel
Goldstone Report gave fantastic momentum to this insidious mov't
By casting Israel as a country guilty of war crimes, deliberate targeting of civilians (the most devastating accusation--of course, turns reality on its head--Hamas guilty of this while Israel makes extraordinary efforts to safeguard and protect enemy civilians), gave enormous ammunition to anti-Semites and well-meaning Westerners who were easily swayed into believing that Israel committed war crimes against defenseless Palestinians
In Israel, the Goldstone Report became known as the Goldstone Effect, rendering Israelis all the more isolated and distrustful of the world's support in their efforts to forge an authentic peace
Michael Oren, Israel's Ambassador to America had this to say:
Ironically, the greatest victim of the UN report is not Israel's ability to wage a moral war but its willingness to make an historic peace. If asked to take immense risks for peace, Israelis must be convinced of their internationally recognized right to self-defense should that peace be broken. Deprived of that right, even after being subjected to years of murderous rocket attacks, an Israeli electorate will understandably recoil from such risks.
Delivered by Colonel Richard Kemp
UN Human Rights Council
12th Special Session, 16 October 2009
Debate on Goldstone Report
Thank you, Mr. President.
I am the former commander of the British forces in Afghanistan. I served with NATO and the United Nations; commanded troops in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Macedonia; and participated in the Gulf War. I spent considerable time in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, and worked on international terrorism for the UK Government’s Joint Intelligence Committee.
Mr. President, based on my knowledge and experience, I can say this: During Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Defence Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.
Israel did so while facing an enemy that deliberately positioned its military capability behind the human shield of the civilian population.
Hamas, like Hizballah, are expert at driving the media agenda. Both will always have people ready to give interviews condemning Israeli forces for war crimes. They are adept at staging and distorting incidents.
The IDF faces a challenge that we British do not have to face to the same extent. It is the automatic, Pavlovian presumption by many in the international media, and international human rights groups, that the IDF are in the wrong, that they are abusing human rights.
The truth is that the IDF took extraordinary measures to give Gaza civilians notice of targeted areas, dropping over 2 million leaflets, and making over 100,000 phone calls. Many missions that could have taken out Hamas military capability were aborted to prevent civilian casualties. During the conflict, the IDF allowed huge amounts of humanitarian aid into Gaza. To deliver aid virtually into your enemy's hands is, to the military tactician, normally quite unthinkable. But the IDF took on those risks.
Despite all of this, of course innocent civilians were killed. War is chaos and full of mistakes. There have been mistakes by the British, American and other forces in Afghanistan and in Iraq, many of which can be put down to human error. But mistakes are not war crimes.
More than anything, the civilian casualties were a consequence of Hamas’ way of fighting. Hamas deliberately tried to sacrifice their own civilians.
Mr. President, Israel had no choice apart from defending its people, to stop Hamas from attacking them with rockets.
And I say this again: the IDF did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.
Thank you, Mr. President.
I'm going to move on now to the Gaza Flotilla, but spend less time on that incident, to allow for more Q & A
A few major points:
• The Naval Blockade of Gaza was legal according to int'l law
• The Turkel Commission, an independent investigative panel, cleared Israel of wrongdoing
• The panel was comprised of a former Israeli Supreme Court Justice, Brigadier General Ken Watkin of Canada, Judge Advocate General for the Canadian Forces, and Nobel Laureate, Lord David Trimble of Northern Ireland, among other international notables
• There was not a crate of humanitarian goods aboard the Mavi Marmara
• The ship was initially portrayed as a boat of "peace activists"
• Little by little, the truth came out; about 40 of the crew were members of the IHH, (Insani Yardim Vakfi) a Turkish aid foundation with radical Islamist ties
• The flotilla was a fleet of six ships with ties to extremist and Islamist Jihad groups
• Weapons and ammunition were found aboard the Mavi Marmara
• Israel made repeated requests for the ship to stop at the port of Ashdod to ensure no weapons were being transported to Hamas
• The Israeli soldiers came on board with paint guns to mark "rioters" because that's what they thought they were dealing with
• The Israeli soldiers were attacked with iron bars, axes, clubs, slingshots, and knives
• It was only after their lives were at risk did they resort to fully justified self-defense, resulting in the deaths of nine crew members
• More than one million tons of humanitarian supplies have entered Gaza from Israel, equaling over a ton of aid for every individual there, including food, first aid, fuel, and construction material.
IHH (The Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief
In July 2009, the Israeli foreign ministry published and posted online an analysis of the Gaza operation that was designed to rebut in advance the Goldstone Report’s main charges, which would not be released until mid-September of that year. Prepared while Israel was still conducting preliminary field investigations into allegations of unlawful conduct by the idf, “The Operation in Gaza: Factual and Legal Aspects” covered numerous issues. The 159-page document emphasized Israel’s right and obligation under international law to use military force to stop Hamas’s bombardment of civilian targets in southern Israel with rockets and mortar shells — approximately 12,000 since 2000 and 3,000 in 2008 alone. It reported that by late 2008 Hamas had put one million Israeli civilians in range of its weapons and had assembled armed forces of more than 20,000. It described the considerable efforts Israel undertook, in accordance with the UN Charter, to bring international pressure to bear on Hamas, “including urgent appeals to the UN Secretary General and successive Presidents of the Security Council to take determined action, and diplomatic overtures, directly and through intermediaries, to stop the violence.” It reaffirmed Israel’s adherence to the law of armed conflict and human rights law and explained that, under a proper understanding of both as well as of Hamas’s systematic use of human shields and relentless blurring of the distinction between civilians and combatants, Israel’s military operation in Gaza was a proportionate response. It provided clear evidence, including photographs and video, that, in flagrant violation of international law, Hamas deliberately engaged in “the launching of rocket attacks from within densely populated areas near schools and protected un facilities, the commandeering of hospitals as bases of operations and ambulances for transport, the storage of weapons in mosques, and the booby-trapping of entire civilian neighbourhoods so that an attack on one structure would devastate many others.” It reviewed the extensive and unprecedented precautions the idf took to minimize noncombatant casualties — including making hundreds of thousands of phone calls to Gaza residents to warn of impending air strikes — against an adversary that placed civilians in the line of fire as part of a coldly calculated military strategy. It summarized the steps the idf took during the three-week conflict to ensure the daily delivery of humanitarian supplies to the civilian population. It acknowledged that “the Gaza Operation resulted in many civilian deaths and injuries and significant damage to public and private property in Gaza.” And it reported that the idf was conducting field investigations into accusations of unlawful conduct; detailed Israel’s extensive and well-established system of military justice of which those investigations were the first stage; and reaffirmed Israel’s right and responsibility under international law to investigate accusations that its military had acted unlawfully and, where appropriate, prosecute and punish.
The principle of distinction requires parties to a conflict to distinguish between civilian populations and combatants. The principle of proportionality restricts the use of force in armed conflict to the achievement of legitimate military objectives and requires that the force used be reasonably expected not to cause injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects that would be clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage. What constitutes a legitimate military objective, what constitutes reasonable expectations, and what constitutes clearly excessive injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects in relation to anticipated military advantage — indeed, what constitutes a civilian or civilian object in an age of asymmetric warfare — are intensely context-sensitive questions