Thursday, February 26, 2009

Too Busy to Blog ? Read Benvinisti

Meron Benvenisti is always interesting, and today in Haaretz he makes for good reading. I think he overstates his case -- only some Palestinian cities in the West Bank are better off than they were; the Gazans are still miserable; and this is part of the "divide-and-rule" strategy employed by the Zionists from time immemorial.

But, with no end for the mess in sight, at least the Palestinians should suffer less. And I hope that Netanyahu's government will be better than the last several governments.

Benvinisti's comparison of the Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank with the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel is instructive. Over the last several decades, education and acculturation have enabled Palestinian Arabs to fight back against legal, practical, and foundational discrimination in the Israeli ethnocracy. The victories have been few and far between, but the gradual process has its slow and cumulative effect. Slavery, segregation, apartheid, all lasted well after they were known to be immoral. But in each case, things changed because the groundwork had been lain, and reasonable people saw that the status quo was unjust and intolerable -- and because the oppressed had managed to show, through education and acculturation, the absurdity of the oppression.

Don't expect Netanyahu to liberate the Palestinians or to withdraw from the territories, or to remove outposts. But if he is able -- in order to avoid a Palestinian state -- to better the lives of the Palestinians economically, then this may set into motion a chain reaction which -- like emancipation, integration, and the end of apartheid -- is not intended by those who initiate it.

Interesting only when they are violent

By Meron Benvenisti

The accepted dictum is that the situation in the occupied territories interests Israelis only when something violent takes place there and when the events fit with the standard narrative about the settlers, the roadblocks and the injustices of the occupation. The truth of this maxim is proven again in that change for the better in the security situation and the economy and the general atmosphere in the West Bank merits very little interest and negligible reporting.

So processes with far-reaching implications for the political reality and the arguments accompanying the establishment of the Netanyahu government do not receive the attention they deserve. There is no need for thorough research to grasp that the situation in the West Bank is different from what emerges in severe reports about backwardness, unemployment, and economic under-development there and the general feeling that the territories are dangerous and violent.

It is sufficient to stroll through Ramallah to feel the lively and relaxed atmosphere. The animated economic activity is evident. The improvement can be seen also in cities that were the focus of violence such as Nablus and Hebron. Journalists who visit the Jenin area report with amazement how calm and organized life is there, and how the polished Palestinian policemen are in control of the area that not long ago was the stronghold of armed men. Israeli Arabs have returned to shopping in the markets of Jenin and Tul Karm, despite the ban on this.

The data confirm the picture of economic recovery. During the past year, there was an increase of more than a third in commercial activity, and despite the signs of recession, the rise in the standard of living is continuing. True, the per capita Gross Domestic Product is still less than one-tenth of the Israeli GDP, and the prosperity is misleading since it is based on the flow of donations from abroad, which despite the attempt to direct them to productive channels, encourage wasteful consumption. But the aim of the donors is to provide political support for the Palestinian Authority and to fight Hamas by economic means.

They are apparently succeeding in this. Fact: The West Bank remained calm during the fighting in Gaza and was not dragged into reactions of protest, in fact even less so than among Israeli Arabs. Security officials are aware of this improvement and they are doing away with roadblocks, making the movement of traffic easier and even forgoing sections of the separation fence in the Jerusalem area.

In view of this improvement, it is perhaps possible that Benjamin Netanyahu is correct in claiming that we should concentrate on "economic peace" and that in view of the lack of a chance for a permanent solution, attempts must be made to continue the economic development in the territories.

This approach should not be rejected with contempt and presented as a foolish attempt to transform nationalist aspirations into promises of economic improvement. The opposite approach also, that of a "peace process" that has still not yielded fruit, can be seen as a way of justifying disregard for reality.

The left-wing camp sticks to its positions and prefers to ignore the economic improvement in the territories since it is forbidden to add a positive coloring to the cruel picture of occupation. The right-wing camp likewise ignores the improvement in the situation; because then "security considerations" will disappear as an excuse for acts of dispossession in the style of the separation fence.

Ignoring the situation is convenient for everyone, and therefore all are partner to the concept that the Arabs are interesting only when they are violent. Under cover of this lack of interest, the Israeli rule over the West Bank is continuing to deepen. It is commonly believed that the Palestinians will begin a third intifada but perhaps this stems from sticking to the concept that they understand nothing but force. Perhaps they have genuinely grown tired of the violence that led them to disaster and they are adopting the strategy of the Israeli Arabs, which forces the Israelis to relate to their non-violent struggle and to their community's accumulation of economic strength.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Oh, What a Night! Winners: Right and Extreme Left; Losers: Zionist “Left”

With 99% of the polling places in, the Israeli Knesset elections have gone very well, in this writer's opinion.

In fact, it is hard to see how it gets much better than this:

The Right did well, though not as well as had been predicted a week ago. While it is a bit early to congratulate Bibi, it looks like he will form the next coalition, and, with any luck, he will form a narrow right wing government with the religious parties and the ultra-right parties. He could have a bit more flexibility with Kadima as a junior partner – after all, Kadima really is the moderate wing of Likud. Kadima got more votes, but I don't see how Livni can make a coalition. So whatever happens, it looks like Bibi is on top. As one who endorsed him in November here, I can only say, "Woo hoo!"

The Arab parties will have one more seat than in the previous Knesset. Hadash increased its number of seats from 3 to 4 and gained more seats than Balad; Ra'm Ta'l also has 4. This may shift – when I wrote this paragraph five minutes ago, Ra'm Ta'l had 5, but lost a seat to Yisrael Beitinu.

It appears that Hadash took Jewish voters from Meretz, which received only 3 seats, less than Hadash's 4. In Jerusalem, which means really in West Jerusalem, Hadash had 1% and Meretz 3%.

[Added on Saturday, Feb. 15: Eyal Niv, of the indispensable "Truth from Eretz Yisrael" blog, figures that Hadash picked up around 10,000 new Jewish votes this time. Let's hope that figure grows. See here]

The Left camp – the so-called "Zionist Left" and "Center-Left" -- will go into Opposition. I am, quite frankly, happy that the electorate punished Meretz for its failures. It is time for "heshbon nefesh"; and Haim Oron, in my opinion, should be the first to reach personal conclusions and resign.

But the failure of the Zionist Left goes much deeper than that. I don't see how it can recover in the current circumstances. Which means that people who don't want to go the way of Kadima and to the Right will have to rethink some fundamental assumptions about Zionism and the State of Israel.

Like the assumption that says that the problems started with 1967 and not with 1948, or even earlier.

With a rightwing government, the case against Israel as a pariah state will be easier to make, and the international isolation of Israel can proceed apace. If the one result of the election is that the so-called "peace process" is put to pasture, then I say, "Dayyenu"!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Barenboim’s Statement in the Wake of the Gaza Campaign

When Richard Silverstein and I went to the New York Review of Books to publish, or publicize, our jointly-authored statement on Gaza, the editor replied that the NYRB was already publishing a statement by Daniel Barenboim. Well, with all due respect to Richard and me, I think Barenboim trumps Silverstein and Haber. And when I read the statement, I thought it worthwhile to reproduce it, especially since NYRB's online access is limited, although you can find it elsewhere.

If you compare his statement and ours, you will see that they are very different. Ours is first and foremost a cry of pain and shock as Jews, a "Not-in-Our-Name" sort of statement; his is a sober comment that does not dole out blame but looks to the future.

But the bottom line of both statements is not that different. He calls for a new initiative

which demands of all sides a common responsibility: to ensure equal rights and dignity to both peoples, and to ensure the right of each person to transcend the past and aspire to a future.

Ours says that

We affirm the rights of both Israeli and the Palestinian peoples to self-determination and self-defense, as we affirm the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

This, friends, is indeed the central point. It is not a question of "one state, or two states, or no states, or blue states." Not a question of federation or union, and certainly not subordination or transfer. Not the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, or, for that matter, the right of the Palestinians to a state of their own. All these political frameworks are means to an end, but the end is as Barenboim or we say it: equal rights and dignity to both peoples, without any privileging of the other side.

Once the end is accepted, the question then – and only then – will be what is the best political framework to achieve this end. A two-state solution in which one side dominates and controls the other is no better than a one state solution in which one side dominates and controls the other.

Until people of good faith can agree on this bottom line, and get a significant segment of the both the Israeli or Palestinian peoples to buy in, then all the wearying talk of a peace process will be doomed.

There are preconditions to successful outcomes – and the principle underlying both our statements is one of the preconditions for this one.



Listen, Before It Is Too Late'

By Daniel Barenboim

To the Editors:

Your readers may be interested in the following statement by Daniel Barenboim and the list of those who have supported it.

Dina Haidar
Ilona Suschitzky
Emre Ülker

Paris, France

For the last forty years, history has proven that the Israeli–Palestinian conflict cannot be settled by force. Every effort, every possible means and resource of imagination and reflection should now be brought into play to find a new way forward. A new initiative which allays fear and suffering, acknowledges the injustice done, and leads to the security of Israelis and Palestinians alike. An initiative which demands of all sides a common responsibility: to ensure equal rights and dignity to both peoples, and to ensure the right of each person to transcend the past and aspire to a future.

Daniel Barenboim

Adonis, Etel Adnan, Alaa el Aswany, Dia Azzawi, Agnès B., Ted Bafaloukos, Russell Banks, Tahar Ben Jelloun, John Berger, Berlin Philharmonic, Bernardo Bertolucci, François Bayle, Idil Biret, Christian Boltanski, Pierre Boulez, Jacques Bouveresse, Alfred Brendel, Peter Brook, Adam Brooks, Carole Bouquet, Daniel Buren, Ellen Burstyn, Huguette Caland, Jean-Claude Casadesus, Carmen Castillo, Patrice Chéreau, William Christie, Paulo Coelho, J.M. Coetzee, Roger Corman, Jean Daniel, Régis Debray, Robert Delpire, Jonathan Demme, Plácido Domingo, Umberto Eco, Elliott Erwitt, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Rupert Everett, Michel Faber, Carlo and Inge Feltrinelli, Ralph Fiennes, Filarmonica della Scala, Jodie Foster, Eytan Fox, Fab 5 Freddy, Bella Freud, Martine Franck, Mary Frank, Eduardo Galeano, Jean-Luc Godard, Richard Gere, Gamal Ghitany, Amos Gitai, Edouard Glissant, Jean-Paul Goude, Nadine Gordimer, Günter Grass, Jürgen Habermas, Michael Haneke, Donald Harrison, Milton Hatoum, Sheila Hicks, Bill Irwin, Steven Isserlis, Philippe Jaccottet, Elfriede Jelinek, Samih al-Kassem, Naomi Kawase, Ya¸sar Kemal, Rachid Khalidi, Edouard Al-Kharrat, Michel Khleifi, Gérard D. Khoury, Abbas Kiarostami, Stephen King, William Klein, Abdellatif Laâbi, Jacques Leibowitch, Jemia and J.M.G. Le Clézio, Stéphane Lissner, Radu Lupu, Yo-Yo Ma, Amin Maalouf, Claudio Magris, Issa Makhlouf, Florence Malraux, Henning Mankell, James McBride, John Maybury, Zubin Mehta, Waltraud Meier, Annette Messager, Duane Michaels, Anne-Marie Miéville, Marc Minkowski, Thomas Mitchell, Ariane Mnouchkine, Sarah Moon, Edgar Morin, Jacques Monory, Fernando Morais, Jeanne Moreau, Georges Moustaki, Oscar Niemeyer, Jean Nouvel, Kenzaburo Oe, Orhan Pamuk, Clare Peploe, Michel Piccoli, Maurizio Pollini, Christian de Portzamparc, Simon Rattle, Alain Resnais, Claudia Roden, Arundhati Roy, Moustapha Safouan, Walter Salles, Susan Sarandon, Fazil Say, Elif Şafak, George Semprun, Hanan Al-Shaykh, Pierre Soulages, Wole Soyinka, Ousmane Sow, Staatskapelle Berlin, Salah Stétié, Juliet Stevenson, Meryl Streep, Elia Suleiman, Peter Suschitzky, Tilda Swinton, Sam Szafran, Zeynep Tanbay, Uma Thurman, Desmond Tutu, Shirley and Charlie Watts, Abdo Wazen, Jacques Weber, Wim Wenders, Debra Winger, Daniel Wolff, Neil Young

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Cordesman’s Bleak Assessment of the Gaza Operation

A reader referred me to yet another one of Anthony H. Cordesman's analyses on the Middle East. Cordesman may be familiar to some readers from his occasional appearances on ABC news on Iraq and Afghanistan.

Actually, the reader referred me to a YNET article, which missed the main point of Cordesman's analysis. YNET was interested in Cordesman's claim, based almost entirely on IDF reports, that Israel's conduct of the war was legal – or at least as legal as the US' conduct of the war in Afghanistan.

But if you read Cordesman's analysis, "The War in Gaza: Tactical Gains, Strategic Defeat?" you will see that he saves his biggest criticism for Israel's political leaders. He leaves the general impression that a) Israel came out much worse that it realizes from the Gaza operation, and b) its long term prospects are grim, if it sticks to the current script. He writes:

This raises a question that every Israeli and all of Israel's supporters need to ask in the aftermath of the Gaza War. Has it in fact repeated the strategic failures made by Israel's top political leadership during the Israeli-Hezbollah War in 2006? Has Israel somehow blundered into a steadily escalating war without a clear strategic goal or at least one it can credibly achieve? Will Israel end in empowering an enemy in political terms that it defeated in tactical terms? Will Israel's actions seriously damage the US position in the region, any hope of peace, as well as moderate Arab regimes and voices in the process?

To be blunt, the answer so far seems to be yes. To paraphrase a comment about the British government's management of the British Army in World War I, lions seem to be led by donkeys. If Israel had a credible ceasefire plan that could really secure Gaza, it is not apparent. If Israel had a plan that could credibly destroy and replace Hamas, it is not apparent. If Israel had any plan to help the Gazans and move them back towards peace, it is not apparent. If Israel had any plan to use US or other friendly influence productively, it not apparent.

The rhetoric may be a bit Shakespearean, but it rings true: The leaders of Israels are indeed asses leading the IDF lions, asses whose bungling "seriously damages the US position in the region, any hope of peace, as well as moderate Arab regimes and voices in the process." Folks, this is not Noam Chomsky speaking, but rather a man who used to be John McCain's national security advisor.

And if the above didn't plunge you into despair, here is how Cordesman ends his analysis:

In fact, there is little hope of a sudden return to a viable peace process – to the extent that territory for peace was ever anything other than settlements for terrorism. Moreover, the fighting in Gaza did lead a figure as senior as King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to warn that Israel has to understand that the choice between war and peace will not always be open, and that the Arab peace initiative that is on the table today will not stay on the table. It also led the President of Syria, Bashar Assad, to say that such peace efforts were no longer relevant. One wonders, however, how long [the Gaza fighting] can really go on without exploding into far more violent conflicts or empowering non-state actors hostile to Israel and moderate Arab regimes. One wonders how much it will affect the medium and long-term stability of key states like Egypt and Jordan? One wonders how much it will sustain Iranian radicalism and aid the opportunism of a nuclear Iran? Israeli leaders like Yitzhak Rabin once saw these risks as unsustainable. Regrettably, they may still be proved right.

The fighting is Gaza is not over, and Israel has nothing to offer the Palestinians but more of the same. What Cordesman is saying that this is not enough – and that failure to resolve the conflict will probably end in failure to manage the conflict.




Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Whom Should You Believe? The Gazans or the IDF?

Some of my readers say, "You are always quick to adopt the Palestinian position and to reject as untrue the IDF position. Why is that?" The answer is that, with some experience, one can usually determine when the IDF speaks the truth (they do that, actually) and when they are covering their tuchas.

For example, in today's must-read article in the Times about Gaza, we have the following story.

Many [Gazans] here believe that Israelis feel the same about them, and that they were treated with suspicion and contempt, as would-be fighters. That might help explain what happened, they say, when Omar Abu Halima and his two teenage cousins tried to take the burned body of his baby sister and two other living but badly burned girls to the hospital on that Sunday. [According to the Times, the burning was due to the white phosphorus. – JH]

The boys were taking the girls and six others on a tractor, when, according to several accounts from villagers, Israeli soldiers told them to stop. According to their accounts, they got down, put their hands up, and suddenly rounds were fired, killing two teenage boys: Matar Abu Halima, 18, and Muhamed Hekmet, 17.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said that soldiers had reported that the two were armed and firing. Villagers strongly deny that. The tractor that villagers say was carrying the group is riddled with 36 bullet holes.

The villagers were forced to abandon the bodies of the teenage boys and the baby, and when rescue workers arrived 11 days later, the baby's body had been eaten by dogs, her legs two white bones, captured in a gruesome image on a relative's cellphone. The badly burned girls and others on the tractor had fled to safety.

Now, I wasn't there, and I am not a judge or a panel investigating the incident. So why am I fairly confident that the two boys were shot without provocation, and that they were not armed and firing?

Several reasons: first, why would Hamas operatives be taking a tractor to town with dead and wounded girls? And if they were, why would they stop what they were doing and shoot? And then leave their baby sister to be eaten by dogs?

Second, if the IDF soldiers indeed shot the Gazan youths dead without provocation, would they have told that to their superiors. Wouldn't they have told their superiors that they were responding to gunfire, especially since there are documented cases of that?

Third, we already have cases in the past where the soldiers lie to their commanders, the IDF initially backs them up, and then is forced – generally due to video footage – to investigate and admit that the soldiers were lying.

Fourth, note that the spokesperson did not say that the two boys fired on the IDF soldiers, but rather that the soldiers had reported that the boys fired. That is giving the IDF wiggle-room for later investigations and implies to me that they don't necessarily accept the report.

Do these considerations prove that the boys are telling the truth? Of course not. Does this mean that the IDF soldiers kill Gazan for kicks? Certainly not.

But if you are asking me whom I consider to be more believable, in light of what I know about the players, then I am telling you – the Gazan boys. Too many cases have been collected by groups like "Breaking the Silence" and other international human rights groups to think otherwise.

Unless you are a moral chauvinist.

The Israeli Joke That Wasn’t Very Funny a Year Ago And Is Less Funny Now

Almost a year before the Gaza campaign, on Dec. 27, 2007, I wrote a post that began with an Israeli joke

Two Israeli Jews meet each other on the street:

-Oy, Shimon, this business in Sderot is awful. How come we can't stop those Kassam rockets?

-Nu, we are afraid of the Americans. Now here's what we should do. We should drop leaflets over Gaza saying that we will give them five days to stop the Kassams. We wait five days, and then if the Kassams don't stop, we bomb the hell out of them.

--Why wait five days? Why not bomb them now?

--Nu, there's no need to exaggerate.

And then I commented on the "joke"

I was reminded of this joke when I read one of the Letters to the Editor in Haaretz today, which seriously proposed "Shimon's" solution…I hope I don't exaggerate if I suggest that this sums up the moral reasoning of many Israelis.

I don't mean to say that most Israelis advocate "bombing the hell out of Gaza". Many would approve of less drastic measures, such as cutting off their electricity and fuel supply. But the reasoning goes like this: "We could, if we wanted to, flatten Gaza. The reason that we don't is that we are Jews, and therefore generous, and exceedingly moral, and while we would be justified in taking such drastic measures -- such is the world we live in -- that is not what Jews do."

That was a year ago. Now, Israelis and their supporters simply cannot understand what the world wants from them. If Israel really wanted to smash Gaza, it could have done so big time. The fact that "only" 1300 people died, many of them "terrorists" showed that the IDF stuck to its ethical code. OK, there were some infractions, but very few. And the civilian deaths are not their fault; it is because of Hamas.

I wrote then that the reason that most Israelis cannot understand why they are being criticized is that they are moral chauvinists, and that moral chauvinism (the belief that you are ethically superior to the other) blinds people to their own immorality. I also claimed, based on my knowledge of Jewish sources, that moral chauvinism is deeply rooted in Judaism, though I acknowledged that it is common in other civilizations and religions.

That was a year ago. The joke is even less funny now.

Because so many Israelis and their supporters are moral chauvinists, they create fantastical images of themselves, such as the "Most Moral Army in the World" fantasy. For example, ask most Israelis about the current Gaza operation and they will say, "We gave them Gaza; they launched rockets. We did not react until we could take it no longer." When you tell them that during over the three years after the withdrawal from Gaza, during the period of "not reacting," Israel killed 1,275 Gazans – they will at first deny the number; then they will say that most of them were terrorists; and then they will say that it was Hamas's fault. Why? Because the belief in their superior morality is so deeply rooted in the Jewish psyche, both traditionally, and certainly after the Holocaust, that Israelis do not allow the facts of their immorality to confuse them.

Let me make something clear. I do not claim that the IDF, or the people who sent them, deliberately set out to massacre civilians as part of military policy. But I do believe that the IDF was figuratively and literally quick on the trigger, as it always has been in the West Bank and Gaza. I believe that they when they used white phosphorus in an urban area, they knew full well that it was possible, perhaps likely, that civilians would be burned. They decided to use it anyway because they simply didn't care about the civilians; they knew that they could always hide behind the claim that white phosphorus is not banned, and that regrettable accidents happen. Perhaps they decided to use it in some cases and not in others. But that does not mean that their reasoning in the "acceptable" cases was correct.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Left vs. the New Left

Hadash released a great set of four election commercials today, which feature conversations between a supporter of Meretz and a supporter of Hadash, "The Left vs. the New Left." You can see the clips here.

My favorite is the one on the Gaza war, which you can watch here in Hebrew. The Leftie stutters throughout, recites slogans, is for the fighting but against the war, etc. At one point, the Leftie goes quiet ("we can't talk while the army is on an operation") and then receives permission -- from Amos Oz -- to speak again. By this time he is ready to move on to another subject


The Author of the the IDF’s Code of Ethics “Doesn’t Know” If It is Observed

Last summer, Reform Judaism Magazine published a puff piece on the IDF's Code of Ethics, with just the right number of quotes from B'Tselem to give it an air of fairness. The IDF veterans' group "Breaking the Silence" was not interviewed for the article, and the editor refused to publish any statement beyond a letter. Of course, the magazine gave the last word to one of the co-authors of the code, Prof. Asa Kasher of Tel-Aviv, who functions as the IDF's House Ethicist. Yes, there are violations of the code, he wrote; yes, they are significant, no, he has no idea how many.

Kasher, though, believes that, on the whole, the ethics code is working. "Our soldiers continually patrol Palestinian streets amid the local population, the magazines of their weapons full of bullets," he says. "If they were trigger-happy, there would be thousands of casualties daily."

That piece of reasoning shows how good a philosopher Kasher is. Maybe the fact that Israel soldiers are not trigger-happy has absolutely nothing to do with the Code of Ethics. Most well-trained armies, even without Codes of Ethics, don't have their soldiers walking around killing civilians.

But Kasher's claim not to know how many is startling and shocking. What's the point of a Code of Ethics if you cannot test whether it is working or not?

Kasher authored eleven principles of conduct in asymmetrical warfare situations, which ultimately can be reduced to one.

    1. Do what the IDF tells you, and you will be all right..

Kasher almost never criticizes the IDF for failing to live up to its codle. Rather he justifies the IDF's morality in all cases. When the IDF cautioned restraint last summer, Kasher said that this was legitimate, and got blasted by the right wing. And when the IDF threw much of the restraint to the winds in December, Kasher was right there defending it again.

It may be an interesting exercise to see how many of the eleven principles the IDF has violated recently.

  1. Military action can only be taken against military targets.

    Broken on day one, when police cadets and their families were blown to smithereens. If that was legitimate, then certainly the suicide bombing of the IDF soldiers at Beit Leed was legitimate. (Neither was legitimate.)

  2. The use of force must be proportional.

    Ha! Ha! Apparently, Ehud Olmert was given't this one, when he threatened in public not to be proportional.

  3. Soldiers may only use weaponry they were issued by the IDF.

    Is there any other? It is the settlers' weapon of choice.

  4. Anyone who surrenders cannot be attacked.

    There are testimonies of Palestinian prisoners being shot.

  5. Only those who are properly trained can interrogate prisoners.

    Let's hope this was observed.

  6. Soldiers must accord dignity and respect to the Palestinian population and those arrested.

    From a recent letter from a lawyer visiting Gaza: "In the course of that endeavor (which lasted about 2 hours) we visited homes that Israeli soldiers occupied during the attacks. Without exception the houses were trashed internally: furniture broken, windows smashed, clothes and appliances destroyed. A favorite tactic of the occupying force is to defecate in unusual places; cooking pots and pans seem to be preferred targets. Bottles of urine are left around to greet the returning owners, and often Hebrew graffiti and stars of David are on the walls. Almost all of the rooms are shot up, in some cases by tank shells but more commonly by gunfire and shrapnel. In several cases it was clear that the gunfire was from within and, because the house had been abandoned before the troops arrived, it appeared to be wholly gratuitous."

    This tallies somewhat with the article in the New York Times, that I cited two weeks ago here

  7. Soldiers must give appropriate medical care, when conditions allow, to oneself and one's enemy.

    From the same letter: "Returning from Zeitoun we spoke with a human rights NGO and then went to the Quds hospital, where we interviewed ambulance drivers to follow up on reports that the Israelis prevented ambulances from reaching the wounded. We again broke into four groups to conduct the interviews of drivers regarding their experiences; we believe that the case has been made."

  8. Pillaging is absolutely and totally illegal.

    There is testimony of "souvenirs" being taken.

  9. Soldiers must show proper respect for religious and cultural sites and artifacts.

    Yeah, especially after they have been bombed.

  10. Soldiers must protect international aid workers, including their property and vehicles.

    See answer to no. 9.

  11. Soldiers must report all violations of this code.


In a long NY Times article a few weeks ago, Kasher said that the Israeli Army's ethical and legal standards were high and that he believed they were conscientiously taught to its military. But as for what happens on the ground, he said, "I have a general confidence in their attitudes and decency, but who knows?"

Who knows, indeed, Asa? What's the good is a code if you can't know?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Support American Jewish Ad Campaign Against Gaza War

February 2nd, 2009

Every day brings news of how fragile the Gaza ceasefire is.  An Israeli soldier was killed recently in an ambush. Militants launched a flurry of rockets into southern Israel today. Israel retaliates by firing rockets of its own at Gaza positions virtually daily. The drums of war are pounding once again inside Israel. Nothing has been learned from the last war.

All of which convinces Richard Silverstein (Tikun Olam blog) and me of the necessity of promoting our American Jewish statement of opposition to Israeli policy in Gaza, We Shall Not Be Party to Their Counsel.  We plan to take out ads in the Hebrew edition of Haaretz and The Forward to inform American Jews and Israelis that there is NO consensus supporting past, present or future mass killing in Gaza.

We need your support.  These two ads will cost approximately $2,000.  Richard and I have committed to contributing several hundred dollars between us.  But we cannot do this alone.  It must be a communal undertaking by Jews and non-Jews committed to peace in Gaza.  Please contribute as generously as you can via Paypal to support our campaign.

With your help we can let the Jewish world know that there are sane voices favoring a balanced, non-lethal Israeli policy in Gaza.  A gift of $100 or more will allow us to make our voices heard. If we do not reach our goal, gifts can be returned to the donor or forwarded to UNWRA's Gaza relief program.

To sign the statement, send us your name and affiliation if any. You may read the full statement and see a list of signatories.

Support the American Jewish statement against Gaza war

Sunday, February 1, 2009

What Does Academic Freedom Have to Do with It?

Pninah Sharvit Baruch, the outgoing head of the section of the IDF legal department specializing in international law, is scheduled to teach at Tel-Aviv law school next year. When an article in Haaretz claimed that Sharvit Baruch used legal loopholes to authorize possible war crimes, e..g, the bombing of the Hamas police graduation, some members of the Tel-Aviv faculty protested her appointment. In particular, law professor Prof. Chaim Gans (whose book on Zionism is displayed on this blog) wrote the following letter to his Dean:

If the allegations in the [Haaretz] article are correct, then my view is that it would be inappropriate for our Faculty of Law to employ Pnina Baruch.

As the article demonstrates, Baruch's legal expertise is in the jurisprudence of legal tricks – a jurisprudence that seeks loopholes in the language of the law in order to evade the realization of its purpose.

In Sharvit-Baruch's case, these legal tricks were employed in the service of evading constraints the purpose of which is to protect the lives of innocent civilians.

In my opinion, a person who is mainly trained in this jurisprudence of tricks legitimizing massive killings of innocent civilians is not a suitable candidate for an academic position in our Faculty of Law. It violates the desirable values of legal academia. Much more importantly, it violates the desirable values of our society.

For these reasons, if Sharvit-Baruch does indeed join the staff of our law school at Tel Aviv University, it will be under my protest.

Gans's protest was reported in Haaretz, which called, in an editorial, for the appointment to be cancelled. In response, Hanokh Dagan, the Dean of the Law School, wrote:

Without commenting on the facts stated in the article, I am not convinced that the faculty of law must examine and appraise the legal, political and moral positions of its instructors as long as these are within the bounds of the law and the accepted limits of a democratic society. On the contrary, the faculty always makes an effort to expose its students to a variety of opinions and viewpoints, and encourages informed, academic discussion on controversial issues…the faculty higher-ups are not authorized and not fit to ascertain the factual questions described in the article ... As long as these questions have not been cleared up, as we know is being done at the present time, there is no room for drawing conclusions.

Of course, there is nothing in what Dagan writes that is incompatible with what Gans wrote, as Gans made clear in his subsequent statements. In fact, Gans immediately agreed with Dagan. Gans was expressing his own opinion that if the Haaretz was article was correct, it would be inappropriate for Baruch to be teaching international law at Tel-Aviv university. This was not because of Baruch's political views, or because of her actions per se, but because she espouses a legal philosophy which is, or should be, out of sync with the legal ethical principles underlying the law school. Gans did not say that his view was the only view, or that the case could not be made for hiring her despite flaws in her legal philosophy. But he certainly has the right to protest an appointment as a member of the law faculty.

All this would have been well and good, had not the heavies then weighed in. First, it was Ehud Olmert, who threatened to cut off funding to any institution "that discriminates against IDF officers because of their military service." Leave it to Olmert to bomb the wrong target. Who said anything about discriminating against IDF officers because of their military service?

Worse was an op-ed by Prof. Shlomo Avineri, a truly sad figure in his dotage, who introduced the quite irrelevant question of academic freedom. Avineri seems to have mixed up the argument against hiring Baruch with an argument for firing her from an academic position because of her opinions. The latter contravenes academic freedom, and is almost always advanced by the rightwing in Israel (see under Leibowitz, Zimmerman, Pappe, etc.) Were Baruch a member of the Tel-Aviv faculty, she would be protected by academic freedom as much as anybody else. The purpose of academic freedom is to allow teachers to advance unpopular ideas without fear of reprisal.

But what does academic freedom have to do with the present case? Baruch doesn't have any more the right to teach at Tel-Aviv university law school than you or I do. And nobody suggests that the only criterion of hiring should be her written scholarship. Whether her questionable legal methods as discussed in the article should disqualify her from a position is certainly a matter of debate among her professional peers (and not for the public at large.)

Avineri shouts "McCarthyism." Yet the only thing remotely resembling "McCarthyism" here is the statement of Olmert, which, if taken seriously, is a threat to cut off governing-funding. May I remind Prof. Avineri that McCarthy was a member of the U. S. Senate, and not a member of a law school faculty.

Prof. Gans, of course, was advocating an action based on a policy. But it is clear from his letter above that he knew that his policy had little hope of being accepted. So what he really was doing was protesting.

And when there is nothing else one can do but protest, that is the time when protest is most important.