Sunday, January 31, 2010

It’s Official – IDF Finally Admits to Illegal Use of White Phosphorus in Gaza Campaign

Last summer I published a post in which I charted the different stages of Israel's cover-up of the illegal use of white phosphorus in the Gaza Op. You can read about it here. First, there was total denial of use; then the IDF admitted use but claimed that it was legal. When Breaking the Silence published clear testimonies of its illegal use, together with the physical evidence and testimonies of the Gazans, the response was to shoot the messenger.

Well, now, ribono shel olam, Israel has finally admitted to illegal use of white phosphorus in the Gaza Campaign in its reply to the Goldstone Report. We are even told what officers gave the commands, and that they were "reprimanded."

How many chances does the IDF get to change its story before people stop taking it seriously? And at each stage the Hasbara moonies parrot whatever happens to be the current version!

Will somebody explain to me why anybody should give any credence to what the IDF spokesperson says – even if it happens to be true?

By the way, there is evidence that there were other cases of use of white phosphorus besides the one referred to here

Read this mind-blowing article from Haaretz here.


Israel suspects two IDF officers guilty of Gaza war crimes

By Anshel Pfeffer


Internal IDF probe into Gaza UNRWA facility shelling finds the two jeopardized civilian lives.

An Israel Defense Forces brigadier general and another officer with the rank of colonel endangered human life during last year's military campaign in the Gaza Strip by firing white phosphorous munitions in the direction of a compound run by UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the Israeli government says.

The finding acknowledges, at least in part, allegations by international organizations. It was contained in a report that the government provided to the United Nations over the weekend in response to last September's Goldstone Commission report.

Gaza Division Commander Brig. Gen. Eyal Eisenberg and Givati Brigade Commander Col. Ilan Malka, were the subject of disciplinary action by GOC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Yoav Gallant after headquarters staff found that the men exceeded their authority in approving the use of phosphorus shells that endangered human life, the Israeli government report said.

The incident in question occurred on January 15 of last year, two days before the end of Operation Cast Lead, in the southern Gaza City neighborhood of Tel al-Hawa, at a time when the Givati brigade and other Israeli forces were in the area.

In the course of engagement with a Hamas squad, which according to IDF intelligence possessed advanced anti-tank missiles, it was decided to use phosphorus smoke munitions to create cover that would make it harder for the Hamas fighters to see the IDF soldiers.

According to Israeli intelligence, the Hamas forces were stationed in a commanding location from which they could easily see the soldiers and the UNRWA compound that was located between the Israeli forces and the Hamas position.

The munitions disperse hundreds of pieces of felt impregnated with phosphorus and at least some of the pieces fell into the UNRWA compound, causing injury to an UNRWA employee there as well as to two Palestinian civilians who took cover at the location.

Many human rights organizations said that the IDF had illegally used the phosphorus munitions, which are shot from 155 mm. cannon, and that the material caused many burn injuries among the Palestinian population. The IDF responded that the munitions were permitted under international conventions and that similar shells are in use by other Western armies. The army also contended that the munitions were used in locations remote from heavily -populated areas.

With the conclusion of Operation Cast Lead, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi ordered the convening of five special investigative committees each headed by an officer with the rank of colonel to examine some of the serious allegations leveled against the army. One of the committees examined the use of phosphorus shells.

After three months, at the end of April of last year, then deputy chief of staff Maj. Gen. Dan Harel presented the committees' findings and with respect to phosphorus munitions said that they had found no instances in which shells were fired in violation of orders and in any event, they were fired in open areas.

Nonetheless, the report that the Israeli government gave to the United Nations last Friday explicitly states that the two senior officers were disciplined after one of the investigating committees noted among its findings that they approved the firing of phosphorus shells at Tel al-Hawa "exceeding their authority in a manner that jeopardized the lives of others."

Israel’s Hired Gun

Harvard Prof. Alan Dershowitz, if memory serves me correctly, once said that the purpose of an attorney is to win a case, or if you wish, to present the best possible case for his client. His purpose is not to seek the truth, or even to render a judgment according to the law; let the historian take care of the first, and the judge the second. The American system requires that the defendant gets the best possible representation.

So when Dershowitz the lawyer lies, distorts, omits, and assassinates somebody's character, we should first assume, for his benefit, that he is doing what a defense lawyer should do – win the case.

I am also prepared to believe that Prof. Dershowitz is not just out to sell his books – even though he has written one on Gaza -- make headlines, or to spend his time on books outside of his area of specialization, you know, the sorts of books and articles for which one is judged in the academy. I am prepared to believe that his motives are pure, and that he thinks that he is arguing vigorously on behalf of his client, the beleagured, tiny State of Israel.

And so, in addition to preparing a "lawyerly" brief against the Goldstone Report, and submitting to the UN, he is now trying to "play the media," as defense lawyers often do, i.e., by performing a character assassination on his opponent, Judge Goldstone. The Goldstone report is not just wrong, we are told. It is akin to the protocols of the Elders of Zion written by a Jew. Richard Goldstone is an "evil, evil man", motivated by personal ambition to rise high in the UN Human Rights world (?), a traitor to the Jewish people, yada, yada, yada.

You can read about it in Haaretz. But you should listen to the radio interview here


In a sense, I am happy that Alan Dershowitz is leading the charge, not just because on these issues he has little standing or credibility, having been dismissed long ago as a Jewish zealot who is entirely clueless about what is happening in Israel, a tinhorn patriot, and a defender of torture – but also because his metamorphosis from lawyer to consiglieri further delegitimizes the legal case of Israel. I mean, who else is stepping up to the plate on Israel's behalf except the usual suspects? Would Dershowitz's Serbian counterpart do any less?

Contrast Dershowitz's behavior with that of a respected jurist, former Chief Justice Aharon Barak. When the Goldstone report came out, Defense Minister Ehud Barak contacted both Aharon Barak and Dershowitz to help in the hasbarah fight against Goldstone. Dershowitz readily agreed; Aharon Barak pointedly refused. According to Haaretz, Aharon Barak told Meni Mazuz two weeks ago that Israel had to appoint either a state commission of inquiry or a governmental commission of inquiry. I am sure that he does not agree with parts of the Goldstone Report, but he has not vilified Goldstone, nor has he rushed to publish op-eds assasinating his character. Besides, Aharon Barak accepts a fundamental conclusion of the report; that Israel's military is not capable of investigating itself on these matters. Of course, Ehud Barak has ruled out any board of investigation, much less one with subpoena powers. Now Dershowitz – over a year after the Gaza Operation – calls for an Israeli board of inquiry headed by Aharon Barak – knowing full well that such a board will not come into being.

Here is why these intemperate outposts are the source of some comfort: It is important that Israel is supported by – and only by – the Zionists on the right. Dershowitz's voice is occasionally that of a liberal hawk, but his hands are those of the Front Page zealots with whom he associates. And that's fine, it's a free country; it is even very Jewish. There is an important tradition of Jewish zealotry against Jews from the Biblical Times (Simeon and Levy), the Second Temple Period (the Sicarii and other Zealots who caused the destruction of the Temple, including the Masada terrorists), Jews who assassinated other Jews throughout history, and most recently, Yigal Amir, the assassin of Yitzhak Rabin, whose spiritual leaders used the same phrase that Dershowitz uses against Judge Goldstone, malshin and moser

What is sad, though, is that I remember when liberals throughout the world used to defend Israel. Even Moshe Halbertal, whose criticism of the Goldstone Report, I and others have criticized, did not sink to the character assassination of Goldstone, or to impugn his motives.

This is not to say that Prof. Dershowitz's arguments shouldn't be answered by more than ad hominem screeds. I plan to do that when he actually posts his brief on his website. (I just followed a link to it and he has taken it down. If any of my readers have a copy, please point me in the right direction.)

It is time that the liberal critics of the Goldstone report, as well as the center left folks in Israel and the US, stand up and condemn Dershowitz's outrageous rhetoric and slander in no uncertain terms. I don't expect the reaction to come just from the left or the progressive side, the usual suspects this time.

Ah, but how convenient it is to shoot the messenger.

Friday, January 29, 2010

English Translation of the YNET article on Female IDF Soldiers Breaking the Silence

For the original site, click here


Female soldiers break their silence

Six years after first collection of Breaking the Silence testimonies, organization releases booklet of testimonies from female soldiers who served in territories. Stories include systematic humiliation of Palestinians, reckless and cruel violence, theft, killing of innocent people and cover-up. Here are only some of testimonies
Amir Shilo

"A female combat soldier needs to prove more…a female soldier who beats up others is a serious fighter…when I arrived there was another female there with me, she was there before me…everyone spoke of how impressive she is because she humiliates Arabs without any problem. That was the indicator. You have to see her, the way she humiliates, the way she slaps them, wow, she really slapped that guy."


The Breaking the Silence organization on Friday released a booklet of testimonies by female soldiers recounting various abuse cases involving Palestinians in the West Bank.


In recent years, females have been increasingly involved in combat and field operations in the IDF and Border Guard. Among other things, these female soldiers engage in daily contact with the Palestinian population – at roadblocks and in Palestinian communities.


According to the latest testimonies, many of these young women have trouble coping with the violent reality they are exposed to and find themselves facing situations that contradict their values. Some of them end up engaging in acts, or turning a blind eye to acts, that will burden them years later. Like their male counterparts, some of these females have a need to speak about what they saw.


"The girls have greater difficulties in telling the story, because they're the minority to begin with" the organization's director Dana Golan says.


'Each soldier would give them a pet'

In the framework of the latest project, Breaking the Silence gathered the testimonies of more than 50 female soldiers who served in various posts in the territories. Ynet presents some of the highlights in this report.


Golan noted that female soldiers were not more sensitive to the Palestinians than their male comrades.


"We discovered that the girls try to be even more violent and brutal than the boys, just to become one of the guys," she said.


Reporter took a picture, 'special patrol' sent to get them (Photo: Reuters)


A female Seam Line Border Guard spoke of the chase after illegal aliens: "In half an hour you can catch 30 people without any effort." Then comes the question of what should be done with those who were caught – including women, children, and elderly. "They would have them stand, and there's the well-known Border Guard song (in Arabic): 'One hummus, one bean, I love the Border Guard' – they would make them sing this. Sing, and jump. Just like they do with recruits… The same thing only much worse. And if one of them would laugh, or if they would decide someone was laughing, they would punch him. Why did you laugh? Smack… It could go on for hours, depending on how bored they are. A shift is eight hours long, the times must be passed somehow."


Most of the female soldiers say that they sensed there was a problem during their service, but did nothing.


Another female soldier's testimony, who served at the Erez checkpoint, indicates how violence was deeply rooted in the daily routine: "There was a procedure in which before you release a Palestinian back into the Strip – you take him inside the tent and beat him."


That was a procedure?


"Yes, together with the commanders."


How long did it last?


"Not very long; within 20 minutes they would be back in the base, but the soldiers would stop at the post to drink coffee and smoke cigarettes while the guys from the command post would beat them up."


This happened with every illegal alien?


"There weren't that's not something you do everyday, but sort of a procedure. I don't know if they strictly enforced it each and every took me a while to realize that if I release an illegal alien on my end, by the time he gets back to Gaza he will go through hell... two or three hours can pass by the time he gets into the Strip. In the case of the kid, it was a whole night. That's insane, since it's a ten minute walk. They would stop them on their way; each soldier would give them a 'pet', including the commanders."


'Child's hand broken on the chair'

A female soldier in Sachlav Military Police unit, stationed in Hebron, recalled a Palestinian child that would systematically provoke the soldiers by hurling stones at them and other such actions. One time he even managed to scare a soldier who fell from his post and broke his leg.


Retaliation came soon after: "I don't know who or how, but I know that two of our soldiers put him in a jeep, and that two weeks later the kid was walking around with casts on both arms and legs…they talked about it in the unit quite a lot – about how they sat him down and put his hand on the chair and simply broke it right there on the chair."


Even small children did not escape arbitrary acts of violence, said a Border Guard female officer serving near the separation fence: "We caught a five-year-old…can't remember what he did…we were taking him back to the territories or something, and the officers just picked him up, slapped him around and put him in the jeep. The kid was crying and the officer next to me said 'don't cry' and started laughing at him. Finally the kid cracked a smile – and suddenly the officer gave him a punch in the stomach. Why? 'Don't laugh in my face' he said."


'Palestinian beaten before being released to Strip' (Photo: AFP)


Was there also abuse of women?


"Yes" the same soldier replied. "Slaps, that kind of thing. Mainly slaps."


From men?


"Also. From whoever. It was mainly the female combat soldiers who beat people. There were two who really liked to beat people up. But also men, they had no problem slapping a woman around. If she screamed, they'd say, 'Shut it,' with another slap. A routine of violence. There were also those who didn't take part, but everyone knew it happened."


Sometimes an entire "production" was necessary to satisfy the violent urges. "There's a sense of violence," a border policewoman in the Jenin area said. "And yes, it's boring, so we'd create some action. We'd get on the radio, and say they threw stones at us, then someone would be arrested, they'd start investigating him… There was a policewoman, she was bored, so okay, she said they threw stones at her. They asked her who threw them. 'I don't know, two in grey shirts, I didn't manage to see them.' They catch two guys with grey shirts… beat them. Is it them? 'No, I don't think so.' Okay, a whole incident, people get beaten up. Nothing happened that day."


An education noncommissioned officer from the Border Guard took her officers for a Sunday of culture – a show in Tel Aviv. When they got back to their base in the Gaza Strip, they were appalled by the dissonance – one moment they're clapping in a theater, the next moment they're acting like beasts.


"Crossing the checkpoint, it's like another world… Palestinians walk with trolleys on the side of the road, with wagons, donkeys… so the Border Guards take a truck with the remains of food and start throwing it at them… cottage cheese, rotten vegetables… it was the most appalling thing I experienced in the territories."


The soldier said she tried to protest, but was silenced by the commanding officers. When she tried to go around them to higher authorities, she found a solution. "Almost immediately I got into an officers' course."


'You don't know which side you're on'

Some of the testimonies document incidents of vandalism of Palestinian property, and even theft. The same female soldier who recounted her time at the Erez checkpoint said, "Many times the soldiers would open the Palestinians' food."


And would they take it as well?


"Yes. They take things all the time at checkpoints in the territories. You'll never see a soldier without musabaha (chickpea past similar to hummus). And that is something they give many times… They are so desperate to pass that they even sort of bribe the soldiers a little…"


A female Border Guard officer spoke of how Palestinian children would arrive at checkpoints with bags of toys for sale – and how the Border Guard would deal with them: "'Okay, throw the bag away. Oh, I need some batteries,', and they would take, they would take whatever they wanted."


What would they take?


"Toys, batteries, anything… cigarettes. I'm sure they took money as well, but I don't remember that specifically." She also spoke of one incident in which the looting was caught by a television camera, and the affair blew up. "Then, the company commander gathered us and reprimanded us: 'How did you not think they might see you?'" No one was punished: "Really, it was an atmosphere in which we were allowed to hit and humiliate."


Some of the gravest stories come from Hebron. A Sachlav female soldier spoke of one of the company's hobbies: Toy guns. "Those plastic pellets really hurt… we had a bunch of those… you're sitting on guard and 'tak' you fire at a kid, 'tak' – you fire at another kid."


She recounted an incident in which a Palestinian reporter took a picture of one of the soldiers aiming a gun at a boy's head. She said a "special patrol" went into Hebron, and came back with the pictures. The soldier said they either paid the reporter, or threatened her.


And the pictures were circulated in the company?


"No, they were destroyed the same day."


What did the company commander say about it?


"He said it's a good thing they didn't reach the IDF Spokesperson's Unit."


Company commander reprimands, but no one punished


Some of the testimonies from Hebron deal with the difficult position the soldiers find themselves in, between Palestinians and settlers – who they say are even harder to handle. Some of the female soldiers were shocked with the level of violence the settlers' children used against the Palestinians. "They would throw stones at them, the Jewish kids," a Nahal female soldier said, "and the parents would say anything… you see this every day in Tel Rumeida."


Doesn't it seem strange to you that one child throws a stone at another child?


"Because the one child is Jewish and the other is Palestinians, it's somehow okay… and it was obvious that there would be a mess afterwards. And you also don't really know which side you are on…I have to make a switch in my head and keep hating the Arabs and justify the Jews."


In her frustration, the same female soldier told of how she once spit on a Palestinian in the street: "I don't think he even did anything. But again, it was cool and it was the only thing I could do to… you know, I couldn't take brag that I caught a terrorists… But I could spit on them and degrade them and laugh at them."


Another female Sachlav soldier told the story of the time an eight-year-old settler girl in Hebron decided to bash a stone into the head of a Palestinian adult crossing her passing by her in the street. "Boom! She jumped on him, and gave it to him right here in the head… then she started screaming 'Yuck, yuck, his blood is on me'".


The soldier said the Palestinian then turned in the girl's direction – a move that was interpreted as a threat by one of the soldiers in the area, who added a punch of his own: "And I stood there horrified… an innocent little girl in her Shabbat dress… the Arab covered the wound with his hand and ran." She recalled another incident with the same child: "I remember she had her brother in the stroller, a baby. She was giving him stones and telling him: 'Throw them at the Arab'."


9-year-old shot to death

Other testimonies raise concerns as to the procedures of opening fire in the territories, particularly crowd control weapons. A female Border Guard detailed to protocol she called "dismantling rubber" – the dismantling of rubber bullets from clusters of three to single bullets, and peeling the rubber off of them. She also said that, despite the clear orders to fire in the air or at the demonstrators' feet, it was common procedure to fire at the abdomen.


A female Border Guard officer in Jenin spoke of an incident in which a nine-year-old Palestinian, who tried to climb the fence, failed, and fled – was shot to death: "They fired… when he was already in the territories and posed no danger. The hit was in the abdomen area, they claimed he was on a bicycle and so they were unable to hit him in the legs."


But the soldier was most bewildered by what happened next between the four soldiers present: "They immediately got their stories straight… An investigation was carried out, at first they said it was an unjustified killing… In the end they claimed that he was checking out escape routes for terrorists or something… and they closed the case."


A female intelligence soldier who served near Etzion recounted an incident in which snipers killed a boy suspected of throwing a Molotov cocktail. The soldiers coordinated their stories, and the female soldier was shocked, mainly by the happy atmosphere that surrounding the incident: "It was written in the situation evaluation after the incident that from now on there will be quiet… This is the best kind of deterrence."


'They don't know how to accept the women'

The female soldiers repeatedly mention the particular difficulties they had as women, who had to prove that to were "fighters" in the midst of the goading male soldiers on the one hand, and the Palestinians, who have a hard time handling women in uniform on the other hand. The following story of a female Border Guard officer sums the matter up.


When the interviewer asked her if the Palestinians "suffer even more from the women in the Border Guard", she said: "Yes. Yes. Because they don't know how to accept the women. The moment a girl slaps a man, he is so humiliated, he is so humiliated he doesn't know what to do with himself… I am a strong and well-built girl, and this is even harder for them to handle. So one of their ways of coping is to laugh. They really just started to laugh at me. The commander looks at me and tells me, 'What? Are you going to let that slide? Look how he's laughing at you'.


"And you, as someone who has to salvage your self-respect… I told them to sit down and I told him to come…I told him to come close, I really approached him, as if I was about to kiss him. I told him, 'Come, come, what are you afraid of? Come to me!' And I hit him in the balls. I told him, 'Why aren't you laughing?' He was in shock, and then he realized that… not to laugh. It shouldn't reach such a situation."


You hit him with your knee?


"I hit him in the balls. I took my foot, with my military show, and hit him in the balls. I don't know if you've ever been hit in the balls, but it looks like it hurts. He stopped laughing in my face because it hurt him. We then took him to a police station and I said to myself, 'Wow, I'm really going to get in trouble now.' He could complain about me and I could receive a complaint at the Military police's criminal investigation division.


"He didn't say a word. I was afraid and I said. I was afraid about myself, not about him. But he didn't say a word. 'What should I say, that a girl hit me?' And he could have said, but thank God, three years later I didn't get anything and no one knows about it."

What did it feel like that moment?


"Power, strength that I should not have achieved this way. But I didn't brag about it. That's why I did it that way, one on one. I told them to sit on the side, I saw that he wasn't looking. I said to myself that it doesn't make sense that as a girl who gives above and beyond and is worth more than some boys – they should laugh at me like that because I am a girl. Because you think I can't do it…"


Today, when you look at it three years later, would you have done things differently?


"I would change the system. It's seriously defective."


What does that mean?



"The system is deeply flawed. The entire administration, the way things are run, it's not right. I don't know how I would… I don't think I did the right thing in this incident but it was what I had to do. It's inevitable under these circumstances."


You're saying the small soldiers on the ground are not the problem, but the whole situation surrounding them?


"Yes, this entire situation is problematic."


YNET: Breaking the Silence Publishes Female Soldiers Testimonies of Abuse of Palestinians in Territories

YNET just published an exclusive report here: For the first time, the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence, composed of ex-IDF veterans, is publishing a booklet of women soldiers' testimonies of systematic humiliation, arbitrary violence, theft, and cover-up of soldiers serving in the West Bank.

If you understand Hebrew, you should go to the website and hear the testimonies – the voices have been distorted to protect the anonymity of the soldiers.

With the world focusing on Israel's response to the Goldstone Report and its Gaza operations, Breaking the Silence reminds us that the violation of Palestinian rights in the Occupied Territories is a 24/7 affair.

But what is interesting about the soldiers' testimonies is that they shed a light on the unique feature of the female humiliation of Palestinians. One soldier testifies:

Female combatants [lohamot -- JH] need to prove more, also out in the field. A female combatant who is a "hitter" is a serious combatant. When I arrived somebody with me, who had arrived earlier, she was, wallah – everybody spoke about how she was a "cannon", wallah, since she humiliated Arabs without a problem. That was the measure. "You have to see here, how she humiliates them, she slaps them around, wyy, what slaps she gives them." They spoke freely about that.

YNET reports that the booklet contains more than 50 testimonies, and in addition YNET received some unpublished testimonies. Once again we read about how Palestinian men , women and children who are rounded up in areas that they are forbidden to enter without a permit are forced to sing the Border Police ditty that made news a few months ago. "The humiliation is like the hazing of IDF recruits, only much worse. If anybody laughs or decides to laugh, then that person is punched…This can go on for hours; it depends on how bored the soldiers are. .."

There is another testimony about a Palestinian kid who would harass soldiers, throwing rocks, and he managed to cause soldier once to fall out of his position and break his leg. "I don't know who or how, but two of our soldiers forced him into a jeep, and two weeks later, the kid was walking around with casts on both hands and feet. They talked about it a lot in the company, how they sat him down and broke his hand on the chair, just broke his hand on the chair.

Another Border Control Policewoman about arbitrary violence against little children:

"We seized a five year old kid..don't remember what about…we drove him back to the [Palestinian controlled] territories. They picked him up, "bent him" here and there, and put him on the jeep. The kid was crying, and the border policeman next to me said, "What are you crying for?" and started to laugh at him. At last the kid smiled, and then, wow, the policeman punched him hard in the stomach, wallah, that was an explosion that I wouldn't have given to a strong man….and why? "You won't laugh in my face!'

There is testimony of Palestinian women being slapped around, both my male and female soldiers. And testimony of bored soldiers reporting that stones were being thrown so they could go out and beat up people.

There are stories of vandalism and looting, much of it petty, humiliating stuff, like soldiers eating from Palestinians food at checkpoint. And then there are stories of a "light finger on a the trigger" among the border police.

Most interesting is the awareness of the soldiers that their being women in uniform was itself difficult for the Palestinians to digest. One border policewoman tells,

"I told him, "Come to me, what are you afraid of me?...And when he got close I kicked him the testicles…Later we took him to the police station and I said to myself, "Wyyy, I am really in for it, now". He could have filed a complaint against me. He didn't say a word. "What will I say? That a girl beat me up?" He could have said something but Barukh ha-Shem, three years later I didn't get anything about it, and nobody knows anything about it.

    Interviewer: What was the feeling you felt at that moment?

Soldier: Power, strength, that I couldn't have gotten any other way….I told them to sit down, and I saw that this guy didn't look at me. I said to myself, it doesn't make sense that a girl who gives her all, and is worth more than a couple of guys, should be laughed at in this way, that you think that I am not able…

    Interviewer: Today, three years later, would you do things differently.

Soldier: I would change the system, which is fundamentally fucked up. The whole way things are run. That's not right, I don't know how I would have…I don't think I acted the right way at that point. But that's what I had to do, the reality forced me to do it.

Interviewer: You are saying that the soldiers in the field aren't problematic, but the surrounding situation.

    Soldier: Yeah, the whole situation is problematic.

More on the story in the coming days.



Tuesday, January 26, 2010

On the Heels of the Messiah

Some of you folks subscribe to this blog, and so you miss the comments section. If you have a chance, you may want to look at the comments to my post on the Sheikh Jarrah protests and the Zionist left here. Some felt that it was too early to talk about the resurrection of the Zionist left. Some activists present at the demonstration provided corrections. I wrote that post from the library at the University of Pennsylvania, based on press reports and websites. The call went out to participate in last Friday's demonstration from Peace Now, and buses were provided in Tel-Aviv. and Meretz. So while I was wrong to say that the demonstration was mainly composed of the Zionist left (I have changed that already), the Zionist left was there and will continue to be there, I hope.

But the guiding force will be folks like the Anarchists, God bless them. (You can't be at Sheikh Jarrah this week? Why not consider making a monthly donation to that group here)

What is happening at Sheikh Jarrah? Could it be the start of a serious coalition between the human rights activists and the shearit ha-pletah, the remaining few, of the Zionist left? Will the Jerusalem winter dampen the spirits and the enthusiasm, not of the activists – they will always be there – but of the academics, professionals, upper middle class Ashkenazim (in short, my crowd), who are thinking of joining the protests? Is the main story simply one of police brutality against protesters -- or the state's evicting Palestinians from their homes and turning them over to settlers? And will the protests grow?

There are encouraging signs. J-Street's Jeremy Ben-Ami released a strong statement not only against the police harassment and denial of basic civil liberties, but against several recent governmental actions that infringe on civil liberties. He writes on Sheikh Jarrah:

As J Street has stated before, this is hardly the time to open up the question of pre-1948 property ownership on either side of the Green Line, or to bring strident settler groups, such as Ateret Cohanim, to an East Jerusalem neighborhood that previous negotiations designated as part of a future Palestinian capital. J Street stands together with the protesters in opposition to unilateral actions in East Jerusalem that only set back the chances for peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and are an affront to traditional Jewish conceptions of justice and fairness. (emphasis added)

There you have it: pragmatism and principle, peace and justice, clearly stated by an organization that views itself as Zionist. The Torah can certainly go forth from Washington, DC. (You may think of encouraging their position through a donation here.)

Will the discourse continue to change? What will happen if and when the police get smart and allow demonstrations under certain (limiting) conditions? Is Sheikh Jarrah the next Bil'in, only with a broader base?

For years, the Zionist left was associated with Tel-Aviv. Jerusalem represented the three groups that the Tel-Avivim tried to avoid: religious Jews, mizrahim, and Arabs.

Now, Jerusalem is the center of human rights activism in Israel. From Jerusalem one can travel North to Bil'in and Ni'ilin, south to Maasara and the Hebron Hills, and be back by the onset of Shabbat (at least during the summer). Heck, you can even walk to Sheikh Jarrah. From Jerusalem you can tour Hebron with Bnei Avraham.

The conditions are ripe for the protest: an ultra-right wing government, an ultra-right wing mayor (whom I did not support, contrary to some of my liberal yuppie neighbors), a hyper-active rightwing settler movement devoted to make Jerusalem "Araberrein," a clear case of injustice in Sheikh Jarrah, in Silwan, in…oh, just about everywhere. Let's not forget that Jerusalem is home to young Jews who are studying in Israel for a year at universities and non-orthodox seminaries, folks with plenty of time on their hands, who don't have to prepare that much for Friday night meals.

There is good potential for the protests to grow. A little divine help (siyata di-shmaya) wouldn't hurt.

Monday, January 25, 2010

“There Will be anti-Semites No Matter What the Jews Do”

Yeah, but when the Jewish State acts outrageously, there certainly will be a lot more of them

That, apparently, is the conclusion of Coordination Forum for the Countering Anti-Semitism in Israel. The report was conducted by the Jewish Agency and the Israeli Ministry of Diaspora Affairs. According to the JTA here:

The report, conducted by the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israeli Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, found that more anti-Semitic incidents were recorded during the first three months of 2009 than during the entire previous year. Israel's Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip was cited as the cause for the dramatic rise.  

From this we may conclude that – according to the Israeli government itself – when Israel goes to war against a civilian population, killing over 1400, and destroying vital civilian infrastructure, the result is more anti-Semitism around the world, including harm and death to Jews.

That's what's really new about the "new anti-Semitism". It is affected by the behavior of the Jewish state.

I suppose that some will say, "So what -- this is the necessary price for a Jewish state. And as bad as anti-Semitism in Europe may be, it is really small potatoes when weighed against other factors." Nobody can use the growth of anti-Semitism as a decisive argument against there being a Jewish state.

True. But also true that anti-Semitism hasn't declined because of the existence of Israel, the way that many Zionists argued that it would. On the contrary, Israel's behavior has become a lightning rod for attitudes towards Jews everywhere, for good or for ill. When Israel behaves better than usual – as it more or less did during the period from 1993-5 -- anti-Semitic incidents in Europe almost entirely vanish. That's the good news. Even in 2008, with the siege, the Occupation, and everything else, anti-Semitism wasn't that prevalent.

Had Hamas and Israel resumed the cease-fire amidst a prisoner-exchange, precious lives, Palestinian and Jewish, could have been spared.

"Better to be a live Jew than a dead mentsh," we are told by the "tough Jews". Survival first, then morality. "Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral," as Brecht wrote.

Even, apparently, if other innocent Jews suffer and die as a result.

That's part of the price we need to pay. Or so we are told.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Blessed Art Thou, Who Resurrects the Dead

The reports of the demise of the Zionist left in Israel were not at all greatly exaggerated. The Left, which sold its soul to the "Peace Process," could not survive its death (or, which is the same, thing, its adoption by the rightwing Kadima and Likud parties).

The Zionist left "gave peace a chance at Camp David", and the Palestinians responded "by waging an Intifada of suicide bombers." It "gave peace a chance when the IDF withdrew from Gaza," and the Palestinians responded "by firing thousands of Kassam rockets." Frustrated by the Palestinians, hating the settlers (and the Russians, and the foreign workers, and the Mizrahiyim, and the "Dosim") the Zionist left – with a few important exceptions – escaped into its Gush Dan cocoon and its Tel-Aviv culture. The more socially-minded took on the problems such as the Environment, discrimination against Gays, the Sudanese refugees, etc., and forgot about the Palestinians. When the Israeli bombing of Gaza started, the Zionist left rallied around the flag, giving much-needed cover to the atrocities of the first few days of the war. And when those atrocities were documented by the world media, and Israeli NGOs, the majority of the Zionist left remained silent, only calling for an investigation after it had criticized, in harsh and intemperate tones, the report of an internationally respected Jewish jurist.

Who would have thought that the resurrection of the Zionist left – well, if not its actual redemption , then the beginning of its redemption – would have been caused by the displacement of a handful of Arabs in a neighborhood of Jerusalem, itself an old Israeli tradition? After all, while the Zionist left has consistently opposed many of the settlements (especially those whose founders were not of their own tribe), and while for years Peace Now's only raison d'ĂȘtre is its Settlement Watch, the anti-settlement activities of the Zionist Left have always been motivated by the desire to give peace a chance. For how could there be a "viable Palestinian state" with all those settlements preventing its creation?

It took the sickening injustice of Sheikh Jarrah – where the lawful Palestinian owners were evicted from their homes to make room for Jews on the basis of a principle that, if applied fairly, would evict hundreds of thousands of Jews from their homes to make room for Palestinians – to rouse the Zionist left. Not all of it, of course, but the numbers are growing at the weekly demonstrations. And these demonstrations, unlike the ones at Bil'in and Nil'in, have a good number of Zionist left demonstrators.

The police's violent suppression of the protests have brought the protestors support from unsuspected quarters. Amnon Rubinstein, who has behaved in recent years like an Israeli Alan Dershowitz, has criticized the police for their harsh treatment of protestors. Even the rightwing Yehuda Glick, the head of the Temple Mount faction, has defended their rights to non-violent demonstration.

But for me, the important issue is the protestors actions – especially the identity of the protesters and not the police's reactions.

In today's YNET article here, two of the protestors identified at Friday's protest are Prof. Moshe Halbertal of the Hebrew University, and Avner Inbar, a doctoral student in philosophy. (Note, as a reader's request, the link is to the English report, which does not mention Halbertal. In the Hebrew version here, Halbertal is quoted as saying the following:)

I came here because I oppose settlements in the Arab neighborhoods of East Jeursalem. I think they harm the coexistence in the city and constitute an obstacle to its partition.

For those of my readers with short memories, Inbar was one of Halbertal's students, and an author of the letter criticizing Halbertal's article against the Goldstone report. See below or here

Perhaps I am a sentimentalist, but there is something stirring when professor and student, rav and talmid, who have widely diverging views on the Gaza Offensive, stand together to protest against such a blatant injustice as the Sheikh Jarrah evictions. True, Halbertal's own comment is more pragmatic than principled, more consequentialist than deontological, to use the philosophy jargon. Still, I would like to think that the student turned to his teacher and recited Victor Laslo's classic line to Rick at the end of Casablanca:

"Welcome back to the fight. This time I know our side will win."

Let's hope that the Zionist left, and especially its intellectuals, are coming back to the fight. Not the fight over some elusive Peace Process which always, and only serves the interest of the Israeli Occupation. But the fight against rank and blatant injustice, theft of land, deprivation of liberty and resources, abuse of power, tyranny of the weak, the whole litany of complaints of the brutal and lengthy Occupation.

For as long as the Palestinian people cannot live as free people in their land, how can any decent person support the aspiration of Jews to live as free people in their own land?

Is one people's hope and freedom inferior to the other's?


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Response to Prof. Halbertal’s Article on the Goldstone Report – From Eight of His Former Students

Last week I received a copy of a letter addressed to Moshe Halbertal by eight of his former students, most of whom are junior faculty in philosophy or philosophy doctoral candidates in Israel and the US. The letter, a long response to Halbertal's article attacking the Goldstone Report in the New Republic, was sent me by a colleague, who received it from an email distribution list. (The letter had been intended to be private, but it was leaked to somebody who sent it on the list.) After making inquiries I learned that Halbertal had invited the authors to discuss the matter with him, and that there indeed was a meeting. I do not know whether Prof. Halbertal plans to write a response.

In the meantime, I have received permission to make public parts of the letter. Since it is long, I will try to paraphrase the gist of the argument. This may seem unfair and one-sided, and it is certainly no substitute for an accurate translation. I also have no doubt that Prof. Halbertal's response would be an important contribution to the debate. But the original letter stands on its own, and so I communicate its contents here.

The "Letter to Moshe Halbertal" begins as follows;

Your article in the New Republic, an attack on the Goldstone Report, surprised and disturbed us. We feel obligated to lay before you our objections and our criticism in a direct manner. The immediate subject of the article is the Goldstone Report, which is portrayed as biased and fundamentally flawed. But it is difficult to escape the impression that in doing so you justify, after the fact, the pretext for the Gaza war, as well as its manner of conduct, without the qualifications that we consider vital.

The authors first comment on Halbertal's discussion of the transformation in Israel's defense strategy wrought by asymmetric warfare. That discussion emphasizes the difficulties and limitations that a conventional army has in fighting "terrorists", a move that strikes the authors as an attempt to diminish the real military advantage that the IDF possesses and to play upon the feelings of victimhood among Israelis. Such claims tend to ignore the connection between the asymmetry of conditions of warfare and the asymmetry in the power relations. Would it be a fairer, more symmetric, fight if Hamas had tanks and aircraft? The article accuses Hamas of not distinguishing between civilians and soldiers. Yet most of the IDF's chief military installations are located in the midst of civilian areas, including the Central Command in Tel-Aviv. Would that justify Hamas firing rockets on urban areas? The same article mentions Hamas attacks on buses and cafes, but what does that have to do with Cast Lead, since most of these attacks did not originate in Gaza, had ceased for years before the Gaza campaign and were cliaimed by nobody to be the cause of the campaign?

The article claims that one has two alternatives when confronting assymmetric warfare: either to refuse to defend oneself against terrorist attacks or to fight without limitations against the enemy's populace. But that, according to the authors of the letter, is a false dilemma. Most of those who opposed the Gaza campaign are not pacifists, and do not deny Israel's right to self-defense. What they deny is the justification of all military activity in the name of security, and the separation of the war on terror from the broader political context; they question whether there were alternatives to military action. "Rejecting both extremes for the sake of pursuing a policy that is both militarily necessary and exceedingly cautious with respect to civlian life is still quite far from justifying a military offensive like Operation Cast Lead.

According to Halbertal, "Israel's goal in its struggle with Hamas and Hezbollah is to reverse their attempt to strengthen themselves politically by means of their morally bankrupt strategy. Rather than being drawn into a war of all against all and everywhere, Israel has sought to isolate the militants from their environment: to mark them and "clothe" them with a uniform, and to force them to a definite front." The authors note that this description of isolating the militants from their environment bears no resemblance at all to what is known about the Operation Cast Lead, or the IDF's methods in Gaza in the last few years, which include the widespread destruction of infrastructure, houses, the siege and the limitations on imports, and the deliberate attempts to frighten the civilian population. To say that the former is the goal according to which the IDF operated, and to write off the collective punishment of the siege on Gaza as "ethically problematic and strategically unproductive" appears at the very least insufficient.

The second part of the article deals with the principles of just war and how they are reflected in the IDF Ethical Code. The first principle is that of military necessity, which holds that the use of force should be only as much as is militarily necessary. Halbertal admits in the article that the application of this principle in the case of assymmetric warfare is "problematic," but that does not excuse him from examining every military mission, including those cited in the report. It seems to the authors that this principle was violated more than once during the campaign, and if that is the case, then the criticism of the IDF in the Goldstone report is justified.

The second principle is that of the distinction between combatants and non-combatants. This too is difficult, but not only for the IDF. A large number of the soldiers are civilians who may be called up to fight. Does that justify attacking them in their homes (as the terrorists claim)? Or when they are on military leave? And what about the IDF's attack on the Hamas policemen? Contrary to what Halbertal writes, the Goldstone report did not consider them to be non-combatants, but rather that they were not part of the Hamas fighting organization against Israel. The Goldstone report mentions the IDF's claim to the contrary, but no evidence has been provided for that claim. What should the Goldstone panel have done; accepted the IDF spokesperson's word on the issue? After all, the IDF spokesperson has a credibility gap, considering the performance over the last few years.

The third principle is proportionateness. Here Halbertal cites Moshe Yaalon's claim that had the IDF known that Salah Shahadeh was surrounded by civilians, they would not have bombed his house. He does not cite Dan Halutz's defense of the bombing, or Yaalon's praise of the bombers ("You did good work; you can sleep at ease during the night.") He does not cite the more recent case of Nizar Riyan, who was killed together with fifteen civilians, members of his family, and which was justified by the IDF on the grounds that they were warned. So this gave the IDF a license to kill them?

The article criticizes the Goldstone Report criticism of "roof knocking," but misses the point that the warning was useless since the residents had no where safe to flee to. In order to refute the criticism, Halbertal should have cited cases where the roof-knocking was effective and not dangerous. But in any event, merely warning the civilians did not excuse the IDF from adhering to the principle of distinction. A non-combatant does not lose his status because he has not fled his house.

The article justifies the shelling of houses in order to minimize casualties to the IDF. But the cases described in the report included those in which there were no danger to the IDF. In some of those cases, the IDF issued contradictory statements. Halbertal completely ignores the statements of IDF generals and Israeli politicians that said that disproportionate damage was an aim of the war in order to teach Hamas and the population a lesson. One cannot examine the question of proportionality without understanding th goals of the mission. If one of the goals was to destroy the motivation of the Hamas fighters and their supporters, then the search for proportionality is a fruitless one.

The authors then echo my criticism of Halbertal's view that had the Goldstone report focused just on Gaza, the IDF would have had to respond. In fact, the IDF condemned and dismissed every human rights report on Gaza, including the one by the veterans' group, Breaking the Silence.

Halbertal criticized the report's decision to include the background to the Gaza campaign, and considered that presentation slanted. But Halbertals' presentation is no less slanted. Is the only purpose of the wall snaking through Palestinian territory Israeli security? Even the Israeli High Court rejected that claim, when it said that the route was determined in part in order to absorb territory for West Bank settlements. And while Halbertal criticizes this part of the Goldstone report as biased and irrelevant, he provides his own background which is no less biased: Sharon withdrew from Gaza, Olmert wished to continue the withdrawal; all this was spoiled by the Kassam rockets. This completely ignores the fact that the peace process and the disengagement was accompanied with an incessant deepening of the Occupation by all Israeli governments. Is it possible to detach Operation Cast Lead from the continual expansion of settlements and outposts, the theft of Palestinian land, the expulsion of people from their homes, the destructions of homes, the targeted assassination, detentions without trial, restrictions on freedom of the prevention of movement, the unfair allotment of water, prevention of the right to be education. All these abuses have been well-documented by Israel human rights NGOs. If Goldstone's presentation is slanted, then Halbertal's is no less so – including his decision to start the historical narrative from the disengagement from Gaza. Why choose this date? The answer in the article is that from that time Gaza was no longer occupied is unacceptable; yet according to many experts and organizations this is not the case. Why didn't Halbertal cite the remark of Dove Weisglass who said that the purpose of the disengagement was to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state. Most astonishing is the failure to mention all the other IDF campaigns in Gaza after the disengagement: "First Rain," "Southern Arrow" "Summer Rains", etc., etc. and the fact that the IDF killed 1273 Gazans, among whom 522 uninvolved civilians (236 minors) , between the disengagement of Gaza and the onset of Cast Iron. Failure to mention the above creates the false impression that Israel adopted a hands-off policy of military restraint in the face of Kassam rocket fire from the disengagement to Cast Iron, and that the Hamas chose to fire rockets only because of an implacable and inexplicable hatred. And even if that were true, how can one explain Israel's separation of the West Bank from Gaza despite its commitments to the contrary.

In this context it is also surprising that the article fails to discuss the question of the necessity of going to war. Even if the article focuses on the Goldstone Report (which did not question Israel's decision to go to war), anybody who writes as an Israeli should discuss the legitimacy of the goals of the war (unclear to this very day), and of the means taken to achieve them. According to some Israeli leaders, the goal of the war was to eliminate Hamas. Wat this a legitimate goal. And the goal was to stop the Kassam rockets, were any less-deadly alternative courses of action feasible or possible? Isn't it necessary to mention the cease-fire that had redyced the firing of rockets to a trickle, until Israel unilaterally violated it by killing ten Hamas men in one weekend? Is the South genuinely safer now because of the campaign, and if so, for how long?

The article characterizes Goldstone's claim that Israel deliberately targeted civilians as false and slanderous. But it ignores entirely the evidence, including the statements by Israeli politicians, that the Goldstone Report adduces to support the claim. Is it sufficient just to reject Goldstone's evidence and conclusions out of hand? And what of the number of civilians killed.

On the latter point the article raises one of its strangest claims: "Since the relation of soldiers to civilians in Gaza was one to 150, then any larger relation in terms of soldiers to fatalities indicates that there was no intention to deliberately harm civilians. In other words, any action which was more careful than random shooting would be justified. But will we absolve the Hamas from responsibility if it can be shown that the relation between soldiers that killed and their victims is greater than the relation of civilians to soldiers in Israel?

The last part of the article treats some of the abuses documented in the report as isolated incidents that should be investigated, and not as well-documented abuses that were part of a systematic war policy. Halbertal is convinced that there was no such policy, although he never gives any reason why he is convinced, nor does he rebut the Goldstone report's evidence to the contrary. The many proofs of unnecessary and even criminal brutality – firing on civilians, destruction as a means of collective punishment, the use of illegal weapons, the deliberate frightening of the civilian population – merit at best a skeptical approach, and at worst, avoidance. Halbertal's call to investigate completely ignores the fact that the IDF has ceased investigating Palestinian claims against soldiers since 2000. The call to investigate isolated cases avoids confronting the possibility of their being instances of broader policies.

Finally, it is impossible to avoid providing a more general evaluation of the article and its composition. It seems that political, ethical, and legal questions turn into "dilemmas" that emphasize the soul-searching of the individual soldier who goes out to battle (and the philosopher who serves his spiritual advisor) and blur the consequences of his actions. The historical and political context is brought in accordance with apologetic needs, whereas central facts – the repeated attacks in Gaza after the disengagement, the effective control in a region that has never ceased, the violation of the Cease Fire in the early part of November –are hidden or distorted beyond recognition. The concept of assymmetric warfare provides Halbertal with a sweeping justification of the IDF's actions without mentioning the general context and basic asymmetry that is built into it.

Here is how the letter ends:

Your article only asks how much the IDF ethical code was implemented. You accept without question the necessity of going to war because you accept without question the IDF and the Israeli public's acceptance of the necessity of waging a war on terror. But some questions need to be asked: What led to the breakdown of the cease-fire? Could it not be renewed? Were there legitimate goals beyond revenge and giving the public what it wanted? Even when you argue with the report about context and background, you do not doubt for a moment the establishment's version of the events, in which the operation is portrayed as a defensive move against an aggressive neighbor and is completely removed from its historical context of occupation and control.

Most of all, we speak out against the distortion of the role of the engaged intellectual in your decision to publish this article in this journal at this time. What sorts of things should one cry out against? Can one sit in silence while the IDF has carried out, and continues to carry out, all sorts of injustices in the context of the occupation and its associated activities, and cry out only against somebody who criticizes these actions? If you think that the siege on Gaza is wrong, then why didn't you protest against it in public? If you claim that there are incidents that should be investigated, then why did you wait until the Goldstone report was published, and then in order to defend Israel from it, for you to come out in favor of an investigation?

You know as well as we do that we are not talking merely about a public expression of a position. The actions of the IDF in Gaza would not have occurred without the legal and moral support of publications such as yours. In this regard it is impossible not to protest against the hekhsher that you have given to the killing of the traffic police at the outset of the campaign. The army may still use this "certificate of kashrut" that you have granted them in future campaigns. At a time when the Occupation continues in full force, when civilians are killed and maimed daily, when theft, expulsion, and injustice under the auspices of the state increase daily, we find it hard to believe how you choose to defend the government who is responsible for all this against those who think otherwise.

The letter is signed: Yuval Ayalon, Amir Angel, Jonathan Ya'ari, Oded Neeman, Levi Spector, Avner Inbar, Yoav Kani, Yishai Rosen Tzvi, Assaf Sharon

The above letter should be added to the critiques of Halbertal's original article in the New Republic, which include those by philosopher Jerome Slater at his blog here and here, and by myself here and here

Sharon’s Real Legacy – Keeping the Arabs Out of Sight

Aluf Benn of Haaretz wrote a real zinger today, and I thought I would share it with you. My rightwing readers will shout, "Hey, he conveniently leaves out terrorism." And, in a sense, they would be right, although much of what they call "terrorism" I would call the fundamental right of a people under a long-term occuaption (and quasi-annexation) to engage in armed resistance. Whatever. Surely if all the Palestinans were Uncle Ahmads, then Israel would still let them clean their streets.

What follows is by Benn.

Let's assume the optimistic forecast by special U.S. envoy George Mitchell comes true and in two years the establishment of an independent Palestine is declared at a ceremony. The event will be broadcast on prime time, but most Israelis will opt to view "Big Brother 6," "Survivor 7" or whatever the next television hit is. Viewers will behave this way not because they oppose a Palestinian state but because they are indifferent. Palestine-shmalestine simply does not interest them.

Most Israelis today are cut off from the conflict with the Palestinians and do not interact with them. From their point of view, the Palestinians are blurry figures during TV newscasts: Mahmoud Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh speak, women covered from head to toe mourn in a tent, men run with a stretcher after an ambulance, men concealing their faces fire Qassam rockets. Israelis have no interest in knowing anything further. Nablus and Ramallah are about 40 minutes by car from Tel Aviv, but in the eyes of Tel Avivians they are on a different planet. New York, London and Thailand are much closer.

The settlers beyond the separation fence are the only Israelis who see Palestinians, mostly through car windows on the roads they share. The settlers, like the Palestinians, are disconnected from the residents of the Tel Aviv region, Haifa or Be'er Sheva, who hardly ever cross the fence. They have no business in Elon Moreh, Yitzhar or Psagot. The big settlements like Ma'aleh Adumim and Ariel can be reached almost without having to see Palestinians.

The policy of isolation is the real legacy of Ariel Sharon, who built the fence in the West Bank, left the Gaza Strip and pushed the Palestinians out of the Israeli labor force. Sharon did not believe in peace and was not interested in links with the "Arabs." All he wanted was to protect the Jews from attacks by their "bloodthirsty" neighbors. Keeping them out of sight lets Israelis live as if there were no conflict, with only settlers on the periphery and soldiers on the firing line.

The "demographic problem" also is not frightening when it is locked up behind walls and fences.

In the past Israel's economy relied on Palestinian workers, but only older Israelis remember them at restaurants, construction sites and gas stations. Here and there one can still find friendships; waiters at Restaurant 206 in Kiryat Shaul sometimes gather their tips for a Palestinian friend who once waited tables and is now besieged in the Gaza Strip. Stories like this are almost part of folklore. The Israeli economy is geared toward Wall Street, not Shuhada Street. The stock market is hardly affected by routine security issues, and real estate prices are flying high as if this were Hong Kong, not a country under threat on a constant war alert.

The Israel Defense Forces, who sent generations of Israelis to the territories, has minimized the exposure of its soldiers to the Palestinians. Fewer and fewer people do reserve duty, and even fewer in the West Bank. The regular army has minimized the activities of its units in the territories and transferred much of the policing duties in the West Bank to the Kfir Brigade. Air force crews, who carry the burden of the fighting in the Gaza Strip, see the Palestinians as silent spots on their screens fed from drone footage.

Entertainment intensifies the gap in the way Israelis have come to regard their country, and the way it is seen in the world. The local media describes Israel as a Western high-tech superpower, an annex of Manhattan and Hollywood. The foreign media covers the conflict: terrorist attacks and assassinations, settlements and peace talks. When the Israelis who have never visited a settlement see themselves on CNN they are offended: We are not like that. This is anti-Semitic propaganda.

Foreigners visiting Israel are amazed to discover the degree to which reality here is disconnected from what they heard at home. They expect a violent apartheid state, and are surprised that the toilets and buses are not separate for Jews and Arabs. They imagine a conservative, buttoned-up society and are shocked by Tel Aviv's nightlife. They walk in the street and realize that in London or Paris they see a lot more Arabs than in most Israeli cities.

Because of the entertainment and indifference, the government doesn't face public pressure to pull out of the territories and establish a Palestinian state, and the opposition to the American peace initiative is being led by the extremists on the right. Most Israelis simply don't care; they gave up on the territories a long time ago. If Mitchell succeeds in his mission, they will hear about it and change the channel

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Are West Bank Settlements Illegal? According to Rightwing Zionist Lawyers, No; According to Every Other Legal Expert In the World, Yes

In his dissenting opinion to the 2004 decision of the International Criminal Court against Israel's "Separation Wall" Judge Thomas Buergenthal wrote:

Paragraph 6 of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention also does not admit for exceptions on grounds of military or security exigencies. It provides that "the Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies". I agree that this provision applies to the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and that their existence violates Article 49, paragraph 6. It follows that the segments of the wall being built by Israel to protect the settlements are ipso facto in violation of international humanitarian law. Moreover, given the demonstrable great hardship to which the affected Palestinian population is being subjected in and around the enclaves created by those segments of the wall, I seriously doubt that the wall would here satisfy the proportionality requirement to qualify as a legitimate measure of self-defence. (The opinion can be read on Mitchell Bard's website, the Jewish Virtual Library, here.)

Buergenthal, a Holocaust survivor, a distinguished human rights judge, and a hero in Israel for his dissenting opinion in this case, did not even bother to argue that Israeli settlements are illegal. By 2004, no serious legal expert thought otherwise.

Perhaps it is fitting that one year after the Gaza fiasco, the Israeli Hasbara crowd – those on the right wing of it, anyway – are resurrecting some very old chestnuts, like: the West Bank is not Occupied Territory, or that if it is, the Fourth Geneva Convention does not apply to it, or that if it does, Israel is not violating it through settlements, blah, blah, blah.

These are pre-Intifada positions that date from the seventies and the eighties, and even then were advanced only by Israeli apologists, albeit some people who had distinguished themselves in other spheres, like Eugene Rostow and Julius Stone. In Israel, some of them may still be the official position, but no thinking person takes them seriously, certainly not in public discourse. The Israeli High Court, heck, even Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, considered the Palestinian population of the West Bank be under occupation. George W. Bush called upon Israel to end the occupation. Until Vladimir Avigdor Lieberman took over the Foreign Ministry, that particular chestnut weren't even roasting on an open fire.

No further evidence of the death of these positions is needed than the venue of their "resurrection" (the Wall Street Journal and Commentary) and the right-wingers who are making them (deputy foreign minister of Israel, Danny Ayalon, and Northeastern law professor, David M. Philllips) Danny Ayalon, a member of the ultra-rightwing party Yisrael Beiteinu, claims that the territories are not occupied but rather disputed, using arguments that I have not heard in thirty years – in fact, since Gene Rostow and Julius Stone made them. In fact, I have no idea what is the Hebrew phrase for the "disputed territories" – whoever refers to "territories" (as opposed to Judea and Samaria) uses the adjective kevushim "conquered". And since Israel controls these territories as a result of military conquest and against the will of the inhabitants, they sure are conquered.

Matt Duss does a good job of disemboweling Ayalon here. My favorite part is in his reference (thanks to Gershom Gorenberg's "The Accidental Empire") to the memo prepared by the legal counsel of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Theodor Meron in 1967

As recounted by Israeli journalist and historian Gershom Gorenberg — whose history of the settlements is well worth reading — "the legal counsel of the Foreign Ministry, Theodor Meron, was asked whether international law allowed settlement in the newly conquered land."

In a memo marked "Top Secret," Mr. Meron wrote unequivocally, "My conclusion is that civilian settlement in the administered territories contravenes the explicit provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention."

In the detailed opinion that accompanied that note, Mr. Meron explained that the Convention — to which Israel was a signatory — forbade an occupying power from moving part of its population to occupied territory. [...]

Mr. Meron took note of Israel's diplomatic argument that the West Bank was not "normal" occupied territory, because the land's status was uncertain. The prewar border with Jordan had been a mere armistice line, and Jordan had annexed the West Bank unilaterally.

But he rejected that argument for two reasons. The first was diplomatic: the international community would not accept it and would regard settlement as showing "intent to annex the West Bank to Israel." The second was legal, he wrote: "In truth, certain Israeli actions are inconsistent with the claim that the West Bank is not occupied territory." For instance, he noted, a military decree issued on the third day of the war in June said that military courts must apply the Geneva Conventions in the West Bank.

Unfortunately, the Israeli government ignored Meron's legal advice, and developed a series of shifting legal rationales to justify the annexation and colonization of the occupied land, which has helped to create the exceedingly difficult and volatile situation we have today

As for David M. Phillips's piece, it is essentially preaching old (and one or two bizarre new) arguments to the choir, but in the sort of disingenuous manner expected from the ideological biased. For example, consider this seemingly innocuous paragraph:

To [Eugene] Rostow, "Jews have a right to settle in it under the Mandate," a right he declared to be "unchallengeable as a matter of law." In accord with these views, Israel has historically characterized the West Bank as "disputed territory" (although some senior government officials have more recently begun to use the term "occupied territory").

One would hardly know from this description that a) Eugene Rostow, a life-long Zionist and defender of Israel, himself referred to the territories as "under occupation" or b) that "some senior government officials" included the two former prime ministers of Israel, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert. True, they did not institute an official change of policy, but nobody to the left of Dore Gold's rightwing think tank, the Jerusalem Center of Public Affairs, bothers with arguing that the territories are not occupied.

Phillips writes like somebody who only recently converted to the hasbara squad and, with the zeal of the convert, revives the dead horse. And poor Julius Stone, introduced disingenuously by Phillips merely as "an international law scholar"! Stone was another example of a brilliant and influential Jewish legal thinker who used his considerable acumen (and passion) in defense of the tribe. (See Andrew Dahl's overly generous deconstruction of Stone's biases here.) At least Stone came up with those positions decades ago, when the Stock Zionist Narrative was dominant, before the work of the New Historians and the outbreak of two Intifadas. At that time, somebody could get away with the quaint view that the West Bank was captured in a defensive war, that the Palestinians did not have a right as a people to self-determination, that three "No's of Khartoum" derailed Israel's genuine desire for peace (on this see Avi Shlaim's The Iron Wall), and most of all, that the Occupation was intended as a temporary measure until a credible partner would emerge.

Phillips argues (against everybody else in the world, except Stone, from whom he takes the argument), that the Fourth Geneva Convention forbids only forcible transfers of one's population to occupied territory (surprise, the West Bank is now suddenly occupied!) So the settler's "voluntary movement" is not prohibited. And this Phillips infers not only from the formal language but from the intent of the pertinent clause, which was to ensure that citizens would not be forcibly deported from their land, as the Jews were during the Holocaust. Phillips citation of Stone is revealing:

We would have to say that the effect of Article 49(6) is to impose an obligation on the State of Israel to ensure (by force if necessary) that these areas, despite their millennial association with Jewish life, shall be forever judenrein. Irony would thus be pushed to the absurdity of claiming that Article 49(6), designed to prevent repetition of Nazi-type genocidal policies of rendering Nazi metropolitan territories judenrein, has now come to mean that...the West Bank...must be made judenrein and must be so maintained, if necessary by the use of force by the government of Israel against its own inhabitants. Common sense as well as correct historical and functional context exclude so tyrannical a reading of Article 49(6).

After reading this passage, a reasonable person would simply dismiss anything Stone has to say in defense of Israel's (then) legal position as blinded by his, quite admirable, Jewish loyalties. But more importantly, most intelligent Israelis also dismiss it. The issue is not merely Jewish settlement; it is Jewish settlement that serves as the basis for future claims of sovereignty, that thwarts the possibility of the self-determination of the Palestinians, takes away their resources, and confines them to Bantustans. For God's sake – who but the settlers use the language of Judenrein anymore? And if one wants to talk about historical associations, what about the historical associations of the Palestinian refugees with Palestine, where whole sections are now Araberrein?

Phillips writes:

The settlements are also a far cry from policies implemented by the Soviet Union in the late 1940s and early 1950s to alter the ethnic makeup of the Baltic states by initially deporting hundreds of thousands of people and encouraging Russian immigration.

Nor can they be compared to the efforts by China to alter the ethnic makeup of Tibet by forcibly scattering its native population and moving Chinese into Tibetan territory. Israel's settlement policies are also not comparable to the campaign by Morocco to alter the ethnic makeup of the Western Sahara by transferring Moroccan Arabs to displace the native Saharans, who now huddle in refugee camps in Algeria, or to the variety of population displacements that occurred in the various parts of the former Yugoslavia.

Note that he does not say why these comparisons are invalid – on the contrary, they are quite valid, certainly in the eyes of the settlers, who view the goal of the settlements inter alia to thwart Palestinian self-determination and openly say that Arabs should be expelled from Eretz Yisrael. In fact, the settlers view themselves as the vanguard of a large movement of Israelis that would simply make a Palestinian state impossible. And while successive Israeli governments have not been as ideologically motivated as the hard-core settlers, or have shown more or less ambivalence, they have never put the settlers on the leash – on the contrary, they have encouraged them to settle in areas which Israel coveted. And they have used the resources of the Occupied Territories as cheap land for the expansion of their population. Still, the comparisons are not entirely valid; China, for example, made the Tibetans citizens of China, whereas the Israelis simply want to control the natural resources of the Palestinians, and herd them into enclaves. (A more valid comparison with China would be the actions of the Zionists in 1948).

And here is another example of Phillips's disingenuousness:

After the Elon Moreh case, all Israeli settlements legally authorized by the Israeli Military Administration (a category that, by definition, excludes "illegal outposts" constructed without prior authorization or subsequent acceptance) have been constructed either on lands that Israel characterizes as state-owned or "public" or, in a small minority of cases, on land purchased by Jews from Arabs after 1967.

I cannot believe that a Northeastern University Law Professor is unaware of the Peace Now report in 2006, and its amended report in 2007, which shows that the majority of the West Bank settlements, including the outposts considered by Israel to be illegal, are built on what the Civil Administration itself considers to be Palestinian private lands. Or what about the Ofra settlement, which then Vice Prime Minister Haim Ramon, said was built almost entirely on private land? Not a week goes by without a Haaretz article that belies the official state position. Where has Phillips been for the last twenty years?

As for Phillip's own arguments: well, consider this one:

Concluding that Israeli settlements violate Article 49(6) also overlooks the Jewish communities that existed before the creation of the state in areas occupied by today's Israeli settlements, for example, in Hebron and the Etzion bloc outside Jerusalem. These Jewish communities were destroyed by Arab armies, militias, and rioters, and, as in the case of Hebron, the community's population was slaughtered. Is it sensible to interpret Article 49 to bar the reconstitution of Jewish communities that were destroyed through aggression and slaughter? If so, the international law of occupation runs the risk of freezing one occupier's conduct in place, no matter how unlawful.

In fact, if Article 49(6) allowed an occupier to reestablish by force ethnic communities that no longer existed, then that would give license to all sorts of irredentist schemes. For example, since Israel's occupation of the areas outside the 1947 Partition Plan is still not formally recognized (except, perhaps, by the PLO), this would license Palestinian irredentists who wish to reconstruct the 500 villages that Israel destroyed during and after the 1948 war. (Phillips seems to be unaware that Israel has tripled the territory of the Ezion bloc under the rubric of "rebuilding a destroyed community")

But my favorite argument – the real doozy – the one that illustrates the depth of Phillips' grasp of the situation here -- is the thought experiment that he suggests:

Suppose a group of Palestinian Arabs who are citizens of Israel requested permission to establish a community on the West Bank. Further, assume that Israel facilitated the community's establishment, without the loss of their citizenship, on land purchased from other Palestinian Arabs (not citizens of Israel) or on state land. Would establishment of this settlement violate Article 49(6)? If not, how can one distinguish the hypothetical Arab settlements from Jewish settlements?

Let's grant him, contra sixty years of experience, that the state facilitates the establishment of any new community of "Palestinian Arabs who are citizens of Israel" (what a pleasure to see that phrase used in Commentary!) Would it do so on land that it will claim during negotiations? Or land that it would trade for other land? Then clearly that would be a violation of Article 49(6), no matter who Israel placed there.

Reading articles like that of Phillips reminds me of the story that Gershom Gorenberg told me once. When attacked by a group of well-meaning, but clueless, American Zionists, he said to them, "You are the best reason I can think of for aliyah – at least in Israel I don't have to listen to such narrishkeit."

Serves me right for reading it.