Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Open Shuhada Street – International Action on Feb. 25

February 25 has been proclaimed Open Shuhada Street Day by international activists who wish to focus attention on the plight of Palestinians in Hebron, and in the Occupied Territories. Initiated by a group of south African activists, there will be activities around the world dramatizing the plight of the Palestinians of Hebron. Please check out their website here for more news.

What is Shuhada Street.? It is – or was – the main market and commercial section of the city of Hebron. In 1994, in response to the Barukh Goldstein massacre, the street was closed, ostensibly for the safety of the Palestinian residents. Over the next few years, the street has been closed, the businesses left to wither, and Palestinians not allowed to walk on the street. (Jews can and do.) Residents of buildings on the street cannot enter their homes from their doors, which are welded shut.

Why is the street closed? In order to create a buffer zone between the Jewish settlers in Hebron and the Palestinians. The closure has been criticized by the Israeli High Court and has destroyed countless lives, but let's face it – the people in charge in Hebron are the settlers and their allies in the military and the government.

An excellent F.A.Q. is available on the Open Shuhada Website here. You still have time to find out about activities close to you.

February 25 also happens to be this year the Fast of Esther, observed by Jews throughout the world in commemoration of the dark days that preceded the Festival of Purim and Queen Esther's fast for the Jews.

In Purim, the mood for the day is nahafokh hu, 'topsy turvy'. Unfortunately, in Hebron, and throughout the Occupied Territories, topsy turvy reigns. The oppressors are not the Persian Haman and his crowd, but the Israeli Jews. And the oppressed are not the Jews of the Persian empire, but the Palestinians of the Israeli empire.

When Queen Esther hesitated to take action on behalf of her fellow-Jews, her uncle Mordecai said, "If you keep silent now, deliverance for the Jews will come from an other place." Traditional Jews have taken the "other place" to refer to God, who is sometimes called, the Place. I believe that God will, ultimately, bring deliverance to the Palestinians from their decades of suffering. But that is not an excuse for inaction. After all, Esther acted.

The Open Shuhada website has videos of Shuhada street. But there is no substitute for seeing it with your own eyes, on a tour offered by the Children of Abraham organization.

I end this post with a statement by a Palestinian resident of Shuhada Street, who can tell you better than I can what it is to live on it.

What it means to re-open Shuhada Street..

Many people might think why do we need to have Shuhada Street open.. it's one of the most important streets in Hebron, as it connects the northern part of the city to the south. Not only this, it also connects people.. many people have lost their social life when the Street was closed, because their relatives and friends do not like to be stopped at the check-points or in the streets when they come to visit. And when they visited in the past, it used to be a walking distance, but now they need to take a detour around the city to get to the house they desire. People now think ten times when they plan a visit to house at Shuhada Street. First, they have to consider the time that they will take for the visit, and the money they will spend. Many people lost their businesses when Shuhada Street was closed and the job opportunities are less available these day than before, so they have to think money wise.

Personally, I live at Shuhada Street but I can't use my front door because I am Palestinian. My neighbours made an opening in their wall to make me a passage so that I don't become a hostage in my house. In fact I live like a prisoner in my house.. I have installed some wire fence on my balconies to be protected from the stones "gifts" that the settlers always throw at the house. Before the fence, I could not open my shutters. If by mistake I left the shutters open, I would immediately receive the "gifts" from these settlers. I still receive these "gifts" but they do not hit me like before. I collected these "gifts" and used them to decorate my garden and wrote the word "peace" in Arabic.

It's really hard to live where I am because everything is closed, I used to go shopping nearby, but now if I go shopping, I need to walk a distance and carry my shopping because I can't bring my shopping home in a car. One time I had a severe kidney pain, I could not have the ambulance in front of my door to go to the hospital. My brother's house is 2 minutes walk from Shuhada, but I need to walk about 20 minutes to get to his house.

The Israeli army and police always tell us that they are in the area for the protection of both Palestinians and Israelis, but in fact, they stormed my house 3 times in one week to check about a complaint from a soldier that some children threw stones at the street from my house, although I live only with my mother and have no children. Many times the settler children and youth threw stones at my house and I filed complaints to the soldiers and police, and they did nothing to stop it.

Opening Shuhada Street is a big need for peace and humanity.

Zleikha Muhtaseb, Principal of the al-Ibrahimiya Kindergarten
Shuhada Street



Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Why Bomb Iran When You Can Become Iran?

That seems to be the thinking behind the Israeli government's endorsement of legislation that will require human rights NGOs in Israel (e.g., B'Tselem, Machsomwatch, Breaking the Silence, Adalah, etc.) to publicize contributions from foreign governments, not only in an annual report (they all do that anyway), but every single time they host an event, have a meeting, publish a report, issue a news release, whether they have received outside funding for that particular occasion or not.

And what's particularly odious about the proposed legislation is that if these groups receive such funding, they groups will lose their tax status as public institutions, but will be defined as "political entities" that have to register and report to the Registrar of Political Parties.

Lest you think that I am exaggerating, I publish sections of the government-approved legislation below. And the Iran analogy is apt: the Iran regime requires all NGOs, including the civil society ones that Americans of all stripe support, to inform a government agency of every contribution they receive from foreign sources, except the United Nations. Read about it here Or read about how Egypt controls and harassess its civil society NGOs here (h/t to Dr. Marsha Cohen and Dan Sisken for these links, respectively.)

Of course, in Iran, the groups also have to ask the agency's permission to receive those grants; I expect that this will be the next step in the Israeli's governmental campaign against the human rights NGOs.

But hang on a second: What's wrong with requiring Israeli human rights organizations to report receiving money from foreign governments? In fact, why should they be allowed to receive such money at all? Isn't that gross interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state? And what's the big deal of simply announcing the truth. Transparency and full disclosure should accompany such organizations, no?

OK, so here are three answers to the stated purpose of the law, which is to balance freedom of speech with the right of the public to know who is behind these organizations.

1. The proposed law is unnecessary.

As I said above, all the voluntary organizations in Israel (amutot) are required by law to report regularly to the government. It so happens that the human rights NGOs often go beyond the requirement and publicize the sources of their funding. This is expected; you don't get money without thanking the organization or individual or government that gave you the money. The human rights organizations are, not surprisingly, proud of their work and grateful for support. Some of them are required by the donors to publicize the funding. When NGO Monitor "broke" the story this summer that the Breaking the Silence booklet of soldiers' testimonies was paid for, in part, by grants from foreign governments, they found that information printed on the first few pages of the booklet! And unlike NGO Monitor, Breaking the Silence publishes its annual financial reports on its website.

2. The proposed law is discriminatory.

The law has been crafted by right-wingers to target the human rights organizations. If your organization receives money from a Jewish gambling mogul, or from an evangelical Christian organization that looks forward to the destruction of the State of Israel when Jesus returns, you are exempt. Governments like Spain, Holland, and Great Britain, don't fund illegal settlements; they fund peace initiatives civil society initiatives, in Israel as in Iran.

3. The proposed law's real purpose is to harass, delegitimize, and dry up funding for progressive NGOs.

If the law only required disclosure on a website, that would be bad enough. But the law requires each organization to go through bureaucratic hoops repeatedly, and to proclaim something like the Surgeon General's warning every time it does anything publicly. Thus, if B'Tselem rolls out a report on settler violence, and hosts a public event to publicize the report – remember, this is the organization that works together with the Israel Defense Forces to locate Palestinian witnesses in IDF investigations -- it must begin the event by announcing that it has sometime, somewhere received money from Holland, say. And if it does not do so? According to the proposed legislation, all members of B'Tselem who were in a position to know where the money came from, and who did not do anything about it are liable to fines and up to a year in prison, "or four times the value of the consideration that was received, whichever is higher."

The analogy with the Surgeon General's warning is significant. The purpose of requiring such disclosure is not merely to satisfy the public's right to know (Who doesn't know by now that cigarette smoking causes cancer?) but to stigmatize and delegitimize cigarette smoking.

Not every government will be willing to have this publicity. Already the foreign ministry and the prime minister have tried to dissuade foreign governments from donating to such groups. And, from the government's perspective, it is understandable why. They are an embarrassment to Israel's image, and they publicize the crimes of the Occupation. These are things that the current rightwing government in Israel doesn't like. Nor does the current rightwing government in Iran.

If there is a need to inform the Israeli public about foreign funding of NGOs, or of transparency in their operations, then have a law that requires transparency of all such organizations, left, right or none of the above. As I said earlier, the human rights NGOs are among the most transparent in the country. Try tracing the funding for some of the settlers' organizations; it isn't easy.

If such a law passes, it will be not only be a black day for what is left of Israeli democracy but there will be other consequences as well. First, foreign governments that sponsor human rights and peace projects will figure out a way how to get the money to the organizations, bypassing the law. So that could make things worse for transparency. Second, I would advise the NGOs to discuss with their legal advisor whether the bill applies to them. After all, they do not view themselves as political entities, and at least some of the NGOs are not there primarily to influence domestic or foreign policy. Breaking the Silence sees its task as informational – letting the Israeli public know what happens to IDF soldiers when they are placed in Occupation situations. The group does not call to end the Occupation or to annex the West Bank and Gaza – it simply wants the Israeli public to know what price Israel is paying for the Occupation. The rightwing considers that political, fine. But will the law and the courts? Third, Israel will be placed by the EU on a list of countries that are unfriendly to human rights organizations. This, too, will have consequences

Here are some passages from the proposed legislation, with my "Perush Rashi" (commentary; my thanks to Didi Remez for providing me with a translation of the bill.) Let's start with the wide expansion of the phrase "political activity"

"political activity" – an activity intended to influence public opinion in Israel or in whatsoever entity in one of the government authorities in Israel concerning any component of internal or external policy of the State of Israel.

Perush Rashi: The expansion is deliberate in order to counter the argument that these groups are not political organization, or lobbying groups. In fact, they are not, and I think that even with the expansion, at least some of the groups could claim that they are not covered by the law.

A person or body shall not receive the financial support of a Foreign Political Entity for the purpose of financing political activity in Israel until after it has registered with the Registrar of Political Parties; for this purpose, any support that is received by anyone who finances or engages in political activity is presumed support for the purpose of financing political activity.

Perush Rashi: Now that we have expanded the meaning of political activity, we expand the meaning of what support for political activity means. So any Euro received by an group will automatically be considered political in purpose.

    The Registrar of Political Parties shall also serve as Registrar of Foreign Political Entity Support (hereinafter – the Registrar).

Perush Rashi: This is my favorite line in the bill. Since there is no government agency that supervises such bodies, the authors decided to "create" one by interpreting the Registrar of Political Parties to include the human rights NGOS. It reminds me of Firesign Theater's famous, "Department of Redundancy Department." Except that here there is no redundancy – there is an expansion to brand the human rights NGOS as political parties.

The supported entity shall file an annual balance sheet and financial statement of its income and expenditures as a supported entity in each fiscal year.  The statement shall include full particulars according to the list appearing in Section 36 of the Amutot Law, and in the Second Addendum thereto.  The supported entity shall file an annual verbatim report which will include details of the matters enumerated in the Third Addendum to the Amutot Law.

Perush Rashi: Here is where we really get to the Department of Redundancy Department. The NGOS already file an annual balance sheet, etc. with the agency governing Amutot. So what is the purpose of this filing? Harassment.

The supported entity or one acting on its behalf will clearly note this status in every document, including electronic one, which relates to political activity. The supported entity or one acting on its behalf, when presenting orally in the framework of a discussion or meeting in which there is political activity, shall note its status at the outset if the subject of the discussion or meeting has an affinity to the aims for which the support was received.

Perush Rashi: Maybe next year the government will require all members of human rights NGOs to walk around with scarlet letters or yellow stars on their t-shirts.

              A supported corporation shall not be considered a Public Institution as defined in Section 9(2) of the Income Tax Ordinance.

Perush Rashi: I.e., it will lose its former tax status, another form of harassment.

The recipient of financial support of a Foreign Political Entity in contravention of the provisions of Section 3, shall be sentenced to one year imprisonment or a fine, as stated in Section 61(a)(3) of the Penal Law, 5737-1977 or four times the value of the consideration that was received, whichever is higher. Delivery of an essentially false detail in a declaration according to Section 6 shall be punishable by three years imprisonment.

Perush Rashi: And while you're out, don't forget the pound of flesh.

Who says that Israel's government doesn't try to fit in with the other Middle East governments?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Alan Dershowitz, Richard Goldstone, Naomi Chazan, Jeremy Ben-Ami, Michael Oren, Andrew Sullivan, and Leon Wieseltier – What Does It All Mean?

What a week!

Naomi Chazan and the New Israel Fund are attacked by an Israeli right wing Zionist student group that last summer protested against professors who assigned reading material in English. And the result? Everybody that belongs to the liberal, Zionist wing rallies to the NIF's defense. With any luck, the fund will make some money from the publicity.

Richard Goldstone is called a traitor by Alan Dershowitz and his report "a crime against the Jewish people" by Elie Wiesel, icons of the Old Guard. Goldstone has been, in effect, ostracized by all segments of the Zionist consensus, left, center, and right. And for what? For criticizing the actions of the IDF in Gaza, and for doing it for the United Nations. The Zionist left calls for an independent investigation of the Gaza Op; the Zionist right pushes back.

Jeremy Ben-Ami and J-Street don't condemn Goldstone or his report. But their moderate demurral is enough for Ambassador Michael Oren to climb down the tree and hint that he will stop boycotting them, thus undercutting the Philadelphia Jews who tried to block Ben-Ami's appearance at the Penn Hillel. Ben-Ami's appearance does draw a counter-appearance by hasbara-nik Mitchel Bard, who speaks at a meeting of a bogus organization called "Z-Street." (Free Kosher sushi is offered as a draw; the previous night was the ZOA offered free kosher pizza.)

And, finally, Andrew Sullivan writes some harmless things in his blog about Jews, neocons, and Israel, that do not find favor in the eyes of Leon Wieseltier, who attacks Sullivan in The New Republic. Sullivan writes the sort of things that Gideon Levy would write on one of his more moderate days.

What does it all mean? It means that we are seeing a "paradigm shift" in the American Jewish community's attitude towards Israel. The paradigm of the '67 generation, which lived through the roller-coaster of the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War, the Lebanon War, and the Intifada, and which had crystallized into two camps – the Peace Camp and the Nationalist Camp – is breaking down before our eyes, and the Gaza Op is a significant milestone in that breakdown. The Peace Camp has morphed into two uneven groups; those who have embraced the doctrine of human rights, who see Israel as inevitably and essentially morally stained because of the Occupation; and those who cling to the mantra of the 67-generation, that although the Occupation is horrible it cannot be ended until Israel's security is ensured. If you are a post WWII baby boomer, you are in the latter camp. But if you are under thirty-five and liberal, and you still even care about Israel, then chance are you are going to be with the human rights folks. And you will start raising the fundamental questions not about 67 but 47 and even 97 – i.e., 1897 and the founding of the Zionist movement.

I still remember when the only Jewish anti-Zionists were the Reform American Council for Judaism, and the Satmar Hasidim/Neture Karta. They could be tolerated because they were quaint and small in number. Now, it is becoming increasingly "bon ton" in progressive circles not to be associated with the Zionists. Because they are found, increasingly in the younger generation, only among the right and the orthodox.

And that brings us to the Nationalist Camp, which also has a similar breakdown into two uneven groups. Here, the smaller group is made up of the Old Guard of organizations like the ZOA, and even some more moderate groups that view Israel through the prism of Exodus and the Six-Day War. The New Guard is militantly Zionist, right wing, and Islamophobic. Consider student organizations like Im Tirzu in Israel and the Zionist Freedom Alliance in this country. Their militancy is inspired by Jabotinsky, and their tactics are fascist in essence.

In both cases, left and right, the Old Guard has its ties with the New Guard. The New Israel Fund supports (to some extent; let's not exaggerate) the work of the Israeli human rights NGO's. These show relentlessly that in an age where Palestinian terror is virtually dead – a stabbing here, a murderous driver there – Israeli oppression and humiliation of the Palestinians is never-ending, and more sophisticated, with every passing day.

The Old Guard, now on the right, may bemoan the loss of the consensus it once enjoyed, and wax nostalgic about the good old days when young liberal democrats actually supported Israel in the public sphere. But it can at least console itself that it has spawned a cadre of hard-core nationalists – neocon, orthodox, and Republican -- on whom it can rely.

Like the sea eroding the seashore, support for Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state will continue to erode, as people see the inevitable consequences of the Occupation, and how Israel is incapable of ending it. And while the Occupation can go indefinitely, a decades-long failed peace process cannot. Sooner or later, the peace process will grind to a halt (let's hope that it is sooner rather than later.) And then the peace camp will continue to unravel, or at least to support materially the far left.

In short, things will get uglier, nastier, and more divisive in that part of the Jewish community that cares about Israel, as each iteration of the conflict brings out the worst in us. Most American Jews will have ceased to care about Israel, and the ones who do care will be deeply divided – much more so than the classical division of the Peace and Nationalist camp. And those divisions will grown deeper, with Israel being their cause.

Haaretz Falls for Gold

-- Nu, so Yankel, did you read Haaretz this morning?

-- Who reads Haaretz any morning? It's full of unsubstantiated propaganda

-- Wait a minute, that's the point. Even Haaretz today showed how the Goldstone Report was anti-Semitic.

-- Who needs Haaretz for that?

-- It wasn't Haaretz, really, it was that, nu, that think tank run by Dore Gold.

-- What did it say?

-- Well, you know the guy who was the so-called military expert on the Goldstone mission.

-- The Irish sheigitz?

-- He said that before we entered Gaza, the Hamasniks fired about two rockets on us.

-- You're kidding.

-- No, I am not. "About two rockets!"

-- That's incredible. And this is on the front page of the Haaretz website? I mean, any idiot knows that during the month before the breakdown of the cease-fire on November 4, only one rocket was fired against Israel, on October 15. One, not two.

-- What?

-- Yeah, you heard right. And while you were blabbing I read the interview with Travers, and he was referring to the month before November 4, when the hostilities began again.

-- But Haaretz says that it is referring to the month before the Gaza Operation.

-- That's because Gold misread the interview. Or maybe the guy who wrote it up. The context makes it clear he's talking about the period of the cease-fire. And anyway, any idiot knows that the rocket fire escalated incredibly during the month of November.

-- Any idiot, maybe – but what about Travers?

-- According to Travers, Israeli sources said that 125 rockets were fired during November.

-- Who told you this?

-- It's on p. 79 of the Goldstone Report, which Travers signed off on.

-- So you are telling me that a rightwing think tank misreads an interview, and Haaretz doesn't check its facts?

-- I told you – Haaretz is full of unsubstantiated propaganda.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Gaza and Goldstone Revisited

In this blog I have never given my own personal opinion of the conclusions of the Goldstone Report. So here it is, in brief.

First, I see the conclusions of the Goldstone Report, especially the notorious one about Israel's deliberately targeting the Gazans' lives, as reasonable inferences, given the testimonies that the mission heard, what they themselves saw, and the unwillingness of Israel to cooperate with the mission. I should add that the members of the Goldstone mission possess a professional expertise that all their critics so far have lacked. It is one thing for the intelligent layperson to go through a report and raise questions. It is quite another for those criticisms to be raised by people with the proper credentials, who can compare the situation in Gaza with other places, and with knowledge of the law. We have not yet heard criticisms by non-partisan experts in international humanitarian law.

For some critics, the conclusion of deliberate targeting is especially unreasonable because they accept, as a bedrock axiom, that the deliberate, planned punishing of a population is simply not what the Israel Defense Force would do. This axiom is, I believe, debatable. But the debate certainly cannot be settled simply by recourse to circumstantial evidence. We would have to have greater access to the actual planning of the Gaza Operation, for example, then we have. And it will be decades before we have that, if we ever do.

The mainstream Jewish reaction to the Goldstone Report, especially to that conclusion, has been vicious and vitriolic. I can understand why "talkbackers" and blind partisans react in that way, but I am at a loss to understand how intelligent, reasonable, people use phrases like "traitor" "evil, evil man", "crime against the Jewish people", etc. Much more reasonable is the response of such Israeli NGOs such as B'Tselem and Breaking the Silence (Yehuda Shaul), which have reservations about the deliberate, planned targeting of the civilian population, which do not see the evidence entailing this– but nonetheless are highly respectful towards the Goldstone Report, and endorse many of its other conclusions. Yet the partisans continually misrepresent the viewpoints of these NGOs as rejecting the Goldstone Report. B'Tselem, pace Ron Kampeas, does not view the Goldstone Report as "deeply flawed." The NGOs may or may not express some reservations, but they are, on the whole, supportive of the report. Even the Goldstone report talks about "possible crimes against humanity."

The real line to be drawn is not between supporters and detractors of the Goldstone Report, but between those who call for an independent investigation, thereby accepting the main recommendation of the Goldstone Report, and those who do not think that such an investigation is necessary, now that the IDF has responded to the UN. Even Alan Dershowitz, who has come in for some mighty big criticism on this blog and others, has called for an independent investigation (although I am not sure whether he still does.) If Israel decides on such an investigation, and if the government does not pack the panel with IDF-friendly voices, then it will be only thanks to the Goldstone Report and the reports of the Israeli and international NGOS.

My personal view of what happened in Gaza, on the basis of my own experience of living in Israel, and of following the news, and the reports of the NGO, is what I would call almost-Goldstone. I believe that the IDF prepared for a major operation that would not only stop the rocket fire but send a message to the Gazan population that support for Hamas is costly. This means that there was not sufficient attention paid to the principle of distinction; the rules of engagement were often not observed, and these widespread phenomena suggest, but do not indicate conclusively, a deliberate policy by the higher-ups. At best, there was gross and criminal negligence on the part of the higher ups and the commanders in the field. And, of course, there was a misunderstanding of what Israel's responsibility was towards civilians.

For example, Israel thought that by distributing leaflets, or by roof-knocking, it was discharging its obligation to warn the civilians. If, despite the warning, there were still civilians found there, that would be their responsibility. Does this constitute deliberate targeting of civilians? It doesn't have to, because one achieves the same effect no matter what the intention is – which is to teach the civilian population the lesson that they are entirely powerless, that they have no recourse but to run (to where?) And what moral distinction is there?

This gross, willful negligence, which is well-documented in the Breaking the Silence testimonies, does not amount to a planned strategy of targeting civilians. It is more like a culture of neglect, a realization that "Now we are going to show them, and we aren't going to be so particular about the rules. " I don't know at what level in the chain of command this came in. But there is sufficient and credible evidence for this culture. Of course, this does not mean that accidents didn't happen. But that raises the question whether such accidents could have been foreseen, and if so, why were those risks taken?

This is precisely why the IDF cannot investigate itself; why an independent judicial commission with subpoena powers is necessary.

If Israel could do it after Sabra and Shatila, what possible justification does it have for not doing it now?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Alan Dershowitz’ Brief Against the “Goldberg” Report

No, the headline is not an error.

I promised my readers, when I wrote my "ad hominem screed" against Prof. Alan Dershowitz's defamation of Judge Richard Goldstone (some of which, barukh ha-Shem, he subsequently retracted), that I would read the brief he submitted to the UN against the report. People say all sorts of nasty things in person (and in blogs, mea culpa), but Alan Dershowitz is a Harvard Law professor, and one assumes that he can write a good brief and make a good argument – not an argument that one need agree with, but an argument worth reading just the same.

So I sat down and read through his forty-nine page brief and found it in good part a mixture of website cherry-picking and invective. Nothing new there, we all do that. But the oddest thing about it was that when I got to the meat of the brief – the argument against the evidential methodology used by the Goldstone Panel, I found that, despite many quotations from the report, Prof. Dershowitz had not written about the Goldstone Report at all. Rather he had fashioned in his mind another report – let's call it the "Goldberg" Report – and having shaped this straw man, picked it apart.

Before I show how he fundamentally misread or misunderstood the Goldstone Report, let me give you an example of cherry-picking.

Prof. Dershowitz, like many other critics of Judge Goldstone, point out that Mary Robinson, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and former President of Ireland, refused to head the commission investigating the Gaza Op because of the mandate's bias. If Mary Robinson, "whose bias against Israel has been deep and longstanding," rejected it, then what can one say about Judge Goldstone, or, for that matter, the report? What Prof. Dershowitz does not say is that a) Judge Goldstone had the mandate changed to make it less one-sided, and b) Mary Robinson, herself, after the Goldstone report was made public, emphasized the integrity of Judge Goldstone and the importance of investigating the allegations contained therein.

I am aware that Judge Goldstone, a dedicated and unimpeachable human rights lawyer and advocate, shared similar concerns [of a biased mandate -JH] when he was initially approached. But he was able to work with the Council's president to secure an agreement he felt confident would permit the mandate to be interpreted in such a way as to allow his team to address the actions taken by both parties to the conflict.

Experts can debate whether this was in conformity with UN rules and procedures. I have no doubt that those involved were seeking a way forward that would allow for a full investigation and help overcome the political divisiveness currently undermining the Human Rights Council within the UN system.

The question now is whether governments will give Judge Goldstone's findings the serious attention they deserve, or instead fall back into an overtly political posture…For the sake of human rights and peace in the region, my hope is that the international community will bear witness to these circumstances, consider Judge Goldstone's report in its entirety and press for accountability for the most serious crimes.

It is the way of the polemicist to quote selectively from sources. No doubt Prof. Dershowitz may argue that the above citation reflects Mary Robinson's "deep and longstanding bias." But not even to tell his readers a) that Judge Goldstone attempted and succeeded to have the mandate changed, or that b) Mary Robinson endorsed a serious reading of the Goldstone Report, which she would not have done, had she considered it biased – well, that borders on deliberately concealing the truth.

Why, "deliberate"? Because we are told at the outset that Prof. Dershowitz had a research assistant, Josh Sharp, whom he thanks for providing "excellent research". It took me a few seconds to find out what Dershowitz/Sharp omitted. One could do the same thing for the human rights NGO's that Dershowitz selectively quotes.

All the above, of course, is not the heart of the brief, just the vorspiel. The heart of the brief is the attempt to refute the Goldstone Report's central conclusion: "that Israel's policy was to maximize the death of civilians" or "that the rocket attacks merely served as an excuse for the Israeli military to achieve its real purpose: namely the killing of Palestinian civilians" (p. 6) "The Goldstone Report accuses Israel of using Hamas rocket attacks against its civilians as an excuse—a cover—for a carefully planned and executed policy of deliberately targeting innocent civilians for mass murder." (p. 6)

The only problem is that nowhere in the Goldstone Report is any of these claims made! In fact, such claims are by implication rejected by one of Goldstone's Conclusions:

1681. In this respect, the operations were in furtherance of an overall policy aimed at punishing the Gaza population for its resilience and for its apparent support for Hamas, and possibly with the intent of forcing a change in such support.

This conclusion, a grave accusation in its own right, says nothing about "maximizing civilian deaths," of "mass murder", etc., nor is such nonsense anywhere in the Goldstone Report. In fact, if the purpose of Israel was to force a change in support for Hamas, why exactly would it want to perform "genocide" (another Dershowitz term), etc.?

The story that the Goldstone Report describes is an Israel that wanted to show to Hamas and to the Gazans that the price for support for Hamas would be high. Is this so unreasonable a conclusion? Israel has conducted a crippling siege against Gaza, and all sanctions – including the ones Prof. Dershowitz supports against Iran – involve the collective suffering of a population. Nowhere in the Goldstone Report is Israel accused of using the rockets as an "excuse" or "pretext" – the words are Prof. Dershowitz's own.

There is no contradiction between stopping the rocket fire and targeting the civilian population, by bombing infrastructure, loosening the rules of engagement, not providing for safe exit routes for civilians that have been warned to leave house -- if you think that this is the only way to stop the rocket fire.

But once you accept the misrepresentation of the conclusions of the Goldstone Report, it is very easy to show that none of the sources cited by the Report support that conclusion.

Thus, the so-called "Dahiya doctrine" of responding to rocket attacks with disproportionate force intended to destroy infrastructure says nothing about specifically targeting civilians for death.

Agreed. But the Goldstone never claimed that it did. According to Dershowtiz, the so-called "Dahiya doctrine" calls for the "suffering of hundreds of thousands of people" in order to achieve military aims. That is more than enough for the actual conclusions of the Goldstone Report, not the ones that Dershowitz invents.

One-by-one Dershowitz shows that the statements about "disproportionate response" made by several Israeli military and political leaders do not support a conclusion of deliberately killing civilians. One by one he tries to put the best possible construal on some of these statements. Each time when he has to deal with a particularly outrageous one, one that he cannot interpret in accordance with the international humanitarian law and the rules of war, he falls back on his straw man, Judge Goldberg. Each time he triumphantly shows that the evidence fails to support its conclusion that Israel had a deliberate policy of maximizing the deaths of civilians.

Thus, regarding the bombing of the flour factory, Prof. Dershowitz first dutifully notes that Israel has disclaimed responsibility. And then he continues:

Even if it were true that Israel sought to punish the civilian population of Gaza by attacking food and sewage facilities, it would not follow that Israel intended to kill civilians.

Where in the Goldstone Report is it claimed that the Israel deliberately attacked the flour factory in order to kill civilians? Where is it claimed that it follows from the deliberate bombing of the factory that Israeli intended to kill civilians?

More revealing is Prof. Dershowitz's continuation:

Israel acknowledged that it deliberately limits the flow of consumer goods into Gaza as part of an effort to impose sanctions on the Hamas government for its policy of targeting Israeli civilians with anti-personnel weapons. Just as American sanctions against Iran would cause the Iranian "people [to] suffer," so too do Israeli sanctions. But it is a far cry from sanctions to murder, and it is a non-sequitur to argue that the destructions of non-human civilian targets proves an intention to target human beings for death.

Note how he moves seamlessly from the deliberate wartime bombing of a flour factory to peacetime economic sanctions, as if there is no distinction between them, and as if the justification of sanctions is the same as the justification for bombing civilian food production. Statements such as these suggest that Prof. Dershowitz hasn't a clue about the laws of war, that for him, anything short of mass killings isn't so serious – which is why he has to invent the "Goldbergian" accusation of "genocide" against Israel.

I have spent much more time than I should have on this post. I devoted a lot more time and space to Prof. Moshe Halbertal's article because I thought it worthy of discussion.

But why bother to refute Prof. Dershowitz's criticisms of the "conclusions" of a non-existent Goldberg Report? The Goldstone Report speaks of "possible crimes against humanity."


Shabbat Shalom from a snowy Washington.



Tuesday, February 2, 2010

High-Ranking IDF Officer: Israel Deliberately Altered its Rules of Engagement for the Gaza Op

The Independent has just published a story that was to have been published by Israel's Yediot Aharonot last summer, but was dropped, perhaps for political reasons. (It certainly would not have helped the paper's circulation.) The story is based on the testimony of a high-ranking commander that Israel deliberately altered its rules of engagement for the Gaza Op.

Human rights lawyer Michael Sfard called the commander's acknowledgement a "smoking gun". It does not seem to be a smoking gun for deliberate targeting of civilians, but rather for a hasty trigger finger on the smoking gun.

February 3, 2010

Exclusive: Israeli commander: 'We rewrote the rules of war for Gaza'

By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem

Civilians 'put at greater risk to save military lives' in winter attack - revelations that will pile pressure on Netanyahu to set up full inquiry

A high-ranking officer has acknowledged for the first time that the Israeli army went beyond its previous rules of engagement on the protection of civilian lives in order to minimise military casualties during last year's Gaza war, The Independent can reveal.

The officer, who served as a commander during Operation Cast Lead, made it clear that he did not regard the longstanding principle of military conduct known as "means and intentions" - whereby a targeted suspect must have a weapon and show signs of intending to use it before being fired upon - as being applicable before calling in fire from drones and helicopters in Gaza last winter. A more junior officer who served at a brigade headquarters during the operation described the new policy - devised in part to avoid the heavy military casualties of the 2006 Lebanon war - as one of "literally zero risk to the soldiers".

The officers' revelations will pile more pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to set up an independent inquiry into the war, as demanded in the UN-commissioned Goldstone Report, which harshly criticised the conduct of both Israel and Hamas. One of Israel's most prominent human rights lawyers, Michael Sfard, said last night that the senior commander's acknowledgement - if accurate - was "a smoking gun".

Until now, the testimony has been kept out of the public domain. The senior commander told a journalist compiling a lengthy report for Yedhiot Ahronot, Israel's biggest daily newspaper, about the rules of engagement in the three-week military offensive in Gaza. But although the article was completed and ready for publication five months ago, it has still not appeared. The senior commander told Yedhiot: "Means and intentions is a definition that suits an arrest operation in the Judaea and Samaria [West Bank] area... We need to be very careful because the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] was already burnt in the second Lebanon war from the wrong terminology. The concept of means and intentions is taken from different circumstances. Here [in Cast Lead] we were not talking about another regular counter-terrorist operation. There is a clear difference."

His remarks reinforce testimonies from soldiers who served in the Gaza operation, made to the veterans' group Breaking the Silence and reported exclusively by this newspaper last July. They also appear to cut across the military doctrine - enunciated most recently in public by one of the authors of the IDF's own code of ethics - that it is the duty of soldiers to run risks to themselves in order to preserve civilian lives.

Explaining what he saw as the dilemma for forces operating in areas that were supposedly cleared of civilians, the senior commander said: "Whoever is left in the neighbourhood and wants to action an IED [improvised explosive device] against the soldiers doesn't have to walk with a Kalashnikov or a weapon. A person like that can walk around like any other civilian; he sees the IDF forces, calls someone who would operate the terrible death explosive and five of our soldiers explode in the air. We could not wait until this IED is activated against us."

Another soldier who worked in one of the brigade's war-room headquarters told The Independent that conduct in Gaza - particularly by aerial forces and in areas where civilians had been urged to leave by leaflets - had "taken the targeted killing idea and turned it on its head". Instead of using intelligence to identify a terrorist, he said, "here you do the opposite: first you take him down, then you look into it."

The Yediot newspaper also spoke to a series of soldiers who had served in Operation Cast Lead in sensitive positions. While the soldiers rejected the main finding of the Goldstone Report - that the Israeli military had deliberately "targeted" the civilian population - most asserted that the rules were flexible enough to allow a policy under which, in the words of one soldier "any movement must entail gunfire. No one's supposed to be there." He added that at a meeting with his brigade commander and others it was made clear that "if you see any signs of movement at all you shoot. This is essentially the rules of engagement."

The other soldier in the war-room explained: "This doesn't mean that you need to disrespect the lives of Palestinians but our first priority is the lives of our soldiers. That's not something you're going to compromise on. In all my years in the military, I never heard that."

He added that the majority of casualties were caused in his brigade area by aerial firing, including from unmanned drones. "Most of the guys taken down were taken down by order of headquarters. The number of enemy killed by HQ-operated remote ... compared to enemy killed by soldiers on the ground had absolutely inverted," he said.

Rules of engagement issued to soldiers serving in the West Bank as recently as July 2006 make it clear that shooting towards even an armed person will take place only if there is intelligence that he intends to act against Israeli forces or if he poses an immediate threat to soldiers or others.

In a recent article in New Republic, Moshe Halbertal, a philosophy professor at Hebrew and New York Universities, who was involved in drawing up the IDF's ethical code in 2000 and who is critical of the Goldstone Report, said that efforts to spare civilian life "must include the expectation that soldiers assume some risk to their own lives in order to avoid causing the deaths of civilians". While the choices for commanders were often extremely difficult and while he did not think the expectation was demanded by international law, "it is demanded in Israel's military code and this has always been its tradition".

The Israeli military declined to comment on the latest revelations, and directed all enquiries to already-published material, including a July 2009 foreign ministry document The Operation in Gaza: Factual and Legal Aspects.

That document, which repeats that Israel acted in conformity with international law despite the "acute dilemmas" posed by Hamas's operations within civilian areas, sets out the principles of Operation Cast Lead as follows: "Only military targets shall be attacked; Any attack against civilian objectives shall be prohibited. A 'civilian objective' is any objective which is not a military target." It adds: "In case of doubt, the forces are obliged to regard an object as civilian."

Yediot has not commented on why its article has not been published.

Israel in Gaza: The soldier's tale

This experienced soldier, who cannot be named, served in the war room of a brigade during Operation Cast Lead. Here, he recalls an incident he witnessed during last winter's three-week offensive:

"Two [Palestinian] guys are walking down the street. They pass a mosque and you see a gathering of women and children.

"You saw them exiting the house and [they] are not walking together but one behind the other. So you begin to fantasise they are actually ducking close to the wall.

"One [man] began to run at some point, must have heard the chopper. The GSS [secret service] argued that the mere fact that he heard it implicated him, because a normal civilian would not have realised that he was now being hunted.

"Finally he was shot. He was not shot next to the mosque. It's obvious that shots are not taken at a gathering."

Monday, February 1, 2010

We Didn’t. We Did. We Didn’t. We Did. We Didn’t.

The Gaza Operation last year is a war of conflicting narratives. No, I don't mean the Palestinian narrative vs. the Israeli narrative. Or the Goldstone Report narrative vs. the Israeli government narrative.

I mean the IDF narrative vs. the Israel government narrative.

It seems now that the IDF denies, to quote Anshel Pfeffer "that 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"

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."

The report to the UN also says that Ashkenazi recently ordered the convening of a sixth committee to examine additional allegations made against the IDF as well as an incident which one of the previous panels had been unable to thoroughly probe

So, with this contradiction in the reports so glaring, who is right? As Tevye would say, they're both right. It is hard to believe that the two senior officers were officially disciplined for firing white phosphorus weapons. That would have opened them up to war crime proceedings in the Hague, or to the possibility of criminal charges throughout Europe. More likely Ashkenazi decided to slap them on the wrist for the lesser infraction of exceeding their authority (something unheard of in the history of the IDF).

I wanted to call this post, "The Gang Who Couldn't Shoot (White Phosphorus) Straight," but If you have seen the pictures of Gazan civilians' burns (remember when we were being told that those burns may have been self-inflicted?), you'll know why this is no laughing matter.