Friday, January 2, 2009

THE CRISIS IN GAZA: A Response to Rabbi Gopin, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, and the Jewish Left. Part I


by Carlos

1st part of 2

January 1, 2009 - Yesterday Brit Tzedek v'Shalom held a "Town Hall Conference Call" on "The Crisis in Gaza: An On-Ground Report from Jerusalem." The featured speaker was Rabbi Mark Gopin, an expert on conflict resolution. I will summarize the views he expressed from notes I took during the conference. My analysis will follow.



Gopin observed that the current Israeli action in Gaza was much better planned than the 2006 Lebanon war, and the intelligence Israel had is astounding. Much of it probably came from Fatah members who want to see Hamas defeated.

Gopin is squarely against the Israeli action in Gaza. He wants President-Elect Obama not to wait but to act immediately and possibly send John Kerry as an envoy to the Middle East.

Gopin says that using force as "a way to bring the Palestinians to the table" is futile. To eliminate the rocket fire from Gaza against the cities of southern Israel it would be better to have "a series of ceasefires of a long term nature." Gopin puts much hope in Obama's engagement with Syria and is looking forward to Obama's presidency.

He also advocates "serious negotiation" to eliminate the tunnels and the smuggling of missiles so as to prevent another Lebanon on Israel's southern border.

In response to a question about whether some amount of force might be necessary since Hamas has stated that its goal is Israel's destruction, Gopin stated: (what follows is a very close paraphrase)

There are different factions within the opposition, and even Hamas and Syria have right and left wings. People there are arguing about the future, trust vs. distrust, military vs. non-military solutions. It's just not as open, you can't follow it as well as with Israel. But there is a split within Hamas and we should test it. Test them by inviting them to come to the table. That will reveal the split within Hamas, and that can't be bad for Israel.

We made a mistake in Oslo when while moving to the left we dismissed the right's concerns about incitement and textbooks. We must now say these things are non-negotiable and tell Hamas: we cannot have a ceasefire while you are bringing in missiles from Iran. Insisting on our "right to exist" is an unrealistic demand - if the USSR had demanded our recognition of their right to exist, we would have had to accept their occupation of half of Europe.

After 10 years of ceasefire, the Palestinians will want peace and not want to go back to suicide bombing.

Gopin concluded with the following points:

There are elements within Hamas that want peace with Israel. Hamas has actually been sending signals that, within its own religious framework, it wants peace - a "ten-to-twenty-year" ceasefire is effectively a peace treaty as far as Hamas is concerned.

Israelis see the qassam rockets as the beginning of history, but the qassams must not be decoupled from the blockade that has made Gazans' lives miserable and must be understood within the context of Palestinian suffering.

One side of the Jewish community acutely feels the effects of centuries of humiliation and believes that Jews must strongly assert themselves and exact "two eyes for one eye." Another side - Gopin's side - realizes that Jews now have power and must learn to use it with restraint.

Finally, we need to model for Congress a new relationship between Arabs and Jews. This will be difficult because AIPAC has Congress so intimidated that it can't hear any criticism of Israel. We need to become a counter-influence, a force balancing AIPAC's unquestioning support for whatever Israel does.



I have tried to summarize Gopin's position fairly. Here are the problems that I see with it:

1. Gopin's most serious flaw is that like most of the Jewish left, he misreads Hamas and the Palestinian extremists and projects his own values onto them. He actually came close to saying - in fact what he said really does amount to this - that Hamas really wants peace, it just has its own different way of letting people know it. Yes, Hamas does want peace, conditioned on an end to Israel's existence. Religious principles cannot be subject to negotiation. For Hamas, eliminating Israel is a religious principle.

2. Gopin thinks the answer is agreeing to a series of limited ceasefires with Hamas. That has already been tried. He seems unable to appreciate what "hudna" (ceasefire) has meant to jihad fighters since the time of Muhammad - a tactical move to allow them to build their forces for the next attack. Once again, this is a projection of his own values onto people who do not share them. It is the left's version of ethnocentrism.

3. George Santayana said that "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Gopin proposes "serious negotiations" to eliminate missiles from Gaza. That was tried before in Lebanon with Hezbollah. A United Nations resolution was even passed. It made no difference. Hezbollah not only rearmed; it is twice as strong now as it was two years ago.

4. Gopin tends to make bad analogies. Whether or not is it wise for Israel to insist on recognition of its right to exist, it is not the same as the situation with the USSR. No one ever denied the right of the USSR to exist as a country, or tried to wipe it off the map. Recognizing Israel's right to exist is not the same as accepting the occupation. On his blog Gopin also compares Israeli/Palestinian conflict to the conflict in Northern Ireland, and points out that even Sinn Fein and Ian Paisley eventually made peace. But the religious factors at play in Northern Ireland were in no way similar to those operating now in Gaza. Once again Gopin, in spite of his quest for a "nuanced" approach, fails to grasp the intensities of the Israeli/Palestinian situation.

5. If Hamas or even a significant faction within Hamas really wants peaceful coexistence with Israel, it's news to me. Gopin bases his belief on inside information from "people that he knows." This is a problem I have with many on the Jewish left: on the basis of a few individuals whom they claim to know, they ask me to disregard what I read in the news and to believe that Palestinians as a whole and even possibly the extremists themselves really want peaceful coexistence with Israel. The evidence to the contrary is overwhelming, yet they keep finding ways to rationalize it away.

6. Gopin is right that the qassam rockets and the blockade must not be decoupled, but his interpretation is wrong. He puts the cart before the horse. With no aggression from Gaza there would be no blockade. It is not Israelis who start history with the qassams, it is Palestinians who start history with the blockade. They criticize even Israel's nonviolent attempts to defend itself as if either the qassams did not exist or Palestinians have a God-given right to fire them.

7. Gopin exaggerates the power of AIPAC, bringing back echoes of the supposedly formidable "Jewish lobby" that Israel-haters claim controls America's agenda. Concerning the Jewish left becoming a counterforce to AIPAC, if it happens on Gopin's terms this is what will follow: There will be increased American pressure for Israel to abort its operation prematurely, and the result will be another Lebanon. All Hamas has to do is survive and preserve its military capacity - just as Hezbollah did in 2006. Gopin's way will make sure that this happens. And it will be worse than the status quo ante: Hamas will emerge claiming a victory and will rebuild to double strength, becoming the Hezbollah of the south. This is not good for Israel, nor is it good for the Palestinians: for however bloody this conflict has become, allowing Hamas to emerge claiming victory will only set up an even bloodier future conflict. Gopin puts his faith in ceasefires, but we have seen how good Hamas is at keeping its "hudnas" and how it uses them to become even stronger.

8. How long are the residents of southern Israel supposed to wait until Gopin's pie-in-the-sky becomes reality? Their lives are already intolerable. Gopin expects Obama to make things all better, but every American president before him has failed and Obama is not Superman, nor is he the Messiah. Gopin's glasses are rose-colored because he does not respect Hamas enough to take what it says seriously; instead he projects his own liberal values onto Hamas (as in: Hamas really wants peace, they just have a funny way of showing it.) We will not get anywhere until we accept Hamas for what it is and realize that their Charter is not just toilet paper but that they actually mean every word of it.

9. Gopin says that Jews are now the ones with the power. This is shortsighted. Israel may have better weapons than Gaza, but Israel is in mortal danger and the elimination of Israel is far more likely than the elimination of Gaza. The missile stranglehold of Hamas in the south and Hezbollah in the north will soon have all of Israel within range as their weapons become more sophisticated. Hamas is not just Hamas; it is a proxy of Iran and Syria. Iran's supply of weapons and training to Hamas is well documented. The missiles that can already reach Ashdod and Beersheba are smuggled from Iran and China. These are not "home-made rockets" but battle-grade weapons trained on civilians. Just in the past couple of days there were direct hits on a high school and kindergarten in Beersheba, and children's lives were spared only because classes had been canceled. Iran is not sending Hamas increasingly sophisticated missiles just to have them lie dormant during some "hudna." Those missiles are intended to be used, and it is certain that Hamas will find a pretext to use them regardless of what kind of ceasefire is negotiated.

10. The question of ceasefires must be understood strategically. In game theory, this is a classic "Prisoner's Dilemma." The two sides have the best mutual outcome if they cooperate - but as soon as they do, the more aggressive side realizes it can gain an advantage if it attacks. And so it will, until forced once again to come to the table and strike a "hudna." After that the cycle only repeats: the side that wants it all will once again try to get it all, and bye-bye hudna. Hamas wants it all. Not just Gaza and the West Bank but Haifa and Tel Aviv. They say so themselves. Repeatedly. Gopin, as a Jewish leader, is acting with extreme irresponsibility in refusing to believe them and is undermining Israel's security.

Israel had to act, not just for Sderot but for its future. The advance of the Hamas war machine had to be stopped, and should have been stopped years earlier, before it could grow to its present level.


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


THE CRISIS IN GAZA: A Response to Rabbi Gopin, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, and the Jewish Left. Part II

by Carlos

2nd  part of 2



I am not a member of the Jewish right and I have the battle scars to prove it. But the actions of the Jewish left are dangerous and must be confronted. I understand they are looking for an approach to the conflict that is consistent with moral and spiritual principles. I am too. However, no such approach can be found by shortchanging the complexities we all face.

It is easy to be spiritual if we define reality in such a way that our cherished theories work. It is easy to create a false world in which appeal to the other's better nature always wins, while those whom we judge for not following our vision are left to pick up the pieces in the real world. We want to believe that all human beings desire the same things and that at the bottom of its heart Hamas, being human, really does want peace with Israel. We want to believe that if we are just nice enough, using no force, imposing no sanctions, then the other side will respect us and commit to an indefinite ceasefire under which all will prosper. Unfortunately, both the words and deeds of Hamas soundly contradict any such notion. What we see as being humane and compassionate, Hamas sees as an occasion for contempt and a weakness to exploit.

It is ironic that the Jewish left maintains it is seeking a "nuanced" approach to the conflict, as opposed to the black-and-white picture it accuses its adversaries on the right of perpetuating. One cannot find nuance by oversimplifying reality. A true nuanced approach must recognize the historical and factual complexities that thwart even the best spiritual plans. It may be praiseworthy to love, or at least not hate, your enemy. But it is foolish to assume that your enemy necessarily thinks the way you think or values what you value. The enemy recognizes our difference in values and says so: "We desire death like you desire life." We need to recognize it too.

No one with an ounce of compassion would want to inflict even a single civilian casualty, even in self-defense. But sometimes the only choice we get is a Sophie's choice. How do you preserve your spirituality when confronted with the choice either to kill or be killed, or worse, have your family killed? Answer: you fight for that spirituality. But what you do not do is abandon your family to destruction. Nor do you cherish illusions about your enemy that make it OK to do exactly that. No, you fight to protect yourself with as much respect for the humanity of the other that you can maintain without destroying yourself.

The difference in values could hardly be clearer. Israel patiently waited for years while its people were under fire, while Hamas used every "ceasefire" to rearm with deadlier weapons. Israel warns civilians to evacuate; Hamas fires without warning. Israel tries to spare civilians whenever possible; Hamas wants human trophies and designs its weapons not only to kill but to maim and disfigure the human body. Even Israel's targeting of tunnels has been selective, bombing weapons tunnels while sparing commercial ones. Unfortunately civilian casualties are inevitable when unlike you, your enemy does not protect its civilians but as part of its war strategy exposes them to danger. Israeli towns build shelters to protect their citizens when the rockets come, while the world complains that the rockets didn't kill enough Israelis to justify a response. Meanwhile Hamas fires at Israel from residential areas, and gathers people on rooftops of buildings it thinks Israel wants to hit. Why? Because it knows Israel does not share its values and does not want to kill civilians, and it uses that fact as a battle tactic. Whatever mistakes Israel may have made, it does not murder innocent people intentionally. The same cannot be said of a culture that values death and martyrdom over life and peace.

Undoubtedly there are Palestinians who truly do want to coexist peacefully with a Jewish state. Unfortunately there are not enough of them. It is not Palestinians as people who are the enemy. The real enemy is an ideology of darkness that has too many people in its grip. The real spiritual approach must begin with recognizing the darkness as darkness. No side is free of darkness. But if we really want to be "nuanced," we must recognize varying degrees of darkness. Claiming the right to fire increasingly powerful missiles in an intentional effort to murder civilians is beyond the pale of civilized society. So is filling those rockets with ball bearings and with large quantities of ammonia to inflict maximum human damage. And so is using one's own civilians as shields for those weapons.

Yes, it is indeed a challenge to respond to this level of depravity without losing one's own humanity. But we serve no spiritual purpose by shying from that responsibility and taking refuge in theories and assumptions that make life simpler but do not correspond with reality. These are tough questions, and we must wrestle with them. True spirituality begins with struggle. It always has.

- Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.




Erlanger, Steven. "An Egyptian Border Town’s Commerce, Conducted via Tunnels, Comes to a Halt." New York Times, Jamuary 1, 2009.

Katz, Yakov. "Latest Rockets Manufactured in China." Jerusalem Post, January 1, 2009.

Kershner, Isabel and Ethan Bronner. "Israel Pursues Diplomacy but Presses Attacks." New York Times, Jamuary 1, 2009.

Selig, Abe. "School Closure Saves Lives of Pupils." Jerusalem Post, December 31, 2008.

Change in Obama's Israel policy?



by Isi Leibler


Last week's meeting with US President Barack Obama was, on the surface, a dream outcome for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, especially in view of the harsh political environment surrounding him prior to his visit.

Although it was widely anticipated that Obama would roll out the red carpet, the effusive praise he showered on Netanyahu and Israel was almost surrealistic and reminiscent of the best days of US-Israel relations. It contrasted starkly to previous hostility, which had even descended to chilling allegations that Israeli intransigence was costing American "blood and treasure."

Obama praised Netanyahu, saying "I believe Prime Minister Netanyahu wants peace. I believe he is ready to take risks for peace." He also stated that while there was hope for peace, he was not "blindly optimistic" and that Israel was entitled to be skeptical about the peace process. He even urged the Arabs to move forward.

More importantly, even prior to the meeting, the Obama administration's belated sanctions against Iran heightened its concern about the nuclear threat which poses the greatest danger facing Israel. In striking contrast to the US betrayal of Israel at May's nuclear nonproliferation conference, where the Jewish state was the only country singled out for condemnation, Obama went beyond any previous US leader in providing public endorsement for Israel's nuclear policy. He explicitly told Netanyahu that "the United States will never ask Israel to take any steps that would undermine its security interests" and until such time as a comprehensive regional peace settlement had been achieved, would resist pressures from those seeking to force Israel to abandon its nuclear capabilities.

Beyond this, despite predictions from the media and Netanyahu's political opponents that he would be obliged to make further unilateral concessions to placate Obama, the prime minister publicly conceded nothing beyond reiterating his willingness to negotiate with the Palestinians. Nor was there evidence of pressure on him to extend the settlement freeze after September.

It is quite possible that after 18 months of failing to beat Israel into submission, and observing the resilient manner in which Netanyahu retained his dignity and resisted his bullying, Obama realized that his strategy was counterproductive. He may have decided to utilize carrots rather than sticks and cooperation as an ally rather than an adversary.

As a consequence, the Netanyahu government has, at least in the short term, emerged stronger than ever. The displays of affection Obama conveyed to Netanyahu neutralized Kadima's principal argument that he could never cooperate with this administration. The Labor rebels will also have less justification for withdrawing from the government.

YET DESPITE the sighs of relief, it would be foolish to assume that American policy toward Israel has undergone a fundamental change.

We are not privy to the 90 minutes of discussions that took place behind closed doors. Were commitments made in relation to extending the settlement freeze? Did Netanyahu reach any agreements regarding defensible borders? Was there still talk of a two-year timetable for an independent Palestinian state? We will probably know more in the months to come.

Irrespective of what will happen in the future, we must unhesitatingly welcome the dramatically changed atmosphere in which Israel is treated as an ally rather than a pariah. Obama's statements are immensely beneficial, especially during these turbulent times. And in light of what he said on record, it will be awkward (although not inconceivable) for him to once again reverse his position.

Yet we should not count our chickens until they are hatched and must gird ourselves for the very real possibility that this Netanyahu-Obama summit of goodwill may still prove to be a false calm before the storm.

One need not be a cynic to recognize that the primary motivation for the dramatic reversal was the hostile public reaction, by Americans solidly supportive of Israel, against the shabby treatment meted to the Jewish state. And more so, the alienation of Jewish Democrats and pressure on Obama from congressmen concerned about the fallout in the November congressional elections.

One need only observe the precedents of Obama's zigzagging in relation to Israel during the course of the presidential elections to appreciate how fickle (or pragmatic) he can be to garner votes and financial contributions. However unlikely it may seem today, we must be prepared for the possibility that Obama could resume his previous posture after the congressional elections and revert to beating up on Israel in a vain effort to appease the Arab world. Indeed, when the impending talks with the Palestinians inevitably fail, Obama may even consider himself better positioned as a "friend" supposedly acting in our best interests to impose a solution on us.

NEVERTHELESS, THERE is a major window of opportunity between now and November to reinforce the new approach and set the record straight with the administration concerning our narrative - which was skimmed over during the talks. The bottom line remains that without a sea change in the attitude of the Palestinians, there is unlikely to be any real progress toward a Palestinian state. In that context, Israel has made enough compromises and shed sufficient blood over the past decade not to be expected to make further unilateral concessions unless based on genuine reciprocity.

This will necessitate the US recognizing that peace is unachievable unless the Palestinians accept that Israel is here to stay and that their dream of ending Jewish sovereignty is unattainable. It will require US pressure on the Palestinian leaders to prepare their people for peace by ending the vicious incitement which continues to poison their society.

Obama surely understands that, surrounded by vicious enemies under Iranian direction, Israel must ensure that a future Palestinian state will be demilitarized and that we retain defensible borders, including control over the Jordan Valley. Having witnessed the impotence and failure of UNIFIL in Lebanon to prevent the rearmament of Hizbullah, Netanyahu must reject the recommendation of US National Security Adviser James Jones that IDF forces in the West Bank be substituted by third parties like NATO, the UN or other international bodies.

Whatever the future concerning the settlement freeze portends, there must be a clear understanding that Israel would not extend a moratorium in those areas which the Bush administration had already agreed would permanently remain in the country.

Above all, in the absence of direct negotiations which were maintained uninterruptedly over the past 20 years, there can be no progress on the Palestinian front.

While Netanyahu hopes to strengthen his relationship with Obama, he must be prepared, if necessary, to again stand firm against undue pressure. It is disconcerting that immediately following his meeting, Netanyahu effervescently expressed the belief that a peace settlement could be achieved within 12 months. This is virtually impossible with his current "peace partner" and he does not assist his cause by raising false expectations. But equally, we must appreciate that a prime minister is obliged to build bridges and demonstrate that he is doing his utmost to cooperate with the long-term objectives of the American administration, as long as they do not conflict with our basic security interests.


Isi Leibler

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


Thursday, January 1, 2009

Islamists Dream of Apartheid Down Under

by David J. Rusin

Keysar Trad, the controversial founder of Australia's Islamic Friendship Society, is very upset. At the opening of a prayer center last week, he accused local officials of erecting excessive barriers to the construction of Islamic facilities. When Muslims are not permitted to build where they wish, he said, the governments effectively are "forcing people to go to one particular area, even though they don't live in that particular area." This, Trad argued, imposes a "ghetto" mindset on a community that has been "very resistant to ghettoization."

No word yet on whether he is peeved with Muslims from the Islamic Council of Western Australia, which not only desires segregation, but works to bring it about. Its plan to include Muslim-only housing in a $10 million complex is troubling enough. Far worse is the warped logic behind the endeavor:

[Spokesman] Ghauri rejected claims the housing would further isolate sectors of the Muslim community from mainstream society, claiming the venue would be used to teach Islamic youth how to become good Australian citizens.

And the council's religious adviser, Abdul Jalil Ahmad, said it was useful for different religious or ethnic groups to have separate residential enclaves so their customs and exotic cooking smells did not offend neighbors.

"It's ideal for any ethnic group because you can deal with each other in an easier way," Mr. Ahmad said.

"In South Africa, because of apartheid, all different communities were set up and it worked well. It kept people separate. We can be together in terms of our contribution to the wider community."

Not only does the hierarchy insist that segregation somehow aids the integration process; it also views apartheid-era South Africa as an intercultural golden age and model for the future. Blacks who lived through those decades as second-class citizens might disagree with the notion that apartheid "worked well" for them.

Ramdas Sankaran, president of the Ethnic Communities Council, rightly called the plans for segregated housing a "deplorable" idea that would damage societal cohesion. "Self-exclusion is just as bad as being excluded by other parties in Australia," he said. "It's not in the interests of any group."

But Sankaran is wrong on one point. Self-exclusion is very much in the interests of Islamists who wish to divide and conquer the West from within. And that is why separatism must be discouraged wherever it appears, from a "black Muslim enclave" in Philadelphia, to a series of no-go zones in Great Britain, and now to a proposed Muslim-only residence in Australia.

David J. Rusin
- Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.


Is Israel Using 'Disproportionate Force' . Part I

By Dore Gold


1st part of 2


Just the cold, hard facts.  Forward to those who want them --- and need them


Israeli population centers in southern Israel have been the target of over 4,000 rockets, as well as thousands of mortar shells, fired by Hamas and other organizations since 2001. Rocket attacks increased by 500 percent after Israel withdrew completely from the Gaza Strip in August 2005. During an informal six-month lull, some 215 rockets were launched at Israel.

The charge that Israel uses disproportionate force keeps resurfacing whenever it has to defend its citizens from non-state terrorist organizations and the rocket attacks they perpetrate. From a purely legal perspective, Israel's current military actions in Gaza are on solid ground. According to international law, Israel is not required to calibrate its use of force precisely according to the size and range of the weaponry used against it.

Ibrahim Barzak and Amy Teibel wrote for the Associated Press on December 28 that most of the 230 Palestinians who were reportedly killed were "security forces," and Palestinian officials said "at least 15 civilians were among the dead." The numbers reported indicate that there was no clear intent to inflict disproportionate collateral civilian casualties. What is critical from the standpoint of international law is that if the attempt has been made "to minimize civilian damage, then even a strike that causes large amounts of damage - but is directed at a target with very large military value - would be lawful."

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, explained that international humanitarian law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court "permit belligerents to carry out proportionate attacks against military objectives, even when it is known that some civilian deaths or injuries will occur." The attack becomes a war crime when it is directed against civilians (which is precisely what Hamas does).

After 9/11, when the Western alliance united to collectively topple the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, no one compared Afghan casualties in 2001 to the actual numbers that died from al-Qaeda's attack. There clearly is no international expectation that military losses in war should be on a one-to-one basis. To expect Israel to hold back in its use of decisive force against legitimate military targets in Gaza is to condemn it to a long war of attrition with Hamas.


Israel is currently benefiting from a limited degree of understanding in international diplomatic and media circles for launching a major military operation against Hamas on December 27. Yet there are significant international voices that are prepared to argue that Israel is using disproportionate force in its struggle against Hamas


Israeli Population Centers Under Rocket Attack

There are good reasons why initial criticism of Israel has been muted. After all, Israeli population centers in southern Israel have been the target of over 4,000 rockets, as well as thousands of mortar shells, fired by Hamas and other organizations since 2001.1 The majority of those attacks were launched after Israel withdrew completely from the Gaza Strip in August 2005. Indeed, rocket attacks increased by 500 percent (from 179 to 946) from 2005 to 2006.

Moreover, lately Hamas has been extending the range of its striking capability even further with new rockets supplied by Iran. Hamas used a 20.4-kilometer-range Grad/Katyusha for the first time on March 28, 2006, bringing the Israeli city of Ashkelon into range of its rockets for the first time. That change increased the number of Israelis under threat from 200,000 to half a million.2 Moreover, on December 21, 2008, Yuval Diskin, Head of the Israel Security Agency, informed the Israeli government that Hamas had acquired rockets that could reach Ashdod, Kiryat Gat, and even the outskirts of Beersheba.3 The first Grad/Katyusha strike on Ashdod, in fact, took place on December 28. There had been no formal cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, but only an informal six-month tahadiya (lull), during which 215 rockets were launched at Israel.4 On December 21, Hamas unilaterally announced that the tahadiya had ended.


Critical Voices

On December 27, 2008, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesmen issued a statement saying that while the Secretary-General recognized "Israel's security concerns regarding the continued firing of rockets from Gaza," he reiterated "Israel's obligation to uphold international humanitarian and human rights law." The statement specifically noted that he "condemns excessive use of force leading to the killing and injuring of civilians [emphasis added]."5

A day later, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights "strongly condemned Israel's disproportionate use of force." French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, also condemned Israel's "disproportionate use of force," while demanding an end to rocket attacks on Israel.6 Brazil also joined this chorus, criticizing Israel's "disproportionate response."7 Undoubtedly, a powerful impression has been created by large Western newspaper headlines that describe massive Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, without any up-front explanation for their cause.


Proportionality and International Law: The Protection of Innocent Civilians

The charge that Israel uses disproportionate force keeps resurfacing whenever it has to defend its citizens from non-state terrorist organizations and the rocket attacks they perpetrate. From a purely legal perspective, Israel's current military actions in Gaza are on solid ground. According to international law, Israel is not required to calibrate its use of force precisely according to the size and range of the weaponry used against it (Israel is not expected to make Kassam rockets and lob them back into Gaza).

When international legal experts use the term "disproportionate use of force," they have a very precise meaning in mind. As the President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Rosalyn Higgins, has noted, proportionality "cannot be in relation to any specific prior injury - it has to be in relation to the overall legitimate objective of ending the aggression."8 In other words, if a state, like Israel, is facing aggression, then proportionality addresses whether force was specifically used by Israel to bring an end to the armed attack against it. By implication, force becomes excessive if it is employed for another purpose, like causing unnecessary harm to civilians. The pivotal factor determining whether force is excessive is the intent of the military commander. In particular, one has to assess what was the commander's intent regarding collateral civilian damage.9

What about reports concerning civilian casualties? Some international news agencies have stressed that the vast majority of those killed in the first phase of the current Gaza operation were Hamas operatives. Ibrahim Barzak and Amy Teibel wrote for the Associated Press on December 28 that most of the 230 Palestinians who were reportedly killed were "security forces," and Palestinian officials said "at least 15 civilians were among the dead."10 It is far too early to definitely assess Palestinian casualties, but even if they increase, the numbers reported indicate that there was no clear intent to inflict disproportionate collateral civilian casualties.

During the Second Lebanon War, Professor Michael Newton of Vanderbilt University was in email communication with William Safire of the New York Times about the issue of proportionality and international law. Newton had been quoted by the Council on Foreign Relations as explaining proportionality by proposing a test: "If someone punches you in the nose, you don't burn down their house." He was serving as an international criminal law expert in Baghdad and sought to correct the impression given by his quote. According to Newton, no responsible military commander intentionally targets civilians, and he accepted that this was Israeli practice.

What was critical from the standpoint of international law was that if the attempt had been made "to minimize civilian damage, then even a strike that causes large amounts of damage - but is directed at a target with very large military value - would be lawful."11 Numbers matter less than the purpose of the use of force. Israel has argued that it is specifically targeting facilities serving the Hamas regime and its determined effort to continue its rocket assault on Israel: headquarters, training bases, weapons depots, command and control networks, and weapons-smuggling tunnels. This way Israel is respecting the international legal concept of proportionality.

Alternatively, disproportionality would occur if the military sought to attack even if the value of a target selected was minimal in comparison with the enormous risk of civilian collateral damage. This point was made by Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, on February 9, 2006, in analyzing the Iraq War. He explained that international humanitarian law and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court "permit belligerents to carry out proportionate attacks [emphasis added] against military objectives, even when it is known that some civilian deaths or injuries will occur." The attack becomes a war crime when it is directed against civilians (which is precisely what Hamas does) or when "the incidental civilian injuries would be clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage."12 In fact, Israeli legal experts right up the chain of command within the IDF make this calculation before all military operations of this sort.

Dore Gold


Is Israel Using 'Disproportionate Force' Part II

By Dore Gold


2nd part of 2


Proportionality as a Strategic Issue

Moving beyond the question of international law, the charge that Israel is using a disproportionate amount of force in the Gaza Strip because of reports of Palestinian casualties has to be looked at critically. Israelis have often said among themselves over the last seven years that when a Hamas rocket makes a direct strike on a crowded school, killing many children, then Israel will finally act.

This scenario raises the question of whether the doctrine of proportionality requires that Israel wait for this horror to occur, or whether Israel could act on the basis of the destructive capability of the arsenal Hamas already possesses, the hostile declarations of intent of its leaders, and its readiness to use its rocket forces already. Alan Dershowitz noted two years ago: "Proportion must be defined by reference to the threat proposed by an enemy and not by the harm it has produced." Waiting for a Hamas rocket to fall on an Israeli school, he rightly notes, would put Israel in the position of allowing "its enemies to play Russian Roulette with its children."13

The fundamental fact is that in fighting terrorism, no state is willing to play Russian Roulette. After the U.S. was attacked on 9/11, the Western alliance united to collectively topple the Taliban regime in Afghanistan; no one compared Afghan casualties in 2001 to the actual numbers that died from al-Qaeda's attack. Given that al-Qaeda was seeking non-conventional capabilities, it was essential to wage a campaign to deny it the sanctuary it had enjoyed in Afghanistan, even though that struggle continues right up to the present.


Is There Proportionality Against Military Forces?

And in fighting counterinsurgency wars, most armies seek to achieve military victory by defeating the military capacity of an adversary, as efficiently as possible. There clearly is no international expectation that military losses in war should be on a one-to-one basis; most armies seek to decisively eliminate as many enemy forces as possible while minimizing their own losses of troops. There are NATO members who have been critical of "Israel's disproportionate use of force," while NATO armies take pride in their "kill ratios" against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Moreover, decisive military action against an aggressor has another effect: it increases deterrence.14 To expect Israel to hold back in its use of decisive force against legitimate military targets in Gaza is to condemn it to a long war of attrition with Hamas.

The loss of any civilian lives is truly regrettable. Israel has cancelled many military operations because of its concern with civilian casualties. But should civilian losses occur despite the best efforts of Israel to avoid them, it is ultimately not Israel's responsibility. As political philosopher Michael Walzer noted in 2006: "When Palestinian militants launch rocket attacks from civilian areas, they are themselves responsible - and no one else is - for the civilian deaths caused by Israeli counterfire."15

International critics of Israel may be looking to craft balanced statements that spread the blame for the present conflict to both sides. But they would be better served if they did not engage in this artificial exercise, and clearly distinguish the side that is the aggressor in this conflict - Hamas - and the side that is trying to defeat the aggression - Israel.

Dr. Dore Gold,

Israel's ambassador to the UN in 1997-99, is President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and author of Hatred's Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism (Regnery, 2003) and The Fight for Jerusalem: Radical Islam, the West, and the Future of the Holy City (Regnery, 2007)


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.




1. For numbers of rockets, see Dore Gold, "Israel's War to Halt Palestinian Rocket Attacks," JerusalemIssue Brief, Vol. 7, No. 34, March 3, 2008, Institute of Contemporary Affairs/Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. See also December 2008 publications on

2. Robert Berger, "Israeli Official Warns of Growing Hamas Military Threat," Voice of America News,, May 17, 2008.

3. "News of Terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict," Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Israel Intelligence Heritage and Commemoration Center (IICC), December 16-23, 2008,

4. "Intensive Rocket Fire Attacks Again Western Negev Population Center and the Ashqelon Region after Hamas Announces the End of the Lull Agreement," IICC, December 21, 2008,,

5. "Secretary-General Urges Immediate Halt to Renewed Israeli-Palestinian Violence," UN News Service, December 27, 2008,

6. "World Reacts to Israel Strikes in Gaza," Deutsche Welle,, December 28, 2008,,,3905288,00.html.

7. Brazil Criticizes Israeli Attack on Gaza: Special Report: Palestine-Israel Relations," China View,

, December 28, 2008,

8. R. Higgins, cited in "Responding to Hamas Attacks from Gaza - Issues of Proportionality Background Paper," Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, March 2008.

9. Abraham Bell, "International Law and Gaza: The Assault on Israel's Right to Self-Defense," Jerusalem Issue Brief, Vol. 7, No. 29, January 28, 2008, Institute for Contemporary Affairs/Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

10. Ibrahim Barzak and Amy Teibel, "Israeli Assault on Hamas Kills More than 200," Associated Press, December 28, 2008,

11. William Safire, "Proportionality," New York Times, August 13, 2006,

12. Office of the Prosecutor, International Criminal Court, The Hague, February 9, 2008,

13. Alan Dershowitz, "The Hamas Government Has Declared War Against Israel: How Should Israel Respond?" Huffington Post, March 14, 2008,

14. Richard Cohen, "...No, It's Survival," Washington Post, July 25, 2006

15. Michael Walzer, "How Aggressive Should Israel Be? War Fair," The New Republic Online, July 31, 2006.


Hollow Men


by Lee Smith


Why Israel's enemies will always be the darlings of Western intellectuals


It's nothing new for Western intellectuals to lavish attention and admiration on the resistance forces aligned against Israel, whether it's Hamas or Hezbollah or even organizations like al-Qaida that are less interested in Israel than in killing and maiming Western civilians. Last week, when CNN's former Middle East editor, Octavia Nasr, tweeted that she respected the late militant cleric Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah, the cards were out on the table for all to see. But usually the pro-resistance vibe is more subtle, as when Nasr's defenders demanded a more nuanced understanding from knee-jerk Americans who were shocked by Nasr's support for a suicide-bomb-sanctioning man of faith. After all, Fadlallah was a relatively pro-feminist radical Islamist cleric—and if his talk about Israel was genocidal, well, that's just part of the package when dealing with a complex place like the Middle East.


Media consumers in the United States are by now well aware that Hezbollah and Hamas provide "social services" for their communities. For the writers and television personalities who push such supposed palliatives on their audiences—"Yes, they do chant 'kill the Jews!' and they do act on their rhetoric, but they also educate poor kids in clean, well-lit schools (please ignore the slogans painted on the walls)"—respect for the resistance is a polite way of indicating one's tolerance for murderous anti-Semitism. The issue is whether this attitude is in danger of seeping into the mainstream of the U.S. public. Poll numbers show that U.S. support for Israel is consistently high—in February Gallup found that a near-record 63 percent of Americans were more sympathetic to the Jewish state than to the Palestinians. But ideas can change, and it's intellectuals who often lead the way. Remember that Israel was a popular cause among the intellectual classes until the 1967 war. It is true that the American people and the bulk of their intellectual class are far apart on the subject of Israel, but all the massive and popular evil of the last century started among a small ideological elite.


A common explanation for the turning away of the intellectuals from Israel is that the Jewish state forfeited the world's sympathy once it was no longer perceived as the underdog in its conflict with the Arabs. Israel's sin, in this reading, is that it didn't lose.


However, this would suggest that intellectuals misunderstand a uniquely American concept: The underdog does not win the pity of the chorus because he is crushed by his tormentors; rather, he is the champion who perseveres because the stubborn stars that rule his nature will not permit him to choose otherwise. Perhaps his friends will abandon him, and maybe his family, too; neither his wife nor children signed on for such an arduous journey. If he intends to follow this hard path, he may well travel alone. Such is the stuff of big-ticket American heroism. It is odd that the American intelligentsia cannot recognize in Israel the likeness of our literary models, Melville's Ahab, Fitzgerald's Gatsby, Hawthorne's Hester Prynne. Rather, the intelligentsia is more like Hester's hypocritical neighbors. If Israel is portrayed as the Dirty Harry of nations, then its accusers are the tepid bureaucrats mistaking cowardice for compassion, who chide Clint Eastwood's Callahan.


In reality, of course, Israel isn't all that heroic. No one and nothing is. Israel's men and women of honor do not accomplish Homeric deeds in south Lebanon or Gaza to the beat of martial songs, like the resistance; instead they ride the bus home on the weekend to see their parents, go out drinking with friends, and pick up the wrong guy or girl in a smoky bar with awful pop music. "Our warriors," says one former tank driver, "are Jewish boys who are bossed around by their wives." And yet during the war with Hezbollah four years ago, the country's incompetent political and military leadership sent too many of those Jewish boys to their deaths, without sufficient training or a strategy for victory. It seems like almost every day there is news that another of Israel's chief political leaders is under investigation for corruption charges, which is to say the system is rotten and the system works. To say that Israel is normal is to say that it is, like all democracies, mediocre.

Intellectuals are not interested in the quotidian mediocrity of a functioning democracy.


They are interested in ideas. Once an idea is realized in the form of a political organization that must function on a day-to-day basis, it is difficult for men and women of ideas to stomach the result. For instance, it is very exciting that the United States is founded on an idea—one that upends classical political theory. Whereas the ancients believed the role of the state was to promote virtue, the moderns took a more realistic view of human nature. The United States is founded on the idea that men are mediocre when they are not murderous and that it is the role of the state to protect them from each other's predations. For such an optimistic country like the United States, this is a very unpleasant picture of human nature, and quite a boring idea. Universal equality is not the kind of idea, in practice even more so than theory, that is apt to excite intellectuals.


Of course, intellectuals on the right and the left have been wrong about politics these last hundred years more than they have been right (or righteous). George Orwell, after all, is not a major figure who was right about communism; rather, he is a major figure because he was one of the few who was right about communism. Among the great names of U.S. and European literary modernism, it is difficult to number more than a handful who did not flirt with fascism or who were not openly anti-Semitic.


The same search for novelty and individual originality, the same disenchantment with democracy, the same desire to stand outside the mediocrity of mass culture that fueled the modernist revolution in the arts also gave rise to a dispiriting number of mass-murdering political cults, from communism to fascism and Nazism to a number of Western-inspired ideas that were realized elsewhere, from the genocidal regime of Pol Pot to Arab nationalism. Anything to change the status quo, for the West was "a botched civilization," wrote Ezra Pound, the American poet, "an old bitch gone in the teeth." This proudly fascist and anti-Semitic modernist master, who made radio broadcasts on Mussolini's behalf, won the Bollingen prize for poetry in 1949—never mind Pound's crazy politics, said his defenders, the man was a poet of genius.


You could argue that Israel is a nation of obvious appeal to the intellectual classes, even on their own terms. For instance, the rebirth of Hebrew as a living national language was the work of intellectuals. Zionism itself is an idea. If you were a person of faith, you'd simply take the restoration of the Jews as proof that God is real and acts in history. But as a man of reason, you'd see the rebirth of Israel as evidence of human progress: After 2,000 years of wandering and suffering, the Jews have a modern nation-state—things do get better. If you were a man of reason, you'd take Israel as proof that enlightenment is real.


But intellectuals are no more rational than the rest of us, and none of us are wholly rational in our politics. The attractiveness of the resistance takes place on an emotional level, for like all of the most intellectually captivating modernist grand concepts it is a rejection of the Enlightenment, the boredom and the mediocrity of regular politics. The Enlightenment did away with the blood, the magic and mysticism of the great leader, he who decides life and death with a word. And this is what is to be recovered in the resistance: the charisma and authenticity of the human being unrestrained by what Nietzsche called slave morality. From Pound and T.S. Eliot to Martin Heidegger and Michel Foucault and their disciples, for a century the West's greatest minds have taught that the privilege, and duty, of the Western intellectual is to unmake the West, even—or especially—through violence, even if someone else, like the resistance, must serve as the agent of apocalypse and rebirth. The notion that Israel is condemned because it is more powerful than its adversaries is patently false: The intellectuals are nothing if not spellbound by the economy of force, and equally so in the purgative bloodshed that ensues. The aspect of eros that Pound found in Il Duce and Foucault found in Khomeini is what the Western acolytes of the resistance see in Hamas and Hezbollah.


Some journalists shed tears when Arafat died, others are smitten by the beauty of Islamist militants: The "green eyes" of Hezbollah's deputy Naim Qassem "are framed by thick, dark lashes and he has long elegant hands." Saddam Hussein, we are told, did much to advance the rights of women. In Cairo I knew a former CNN producer whose first affair with an Arab intelligence officer was in Saddam's Baghdad—a great city, she explained, if you didn't mind the constant surveillance and widespread torture.


But this attraction of the intellectuals to the flame of the resistance is not simply based on eros alone. There is also the aspect of thanatos, the death instinct. The sad reality is that all organisms—men and the nations they populate—carry within them the seeds of their own end. While the normal run of men unwittingly nurture their demise through the wrong that has become habit and custom, the suicide overruns all limits. In reality, it is not Israel that our intellectuals despise, for that hatred is simply the latest pattern in a long century that the West's self-loathing has taken. It is ourselves that we cannot abide.



Lee Smith

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.