The baby’s death was attributed to Israeli airstrikes and suggestions that Hamas rockets might have been at fault were roundly dismissed:
Despite the evidence pointing towards an Israeli air strike, some bloggers have suggested it might have been a misfired Hamas rocket.
But at that time, so soon after the launch of Israel’s operation, the Israeli military says mortars had been launched from Gaza but very few rockets.
Mortar fire would not cause the fireball that appears to have engulfed Jehad’s house.
Other bloggers have said that the damage to Jehad’s home was not consistent with powerful Israeli attacks but the BBC visited other bombsites this week with very similar fire damage, where Israel acknowledged carrying out what it called “surgical strikes”.
As at Jehad’s home, there was very little structural damage but the victims were brought out with massive and fatal burns. Most likely is that Omar died in the one of the more than 20 bombings across Gaza that the Israeli military says made up its initial wave of attacks.
Omar was not a terrorist.
Last week, though, a report issued by the UN Human Rights Council confirmed that it was a Hamas rocket, not an Israeli airstrike, that caused the baby’s death:
“On 14 November, a woman, [an] 11-month-old infant, and an 18-year-old adult in Al-Zaitoun were killed by what appeared to be a Palestinian rocket that fell short of Israel.”
It’s critical to keep in mind the way in which death and destruction is routinely used to further someone’s agenda. In this case, more important than figuring out what actually happened, the Post, the BBC, and even Human Rights Watch immediately made this terrible story the centerpiece of their broader criticism of Israel and dismissed any blame that might fall to Hamas.
Of course, while many Israelis and their supporters are now feeling vindicated, it’s also crucial to remember that these people and many others like them still died. And that many more will likely die as a result of the rockets and airstrikes routinely and cavalierly unleashed by parties to this conflict.
Israelis, Palestinians, and their supporters around the world act as though this is some sort of game that one side can win if only enough people come over to their side; with each death, whether it’s a baby or a grandparent, it’s pretty clear that no one’s winning.
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas came out on Thursday in criticism of Hamas leader Khaled Meshal, who said last week during his visit to Gaza that the organization will never recognize Israel, and called for its destruction.
Speaking to Turkish reporters in Ankara, Abbas said that he does not agree with Meshal’s statements. “We recognized Israel in 1993,” he said. “There is an agreement between Fatah and Hamas that recognizes the two-state solution. Meshal approved this agreement.”
It will be interesting to see how Netanyahu responds to Abbas’ statements, given his criticism of Abbas for supporting Meshal in any way at all.
But it will be even more interesting to see how Meshal responds.
Today, the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of making Palestine a non-member observer state. This is all well and good … but, just out of curiosity, here are a few questions:
1. Does this new observer state include the West Bank and Gaza, with their two separate — and often opposed — governments?
2. If Palestine is represented at the UN only by Fatah, what are the implications for Hamas?
3. And, perhaps most importantly, does anyone believe that an upgraded status at the UN means anything at all for a future Palestinian state, given my first two questions?
I saw this foolishness on Facebook the other day and had to post it here.
First of all, it’s in remarkably bad taste.
Secondly, it’s patently ridiculous to compare the situation of Israeli citizens facing Hamas rocket attacks and defended by th military might of the IDF with the Warsaw Ghetto fighters, who were outmatched in every sense and literally facing extermination.
Third, I think it’s pretty strange to claim that the New York Times has taken an accusatory tone with regard to Israel in the most recent iteration of the Gaza conflict. I suspect that supporters of the Palestinians would be very quick to disagree about the nature of the media coverage in the United States.
Finally, I would think supporters of Israel wouldn’t be so cavalier about making comparisons to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising when Israel has quite literally been launching an overwhelming display of military prowess against a ghettoized people. I’d have a hard time imagining better propaganda for Hamas than something like this, with just a few of the words changed.
Hi Dr Kohen, in response to a recent post, about the comments about "uneven" killing. I would say that pointing out the casualty disparity IS worthwhile, though not necessarily in this particular instance. Israel is the greatest power in the region, and I think the argument that their military responses can be dangerously disproportionate is a valid one. Thanks, also, for speaking more about this conflict. I agree with much of what you've been saying and wish more people would listen!Anonymous
I don’t want to be read as suggesting that it’s unimportant to discuss Israel’s disproportionate responses to rocket attacks from Gaza (or suicide bombers or whatever).
As I’ve suggested before, it’s pretty clear that the Israeli government intends both to use overwhelming force as a deterrent (which they must know at this point doesn’t work) and to collectively punish Palestinians for the actions undertaken by militants in their midst. This is, I think, bad policy and a violation of the Geneva Conventions.
The mistake being made a great many critics of Israel is in the argument that Israel shouldn’t use airstrikes against Gaza in response to Hamas’ ineffective rockets because those rockets are ineffective. In other words, the argument implies, Israel shouldn’t respond to Hamas’ aggression because it will do so much more effectively than the aggression itself. Or, perhaps, Hamas just isn’t dangerous enough to merit a response from Israel (which would be, by virtue of their superior military technology alone, far more harmful to Palestinians than Hamas could ever be to Israelis). Or, as was definitely the case with one post I reblogged, that it would be good if more Israelis could be killed to balance out all of the casualties inflicted on Palestinians.
But it’s not illegal or even morally wrong to use your country’s weapons against a declared enemy, even if your enemy is far weaker. In fact, I can only assume that such a scenario would be every military commander’s dream and the hope of every citizen whose country is engaged in a conflict.
It’s far more important, I’d say, to talk about collective punishment and the Geneva Conventions than to point out that more civilians are killed in Gaza by Israeli airstrikes than are killed in Israel by Hamas rockets. The former is a serious issue that, at some point, might be used against Israeli leaders at the polls or even in a court of law; the latter is just the obvious byproduct of a strong defense and a strong offense opposing a weak offense and no defense to speak of.
My friend Jonathan Cunningham has spent a lot of time over the past few days writing about Israel and Gaza in a state of understandable rage. He reblogged a couple of my posts, furious that I refused to comdemn only Israel for what he termed a genocide against Palestinians.
We’ve gone back and forth on this issue on Twitter, but I wanted to take a few minutes to write a bit about the problem that Cunningham faces, as well as to provide my reasons for refusing to go nuclear on the topic of Israel.
First, I should begin by noting that I don’t think Hamas rockets and Israeli airstrikes should be thought of as being similar in any way. I condemn both of them, but they aren’t comparable. I’m tired of seeing Facebook and Tumblr posts about the terror of Hamas rocket attacks, as if a) they occur in a vacuum and b) they are somehow terrorizing the Israeli populace in even a remotely similar way that Israeli airstrikes are terrorizing Gazans. But I’m also tired of the Facebook and Tumblr posts about how the ineffectiveness of the rocket attacks somehow means that they are the equivalent of not shooting rockets at civilians.
In other words, it’s possible for the Israeli government to be acting immorally and it’s possible for Hamas to also be acting immorally … even if the results of their immoral behavior are not equally terrible. There’s no moral high ground here. The fact that Hamas rockets aren’t killing more Israeli civilians doesn’t negate the fact that the intention of the shooters is to kill Israeli civilians. The fact of Israel’s reprehensible treatment of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza doesn’t give Hamas carte blanche to attempt to terrorize and kill Israeli citizens. But nor do Hamas rockets give the Israeli government carte blanche to terrorize and kill Gazans. Nor is there any reason, as far as I’m concerned, for Israel to maintain its abusive treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
Now to the specific issue at hand, namely Cunningham’s use of the word genocide to describe what is happening in Israel/Palestine:
The reason I’m unwilling to use the word genocide is because this is not a genocide. That doesn’t mean that it’s absolutely terrible, that Israel isn’t committing violations of international law by employing collective punishment and by targeting civilians areas and infrastructure, or that the Israeli government might be rightfully accused of a policy of ethnic cleansing. It is only to say that genocide is a specific term with a specific meaning … and that what we have seen and are continuing to see in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza does not meet the definition of that term.
In one of his first posts on the matter, Cunningham quotes the Genocide Convention:
…any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Cunningham focuses on (c), above, and concludes:
It’s obvious Israel’s goal is to remove the Palestinians (even and especially the nonviolent civilians) by “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”.
Unfortunately, this isn’t obvious. While it’s certainly true that Israel is inflicting on Gazans terrible “conditions of life,” there is absolutely no reason to conclude that Israel is doing so in order to bring about the “physical destruction in whole or in part” of the Palestininan people.
If Israel intended to commit genocide, I think we would see very different results from this week’s airstrikes against Gaza. Those who condemn the Israeli massacres in Gaza are right to point out the number of civilian casualties because any such casualties are abominable … but they ought to recognize that, given the remarkable firepower and tactical capabilities of the IDF, the number of casualties is surprisingly low (especially if they want to include a charge of genocide in amongst their condemnations). To put this in the starkest possible terms, if the Israelis wanted to bring about the destruction of the Palestinian people — in whole or in part — they could do so at any time (but especially at this time, when they have been bombing the densely-populated Gaza Strip for days). That civilian casualties are as low as they are suggests that genocide is not what the Israeli government intends. Indeed, as I’ve argued previously, what the Israeli government intends, with an election on the immediate horizon, is to perpetuate the conflict and to make themselves (and their particular brand of sabre-rattling and non-negotiation) seem indispensable to the populace.
Of course, Cunningham has argued that I’m just playing a semantics game here while innocent people are being killed. I’ll leave aside the whole argument that words matter a great deal in international law because, for example, the Genocide Convention has an operative clause. Even though I find this line of argumentation compelling, I know a lot of people think that international treaties aren’t worth the paper on which they’re printed. So instead, I’ll focus on the idea that words matter because opponents of Israeli treatment of the Palestinians do themselves no favors at all by going nuclear about what Israel is doing. Here’s my argument, in Twitter form:
What I would suggest is that the actions of the Israeli government — now in Gaza and in the past in both Gaza and the West Bank — are bad enough without crying wolf about genocide and that when you cry wolf about genocide you invite people to completely tune out the very real and very terrible things that are being done … and these people are already very interested in tuning out complaints about these terrible things.
It’s sufficient to say that Israel shouldn’t be killing civilians, to argue against those who would justify those killings, and to work to bring this tragic violence to an end.
I wouldn’t hold your breath for a ceasefire today because, no matter where your loyalties lie, this sort of thing is just confirmation of the reasons to support further hostilities:
The attack happened on the eighth day of an Israeli offensive against the Gaza Strip which it launched with the stated aim of preventing rocket strikes from the Palestinian enclave.
A Palestinian source in the West Bank told Haaretz that the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade claimed responsibility for the Tel Aviv attack, but that it has been carried out by a delegation from the Gaza Strip.
Celebratory gunfire rang out in Gaza City when local radio stations reported news of the Tel Aviv explosion. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri praised the bombing, but came short of responsibility for the attack.
"Hamas blesses the attack in Tel Aviv and sees it as a natural response to the Israeli massacres…in Gaza," he told Reuters.
[I]n Israel the question was how to respond to aggression from Gaza, and in Gaza the question was how to respond to aggression from Israel. And each side considered its own use of force—what the other side called provocation—a response to provocation.
That’s Robert Wright, in an interesting piece over at the Atlantic called “Who Started the Israel-Gaza Conflict?”
His answer, after looking at a detailed timeline put together by Emily Hauser, “is that it’s very hard to say which side started the conflict.”
It might be difficult to say which side started this particular iteration of the conflict … but I’m surprised that Wright doesn’t look more closely at its timing, with Israeli elections on the immediate horizon. As Gershon Baskin pointed out in his New York Times op-ed the other day, the assassination of Ahmed Al-Jabari might have happened at any time. It’s noteworthy that it happened just hours after Jabari looked over a draft proposal for a long-term cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Such a cease-fire wouldn’t do a whole lot of good for the Likud/YB coalition in the upcoming election … or at least not the sort of good that a “rally round the flag” response to this current escalation of violence will surely do.
Hamas rockets are to Israeli elections as Punxsutawney Phil Sowerby's shadow is to Winter: When Israelis feel threatened, we all get at least three more years of Netanyahu.
Every time I see someone make some variation on this point, I’m reminded why I don’t pay much attention to a lot of things that are written about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict:
Fun Fact: more Palestinians were killed in Gaza yesterday than Israelis have been killed by projectile fire from Gaza in the past three years.
A little persepctive [sic] for you all.
When you write that the number of casualties is uneven, you’re either saying, “The Israeli military has better weapons technology than Hamas,” which is so obvious as to be perfectly uninteresting … or else you’re saying, “I wish Hamas was better able to kill Israelis so this conflict would be more ‘fair,’” which is to actively wish for more civilian deaths.
Why not simply write, “There must be a way for these groups of people to stop murdering each other,” and then think about how to best help effect change?
Add this break between Hamas leadership in Gaza and Hamas leadership abroad to the better known split between Hamas and Fatah, and you’ve got yourself a real challenge when it comes to figuring out who represents the Palestinian people:
There has also been a widening rift between Hamas leaders in Gaza and those abroad. Palestinian analysts say Meshal recently realized that the Gaza leadership was determined to prevent his reappointment and decided instead to preempt them and quit.
Haniyeh and his men decided to prove to the organization’s leaders who recently fled Damascus they could no longer impose their decisions on Gaza.
The Gaza leadership’s position was bolstered by the realization that Meshal was trying to change Hamas’ struggle strategy and lead it to an historic reconciliation with Fatah, while concentrating its energies on an Arab Spring-type struggle. Haniyeh, meanwhile, is sticking to his former stance, demanding to close ranks with Islamic Jihad.
From the New York Times:
Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier held for more than five years by Hamas, was traded on Tuesday for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners — the first group of what will eventually be more than 1,000 — in an elaborate trade that could shake up regional politics.
The big question, to my mind, is whether this prisoner exchange means that Israel and Hamas will find a way now to negotiate with one another. It’s a long, long way to go from swapping prisoners to recognizing one another as potential partners in a peace deal, but as Shalit himself said, “I very much hope that this deal will advance peace.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet voted early Wednesday morning to approve a prisoner swap that will see Gilad Shalit, the IDF soldier who has been in Hamas captivity for the last five years, return to Israel.
Twenty-six ministers voted in favor of the deal, and three ministers - Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau of Yisrael Beiteinu and Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon of Likud - voted against the proposal.
According to the agreement framework presented by Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen, the deal Netanyahu brought before the cabinet included, at first, the release of 450 Palestinian prisoners, including 280 with life sentences.
The second wave of releases will take place in two months time, at which point Israel will release 550 prisoners of its choosing.
I’ve been trying to make a fuss about this sort of thing less often, but can’t help it today.
I wrote a post this morning about the bad decisions of both the Israeli government and Hamas with regard to prisoners … and it hasn’t seemed to impact anyone one way or another. An editor of the Tumblr politics tag even featured it earlier today … but there hasn’t been any discussion, not even to argue with me or to suggest that I’ve somehow missed some important fact about the Israeli occupation. Maybe it’s too balanced? Too logical? Or maybe it just makes all too clear that, while Palestinian prisoners have had access to college courses and living in conditions that conform to international law, the soldier abducted by Hamas has been held incommunicado for five years. Not even the Red Cross has been permitted to see him.
Every human rights organization considers his detention to be a violation of international law and oppose the way that Hamas has attempted to use him as a bargaining chip to attempt to gain the release of Palestinian prisoners.
Typically, all sorts of people love to tell me that my posts about Israel are biased or excessively Zionist or ignore the many ways in which Israel violates international law. Where are these bloggers today, on the fifth anniversary of Gilad Shalit’s incommunicado detention? Why not sound the trumpet of international law today, as Hamas lamely attempted to do when Netanyahu said he would take away college courses from Palestinian prisoners?
If you search Tumblr for “Gilad Shalit,” you’ll find that the only posts that have been “liked” and “reblogged” are the ones that attempt to draw a false comparison between Hamas’ hostage and all Palestinian prisoners … as if to ask, like the picture above does, “Why should we care about the abuse of this one prisoner when Israel has taken so many prisoners?” In other words, the only blogging on the subject of Israel/Palestine that Tumblr users seem to want to read is the most simple-minded anti-Israel nonsense available. Anything more complicated, anything that requires a recognition that both sides have acted improperly toward the other, is dismissed as Zionist propaganda and ignored. Because, of course, if you ignore something more challenging, you might have to abandon the simple-minded answer that everything would be better in the Middle East if only Israel would cease its intransigence and its violations of the rights of those lovers of peace, justice, and international law, the Palestinians.
I’m just going to go ahead and call your silence on this one what it is: Hypocrisy.