“I will never call IDF the most moral army” – top Army lawyer. Hamas will hand over officials to ICC

Jerusalem Post reports that Hamas says willing to cooperate with ICC to advance Palestinian cause

Hamas announced on Friday that the Palestinian Islamist group is willing to cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) in order to advance the Palestinian cause, indicating that it would hand over officials to the international tribunal.Hamas official Khalil al-Haya in a state said “the referral to the ICC is not inconsistent with the organization’s [Hamas’] continued resistance [against Israel] in all its forms, as it carries the goal of garnering all rights, including that of armed resistance.”

He added that the terror group which controls Gaza was confident of a victory over Israel in “legal conflict.”

Over at Haaretz, Amos Harel and Gili Cohen interviewed the Israel Defense Forces’ Military Advocate General Maj. Gen. Danny Efroni to discuss his tenure and the investigation of various incidents during Protective Edge.

“You will never hear me say, ‘The IDF is the most moral army in the world,’” declares Efroni, who refuses to adopt the mantra decreed by then-Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz during the second intifada [2000-2006] and recited ever since, as though it were holy writ, by the top levels of the government and the army. “I think that our army has good values, but some of this has to do with the fact that it investigates and examines suspected offenses in a professional way. If we don’t do that, the IDF’s values will very much be thrown into question.”

If Efroni’s investigations are considered independent and thorough by the ICC, it may refuse to consider the Palestinian Authority’s appeal. And this is important due to the sheer death and destruction wreaked upon Gaza by the IDF last year.

Even according to the mildest version of events, more than 1,000 Palestinian civilians were killed by IDF fire, among them hundreds of children. The Israeli government is hoping that the work by the military advocate general and his people will allow to it to fend off at least some of the criticism in the international arena.In right-wing parties, though, as well as, to a large extent, among IDF field commanders, there has been strong opposition to the investigation policy. Why, they ask, does the prosecutor’s unit need to examine a field commander’s judgment during a war?

The elephant in the room is the number of children murdered in their homes by IDF pilots dropping largely US-made precision bombs on them. And in case you still (somehow) believed the IDF does not have a policy of targeting homes with sleeping children inside, let’s let Efroni enlighten you.

One of the most controversial measures implemented by the IDF during the war was a systematic attack on the homes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad commanders, on the grounds that the residences were used for “command and control purposes” because the commanders turned their homes into operations rooms of a sort. Thus, scores of houses were demolished and, in a number of cases, many civilians were killed as a result of hitches in the “knock on the roof” procedure aimed at evacuating civilians from the building before bombing it.Efroni confirms that the prosecution “is examining the attack policy in Operation Protective Edge. Under the rules of international law, it is permissible to attack a target if it is a military target. A home does not become a target because of a telephone line that is used for operational communications by the enemy. But if the commander is directing the battalion’s fighting from there, and his subordinates are coming to his house to consult with him, it is a military target. We didn’t decide to bomb all the commanders’ homes. There were homes we didn’t approve for attack.”

The MAG adds that, sometimes, an attack that gains relatively high legitimacy does not conform to the rules of war. “Suppose you made sure no one was in the house and then you destroyed the commander’s home, without casualties. The international community will not protest, but from the legal point of view you must not bomb it unless military use of the home has been proven.” According to Efroni, the demolition of multistory buildings was legally approved only because it was proved that those buildings were serving as Hamas operations rooms. “We did not permit punitive actions against buildings unless there was an operational context for that,” he adds.

“Hitches in the knock on the roof procedure” is a bit disingenuous when we’re discussing a deliberate policy of targeting and destroying houses. Home demolitions are illegal collective punishment in and of themselves. Home demolitions while families are in them is murder plain and simple.The use of the term “commander” should also be questioned. The IDF has an interest in suggesting these targets were both actively engaged in military action, and senior leaders. The goal is to present the murder of hundreds of children in the course of assassinations as somehow excusable.

Yes, the killing of these children was murder. It was pre-meditated. It cannot be justified. It was carried out with malicious intent. And the entire command heirarchy of the IDF is culpable.

Not convinced? Here’s a thought experiment for you. Imagine Hamas had bombs capable of targeting IDF commanders’ homes and justified it by saying they took phone calls or met with soldiers there? Or maybe they bomb a random person’s home that an Israeli target happened to be visiting? Or a home in a kibbutz by the Gaza border that the IDF was using as a base which still had elderly residents living among the soldiers and their equipment?

No? Still think there’s something special about the children of Hamas members that excuses their murder? Well then how about if Palestinian militia had bombed the homes of Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir at Passover in 1945, killing their entire extended families? They were senior leaders of terrorist organizations that bombed markets, buses and yes, homes as well.

If you recoil at that, you should recoil at the sanitized, high-altitude, high-tech version of the same deed that the IDF employed.

Efroni has the decency to admit that the “most moral army” claim is laughable since the IDF has a calculated policy of murdering entire families. But he can’t help himself from claiming some absolution is possible because “we didn’t decide to bomb all the commanders’ homes”. They bombed just enough homes to let everyone know the IDF could at the push of a button destroy their entire family, root and branch, and had no compunction doing so.

The people of Gaza are not just “Israel’s enemies”. They are the people who were expelled 67 years ago from their land by the militias that became the IDF. They have lived under a brutal Israeli military occupation for 48 years. And in case you’re wondering how the IDF knows so much about what goes on in Gaza, yes, they operate a surveillance state which relies on blackmailing gays and those seeking medical care to turn them into informants.

Children and other civilians do not lose their protected status as civilians just because someone in their family is fighting a brutal military occupation by making calls and taking meetings from the next room.

The big question, in my mind, is whether or not the very highest echelon of the IDF gets prosecuted for this policy. Till that happens, prosecuting grunts for stealing credit cards is a fig leaf.

You might wonder how a supposedly professional army, commanded by a supposedly democratic civilian government can arrive at the point where it thinks it routine to murder entire families without batting an eyelid? To wrap our heads around that, we’ll have to look at a far smaller incident, in the West Bank.

Haaretz found time to interview a young Palestinian boy who had been arrested in the West Bank by the IDF in a particularly brutal fashion.

When will you go back to leading a regular life, we asked him this week. “God knows,” he replied indifferently.IDF soldiers sicced dogs on Hamzeh last December. Two months later, the ultranationalist former MK Michael Ben Ari posted a video clip documenting the event on his Facebook page, writing, “The soldiers taught the little terrorist a lesson.” His purpose in posting the clip, he explained, was to ensure “that every dinky terrorist who plans to harm our soldiers will learn that there’s a price [to be paid].”

Soldiers from the Oketz canine unit were seen in the clip taunting the petrified boy as one of their dogs sank its teeth into him and held him in a vice-like grip. “Who’s a chicken, who’s a chicken, you son of a bitch,” they yelled at the teen, urging the dogs on.

The video generated a furor. The IDF, admitting that what had happened was a “serious incident,” suspended the use of dogs to neutralize stone-throwing children, at least temporarily. But no one thought to free the victim of the attack after what he’d gone through. Hamzeh remained in prison. His parents were not allowed to visit him even once. Their only contact with him was in the form of hurried encounters from a distance in the courtroom, once when the boy was brought to have his remand extended, and then at his trial on a charge of throwing stones at soldiers.

Hamzeh is 16 years old.When Israeli politicians call children “little terrorists” the process of de-humanizing them is well underway. It is difficult to order someone to murder a sleeping child. But ordering a pilot to drop a bomb on the home of a sleeping “little terrorist” is somewhat easier.

Hamzeh is still alive, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be treated like a child by the IDF “military justice” system.

The medical personnel wanted to let him at least speak to his parents by phone, he says now, but the soldiers refused to allow him even one call. For his parents to visit him in the hospital was out of the question, of course. Security considerations.
[…]
After Hamzeh was discharged from hospital, the “dinky terrorist” was interrogated by the Shin Bet. He was asked about other stone throwers, and about his brothers and his family.It’s hard to get more details from him. He explains that he was required to sign a confession stating that he threw stones that hit soldiers. But this week back at home, he said he didn’t throw any.

Be that as it may, it was only three weeks after he was wounded and arrested that his parents were allowed to visit him.

Their home has had its share of arrests. In 2012, the father and three of his sons were detained by the Israeli forces. This was Hamzeh’s third fourth jail sentence for throwing stones – the previous ones were shorter. In court, he had a momentary meeting with his brother Mohammed, who, a few weeks earlier, had been sentenced to 14 months in prison.

Another brother, Yusuf, now enters the living room; he was released from prison five months ago.

Let’s call this policy of arresting children by the dozens and hundreds and locking them up away from their families, what it is. Kidnapping by a well armed, well oiled tyranny.And let’s be absolutely clear. The Israeli occupation of the West Bank is illegal, though sometimes Israel’s legal system can’t decide whether or not there is, in fact, any such thing as an occupation. The people paying the heaviest price for this occupation are Palestinian children who find themselves, their society and their families persecuted and brutalized. Followed by the not-much-older than children Israel slaps uniforms on and sends them to enforce with brutality.

And if you didn’t think it could get any worse, here’s the American view (doubtless informed by our own drone program’s complicity).

Last November, some two months after the war in the Gaza Strip ended, U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey surprised a few people. Speaking at a conference in New York, he said Israel went to “extraordinary lengths” to prevent injury to innocent people in Gaza. “The Israel Defense Forces is not interested in creating civilian casualties. They’re interested in stopping the shooting of rockets and missiles out of the Gaza Strip and into Israel,” he added.

Sure, and we weren’t “interested in creating civilian casualties” when dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.The Israel Defense Forces is not interested in creating civilian casualties. They’re indifferent to them. That’s because they’re the wrong kind of dead civilian. The Palestinian kind. The “little terrorist” kind.

Haaretz also asked some pointed questions about previous investigations which are widely judged to have been toothless by human rights organizations.

About six months ago, two human-rights organizations, B’Tselem and Yesh Din – Volunteers for Human Rights, claimed that the investigation system in the IDF is a failure and that Israel “is not interested and not capable of investigating violations of Palestinians’ human rights by the security forces.” B’Tselem, which the military prosecution often turned to for help in reaching Palestinian witnesses and evidence, is refusing to help, on the grounds that the investigations aren’t arriving at the truth. Thus, for example, B’Tselem staff have reported that, out of 52 Military Police probes opened after Operation Cast Lead, only three culminated in the filing of indictments – and the severest punishment was for a soldier who stole a credit card.Ben Eliezer rejects these claims outright, saying he doesn’t accept “populist claims and the use of statistics. It’s not relevant to show the number of indictments that were filed or the people who were tried. In the end, it’s a detailed examination of the evidentiary material and a concrete decision. Statistics are meaningless in this matter. It’s demagoguery,” he says.

He does, however, agree with one claim by the human-rights organizations. The IDF investigatory system, says Ben Eliezer, should work faster. The prolonging of probes has often meant that soldiers who were key suspects in cases of Palestinian deaths were demobilized, and after half a year were outside the jurisdiction of military law, which can cause the case to take even longer. “In the end, because of the complexity, things take time,” he explains.

Since the war, the examining committee – initially headed by Maj. Gen. Tibon and, following his retirement from the IDF, now by Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Eitan – has looked into some 120 incidents in which suspicions arose of transgression of military law. Of them, 65 incidents were forwarded for examination by the military prosecution, which has opened investigations into six of them and, in the meantime, closed 17 additional cases without launching criminal probes. At the prosecution’s initiative, another 13 investigations that did not go through the General Staff committee are also underway. These investigations deal, inter alia, with complaints of looting, torturing of detainees, and harm to a civilian woman who was carrying a white flag.
[…]
In the same breath, he adds, “The explanation I sometimes hear, to the effect that everything we do is aimed only at protecting the soldiers from the court in The Hague, is a miserable statement. A Military Police probe is not an insurance policy for the IDF. If the probe is a whitewash and not a true investigation, nothing will stop the ICC.”

Tony Judt knew the two-state plan was dead. In 2003.

As I caught up on the news reports and pundit pronouncements on Israel’s election this week, I realized there was one voice I was missing. True, there was very little coverage of the views of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. They have a lot at stake in this election, but we don’t really hear a lot from them. But it was Tony Judt I was missing. So I went back and read some of his older articles. They are so perceptive and spot on, that they deserve to be shared here.

From The NY Review of Books (October 2003) Israel: The Alternative

The Middle East peace process is finished. It did not die: it was killed. Mahmoud Abbas was undermined by the President of the Palestinian Authority and humiliated by the Prime Minister of Israel. His successor awaits a similar fate. Israel continues to mock its American patron, building illegal settlements in cynical disregard of the “road map.” The President of the United States of America has been reduced to a ventriloquist’s dummy, pitifully reciting the Israeli cabinet line: “It’s all Arafat’s fault.” Israelis themselves grimly await the next bomber. Palestinian Arabs, corralled into shrinking Bantustans, subsist on EU handouts. On the corpse-strewn landscape of the Fertile Crescent, Ariel Sharon, Yasser Arafat, and a handful of terrorists can all claim victory, and they do. Have we reached the end of the road? What is to be done?

The situation of Israel is not desperate, but it may be close to hopeless. Suicide bombers will never bring down the Israeli state, and the Palestinians have no other weapons. There are indeed Arab radicals who will not rest until every Jew is pushed into the Mediterranean, but they represent no strategic threat to Israel, and the Israeli military knows it. What sensible Israelis fear much more than Hamas or the al-Aqsa Brigade is the steady emergence of an Arab majority in “Greater Israel,” and above all the erosion of the political culture and civic morale of their society. As the prominent Labor politician Avraham Burg recently wrote, “After two thousand years of struggle for survival, the reality of Israel is a colonial state, run by a corrupt clique which scorns and mocks law and civic morality.” Unless something changes, Israel in half a decade will be neither Jewish nor democratic.

Israeli liberals and moderate Palestinians have for two decades been thanklessly insisting that the only hope was for Israel to dismantle nearly all the settlements and return to the 1967 borders, in exchange for real Arab recognition of those frontiers and a stable, terrorist-free Palestinian state underwritten (and constrained) by Western and international agencies. This is still the conventional consensus, and it was once a just and possible solution.But I suspect that we are already too late for that. There are too many settlements, too many Jewish settlers, and too many Palestinians, and they all live together, albeit separated by barbed wire and pass laws. Whatever the “road map” says, the real map is the one on the ground, and that, as Israelis say, reflects facts. It may be that over a quarter of a million heavily armed and subsidized Jewish settlers would leave Arab Palestine voluntarily; but no one I know believes it will happen

For many years, Israel had a special meaning for the Jewish people. After 1948 it took in hundreds of thousands of helpless survivors who had nowhere else to go; without Israel their condition would have been desperate in the extreme. Israel needed Jews, and Jews needed Israel. The circumstances of its birth have thus bound Israel’s identity inextricably to the Shoah, the German project to exterminate the Jews of Europe.

A binational state in the Middle East would require a brave and relentlessly engaged American leadership. The security of Jews and Arabs alike would need to be guaranteed by international force—though a legitimately constituted binational state would find it much easier policing militants of all kinds inside its borders than when they are free to infiltrate them from outside and can appeal to an angry, excluded constituency on both sides of the border.5 A binational state in the Middle East would require the emergence, among Jews and Arabs alike, of a new political class. The very idea is an unpromising mix of realism and utopia, hardly an auspicious place to begin. But the alternatives are far, far worse.

The Jerusalem Post while reporting his death took the opportunity to respond to the essay: So Farewell Then Tony Judt. Since Tablet seems to be the “new media” go to site for apologists of the occupation, here’s their take: Tony Judt is Aging Poorly. Both make the point that the Middle East is littered with ethno-centric states, so Israel shouldn’t be singled out for fitting into the neighborhood. That really isn’t a critique of Tony Judt (because he said the same thing. Rather it confirms his critics do not place the same value on universal human rights that he did (i.e. their view is unshakably tribal). *From a July 2010 interview in The Atlantic Tony Judt’s Final Word on Israel

But what happens in small West Bank towns, in the Israeli Parliament, in Gazan schools or in Lebanese farms is invisible to the world. And Israel was always very good at presenting the argument from “self-defense” even when it was absurd. I think that Israel’s successful defiance of international law for so long has made Jerusalem blind and deaf to the seriousness with which the rest of the world takes the matter.

There is a partner. It may not be very nice and it may not be very easy. It’s called Hamas. In the same way the provisional [Irish Republican Army] was the only realistic “partner for peace” with whom London could negotiate; Nelson Mandela (a “terrorist” for the Afrikaaners until his release) was the only realistic “partner for peace”; the same was true of “that terrorist” ([according to Winston] Churchill) Gandhi; the well-known “murderous terrorist” Jomo Kenyatta with whom London fought a murderous war for five years before he became “a great statesman”; not to mention Algeria. The irony is that Washington knows this perfectly well and expects negotiations with Hamas within five years. After all, Israel virtually invented Hamas in the hope of undermining the PLO; well, they succeeded. But they are the only ones who can’t see what has to happen.

In such a state, Jews would soon be a minority. Doesn’t that frighten you?Not as much as it seems to frighten others. Why is it ok for a Jewish minority to dominate an Arab majority, its leaders to call for expulsions of majority members, etc., but not ok for a democracy to have a majority and minority both protected under law? At least Israel could then call itself a democracy with a clear conscience.

What you are really asking is whether I think the Palestinians would immediately set out to rape, pillage and murder the Jews? I don’t see why they would want to — there is no historical record suggesting that this is what Palestinians do for fun, whereas we have all too much evidence that Israelis persecute Palestinians for no good reason. If I were an Arab, I would be more afraid of living in a state with Jews just now.

Can you see or understand why Israelis are afraid?

Yes, but only in the sense that someone who has been brought up to fear and hate his neighbors will have good reason to be frightened at the thought of living in the same house with them. Israelis have created a generation of young Palestinians who hate them and will never forgive them and that does make a real problem for any future agreement, single- or two-state.

But Israel should be much, much more afraid of the Israel it’s creating for itself: a semi-democratic, demagogic, far-right warrior state dominated by racist Russians and crazed rabbis. In this perspective, an internationally policed and guaranteed federal state of Israel, with the same rights and resources for Jews and Arabs, looks a lot less frightening to me.

From the NY Times Op-Ed (June 2010) Israel Without Cliches

“Democracy” is no guarantee of good behavior: most countries today are formally democratic — remember Eastern Europe’s “popular democracies.” Israel belies the comfortable American cliché that “democracies don’t make war.” It is a democracy dominated and often governed by former professional soldiers: this alone distinguishes it from other advanced countries. And we should not forget that Gaza is another “democracy” in the Middle East: it was precisely because Hamas won free elections there in 2005 that both the Palestinian Authority and Israel reacted with such vehemence.

But there is. As American officials privately acknowledge, sooner or later Israel (or someone) will have to talk to Hamas. From French Algeria through South Africa to the Provisional I.R.A., the story repeats itself: the dominant power denies the legitimacy of the “terrorists,” thereby strengthening their hand; then it secretly negotiates with them; finally, it concedes power, independence or a place at the table. Israel will negotiate with Hamas: the only question is why not now.

But since 1967 it has been Israel that has missed most opportunities: a 40-year occupation (against the advice of its own elder statesmen); three catastrophic invasions of Lebanon; an invasion and blockade of Gaza in the teeth of world opinion; and now a botched attack on civilians in international waters. Palestinians would be hard put to match such cumulative blunders.

For anyone interested in Europe, Judt’s book Postwar is at once thrilling, enlightening and beautiful. Essential reading, if you have anything to do with Europe. If you’re on the left, he was one of the most articulate voices for measured social democracy and a very nuanced view of the welfare state. There is a nice remembrance in the Times’ review of his essay collection (published posthumously): When the Facts ChangeGrab bag of links:

– NY Times Obituary (2010): http://www.nytimes.com/…
– FT Op-Ed – Israel must unpick its ethnic myth (2009): http://www.ft.com/…
– Lunch with the FT (2007): http://www.ft.com/…
– FT’s Review of When the Facts Change (2015): http://www.ft.com/…
– Dialog with his son about Obama’s election (2010): http://www.nytimes.com/…
– Andrew Sullivan remembers Tony Judt (2014): http://dish.andrewsullivan.com/…

I regret not having taken one of his classes while I had a chance.

* In any case, the Kurds and Azeris are in a similar sort of position as the Palestinians in certain countries.

Though he would be loathe to say it, in a very real sense Tony Judt belonged to the trans-national tribe of professionals he once called clerks who inhabit international airports. Their paper of choice is the Financial Times.

The FT’s take on the Israeli election is captured in Bibi’s triumph and the challenge for Obama

Mr Netanyahu now appears to have rejected negotiations. In those circumstances, and without a halt to Israel’s settlement policy on the West Bank, the US cannot credibly maintain its veto on Palestinian statehood. Washington should reconsider its position if and when the Palestinians resume their bid at the UN.

Israel’s tribal impasse behind Netanyahu’s dramatic victory

So the first piece of clarity to emerge from this result is for Palestinian citizens living in Israel proper: the message is one of continued marginalisation. It was brought home powerfully by Mr Netanyahu himself, warning in an election-day video that droves of Arabs were descending on the polls and had to be counterbalanced. Remember, this is a prime minister talking about his own citizens exercising their most basic democratic right. Just imagine if such a comment were made by a European leader about Jewish or black voters.

And finally, their perceptive analysis of the maneuvering that has commenced to form a coalition: Kahlon holds key to Netanyahu coalition

What we’ve learned about the Israeli electorate from the election.

I’m going to focus only on the question of Israel’s policy towards Palestinians and the Occupied Territories. I’m going to ignore economic issues since frankly they have limited interest to most who don’t live in Israel. This is myopic and I’m the first to admit it.

First off, things really didn’t change much. Israel is split pretty much down the center between Left-ish parties and Right-ish parties.

Likud won 25% of the vote which was more than they did last time, the broader right won around 50% which was about the same. For the most part, the broader right shares Netanyahu/Likud’s vision of a greater Israel and settlement expansion in the West Bank. In general these parties believe the two-state peace process is a useful distraction, to be indulged when there’s something to be gained, or a loss to be prevented. The news (if you can call it that) is that Bibi said it out loud into a microphone.

The fact is that Israelis look across their borders and see a terrifying civil war in Syria, and a vicious guerrilla war in Iraq. Netanyahu stoked fears that any devolution of powers to a Palestinian state would bring this state of affairs to the West Bank. I would argue Palestinian society is not really fertile ground for ISIS and their ilk, in the same way Lebanon and Turkey are not (essentially they’re all Mediterranean cultures). Nevertheless, this is a reasonable concern that reasonable people may have. [* See Below]

Whether or not such concerns can retro-actively legitimize a permanent occupation and arrogation of the rights of Palestinians was not a subject of discussion in this election. There was no event that made the Israeli electorate at large sit up and notice the banal injustice of the occupation and how the country has arrived at this juncture. With the exception of the usual suspects on the far left, Arab Jews/Christians and subscribers to Haaretz (who really are suspects or worse in the eyes of many).

Here’s the silver lining. Despite the concern of wider Middle-East unrest arriving to the West Bank of the Jordan, roughly 50% of the population voted for parties that continued to tacitly support a devolution of power to Palestinians and a negotiated withdrawal from the Occupied Territories. This half of the country (including the fifth of citizens who are of Palestinian Muslim and Christian descent) voted for engagement, despite the risks. They did not rush into Bibi’s arms despite his fear-mongering about barbarians at the gates (Hamastan in the West Bank) and enemies within (Arabs voting in droves).

The 2014 war in Gaza and its impact on Palestinians was largely ignored. There was no real discussion of the propriety of Israeli action (including home bombings, indiscriminate shelling and the targeting of designated safe zones) except obliquely from the Joint List and the far, far left. This should not come as a surprise to anyone given the narrative focus on Hamas rockets and “terror tunnels” last summer. Netanyahu’s framing of the war as “Israel’s right to defend itself” is largely unassailable in the public sphere.

* To provide some context. We (as in the USA) are still waging a War by Drone all across the world with many civilian casualties and mum’s the word state-side. If there were rockets (however ineffectual) launched from New Jersey landing on the Upper West Side, I suspect many of my neighbors would be all for pummeling the Garden State into dust. If New Jersey were a Native American reservation (or had the racial makeup of Ferguson), I shudder to think what options might be on the table. All that said, we’ve overcome most of our worst injustices from the past. It took a Civil War and many faltering steps, but the US no longer has that kind of relationship with its indigenous population or minorities. Then again, if FARC were in Pennsylvania (our hemisphere’s rough equivalent), with a risk it might spill over to NYC, I think my liberal bastion of a city might even bring Giuliani back.

A round-up of the punditry I found interesting below:

In Netanyahu won, but Israel was brought to its knees, Ari Shavit writes:

But the tribe known as the “white tribe” is the most primitive political tribe that exists in Israel. Time after time it blindly follows false messiahs and makes incomprehensible mistakes. This happened yet again on Tuesday. The decision of hundreds of thousands of people to vote for Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid split the moderate bloc and gave the government yet again to Likud, to the right, and to Gush Emunim. Just as in 2013 Yair Lapid brought Naftali Bennett to power, this time, Lapid gave the power back to Benjamin Netanyahu.

In Netanyahu deserves the Israeli people, and they deserve him, Gideon Levy writes:

On Tuesday the foundations were laid for the apartheid state that is to come. If Netanyahu succeeds in forming the next government in his spirit and image, then the two-state solution will finally be buried and the struggle over the character of a binational state will begin. If Netanyahu is the next prime minister, then Israel has not only divorced the peace process, but also the world. Piss off, dear world, we’re on our own. Please don’t interfere, we’re asleep, the people are with Netanyahu. The Palestinians can warm the benches at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, the Israel boycotters can swing into high gear and Gaza can wait for the next cruel attack by the Israeli army.

In The Guardian: Netanyahu’s victory is clear break with US-led peace process

Ahead of Tuesday’s election, some Palestinian officials close to Abbas had intimated that a Netanyahu victory – not least in terms of his outright rejection of a two-state solution and his vow to continue settlement construction – would mark a clear break in a US-led peace process that has been on ice since it collapsed almost a year ago.Indeed a common sentiment among Palestinians in recent days is that the election campaign forced Netanyahu to reveal his opposition to a two-state solution.

“The Israeli elections forced Netanyahu to reveal his real position,” said prominent Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab, reflecting the views of many.

In The Jerusalem Post: White House knocks ‘divisive rhetoric’ against Israeli Arabs in election:

The White House said on Wednesday that it was deeply concerned by the use of “divisive rhetoric” in the Israeli election that sought to undermine Arab Israeli citizens.Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested on election day that Left-wingers were trying to get Arab Israeli voters out “in droves” to sway the election against him.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters traveling on Air Force One that the United States would communicate its concern about the issue directly to the Israelis.

Earnest also told reporters on Air Force One that the administration will evaluate its approach on the Middle East peace process following Netanyahu’s recent statement that there would be no Palestinian state under his watch.

And the Jerusalem Post has noted the American press’s reaction to Netanyahu’s pre-election comments.Or if you prefer, the Guardian is carrying the same story: Obama snubs Netanyahu and criticises Israeli PM’s ‘divisive rhetoric’

Not sure whether it’s just the first stage of grief, but Peter Beinart seems to have changed his stance and writes With Netanyahu’s reelection, the peace process is over and the pressure process must begin

My entire adult life, American Jewish leaders have been telling Americans that Israel can save itself. Just wait until Israel gains a respite from terror, they said; then its silent, two-state majority will roar. Give Israelis constant reassurance; never pressure them. If they know “the United States is right next to them,” Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations promised Barack Obama in 2009, Israeli leaders will “take risks” for peace.Israel has been disproving that theory throughout the Netanyahu era. Now, with this election, Israel has killed it.

This campaign, in other words, offered an excellent test of the theory that the American Jewish establishment has peddled for decades. And look what happened. In the absence of Palestinian violence and American pressure, Jewish Israelis at first pretended the Palestinians did not exist. “As Israeli election nears, peace earns barely a mention,” noted Reuters. During a 90-minute debate in late February, eight candidates, together, mentioned the word “peace” only five times. And three of those mentions came from the Arab candidate.

“Power,” said the great American abolitionist Frederick Douglass, “concedes nothing without a demand.” For almost half a century, Israel has wielded brutal, undemocratic, unjust power over millions of human beings in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. And as this election makes clear, Israel will concede nothing on its own. This isn’t because Jewish Israelis are different than anyone else. It’s because they are the same.

B’Tselem reports on Israeli precision bombs that destroyed 70 homes in Gaza, killing entire families

B’Tselem (The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories) issued a report today titled Black Flag: The legal and moral implications of the policy of attacking residential buildings in the Gaza Strip, summer 2014. It leads with the following two quotes:

I lost my whole family, and my home. I have nothing left. No photos, not the things my family and I used. I lost everything. I have nothing left. I lost everything in seconds. I lost everything.
Muhammad Nader ‘Ata al‐Agha, 19, student, resident of Ma’an/Khan Yunis.No other country and no other army in history have gone to greater lengths to avoid casualties among the civilian population of their enemies
Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel

The report examines the IDF policy of precision bombing homes to assassinate specific individuals which almost inevitably kills families residing there.

In one of the many such “precision bombing” incidents, 24 members of the Abu Jame’ family were killed. Sixteen children under the age of 10 were among the dead. The target was an unrelated member of Hamas visiting the family over the Ramadan holidays.

In another case, Henk Zanoli returned a ‘Righteous among the Nations medal’ he had received for his family’s action in sheltering Jewish refugees when six members of his extended family were killed (including a 12-year old boy and a 70-year old woman).  The target was a person visiting them that day who the IDF claims was in Hamas’s military wing.

Here’s how B’Tselem describes these policies (emphasis mine):

On the first day of the fighting, the military attacked the Kaware’ family home. The house collapsed. Nine people, including five children aged 7 to 14, were killed. This was just the first of dozens of air, sea and ground strikes, which would become one of the appalling hallmarks of the fighting in Gaza this summer: bombings in which hundreds of people were killed – constituting more than a quarter of all of the Palestinians killed in the fighting. Time and again Palestinian families suffered much grievous loss of life. In a single instant, so many families were ruined, with the wreckage of their lives mirroring the devastation of their homes.These attacks were not carried out on the whim of individual soldiers, pilots or commanders in the field. They are the result of a policy formulated by government officials and the senior military command. These officials backed the policy of attacking homes, reiterating the argument that the attacks conform to international humanitarian law (IHL) and eschewing any responsibility for harm to civilians.

For the purpose of this report B’Tselem investigated 70 incidents in each of which at least three people were killed while inside their home. A total of 606 Palestinians were killed in such incidents, the vast majority of whom took no part in the fighting: more than 70% were either under 18, over 60 or women. An examination of these cases indicates that, at least in some cases, the military’s actions ran contrary to IHL provisions and, in other cases, there is grave concern that they did so. B’Tselem’s research indicated three main reasons that led to the death of so many civilians:

A. Broad definition of what constitutes a “military objective” that may be targeted […]

B. Flexible interpretation of the concept of lawful “collateral damage” […]

C. Warning absent or ineffective […]

Killing entire families to assassinate a single person was very controversial when first employed in 2002, but this policy is no longer controversial in the IDF command structure and is no longer broadly debated in Israel (much like our own country’s use of drones). The report is well worth a read since it evaluates all the various justifications presented by the Israeli government. It also presumably lays the ground-work for a claim that this policy constitutes a war crime. Though the IDF has launched investigations of specific incidents, the policy itself is in question here. As B’Tselem notes, home demolitions are themselves considered illegal under international law.

Officials eschewed responsibility for the immense harm to civilians, placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of Hamas. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that Israel’s “security forces are doing everything in their power to avoid harming civilians and if innocents are hurt, it is because Hamas deliberately hides behind Palestinian civilians”.This argument is unacceptable. True, Hamas and other organizations operating in the Gaza Strip do not abide by IHL, nor do they purport to do so. As B’Tselem stated both during and after the fighting, Hamas has breached these provisions, and particularly its duty to distinguish between civilian objects and military targets. Not only did Hamas fire at Israeli civilians and civilian targets, it did so from within the civilian population. Hamas operatives fired from sites located near civilian dwellings, concealed weapons and munitions inside them and dug tunnels under them.

Given this reality, the issue at hand is what conclusions policymakers may draw from it. The prime minister’s statements indicate he believes that Hamas and the military share the responsibility to take precautions. Yet this interpretation is designed to block, a priori, any allegations that Israel breached IHL provisions. Accepting it would mean that there are no restrictions whatsoever on Israeli action and that whatever method it chooses to respond to Hamas operations is legitimate, no matter how horrifying the consequences. This interpretation is unreasonable, unlawful, and renders meaningless the principle that IHL violations committed by one party do not release the other party from its obligations toward the civilian population and civilian objects.

It concludes:

Fighting Hamas is, in fact, extremely challenging: How can military targets be distinguished from civilian objects in these circumstances? How is it possible to avoid harming civilians who are not taking part in the fighting, when Hamas operatives fire at Israel from within populated areas? B’Tselem does not purport to offer the Israeli government or the military any operative plans for conducting armed conflict in Gaza: that is not the role of a human rights organization. The government is responsible for responding to these challenges in ways that maintain humanity and uphold the law.It is clear that the policy described in this report is not a legitimate response to this challenge. Even if political and military leaders thought this policy would bring an end to attacks on Israeli communities, they should not have implemented it because of its foreseeable, horrifying consequences as well as because of the black flag of illegality flying over it.

As a thought experiment, you could reverse the analysis and start with “Fighting a far more powerful military force, such as the IDF, is in fact, extremely challenging…”

Meanwhile, in other news from I/P:

Tariq Abu Khdeir, a 15 year-old American teen was severely beaten by Israeli police in July, the officers claimed he “resisted arrest”. Tariq’s cousin, 16 year-old  Muhammad Abu Khdeir was kidnapped and burned alive by Jewish extremists, likely as vengeance for the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli students in the West Bank by members of Hamas.

Tariq has now been cleared of all wrongdoing. One of the police officers was criminally charged over the beating and an investigation found evidence “supporting the guilt of the police officer suspected of severe violent crimes”.

I wonder what would have happened if Tariq did not have US citizenship and the American consulate watching over him, or the beating had not been caught on camera?

We don’t have to subsist in ignorance, B’Tselem does a pretty good job documenting beatings and abuse meted out by Israeli forces policing the occupation, and Breaking the Silence has been documenting the occupation from the soldier’s point of view for years.

Israel plans to build West Bank settlements to house Jewish immigrants from France

Israel’s Construction Minister Uri Ariel is proposing expanding West Bank settlements to house Jewish immigrants from France (Times of Israel). There is some opposition and the proposal is scheduled to be reviewed next week (JPost), which quotes Ariel:

“Israel is the home of world Jewry. At this time when anti-Semitism is once more breaking out, we must act to allow for the smooth absorption of new immigrants,” Ariel said.“There is no doubt that the Jews of France, who already deeply identify with the Zionist settlement enterprise in the West Bank, will want to settle one of the Judea and Samaria communities once they arrive in Israel,” Ariel said.

In the background, there is a lot of discussion over the calls from French Jews to immigrate to Israel:Haaretz: Why Israeli call for French Aaliyah is so Offensive
NY Times: Do France’s Jews have a Future?

To quote the Op-Ed in Haaretz:

The old anti-Semitism that led up to the destruction of a third of all global Jewry was based on the rejection of the concept of the European Jew. Jews were never accepted as equal citizens, be they German Jews, Austrian Jews, Polish Jews or French Jews. When the fascists rose to power, they picked on the eternal otherness of the Jew to demonstrate that these were a people apart, different and despised. The alienation and dehumanization of the Jew was a direct rejection of the Jewish place in the nation state….

Unlike the anti-Semitism of old, the solution is not an abandonment of one’s home. The state is not rejecting Jews; in fact, it is trying to protect them, at least in the case of France. The fact that thousands of police are deployed to protect Jewish schools doesn’t detract from the terrifying reality in the aftermath of the attacks. There are deep systemic problems that need both physical and educational solutions if multiculturalism and pluralism are to win out. But we should not kid ourselves that the violence against Jews today is the same as it was in the 1930s.

This new reality explains why Israeli politicians’ call for French aliyah is so hurtful to France and its Jews. The correct response to the attacks came from President Reuven Rivlin, who should have been the dignitary representing Israel at the Paris unity march instead of politicians jockeying for votes. Rivlin stated that aliyah should be “born out of a positive Jewish identity, out of Zionism, and not because of anti-Semitism.”

For a bit of historical perspective, there’s a piece from March 9, 1960 in the NY Times: American Settlers in Israel Balk at inviting more from the US

The draft resolution that caused the protest called upon “American and Canadian Jews to come and settle in Israel and join the ranks of those who preceded them in building up the country.”Such resolutions are normally adopted automatically in Israel.

“How can we invite people?” exclaimed Arthur Ross, a textile merchant formerly of Brooklyn. “We have no jobs or houses to offer them!”

Ariel Markus, formerly of New York commented that immigrants might suffer a little, “but it won’t hurt them.”

and on October 24, 1949 in the NY Times again: Israel, Charging Iraqi Persecutions, Urges U. S. and Britain to Intervene

Israel has made urgent appeals to the United States and Britain for their immediate intervention against “persecution” of Jews in Iraq, it was announced here tonight. The Government said that anti-Jewish acts in Iraq were “liable to rekindle the flames of conflict in the Middle East.”…

Reports of a pogrom in Iraq, which the Israeli Government said it has confirmed, coincide with a reported offer by Iraq to exchange 100,000 Iraqi Jews for a similar number of Palestinian refugees.

most of the rest of the article discusses the arrest of Iraqi Jews on unknown charges and their detention in “Abu Grib” prison (the more things change, the more they stay the same). Both are worth a read if you have access to the Times archives.Meanwhile, there’s another debate brewing about Defending France and Free Speech (Bloomberg piece on prosecutions of “support for terrorism”:

In schools last week, there were about 100 incidents where (mostly Muslim) students refused to take part in a minute of silence to honor the magazine’s dead. Forty of these cases were referred to the police for potential prosecution, according to Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, because the words spoken amounted to “glorifying terrorism.”

The NY Times writes in French Rein in Speech Backing Acts of Terror.:

But French law does prohibit speech that might invoke or support violence….

The accused did not have to threaten actual violence to run afoul of the law. According to Mr. Cabut, who brought the case in Bourgoin-Jalieu, the man shouted, “They killed Charlie and I had a good laugh. In the past they killed Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Mohammed Merah and many brothers. If I didn’t have a father or mother, I would train in Syria.”

If you’re going to prosecute “speech that might invoke or support violence”, every person carrying a “support our troops” bumper-sticker is liable for prosecution, as is anyone supporting the police shooting suspects. And what do you do about a six-year old threatening to beat another six-year old up in the playground? Perhaps statements supporting violence by the state are “protected speech”?This is why regulating speech is fraught with so many issues and the rushed prosecutions in France are likely a mistake.

A few other tangents below the fold:

Ilene Prusher wrote a very nuanced piece in Haaretz: Why did Hamas condemn the Charlie Hebdo attacks?

To date, Hamas has so far limited itself to national aspirations only. It may think global, but it acts local. It hasn’t carried out known acts of terrorism beyond Israel, and has not participated, at least from any discernable account, in the global jihadist ideology that calls for the reestablishment of the caliphate.In fact, Palestinians who find themselves unsatisfied with Hamas’ “limited” nationalist goals have sometimes left the movement for Islamic groups with a more global focus, such as Hizb Ut-Tahrir, founded by a Palestinian from a village near Haifa. And, of course, some Palestinians and even Israeli-Arabs have joined radical jihadist groups with an even more violent outlook, including the Islamic State and al Qaeda in Iraq.

“Hamas condemns the desperate attempts of Prime Minister Netanyahu to link our movement on the one side, and terrorism throughout the world on the other side… These miserable attempts are doomed to fail,” Hamas said in a statement. In the Hamas release, provided in French to Agence-France Press, the group said that it “condemns the attack against Charlie Hebdo magazine and insists on the fact that differences of opinion and thought cannot justify murder.”

Hamas has been lobbying for more international legitimacy as a way to get funds to the Gaza Strip, and is worried about the slow progress on this front. There have been reports surfacing in the past week that Hamas leader Khaled Mashal was asked to leave Qatar and is seeking a new base. Hamas denies those reports. But it is clear that Qatar, once seen as a moderate country, was beginning to take on the taint of an extremist Gulf outpost because of its backing of Hamas, and seems keen to back down from that image. All of this adds up to a Hamas in which political expediency is much more attractive just now than jihadist ideology in Europe.

I’m wondering whether the columnist’s analysis above would count as “supporting terrorism” under the French law?At the always perceptive 972mag: U.S. Consulate desegregates security staff, Israeli guards quit in protest

A number of Israeli guards working for the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem quit in protest of a decision to arm and train Palestinian guards employed by the Consulate recently, according to Ynet.Unnamed “sources,” presumably the disgruntled Israeli guards themselves, accused the Consulate’s chief security officer of “raising an armed militia of Palestinians,” according to the report.

Israel demands that armed non-American guards be IDF combat veterans, according to the report.

The American consulate, like a host of other countries’ consulates in Jerusalem, primarily serves the Palestinian territories and its officials regularly travel to Palestinian areas in the West Bank.

perhaps this has something to do with this incident: Israeli settlers stone two cars belonging to US consulate staffLastly, Yassi Sarid in Haaretz asks: Israel, Do you remember what you did last summer?. He’s wondering why all discussion of the destruction wreaked on Gaza has disappeared from the public sphere in Israel.

Weekend read: Excerpts from UK House of Commons debate on Palestinian statehood

The House of Commons debate on recognizing Palestinian statehood is striking in both quality and content. I would recommend reading it in full. Perhaps we should send some members of our House of representatives across the pond to see how it’s done.

Most of the US coverage centered on Sir Richard Ottaway’s speech, he’s the one who said:

Throughout all this, I have stood by Israel through thick and thin, through the good years and the bad. I have sat down with Ministers and senior Israeli politicians and urged peaceful negotiations and a proportionate response to prevarication, and I thought that they were listening. But I realise now, in truth, looking back over the past 20 years, that Israel has been slowly drifting away from world public opinion. The annexation of the 950 acres of the west bank just a few months ago has outraged me more than anything else in my political life, mainly because it makes me look a fool, and that is something that I resent….

I would oppose the motion tonight; but such is my anger over Israel’s behaviour in recent months that I will not oppose the motion. I have to say to the Government of Israel that if they are losing people like me, they will be losing a lot of people.

But there were so many other excellent comments that I wanted to collect them here. Some excerpts follow (all emphasis is mine).The question before the house was whether the Government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel, as a contribution to securing a negotiated two state solution.

There was a lot of discussion about the impact such a resolution would have, and whether it would further a just peace.  Most of the contributions were from Labor MPs and their supporters (including the Welsh/Scottish Independence parties). Almost all Conservative MPs abstained from the vote and few of their back-benchers spoke.

Continue reading “Weekend read: Excerpts from UK House of Commons debate on Palestinian statehood”

The Two-State Solution is a Zombie

As the most cursory political conversation with an Israeli or Palestinian will make clear, past is present in their minds. The “pre-1967 lines”  which conventional wisdom states are the basis for any two state solution in fact gloss over more deep rooted issues. For many Palestinians, including those living outside Israel-Palestine, it is about 1948 and the Nakba. For many Israelis it is about the Shoah and creating a “Jewish refuge”. For a few Israeli Jews it is about 586 BC. There will be no lasting peace in Israel-Palestine that does not account for these sentiments.

That is why Palestinians have always insisted on a “right of return” for their ’48 refugees. This is why Israel has a “Jewish right of return” and the Israeli right has never lost an opportunity to expand settlements in the West Bank or Jerusalem.

This is why the parties winning majorities among the Israeli and Palestinian populations clearly say their goal is to control all the territory of Israel/Palestine. We know this is Hamas’s position (i.e. the “destruction of Israel/Zionist-entity”), but Likud has held this position from the day it was created.  Here’s the relevant excerpt of Likud’s 1977 platform (which brought them into power for the first time):

The right of the Jewish people to the land of Israel is eternal and indisputable and is linked with the right to security and peace; therefore, Judea and Samaria will not be handed to any foreign administration; between the Sea and the Jordan there will only be Israeli sovereignty.

This was 10 years before there was such a thing as Hamas or a “Hamas charter”. The platform then goes on to discuss the paramount importance of building settlements in the West Bank.

Successive Likud governments have continued to appropriate land for settlements and act consistently with this position. The 1,000 acre appropriation last week was consistent with their commitment to use every opportunity to appropriate land in the West Bank. Begin, Shamir, Sharon and now Netanyahu run for elections on a platform of sovereignty between the Jordan and the sea. No Likud leader has told them painful concessions of territory will need to be made. The two-state solution that would be acceptable to the party and its base is a middle-eastern version of San Marino, with Gaza as Monaco perhaps.

Not only is the two-state solution impractical, it is fatally flawed as well. It will leave the right-wing in both Palestine and Israel chafing at territorial concessions neither is willing to accept. This is why there’s been no agreemtn over 40 years of negotiations and no peace will hold between two states.

The “two-state solution” also suffers from a deeper and more insidious flaw. It is unjust to the people of Israel and Palestine. It is unjust towards Palestinians whose families were expelled from Haifa, Lydda, Beersheba and 500 small villages or communities they were intimately connected to. It will be unjust to the 500,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank and East Jerusalem who feel deeply, intimately connected to that land.

The only practical solution is a single, secular, democratic state in Israel-Palestine where all are equal under the law.

A single or bi-national state proposal is considered laughably naive by many. There is no dearth of voices who say there is no way for the Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities of Israel-Palestine to live in peace. This prejudice has left Israelis and Palestinians wandering diplomatic deserts for the past 40 years, chasing the mirage of a “two-state peace process”.

Perhaps the time has come to think with greater creativity than the current Israeli and Palestinian leaders can muster and consider a single, secular state in Israel-Palestine. Perhaps it is time to give a Mediterranean culture that includes Jewish, Muslim and Christian elements a chance to exist under a truly secular, non-denominational government.

The beginnings will not be easy, nor will they be painless. Two people who have been told for decades they are enemies will not overnight turn into pleasant neighbors. Yet there is hope for an eventual reconciliation, and it comes from the most unexpected quarters. Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger lives on a Jewish settlement in the West Bank and is part of a dialog group between settlers and their Palestinian neighbors. He was quoted last month in the Israeli daily Haaretz:

When you only live among your own and only know your own narrative, you are naturally very suspicious of the other who is just an intruder and just a thorn in your side and something that doesn’t belong there. But when you open up your heart and you see the other, you begin to see the truth is complex – that my truth is true, but it’s a partial truth and there’s another truth that’s also partial and I have to learn to put them together and make the larger truth. I believe we can do that.

The people of Israel-Palestine will have to choose between these voices and the unyielding rhetoric of Likud and Hamas. We all know, in our hearts, which points the way to a just and lasting peace.