Trump urged CIA to kill more families and children in drone strikes.

In a long article on Trump’s relationship with the military, WaPo reveals that Trump urged CIA employees to commit more war crimes.

Trump came to office promising to give the Pentagon a free hand to unleash the full force of U.S. firepower. His impatience was evident on his first full day in office when he visited the CIA and was ushered up to the agency’s drone operations floor. […]

Later, when the agency’s head of drone operations explained that the CIA had developed special munitions to limit civilian casualties, the president seemed unimpressed. Watching a previously recorded strike in which the agency held off on firing until the target had wandered away from a house with his family inside, Trump asked, “Why did you wait?” one participant in the meeting recalled.

On the campaign trail, Trump often said he would “take out” the families of terrorists. —…

This was the visit where Trump spoke to several hundred CIA staffers towards the end of his visit. In his speech he complained about media coverage of the size of the crowd at his inauguration. He also made up a story about god stopping the rain for his inauguration speech. Those comments got a lot of attention. To our everlasting shame, the fact that the president urged military personnel to murder families was not.

Targeting civilians in combat is a war crime. Collective punishment is a war crime. Trump urged US military personnel under his command, to kill women and children. During the campaign he publicly said that he would demand that families of combatants be murdered. He followed through with this threat.

And let us also be clear. The US military obeyed the president’s command and changed the way it conducted drone strikes. In 2017, at least 6,000 civilians were killed in bombings by US armed forces:

According to statistics compiled by the Airwars watchdog group, there were nearly 50% more coalition air strikes in Iraq and Syria in 2017 compared with the previous year. Civilian deaths rose by 215%. The coalition, almost all US planes, dropped 20,000 bombs on Raqqa. By the end of the five-month campaign, 80% of the city was declared uninhabitable by the UN, and 1,800 civilians are thought to have been killed. Airwars estimates 1,400 of those deaths were caused by coalition air and artillery bombardment.

“We had always expected the highest proportion of civilian casualties to occur in that stage in the war and that’s exactly what happened,” said Chris Woods, the head of Airwars. “Even if we had had a Clinton presidency we would doubtless have had higher civilian casualties in that last stage of the war simply because Raqqa and Mosul were under assault. What we still don’t fully understand is how many more civilians were harmed as a result of fairly significant changes that the Trump administration says it put in place.” —…

The Hill is also covering Trump’s command to the US military to murder families:

President Trump reportedly asked an official at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) why they didn’t kill a terrorist target’s family during a drone strike.

The Washington Post reported Thursday after watching a recorded video of a Syrian drone strike where officials waited until the target was outside of his family’s home, Trump asked, “Why did you wait?”

The agency’s head of drone operations explained to an “unimpressed” Trump there are techniques to limit the number of civilian casualties. —…

If the commander in chief of the US armed forces is formally urging troops to kill civilians, it does make you wonder who’s terrorizing whom.

— @subirgrewal

Our bombs blew off this baby’s fingers. She is now learning to use the few she has left.

One year old Zuhoor, whose fingers were amputated after an airstrike in Yemen.

Our government sold the airplanes that dropped these bombs.

Our government refuels the planes on their sorties.

Our government makes and sells the bombs, including cluster bombs.

We share responsibility for these atrocities.

And please don’t believe any of the bullshit peddled to us about how our bombs bring “freedom” and “democracy”. The hands on the triggers are Saudi and we provide the political cover for the Saudis as they do this. The Saudi government is a brutal monarchy. They are about to behead 14 men for taking part in a pro-democracy rally. One of the men was under 18 and arrested on his way to attend college in Michigan. Another is a 23 year old man who is blind and deaf. They were tortured to obtain confessions, most have since recanted.

Meanwhile, in his visit to Saudi Arabia, President Trump did find the time to participate in an elaborate sword dance, but never brought up human rights violations.

US President Donald Trump joins dancers with swords at a welcome ceremony ahead of a banquet at the Murabba Palace in Riyadh on May 20, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

The president who spends hours watching TV and tweeting can’t seem to comment on the fact that our close ally is planning to behead men and boys for the crime of attending a rally.

Mr Trump has not yet commented on the case of Mr al-Sweikat. In his speech to the Saudis in May, he said: “America is a sovereign nation and our first priority is always the safety and security of our citizens.

“We are not here to lecture, we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship.

“Instead, we are here to offer partnership, based on shared interests and values—to pursue a better future for us all.” —…

Perhaps torture and a penchant for bombing other countries the “values” we share with brutal monarchies?

— @subirgrewal

Third official explanation for US airstrike that killed 140 civilians in Mosul is also disputed

Scene of the Mosul airstrike.

Back in March, a bomb dropped from a US aircraft hit a building in Mosul and caused it to collapse. The strike was called in because Iraqi force on the ground saw two snipers in the building. Once the smoke had cleared, neighbors began pulling bodies out of the wreckage and there were reports that 200+ people had perished, including many children. This was the only building in the area with a basement and over a hundred people were sheltering there.

The day the news broke, Iraqi forces told journalists that the building collapse was caused by a car bomb. This story, the first explanation, was immediately questioned since there was no tell-tale car bomb crater on the site. Civil defense officials were quoted as saying the damage was consistent with an airstrike, not a car bomb.

Then, US spokespersons claimed that families had been herded into the building to serve as human shields, by ISIS. Neighbors challenged that claim, saying militia fighting in the region had instead told people to clear the area, but the owner of the building had invited people to shelter in the building, probably believing it was safe. This was the second disputed explanation:

Although the U.S. has no video or eyewitness accounts of IS militants planting the explosives, Isler (the lead Pentagon investigator) said. Enemy fighters warned people in the building next door to leave the area the night before the explosion. IS militants knew there were innocent civilians in the building that collapsed, he said, and possibly gave them the same warning. He said the neighbors refused to leave and, as a result, were told by IS that “what happens to you is on you.” — WaPo

After an investigation, the Pentagon issued a report acknowledging its airstrike, but claiming the bomb, a 500lb explosive device, could not have caused the building’s collapse on its own. Other explosive residue was found on the site and the Pentagon claims militants had stashed explosives in the building, which then caused the collapse. But now neighbors are questioning that claim:

Manhal, who lives across the street from the destroyed house, heard the explosion, as did his father, Sameer. The two deny that the Islamic State moved any explosives into the building, however. Both recalled militants arriving the night before the airstrike, telling those still in their homes to leave before fighting began the next day. The snipers, they said, arrived at the house for the first time the morning of March 17, armed with rifles and little else.

“It was an airstrike,” Manhal’s father said of the incident. “There were no explosives.”

Brig. Gen Mohammed al-Jawari, the civil defense chief for Mosul, also disputed the U.S. report. “We were the first people who went to the site and evacuated all the bodies, and we didn’t find any explosives there, only a few grenades and IEDs that weren’t exploded. . . . What caused that destruction was an airstrike, nothing else,” he said. — WaPo

In its report, the Pentagon said there was no way the 500lb bomb it dropped on the building could have caused the collapse. It also said the 500lb bomb was the “proportionate” and “appropriate” response to two snipers:

The weapon appropriately balanced the military necessity of neutralizing the snipers with the potential for collateral damage. The GBU-38 entered the roof and detonated in the second floor of the structure.

Proportionality. The TEA selected a weapon that balanced the military necessity of neutralizing the two snipers with the potential for collateral damage to civilians and civilian structures. — Executive Summary of report from USAF

This was only one of 81 bombs dropped on the neighborhood of al-Jidada that day. The entire area is about 2 square kilometers, or about 500 acres. That is the size of 92 city blocks in Manhattan or about twice the size of the Washington mall. As per the USAF’s report, these 81 bombs were dropped to “seize the sector from 35-40 ISIS fighters controlling the area”.

The USAF’s characterization of the bomb’s impact on the building is strongly disputed by others.

A U.S. military pilot, who spoke on the condition anonymity because of his active duty status, said the report’s damage estimates for the initial airstrike were low and unrealistic. The pilot, who flew hundreds of combat sorties over Iraq and Afghanistan, said that using a GBU-type bomb on a residential structure ensures that there is an “extremely high probability” that the “entire building will be destroyed and every living entity inside would be killed.” — WaPo

The pilot’s perspective on the impact of dropping this bomb, equipped with a 500lb warhead, does comport to other reported uses of the GBU-38.

In a 2006 airstrike, two bombs, a laser-guided GBU-12 and the GPS-guided GBU-38 with 500lb warheads were dropped on a two story brick structure::

The bits and pieces scattered Saturday through the ruins in Hibhib were the remains of the American airstrike that killed Mr. Zarqawi and five others Wednesday, when a pair of 500-pound bombs obliterated the brick house and left a crater 40 feet wide and deep.

“A big hole, sir,” said Sgt. Maj. Gary Rimpley, 46, of Penrose, Colo., who reached the scene shortly after the bombing. — NY Times 

The house in Mosul was also a two storey structure.

This is the third story presented by the US/Iraqi forces about this airstrike to be questioned by people on the ground. What do the neighbors and relatives actually think about the USAF report?

Idriss said the Pentagon investigation released Thursday that acknowledged 105 civilians were killed in the airstrike is relatively insignificant.

“It’s important to hear the Americans apologize,” he said, “but justice would be the government giving the people of this neighborhood money to rebuild their homes.” From where he stood at least five completely destroyed homes were visible. […]

“It wasn’t only this house where civilians died,” said Hamed Salah, approaching the building struck by the U.S. bomb. “In that house over there, more than 30 were killed and another family up there,” he said pointing down one street and up another.

— WaPo/AP

The Pentagon also said it will no longer confirm which airstrikes that kill civilians were caused by US forces.

As the result of a deal struck among the coalition partners, civilian casualty incidents included in monthly reporting will not be tied to specific countries. That means the United States will in the future no longer confirm its own responsibility for specific civilian casualty incidents either — a move toward greater secrecy that could deprive victims’ families of any avenue to seek justice or compensation for these deaths.  — Foreign Policy


Hundreds of civilians reported killed in US airstrikes in Syria and Iraq this month.

On March 16, US forces bombed Idlib, Syria, apparently targeting an Al Qaeda meeting. Almost immediately after the strike, human rights organizations on the ground said roughly 50 civilians had died in the strike and it had demolished a mosque during prayers while 300 people were inside. There are other reports that US led airstrikes in Raqqa hit a school sheltering refugees, leading to 33 deaths.

Today, both the NY Times and Washington Post are reporting that the US army is investigating reports from Mosul, Iraq that coalition airstrikes have killed over 200 civilians in the past few days.

Iraqi rescue workers on Friday pulled dozens of bodies from the ruins of a building in Mosul, where residents allege a U.S.-led coalition strike killed 137 people a week ago.

If confirmed, the number would mark the biggest loss of civilian life in a single incident since the coalition’s air campaign began 2½ years ago. Equipped with a bulldozer and chainsaws, men in red overalls picked their way through the rubble of the large house in the city’s heavily bombarded neighborhood of Mosul al-Jadida.

Brig. Gen. Mohammed Mahmoud, Mosul’s civil defense chief, said families had gathered in the building because it was one of the few with a basement. His team had retrieved the bodies of 61 people, including two babies, from the rubble over the past two days. But he said he expected dozens more bodies to be found as the excavation continued, with rescue workers yet to reach the basement or other collapsed rooms. — Washington Post

Iraqi forces who called in the airstrikes have reportedly said there were snipers on the buildings and the strikes were called in to take them out. Airwars, a British organization tracking the airstrikes in Syria and Iraq has said over a 1,000 civilians are believed to have been killed in coalition airstrikes this month. In several cases, residents say dozens of bodies remain buried under the rubble. There are also reports that militants are intentionally keeping civilians in buildings and fighting from the rooftops.

Several children have died in the strikes, which have often annihilated entire families. Ten children also died in the failed Trump-authorized mission in Yakla, Yemen.

Another Iraqi special forces officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said that there had been a noticeable relaxing of the coalition’s rules of engagement since President Trump took office.

Before, Iraqi officers were highly critical of the Obama administration’s rules, saying that many requests for airstrikes were denied because of the risk that civilians would be hurt. Now, the officer said, it has become much easier to call in airstrikes.

Some American military officials had also chafed at what they viewed as long and onerous White House procedures for approving strikes under the Obama administration. Mr. Trump has indicated that he is more inclined to delegate authority for launching strikes to the Pentagon and commanders in the field. — NY Times

Civilian casualties on this scale have happened before. Last July, a US airstrike in Manbij, Syria killed 150 civilians which we discussed on Daily Kos then.

“His wife and kid are in the car too? Not the end of the world” – Breaking The Silence on Gaza

During Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli Defense Forces [IDF] bombed dozens of residential structures, killing hundreds of civilians. Over 500 children were killed. Earlier this week, Breaking the Silence (an organization of Israeli veterans) released a report: “This is How We Fought in Gaza – Soldiers’ testimonies and photographs from Operation Protective Edge (2014)”. What follows are excerpts from these interviews. My prior diaries on this report are here and here. Throughout the testimonies you will hear a lack of concern over the amount of ammunition expended. Israeli artillery fired over 32,000 shells into Gaza over the course of the offensive (in addition to numerous mortar rounds and bombs dropped by US made F-15s and F-16s). The US delivers over $3 billion in military aid to Israel each year. During the offensive, the US re-supplied the IDF with key munitions as its stocks dwindled.

104. Go ahead – his wife and kid are in the car too? Not the end of the world

Unit: Air force • Rank: Not for publication

There is what’s called in the jargon a ‘firing policy.’ It’s changed according to whether it’s [a period of] routine security or wartime. During routine, there’s targeted killings once in a while – they take place during periods of so-called routine security, too. You still use firepower, but during those times the wish or the instruction that no uninvolved civilians will get harmed is top priority. And sometimes that overrides [the targeted killing of] a very, very senior figure, in cases where an opportunity [to attack him] arises. So it’s given up? Yes. But during times like ‘Protective Edge,’ go ahead – his wife and kid are in the car too? Not the end of the world. It’s unambiguous.

56. Anyone there who doesn’t clearly look innocent, you apparently need to shoot

Unit: Infantry • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Northern Gaza Strip

Upon entering houses, is there an organized protocol used? It really depends on the case, but generally the idea is to use a lot of fire – this isn’t Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) – you want to find people in pieces inside. That’s how it’s managed, in a nutshell. Besides, usually a D9 (armored bulldozer) comes over, takes down a wall and you enter through the wall.

101. Deter them, scare them, wear them down psychologically

Unit: Not for publication • Rank: Not for publication

And another level on which things are treated is that of readiness – when you discuss the Hamas militants’ morale and confidence, sometimes after militants’ houses are struck you say, “We know that in such-and-such [Hamas] brigade they are expressing concern over the continuation of the fighting,” it’s at that level. I mean, nobody’s saying “We’ll strike that target because it’s the house of a militant and it will lower his motivation” – but one does say the morale is low due to the fact that the strikes on the militants’ houses is having an impact and decreasing the Hamas militants’ morale.

100. He just came over with an urge to take down targets

Unit: Not for publication • Rank: Not for publication

Guys there, they go in [to the Gaza Strip] wanting to bust up Hamas. There was this one intelligence officer there, a horrible guy, nobody could stand him, he just came over with an urge to take down targets, he couldn’t help it. He comes over to you and for an entire hour is going, “Check what this is, and check what that is, why aren’t you attacking.” The thing is, it’s not a yes-no black and white thing. It really depends on how you choose to deal with it. There are some people who will try to push for a certain target and it could be that that’s why it’ll be hit. They’ll talk to somebody they know, “Listen, do me a favor, prepare that target for me,” and then [the target] goes into the target list and passes through all the authorizations and it could be hit. That happens sometimes.

13. I really, really wanted to shoot her in the knees

Unit: Infantry • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: North Gaza Strip

There was this mentally handicapped girl in the neighborhood, apparently, and the fact that shots were fired near her feet only made her laugh (earlier in his testimony the soldier described a practice of shooting near people’s feet in order to get them to distance themselves from the forces). She would keep getting closer and it was clear to everyone that she was mentally handicapped, so no one shot at her. No one knew how to deal with this situation. She wandered around the areas of the advance guard company and some other company – I assume she just wanted to return home, I assume she ran away from her parents, I don’t think they would have sent her there. It is possible that she was being taken advantage of – perhaps it was a show, I don’t know. I thought to myself that it was a show, and I admit that I really, really wanted to shoot her in the knees because I was convinced it was one. I was sure she was being sent by Hamas to test our alertness, to test our limits, to figure out how we respond to civilians. Later they also let loose a lock of sheep on us, seven or ten of whom had bombs tied to their bellies from below. I don’t know if I was right or wrong, but I was convinced that this girl was a test.

85. Ultimately, they were all bombed

Unit: Infantry • Rank: Lieutenant • Location: Gaza City

There was a list of targets distributed to the soldiers who were providing assistive fire, of all the things you can’t fire at unless you get authorization from the assistive fire commander. A school, a kindergarten, things like that. UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East), a hospital, gas stations, power stations, community centers, which are partly run by the UN, all kinds of health clinics – they told us they would mark them on the maps. They were marked in green, very clearly. Some of them were eventually bombed? Yes. Take [the neighborhood of] Shuja’iyya – almost all the locations on the forbidden list there were bombed. Each one had its own particular story, but ultimately, they were all bombed. Those targets all required prior approval by the firing officer? Yes, his advance authorization. And also the population officer (an officer charged with supervising combat-related humanitarian issues) explains to the officers that if you bomb a kindergarten without approval it could result in the entire operation being stopped. That’s what [the population officer] is there for, to give you answers. Does he address the fact that civilians could die? He does, but that’s not what the talk is focused on. We discuss the mission. Do you recall rockets being launched toward Israel from public buildings, hospitals, things like that? We could see the launching – there’s an alarm and you can see from where they originate. It’s a question of what you can figure out from the aerial shots, what that building is. There are buildings that look more ‘governmental,’ there are ones that look like big residential ones, there are yards. Most of the launchings were made from houses’ yards, and it’s unclear to which building they belonged – the one to the right or to the left. Is it part of the school courtyard? Or does it belong to that building? Or to the guy with the farm next to it? And then we say, “OK, we’ll bomb both of them.”

79. Everyone – from the commander all the way down – took dumps in pots, out of some kind of operational principle. Whatever

Unit: Infantry • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Northern Gaza Strip

I’m thinking about that poor family whose rooftop was turned into a public bathroom by the entire company, what an awful thing. What’s this story? At some point you need to take a crap, and at first we weren’t given the bags one stashes in one’s helmets, which are really uncomfortable, so one of the guys found a plastic chair, a simple classroom one, and unscrewed its seat, and that chair was moved from one shaded place to another shaded place. The entire battalion had diarrhea and was throwing up. How awful, I thought, it would be to come back home and discover your bathroom is clogged and half the pots in your kitchen have shit in them. Your entire roof is covered in shit, and there’s shit in your garden. People shat in pots? Yes. There were lots of disputes among the commanders about this.

92. The safety regulations are just there for the out-of-touch guys in the headquarters that don’t really have a clue

Unit: Not for publication • Rank: Lieutenant • Location: Gaza Strip

What happens is, you are left with very little space at which you can fire, because you need to allow for a safe range away from civilians and a safe zone from soldiers and a safe range from UNRWA buildings (UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinians in the Near East), and so on. So during the informal part of the conversation, one of the senior oficers was this reservist and he says to us, “There’s a well-known trick, which we used [during the war] in Lebanon, too. Say you’re instructed to maintain a [safe range] away from civilians, but the target is too close to them. What you do is, on the map you mark a target that will get cleared through the higher channels – you mark a target that’s far enough [from the civilians] in the computers, so that it shows up that way. And then on the twoway you tell the [artillery] battery, “Fire on [coordinate] no. 2, and adjust by 200 meters.” It’s within your authority to decide and to discuss where to mark a target and where not to. If you know that place needs to be bombed, then you will get the target authorized by the supervising ranks – they will grant authorization, because that’s what they do – because you listed it on the map – and then it’s, “OK, the battalion granted him authorization for that.” And then in real time you’ll tell [the battery] to adjust 200 meters to the right. “Recalibrate by 200 meters.” See, that doesn’t mean much to the [supervising officers]. To them it’s “[The artillery brigade] adjusted 200 meters, they’re just recalibrating.” Those guys don’t really understand. [The soldiers in the battery will say] “We were given faulty coordinates,” or “The wind got in the way.” Standard range recalibration. You are a good war agent when you know how to strike where it’s truly needed. The safety regulations are just there for the out-of-touch guys in the headquarters that don’t really have a clue. [The reservist] told that to a bunch of guys as a sort of lesson from someone experienced, from someone who knows how things actually go down in reality, as someone who had come to explain ‘the professional secrets.’

69. An accomplishment before the ceaseire

Unit: Not for publication • Rank: Not for publication • Location: Northern Gaza Strip

Aside from those targets, there were also the houses belonging to Hamas’ battalion commanders and company commanders. Various targets were hit by fighter jets that night –the air force just hit them after the ground forces retreated. When did [the air force] attack? Six or 7:00 AM. Before the beginning of the ceaseire. Why right then and not earlier, if there was intelligence? To strike a significant blow – ‘an accomplishment’ before the ceasefire. It’s sad, but that’s the way things are done.

+972mag ran an article by Avihai Stollar, the Director of Research for Breaking The Silence who discussed their method of open ended interviews:

After the testimony is verified, it is published anonymously. The reason for that is that we want to put an emphasis on the content of the testimony, rather than the testifier’s identity. The army tends to ignore claims of systemic failures, and hold individual soldiers liable. Furthermore, it spares the soldiers the potential repercussions – disciplinary as well as social – for having dared to wash the dirty linen in public. We call on the Israeli public to listen to these soldiers, and face up to their stories. They were sent to the frontline in our name, and to listen to them is the least we can do to acknowledge that.

After all the controversy and war crimes allegations following last summer’s Gaza war, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Tuesday that “I can still look at myself in the mirror.” (story in Jerusalem Post) More snippets and information on the report below the fold.

44. On Friday evening we made Kiddush

Unit: Armored Corps • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Deir al-Balah

On Friday evening we made Kiddush (a Sabbath blessing) inside one of the houses. We used a courtyard inside the house where the infantry guys were stationed. We didn’t open up the gate, we just went straight in with the tank – ran over the fence and went in. We ‘parked’ two tanks in there, which means we also had to destroy the wall between the street and the house. A little wall, a fence of sorts. We had to, because each tank takes up a lot of room. So we destroyed part of that fence, and there was also a motorcycle in the way that we ran over. We went in and made Kiddush in the living room with the infantry guys.

46. Columns of smoke everywhere, the neighborhood in pieces

Unit: Armored Corps • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Deir al-Balah

“You see the house on the left? Fire at it.” Boom, we fired, and we were just, like, purposelessly firing. There was no intelligence on this or that house – it was just my platoon commander and myself deciding to fire at it because you have to fire, you have to ‘provoke.’ It could well be that people were killed inside, but there really wasn’t any intelligence on those specific buildings. And that’s how it went on. “You see that house in front of you? Shoot.” He also asked me, “What can you fire at? Whatever you can physically see, fire at it.” Like, “Feel free.” And that’s how it was, really – every tank just firing wherever it wanted to. And during the offensive, no one shot at us – not before it, not during it, and not after it. I remember that when we started withdrawing with the tanks, I looked toward the neighborhood, and I could simply see an entire neighborhood up in lames, like in the movies. Columns of smoke everywhere, the neighborhood in pieces, houses on the ground, and like, people were living there, but nobody had fired at us yet. We were firing purposelessly.

51. Firing shells in his memory

Unit: Armored Corps • Rank: First Sergeant

Throughout the entire operation there was a sort of building far away near the coastline, around 4.5 kilometers from us, a building that nobody really even knew where it was located. I don’t even know what neighborhood that was. It wasn’t a threat to us, it had nothing to do with anybody, it wasn’t part of the operation, it was out by the sea, far away from anything and from any potential threat – but that building was painted orange, and that orange drove my eyes crazy the entire time. I’m the tank gunner, I control all the weapons systems, I have the sights and I’m the guy who actually fires and sees everything that happens, and the whole week or two, that orange was driving my eyes crazy. So I told my platoon commander: “I want to fire at that orange house,” and he told me: “Cool, whatever you feel like,” and we fired. We fired at a distance of 4.5 kilometers, a shell that’s supposed to be used against tanks – it’s not useful for anything else, it’s not meant to harm people, only tanks, and we were just firing at that orange house because it was orange.

55. Because this is our home, because we have nowhere to escape to

Unit: Infantry • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Khan Younis

There was this one house we entered. We entered it ‘wet,’ (using live fire) and suddenly we hear screaming from inside the house and this father came out of a room with his hands in the air. They stopped shooting, and within seconds the battalion’s field interrogator runs in and goes to talk to him. They were in the house. A family: father, mother and three kids. They were asked why they were still there, why they had stayed. And they said, “Because this is our home, because we have nowhere to escape to.” In the end the platoon stayed in that house for like three days. That entire time, the family was in one room, they were told, “We are staying in this house in the meantime, you stay in that room.” A guard was assigned to them, and they were given Israeli food. After three days the platoon moved to another house. The family either stayed or left, I don’t know.

64. When the ‘target list’ is exhausted

Unit: Not for publication • Rank: Not for publication

Do you know how high-ranking a [Hamas] militant needs to be in order for his residence be incriminated as the ‘house of an activist?’ No, and it depends on the stage of combat. When the ‘target list’ is exhausted, is the threshold of the rank of militants whose residences get struck lowered? Absolutely. See, you start the fighting with a very orderly ‘target list’ that has been assembled over a long period of time, and there are also units whose objective is to mark new targets in real-time. And when we start running out [of targets], then we begin hitting targets that are higher on collateral damage levels, and pay less and less attention to that – but there are also all sorts of efforts aimed at gathering intelligence that’s specifically for establishing new targets.

66. Let’s show them

Unit: Givati • Rank: Lieutenant • Location: Rafah

The motto guiding lots of people was, “Let’s show them.” It was evident that that was a starting point. “Let’s show them.” Lots of guys who did their reserve duty with me don’t have much pity towards… The only thing that drives them is to look after their soldiers, and the mission – they are driven towards an IDF victory, at any price. And they sleep just fine at night. They are totally at peace with that. These aren’t people who spend their days looking for things to kill. By no means. But they aren’t afraid to kill, either. They don’t see it as something bad. The power-trip element is also at play, it’s all kinds of things. I think that a lot can be learned from Operation ‘Protective Edge’ about the issue of dealing with civilians, and how that works. There were a lot of people there who really hate Arabs. Really, really hate Arabs. You could see the hate in their eyes.

71. They fired the way it’s done in funerals, but with shellfire and at houses

Unit: Armored Corps • Rank: First Sergeant

On the day the fellow from our company was killed, the commanders came up to us and told us what happened. Then they decided to fire an ‘honor barrage’ and fire three shells. They said, “This is in memory of ****.” That felt very out of line to me, very problematic. A barrage of what? A barrage of shells. They fired the way it’s done in funerals, but with shellfire and at houses. Not into the air. They just chose [a house] – the tank commander said, “Just pick the farthest one, so it does the most damage.” Revenge of sorts. So we fired at one of the houses. Really you just see a block of houses in front of you, so the distance doesn’t really matter. Three shells on the same spot? Yeah. I don’t remember exactly what time it was, but it was close to sunset.

75. We are entering a war zone

Unit: Not for publication • Rank: Captain

Often rules of engagement also describe at whom you cannot shoot. Were there any instructions regarding civilians or uninvolved people? That was what was missing. There was no reference to it from higher up – from the battalion commander, say. I was waiting for this to come from higher up – and it didn’t. I remember that night I sat the guys down and told them what happens in the event of civilians. Officers held a meeting on how we define that issue to the soldiers. [Our definition was that] we would enter while shooting, enter a house with a grenade – the way it was defined – but ultimately we use our judgment if we run into a woman or child. We use our judgment and we don’t shoot. During Operation ‘Pillar of Defense,’ I remember everything went by really fast – within hours of being called up, we were geared up and ready to go, but even during that short period of time I remember that when we got to the staging area, someone said to me, “You’re an officer? Here,” and gave me a kit with maps and all kinds of booklets and formal IDF materials, and also a little booklet with instructions on how to deal with the civilian population. In that exact stage of the preparations, this kit [was something every commander was given]. I was given no such thing during [Operation] ‘Protective Edge.’ When you laid out rules of engagement for your soldiers, were you in effect violating, or contradicting the battalion commander’s orders? Yes, we contradicted the rules of engagement, but I think what we defined as regulations filled a certain vacuum. The rules of engagement were more or less that we were entering a war. We briefed the soldiers on [how to act while manning] posts, while inside houses, while defending themselves. We laid out rules of engagement using our common sense. If I remember correctly, we defined a suspect arrest procedure (a procedure that dictates firing warning shots before directing fire at a suspect), a procedure that contradicts the directive of, “Anyone you see, you shoot.” Which was essentially the directive? Basically, yes. Shooting to kill? Yes.

78. Everyone wanted to take part

Unit: Not for publication • Rank: Captain

I’ll tell you about something that I consider very, very, very problematic. It took place within our forces, and it happened in lots of cases. During quiet moments, when not a lot of intelligence was coming in, when we weren’t really firing at any targets, at times when there was a lull – for whatever reason, and Hamas was quiet and not firing as much as usual – then there was always a question mark: is [Hamas] not shooting now because we managed to hit a strategic target? And then we start digging into our intelligence to see if something specific happened, or maybe they’re just collecting themselves? Or maybe they really are taking a break because we called a ceasefire and they are honoring it. And during such a lull an officer will come up to you – sometimes a more senior one, sometimes less – and say, “OK, we have this moment of quiet, let’s see which targets we haven’t bombed yet, what else we can incriminate, what else we can declare as definite targets, let’s start working on it.” And then you find yourself – and I’m being very careful about how I say this – coercing yourself to find more targets that are quality targets, good targets. Now, in some cases that’s totally legit. You’ve suddenly got a moment of quiet so you can clear out all the noise and look at the data that’s coming in and see if it’s really quality and if you can wrest some targets out of it, or figure out some puzzle that eluded you until now by cross-checking data or something else. And sometimes the forces are so eager to keep firing or creating more targets for themselves, that often you cut a few corners to be able to say, “OK, there might be something here, and in the past when we saw such things we turned out to be right, and, well, if the house is empty and you happen to have the munitions then OK, go ahead, take it down.” That was how it was for everyone. Everyone wanted to take part.

80. The day after

Unit: Not for publication • Rank: Lieutenant • Location: Gaza City

Part of the [military] engineering rationale, of what’s called ‘the day after’ – I don’t know if that’s a term that gets published – is that when we blow up and raze areas, we can in effect sterilize them. Throughout the period of combat, one keeps in mind that there is this thing called ‘the day after,’ which is: the day we leave [the Gaza Strip], the more [areas] left wide-open and as ‘clean’ as possible – the better. One decides on a certain line – during the days after Operation ‘Cast Lead’ it was 300 meters from the fence – and it’s leveled, flattened. Doesn’t matter if there are groves there, doesn’t matter if there are houses, doesn’t matter if there are gas stations – it’s all flattened because we are at war, so we are allowed to. You can justify anything you do during wartime..

82. ‘Roof knocking’ gave them enough time to go down into some burrow

Unit: Gaza Division • Rank: Lieutenant

The whole ‘roof knocking’ thing (a practice in which a small missile is fired at the roof of a building as an advance warning that it will shortly be destroyed in an air strike) was understood [by Hamas] very quickly. Hamas forces are very light, really, and for them – in contrast to the general [Gaza Strip] population, and this is the great tragedy –‘roof knocking’ gave them enough time to go down into some burrow, or to run between the houses and vanish from the area. But for a family with a grandmother who’s sitting in the living room, it’s a bit harder.

83. Look, we’re going to put on a show

Unit: Infantry • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Northern Gaza Strip

There was a humanitarian ceasefire that went into effect at 6:00 AM. I remember they told us at 5:15 AM, “Look, we’re going to put on a show.” It was amazing, the air force’s precision. The first shell struck at exactly quarter past five on the dot, and the last one struck at 5:59 AM and 59 seconds, exactly. It was amazing. Fire, nonstop shelling of the ‘Sevivon’ neighborhood, (east of Beit Hanoun) which, if I remember correctly, ran down more to the west and south of where we were in there. Nonstop. Just nonstop.

48. You fire shells at the houses and spray bullets at the orchard

Unit: Infantry • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Northern Gaza Strip

We reached the first line of houses and the platoon commander ‘cleared up’ a few key spaces with grenades. You never ‘open’ houses ‘dry’ (without live fire) – you throw a grenade [before you enter]. It busts the walls, brings down plaster and paint. At some point you take over the house. Only a few minutes after we would finish taking over the houses, the area was ‘sterilized,’ a sweep was conducted, one made sure there was no terrorist with an anti-tank missile… Then tanks and D9s (armored bulldozers) come over at the same time. It was one of the most beautiful orchards I’d ever seen – it looked just like an old-style Moshav (a rural town), and within a few hours it was totally erased – reduced to piles of powdered sand. Tanks drove over it and broke up the ground, smashing it to smithereens. Was [the orchard] ruined on purpose, or because heavy equipment was moving through? It simply was not taken into consideration. It’s not like they said, “Hey, there’s an orchard here.” You don’t think in those terms. No one was told to destroy the orchard – it’s simply that the earth was pushed up; it was needed for a rampart.

86. The civilian was laying there, writhing in pain

Unit: Infantry • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Northern Gaza Strip

There was this one time when an old [Palestinian] man approached the house and everyone remembered hearing about that booby-trapped old man (earlier in his testimony the testifier described being briefed about an elderly Palestinian man armed with grenades who tried to attack a different force). This happened right around noon, between noon and 2:00 PM. So this old man came over, and the guy manning the post – I don’t know what was going through his head – he saw this civilian, and he fired at him, and he didn’t get a good hit. The civilian was laying there, writhing in pain. We all remembered that story going around, so none of the paramedics wanted to go treat him. It was clear to everyone that one of two things was going to happen: Either we let him die slowly, or we put him out of his misery. Eventually, we put him out of his misery, and a D9 (armored bulldozer) came over and dropped a mound of rubble on him and that was the end of it. In order to avoid having to deal with the question of whether he was booby-trapped or not – because that really didn’t interest anyone at that moment – the D9 came over, dropped a pile of rubble on his body and that was it. Everyone knew that under that pile there was the guy’s corpse.

95. We’re talking about human beings, it’s a dialogue that takes place through fire – if there’s an escalation, things intensify

Unit: Air Force • Rank: Not for publication • Location: Gaza Strip

What’s a problematic target? A target that doesn’t fall under the firing policy – that hitting it would entail violating the firing policy criteria. Can you tell me about a target that at first wasn’t approved for striking, and later did get approved? Well, after the APC in Shuja’iyya, (an incident in which seven IDF soldiers were killed when a rocket hit their armored personnel carrier) and when the brigade commander was killed (certain members of the IDF mistakenly believed, for a period during the operation, that a Golani brigade commander was killed), so things weren’t done the same as they were before. There are things in the military that are in flux – we’re talking about human beings, it’s a dialogue that takes place through fire – if there’s an escalation, things intensify. Can you describe a concrete example? It’s something that’s known in advance. The operation wasn’t ending, it entered its first week, second week, third week, and [Hamas] kept trying to enter [Israeli] towns and kill people, so in response we struck harder. Targets that we had set aside –‘golden targets’ of sorts – they started to hit them. What are these ‘golden targets? Residences of [Hamas] battalion commanders and brigade commanders. There were many, many targets that [weren’t attacked] because they didn’t qualify under the firing policy, and then after Shujai’yya for example, suddenly some of those targets did get approved. The sort of problematic targets that were at a certain distance from some school – suddenly stuff like that did get approved.

96. The artillery is constantly firing

Unit: Infantry • Rank: Lieutenant • Location: Northern Gaza Strip

The idea behind the action being – both during the fighting and after it – that from the moment you incriminate a building – incriminate meaning that you saw some movement there, even the smallest – a terrorist going in, maybe – those are suficient grounds to take it down. The entire building? Yes. At the beginning [of the operation] they were really careful, they tried to do this with combat choppers, or guided missiles or all kinds of special forces. But the deeper we got into the operation, and the more the patience and understanding given to you by the levels of oversight – and by the Israeli public at large – slowly runs out, then it becomes OK to use artillery. “You don’t need a chopper, let’s use artillery on it, let’s bring it down, no problem with that.” It’s statistical – it has a 50 meter radius. In the end, that’s one of the problems, too – [mortars are] a statistical weapon (an imprecise weapon that cannot be aimed at specific targets, but rather at general areas), and people don’t get that. There is this conception that we know how to do everything super accurately, as if it doesn’t matter which weapon is being used – “OK, let them fire, they’re OK.” But no, these weapons are statistical, and they strike 50 meters to the right or 100 meters to the left, and it’s… It’s unpleasant.

97. Not enough time for everyone to leave

Unit: Not for publication • Rank: Not for publication

Verifying that there are no civilians in the building – is that a mandatory prerequisite for carrying out a strike? It’s not mandatory. Because even if there are civilians sometimes – [for example, while targeting] the Shuja’iyya deputy battalion commander, [the strike] would be carried out if there weren’t too many civilians. When I say ‘too many’ I mean a double digit number. This story, how atypical was it? This was atypical due to the fact it was a multi-story building, five or six stories –because most of the houses that were seriously flattened were two, maybe three stories, tops. It was also atypical in the sense that there was information about the presence of innocent people in there. There was data about a certain number [of civilians] and it withstood the equation, apparently – and there was simply enough of an accumulation of intelligence and verified data about the presence of heads of cells in there, that they decided that the bombing was justified.

111. What the hell, why did you have to shoot him again?

Unit: Infantry • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Northern Gaza Strip

You leave [the Gaza Strip] and the most obvious question is, ‘did you kill anybody?’ What can you do – even if you’ll meet the most left-wing girl in the world, eventually she’ll start thinking, “Did you ever kill somebody, or not?” And what can you do about it, most people in our society consider that to be a badge of honor. So everybody wants to come out of there with that feeling of satisfaction. That’s what shocked me the most. We have guys in our company walking around with X’s marked on their straps, it’s a sort of culture. Maybe it sounds to you like I’m exaggerating, but… I’d like for this whole thing of X marks – even if it’s somebody who just saved an entire Israeli family – to be forbidden.

The complete report can be found on their site: “This is How We Fought in Gaza – Soldiers’ testimonies and photographs from Operation Protective Edge (2014)” More about Breaking The Silence: Breaking the Silence is an organization of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories. We endeavor to stimulate public debate about the price paid for a reality in which young soldiers face a civilian population on a daily basis, and are engaged in the control of that population’s everyday life. This booklet is a collection of testimonies from over 60 soldiers in mandatory and reserve service that took part in Operation “Protective Edge” in the Gaza Strip. About a quarter of the testifiers are officers that go all the way up to the rank of major. The testimonies underwent a meticulous investigative process to ensure their veracity. The testifiers, who served in various units – from ground, to naval, to air forces, and in headquarters and command centers – expose the nature of IDF operations in various combat zones. The testimonies in this collection close the yawning gaps between what the IDF and government spokespersons told the public about the combat scenarios, and the reality described by the soldiers that took part in the operation.

From the introduction to the report: The operation, which was conducted under a policy determined by the most senior commanding ranks who instructed the soldiers’ conduct, casts grave doubt on the IDF’s ethics. As IDF soldiers and officers, in mandatory and reserve service, we feel it is our civil obligation to publicly expose these testimonies. The findings that arise from the testimonies call for an honest and thorough investigation into how IDF forces were activated during Operation Protective Edge. Such an investigation will only be effective and meaningful if carried out by an external and independent entity, by actors that can examine conduct at the highest ranks in the security and political establishments. Anything less, as we have seen in past experience, will lead to placing the responsibility for the acts on more junior and lower ranks, thereby precluding the ability to bring about fundamental change that can prevent a recurrence of the harsh reality we witnessed in the summer of 2014.

547 children killed, 1,000+ permanently disabled: Gaza report

Palestinian child sits by a wall riddled with shrapnel

Defense for Children International is an non-governmental organisation focused on promoting and protecting the human rights of children on a global, regional, national and local level. They’ve been around since 1979.They do great work in a lot of difficult environments. Please consider supporting them if you have the wherewithal.

DCI’s Palestine unit has been gathering data on the treatment of Palestinian children for years. They issued a very detailed report earlier this week titled Operation Protective Edge: A war waged on Gaza’s Children.
DCI-P have been on the ground in Gaza since last summer collecting data and building a database of children killed and maimed. The complete report makes for heart-rending reading. I’ve excerpted numerous segments that I found compelling:

In total, Operation Protective Edge claimed the lives of 2,220 Palestinians, including at least 1,492 civilians.Five Israeli civilians, including one child, and 67 Israeli soldiers also lost their lives.

Evidence and testimonies collected by DCIP showed that there was no safe place for children in Gaza during the Israeli assault. Children were killed in their homes by Israeli missiles, while sheltering in schools by high-explosive Israeli artillery shells, and in the streets by Israeli drone-fired missiles and artillery shells as they attempted to escape the onslaught with their families.Those who survived these attacks will continue to pay the price for many years. More than 1,000 children suffered injuries that rendered them permanently disabled, according to OCHA. Amputees like Mohammad Baroud, 12, who lost both his feet in an explosion that killed 11 of his neighbors, will require lifelong medical care and support.

Israel, the world’s largest exporter of aerial drones, killed at least 164 children in drone attacks during its assault on Gaza. In a number of incidents, evidence suggests that Israeli forces directly targeted children. In one such case, Rawya Joudeh, 40, and four of her five children were killed by an Israeli drone-fired missile as they played together in the family’s yard in Tal al-Zatar, Jabalia refugee camp, North Gaza, on the afternoon of August 24. The children were aged between 6 and 14.Just under half of the children who died during the offensive lost their lives in aerial attacks on residential buildings. Missiles dropped by Israeli warplanes killed 225 children while they were in their own homes or seeking shelter, often as they sat down to eat with their families, played, or slept.

Gideon Levy wrote last summer about the seeming indifference his countrymen exhibited towards the hundreds of children being killed by their army only a few dozen miles away.

Though the scale of the violence in 2014 far exceeded previous Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip, the experiences of Palestinian children during the conflict were not new. Since 2000, a generation of children living in the OPT have been shot at, shelled and bombed. During this time, Israeli forces and settlers have killed more than 1,950 Palestinian children, the vast majority of whom were living in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces fired more than 36,000 artillery shells into Gaza during Operation Protective Edge. A former Israeli infantryman, Idan Barir, likened the use of artillery shells to “Russian Roulette,” stating “it is impossible to aim the shells in an accurate manner.”The effects of high-explosive artillery shells cannot be limited as required by international law and when fired in close proximity to civilians or civilian structures constitute an indiscriminate attack.

Natasha Roth over at +972mag wrote about the report: In war, there is no safe place for Gaza’s children

There came a point early on during last summer’s Gaza war when it seemed we reached a nadir. Four children, all under the age of 12, were killed by an Israeli naval attack while playing soccer on a beach. The boys were directly struck by two shells, which also seriously wounded four other children.
One three-day period saw a child killed every hour. By the end of the war, an average of 11 children had been killed per day.

…the Israel Broadcast Authority and the Supreme Court banned a B’Tselem radio advert reading out the names of the children killed in the conflict.Nonetheless, a week after that day on which 59 children were killed, footage emerged of a crowd of right-wing Israelis chanting at a pro-war demonstration in Tel Aviv: “Tomorrow there’s no school in Gaza, they don’t have any children left.” Somehow, they knew exactly what the army was doing in Gaza. And even if there was a majority in Israel that remained silent between its own fear and apathy, it is difficult not to recall the words of IDF Lt.-Col. Dov Yermiya, who during the 1982 Lebanon War decried “[t]his arrogant, cruel nation that dances at the edge of destruction.”

Much more, including data on what kind of weapon killed each child is below the fold:

The report takes an in-depth look at the impact of the war on children and puts this in the context of events earlier in the year, prior bombings of Gaza and the military occupation of the West Bank. Interestingly, they tie the killing of two Palestinian children in the West Bank by IDF soldiers to the thread of events leading up to Protective Edge. From the report:

Events leading up to Operation Protective EdgeIn the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the situation for children was deteriorating prior to Operation Protective Edge. Child fatalities and injuries significantly increased in 2014, mostly because Israeli forces used live ammunition against children.

In May, Israeli forces fatally shot Nadeem Siam Nawara, 17, and Mohammad Mahmoud Odeh Salameh Abu Daher, 16, with live ammunition near Ofer military prison in the West Bank town of Beitunia. Nadeem sustained a fatal gunshot wound to the chest, and Mohammad was shot in the back a few hours later. The fatal shootings were captured on video and prompted widespread criticism of Israeli forces. Forensic video and spatial analysis commissioned by DCIP identified the Israeli border police officer that shot and killed Nadeem.

In June, Israeli authorities launched a military operation known as Operation Brother’s Keeper in the West Bank following the abduction of three Israeli settler teens – two were boys under age 18 – on June 12, 2014. The operation resulted in significantly increased numbers of Israeli forces throughout the West Bank,17 and effectively ended on July 2 after Israeli authorities discovered their bodies near Hebron on June 30.

Use of excessive force by Israeli forces during the operation amounted to collective punishment of the Palestinian civilian population. Israeli forces raided more than 2,200 homes and arrested over 600 people across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.18 The operation resulted in severe restrictions on freedom of movement and caused death and injury to Palestinians, including children. The increased presence of Israeli forces exacerbated an already tense environment, and sparked violent clashes between Palestinian residents and soldiers.

Israeli forces killed nine Palestinian civilians during the search operation. An Israeli soldier fatally shot Mohammad Dudeen, 15, with live ammunition on June 20, when Israeli forces raided his home village of Dura, near the West Bank city of Hebron. Another five children sustained injuries in the same week in the context of the Israeli military operation.

In an apparent revenge killing following the discovery of the three Israeli teens’ bodies on June 30, Israeli settlers abducted and murdered 16-year-old Mohammad Abu Khdeir in the early morning hours of July 2. According to Palestinian attorney general, Abdel-Ghani al-Awewy, the autopsy showed that Mohammad was burned alive.

Public opinion within Israel was particularly vengeful as it became clear the three teenage boys were unlikely to be found alive and after their bodies were discovered. As an example, a former Israeli lawmaker and member of the Knesset, Michael Ben-Ari, published a video on his Facebook page calling Palestinian children “little terrorists”, for the “transfer of pain to the cruel enemy”, to “make Ramadan into a month of darkness for them!” and “death to the enemy”. Ben-Ari is the same former MK who recently posted a clip of IDF soldiers ordering their dog to attack a 16 year-old who was seriously injured. In his comments, Ben-Ari used the term “little terrorist” again.Hamas and other groups in Gaza fired mortars and missiles while the IDF launched air and drone strikes in an escalating cycle. Moshe Feiglin, a senior Likud MK and deputy-Speaker of the Knesset, called for a “conquest of the entire Gaza Strip, and annihilation of all fighting forces and their supporters”.

David Sheen collected some particularly racist tweets from youngsters in a collection titled Terrifying Tweets of Pre-Army Israeli Teens as Protective Edge got underway.

Senior members of the Israeli government have direct experience with the human cost of careless, mistaken or disproportionate actions by their army. Naftali Bennett, who is currently Minister of the Economy, has been accused of operational mistakes or carelessness that led to the killing of over a 100 civilians by his IDF unit in 1996 in the Lebanese town of Qana. His unit shelled a UN compound sheltering over 800 civilians. 4 UN peacekeepers were seriously wounded in the attack. Last summer, IDF forces struck UN schools and compounds multiple times.

Back to the DCI-P report:

Incidents such as these are not unprecedented. Operation Protective Edge was the sixth Israeli military offensive on Gaza in the past eight years, and raised the number of children killed in assaults on Gaza to 1,097 since 2006. Between December 2008 and January 2009 Israeli forces killed at least 353 children, as well as a further 33 children in November 2012.Israeli armed forces have been regularly implicated in serious, systematic and institutionalized human rights violations against Palestinian children living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). Children affected by armed conflict are entitled to special respect and protections under international law, but Israel has consistently violated these protections through indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks that have resulted in large numbers of child fatalities and injuries.

While Israeli authorities have selectively opened their own investigations into several incidents occurring during the latest military offensive, previous experience has shown that Israeli authorities persistently fail to investigate alleged violations of its armed forces in accordance with international standards.The international community must demand an end to Israel’s illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip, investigate allegations of war crimes, and hold perpetrators accountable. Without an end to the current  regime of collective punishment, targeted assassinations, and regular military offensives, the situation for Gaza’s children is all but guaranteed to further deteriorate.

The Gaza Strip is only 26 miles long and seven miles wide, but is home to 1.8 million people. Gaza City, the largest city in the OPT, is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. For every square mile, there are 42,600 people, as opposed to 15,500 in Tel Aviv and 15,100 in London. Around half of those living in the Gaza Strip are children under 18 years old, and densely populated residential neighborhoods are home to large numbers of children.Israeli attacks on residential areas and civilian structures during Operation Protective Edge resulted in high numbers of child fatalities. This raised critical concerns that Israeli forces committed war crimes, specifically disproportionate use of force and targeting of civilians and civilian structures, including residential buildings, schools, hospitals, and other structures protected under international law.

The fatalities and injuries inflicted on children in Gaza in 2014 form part of a decade-long trend that has seen Israeli military force fall on those least able to bear it. DCIP’s evidence demonstrates that it is children who were disproportionately affected in recent Israeli military offensives, which have been characterized by force directed at government and civilian infrastructure, residential neighborhoods, and individual civilians.

Table 1: Total Number of Children Killed in Israeli Military Offensives in Gaza since 2006

Name of Israeli military offensive Date Children Killed
Operation Summer Rains June to September 2006 58
Operation Autumn Clouds November 2006 85
Operation Warm Winter February to March 2008 33
Operation Cast Lead December to January 2009 353
Operation Pillar of Defense November 2012 33
Operation Protective Edge July to August 2014 535
Total 1097

Despite clear obligations under international law to protect the Palestinian civilian population under its control, Israeli forces have for decades committed widespread systematic and gross violations of international humanitarian and human rights law against Palestinians, including children.In 2004, the International Court of Justice found that both international humanitarian law and international human rights law applied in the OPT, and that Israel was obligated to implement the rights and protections found therein. The Israeli government and its armed forces must abide, at all times, by international humanitarian law as well as other human rights instruments that it has obliged itself to implement.

DCIP’s investigation into the killing and maiming of Palestinian children during Operation Protective Edge found overwhelming evidence of indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks carried out by Israeli forces, which amount to war crimes.Under international humanitarian law, civilians, including children, must never be targeted, and civilian structures and infrastructure are presumed not to be lawful targets. Despite this, Israeli forces launched numerous unlawful attacks against civilians, civilian homes, and schools where there was no lawful military object reported in the area at the time of attack.

Israeli forces killed 535 children in attacks during the assault on Gaza. Another 3,374 children sustained injuries in attacks during Operation Protective Edge, including over 1,000 children whose wounds rendered them permanently disabled.

Nearly 68 percent of children killed by Israeli forces were 12 years old or younger.

Table 2: Distribution of Child Fatalities during Operation Protective Edge according to Type of Attack

Type of Attack Children Killed
Warplane airstrike 225
Droned-fired missile 164
Artillery or tank shelling 81
Multiple types of munitions 35
Apache helicopter-fired missile or rocket 13
Surface-to-surface missile 7
Accidents caused by indirect attacks 5
Navy gunboat-fired missile/shell 4
Live ammunition 1
Total 535

During the military offensive, Israeli officials attempted to justify attacks on civilian homes by stating that the intended target was an individual affiliated with Hamas or another Palestinian armed group present in the home at the time of the attack.Under International law, the mere alleged presence of a member of a Palestinian armed group is an insufficient justification for an attack on a family home. A civilian home that is in some way deemed by Israeli forces to be “affiliated” with Hamas or another Palestinian armed group does not provide in itself legal justification under international humanitarian law to direct an attack against that object.

To justify the onslaught on the Palestinian civilian population of the Gaza Strip, Israeli officials asserted that Hamas and Palestinian armed groups used civilians as human shields. International law prohibits the use of civilians as human shields, which involves forcing civilians to directly assist in military operations or using them to shield a military object or troops from attack.The rhetoric voiced by Israeli officials regarding “human shields” during the military offensive amounted to nothing more than generalizations that fall short of the precise calculation required by international humanitarian law when determining whether something is actually a military object. Even if evidence existed that Hamas or other Palestinian armed groups did use civilians as human shields, this does not relieve Israel from its obligations under international law nor does it justify an attack on civilians or civilian structures.

During Operation Protective Edge, Israeli forces dropped leaflets over certain areas warning of attacks, placed calls to individual mobile phones, and carried out “knock on roof” warnings with drone-fired missiles. The use of “knock on roof” warnings as an advance warning on civilian buildings or structures constitutes an unlawful attack. Civilian structures can only be lawful targets when used for military purposes. Advance warnings do not make an unlawful attack lawful, and armed forces and armed groups must ensure any attack conforms to the principles of distinction and proportionality even after an advance warning.

Evidence collected by DCIP finds that, during the offensive, Israeli forces carried out both indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks amounting to war crimes under international law.

Sam Harris’s socially acceptable apologia for killing children, ethnic cleansing & apartheid

This was written in August 2014 and published on my blog as Why Do I Criticize The Israeli Government? My Response To Sam Harris. I’m posting it here because it’s a long-form response to many views I’ve heard expressed on DKos which echo Harris’s arguments.

Sam Harris has a transcript of a podcast on his website titled “Why Don’t I Criticize Israel“. It’s thought-provoking and cogent, but in the end unpersuasive.You should read or listen to Harris’s podcast in its entirety. What I’m going to do here is evaluate and examine many of Sam’s arguments and others you may have heard. Sam makes as good a case as you can possibly make for the Israeli government while hewing as close as possible to a secular, humanist point of view. I’ll quote liberally, but the podcast must be heard in its entirety for its full effect.

A note on philosophical inclinations towards justice. If you’re a utilitarian, the case is quite clear. Israeli action has caused the deaths of close to 2,000 people in this latest attack on Gaza in summer 2014. Most sources agree that 65-80% of these are civilians (the Israeli government claims over half were not civilians). Over 400 children have been killed. At the other end, Hamas has managed to kill over 60 Israeli soldiers, two Israeli civilian and one Thai civilian in addition to damaging some buildings and setting off sirens all across Israel generally disrupting everyone’s day. Israeli forces have destroyed key infrastructure in Gaza, leaving most of the population without water or power and around 500,000 without access to their homes, a great number of which have been destroyed. In utilitarian terms, the case is clear, the democratically elected government of Israel is by far the worse offender and it’s actions are disproportionate. Even in terms of rocket strikes, the numbers are disproportionate. Hamas has launched a little over 2,900 rockets, the IDF has struck over 3,800 targets, often multiple times. In some ways, it feels like heavily armed US cavalry running down entire Native American villages because they’ve attacked a white settlement.

But I am not a utilitarian in the strict sense of the word, as I suspect few of us are. In my view, for an action to be above reproach, you must utilize just means to achieve just ends. It is impossible to argue the Israeli government’s means are completely just (in this instance or in past actions), and I would say the ends are not either. Kant’s categorical imperative is that you cannot use rational beings as a means to an end. So you cannot kill 25 civilians to assassinate a single Hamas leader. Even if your goal of assassination is just. [This in itself is questionable. Israel’s government feels differently about assassinations when its own officials are targeted. Begin started the ’82 Lebanese war over an assassination attempt (by a rogue faction of the PLO which was not in Lebanon).]

As Americans we understand all this is true, and we actually live these principles in some instances. Bill Clinton recently said about Osama Bin Laden €œI nearly got him. And I could have killed him, but I would have to destroy a little town called Kandahar in Afghanistan and kill 300 innocent women and children, and then I would have been no better than him. And so I didn€™t do it.€ When Barack Obama finally had an opportunity to take out Osama Bin Laden, he sent 24 US commandos and support staff 200 miles from their base to do the job. They did not kill his two wives, who were shielding Osama Bin Laden when he was found.

In stark contrast, Israeli forces in the past month alone have bombed numerous homes, killing hundreds of people, whole families and over a hundred children. In one instance, 17 civilian members of the Hamas police chief’s extended family were killed by a bomb targeting his aunt’s home while he was visiting it. The demolition of homes, via bomb or bulldozer have been part of Israel’s strategy to bring “quiet” for some time now.

A final note. This is written for an American audience. Here in the US, we get a rather bland view of Israel-Palestine relations, heavily tilted in favor of the Israeli right-wing (which has been in power for about 20 years now). If you’re reading this in Europe, you should probably stop, the pendulum has likely swung the other way in your media. If you’re in France, you should probably try to get your elected representatives to do their best to stop the mobs that are threatening Jews and destroying their property.

Jews and Muslims

The first, is that I have criticized both Israel and Judaism. What seems to have upset many people is that I’€™ve kept some sense of proportion. There are something like 15 million Jews on earth at this moment; there are a hundred times as many Muslims. I’€™ve debated rabbis who, when I have assumed that they believe in a God that can hear our prayers, they stop me mid-sentence and say, €œWhy would you think that I believe in a God who can hear prayers?€ So there are rabbis€”conservative rabbis€”who believe in a God so elastic as to exclude every concrete claim about Him€”and therefore, nearly every concrete demand upon human behavior. And there are millions of Jews, literally millions among the few million who exist, for whom Judaism is very important, and yet they are atheists. They don€™t believe in God at all. This is actually a position you can hold in Judaism, but it€™s a total non sequitur in Islam or Christianity.

That’s a quote from Sam’s podcast, you can assume any other quotes below are from the same podcast unless I say otherwise.The relative numbers of Jews and Muslims is essentially irrelevant when discussing proportionality. It may be that Sam believes this is more relevant than their shared humanity because they identify with their faith strongly. Most people identify with their names quite strongly, and there are very few people named Subir, and a lot of people named Sam. Does that mean Sams are expendable or we should mourn their deaths less? Does it means one dead Subir is equivalent to a hundred or a thousand dead Sams? If you can’t look at an innocent life as an innocent life, you’re probably engaging in tribal politics.

We should define a few terms at this point. I won’t often speak of Jews and Muslims in this essay. Mostly because “Jews” and “Muslims” do not have agency. We cannot ascribe intent to “Jews” or “Muslims”, we cannot evaluate their actions, because they are not capable of acting as groups. We can ascribe agency and evaluate the actions of individual Jews and individual Muslims, in which case we should refer to them by name. We can evaluate the actions of individual organizations, whether they are governments or political parties.

All we can say about “Jews” and “Muslims” is that they are people, and like all humans, they are capable of suffering. In a slightly different, but related context (the rights of slaves in the French West Indies), Jeremy Bentham asked:

The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?

So for the rest of this article, I’ll discuss the actions of:

  • successive Israeli governments, militias and armed forces (Likud, IDF, Irgun)
  • distinct Palestinian resistance movements (PLO, Fatah, Hamas)

though I might also discuss the suffering of Palestinian people, or the Israeli people. This has an added advantage, by being specific I avoid the charge that I’m being racist or bigoted. I will also spend much more time discussing Israeli actions than I will any Palestinian acts, for two reasons. The first is that I’m writing for an American audience, which hears a lot about Palestinian groups, terrorism, rocket launches and failures. The second is that the Israeli government is relatively free to act. It controls its borders, it enjoys sovereignty, and its actions have had immense impacts on Palestinians and the region. The Palestinians on the other hand have been constrained and are not a sovereign nation.

So with that in mind, I wholeheartedly agree with Sam that one must maintain some sense of proportionality here. Hamas is an organization that has done and continues to do reprehensible things. It has engaged in suicide bombings, it has recruited children to serve as militants, it has targeted civilians, in numerous cases it has operated out of civilian facilities in complete contravention of international law and placed Palestinian civilians in great danger, often knowingly. Like most guerrilla operations, Hamas has perfected the art of blending into the population, but it has also callously discussed how the deaths of Palestinian civilians may further its cause on the international stage. It has conducted purges and extrajudicial killings of suspected informers, and it continues to direct unguided rockets and missiles in Israel’s direction, knowing there are civilian centers in their path. It’s founding documents are reprehensible and as Sam says, look forward to a genocide. It has expended Herculean efforts in building tunnels that we can only imagine would be used for kidnappings and murders, certainly of IDF personnel, but also of civilians if it would further their cause. They are far more focused on fighting Israel than bettering the situation of the Palestinian people. From all accounts, having Hamas in power would be like stepping back a couple of centuries or more in time. I would not want them as neighbors and I would certainly not wish to live in a state governed by them. Yet, we must be wary of conflating Hamas with the general Palestinian population and nothing I’ve said here should preclude criticizing the actions and policies of the Israeli government. Even if we agree that reducing Hamas’ influence is a just end, we still need to be assured just means are employed to reach it.

A very standard response to any criticism of Israeli policy or sympathy for Palestinians is “You must be an anti-semite” or “You are for Hamas”. I’m neither.

I’m quite optimistic. If people are left alone, the vast majority will choose to live peaceably with their neighbors. They are too busy with work, family, soap operas and the latest gaming console. That’s pretty much universal.

For a more pessimistic view of the past and how wide the gulf between Palestinians and Israelis is, you could start here.

Much of this essay is an attempt to provide context for the conflict. But there is so much context here, for both sides, that some people have forgotten the difference between right and wrong. I’ll try not to.

Human Shields

Now imagine reversing the roles here. Imagine how fatuous €”indeed comical it would be €”for the Israelis to attempt to use human shields to deter the Palestinians. Some claim that they have already done this. There are reports that Israeli soldiers have occasionally put Palestinian civilians in front of them as they’€™ve advanced into dangerous areas. That’€™s not the use of human shields we€™re talking about. It€™’s egregious behavior. No doubt it constitutes a war crime. But Imagine the Israelis holding up their own women and children as human shields. Of course, that would be ridiculous. The Palestinians are trying to kill everyone. Killing women and children is part of the plan. Reversing the roles here produces a grotesque Monty Python skit.

“The Palestinians are trying to kill everyone.” That’s a really strong statement. Does Sam mean to say the 400 children who’ve died thus far as a direct result of the IDF bombs were “trying to kill everyone”? What about the people in the West Bank, the Palestinians who work with Israelis every day?The claim that Hamas is using the Palestinian population as a human shield is everywhere, promoted quite actively by the Israeli government’s spokespeople. It’s part of the talking points developed by them. It is also dreadfully easy to dismantle, so easy that it almost makes one wonder why our journalists are being paid if they cannot challenge such statements.

Israeli troops are operating and living in civilian communities within Gaza and Israel has many military bases near populated areas. Israeli troops have used civilian structures (houses, stores, garden walls) as cover in every war they’ve fought in an urban environment. Even worse, Israeli soldiers have in past conflicts forced Palestinians to stay in a home while they take up sniper positions (which is the true definition of a human shield). Israeli soldiers using Palestinians as human shields (or doing anything else to Palestinians for that matter) are rarely prosecuted. Except for one instance which resulted in demotions and suspended sentences. That was for officers who had forced a 9 year old Palestinian boy to open bags they suspected contained explosives. Strange how the Israeli government cannot see fit to punish its own soldiers for the war crime it rails about on the news. So it seems rather disingenuous when Israeli spokespersons are upset over Hamas firing from “near” schools and homes.

Senior IDF staff have said the IDF follows a strategy called the “Dahiya doctrine” when engaged in urban warfare. It involves destroying civilian infrastructure to cause suffering and lower support for the resistance. One cannot look at the bombings of power plants and other infrastructure in Gaza without wondering whether this is in fact what the IDF is doing. We can at least assume that the doctrine reduces the level of care IDF forces use when bombing a dense urban area. And we should not forget that this is being done to a population that the Israeli government has certain obligations towards, since they are an occupying powers. Gaza is still under occupation since Israel controls access and egress, even though there are normally no military forces within Gaza. It is in effective control of Gaza, even the Rafah crossing with Egypt is governed under an Israeli-Egyptian treaty.

The harsh truth is that Palestinian “human shields” don’t stop today’s IDF. So Sam’s argument doesn’t hold any water at all. For a “human shield” to work, the opposing force would have to demonstrate restraint. The Israeli forces do not appear to have done so consistently. For instance, in this conflict and the previous two, Israeli forces have targeted the homes of Hamas operatives, on multiple occasions killing entire families, or entire extended families having dinner. There are no apologies forthcoming for this, they think people in their homes are legitimate targets.

This line of reasoning is extremely problematic. There’s a reason off-duty combatants are protected under the Geneva convention (to which Israel is a signatory and which cover armed occupations and resistance to them). There’s a reason their families are considered civilians. If they were not, every Israeli soldier’s home would be a legitimate target. The homes and settlements Israeli soldiers are billeted in would be legitimate targets.

Quite apart from their very questionable legality and purpose, most right-thinking Israelis should worry about the amount of cheer-leading in Israel for the strikes. No doubt the fear aroused by a steady stream of rockets and the sirens and evacuations that follow drive some of this sentiment. Yet, it’s not just nationalism or patriotism, there’s a strong current of actual racial hatred in the comments, especially from some younger people. And once again, this is not surprising, the occupation of Palestinian lands has been a long exercise in de-humanizing the Palestinians. The walls in Gaza and the West Bank are the final outcome of this process, out of sight, out of mind.

There are no Israeli journalists allowed in Gaza and they haven’t been for years. There are few photos of Palestinian dead published in Israeli media, which is part of the reason why Netanyahu can get away with saying things like “Telegenically Dead Palestinians”. And then there are the ubiquitous references to Golda Meir saying “We won’t forgive them for forcing us to kill their sons” which is always conveniently misquoted as children instead of sons (even Golda Meir didn’t have quite the chutzpah to quip about killing children on the record, apparently not a qualm the current crop of Israeli politicians share). These talking points attempt to absolve Israel of responsibility for the hundreds of dead children and a thousand adult civilians. There’s a far easier path to avoid that responsibility, don’t drop the bombs, no one is forcing you to kill children.

There’s yet another good option if, as Israel’s spokesmen claim, they care a great deal about Palestinian civilians, especially women and children. Just let them out of Gaza into Israel under the Iron Dome so Hamas can’t make them “telegenically dead”. They’d probably be glad to go back and rebuild the villages their parents and grand-parents were driven away from. In some cases,the ruins of those villages are within sight of Gaza.

And if as Netanyahu claims, Hamas aims to provoke Israel into attacking Gaza and creating dead civilians to bolster its cause, why give them what they want. If dead civilians bolster Hamas’ claims and further its political ends why oblige by indiscriminately shelling neighborhoods that you know have schools harboring refugees?

In the fullness of time, I expect people will look at this conflict like we look at Vietnam, or the US’s treatment of Native Americans, a great military machine doing its utmost to enforce its own terms on a weaker people.

Hamas is not a fringe group. Neither are the settler movement and Shas

But there is no way to look at the images coming out Gaza€” especially of infants and toddlers riddled by shrapnel€”and think that this is anything other than a monstrous evil. Insofar as the Israelis are the agents of this evil, it seems impossible to support them. And there is no question that the Palestinians have suffered terribly for decades under the occupation. This is where most critics of Israel appear to be stuck. They see these images, and they blame Israel for killing and maiming babies. They see the occupation, and they blame Israel for making Gaza a prison camp. I would argue that this is a kind of moral illusion, borne of a failure to look at the actual causes of this conflict, as well as of a failure to understand the intentions of the people on either side of it.[Note: I was not saying that the horror of slain children is a moral illusion; nor was I minimizing the suffering of the Palestinians under the occupation. I was claiming that Israel is not primarily to blame for all this suffering.]The truth is that there is an obvious, undeniable, and hugely consequential moral difference between Israel and her enemies. The Israelis are surrounded by people who have explicitly genocidal intentions towards them. The charter of Hamas is explicitly genocidal. It looks forward to a time, based on Koranic prophesy, when the earth itself will cry out for Jewish blood, where the trees and the stones will say €œO Muslim, there€™s a Jew hiding behind me. Come and kill him.€ This is a political document. We are talking about a government that was voted into power by a majority of Palestinians. [Note: Yes, I know that not every Palestinian supports Hamas, but enough do to have brought them to power. Hamas is not a fringe group.]

Israel Palestine Settlement Map

The claim that “Hamas is not a fringe group” is generally a rather naked attempt to paint all Palestinians as extremists. I’m going to challenge that further below, but first let’s talk about extremism in Israel. Ariel Sharon was not a fringe figure either. He was Prime Minister of Israel for five years after having served in various cabinets positions for years. And this is after he was held personally responsible for the murder of thousands at Sabra and Shatilla, by an Israeli investigation committee. Should we conclude that since Israelis elected someone who bore personal responsibility for a mass murder as their PM, they support mass murders?Perhaps all we can say at this point is that it’s a bit self-serving to read every fervent Hamas statement as genocidal intent while conveniently glossing over the history of the Israeli leadership.

Let’s talk about Hamas’ charter as well, which you see referenced everywhere. I’m going to make some fine distinctions here, please don’t assume I approve of Hamas’ charter, the organization or their goals, I do not. I think Hamas is terrible for the Palestinian cause and many Hamas representatives are guilty of terrible crimes. However, in the interest of accuracy, I must note that Sam’s assertion is incorrect. The document he refers to is not “the charter of their government in Gaza”. It is a foundational document of the group. Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian election on a specific platform. If as Sam says, we should take their words very seriously, then we should take a serious look at their platform. It included renouncing suicide bombings, an offer of a long-term truce with the state of Israel within the 1967 borders, and Hamas explicitly dropped from their manifesto a call for the destruction of Israel. That’s the platform that led to their election victory.

It may well be that the Hamas leadership isn’t truly saying what they believe. Who knows what darkness dwells in the hearts of men. It may well be that Hamas did all those things for purely political purposes, i.e. to attract moderates. But if you admit this is the case, you cannot simultaneously use their victory to besmirch the intentions of the general Palestinian people. They voted for a party that said it would give up suicide bombings and achieve a truce with Israel. The worst you could accuse the Palestinian people is of harboring the sentiment that the Israeli occupation was run by heartless bastards and maybe they needed their own heartless bastards to represent them, i.e. they wanted a hard-right government as well.

And if you claim Hamas doesn’t bring their true positions to the negotiating table or the public sphere, the same charge can easily be levied against the Israeli government as a whole. Successive Israeli administrations have continued building illegal settlements in the occupied territories while continuing to pay lip-service to a “peace process” that has now gone on for decades. It’s true that Hamas did not suggest they would have a final peaceful solution right away, they said that once the truce was in place, time itself would heal the wounds. This is not an entirely unreasonable position to have.

Hamas is no longer a fringe group, that is true. But Israel has to take some responsibility for initially encouraging Islamist groups as a means of fomenting division within the Palestinian political movements and to limit the growth of the PLO.

If one wants to shine a light at Hamas, a similar light would have to be shined on Shas, which is also not a fringe group either. You would also have to look at the settler movement, many of whom venerate Baruch Goldstein who killed 29 Palestinians at prayer in Hebron. You would have to ask why the Israeli government keeps supporting these settlements, keeps tipping the scales in favor of the settlers in every land dispute. You’d have to ask why the Israeli government has not managed to prosecute a single person for the so-called “Price Tag” attacks. Hate crimes and intimidation tactics that have involved the desecration of numerous churches and mosques, settler violence against Palestinians and the destruction of Palestinian property and farms. This is not “defense” this is colonial aggression supported by the state.

Even further, you would have to ask why the Likud government has allied with Shas repeatedly and why former Labor governments have done the same. Especially when their founder and spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has repeatedly said things like “It is forbidden to be merciful to them. You must send missiles to them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable” about Palestinians and Arabs in general. I will admit that Ovadia Yosef later apologized for another incendiary statement: “Abu Mazen and all these evil people should perish from this world. God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians.” But why should we believe his retraction if we don’t believe the current Hamas leadership when they say they have withdrawn their call for the destruction of Israel. Shas is not a fringe group, they have 10% of the seats in the Knesset and in the past they have held more.

If we want to get so upset about Hamas’s charter and the hadith of the Gharqad tree, we should be similarly apoplectic when Shas’ founder says “The Lord shall return the Arabs’ deeds on their own heads, waste their seed and exterminate them, devastate them and vanish them from this world”. Perhaps the successive Israeli governments that have allied with Shas do not believe any of this, maybe it’s just that politics makes strange bedfellows. But why not give the Palestinian factions the same benefit of doubt when they create a unity government with Hamas?

As an aside, I do believe Shas has a legitimate grievance. Many of their members are sephardic Jews who left their homes in various middle-eastern countries in duress, often under similar conditions to the flight of the Palestinians from their homes in Israel. Shas has demanded that they be compensated for the loss of property. If you believe the Palestinians should be compensated for the loss of their property in ’48 and later, then the same must be done for the sephardic population.

In the recent past, it has become rather fashionable to point to a particular Islamic text and ascribe genocidal or “terrorist” intentions to it, and then use this to paint an entire people as genocidal terrorists. What then should we make of the following (Sam Harris knows and acknowledges this, I put these quotes in anticipation of other objections):

Only in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes. But you shall utterly destroy them,When the Lord your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you, and when the Lord your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them

They [Israel] utterly destroyed everything in the city [Jericho], both man and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword

Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.

Sounds pretty genocidal doesn’t it? They’re all quotes from the Old Testament. Should we conclude that these words do not have an impact on orthodox Jews who believe the Torah is a literal commandment and set of laws? If we accept Sam’s argument that most religious authorities in the Jewish world do not read these literally, we must also admit that apart from various fundamentalist Sunni schools, most Islamic scholars will likewise diminish the import of the various similarly bloody Islamic texts.In general, the vast majority of people in our world do not wake up each morning dreaming of genocide against any particular group. They are far too busy with their own lives. And most who have been aggrieved will find room in their hearts to forgive.

If we’re taking words literally though, what should we make of the words of Moshe Faeglin, who is deputy speaker of the Knesset and part of the Likud leadership. In an Op-Ed in Arutz Sheva on July 15, 2014, he writes:

Attack Attack the entire €˜target bank€™ throughout Gaza with the IDF€™s maximum force (and not a tiny fraction of it) with all the conventional means at its disposal. All the military and infrastructural targets will be attacked with no consideration for €˜human shields€™ or €˜environmental damage€™. It is enough that we are hitting exact targets and that we gave them advance warning.Defense Any place from which Israel or Israel€™s forces were attacked will be immediately attacked with full force and no consideration for €˜human shields€™ or €˜environmental damage€™.Conquer €“After the IDF completes the “softening” of the targets with its fire-power, the IDF will conquer the entire Gaza, using all the means necessary to minimize any harm to our soldiers, with no other considerations.

A senior member of the Israeli government feels this is the “Solution” for Gaza. It matches the actual actions of the Israeli army quite well. Should we not suspect these ideas have seeped down the ladder and been adopted by troops on the ground in some form? If they haven’t, why does the Israeli government not investigate civilian deaths and allegations of disproportionate force.This all in keeping with a rightward shift in Israeli politics that has been underway for decades, as immigration has increased from the former USSR and the Middle-East. You can reach your own conclusions about why. But perhaps the “sleeping beauty thesis” has something to do with it. What’s the first thing that happens when the castle awakens? The cook boxed the kitchen boy’s ears. What’s the first thing that happened when the USSR broke up and various ethnic groups were free to re-kindle tribal rivalries?

Fear of what the Palestinians might do

There is every reason to believe that the Palestinians would kill all the Jews in Israel if they could. Would every Palestinian support genocide? Of course not. But vast numbers of them€”and of Muslims throughout the world€”would. Needless to say, the Palestinians in general, not just Hamas, have a history of targeting innocent noncombatants in the most shocking ways possible. They€™’ve blown themselves up on buses and in restaurants. They’€™ve massacred teenagers. They€™’ve murdered Olympic athletes. They now shoot rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas.What would the Jews do to the Palestinians if they could do anything they wanted? Well, we know the answer to that question, because they can do more or less anything they want. The Israeli army could kill everyone in Gaza tomorrow. So what does that mean? Well, it means that, when they drop a bomb on a beach and kill four Palestinian children, as happened last week, this is almost certainly an accident. They’€™re not targeting children. They could target as many children as they want.

There is no excuse for the suicide bombings that Hamas and other terrorist organizations with Palestinian roots have conducted. There was 1 suicide bombing in the 80s, 22 in the 90s, and 147 in the 00s. There have been none since 2008 as Hamas disavowed suicide bombings in 2006 (other groups continued for a while). Some of these bombings were against IDF targets. A total of about 800 people were killed (that’s equivalent to last week’s toll in Gaza), with 2003 and 2004 being the worst years. But Sam’s assertion that “the Palestinians in general” have a history of targeting innocents has to be challenged vigorously. If the Palestinians in general acted on the murderous impulses Sam believes they mostly harbor, we would expect to see suicide bombings in their thousands and tens of thousands. That is simply not the case.Now, what Sam might be saying is that a majority of Palestinians supported suicide bombings. The support has dropped from 62% to 46% in the past year and continues to trend downwards. If we’re considering approval ratings, what does one make of the almost 90% approval among Israelis for bombings that have killed over 400 children thus far, and possibly thrice that number of adult civilians? That’s far more than were killed in suicide bombings over 20 years. And this death toll has been racked up in a couple of weeks. Perhaps they just don’t find death by drone and smart-bombs as shocking as a suicide bombing.

The real question as I see it, is not “What would the Jews do to the Palestinians if they could do anything they wanted?” but rather “What would Israeli forces do to the Palestinians if roles were reversed?” i.e. if they were looking to conquer or regain land and statehood that were lost.

We can go back to a time when roles were reversed, in 1948, when the Israelis were fighting for territory. Israeli militia massacred over 100 villagers in Deir Yassin, including women and children. The Haganah did apologize for these actions, so maybe we want to ignore the Irgun and the Stern gang as “fringe/rogue elements” (Arab armies were guilty of killing civilians in the war). But what then do you make of the Khan Yunis and Rafah massacres of 1957, where almost 400 civilians were killed by IDF forces? This happened in a war of aggression by Israel to take over the Sinai and the Suez canal, aided and abetted by France and the UK? Were those isolated incidents as well? I bring this up because these massacres figure prominently in the psyche of Palestinians (and Rafah, Khan Yunis specifically for Gazans). It is why Palestinians are skeptical of Israeli notices to leave their homes and flee. Their parents did just that, and their homes were razed to the ground and laws passed by Israel’s democratic institutions to ensure they could never return (the Nakba).

Green Line Beirut, 1982

What should we make of the 1982 war in Lebanon, which the Israeli government initiated to put in place a Lebanese Christian president it felt would be sympathetic to its cause. Menachem Begin, the Israeli PM, said at the time the war would deliver 40 years of Peace. This sounds tragically ironic now for a variety of reasons. In general, we should be suspicious of politicians who claim war will deliver peace. But we should be particularly suspicious of Menachem Begin. Begin led the Irgun, during 1948 when they were responsible for a number of atrocities against Palestinian civilians (including Deir Yassin). Begin ordered the bombing of the King David Hotel in 1946, which killed over 90 people, many of them British officials. Begin’s crew was also responsible for the kidnapping and murder of British soldiers. On his visit to the US in 1948, Albert Einstein, Hannah Arendt and others called the party he led fascist, and the actions of the Irgun (which he had also led) as terrorism. Despite all this, the Israeli people chose him to be Prime Minister in 1977.In 1982 Begin decided he would flush out a break-away faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from Lebanon by invading the country and putting a sympathetic Christian leader in place. To achieve that end (a political end), the IDF shelled and bombed Beirut heavily, for ten weeks. Beirut was largely destroyed, as were Tyre and Sidon. Possibly 10,000 people died in this war. It’s estimated 2,500 were under the age of 15.

Should we conclude the Israeli population supports terrorists (supposedly reformed ones) for high political office? That they condone such wars?

The story gets better. This was also the war in which Ariel Sharon’s forces (he was defense minister at the time) closed exits to a Palestinian refugee camp and let in Christian militia allied with Israel. They ended up murdering 3,000 civilians (mostly Shia Palestinians) in Sabra and Shatila. So there’s that.

And now for some irony. Hezbollah (the Shia militia that is Israel’s arch-nemesis and primary bogey-man) was founded directly after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and the massacre in Sabra and Shatila. The Shia population decided they couldn’t trust anyone else to protect them (same conclusion the Israelis reached after WW-II). If you’re trying to understand Hezbollah’s animosity towards Israel, perhaps the 1982 Lebanese war has something to do with it.

Further irony. Al-Qaeda leaders said the images of women and children killed in the bombing of Beirut is what initially drove them to attack civilian targets in the West (including the September 11 bombings).

So there we have Menachem Begin’s “40 years of peace”.

When Sam says:

Needless to say, in defending its territory as a Jewish state, the Israeli government and Israelis themselves have had to do terrible things.

It would be more accurate to modify that sentence to read “in acquiring and defending its territory”. Which is an important distinction since we should acknowledge that every “terrible thing” the Israeli government has done is not purely for “defense”. And it’s important to discuss those “terrible things” to gain an understanding of the impact they’ve had on the Palestinians and their psyche.To round out how Begin’s legacy lives on, it was his government that began building Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. The party he founded in 1973 was called Likud, it holds power in Israel today and Netanyahu is their leader. In case you’re thinking Begin was an exception, and perhaps Sharon as well, what then do we make of Yitzhak Shamir, who led the Lehi (also known as the Stern Gang) and was similarly complicit in atrocities on Palestinian civilians. He served as Prime Minister twice. So three out of twelve Israeli PMs have been directly responsible for some form of atrocity against Palestinians. That’s not “exceptional”. And we haven’t even discussed cabinet ministers yet. There is so much dirt to go around, on both sides, that none of the major players have clean hands.

Perhaps we shouldn’t begrudge the Palestinians too much their choice of heartless leaders who will use violent means to achieve their political ends. One could argue, Israel has had a head start on that.

We must not forget though, that there have also been men (and women) of good intent on both sides. People who have sought to achieve some semblance of a just peace. And that should give us hope.

Coming back to the present, smaller scale. What do we make of near universal support for the occupation of the West Bank, where there have been 1-2 civilians killed by the IDF each month? Most of them either demonstrators or people who wandered too close to a fence or an Israeli outpost. Should we conclude that the Israeli government with the full support of the people condones the routine killing of civilians?

What should we conclude when we see people cheering bombs dropping on Gaza, or chanting “Death to Arabs” and worse on a public street in Israel? Are these all instances of “Israeli soldiers going berserk under pressure”? If they and the persistent settler violence are indeed acts at the fringes of Israeli society, why are virtually no IDF soldiers prosecuted or indicted and why do individual settlers and settler organizations enjoy the same impunity? If we find suicide bombings shocking, why do we not find the routine killings of civilians with impunity in the occupied territories equally shocking, especially when they occur in greater numbers and kill more people? Are these the actions of a state utilizing just means?

Sam is quite wrong when he says “there is an obvious, undeniable, and hugely consequential moral difference between Israel and her enemies”. Both parties have used terrorism in the past to achieve territorial gains or political advantage. They continue to use violence to further their ends. That is the moral equivalence. Israel just does it with far more sophistication, higher kill counts, and a bigger bureaucracy to back it all and provide some cover. That bureaucracy and the claim that Israeli forces do not target civilians should not distract us from the larger truth that both parties continue to pursue political ends through war or violence. Especially when dozens of Palestinian civilians are killed each year in the West Bank with impunity, and many more in Gaza out of carelessness or as afterthoughts.

None of this should be taken to mean I condone violence or terrorism. And since I don’t condone killing but it’s clear Israel’s institutions and leaders have a history of killing Palestinians, I ask why we should believe Sam at all when he says “Jews” do not want to kill “Palestinians”? When there are over 5,000 civilians dead over the course of a decade what should we conclude? Are they all “exceptional cases”? Should we consider stated intentions alone and ignore actions and consequences entirely?

Perhaps Sam’s argument about the relative morality of Israel vs. Palestinians comes down to deciding between what “Hamas/Palestinians/Arabs” say they will do in theory (the genocidal intentions) against what Israeli forces end up doing in fact. The truth is, no one knows what an independent Palestinian people with their own state will do, we can only guess. The leader of Hamas recently said it wasn’t for him to recognize Israel or not, the Palestinian people will make that choice once they have a state and a government. Who knows whether Hamas will play any political role in it at all? I hope fervently it does not.

If we want to accept what people say at face value, we should note that Netanyahu said last week he will never accept a two-state solution. This isn’t even news, though I suspect most Americans think it is. We naively believe that peace in the Middle-East is just around the corner, if only we could get the Israelis and the Palestinians to sit and talk over another plate of hummus we’d have a deal. The plain fact is that Likud’s party platform for 1999 said they would not support a two-state solution with sovereignty for the Palestinians. They have not veered from that position. Maybe not in so many words, but is this not a call for the “destruction of Palestine”?

In effect, the freely elected Israeli government is advocating effective apartheid (limited rights for Palestinians) and Bantustans (racial enclaves or ghettos), in perpetuity. They’re advocating an eternal military occupation where Palestinians are surrounded on all sides by Israeli checkpoints, where children are arbitrarily “arrested” by military forces and harshly interrogated, where IDF soldiers shoot civilians with impunity at the rate of one or two a month and there is no freedom of movement for either goods or people. Netanyahu sees no reason to change the “facts on the ground”. How would Israelis react if roles were reversed?

Now, is it possible that some Israeli soldiers go berserk under pressure and wind up shooting into crowds of rock-throwing children? Of course. You will always find some soldiers acting this way in the middle of a war. But we know that this isn€™t the general intent of Israel. We know the Israelis do not want to kill non-combatants, because they could kill as many as they want, and they€™re not doing it.

But if we’re going to play hypotheticals, we should indeed ask how things would be if roles were reversed. If the Palestinian state were in the position of Israel and the Israeli people were living under the occupation, what means would they employ? We actually do know how that might play out because we have the very early history of Israel to go by. The Irgun, the Stern gang and Lehi all participated in massacres and bombings that claimed hundreds of civilian lives. These forces were absorbed into the IDF. Forces under the command of the Haganah forcibly removed Arabs from villages and destroyed their homes. So the history of extremist factions within Israel and the IDF is not particularly pleasant either. If Israel were occupied, it is not unreasonable to think that armed resistance and possibly terrorism would again be utilized by extremist factions.What matters is not whether we believe the Israelis are “better” than the Palestinians. The right question to ask is whether or not a particular action is right.

Is bombing of civilians wrong? Is it more wrong if it is solely targeted at civilians? What if there is a military target mixed in with civilians? What is the soldiers are off-duty at a bus-stop? Is it wrong to repeatedly fire if you have no control over direction and know there are civilian targets within range?

Is it right to drop a bomb on the home of a combatant? What if they are not fighting at the time, i.e off-duty? What if they are at home with 25 other people, half of whom are children? What if it is one off-duty target who is with his two sons?

All of these examples are of incidents that have happened. The first group are all examples of suicide bombings and rockets that various Palestinian factions have launched (Hamas, Al-Aqsa Martyrs, Palestinian Islamic Jihad). The second is an example of targeted strikes Israeli forces have launched. Neither party has claimed these were errors. They were intentional.

Let’s be clear, under International law, they are all wrong. Even if you broadcast warnings. Especially when children are victims.

I’ve kept the descriptions generic since I want you think about the question in the abstract, not whether the target was a Hamas fighter or an IDF soldier. Because the moral question isn’t really about them. It’s about the people around them who died or were maimed.

Kant’s categorical imperative is that you cannot use a rational being as a means to an end. Killing someone’s child, or their relatives as part of the action to eliminate them is immoral and should be criticized.

And finally, to come back to Sam’s justification for Israeli action. A threat is not justification for violence. “Pre-emptive war” was wrong when advocated by Dick Cheney, and it remains wrong when advocated by Benjamin Netanyahu.

We should also examine the number killed. Sam assures us that Israel uses restraint and avoids civilian casualties, that it is not needlessly killing Palestinian civilians. Do the numbers bear this out?

Over 5,000 Palestinians have died in the past 10 years as a direct consequence of the conflict, most of them civilians, including hundreds of children. Just over 220 Israelis have perished, most of them soldiers. So the Israeli state has, over the course of the past 10 years, killed more Palestinian children than it has lost soldiers. Looking at it another way, 1 out of every 1,000 Palestinians living in the occupied territories has been killed. That would be the equivalent of 300,000 deaths in the US.

I think most people given that data would conclude that the Israeli government would rather kill Palestinian children to achieve its objectives than sacrifice its soldiers.

A Jewish State

I don€™t think Israel should exist as a Jewish state. I think it is obscene, irrational and unjustifiable to have a state organized around a religion. So I don’€™t celebrate the idea that there’€™s a Jewish homeland in the Middle East. I certainly don’€™t support any Jewish claims to real estate based on the Bible.

I quote that only because I agree with Sam Harris completely on this one. I do not even know what a “Jewish state” means, or an “Islamic State” or a “Buddhist state” for that matter. Perhaps it comes about once Netanyahu’s achieved his objective to amend the Israeli constitution and create “the nation state of one people only – the jews – and of no other people”.

It is worth observing, however, that Israel isn’€™t €œJewish€ in the sense that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are €œMuslim.€ As my friend Jerry Coyne points out, Israel is actually less religious than the U.S., and it guarantees freedom of religion to its citizens. Israel is not a theocracy, and one could easily argue that its Jewish identity is more cultural than religious.

How then does one explain the continuing attempts, over decades to build settlements in the West Bank, to create an Israel from the sea to the river? How do you square this claim with laws that discriminate against Arabs? How do you square it with evicting Palestinian families who were granted former Jewish homes after 1948, paired with a steadfast refusal to recognize any reciprocal Palestinian property rights? If Israel is not a theocracy, or is “less religious” than other countries, how do you square this with calls from members of the Likud leadership for only Jews tp be recognized as citizens of Israel? If we are, as Sam repeatedly posits, to take every statement made by Hamas seriously, surely we should take every statement made by members of the Israeli government with the utmost seriousness as well.And if we accept Israel’s claims that these lands are theirs, then Belgium can claim the Congo, and African colonization was just (we’re all from Africa). I don’t think people want to go there. If instead, the question is where to draw the line, why is 3000 years ago so important. Why not 75 years? Solely because that would place 95% of Israel in Palestinian hands?

Likud’s most recent pre-requisite for talks is that all parties recognize Israel as a “Jewish state”. What exactly is that supposed to mean? Does it means non-Jews aren’t welcome in Israel? Or does it mean they are, but only up to a certain number. What happens if most of the Jews in Israel decide to convert to Buddhism? Is the state then going to force them to convert back? What if the current Muslim and Christian population has a higher growth rate and Jews are about to become a minority? Will the state force-sterilize them? Will it force them to leave Israel? Or will it give them three-fifths of a vote? Does a Jewish state mean it will be run along the lines of the Vatican? At what point is it a theocracy?

Or maybe what you worship isn’t that important, as long as your family was Jewish and you’re not Arab. But if that’s so, how is this any different than demands for a whites-only South Africa, or a white Mississippi. Different place, same idea.

If someone were to suggest that the US be recognized as a “Christian state” or that its “Christian character” be preserved and protected (as many do), most people would have a conniption. Why then should US policy be to help the current Israeli government make this a precondition. Why should peace talks be held up once again by the occupying power’s arbitrary demand to be “recognized” as something or the other?

This concept of a “Jewish state” is completely alien to US ideals and values. A state that respects everyone’s rights is what we should be pushing for.

Better than Assad and ISIS

Every day that you could read about an Israeli rocket gone astray or Israeli soldiers beating up an innocent teenager, you could have read about ISIS in Iraq crucifying people on the side of the road, Christians and Muslims. Where is the outrage in the Muslim world and on the Left over these crimes? Where are the demonstrations, 10,000 or 100,000 deep, in the capitals of Europe against ISIS? If Israel kills a dozen Palestinians by accident, the entire Muslim world is inflamed. God forbid you burn a Koran, or write a novel vaguely critical of the faith. And yet Muslims can destroy their own societies€”and seek to destroy the West€”and you don€™t hear a peep.

This is a serious point. Not unlike the European wars between Protestants and Catholics, various factions within Islam have been warring for decades over territory, power and mind-share using sectarian sentiment as a wedge. In most cases, these distinctions are used by “leaders” to whip up sentiment and propel themselves to power and wealth. The people suffer under the yoke of their ambitions. This is a terrible thing and I wish for all these people the benefits of self-determination and peaceful democracy with full protections of minority rights.The “better than Assad or ISIS” argument though needs to have the hypothetical question set up correctly. Israel is not facing an existential threat with Hamas today. To make a comparison with the Syrian conflict and the Alawite administration’s response, you would have to ask what level of Palestinian casualties would the Israeli government be willing to cause if it were facing an existential threat. We know the current government thinks of a thousand deaths as “mowing the grass”. If Palestinian militias were rampaging through Tel Aviv, killing hundreds or thousands, or taking over large swaths of the occupied territories and Israel itself, I’d expect scorched earth policies in response. History, once again, can serve as a guide. The 1982 Lebanon war with the destruction of Beirut is pretty comparable, in terms of lives taken, to the bombing of Hama in 1981 by Hafez al-Assad.

Deir Yassin

Israel’s government today is fighting wars to consolidate territory and control an occupied population. Back in the 1940s, 50s and 60s when they were trying to conquer territory, Israeli forces were pretty adept at massacres, in Deir Yassin, Khan Yunis, Rafah, etc. Their actions then are the ones to compare with what ISIS is doing now. The IDF too, destroyed property and infrastructure, issued threats, effected random killings. True, this has all happened before in many different places, not least in the US against Native Americans. But that does not excuse this instance, nor does it oblige us to accept the Israeli government assertion that it is simply “defending its territory”.Am I saying the Israeli government is €œas bad as€ Assad or ISIS. No, I€™’m not. Yet, when placed in similar positions, Israeli forces were not above using similar tactics. To their credit, the Israeli establishment subsequently expelled the most extreme elements (Lehi/Irgun), though all those people came back into public life later and founded Likud, which has had a very receptive welcome in modern Israel. We should evaluate very carefully the Israeli claim that everything they do is from a defensive stance since there are at least two wars of aggression in Israel€™s history, the Suez crisis and the 1982 Lebanon war. Most would also argue the Six-Day war was pre-emptive since Israel moved against the Egyptian air-force without being attacked and did the same in Syria/Jordan. The Israeli government€™s behavior towards the Palestinian people is also to be questioned vigorously, the historical record is quite clear that successive Israeli governments have done their utmost to stall the development of a Palestinian state, often through violent means and by encouraging warring factions in an attempt to divide and conquer.


Whatever terrible things the Israelis have done, it is also true to say that they have used more restraint in their fighting against the Palestinians than we€”the Americans, or Western Europeans€”have used in any of our wars. They have endured more worldwide public scrutiny than any other society has ever had to while defending itself against aggressors. The Israelis simply are held to a different standard. And the condemnation leveled at them by the rest of the world is completely out of proportion to what they have actually done.

The out-sized focus on Israel does seem unfair when as Sam says there are many, many other conflicts that are taking a far worse civilian toll (for instance, who remembers Sri Lankan Civil War of 2007)? There are two things that set the Israel-Palestine conflict apart though. The first is that it has been going on for over 70 years, through cold and hot wars. The average person has heard about it multiple times in their life and can’t be faulted for being a bit curious about it.The second is that Israel’s actions (settlements, military rule, arbitrary arrests, etc.) in the occupied territories (West Bank and Gaza) is seen by most of the world as a colonial enterprise. Much of the world has experience with European colonialism, most of it painful and that generates understandable empathy for the Palestinian cause. Rightly or wrongly, many look at Israel as yet another European colonial enterprise. Of course, within the Islamic world, there are associations made with the crusades as well.

Perhaps Israel’s only fault is that it embarked on a colonial effort about 150 years too late, and precisely when most colonies were regaining independence from their European colonial powers.

If the Occupied Territories are not a colony, why then do we see the basic rights of Palestinians living there routinely trampled. Why are Palestinians arrested routinely without any opportunity to provide a legal defense? Why can they be detained for arbitrary periods? Why have7,000 children been arrested by Israeli forces in the occupied territories over the past 15 years? Why have many of these children been harshly interrogated in complete violation of international norms? Why have Palestinian families been evicted from homes in Jerusalem that were owned by Jews prior to 1948 but not a single Palestinian-owned property in Israel has been returned? Why do Israeli forces protect settlers who are trespassing, encroaching or building on Palestinian land in the occupied territories? Why are Palestinians not free to move about in the West Bank, or in and out of Gaza? Why does the Israeli government, under a security pretext, make it so much harder to get goods in and out of the West Bank or Gaza for Palestinian businesses?These are all methods used by colonial powers. We can only conclude that the Israeli government is a colonial power and via its settlements it intends to establish effective control over additional territory. Peoples with colonial experience, except apparently Americans (who have worn both hats) recognize this for what it is. The “security” or “defense” motive, is directly related to a colonial power furthering its territorial and political ambitions under the guise of maintaining order.

On the one hand we have absolute hysteria over the fact that some flights to Israel were halted. Meanwhile, the Palestinians have lived for decades under Israeli checkpoints at every entry and exit under the occupation. And we’re expected to be upset that Israeli vacation plans were disrupted?

In the end, the key moral question we need to consider is whether an occupation and denial of rights that have impacted two generations is just. With every passing year, the charge of apartheid rings more and more true. The Israelis have had decades to reach a just peace with the Palestinians and they haven’t. Every settlement, every checkpoint, every act of rudeness or ill will by an IDF soldier makes the prospect even more remote.

Of Means and Ends and the Mediterranean

We know what Hamas is fighting for, they say it’s the liberation of the land of Palestine. They want to liberate their homeland from the Israelis, by any means necessary. Their popularity is built on a reputation for not compromising. It should be clear that I in no way sympathize with Hamas, their ends are insanity and the means they have employed in the recent past despicable. But neither do I sympathize with the IDF. The means they have employed are despicable as is Israel’s continuing subjugation and oppression of millions.

What is the end of the Israeli action? It’s clear the current Israeli administration does not want Palestinian independence (the two state solution) unless the Palestinian territories continue to be tightly controlled by Israel. Successive Israeli governments have worked to build settlements in the West Bank. Is their goal to “liberate” as much of Palestine from the Palestinians as they can while keeping fatalities to a thousand or so every other year?

The Israeli government claims everything it does is from a security pretext, but in truth that cannot be the case. Hamas’ rocket attacks cause virtually no loss of life in Israel, in numerical terms their impact on civilians is the equivalent of a bad traffic accident. They’ve been described as a nuisance, and reports that the Iron Dome missiles create more wreckage and consternation than the ones they’re taking down. I agree that the government of Israel has a responsibility to stop them, but is precision bombing families in their homes the only way? Hamas’s tunnels are also a concern, but can they not be destroyed without making half the population of Gaza homeless and destroying thousands of homes and apartment buildings?

The Palestinian and Israeli people also have to ask themselves another question about their sacred texts. The Bible/Torah and the Koran/Hadith are both religious and political texts. If you don’t see that upon reading them, you are intentionally blind. Allowing these texts to influence your political institutions has a cost. You end up with the politics of the 7th century or the earlier. Eventually, you will end up with a society from the same era.

This brings me to a digression on Palestine. Most people will instantly connect Palestine with the rest of the Middle-East, think Arab, think Saudi Arabia, think women in abayas. Palestine though, is partly a Mediterranean nation. As such, it has been exposed to travelers and people from every part of Southern Europe and Northern Africa. For centuries. Lest we forget, for a long time it was a Roman colony.

Why should this matter? It matters because like the other Mediterranean states in the Middle-East (Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt), Palestine is a plural, multi-cultural society. Even prior to the arrival of European Jewish immigrants in the 1800s, it had a Christian population and a Jewish population (around 10%). This matters because it has influenced Palestinian culture, which was largely secular. It is misleading to suggest that Palestinian society cannot live with a secular government or leadership. In fact, the PLO is explicitly secular and it was Israeli policy to support Islamist elements as a counter-weight to the PLO that have led to the rise of Hamas and their ilk (though the steady radicalization of the surrounding region hasn’t hurt).

Constructive Criticism

The roots of this particular conflict run deep. They are at least 150 years old, when many Eastern-European Jews, fleeing pogroms in Europe, came to Palestine as part of the original Zionist movement. That migration began before the Nazis killed 6 million Jews (and probably 10 million other civilians) in a genocide unmatched in scale and brutality by anything in recorded history. After and during the holocaust, it picked up steam.The world empathized with the victims of the holocaust, which is why the UN carved Israel out of Palestine, by giving away land that was not truly theirs to give. I do not agree at all with people who say Israel should not exist and the Israelis should return to Europe. Many Israelis have lived their lives in this land and they know no other. We have to recognize that. The Israelis have a claim to this land, that much is true. But ameliorating the suffering Jewish peoples have endured cannot come on the backs of the Palestinian people. That too is true.

There is so much pain and blame to pass around that you can spend your whole life tallying it up. And many have. Spending years and lives in recrimination and vengeance. It isn’t worth it. The only thing that matters is what happens next.

As I see it, the Palestinian and Israeli people can choose between having two states, one state, three states or no state. Two states is what a peace “process” that has gone nowhere for 70 years (since the mid 1940s) claims is the best option. Three states would be unacceptable to Palestinians (Gaza and the West Bank permanently separated), but may be what some Israeli factions think is achievable. No state is what happens if one of the other nations on the periphery absorbs Israel-Palestine. One state is effectively what you have today, with two regions that have some autonomy but no sovereignty or control over their borders.

Increasingly to me, it looks like the logic and “facts on the ground” are driving matters towards the one state option. And here’s a rough road-map for a one state option that is just.

Without a referendum approved by the majority of Palestinians and Israelis this plan will not work. Any peace proposal requires the people to be on-board explicitly

Immediate steps:

  • All newly born children to have Israel-Palestine citizenship.
  • Integrate primary schools.
  • Free and fair elections for local municipalities to include all residents.
  • Absorb all Palestinian militia into the IDF.
  • Integrate civil police forces.
  • Establish a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate all violence.
  • A separate legislature for Palestine
  • Internal travel, study and work restrictions eased for those under 21 and over 65.
  • Control Immigration both Jewish and Palestinian, perhaps with long residency requirements.

In 5 years:

  • All children under 18 years of age and all citizens over 65 gain Israel-Palestine citizenship.
  • Integrate middle and high schools.
  • Truth and reconciliation committee completes initial investigations.
  • Palestinian and Israeli lawmakers meet to revise basic laws.
  • All internal travel, work restrictions lifted on Palestinians and Israelis. Anyone can go anywhere.

In 15 years:

  • All residents transition to a Israel-Palestine citizenship.

In 18 years:

  • First elections to a unified legislature.

What the Israeli and Palestinian people really need to ask themselves, is whether they want to end up like Zimbabwe, or South Africa. In Zimbabwe you have a freedom movement that continued to stick with the methods of armed struggle well after this became unnecessary. In South Africa, you have one that laid down its arms and negotiated a peace. South Africa is by no means a perfect society, but Israel-Palestine might have a much simpler re-unification since so many Israelis have roots in the Middle East and the Israeli occupation has been less brutal and dehumanizing than South Africa’s was (though not in the violence meted out by the IDF).

The biggest benefit a one-state solution offers is that it gives something to both the right and the left in each camp. Both extreme rights can claim they’ve gained their objective of a complete Israel and a complete Palestine. Jewish settlers can (eventually) settle wherever they want. Palestinian refugees can (eventually) return to their ancestral homes. The left and moderates too gain something, they have an opportunity to prove what they’ve been claiming all along, that the two societies can live together in peace.

A two-state solution is not in keeping with US values. The Palestinian resistance must lay down arms just as the ANC did in South Africa and Israel must grant Palestinians equal rights in one state. There’s a model for something similar in the region, Lebanon. It’s not perfect, but then neither is a two-state solution. With two states, attitudes will inevitably harden on the right in both states and the “Jewish state” and the “Palestinian state” will be back at war in 20 or 30 years. And they are both more likely to be state-lets rather than true states with defensible borders and complete sovereignty.

Footnote: Why I care

I look at the treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli government as part of a long line of unjust oppression which includes the Jim Crow laws. American Jews endured discrimination for years in America, which is why so many participated in the Civil Rights movement and a number gave their lives.If you accept my view that the treatment of Palestinians is an injustice, but think Israel should be given time to catch up, why not Saudi Arabia, they’re only a few decades further behind.

I am now an American, and the US is intimately involved, generally on the side of Israel. This has not always been the case, Eisenhower (who had to deal with the Suez Crisis) and George H.W. Bush (who was an oilman with close ties to the Saudis) had a far more circumspect view of Israeli motives and actions.

I’ve felt the sense of insecurity that comes from seeing your own city in flames. I understand the fear that comes from knowing your “people” are the target of someone else’s hate. It is true that in this century perhaps no one except possibly the Tutsis/Cambodians have had as dreadful an experience as the Jewish population of Europe and other victims of the Nazis. If not in degree, I can understand in principle the urge to respond overwhelmingly to every provocation. Yet, I despise, despise so-called leaders who will use violence to achieve political ends without exhausting all other means of redress. And yes, this includes war-mongering American politicians as well. If you believe in Hell, please pray that a special place is reserved for those who let war decimate the lives of so many people unknown to them.

In general, I feel the true moral question at the heart of every multi-cultural democracy is not what we would do for someone who is known to us or shares our ethnicity or religion. The true test of our morality is how we treat and what we will do for those we do not know.

I have never lived anywhere where I am not part of a minority. I’m part of a diaspora today. Living in one of the most diverse neighborhoods in one of the most diverse cities in the world. I made my own peace with being a minority a long time ago. I decided I would treat all people with the same degree of respect. In the final reckoning, we are all a minority of one.

I said it was long form didn’t I.