Sunday, November 1, 2009

What Really Happened in Gaza?
by David Gilfix

This article was published in the Fall 2009 Issue of Midstream magazine. 

Imagine that you wanted to understand Beethoven’s 6th Symphony, and were then given a recording only of the string section – the entire wind, brass, and percussion section had been left out.  Imagine further that no one told you that those sections were missing, so you believed that Beethoven’s 6th Symphony involved only string instruments.  Now, imagine that you wanted to understand the Gaza war, and decided to follow the news.  You were presented with photographs, videos and seemingly play-by-play reports of the fighting.  Imagine further that no one told you that anything was missing in your news reports, so that you believed you understood what really happened in Gaza.

If you followed the news about the Gaza war, metaphorically you’ve already heard the strings. This discussion will try to fill-in some of the wind, brass, and percussion section.

Two Blockades

To develop a perspective on any political event one must not focus exclusively on that event.   Our discussion about Gaza will begin 47 years ago, in a different place: On November 15, 1962, US reconnaissance photos discovered intermediate- range Soviet missiles under construction in Cuba.  President Kennedy spent the following week in intensive discussions and debate with twelve of his most trusted advisors.  Then on November 22, Kennedy publicly disclosed the existence of the missiles and announced that he was imposing a naval blockade to prevent additional offensive weapons onto Cuban shore.  Further, Kennedy declared that any missiles launched from Cuban soil would be considered an attack on the United States by the Soviet Union, including missiles not directly aimed at the United States.

During September 2005, Israel dismantled 21 settlements of 8,500 people from Gaza, leaving Gaza Judenrien for the first time since the 1967 Six-Day War and free, for the first time ever, to establish its own government on its own territory.  Prior to 1967, Gaza was under control of Egypt.  Many hoped that Israel’s withdrawal would bring about an end to all acts of terrorism emanating from Gaza, including the launching of rockets and missiles into Israel.  It did not.  Instead, there was an increase in missile attacks from Gaza into Israel. 

On January 25, 2006, the militant Islamic group Hamas, which had openly called for the annihilation of Israel, was elected to the leadership of Gaza.  Rocket attacks increased even more.  According to the Jewish Policy Center, from 2001 until the Hamas takeover in 2007, Palestinians launched roughly 2,021 Qassam rockets into the Western Negev, mainly into the Israeli town of Sderot.  Under Hamas rule between mid-June 2007 through January 2008, Palestinians launched 2,227 rockets into Sderot, an average of almost four rockets every day.

Israel’s initial response to the rockets was to impose a blockade around Gaza, similar to Kennedy’s response to the Cuban missile crisis.  Israel wanted to prevent residents of Gaza from receiving more offensive weapons.  However, therein ends the similarities with the United States.  Kennedy had imposed a blockade in response to the mere existence of missiles on Cuban soil.  The blockade was a first step.  Kennedy made clear that the act of launching a missile – even one directed at a non-US target – would be met with a military response.  Israel, on the other hand, was responding to hundreds of rocket attacks with a blockade. 

Responding to Threats

Thirty-nine years after the Cuban missile crisis, the United States demonstrated to the world how it would respond if attacked on its own soil.  Immediately after 9/11, the United States unloaded with an overpowering military might to topple the Taliban controlled Afghanistani government within which the terrorist group, Al Qaeda, had found safe harbor. 

In contrast to the international sympathy and support bestowed upon the United States for their military operations in Afghanistan, critics of Israel decried the country’s response of a blockade as collective punishment.  As terrorist attacks increased, Israel responded by closing the borders between it and Gaza.  Again, critics bemoaned this as more collective punishment.  The United States, as do most countries, restricts those who are allowed to cross her border, but somehow Israel was supposed to allow unrestricted access to citizens of a territory who had elected a party sworn to Israel’s destruction and had since ramped up an organized assault with daily missile launches and numerous attempted suicide bombings.  That Israel did not achieve worldwide respect for its military restraint is noteworthy, as was the absence of public criticism of Hamas. Certainly, if Gaza wanted the blockade to end or the freedom for its citizens to travel within Israel, all it needed to do was cease terrorist and rocket attacks.

Apologists for Hamas point out that the Qassam rockets fired into Israel are crude by Israeli standards, difficult to aim accurately, and produce a lower ratio of kills-per-attack than Israel’s more sophisticated missiles – as if this made the attacks acceptable.  Regardless, many Israelis have been killed, maimed, or permanently scarred, and from years of rocket bombardments countless children have been traumatized.

Curiously, justification for the ongoing assaults from Gaza is rarely questioned, just as the logic behind the justification of terrorism is rarely challenged.  For decades, terrorist apologists have claimed that terrorism was a weapon for battling Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.  These apologists conveniently ignored or obfuscated information that contradicted their claims, such as the fact that Palestinian terrorism commenced prior to the 67 War -- before Israel controlled the disputed territories.  Further, they ignored the history of Arabs and Palestinians rejecting Israel’s offers to return land for peace both at Khartoum in 1967 and at Camp David in 2000.

Of course, even Israel’s severest critics had understood that in light of Israel’s complete withdrawal from Gaza, the “occupation” theory no longer held water.  Instead, Palestinian apologists scrambled for new reasons to justify the daily barrage of rocket attacks into Israel:
  • They blamed Israel for the blockade of Gaza, which restricted free trade, conveniently ignoring the fact that the blockade was a response to, rather than a cause of the rocket attacks. 
  • They criticized Israel for restricting travel of Gaza citizens into Israel, once again ignoring the cause of the restrictions. 
  • When travel was allowed, they criticized Israel for searching women and children, conveniently ignoring that Hamas had used both women and children as suicide murderers.  Recently, in fact, Hamas made an official ruling that women can also achieve salvation through suicide murders. 
  • They criticized Israel for restricting free travel of ambulances, conveniently ignoring that Hamas had used ambulances both to transport terrorists into Israel and weapons into Gaza. 

The list goes on and on.  While Gaza was sending rockets into Israel, Israel was supplying Gaza with electricity, water, and other necessities, marking perhaps the first time in human history that one country provided for the welfare of a country with whom it was at war.  Amazingly, Palestinian apologists criticized Israel for this, too, because when rocket attacks increased, Israel responded by restricting (but never eliminating) their handout of these necessities.


So why does Hamas attack Israel?  This author believes that in order to understand the motivation of a people or the goals of a movement, step one is to respect what they say.  Here is what the Hamas Charter says about Israel:
  • 'Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.' (Preamble)
  •  'The Islamic Resistance Movement is a distinguished Palestinian movement, whose allegiance is to Allah, and whose way of life is Islam. It strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.' (Article 6)
  • 'The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight Jews and kill them. Then, the Jews will hide behind rocks and trees, and the rocks and trees will cry out: 'O Moslem, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him.' (Article 7)
  •  'Palestine is an Islamic land...  Since this is the case, the Liberation of Palestine is an individual duty for every Moslem wherever he may be.' (Article 13)

Interestingly, the Hamas Charter mentions none of the aforementioned talking points around which apologists usually excuse terrorism and missile attacks.  The reason Hamas battles Israel, according to the Charter, is because Israel exists on “Islamic land,” and therefore the liberation of Palestine is the “duty” of all Moslems. 

Palestinians loyal to the Hamas Charter understand that the missile attacks should be viewed as part of a battle against the existence of Israel.  Sderot, because of its proximity to Gaza, is simply the first of many towns that must be attacked.  In February 2006, shortly after Hamas came to power and after a marked increase in daily missile attacks into Israel, Worldnet News service reported the following:
     The only way to stop the regular rocket fire on Sderot, an Israeli city of about 20,000 nearly three miles from the Gaza Strip border, is for the Jewish state to evacuate the entire city, Hamas announced in a statement Wednesday.  "Only the departure of residents from Sderot will stop the rocket fire," Abu Abaida, spokesman for Hamas' so-called military wing, said in a statement to reporters.

Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 without a peace treaty to guarantee its safety.  Many considered that decision rash, especially because Israel was defending itself daily from rocket and terrorist attacks from Gaza.  Defenders of Israel’s decision argued that once Israel withdrew, Gaza citizens would no longer have reason to attack.  One person who disagreed was Minister of Finance (and now Prime Minister) Benjamin Netanyahu, who resigned from Ariel Sharon’s cabinet in protest.  Netanyahu said that the pullout would create a huge base for Islamic terror.  Sadly, Netanyahu was right.

Cease-fire; Resume Fire

The proximate cause for the recent fighting was the decision by Hamas to terminate an Egypt-brokered truce that had commenced in August 2008.  In reality, there was never a complete truce; even during the six-month official cessation in hostilities, Gaza has occasionally lobbed rockets into Israel.  Additionally, Hamas has used the ceasefire both to resupply itself with rockets, including the medium-range Grad-type Katyusha rockets, and to smuggle out its soldiers for training in Iran and Syria.

Israel had requested that the truce be extended another six months.  Ten days before the truce was to terminate, Palestinian spokesmen announced that Hamas was rejecting Israel’s request.  Gaza commenced an unprecedented barrage of missile attacks.  During the first eight days after Hamas formally rejected the ceasefire, Gaza fired 170 rockets into Israel; this includes 80 rockets fired on December 24, alone. 

Israel issued several warnings, which Hamas ignored, and then finally Israel struck back.  War had begun.


More than once this writer has encountered good people who have questioned why Israel should be considered the victim when many more Palestinians than Israelis have been killed.  Implied in the question is a supposition: that victimhood is related to loser status.  It simply is not.  Victimhood has to do with issues of aggression and defense.  A wrongful attack remains a wrongful attack regardless of whether or not the attackers are successful; the target of that attack should be considered the victim. 

People who struggle with separating numbers of casualties from their concepts about morality in the Middle East conflict should understand that their feelings, however sincere, are neither logical nor moral.  Instead, they are viewing the conflict as if it were a friendly game of Parcheesi, where both sides are supposed to be evenly matched. 

Under Parcheesi thinking, an even number of casualties is preferred, and when there is a disparity of casualties, the loser is conferred victim status, and the winner is dubbed the villain.  While absurd, the reader might have noticed variations of this type of thinking prevalent in much of the anti-Israel rhetoric.  It involves a standard of ethics based on a reverse assessment of military prowess, where the side with the most inferior military wins sympathy simply for being the underdog (more Parcheesi thinking). 

To such critics, the only way Israel could successfully assert that they are the victims in this conflict would be to lose their battles.  Presumably, Israel should only defend itself marginally; then after Israel suffers massive casualties, those same critics might finally be convinced about the enormity of Palestinian terrorism and missile attacks. 

So how should clear thinking people view the disparity in the number of Israeli and Palestinian casualties?  They should understand that war is not a game, and that being open-minded doesn’t mean being morally ambiguous.  There is a clear moral difference between committing acts of aggression and responding to acts of aggression

Certainly, any amount of casualties is hard to accept and bespeaks the tragic consequences to war.  However, the reality is that Gaza, by its own admission, wanted to destroy the Jewish community of Sderot and had been pounding Sderot and neighboring regions for eight straight years.  The war began when Gaza refused to extend the truce for six months and unleashed an unprecedented barrage of missile attacks into Israel.  The war could have ended immediately if Gaza had simply agreed to stop attacking Israel. 

Conversely, should Israel have chosen not to fight back, it would have inevitably suffered massive casualties.  Eventually, shell-shocked residents would have uprooted themselves, and businesses would have failed or relocated.  Under these circumstances, Sderot would have soon become a ghost town.  The aftermath of such a situation is easy to predict (one need only read the Hamas charter):  Hamas would have then directed its rockets and terrorists attacks at the next closest Israeli town, starting the cycle all over again. 

People should not expect Israel to cease retaliatory measures prematurely for a war it did not initiate, especially when the defense of its citizens and their long-term security were paramount. Given this reality, clear thinking people should actually view the disparity in casualties as morally justified, since Israel is not the aggressor and is simply trying to exist. 


Like the term “victim,” critics of Israel banter about the term “proportionality,” often without any understanding of how that word applies to international conflicts.

Many people believe proportionality requires that the military force of a country be even in capability with the military force of an aggressor.  So for example, if Palestinians attempt repeatedly to kill citizens in Sderot but have a low kills-per-missile success rate, then out of fairness Israel should be equally unsuccessful when it retaliates.  That, in essence, was at the roots of the recent criticisms of Israel.  During the war in Gaza, many more Palestinians were killed in response to attacks on Israel than Israelis who had been killed by the attacks on Israel; therefore Israel’s response was considered disproportionate

Taken to its logical conclusion, Israel would have to wait until it first suffered a devastating attack before delivering a knockout blow to the Gaza terrorist apparatus, in order for their military response to be considered proportional.  Of course, such a scenario would be absurd.  It is the responsibility of every country to defend its citizens before they suffer a devastating act of aggression.  Further, the laws of proportionality are guided by an understanding and acknowledgement that this responsibility is both logical and moral.

Rosalyn Higgins, president of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, wrote in her book, Problems and Process, that “[proportionality] cannot be in relation to any specific prior injury – it has to be in relation to the overall legitimate objective of ending the aggression.”  Further, she wrote, “…and that may mean that the use of force is proportionate, even though it is a more severe use of force than any single prior incident may have seemed to have warranted.”

In other words, international law recognizes that a military response does not have to be proportional to the success of previous acts of aggression; rather, it must be proportional to the goals of those acts of aggression.  Israel does not have to wait until a hospital is blown up or for Sderot to be liquidated before responding with overwhelming military force.  The goals and acts of Hamas, both of which are war crimes, justify Israel’s response.

Sez’ Who?

The photographs and television images from the recent war in Gaza are distressing.  Good people reflexively flinch at the sight of death and suffering, and Gaza has certainly experienced its share of both since Israel launched its military response to years of aggression.  The challenge is to prevent this reflexive flinch from becoming a reflexive condemnation of Israel. 

The renowned physicist Haim Harari, president of the Weizmann Institute, has written a fascinating article on the topic of media manipulation, “A View From the Target Zone.”   Throughout the Gaza war, major television stations and newspapers throughout the world provided their audiences with a plethora of reports, videos, and photographs.  Harari charges that the media failed to divulge that the sources for much of their information were Palestinian operatives or the UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees. The UNRWA is a controversial if not heavily biased organization that many people believe has perpetuated the refugee problem by resisting all efforts to resettle Palestinian refugees outside of Israel.  The UNRWA employs many Hamas members.  Among those include the headmaster and science teacher of a UNRWA school who was eulogized as being a member of Islamic Jihad and a leader in rocket designs, as reported on CNN.  When media declares that its information about either Gaza or the West Bank comes from “UN sources,” it usually refers to the UNRWA.

According to Harari, the reason news media got their information from pro-Hamas Palestinian operatives or from the UNRWA is that there were few real journalists operating in Gaza.  Most left after numerous episodes of reporters being threatened, beaten, or kidnapped, and at least one who was murdered; charges that are supported by the non-partisan CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists), which provides details about numerous incidents.

Since virtually all the information provided to news agencies came from pro Hamas sources, readers can better understand why their emotional response to the war might not have been based on accurate journalism.  Harari cites several examples of journalism bias including:
  • Almost all photographs and films of Palestinian casualties focused on children, even though most of the casualties were males in their late teens to early twenties; the exact profile of most Hamas militants.
  • Televisions and newspapers displayed photographs of Israelis fighting near schools, but showed no photographs of hundreds of rockets being launched at Israel from schoolyards or crowded neighborhoods.  (On television, Hamas always launched their rockets from open fields).  Nor were there reports about Hamas using schools to store rockets and explosives.
  • Newspapers displayed several photographs that were revealed to be fakes, such as a famous picture of poor Palestinians using candles (supposedly because the bad Israelis had cancelled their electricity).  However, through cracks in the black-curtain background the reader can clearly see sunlight.  In another instance, the same child, wearing painted blood, was photographed in different settings, each time with a different father.
  • Television stations worldwide broadcast testimony of a Norwegian doctor describing horrible Israeli abuses.  The stations failed to mention that this man was a supporter of Hamas and had demonstrated support for the 9/11 attacks on national Norwegian television.
On January 7, 2008, CNN’s Anderson Cooper reported, “Inside Gaza, press controlled by Hamas is heavy handed. There are few press freedoms inside Gaza, and Hamas controls who reports from there and where they can go. 

While pictures of wounded children being brought to hospital are clearly encouraged, we rarely see images of Hamas fighters or their rockets being fired into Israel.”

Palestinian apologists often counter that Israeli sources are equally biased, however this argument is demonstrably false.  One merely need read the on-line versions of Israeli newspapers to find numerous articles that are starkly critical of Israel.  Israeli papers, like newspapers everywhere, print the most malicious accusations against Israel.  Clearly, journalists in Israel are not kidnapped, beaten, or murdered for printing anti-Israel articles.

Of course, none of these examples are meant to imply that Israel is blameless or that it doesn’t make mistakes.  However, it is important to recognize both that the media hyper-focuses on Israel’s blemishes to the exclusion of much worse actions elsewhere, and that almost all accusations against Israel originating from Gaza or the West Bank come from sources that must demonstrate pro-Palestinian bias in order to continue working there. 

Given these realities, responsible news organizations should go so far as to include disclaimers with every news story to inform readers that since reporters are aware of colleagues being harmed, physically threatened, and deported for writing stories critical of the Palestinian government, all news reports from Gaza or the West Bank are most likely biased.

Since no news organization has yet demonstrated the integrity to include such a disclaimer with their stories, responsible news consumers should prepare a simple response to all accusations about Israel:  “Sez’ who?”

Innocent Victims

In April 2002, following months of terrorists’ attacks in Israel that culminated in a suicide explosion at a restaurant on Passover in which 29 civilians were killed, the Israeli army entered the Jenin refuge camp to root out the terrorists.   Shortly thereafter, television stations and newspapers worldwide reported that Israel had committed a massacre.  Quoting from Palestinian spokesmen like Saeb Erekat, news organizations reported that Israel had killed 3,000 Palestinians, and was hiding the bodies in mass graves.  Spokesmen for Yasser Arafat appeared on American television describing Israeli atrocities.     

The outcry was deafening.  Major newspapers printed editorials blasting Israel’s actions and comparing them to Pol Pot and Nazis.  Israel was widely condemned by church leaders, human rights groups (including Amnesty International), heads of the European Parliament, members of the United Nations, Desmond Tutu, and even Bianca Jagger, just to name a few.  Even certain left-leaning Jewish groups voiced their condemnation.  This writer remembers discussions with Jewish friends who declared that Israel’s actions in Jenin made them “ashamed.” 

The figure of 3,000 deaths was later reduced to 500 deaths.  Then, after the military operation terminated, Palestinian hospitals reported that the total number of deaths was not 500, but 52 – corroborated by the group, Human Rights Watch.  Even the Palestinian Authority finally admitted that there had been no massacre.

Post military analyses of Israel’s operation in Jenin revealed that Israel had taken on unusually high risks and incurred high casualties (23 Israelis were killed) in order to avoid killing innocent victims.  Of the 52 Palestinian deaths, all but 3 were combatants.  As a testament to Israel’s military conduct in Jenin, the US Marines studied Israel’s operation as a model of how a moral army should fight terrorism in an urban setting.

Unfortunately, not all military operations can be so flawless. The sad truth about wars -- any war -- is that sometimes it is impossible to avoid civilian casualties.  On January 7, 2009, one of the worst incidents in the Gaza war made newspaper headlines:  Israel had shelled a UN school and 43 civilians were killed.  The civilian casualties were assumed to be students.  As expected, the outcry against Israel was deafening; even some conservative newspapers like the Wall Street Journal printed columns criticizing Israel.  Editorials charged that Israel had responded “disproportionally” to the Gaza rockets.  John Ging, UNRWA's operations director in Gaza, quickly condemned the attack as "horrific" and claimed that Israel knew it was targeting a UN facility.  The charges went on and on.

There was only one problem: the charges that Israel had fired on a school were false.  Newspapers and televisions had relied on UNRWA sources without checking the veracity of the claims.  In post-war analyses, even the UN, which had released the story, admitted that their school had not been attacked.  It is also quite doubtful that 43 civilians were killed from the military attack near the school.  Initial reports from Palestinian Medical sources claimed that 12 people were killed in fighting near the school.  Different Israeli sources estimated the casualties to be between 12 and 23 people, and suggested that many of those killed were combatants.

Fighting Terrorists

The Gaza war claimed the lives of more Palestinian fighters and Palestinian civilians than Israelis.  This is a reality.   However, it is facile and illogical to draw conclusions about liability based on casualty comparisons, despite what many in the media might assume.

Benjamin Netanyahu was quoted as saying that Hamas committed two war crimes, first by attacking Israeli civilians, and second by attacking them from civilian areas.  People who are knowledgeable about the rules of war concur; the Geneva Convention clearly proscribes both activities; the first because it involves willfully killing innocent victims, and the second because the act of fighting in a heavily populated territory de-facto uses innocent civilians as human shields (hostages) to prevent counterattacks.  However, under internationally recognized rules of engagement, a country defending itself under these circumstances is not responsible for the civilians it accidentally kills; responsibility lies with the country that created the human shields.

In the Gaza war, Hamas was clearly attacking Israel from highly populated areas, including apartment buildings, schoolyards, mosques, hospital zones, and so on.  They created a strategy in which it would have been impossible for any country to defend itself without inflicting some civilian casualties.  Moreover, by formally breaking the ceasefire and unloading an unprecedented barrage of rockets attacks into Israel, Hamas created a situation where Israel had to defend itself.  A country under attack is not only responsible for defending its citizens, it is morally obligated to do so. 

Readers might do well to consider whether there is any other country – including their own – that would have waited eight years, withstanding over 4,000 missile attacks and countless suicide murders (and many more failed suicide attacks), before deciding to fight back.
To better understand why Hamas was responsible for the civilian casualties in Gaza, imagine the geo-political and moral implications of accepting a different standard of rules of engagement.  Imagine how citizens of any country would be able to defend themselves if the situation were reversed and the country defending itself from attacks was now legally responsible for the death of the human shields (hostages) of the attacker:
  • First, there would be no incentive for terrorists not to hide behind civilians, since the laws would protect the terrorists and discourage victims from retaliating against their crimes.
  • Second, there would no longer be any legal distinction between targeting civilians and accidentally killing civilians in defense against terrorist attacks; this would de-facto suggest that terrorism is not a war crime.
Even in the US, hostages accidentally killed in an attempt to subdue a criminal are the responsibility of the criminal; the legal term for this is “felony murder.”

Certainly, a moral country should take measures to minimize civilian casualties during a war, which Israel has done:  Israel sent phone calls and text messages to Gaza residents warning them of an impending strike against Hamas. When a Palestinian house was targeted, for either storing weapons or housing combatants, residents were called and given fifteen minutes to evacuate.  In addition, numerous military activities were aborted at the last minute to avoid civilian casualties.  As Haim Harari wrote, “Never in history, has any country made such an enormous effort to avoid civilian casualties in fighting against murderers who target only civilians and never anything else. No one in Kosovo, Serbia, Georgia, or Iraq was offered such a courtesy by the bombing and attacking powers.”

Unfortunately, even with Israel’s best efforts innocent civilians were killed.  In the Gaza war the total casualties were somewhere between 1400, as cited by UN sources, and 600, as cited by Italian Journalist Lorenzo Cremonesi of Corriere della Sera.  Cremonesi felt that the UN figures were grossly overstated, and based his own figures on interviews with doctors and civilians as well as reviews of hospital records.  If 25 percent of the casualties were civilians, as UN sources claimed early on, then at the high end the Gaza war claimed 350 Palestinian civilians.

The Facade of Morality

Every civilian casualty in Gaza, Israel, or anywhere else is a tragedy.  In an ideal world, these senseless deaths would propel people to protest those who instigate war for their own pernicious goals.  In a cynical world, people would ignore the senseless deaths, remain mute about those who cause wars, and point their collective finger in judgment again one nation over all others.  Which world do we live in?

Even before the Gaza war ended, Israel was accused of war crimes.  Many people, especially those on the political left, were sympathetic to these accusations.  Recently, The U.N. Human Rights Council approved authorization of a delegation to investigate the charges.  The U.N. Human Rights Council includes countries like Libya, Angola, Cuba, Nigeria, and China.  A complete list of countries on the U.N. Human Rights Council includes many of the worst violators of basic human rights such as freedom of speech, press, religion, women’s equality, and sexual persuasion. Israel, on the other hand is one of the few countries in the UN that upholds these freedoms, albeit imperfectly.

In 2005, The UN passed 19 resolutions condemning Israel, and not a single resolution against Sudan for the 200,000 people killed in the genocide in Darfur.  The UN never investigated war crimes in the Lebanese civil war which claimed over 150,000 lives between 1975 and 1990, or in Algeria where Islamists slaughtered over 200,000 people between 1999 and 2006, or the recent fighting between Russia and Chechnya, in which Russia killed tens of thousands of people (many civilians) in their attempt to oust the Islamists.  There were few outcries about civilian casualties.

According to German sociologist, Gunnar Heinsohn, who heads the Raphael-Lemkin-Institute for Comparative Genocide Research at the University of Bremen, in the last sixty years, 11 million Muslims have been killed in wars and terror attacks; almost all the victims were killed by other Muslims.  The reader would do well to ask how many times the UN investigated “war crimes,” for any of those acts.

Hudson Institute Scholar Anne Bayefsky writes that The U.N. Human Rights Council has passed more resolutions condemning Israel for human rights violations than any other country. In fact, according to Bayefsky, The U.N. Human Rights Council has adopted more resolutions condemning Israel than resolutions condemning all 191 UN member states combined.  Are we supposed to believe that Israel has committed more human rights violations than the sum total of 191 countries, including Sudan, North Korea, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Chechnya, Egypt, Syria, Iran, China, Cuba, and Afghanistan?

An examination of the unique membership makeup of the U.N. Human Rights Council provides grounds to question their impartiality:  Bayefsky asserts that when the Council is in session "all U.N. member states meet to strategize and share information in one of the U.N.’s five regional groups. All that is, except Israel.  At the Council, Israel is denied membership in any regional group, including the amalgam of Western states to which the United States belongs."  Since Israel is denied membership in regional groups it is also the only country denied membership in the U.N. Human Rights Commission. 

In the first year of US military activity against Afghanistan, estimates of civilian casualties ranged from 3,000 to 5,000 according to various news organizations.  Thankfully, most people understood that even with their best efforts the US military could not avoid civilian casualties in a war against terrorists.  In contradistinction to the widespread condemnations against Israel for its military operation in Gaza, there were no accusations about US war crimes, even though the US military made mistakes, including sometimes firing on buildings that housed civilians, and sometimes shooting civilians who they believed to be terrorists.  There were few protests about the US using “disproportional” force, even though Afghanistan suffered way more casualties than the US military (and way more civilian casualties than Gaza).  Newspapers did not plaster their pages with photos provided by Taliban operatives of dead or maimed children from Afghanistan. 

The war crimes accusations against Israel should be understood for what they really are: a cynical attempt to delegitimize Israel under the façade of morality by nations and people who habitually turn a blind eye to real moral issues.
  • The same UN delegates and Hamas apologists who constantly put a microscope to Israel in hope of discovering an accusation that will stick pretend that they are unaware that Hamas is an organization with a stated goal of destroying a member nation of the UN.  Such a goal is criminal by all measures of international law.
  • The same people who accuse Israel under the pretense of concern for civilians pretend that they are unaware of the tactic by which Hamas pursues its goal of destroying Israel: targeting innocent civilians in rocket attacks and suicide bombs.  Targeting civilians is a war crime by all measures of international law.
  • The same people who accuse Israel under the pretense of concern for rules-of-war, pretend that they are unaware of the Geneva Convention, which proscribes all of the methods of Hamas, including these:  fighting without a uniform to distinguish combatants from civilians; attacking from civilian locations, like schools, hospitals, and building, thereby creating human shields; and targeting civilians.  Every one of these violations is a war crime by all measures of international law.

A full-scale investigation into Israel’s war efforts by the UN would be tainted with the same bias that the UN has demonstrated by authorizing such a study against Israel while ignoring the obvious crimes committed by Hamas, and remaining mute about numerous acts of mass killings committed by other countries.  Still, this writer believes that an unbiased review would certainly reveal some real mistakes made by Israel in protocol and execution.  Such findings are likely because Israel is an imperfect country with imperfect citizens; yet all countries, including the US, make many mistakes in war. 

Nevertheless, a military should not be judged by their mistakes, which are inevitable in any major campaign, but by their overall performance on the battlefield.  Richard Kemp, a retired British Colonel and military expert, reviewed and analyzed Israel’s tactics in the Gaza war.  Speaking on the BBC, Colonel Kemp said there is "no time in the history of warfare when an army has made more efforts to reduce civilian casualties and the deaths of innocent people than the Israel Defense Force" did in Gaza.

The Tragedy of Gaza

In September 2005, Israel made a unilateral decision to withdraw its citizens from Gaza.  Gaza responded with a unilateral decision to fire thousands of rockets into Israel and ramp up suicide murders of Israeli citizens.  Israel chose to risk its own security in pursuit of peace; Gaza chose to risk the security of both Gaza and Israeli citizens in pursuit of war.

Regrettably, Israel had no other option than to defend itself.  People who understand this imperative are not insensitive to the tragedy of civilian deaths.  However, they refuse to support the double standard that Israel must exercise indefinite restraint as its people withstand daily barrages of military attacks.  In fact, they bemoan the unnecessary devastation and personal hardship inflicted upon Gaza civilians as an inevitable yet totally avoidable consequence of the egregious acts of terror by Hamas and its supporters, sworn to do whatever it takes to obliterate the Jewish State.

(c) copyright 2009 David J. Gilfix

Speaking for UN Watch at an emergency debate about the UN Council on Human Rights's "Goldstone" report, British Colonel Kemp discusses the conduct of the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) during Operation Cast Iron Lead in Gaza:


ssancetta said...

Wow. Thank you. I am very rarely persuaded by blog entries, but this is very thorough and convincing, and I will now be reading the news about the middle east with different eyes.

Jerry said...

A thoughtful and well-informed analysis that should make people think about this issue in a way that goes far beyond what the mainstream media can possibly provide.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for an article about the Arab Israeli conflict that relies on well-researched information instead of polemics. I have forwarded this to many people who’s criticisms of Israel are based on poorly researched information.

Mark said...

David, I finally found time to read your article and I'm very impressed. You demonstrate errors and inconsistencies in much of what I have heard and read about Israel, and have forced me to reconsider my own opinions. Thank you.

Pattianna Harootian said...

Thank you for providing well researched information written in an easy to understand fashion.