Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israel

The Truth About Palestinian Casualties

Even after Hamas brazenly flouted the latest attempts to end the fighting in Gaza, demonstrators marched around the globe to protest what they and the Palestinians claim are Israeli war crimes. The crux of their critique is that the Israel Defense Forces engaged in indiscriminate attacks on Palestinian civilians in Gaza. But, as even some of the mainstream media is beginning to acknowledge, a deep dive into the statistics that are cited to damn Israel tell a different story.

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Even after Hamas brazenly flouted the latest attempts to end the fighting in Gaza, demonstrators marched around the globe to protest what they and the Palestinians claim are Israeli war crimes. The crux of their critique is that the Israel Defense Forces engaged in indiscriminate attacks on Palestinian civilians in Gaza. But, as even some of the mainstream media is beginning to acknowledge, a deep dive into the statistics that are cited to damn Israel tell a different story.

As the Times of Israel notes the analyses of both the BBC and the New York Times of United Nations casualty figures show that those Palestinians killed in the fighting are disproportionately male as well as having a massive overrepresentation of men in the 20-29 age group that is most likely to be members of terrorist armed cadres.

These facts do not gainsay the fact that Palestinians of all age groups and both sexes have been killed in the fighting in the past month. The people of Gaza have suffered cruelly from this war of choice launched by Hamas.

But the point of the breakdown of the casualty figures is that when you stop obsessing about heartrending pictures of dead and wounded children that have been running in a video loop on all the news channels and start asking serious questions about the age and gender of most of the casualties, the libels about Israeli “war crimes” don’t stand up to scrutiny. The talk about “indiscriminate killing” that is casually tossed about at demonstrations, on op-ed pages, and in the debates between television’s talking heads (including some who falsely claim to be friends of Israel) is often taken as a given. But the facts tell us a very different story that vindicates Israel’s claims that rather than firing into civilian areas without concern for the consequences, their targets are the fighters from Hamas and Islamic Jihad that have been holding Gaza hostage since 2007.

Like the subsequent debunking of similar charges about Israeli cruelty during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09, it may well be that the lies told by Hamas and its enablers among the staff of the United Nations in Gaza are too good a story to be undone by careful analysis. After that round of fighting, subsequent analyses of the casualties proved that Israel’s claims that the bulk of those killed in Gaza were, in fact, Hamas personnel. But that didn’t stop the global lynch mob of Israel-haters from repeating false accusations that Israel had engaged in war crimes reminiscent of the Nazis. Those who march against Israel or blast it in the media claim they aren’t supporting Hamas but merely reacting to the slaughter of civilians even though they are mum about far worse examples of wartime killings in places like Syria or Iraq.

But the point here is that if those listed as civilian casualties are not a random sample of the Palestinian population but, instead, a group that is disproportionately young and male—i.e. the age group that is most likely to be part of Hamas’s so-called “military wing” or members of the Islamic Jihad cadres in Gaza—then it is more than obvious that claims of indiscriminate Israeli attacks are lies. When the dust settles this time—something that may not happen for a while given Hamas’s appetite for continuing the fighting so as to continue to inflate the number of Palestinian casualties—it is now obvious that we will find that the proportion of combatants to actual civilians among those killed by Israel’s strikes will be even more lopsided than is now acknowledged. As the Times reported, once you add in those that the Palestinians do admit to be fighters, the numbers are even more compelling.

That this is now becoming clear is even more striking because the only sources cited by most news outlets about Gaza casualties have been from the Hamas government of the strip or the UN which seems just as likely to inflate their numbers and to downplay any possibility that those hurt were legitimate targets.

Those venting indignation about the situation in Gaza have sought to depict Israel’s actions as the act of a heartless oppressor of Palestinians rather than those of one side in a war of aggression launched by their opponents. It is not just that, thanks to Iron Dome, Israelis aren’t dying in the sort of numbers that would generate sympathy from the international community. It’s that its counter-attack on Hamas rocket launchers and terror tunnels is being portrayed as a war on civilians. It’s time for those lecturing the Israelis about their tactics to pipe down and accept the truth about Gaza. As bad as the situation there is, the Israelis have done their best to limit their fire to those shooting at them. As is the case with all wars, including those fought by the United States, sometimes mistakes happen and civilians sometimes do get caught in the crossfire created by terrorists eager to turn their neighbors into “martyrs.”

Anyone who truly cares about Gaza’s civilian population will draw the appropriate conclusions and concentrate their criticisms on the terrorist group whose genocidal ideology impels it to continue their war against Israel’s existence as long as there are Palestinians left to be sacrificed.

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The Gaza War Has Changed the Way the World Talks About Hamas

Amid all the metrics commentators propose to determine “who won” Operation Protective Edge, one is staring everyone in the face: the international community’s attitude toward a postwar (if and when the war is over) Gaza. And on that score, Israel seems to have won a convincing victory. The Gaza war has changed the way the world is talking about Hamas and the Gaza Strip–and, despite all their tut-tutting at Jerusalem, they sound quite a bit like Benjamin Netanyahu.

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Amid all the metrics commentators propose to determine “who won” Operation Protective Edge, one is staring everyone in the face: the international community’s attitude toward a postwar (if and when the war is over) Gaza. And on that score, Israel seems to have won a convincing victory. The Gaza war has changed the way the world is talking about Hamas and the Gaza Strip–and, despite all their tut-tutting at Jerusalem, they sound quite a bit like Benjamin Netanyahu.

I wrote last week of the Netanyahu government’s informal proposal for a sort of “economic peace” for Gaza in return for its demilitarization. Despite its record of success, economic peace has never really been embraced by the international community–and when Netanyahu proposes it, it’s usually met with anger and derision. But not this time. This time Hamas seems to have overplayed its hand.

It’s possible that this is Hamas being a victim of its own morbid “success” with regard to the propaganda war. That is, maybe the international community is so torn up by the violence in Gaza that they want more than ever to prevent its recurrence. And no matter how often they try to blame Israel, they seem to understand that there’s only one way to prevent future bloodshed: demilitarize, at least to a significant degree, the Gaza Strip.

Take, for example, the Obama administration. While President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and their staffers and advisors have been intent on criticizing Israel in public and in harsh terms, the president’s loyal defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, reportedly spoke as though he took the need to disarm Hamas for granted last week. And it’s even more significant to hear of European leaders joining that bandwagon. As Foreign Policy reported last night:

Major European powers have outlined a detailed plan for a European-backed U.N. mission to monitor the lifting of an Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip and the dismantling of Hamas’s military tunnel network and rocket arsenals, according to a copy of the plan obtained by Foreign Policy.

The European initiative aims to reinforce wide-ranging cease-fire talks underway in Cairo. The Europeans are hoping to take advantage of this week’s 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire to cobble a more durable plan addressing underlying issues that could reignite violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

It remains unclear whether the European plan has the support of Hamas, Israel, or the United States. It does, however, include several elements the Obama administration believes are essential, including the need to ease Gazans’ plight, strengthen the role of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and ensure the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip.

The plan — described in a so-called non-paper titled “Gaza: Supporting a Sustainable Ceasefire” — envisions the creation of a U.N.-mandated “monitoring and verification” mission, possibly drawing peacekeepers from the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), which has monitored a series of Israeli-Arab truces in the region since the late 1940s. The mission “should cover military and security aspects, such as the dismantling of tunnels between Gaza and Israel, and the lifting of restrictions on movement and access,” according to the document. “It could have a role in monitoring imports of construction and dual use materials allowed in the Gaza Strip, and the re-introduction of the Palestinian Authority.”

The plan’s existence is in many ways more important than its details, for it shows Europe to be embracing Netanyahu’s idea for an economic peace for Gaza. Removing the import and export restrictions (or most of them) in return for real demilitarization would be an obvious win for everyone–except Hamas. In fact, it would give a major boost to the peace process overall, because it would discredit armed “resistance” as an effective method to win Palestinians their autonomy.

It would be quite a turnaround if Gaza somehow became the prime example of peaceful state building with the international community’s help. It’s also not an easy task, to say the least. But the fact that even Europe is on board, and expects to get the UN to agree to such a plan, shows that the principle of disarming Hamas and demilitarizing the Gaza Strip has gone mainstream.

Whether it happens is another question, of course, and no one should get their hopes up, especially while Hamas is breaking even temporary ceasefires. Additionally, the UN’s record in policing such zones of conflict, especially in the Middle East, is not cause for optimism. But talk of Hamas “winning” this war is made all the more ridiculous when the topic of conversation in the capitals of the Middle East and throughout the West is how to permanently disarm Hamas and dismantle any infrastructure they can use against Israel.

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The Uncritical and Intemperate Partisans of the Boycott-Israel Movement

In a case that has roiled the academic community, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has rescinded an offer to Stephen Salaita, who had, for reasons unknown, resigned his tenured position at Virginia Tech before his new appointment had been confirmed. Salaita, now out of a job, is a leading figure in the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement.

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In a case that has roiled the academic community, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has rescinded an offer to Stephen Salaita, who had, for reasons unknown, resigned his tenured position at Virginia Tech before his new appointment had been confirmed. Salaita, now out of a job, is a leading figure in the BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement.

I do not want to weigh in here on the question of whether the Chancellor at UIUC did right to refuse to forward Salaita’s appointment to the Board of Trustees. Salaita was reportedly undone by a series of comments he made on Twitter. In one, he says that “too much of Israeli society is cheering the bloodletting in [Gaza] for me to make a firm distinction between the government and the people.” In another, responding to the kidnapping of Israeli boys, he says, “You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not: I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing.” In another, he asks, “At this point, if Netanyahu appeared on TV with a necklace made from the teeth of Palestinian children, would anybody be surprised?” He also reposted this statement, in a context that left no doubt he endorsed it, on journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, who has evidently been too critical of Hamas: “Jeffrey Goldberg’s story should have ended at the pointy end of a shiv.” William Jacobson of Legal Insurrection has done us the service of collecting these and other statements.

Reasonable people can disagree about whether refusing to hire Salaita on the basis of statements like these is a threat to academic freedom. The excellent Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is worried about it. Cary Nelson, a former president of the American Association of University Professors and an authority on academic freedom argues that the chancellor made the right call.

But speaking of authority, a number of pro-boycott professors, have signed on to a letter demanding that the UIUC hire Salaita. Their argument is that administrators have no business interfering with scholarly “experts”: “It seems that popular knowledge about the Israel Palestine conflict in the US public space has overwhelmed what is well known by academic experts. This cannot be allowed to happen in a serious university.” They go on to quote the 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure to the effect that boards of trustees should stay out of matters “in which the conclusions expressed are the tested conclusions of trained scholars.”

That’s rich. First, Salaita, like a number of the letter’s signers, is a scholar of literature with no special claim to expertise in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Second, the boycott movement in academia has been engaged primarily in getting scholarly organizations with no claim to expertise in the conflict, including the American Studies Association, the Association for Asian American Studies, and (unsuccessfully) the Modern Language Association, to declare their opposition to Israel. The 1915 Declaration is based on a separation between expertise and political action that academics in the boycott movement emphatically do not endorse. The authors of that Declaration anticipated that those who politicized the academy could expect precisely the reaction the BDS movement is now complaining about: “if this profession should prove itself unwilling to purge its ranks of the incompetent and the unworthy, or to prevent the freedom which it claims in the name of science from being used as a shelter for inefficiency, for superficiality, or for uncritical and intemperate partisanship, it is certain that the task will be performed by others.”

Salaita is, his public utterances suggest, an uncritical and intemperate partisan, and the letter I have referred to, which, among other things, declares it a matter of settled expert opinion that Israel is targeting Palestinian civilians, is itself an example of uncritical and intemperate partisanship masquerading as a deference to expertise.

Academics are right to be concerned about threats to academic freedom because academic freedom is, as the 1915 Declaration tells us, is an essential defender “not of a propaganda [institution], but of a non-partisan institution of learning.” But their concern should be directed at the professors who have for decades worked to efface the distinction between scholarship and politics and who have more recently worked to persuade scholars who know next to nothing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to use their scholarly credentials to advance their personal conceptions of justice.

It is a wonder that the backlash has not been more pronounced.

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We Now Know: Gaza Edition

The fog of war often means the first draft of history makes the greatest impact but needs to be corrected by later drafts. After the Cold War was over, historian John Lewis Gaddis called his updated book on the conflict “We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History.” More famous is Kinglsey Amis’s suggestion that Robert Conquest call his new edition of The Great Terror “I Told You So, You F—ing Fools.” Yet now we have a rare opportunity in Gaza to apply what we now know to additional fighting in a war thought to be over.

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The fog of war often means the first draft of history makes the greatest impact but needs to be corrected by later drafts. After the Cold War was over, historian John Lewis Gaddis called his updated book on the conflict “We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History.” More famous is Kinglsey Amis’s suggestion that Robert Conquest call his new edition of The Great Terror “I Told You So, You F—ing Fools.” Yet now we have a rare opportunity in Gaza to apply what we now know to additional fighting in a war thought to be over.

With no deal reached for a permanent truce between Israel and Hamas, the terrorist organization in Gaza wasted no time in renewing its attacks on Israel today. And it’s worth wondering if the atrocious media coverage of the war, which abided by Hamas’s threats and only showed what Hamas wanted the world to see, will be any different for this round of fighting. After all, as Israeli ground troops left Gaza and journalists went with them, reporters began to admit: we now know.

We now know, that is, that Hamas was firing rockets from civilian areas and among neighborhoods where journalists were staying. That meant they were getting a twofer: reporters wouldn’t expose their war crimes and they would draw return fire from Israel that would endanger foreign journalists and Palestinian civilians. As we know from the Tet Offensive, if you can spook the reporters you can get your sky-is-falling coverage made to order.

The political world was transfixed earlier this week by a New Delhi Television (NDTV) visual report on Hamas firing from outside the reporters’ hotel. This was a broadcast that American and other Western media didn’t have–in fact, major Western media spent the war explaining why you could follow their coverage for weeks of war reporting and not see a single Hamas fighter. The NDTV correspondent has written about the experience of filming the dramatic rocket launching:

There is an important detail about that spot which I mention in our video report which may not have fully registered – this was the exact location from where a rocket was fired five days prior. It happened around midnight, so it was impossible to film. Panic ensued. The Israel Defence Force (IDF) sent a warning to two hotels across the road to evacuate; within minutes they were empty. Those in our building slept in a safe room on the ground floor. And so that spot was seared in our memory.

So when we saw the tent on the same location with two men (later three) moving in and out, working on something inside which they seemed to be burying into the ground, it wasn’t hard to conclude what this was. When they started running wires out of the tent, the final steps before covering the earth with a spade, moving some shrubbery on top and then slinking away, it was even clearer.

We had all of it on tape, but wrestled with the dilemma of what to do with it. Two considerations weighed on our mind. One, the fear which hobbles the reporting such material: fear of reprisals from Hamas against us and those who worked with us, fear of inviting an Israeli response on the spot (these have been known to miss). Two, we needed to be 100 % sure that this was a rocket launch site. So we did nothing, setting off on our assignment for the day, mulling over the material in our possession.

The concern over Hamas reprisals is real and legitimate. There has been some pushback against the criticism of reporters in Gaza for not showing an accurate picture of the war. Much of that pushback is misplaced. The argument is not that journalists are wimps for not risking their lives to fill out the narrative for the public at home, but that the media have been using the inaccurate reporting without adding the appropriate context.

It’s understandable, I suppose, why they don’t add that context. In practice what they are doing is abiding by Hamas’s rules, which require them to basically broadcast a steady stream of Hamas propaganda footage. Adding the context–explaining that they are just showing the folks at home what Hamas wants them to see–would be admitting their own lack of credibility.

We will also see–as Evelyn points out this morning–that the statistics used by international organizations, human-rights groups, and UN monitors are completely unreliable. That means the accusations against Israel are generally bunk as well. We now know. And we’ll know more. But now that we see the war might not be over after all, everyone should keep that in mind.

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Exposing the UN’s Unreliable Data on Gaza Casualties

Okay, it’s official: Even the BBC now admits the UN has been essentially collaborating with a terrorist organization to libel Israel. Of course, the venerable British broadcaster doesn’t say so explicitly; it even assures its readers that UN officials aren’t to blame for the misinformation they’ve been propagating. But it’s hard to reach any other conclusion after reading this analysis of Gaza’s casualty figures by the station’s head of statistics, Anthony Reuben.

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Okay, it’s official: Even the BBC now admits the UN has been essentially collaborating with a terrorist organization to libel Israel. Of course, the venerable British broadcaster doesn’t say so explicitly; it even assures its readers that UN officials aren’t to blame for the misinformation they’ve been propagating. But it’s hard to reach any other conclusion after reading this analysis of Gaza’s casualty figures by the station’s head of statistics, Anthony Reuben.

As Reuben notes, the figures on Palestinian casualties cited by most news organizations come from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. As of August 6, this agency was reporting 1,843 Palestinian fatalities, including at least 1,354 civilians; 279 hadn’t yet been identified. Thus civilians ostensibly comprise at least 73 percent of total fatalities, and since the UN excludes unidentified casualties from its calculations, it usually cites an even higher figure–currently 86 percent.

But as Reuben writes, “if the Israeli attacks have been ‘indiscriminate’, as the UN Human Rights Council says, it is hard to work out why they have killed so many more civilian men than women.” Quoting a New York Times analysis, he noted that men aged 20-29, who are the most likely to be combatants, are “also the most overrepresented in the death toll,” comprising 9 percent of Gazans but 34 percent of identified fatalities. In contrast, “women and children under 15, the least likely to be legitimate targets, were the most underrepresented, making up 71 percent of the population and 33 percent of the known-age casualties.”

So Reuben asked the high commissioner’s office how it explains this statistical anomaly. Here’s the mind-boggling response: “Matthias Behnk, from OHCHR, told BBC News that the organisation would not want to speculate about why there had been so many adult male casualties.”

In other words, confronted with a glaring statistical anomaly, the UN opted “not to speculate” about whether this cast doubt on the credibility of its claim that over 80 percent of fatalities were civilians. Instead, it kept right on feeding that number to journalists–most of whom promptly regurgitated it with no questions asked.

The statistical anomaly is compounded by other known facts: Terrorists don’t usually fight in uniform, so they arrive at the morgue in civilian clothing; the Hamas Interior Ministry explicitly ordered Gazans to identify all casualties as “innocent civilians” even if they aren’t; and Hamas has a history of mislabeling militants as civilian casualties: It did so during the 2009 war in Gaza as well, only admitting years later that, just as Israel claimed, most of the dead were militants rather than civilians. All this provides further grounds for suspecting that many male combat-age “civilians” were actually militants, and thus for caution about declaring them civilians. But the UN evinced no such qualms.

Finally, there’s the minor detail that some civilian casualties were caused by Hamas’s own misfired rockets. We know for certain about some such cases; for instance, an Italian journalist confirmed (after leaving Gaza) that one Palestinian rocket killed 10 Palestinians, including eight children, in a park in al-Shati. But there are undoubtedly many more that we don’t yet know about, because according to IDF data, almost a sixth of all Palestinian rockets launched–475 out of 3,137–landed in Gaza rather than Israel. That statistic is highly credible, because the Iron Dome system tracks every rocket’s trajectory to determine whether it needs intercepting, and couldn’t have achieved the success it did if its trajectory tracking system weren’t extremely accurate. And since Gaza has neither Iron Dome nor bomb shelters, Hamas rockets would be far more lethal there than they were in Israel. Yet the UN unhesitatingly blames Israel for all Palestinian casualties.

Reuben insists the UN shouldn’t be blamed for its misleading data, since “their statistics are accompanied by caveats and described as preliminary and subject to revision.” But that’s ridiculous. If the UN had doubts about the data’s veracity, it should have told the media it “would not want to speculate” about the civilian-to-combatant ratio. Instead, it opted to publish wildly exaggerated civilian casualty counts as unqualified fact while declining “to speculate” about the glaring statistical anomalies in its data.

In short, it collaborated wittingly and willingly with Hamas’s strategy to smear Israel by accusing it of massacring civilians. And most of the world’s media unhesitatingly played along.

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Israel Does Not Exist to Make Liberal Jews Feel Good

In one of the most important pieces written during the course of this conflict, Shmuel Rosner has taken to the website of the New York Times, where he is a contributing opinion writer, with a profoundly thoughtful riposte to the disapora Jews who have expressed their disaffection with Israel as a result of the goings-on—from Jon Stewart to Ezra Klein, from Peter Beinart to Roger Cohen.

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In one of the most important pieces written during the course of this conflict, Shmuel Rosner has taken to the website of the New York Times, where he is a contributing opinion writer, with a profoundly thoughtful riposte to the disapora Jews who have expressed their disaffection with Israel as a result of the goings-on—from Jon Stewart to Ezra Klein, from Peter Beinart to Roger Cohen.

Rosner says these men may be right that Israel is in danger of losing its bedrock support among American Jews in particular. He says that would put Israel in a difficult position and represent a near-tragic development. But his central point is this: Israel is not actually their country. They do not live in Israel, they do not vote in Israel, their children are not in the Israeli army. Israel is a nation of 8 million people,  and it must act in accordance with the views of its electorate and the existential needs of its people as Israelis define them. These liberal Jews, Rosner writes,

seem to believe that the implied threat that Israel might lose Jewish supporters abroad will somehow convince the government to alter its policies. This is a self-aggrandizing fantasy and reveals a poor grasp of the way Israel operates. To put it bluntly: These Jews are very important, but not nearly important enough to make Israelis pursue policies that put Israeli lives at risk.

Let me be clear: I believe Israel’s relations with Jews around the world are crucially important. Indeed, I’ve devoted a great deal of my career to thinking and writing about this topic. I often find myself preaching to Israelis about the need to be more considerate of more liberal Jewish views on issues ranging from religious conversion to women’s prayer at Jerusalem’s Western Wall. But I would never expect Israelis to gamble on our security and our lives for the sake of accommodating the political sensitivities of people who live far away.

American Jews who condition their support of Israel by standing in superior judgment of the extremely difficult choices it has been forced to make, for decades now, are guilty of converting a country of flesh-and-blood people into a one-dimensional player performing in an abstract moral pageant of their own staging and design.

These “fair weather friends,” as Rosner dubs them, hold Israel to a standard to which they do not hold other countries—and then claim they do so out of commonality and brotherhood. Light unto the nations and all that. But of course the act of separating yourself from your brethren by being their harshest critics is almost the polar opposite of true familial behavior, as Rosner notes:

If all Jews are a family, it would be natural for Israelis to expect the unconditional love of their non-Israeli Jewish kin. If Jews aren’t a family, and their support can be withdrawn, then Israelis have no reason to pay special attention to the complaints of non-Israeli Jews.

Or, to be cutesy about it, your grandmother might tell you to be a mensch while she’s stuffing you with brisket, but she does so while she stuffs you with brisket, not while she wags her finger at you and sends you to bed without your supper.

Moreover, she would be a fool if she told you that menschlichkeit required you to allow yourself to exist in a state of constant peril lest you violate some abstract moral stricture. And your grandmother is not a fool.

Which is why the more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger tone all too often taken by these fair-weather critics is so utterly and infamously disingenuous. They are using what they have in common with Israel as a weapon against it, all the while claiming they are acting on its loving behalf.

Read Rosner’s piece. 

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Obama’s Love–Hate Relationship with Retrenchment

Does the Obama administration actually want to step back from world affairs, or does it want to control them more than ever but through obedient proxies? Until recently, the answer seemed to be closer to the former. Obama himself is noticeably uncomfortable on foreign affairs, often displaying his lack of interest in filling the gaps in his knowledge. But perhaps there’s a degree of control the president is unwilling to give up after all.

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Does the Obama administration actually want to step back from world affairs, or does it want to control them more than ever but through obedient proxies? Until recently, the answer seemed to be closer to the former. Obama himself is noticeably uncomfortable on foreign affairs, often displaying his lack of interest in filling the gaps in his knowledge. But perhaps there’s a degree of control the president is unwilling to give up after all.

Israel has always been the exception to Obama’s approach to the world. He has long denounced American meddling, though he tried in his first term (rather transparently) to collapse Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition and force a change in Jerusalem. When it comes to American retrenchment, then, Israel seems to be an exception to the rule yet again.

The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the development of the Israel-Egypt relationship since the coup that replaced the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi with General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Here is some key background:

At first, Israeli intelligence officials said they didn’t know what to make of Mr. Sisi, a devout Muslim who in previous posts treated his Israeli counterparts coldly, a senior Israeli official said. As Mr. Sisi moved to take control of the government, Israeli intelligence analysts pored over his public statements, writings and private musings, Israeli and U.S. officials said.

The Israeli intelligence community’s conclusion: Mr. Sisi genuinely believed that he was on a “mission from God” to save the Egyptian state, the senior Israeli official said.

Moreover, as an Egyptian nationalist, he saw Mr. Morsi’s Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, and its Palestinian offshoot, Hamas, as threats to the state that needed to be suppressed with a heavy hand, the Israeli official said.

Israeli intelligence analysts interpreted Mr. Sisi’s comments about keeping the peace with Israel and ridding Egypt of Islamists as a “personal realization that we—Israel—were on his side,” the Israeli official said.

Here’s how Hamas in Gaza viewed the change:

Under the protective umbrella of Mr. Morsi’s Islamist-led government, Hamas had imported large quantities of arms from Libya and Sudan, as well as money to pay the salaries of government officials and members of their armed wing, Israeli and U.S. officials said. His successor abruptly changed that.

“One day we had been sitting having great conversations with Morsi and his government and then suddenly, the door was shut,” Ghazi Hamad, Hamas’s deputy foreign minister, said in an interview last month.

And here’s the most important point of all, on the war in Gaza:

U.S. officials, who tried to intervene in the initial days after the conflict broke out on July 8 to try to find a negotiated solution, soon realized that Mr. Netanyahu’s office wanted to run the show with Egypt and to keep the Americans at a distance, according to U.S., European and Israeli officials.

The Americans, in turn, felt betrayed by what they saw as a series of “mean spirited” leaks, which they interpreted as a message from Mr. Netanyahu that U.S. involvement was neither welcomed nor needed.

Reflecting Egypt’s importance, Mr. Gilad and other officials took Mr. Sisi’s “temperature” every day during the war to make sure he was comfortable with the military operation as it intensified. Israeli officials knew television pictures of dead Palestinians would at some point bring Cairo to urge Israel to stop.

The Americans felt betrayed, and were clearly frustrated–as other accounts have explained in detail–by their lack of control. Walter Russell Mead calls it an “irony” that the administration wanted to have some way to step back from the world, especially the Middle East, without having it all go to hell, and yet when that opportunity arose they didn’t know what to make of it.

I think Mead is being overly generous. Obama and is advisers were more than surprised; they were resentful to such a degree that it was reflected in their public statements. But they can’t have it both ways. Obama can’t pull back from the world and put more of the burden on our allies to pick up the slack and then complain when those allies think for themselves instead of applying Obama’s magical thinking to serious conflicts.

The real irony is that all this brought Israel and the Arab states much closer together–a perennial goal of American foreign policy–only to make Obama complain they were ganging up on him. It was the one possible success in Obama’s rebalancing efforts, yet it’s the one that really bothers him.

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Israel’s Conduct in Gaza Is a Model for Other Nations

During his press conference yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was once again asked whether Israel had acted with enough care in responding to the attacks by Hamas (h/t to Scott Johnson of Powerlineblog.com).

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During his press conference yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was once again asked whether Israel had acted with enough care in responding to the attacks by Hamas (h/t to Scott Johnson of Powerlineblog.com).

“Do you feel your actions, Israel’s actions, were proportionate?,” he was asked. “And were you using the appropriate precision weapons, even if Hamas is using [innocent Palestinians] as human shields?”

Prime Minister Netanyahu gives an exquisite response, pointing out that Israel has gone to extraordinary lengths to avoid civilian casualties while Hamas has gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure civilian casualties. And Mr. Netanyahu then posed a question to the journalist. What would you do in a similar situation, in which your nation was being attacked by 3,500 rockets and your territory was being infiltrated by terrorist death squads?

Which got me to thinking about how Israel has acted versus how other nations, including admirable nations, have acted during wartime. And so I went back and read an account from World War II which is worth considering in the context of how Israel has conducted itself in its war with Hamas.

This story comes from the BBC on February 14, 1945:

British and US bombers have dropped hundreds of thousands of explosives on the German city of Dresden… Last night, 800 RAF Bomber Command planes let loose 650,000 incendiaries and 8,000lb of high explosives and hundreds of 4,000lb bombs in two waves of attack. They faced very little anti-aircraft fire.

As soon as one part of the city was alight, the bombers went for another until the whole of Dresden was ablaze.

“There were fires everywhere with a terrific concentration in the centre of the city,” said one Pathfinder pilot.

The contemporary BBC, in putting the firebombing of Dresden in context, said this:

The attack was authorised by British Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, known as “Bomber Harris” for his enthusiastic support of the area bombing strategy. The idea was to target large urban areas to whittle away at German public morale, cut off relief supplies to the eastern front and give support to the approaching Soviet armies.

According to this analysis found at History.com:

On the evening of February 13, 1945, a series of Allied firebombing raids begins against the German city of Dresden, reducing the “Florence of the Elbe” to rubble and flames, and killing as many as 135,000 people. It was the single most destructive bombing of the war—including Hiroshima and Nagasaki—and all the more horrendous because little, if anything, was accomplished strategically, since the Germans were already on the verge of surrender… More than 3,400 tons of explosives were dropped on the city by 800 American and British aircraft. The firestorm created by the two days of bombing set the city burning for many more days, littering the streets with charred corpses, including many children.

My point in raising this isn’t to condemn Great Britain (or the United States) for what it did in Dresden, though the morality of firebombing Dresden is certainly fair to debate. My point, rather, is that in war, terrible things happen. In war, innocent people die. In war, victorious nations–even the most humane nations–make mistakes. Civilian casualties happen in every conflict; and in the history of war, atrocities by the victorious side are the norm. Of course they shouldn’t be excused; but neither should we judge wartime acts without any understanding of the circumstances of the time, at a safe distance, writing from a keyboard when the main hassle of the day is rush hour traffic. The morality of war is a terribly complicated matter to sort through.

What is so unusual when it comes to Israel is that by historical standards it has conducted itself in its conflict with Hamas (to say nothing of past conflicts) with remarkable care and decency. I’m not sure there are many parallels to it. (America’s conduct in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been similar, I think, to the care taken by Israel in Gaza.) Israel could have decimated Gaza and Hamas within hours, causing far more civilian deaths. It chose a far more humane, and historically rare, option. For much of the world and much of the Western media, then, to judge Israel harshly for how it’s acted in not only wrong; it is historically ignorant and morally obtuse.

The way Israel has handled itself in this conflict is a model for other nations to follow; and the fact that Israel is on the receiving end of venomous attacks is evidence of dark and ugly impulses that need to be named.

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“Parallel States” Plan for Israeli-Palestinian Peace Is a Recipe for Disaster

I have long argued that the Oslo framework holds back the two-state solution by tying each side to a rigid set of parameters that “everybody knows” and yet nobody seems to want. The process can be disrupted and reshaped without giving up on the idea of two states for two peoples. In fact, I imagine a bit of creativity would help things along.

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I have long argued that the Oslo framework holds back the two-state solution by tying each side to a rigid set of parameters that “everybody knows” and yet nobody seems to want. The process can be disrupted and reshaped without giving up on the idea of two states for two peoples. In fact, I imagine a bit of creativity would help things along.

With that said, solutions that are radically different are not automatically preferable just because of their radicalism. At Tablet, Mathias Mossberg has published an adaptation from the new book on the conflict he edited, One Land, Two States: Israel and Palestine as Parallel States. It is a long read, but interesting and imaginative. It is also, however, deeply misguided, unrealistic, and a formula for trouble as far as the eye can see.

Mossberg’s basic idea is one of “Parallel States,” in which both Israel and the Palestinian territories would become part of one state structure but divide sovereignty among the individuals of this modified “condominium” based on religion, ethnicity, or personal preference. It’s worth reading the whole piece to see how Mossberg has fleshed out the plan, but here is the crux:

In a Parallel States structure, one Israeli state and one Palestinian would both cover the whole area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. In such a scenario, military, political, and economic barriers would be lifted, and a joint security and defense policy, a common and equitable economic policy, and joint and harmonized legislation would replace existing divisions. Such a structure would allow both for an independent Palestinian state and for Israel to be both Jewish and democratic at the same time. It would bring an end to occupation and would permit free movement over the whole area for both peoples, as well as providing a vision for an end of conflict.

There are a few points to make in response. The first is that the bureaucracy such a structure would create would be a nightmare–it would make the current Israeli bureaucracy look like a floating libertarian utopia in comparison. How to adjudicate a neighborly dispute when each is a “citizen” of a different state authority on the same land? What if someone changes citizenship, since personal choice is an option here? Which law applies to their past contracts? Employment terms? Accumulated physical and intellectual property?

Second, Mossberg relies on a few tropes to sign the two-state solution’s death certificate, such as discredited demographic time bomb fears and the idea that settlements contribute to a state of affairs that is making a Palestinian state in the West Bank virtually impossible, which is not remotely true and glosses over the lack of outward expansion of the settlements over the last decade-plus. Any solution to the conflict that’s based on false premises, as Mossberg’s is, should raise red flags immediately.

Third, Mossberg doesn’t–at least in this lengthy essay–really grapple with the toughest obstacles. Here is his section on security:

Security and defense would be of paramount importance in a Parallel States structure, as well as in a more conventional two-state structure. This poses particularly vital questions, in that security is a basic need for each side in existential and concrete ways. To craft a common Israeli-Palestinian security strategy, outlining how Israelis and Palestinians could cooperate and ultimately join forces in a common security system, covering external borders as well as internal order, is a challenge that should not be underestimated.

A joint external security envelope, with a high degree of cooperation on external security and with joint or coordinated external border control, has to be envisaged. It is worth noting, though, that already today there are elements of an internal security structure that contains separate institutions and security forces, but also a high degree of coordination.

Yes, it would be a challenge. How might it be solved? Not with academic platitudes, that’s for sure.

Fourth, Mossberg all but cheers the end of the Westphalian order. This strikes me as a mistake. Just because the nation state is struggling in the modern era does not mean it deserves to perish. It’s true that Mossberg is not removing sovereignty when he removes the nation state. But it would be a step backward in global order–possibly with major repercussions elsewhere.

Finally, there is the reason we are having this discussion, at least according to Mossberg: Gaza. The recent Gaza war, he says, probably signals the end of the traditional two-state solution. But his Parallel State structure calls for the erasure of borders. Israel and the PA in the West Bank have established some very constructive avenues for security cooperation, though they would be challenged significantly by this state condominium-esque arrangement.

Gaza, on the other hand, is a different entity entirely. Yet Mossberg mostly treats Gaza as a question of economic integration, with not nearly enough energy devoted to the much greater question of security. Gaza is led by Hamas. The terrorist group won’t disappear just by having its official authority taken away. How could Hamas be integrated into a borderless Israeli-Palestinian state project? The answer is: it couldn’t, not in a way that would enable the survival of the state structure.

If the answer is, then, that Hamas has to be routed and replaced in Gaza, then that seems to be an argument for the rejuvenation of the two-state solution, not its abandonment. In any case, the Parallel States structure is not the answer.

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No Donor Conference for Gaza

Albert Einstein quipped that insanity was doing the same action repeatedly but expecting different results each time. Once again, as the smoke clears in Gaza, the European community is stepping in with calls for a donor conference. That’s simply crazy.

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Albert Einstein quipped that insanity was doing the same action repeatedly but expecting different results each time. Once again, as the smoke clears in Gaza, the European community is stepping in with calls for a donor conference. That’s simply crazy.

The Palestinians have received more per capita than any other national community, but have the least to show for it. The problem is not Israel, but rather an unwillingness to foreswear terrorism and concentrate instead on internal development. Sure, some Palestinians and Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth might complain that it’s not terrorism but rather resistance—but that’s just the problem: So long as their leaders and the international community indulge Palestinians in the notion that violence is honorable, then Palestinians have an excuse for their own domestic failings.

Make no mistake: Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have suffered during the recent conflict, although not nearly as much as some in the media suggest. The casualty numbers are most certainly exaggerated. Regardless, because Hamas and its surrogates claimed multiple casualties from single strikes, this suggests the number of destroyed civilian structures to be low. Gaza was never as desperate as many Palestinian activists and their fellow travelers have claimed. And while Gaza may be densely populated, density and poverty do not always correlate. Just ask residents of Singapore or Hong Kong about that.

But what harm can a donor conference do? Sometimes foreign aid can do good but never when it removes accountability from a government or society. If Hamas—or any Palestinian administration—knows that the international community will always step in and rebuild houses, schools, or government buildings, then it makes it easier to dedicate what revenue the Palestinian government does have to terrorism and military adventurism. The international community’s knee-jerk reaction to violence in the Middle East has always been to subsidize the Palestinians further to the tune of billions of dollars. Clearly, that strategy has neither worked nor in any way furthered peace. Seldom do European officials and Western donor nations consider that their strategy has actually made the situation worse.

A major problem, of course, is the United Nations Relief and Works Administration (UNRWA). UNRWA was never supposed to live out the 1950s. Economist Fred Gottheil did a masterful job of examining support for UNRWA as an illustration of moral hazard. Former UNRWA employee James Lindsay has also provided an in-depth study of what is wrong with UNRWA and how to fix it. The UN, however, has never been adept at either efficiency or bureaucratic reform. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is no more serious about reform than his predecessors, even the venal Kofi Annan, whose tenure was marked by multibillion-dollar corruption schemes. Had the secretary-general been serious, he would have replaced the leadership of UNRWA immediately for having allowed Hamas to transform UNRWA facilities into weapons storage centers and then to return missiles found in UNRWA stores to Hamas.

In northern Iraq, tens of thousands of Yezidi children are surrounded by Islamic State fighters who would like nothing better than their slaughter. In Jordan, Syrian refugees force their preteen and teenage daughters into exploitive marriages simply because their situations are so desperate. In northeastern Syria, Kurds have put together a functioning and stable government that now shelters tens of thousands of Christians and hundreds of thousands of Muslims, and yet the international community largely ignores them—and Turkey, the Syrian government, and Iraqi Kurdistan all prevent their supply with medicine. In every case, a fraction of what European donors would give to Gazans could make a world of difference to peoples who actually want to improve their lives, not eradicates others’.

Perhaps it’s time to stop treating taxpayer dollars—American, European, or otherwise—as an entitlement to Palestinians who have made bad choices (or elected a government which does so). Only when Palestinians in Gaza realize that Hamas brings nothing but ruin can there be a possibility for something better. It’s time the international community act as if it truly cares about Palestinians’ fate and show some tough love; no longer should they enable the Palestinians’ self-destructive lack of accountability. The problem isn’t money; it’s culture.

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The Hamas Kidnapping and the Liberal Echo Chamber

Israel’s recent counteroffensive in Gaza against Hamas provided a steady stream of uninformed commentary from the left. But the development in the case of the three kidnapped and murdered Israeli teens a couple of months ago provides a perfect case study in how the left’s echo chamber can amplify an anti-Israel smear with alarming speed.

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Israel’s recent counteroffensive in Gaza against Hamas provided a steady stream of uninformed commentary from the left. But the development in the case of the three kidnapped and murdered Israeli teens a couple of months ago provides a perfect case study in how the left’s echo chamber can amplify an anti-Israel smear with alarming speed.

In June, Gil-ad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach, and Naftali Fraenkel were abducted and murdered by Hamas-affiliated terrorists in the West Bank. The Israeli government identified the suspects as such, but wouldn’t release more information until the investigation proceeded. Now they have reportedly confirmed Hamas’s role in the murders.

Yet back in June, almost immediately there were attempts to absolve the Hamas organization of responsibility by claiming the murderers acted on their own. Because Israel was restricted from releasing all the information it had, it opened space for anti-Israel activists and bloggers to try to push a false narrative that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had deceived the public as a pretext for invading Gaza.

This was an obviously obtuse thing to say (the abduction was not what spurred Israel’s actions in Gaza no matter who was responsible for the kidnapping), but the left operates in its own echo chamber, so it made the rounds. And in the process, it opened a window into how the left constructs an alternate reality about Israel and then, seemingly, convinces itself that it’s true.

On July 25, New York magazine offered, in a blog post shared over 280,000 times on social media, words that should have stopped the conspiracy theorists in their tracks: “BuzzFeed reporter Sheera Frenkel was among the first to suggest that it was unlikely that Hamas was behind the deaths of Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel, and Eyal Yifrach.” Indeed, Frenkel has been among the least reliable reporters covering the conflict, in part because sources in the region seemed to have identified her early on as an easy mark. The Middle East is a complex place, and it takes a certain skepticism and political savvy to navigate the degree to which sources attempt to spin the media. Frenkel’s sources picked her out as someone who didn’t possess those qualities, and she rewarded their assumptions with her reporting.

What happened in this case was that BBC reporter Jon Donnison misreported his conversation with Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. Frenkel saw this as confirmation of her theory, and ran with it. As Tablet reported, “It appears the entire episode is the result of an unfortunate game of internet telephone. In her tweet, which was picked up by New York, Frenkel placed Donnison’s words ‘lone cell’ in quotation marks, inadvertently making it seem like Donnison’s language was actually Rosenfeld’s. But it wasn’t, and the implications that have been drawn by New York, and now spread by Andrew Sullivan, are not justified.”

New York’s initial headline on the piece was “It Turns Out Hamas Didn’t Kidnap and Kill the 3 Israeli Teens After All.” The headline was not even close to being accurate, and the site belatedly changed the headline after the story had taken off. And no story on a ridiculous anti-Israel rumor would be complete without being given the full “explainer” treatment by Vox.

Vox has developed a reputation for not coming within a country mile of getting the story right when covering Israel. Vox’s mistakes range from the absolutely adorable–Zack Beauchamp’s claim that there’s a bridge connecting the West Bank and Gaza–to the aggressively ignorant–virtually anything Max Fisher writes. Vox’s template is supposed to be explanatory journalism, so the tone in each piece is one of intellectual authority. Thus, for the gullible leftists seeking to confirm their worldview, Vox is a perfect go-to site.

Fisher offered a typical post on the doubt that confused and biased reporters had tried to cast on the kidnapping. Fisher was, it should be noted, more careful about outright accusing Netanyahu of lying. After trying and failing to get a handle on what was going on, Fisher threw up his hands:

If you want to get angry about something, get angry about this: Israel has for years refused to change its strategy toward Gaza and the larger Israel-Palestine conflict, even though that strategy shows zero indication of yielding sustainable peace and leads Israel to occasionally invade Gaza to weaken anti-Israel groups there.

Therefore, he wrote, “in a much larger sense, in the view from 50,000 feet above the conflict, what may have mattered even more is that the conflict is structured in such a way that another war was likely going to happen whether Netanyahu blamed Hamas or not.”

It’s Israel’s fault, even if Hamas terrorism touches off an escalation of the conflict, in this view. And so we went from revelations that Hamas kidnapped and killed three Israeli teens to accusations that Israel lied about Hamas’s role to declarations that whatever actually happened, Israel is to blame for the cycle of violence. It’s a good example of how the left starts out with a fact, concocts a story that contradicts that fact but conforms to their worldview, and then changes the subject to Israel’s eternal guilt as soon as their deceptions are questioned. Waiting for the facts might be too much to ask of them, but as this week’s revelations show, the truth is worth the wait.

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How Hamas Deliberately Created a Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza

There has been a lot of talk lately about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. What has gone curiously unmentioned by all the great humanitarians from the UN and “human rights” groups, however, is the degree to which this crisis was deliberately fomented by Hamas: Aside from starting the war to begin with, Hamas has done its level best to deprive Gazans of everything from food to medical care to housing, despite Israel’s best efforts to provide them.

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There has been a lot of talk lately about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. What has gone curiously unmentioned by all the great humanitarians from the UN and “human rights” groups, however, is the degree to which this crisis was deliberately fomented by Hamas: Aside from starting the war to begin with, Hamas has done its level best to deprive Gazans of everything from food to medical care to housing, despite Israel’s best efforts to provide them.

Take, for instance, the widely reported shortages of medicines and various other essentials. Many of these products are imported, and since Egypt has largely closed its border, Gaza has only one conduit for these vital imports: the Kerem Shalom crossing into Israel. Thus if Gaza’s Hamas government had any concern whatsoever for its citizens, ensuring that this crossing was kept open and could function at maximum efficiency would be a top priority.

Instead, Hamas and other terrorist groups subjected Kerem Shalom to relentless rocket and mortar fire throughout the 29-day conflict, thereby ensuring that the job of getting cargo through was constantly interrupted as crossing workers raced for cover. Hamas also launched at least three tunnel attacks near Kerem Shalom, each of which shut the crossing down for hours.

Despite this, Israeli staffers risked their lives to keep the crossing open and managed to send through 1,491 truckloads of food, 220 truckloads of other humanitarian supplies, and 106 truckloads of medical supplies. But the numbers would certainly have been higher had the nonstop attacks not kept disrupting operations. On August 1, for instance, a shipment comprising 91 truckloads of aid had to be aborted on when Hamas violated a humanitarian cease-fire by launching a massive attack near Kerem Shalom.

Then there’s the shortage of medical care, as Gaza’s hospitals were reportedly overwhelmed by the influx of Palestinian casualties. To relieve this pressure, Israel allowed some Palestinians into Israel for treatment and also set up a field hospital on the Gaza border. But throughout the war, the field hospital stood almost empty–which Israel says is because Hamas deliberately kept Palestinians from using it.

Many pundits dismiss this claim, insisting there were simply no Palestinians who wanted to go there. That, however, is highly implausible. Gazans routinely seek treatment in Israel because it offers better medical care than Gaza does; as one Gazan said in 2012, “It is obvious that people come to Israel for medical treatment, regardless of the political conflict.” Even Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh sends his family to Israel for treatment; over the past two years, Israel has treated both his granddaughter and his sister’s husband. So while some Palestinians undoubtedly objected to accepting help from the enemy, it’s hard to believe there weren’t also Palestinians who simply wanted the best possible care for their loved ones, and would gladly have accepted it from Israel had they not feared retaliation from a group with no qualms about shooting dissenters.

It’s also worth noting that “humanitarian” organizations in Gaza actively contributed to this particular problem. UNRWA and the Red Cross did refer a few patients to the Israeli field hospital. But you have to wonder why they opted to refer most patients to Gaza’s Shifa Hospital and then make videos about how difficult conditions there were instead of easing the burden on Shifa by referring more patients to the Israeli hospital.

Then, of course, there’s the dire electricity shortage–also courtesy in part of Hamas, which destroyed two power lines carrying electricity from Israel to Gaza and subsequently prevented their repair by shelling the area nonstop.

Finally, there’s the massive destruction of houses in Gaza, which has left thousands of families homeless. That, too, was largely courtesy of Hamas: It booby-trapped houses and other civilian buildings, like a UNRWA clinic, on a massive scale and also used such buildings to store rockets and explosives.

Sometimes, it blew up these buildings itself in an effort to kill Israeli soldiers. Other times, the buildings blew up when relatively light Israeli ammunition like mortar shells–which aren’t powerful enough to destroy a building on their own–caused the booby traps or stored rockets to detonate. As Prof. Gregory Rose aptly noted, Hamas effectively turned all of Gaza into one big suicide bomb. In one neighborhood, for instance, 19 out of 28 houses were either booby-trapped, storing rockets, or concealing a tunnel entrance, thereby ensuring their destruction.

Now, the organization is gleefully watching the world blame Israel for the humanitarian crisis Hamas itself created. And that gives it every incentive to repeat these tactics in the future.

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Bibi and Barack After Gaza

As Operation Protective Edge wound down in Gaza, talk in the media turned to the U.S.-Israel relationship. It has been an unusually tense few months for Washington and Jerusalem.

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As Operation Protective Edge wound down in Gaza, talk in the media turned to the U.S.-Israel relationship. It has been an unusually tense few months for Washington and Jerusalem.

What’s puzzling is not President Obama’s desire for peace. It is always admirable to want wars to go on for no longer than they must. But in this case, once Israel discovered the terror tunnels, the state had to act in its own defense. The New York Times has a story today on the administration’s frustration with its lack of control over another sovereign state’s actions, but the entire piece can be boiled down to the following paragraph, appearing early on in the story:

With public opinion in both Israel and the United States solidly behind the Israeli military’s campaign against Hamas, no outcry from Israel’s Arab neighbors, and unstinting support for Israel on Capitol Hill, President Obama has had few obvious levers to force Mr. Netanyahu to stop pounding targets in Gaza until he was ready to do it.

Well that pretty much explains it, doesn’t it? Not only did Israel have public support in the U.S., but its actions were backed by its Arab neighbors and the U.S. Congress. Obama was the odd man out–or one of the few, anyway. There was a rare consensus in Israel’s part of the Middle East that included Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Everyone was on the same page both with Israel and the U.S. for once. It was an easy diplomatic call for Obama, but he still made the wrong one.

Additionally, the efficacy of American pressure on Israel depends to a large extent on the Israeli public. In this particular case, Hamas had constructed an underground city with tunnels that led into Israeli territory. Of course the Israeli public wanted those tunnels gone. And the threat from the rockets flying from Gaza, often derided by the world as glorified firecrackers, had increased as well. The rockets practically shut down Ben-Gurion Airport, Israel’s gateway to the outside world, which had the effect of temporarily isolating a Jewish polity that, for clear and rational reasons, is a bit sensitive to their enemies’ attempts to ghettoize them.

As Ruthie Blum writes today in Israel Hayom:

One could argue that the reason public support for Operation Protective Edge reached a ‎whopping 95 percent was the utter justice of its cause; that the incessant rocket-‎fire from Gaza, now hitting the center of country, was too much even for the peace ‎utopians to bear. ‎

One could assume that no matter what an Israeli’s personal political leanings, he would ‎see the virtue in defeating an enemy that glorifies death; uses children as canon fodder; ‎abuses women; tortures homosexuals and the disabled; and vows to annihilate the world’s ‎Jews while converting or slaughtering its Christians. ‎

Nevertheless, it is usually impossible to get even those Israelis with similar outlooks to ‎agree on anything, including where to hang a communal clothesline, for more than five ‎minutes. Hence the quip, “Two Jews, three opinions.”‎

Blum also mentions the surprising fact that this unity occurred under the premiership of Benjamin Netanyahu, whose essential pragmatism tends to leave Israelis wary of his intentions. Netanyahu doesn’t really have a political base in the traditional sense, since the right wing doesn’t trust him. Yet in this current conflict, virtually the entire country was his base.

Such unity of spirit and support for Israel in the Arab world should have been inspiring. To Obama, it was a source of aggravation. As the Times notes:

The blunt, unsparing language — among the toughest diplomats recall ever being aimed at Israel — lays bare a frustrating reality for the Obama administration: the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has largely dismissed diplomatic efforts by the United States to end the violence in Gaza, leaving American officials to seethe on the sidelines about what they regard as disrespectful treatment.

Obama has always been more receptive to the angst of the Democratic Party’s base than other elected Democrats who didn’t, after all, become the most powerful person in the world by riding a wave of feverish antiwar anger. And the Democratic Party’s base is the one sector of American politics whose open hostility to Israel is not only growing stronger by the day but also seeping into the rest of the party from the margins.

Obama has often left commentators perplexed by the battles he chooses and the fights he picks, since they’re so often with steadfast allies. And it should be noted that he hasn’t abandoned Israel in the military realm–far from it. But the diplomatic aggression toward Israel is far from meaningless. The Times explains that “a senior American official predicted that the tough State Department statement would ‘box [Israel] in internationally.’”

Despite having the Arab world on their side in this fight, not to mention the U.S. Congress and the public they represent, the Obama administration is trying to rally international–European, presumably–opinion against Israel. It’s strategically foolish and diplomatically illogical. Perhaps the end of Operation Protective Edge, then–if indeed this is the end–will serve to protect the Obama administration from itself by preventing further self-inflicted wounds, or at least remove Gaza as their source.

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The American Studies Association Returns to the Middle East Fray

The American Studies Association, whose vote to back the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement I wrote about earlier this year, has now distinguished itself by becoming the first academic association to call for a withdrawal of all “political, financial, and military support from the state of Israel.” It had previously called only for an academic boycott.

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The American Studies Association, whose vote to back the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement I wrote about earlier this year, has now distinguished itself by becoming the first academic association to call for a withdrawal of all “political, financial, and military support from the state of Israel.” It had previously called only for an academic boycott.

As has become standard practice in the academic BDS movement, the ASA’s Executive Committee has an academic pretext for its intervention in the Middle East: the recent strike on the Islamic University of Gaza. The committee understands that most observers will think an organization devoted to American culture should not have a stance on the Gaza conflict. But the statement almost immediately drops that pretext and concedes that the ASA’s stance is really about “Israel’s long-standing practice of denying an entire people the basic necessitates [sic] of life and freedom.

There follows a link you can click to give the ASA money to “to join in financially supporting our principled response to attacks on the organization and our continued growth and impact as an association. As Rahm Emanuel once said, you never want to let a serious crisis to go to waste.

Of course, the ASA stand is sheer self-indulgent theater. Still, it is revealing. Last year, it was at least possible to imagine that the American Studies Association distinguished between the West Bank and Gaza, understanding Israel’s need to defend itself against Hamas, an organization devoted to its violent destruction and to violence against Jews altogether. Today, like others in the BDS movement, the American Studies Association has openly sided with Hamas’s military wing, or, as BDS darling Ali Abunimah likes to call its members, “resistance fighters.”

With this latest ill-advised statement, the ASA leaves no daylight between its own position and Abunimah’s, namely that Israel is the bad guy in the fight between Israel and Hamas, Hamas’s deliberate strategy of firing indiscriminately at Israeli civilians and placing its own civilians in harm’s way notwithstanding. All that is lacking is the open celebration, which we find in Abunimah, of the military exploits, such as they are, of the Al Qassam Brigade. I suppose the executive committee thinks that such a celebration might frighten the donors.

William Jacobson of Legal Insurrection has predicted that this year’s anti-Israel activity on American campuses will be even more virulent than it was last year and may even turn violent. I hope he is wrong about the latter but sure he is right about the former.

Those of us who care not only about Israel but also about the enterprise of colleges and universities must point out again and again that the avowedly nonviolent academic BDS movement, which has always shied away from criticism of Hamas and has long hugged the lunatic fringe, is now vying to turn American college campuses into propaganda mills for the “military wing” of Hamas, which even the European Union considers a terrorist group.

Despite the wall to wall coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I suspect that most faculty members and students alike know very little about it in general or about Hamas in particular. Even on college campuses, the debate against BDS can be won. They can’t hide from that charter.

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Putting Compassion for Palestinians in Perspective

While much of the international media as well as the Obama administration are lambasting Israel for the conduct of its war in Gaza, friends of the Jewish state are also under attack this week. The charge is insufficient sympathy for Palestinians who are being killed and wounded in the conflict. But while all persons of good will should view the pictures of those suffering with horror, the rush to indict the pro-Israel community on the charge of callous indifference is unjustified.

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While much of the international media as well as the Obama administration are lambasting Israel for the conduct of its war in Gaza, friends of the Jewish state are also under attack this week. The charge is insufficient sympathy for Palestinians who are being killed and wounded in the conflict. But while all persons of good will should view the pictures of those suffering with horror, the rush to indict the pro-Israel community on the charge of callous indifference is unjustified.

Some of the discussion on this topic is easy to dismiss. In the case of Northeastern University’s Dov Waxman, who writes in the Forward to lament the lack of Jewish empathy for Palestinian casualties, it’s hard not to see his piece as a display of moral preening that tells us little about the situation or even what is motivating the discussion among pro-Israel activists. Of course, we should care about Palestinians. But other than demanding that friends of Israel gnash their teeth about the situation, it’s difficult to understand what he’d like them to do about it especially since he acknowledges that the fault for their plight largely belongs to Hamas. If, as Cynthia Ozick once aptly noted, “universalism is the parochialism of the Jews,” all Waxman here seems to be saying is that it’s necessary for Jews to do more conspicuous wailing about the Palestinians without in any way diminishing their support for Israel’s justified defensive war. Far from being callous, pro-Israel activists are concentrating their efforts on pointing out what the media has failed to about Hamas responsibility for the war and those who have been hurt by it.

More serious are Ramesh Ponnuru’s comments in his Bloomberg column on Friday. Ponnuru acknowledges that Israel is in the right in this contest and that Hamas and its apologists—especially those who falsely accuse Israel of “genocide”—are in the wrong. But he’s worried about those who go a step further in defense of the Jewish state and claim that there are no “true” civilians in Gaza.

Ponnuru takes particular aim at New York University Law School’s Thane Rosenbaum for writing in the Wall Street Journal that those in Gaza who give not only vocal support to Hamas but actively assist its fighters cannot claim to be mere civilians when they come under Israeli counter-fire. Ponnuru also thinks ill of historian Benny Morris who recently wrote that Israel needed to demonstrate a willingness to “exact a heavy price in blood from Palestinian civilians.”

According to Ponnuru, this is more than callousness. Rather it is, he says, a violation of the rules of war that call upon combatants to attempt at all times to make distinctions between enemy soldiers and civilians in their midst. Rosenbaum asserts that sympathy for Gazans who are active Hamas supporters who place their children in the path of violence in order to further group’s causes is misplaced. Ponnuru derides this as not merely unfeeling but a “disgusting sentiment.”

To the extent that these comments reflect a lack of sympathy for any child caught in the crossfire of even a justified war, he’s right. Children don’t choose to be part of a war any more than they choose their parents. Anyone who can view the suffering of Palestinians as they regard those who have been wounded and maimed and mourn their dead with indifference is wrong. Those who have lost the capacity to realize the common humanity even with an enemy have lost their moral compass.

But the discussion about the wave of empathy for Palestinians as their casualty toll mounts and the accompanying anger at Israel is not as simple as that. Rosenbaum may have overstepped his mark, as did Morris, whose main point was to correctly assert that Hamas could not be left standing if there was to be any hope for peace. But to merely assert, as Ponnuru does, that Palestinians civilians “aren’t the bad guys” in this drama is just as unhelpful.

Strip away some of the overheated rhetoric and what Rosenbaum has written is not merely true but inarguable. Palestinians who voted for Hamas, support their charter that calls for Israel’s eradication and the genocide of its Jewish population, cheer the deaths of Jewish civilians, and provide all possible aid to terrorists are not exactly innocent bystanders in this war.

Ponnuru is correct that American civilians can’t be legally targeted for acts of war conducted by their government overseas even if they happened to vote for that government. In that sense, the mere act of voting for Hamas or cheering their terrorist exploits does not make anyone in Gaza a legitimate target. But the distinction that Rosenbaum is attempting to make here is not one that would legitimize the wholesale slaughter of Hamas voters. Nor is Morris, when taken in context, advocating that. Rather, the point here is that those who actively assist Hamas “military” actions are not mere civilians.

But there is a broader point here that touches on just war theories.

As Ponnuru rightly notes, just war theory demands that we always distinguish between soldiers and civilians. But what we should understand is that as much as compassion should be extended to every human being in difficult situations no matter what their beliefs, the attempt to falsely brand Israel as behaving brutally must also be put in the context of a conflict that is happening specifically because Hamas believes killing more Jews will increase its popularity. One need not forfeit sympathy for injured Palestinian children to realize that if their society honors terrorism and incites hatred for Israel, the ensuing violence will take a terrible toll on its people. Those who point out that many of those decrying Israeli strikes on Gaza are themselves advocates of genocide against Israelis are not being callous. They are merely calling Palestinians to account for the culture of violence they have embraced at a time when much of the world is prepared to give them a pass. The suffering of their people will not abate until they reject that culture. To say so is not immoral. It is merely the truth.

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Hamas Reaps Perverse Rewards of Its Media Strategy

If anyone still wonders why Hamas locates its military installations in schools, hospitals, and mosques, the answer comes back in all the headlines being run all over the world: “Israel Bombs Babies” or some variant thereof.

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If anyone still wonders why Hamas locates its military installations in schools, hospitals, and mosques, the answer comes back in all the headlines being run all over the world: “Israel Bombs Babies” or some variant thereof.

Hamas has presented Israel with a no-win situation: Either the Israel Defense Forces declare Hamas militants and weapons off-limits for attacks (in which case Hamas can continue barraging Israel with its rockets and sending its terrorists to infiltrate via tunnels so they can kidnap and kill Israelis) or Israel attacks Hamas installations and produces inevitable collateral damage which then creates sad but true stories of innocent civilians getting killed.

The world, perversely if expectedly, draws a simple moral from all this: Not that Hamas is guilty of war crimes (which it is) by hiding its military infrastructure in civilian areas but that Israel is guilty of war crimes (which it isn’t) for targeting that infrastructure while doing its level best to avoid civilian casualties.

Even observers who are willing to admit that Israel has a right to self-defense then play the Hamas game by subjecting every single Israeli military operation to the kind of minute scrutiny that no other military in the world–not even the American Armed Forces–must face. For instance, there is this New York Times investigative article which begins: “An examination of an Israeli barrage that put a line of at least 10 shells through a United Nations school sheltering displaced Palestinians here last week suggests that Israeli troops paid little heed to warnings to safeguard such sites and may have unleashed weapons inappropriate for urban areas despite rising alarm over civilian deaths.”

I have no idea precisely what happened during the operation which apparently hit a school in Gaza on July 30–and neither does the New York Times, because its reporters were able to get only one side of the story. That is, they are able to get the story provided by Hamas, which is happy to allow Palestinian civilians to be interviewed as long as they say what they’re supposed to say (namely, to blame all casualties on the Zionist imperialists).

Journalists know they are at risk of violent retribution from Hamas if they report how that terrorist organization is, for example, firing rockets from the parking lot of Al Shifa hospital, something that was only reported by an obscure Finnish TV reporter.

Or as an Italian journalist tweeted after leaving Gaza: “Out of #Gaza far from #Hamas retaliation: misfired rocket killed children yday in Shati. Witness: militants rushed and cleared debris.”

Those journalists who remain in Gaza, whatever their noble intentions, are serving as a mouthpiece, intentional or not, for the story that Hamas–an organization openly dedicated to genocide–wants the world to hear. This is a brilliant use of “information warfare” on the part of the terrorists, but it’s a disgrace that so many well-meaning people fall for the Hamas line without bothering to learn anything about the extraordinary care that Israel takes to avoid civilian casualties including routinely dropping leaflets on buildings before they are targeted.

Does the IDF still make mistakes and kill civilians they shouldn’t have killed? Of course. That’s the nature of war. Especially of a war fought against an enemy that disdains the most basic laws of war, which call for fighters to openly identify themselves and not shelter behind human shields. Is it tragic that Palestinian civilians are being killed? Of course.

But at the end of the day it’s hard to see what more the IDF can do to avoid public opprobrium without simply giving Hamas a free-fire license. As the Israeli novelist Amos Oz (no hawk he) says: “What would you do if your neighbor across the street sits down on the balcony, puts his little boy on his lap and starts shooting machine gun fire into your nursery?”

Unfortunately few people around the world bother to grapple with the moral complexity of his question–or to imagine what their own governments would do if thousands of rockets were raining down on their territory. It’s much easier to simply blame big bad Israel for the supposed “disproportionality” of its response.

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The Price in Palestinian Lives of Israel’s Gaza Pullout

Last week, I noted that Israel’s unilateral pullout from Gaza has cost the lives of more Israeli soldiers than remaining in Gaza would have. But no less significant is the fact that Israel’s pullout has cost the lives of far more Palestinians than remaining in Gaza would have.

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Last week, I noted that Israel’s unilateral pullout from Gaza has cost the lives of more Israeli soldiers than remaining in Gaza would have. But no less significant is the fact that Israel’s pullout has cost the lives of far more Palestinians than remaining in Gaza would have.

Here, too, a comparison to the second intifada is instructive. According to B’Tselem’s statistics, 1,727 Palestinians were killed in Gaza between September 2000, when the intifada began, and the August 2005 pullout. Since then, the numbers have soared. Another 1,271 Palestinians were killed between the pullout and December 2008, when the first Israel-Hamas war in Gaza began; 1,391 were killed during that war, and 481 between then and the start of the current war. That’s 3,143 Palestinian fatalities in total, and Palestinians claim another 1,600 or so have been killed during this war. So even if you assume, which I do, that B’Tselem’s numbers are exaggerated (it tends to believe Palestinian reports far too uncritically), the trend is undeniable: Since the pullout, Israeli-Palestinian fighting has produced more than twice as many Palestinian fatalities as the peak years of the second intifada did.

Moreover, as in the case of Israeli fatalities, this increase represents a sharp contrast to the trend in the West Bank, which the Israel Defense Forces still control: There, Palestinian fatalities have fallen from 1,491 between September 2000 and August 2005 to 395 in the nine years since August 2005, meaning annual fatalities have fallen by more than 85 percent (they haven’t dropped to zero because neither has Palestinian terror; terror attacks still kill Israelis every year, but the level is dramatically lower than at the height of the intifada).

The question is why Palestinian fatalities in Gaza have risen so sharply. The anti-Israel crowd will doubtless cite this fact as “proof” that recent Israeli premiers are even more bloodthirsty than “the butcher of Beirut,” as they fondly dubbed Ariel Sharon, the prime minister during the second intifada. But anyone not convinced that Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu are simply monsters who like eating Palestinian children for breakfast will have to consider the obvious alternative: Palestinian casualties have soared because the IDF’s departure from Gaza allowed terrorist organizations to entrench their rockets, tunnels, and explosives among the civilian population in a way that simply wasn’t possible before.

In the current war, Palestinians have stored rockets in schools and launched them from hospitals and from amid civilian houses. They have built cross-border tunnels to attack Israel that pass under civilian houses and emerge straight into a mosque. They have booby-trapped civilian houses and even health clinics. In short, by embedding their war material among the civilian population, Hamas and other terrorist organizations have made it impossible for the IDF to target them without also hitting civilians.

This Hamas strategy increases Palestinian casualties in another way as well: by magnifying the impact of any Israeli strike. Precision bombs can sometimes take out a building without touching the ones next to it. But precision strikes don’t work when the building they hit is booby-trapped or serves as a rocket warehouse; in that case, secondary explosions will create a much broader swathe of destruction. And Israel has no way of knowing when a target has been booby-trapped; Hamas doesn’t provide it with maps.

Problems like this didn’t arise when the IDF still controlled Gaza, because it could take preventive action to keep Hamas from entrenching war material in civilian areas to begin with. And that’s precisely why counterterrorism operations in the IDF-controlled West Bank have produced vastly lower Palestinian casualties.

Hamas certainly isn’t going to abandon its “dead baby strategy” voluntarily; conducting operations from amid a civilian population so as to maximize civilian casualties has proven wildly successful in turning the world against Israel. The conclusion is thus inescapable: Should the IDF ever leave the West Bank, the pullout won’t just result in more dead Israelis. It will certainly result in more dead Palestinians as well.

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Rewarding Hamas for Its Crimes

Hamas started its latest burst of rocket and tunnel warfare against Israel for a reason. It’s the same reason that Hamas has also refused to agree to any of the ceasefire proposals put forward so far. Hamas’s ultimate objective is the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews more widely, but along the way to achieving this Hamas has a number of other goals. Israel is quite capable of countering Hamas’s military objectives, but the international community risks enabling Hamas victories elsewhere, and in doing so it serves to only incentivize further aggression by this Islamist terrorist organization and others like it.

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Hamas started its latest burst of rocket and tunnel warfare against Israel for a reason. It’s the same reason that Hamas has also refused to agree to any of the ceasefire proposals put forward so far. Hamas’s ultimate objective is the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews more widely, but along the way to achieving this Hamas has a number of other goals. Israel is quite capable of countering Hamas’s military objectives, but the international community risks enabling Hamas victories elsewhere, and in doing so it serves to only incentivize further aggression by this Islamist terrorist organization and others like it.

The most immediate reward for Hamas has been in the field of public relations, and here the international media–perhaps unwittingly–has been incredibly cooperative. A public-relations victory for Hamas does not require anyone to say anything nice about Hamas. The objective is simply to tarnish Israel in an effort to mobilize world opinion against the Jewish state. Hamas’s extensive use of human shields must be primarily understood in this context. By embedding its terror infrastructure in civilian areas Hamas doesn’t simply seek to deter Israeli attacks, but inevitably this tactic is about pushing up the civilian casualty rate on its own side. The more civilians killed in Gaza, the better it is for Hamas.

The greater attention the media devotes to these casualties, the more hysterically it flaunts these images of apparent Israeli barbarism, the more Israel is condemned and the more it comes under pressure to restrain its military activities against Hamas. The very upsurge in killing that reporters declare must be brought to an end is in fact encouraged by their own incessant reporting. The more that the press emphasizes civilian suffering in Gaza, the more it is in Hamas’s interest to keep that suffering coming. Hence, Hamas has learned that the prime location to operate from is adjacent to UN facilities. Israel then has the choice of either not returning fire or doing so with the risk of hitting a UN compound and thus igniting a frenzy of condemnation against itself.

This condemnation at the diplomatic level is another key part of the Hamas strategy. An Israel that is chastised by its allies for these military operations soon becomes unable to do anything meaningful to counter Hamas. Furthermore, this kind of open criticism adds to a wider perception that Israel should be isolated and perhaps even ejected from the community of nations. The decision by the UN human rights council to investigate war crimes in Gaza is a particularly important victory for Hamas on this front. It is true that the UNHRC is supposed to be investigating Hamas as well as Israel, but since Hamas is already a proscribed terrorist organization it really has nothing to lose as far as international standing is concerned. Israel, on the other hand, has very much to lose from being presented in this way.

Hamas always knew that in provoking this war it would cause a humanitarian crisis that would in turn lead to an international outcry. Western publics appalled by the images being endlessly flashed across their television screens will understandably demand that “something be done.” That something comes in the form generous pledges of financial assistance for Gaza. Prior to the outbreak of this war Hamas was broke. It couldn’t even afford to pay its civil servants. Now every government around the world is writing big checks for the authorities in Gaza; the U.S. alone has pledged $47 million. But since Hamas runs the ministries and public services of Gaza, this financial assistance will help keep Hamas rule afloat well into the foreseeable future.

This of course is the third war in Gaza in recent years. It should be clear by now that culpability rests with Hamas. Each time these wars have erupted at the point that increasing rocket fire from Gaza forced an Israeli response. Yet Western leaders—most prominently president Obama–have gradually been adopting the Hamas narrative that insists the underlying cause of all of this violence is actually Israeli policy, and that while the rockets may be illegitimate, they are the result of legitimate Palestinian grievances. These grievances, we’re told, center on the joint Egyptian-Israeli blockade of Gaza. In reality that blockade only concerns items that could potentially be used for terrorist activities, but Hamas insists Gaza’s borders must be fully open. Such a move would not only bolster Hamas rule but it would allow for a free flow of weapons into Gaza.

It appears that negotiations for a full truce will soon commence in Cairo and an expectant Hamas has submitted an extensive list of demands. But we’ve been here before. Last time there was a war in Gaza it ended with the November 2012 ceasefire agreement that greatly eased the blockade and granted a host of other concessions to Hamas. We now risk sending the message that whenever Hamas would like some more concessions it need only let us know by provoking another war and getting large numbers of Palestinians killed. This is a crime. If the world is serious about preventing yet another Gaza war erupting in the near future, then it must resist rewarding Hamas for these outrages. That means no concessions at the diplomatic level and  a recognition that the Western media’s addiction to dramatic footage is causing it to serve as the primary outlet for Hamas’s emotive propaganda war.

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On Casualty Figures in Gaza

The numbers killed in Gaza, at least according to the international media, continue to rise. Several journalists and analysts have already suggested that the civilian casualty figures released by Hamas and/or the Palestinian Authority should be taken with a grain of salt. Indeed, they should, but this is nothing new. There’s a hunger for facts and figures which drives media and any number of governmental and non-governmental organizations. Too often, journalists and diplomats will accept figures coming from a self-declared authority regardless of how rigorous or politicized data collection is.

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The numbers killed in Gaza, at least according to the international media, continue to rise. Several journalists and analysts have already suggested that the civilian casualty figures released by Hamas and/or the Palestinian Authority should be taken with a grain of salt. Indeed, they should, but this is nothing new. There’s a hunger for facts and figures which drives media and any number of governmental and non-governmental organizations. Too often, journalists and diplomats will accept figures coming from a self-declared authority regardless of how rigorous or politicized data collection is.

Sometimes, incompetence and negligence combine to lead to inaccuracy. In 1997, while working in Tajikistan, I met with the head of the Tajik Bureau of Statistics. Tajikistan was in the midst of a civil war and it was the poorest former Soviet republic by far. And yet the Tajikistan Bureau of Statistics was churning out complete datasets, information which the World Bank and International Monetary Fund incorporated into their reports, as would the international press should anything in Tajikistan become newsworthy. When I asked the chief how he managed to do it, he was uncharacteristically blunt. “I make them up,” he told me. But if the U.S. government would give him computers and fund his operation, he could try to be accurate. In the meantime, any report using Tajik statistics would be corrupted by the equivalent of “garbage-in, garbage-out.”

Sometimes, organizations simply don’t care if faulty statistics pollute their reports. The notion that sanctions killed 500,000 Iraqi children has become part of progressive folklore, a statistic often trotted out to excuse any sort of coercion against dictatorial, anti-American, or rogue regimes. Unfortunately, it’s nonsense.

The idea that sanctions were killing innocent Iraqis was the central pillar of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s influence operations. He repeatedly claimed that United Nations sanctions had killed more than a million. There were many groups in the United States which latched onto such figures and amplified them. The U.S.-based International Action Coalition, for example, claimed that the economic embargo upon Iraq had killed 1.4 million people by 1997.

Thousands did die, but not the numbers bandied about in the press and simply because of sanctions: There was plenty of food available; Saddam just refused to allow it to be distributed to Shi‘ites and other populations he disliked. All the while, he exported UN-provided baby formula for profit.

While pundits accepted Saddam’s line and news agencies like CNN dutifully broadcast images of sick and dying children (all the while knowing the inaccuracy of their narrative), Iraq expert Amatzia Baram compared the country’s population growth rates across censuses and found Iraq’s growth rate between 1977 and 1987 (35.8 percent) and between 1987 and 1997 (35.1 percent) proved that there had been no death on the scale Iraq claimed.

So how did the claim of more than a million sanctions-related deaths in Iraq persist? In 1999, UNICEF released a glossy report that found that sanctions had contributed to the deaths of one million Iraqis. The devil, however, was in the details—and in the UN’s capriciousness. Because the Iraqi government did not give UNICEF researchers free access, UNICEF decided to take statistics provided by Saddam Hussein’s Ministry of Health, which it accepted uncritically. More on the whole episode, here. When Saddam Hussein fell, however, and the exaggeration and inaccuracies of the claims of more than one million sanctions-related deaths including 500,000 children was exposed as a fraud, no major outlet bothered to publish a retraction let alone question whether bad statistics were worse than no statistics.

In Gaza, it’s déjà vu all over again. CNN and other outlets cite statistics provided by the United Nations with regard to Palestinian casualties, never questioning where and how the UN was able to gather and confirm such numbers. In reality, the UN simply parroted the figures provided it by Palestinian authorities or Hamas-controlled organizations. While there is no doubt Palestinians have died in the current operations, it seems it’s the Jenin Massacre all over again. Remember that one? Palestinian officials duped the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Samantha Power, and countless European foreign ministries. Nor does the media ever stop and question the notion of civilians to Hamas. Hamas violates the Geneva Convention in that its members do not wear uniforms and it fires from civilian areas. Even Israeli human rights groups—B’Tselem, for example—embrace a restrictive definition of combatant which enables the classification of many Hamas activists as “civilian.” As far as Hamas is concerned, every person not in uniform is a civilian.

There’s a tendency among the media to engage in moral equivalency and promote the idea that the Hamas and Palestinian claims on one hand, and the Israeli narrative on the other are equally valid. This is nonsense, especially given the long history of Palestinian politicization of statistics. This article, for example, decisively shows how the Palestinian Authority manipulates—and in some cases has even recalled—demographic statistics in order to ensure they conform with a political narrative the Palestinian Authority finds expedient and to which American diplomats respond.

More Gazans have died in the ongoing conflict—one their elected government initiated with kidnapping attempts and missile launches—than Israelis, but count me dubious about the numbers of deaths reported in the Gaza Strip. When deaths of non-combatants do occur, that is tragic, but that is also war. To accept such statistics from a terrorist group either directly or laundered through organizations like the United Nations without the capacity for independent confirmation is foolish. It promotes not truth but propaganda. And given previous errors—from a half million dead Iraqi babies to hundreds dead in Jenin—it suggests the media simply does not care to learn from its previous mistakes.

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Is Colin Powell a War Criminal?

The answer to the question in the headline is, of course, no. Whatever Americans may think about Colin Powell’s politics, his decision to let Saddam Hussein remain in power in 1991, and his diplomacy while secretary of state, differences of opinion are not illegal: The simple fact of the matter is that Powell served honorably and was a brilliant military commander.

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The answer to the question in the headline is, of course, no. Whatever Americans may think about Colin Powell’s politics, his decision to let Saddam Hussein remain in power in 1991, and his diplomacy while secretary of state, differences of opinion are not illegal: The simple fact of the matter is that Powell served honorably and was a brilliant military commander.

When Powell’s legacy is written, chief among it will be a series of principles relating to the use of military force which he articulated while chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This so-called “Powell Doctrine” prioritized restraint and demanded a clear exit strategy when force was used. However, when military action became necessary, then Powell called for a decisive edge and overwhelming force.

Hence, in Operation Desert Storm, Americans went in with overwhelming force, and Powell did not hesitate until he reached his objective: the liberation of Kuwait and the surrender of Iraqi forces. Americans celebrated that military victory, and Kuwaitis still do. The overwhelming victory led directly to the 1991 Madrid Conference which brought Israel and Arab states like Syria together in an unprecedented way, as well as to a renewed peace process on the Korean peninsula.

Fast forward to the present day: Journalists, human-rights activists, diplomats, and foreign officials all castigate Israel for its use of disproportionate military force. Israel, however, has adhered closely to the Powell Doctrine. It deferred the current military operation for years despite multiple provocations by Hamas, which had fired hundreds of rockets and missiles into Israel. Rather than resort to military force loosely, it sought to utilize diplomatic pressure to force closure of the tunnels which Hamas has constructed to smuggle weaponry, explosives, and other contraband into Gaza. However, with the kidnapping and murder of three Israelis, one of them also an American citizen, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided he had no option but to utilize military force.

Has Israel committed war crimes? Only in the fevered imagination of the political left and those whose moral barometer has become so dangerously miscalibrated. Is Israel acting with disproportionate force? Absolutely. And should it? Well, that’s the celebrated lesson of the Powell Doctrine.

Just as the United States leveraged its industrial might and used overwhelming force in World War II against both Japan and Germany, and more recently used disproportionate force in Panama, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and again in Iraq; and just as France more recently has used disproportionate force in Libya and against al-Qaeda in Mali; so Israel now uses disproportionate force against Hamas in pursuit of aims of destroying Hamas’s tunnels, eradicating the Hamas missile threat, and rendering for a short time at least Hamas impotent. In each case, civilians died, often in numbers far greater than have been killed in Gaza.

How ironic it is that CNN and other media networks which once celebrated the wisdom of Colin Powell now condemn it when it is pursued by others. Perhaps, though, when it comes to accusations of lack of impropriety, the fact that it is Israel that is fighting terrorists is no coincidence.

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