Commentary Magazine


Topic: Red Cross

WikiLeaks and the Gaza War

The New York Times tucked a remarkable statistic into the tail-end of an article on WikiLeaks’s latest document dump, one with ramifications for the ongoing delegitimization campaign against Israel: for most of the last century, the normal civilian-to-combatant wartime fatality ratio has been 10:1.

Civilians have borne the brunt of modern warfare, with 10 civilians dying for every soldier in wars fought since the mid-20th century, compared with 9 soldiers killed for every civilian in World War I, according to a 2001 study by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

This elicits an obvious question: if civilians routinely account for 90 percent of all casualties in modern warfare, why is the world up in arms about the civilian casualty rate in last year’s Israel-Hamas war in Gaza — which, by even the most anti-Israel account, was markedly lower?

If one accepts the Israel Defense Forces’ statistics, then noncombatants accounted for only 39 percent of Palestinian fatalities — less than half the standard 90 percent rate noted by the ICRC. Nongovernmental organizations obviously cite a much higher civilian casualty rate. But even they put it below 90 percent.

According to B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, Israeli forces killed 1,390 Palestinians in the war, including 759 noncombatants, 349 combatants, 248 Palestinian policemen, two in targeted assassinations (bizarrely, these aren’t classified as either combatants or noncombatants), and 32 whose status it couldn’t determine. The policemen are listed separately because their status is disputed: Israel says the Hamas-run police force served as an auxiliary army unit; Palestinians say the policemen were noncombatants.

Omitting the 34 whom B’Tselem didn’t classify, these figures show civilians comprising 74 percent of total fatalities if the policemen are considered noncombatants, and 56 percent if they’re considered combatants. Either way, the ratio is well below the 90 percent norm.

The most anti-Israel accounting, from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, lists 1,417 Palestinian fatalities, including 236 combatants, 926 civilians, and 255 policemen. But even these figures, if we assume the policemen were noncombatants, put civilians at only 83 percent of total deaths — less than the proportion the Red Cross deemed the norm back in 2001. Treating the policemen as combatants lowers the rate to 65 percent.

Whichever numbers you choose, the civilian casualty rate was high. But as the ICRC data make clear, high civilian casualty rates are normal — indeed, inevitable — in modern warfare, in which combatants often don’t wear uniforms and fight from among the civilian population, making them hard to distinguish from noncombatants. Judged against this global norm, the IDF, far from demonstrating callous disregard for civilian casualties, has actually been unusually successful at minimizing them.

But there’s an even more important lesson to be learned here: if critics truly want to change this norm, they must stop making this modus operandi so profitable for the terrorists. As long as terrorists know that fighting from among civilians will result in opprobrium not for them but — because of the inevitable civilian casualties — for any of their victims who dare to fight back, they will have every incentive to keep doing it.

The New York Times tucked a remarkable statistic into the tail-end of an article on WikiLeaks’s latest document dump, one with ramifications for the ongoing delegitimization campaign against Israel: for most of the last century, the normal civilian-to-combatant wartime fatality ratio has been 10:1.

Civilians have borne the brunt of modern warfare, with 10 civilians dying for every soldier in wars fought since the mid-20th century, compared with 9 soldiers killed for every civilian in World War I, according to a 2001 study by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

This elicits an obvious question: if civilians routinely account for 90 percent of all casualties in modern warfare, why is the world up in arms about the civilian casualty rate in last year’s Israel-Hamas war in Gaza — which, by even the most anti-Israel account, was markedly lower?

If one accepts the Israel Defense Forces’ statistics, then noncombatants accounted for only 39 percent of Palestinian fatalities — less than half the standard 90 percent rate noted by the ICRC. Nongovernmental organizations obviously cite a much higher civilian casualty rate. But even they put it below 90 percent.

According to B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, Israeli forces killed 1,390 Palestinians in the war, including 759 noncombatants, 349 combatants, 248 Palestinian policemen, two in targeted assassinations (bizarrely, these aren’t classified as either combatants or noncombatants), and 32 whose status it couldn’t determine. The policemen are listed separately because their status is disputed: Israel says the Hamas-run police force served as an auxiliary army unit; Palestinians say the policemen were noncombatants.

Omitting the 34 whom B’Tselem didn’t classify, these figures show civilians comprising 74 percent of total fatalities if the policemen are considered noncombatants, and 56 percent if they’re considered combatants. Either way, the ratio is well below the 90 percent norm.

The most anti-Israel accounting, from the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, lists 1,417 Palestinian fatalities, including 236 combatants, 926 civilians, and 255 policemen. But even these figures, if we assume the policemen were noncombatants, put civilians at only 83 percent of total deaths — less than the proportion the Red Cross deemed the norm back in 2001. Treating the policemen as combatants lowers the rate to 65 percent.

Whichever numbers you choose, the civilian casualty rate was high. But as the ICRC data make clear, high civilian casualty rates are normal — indeed, inevitable — in modern warfare, in which combatants often don’t wear uniforms and fight from among the civilian population, making them hard to distinguish from noncombatants. Judged against this global norm, the IDF, far from demonstrating callous disregard for civilian casualties, has actually been unusually successful at minimizing them.

But there’s an even more important lesson to be learned here: if critics truly want to change this norm, they must stop making this modus operandi so profitable for the terrorists. As long as terrorists know that fighting from among civilians will result in opprobrium not for them but — because of the inevitable civilian casualties — for any of their victims who dare to fight back, they will have every incentive to keep doing it.

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Hey Peter, There’s a Reason Why “Free Gaza” Doesn’t Help Shalit

Peter Beinart weighed in today with another column at the Daily Beast designed to bolster his standing as a “liberal Zionist” rather than as merely another member of the pack of jackals attacking Israel for trying to enforce the blockade against the Hamas regime in Gaza.

Of course, Beinart has not changed his mind about the attempts to isolate the Islamist terrorists who seized power in a bloody coup and who pose the biggest obstacle to the two-state solution to the conflict, which he says he wants. He still buys into the Palestinian myths about the situation in Gaza. And he is equally resolute in his determination to ignore everything that has happened in the Middle East since 1993, when Israel began a series of attempts to buy peace with the Palestinians by trading land for the hope of peace. Because it is only by pretending that 17 years of Israeli concessions never happened that can he hold on to the falsehood that the lack of peace is due to Israeli intransigence aided and abetted by American supporters.

But, at least to his partial credit, Beinart hasn’t forgotten the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held captive by Hamas for four years. Beinart thinks the “Free Gaza” movement of foreign cheerleaders for Hamas ought to embrace Shalit’s cause and draw a moral equivalence between his plight and that of Palestinians trapped inside Gaza. He urges “Free Gaza” activists and others who are trying to aid Hamas by breaking the blockade to think of Shalit “as a Gazan — a caged, brutalized, Gazan Jew.” In doing so, he theorizes that they could gain the sympathy of Israelis who support the blockade in part because of Hamas’s refusal to free Shalit or even to allow the Red Cross to visit the prisoner. Beinart endorses Israeli journalist Eitan Haber’s proposal that the next ship that heads for Gaza be allowed through by the Israelis on the condition that it bring food to Shalit. That would, Beinart agrees, put the pro-Palestinian crowd to a test that would prove whether they are genuine humanitarians or merely Israel-haters.

Yet unfortunately for Beinart — and Shalit — the “Free Gaza” crowd has already been put to such a test. As I wrote last week, before the flotilla that Israel intercepted was launched in Turkey, the family of Gilad Shalit begged the organizers to take a package of letters and food to the Israeli being held in Gaza. In return, they promised to lend their voices to a call for lifting the blockade. Accepting this offer would have cost “Free Gaza” nothing and would only have given them good publicity and probably would have caused the Israeli government to seriously consider letting them through the blockade. But, in a decision that Beinart and other critics of Israel seemed to ignore, they refused the Shalit family.

Why? It’s not that hard to figure out even if your grasp of the Middle East is as dim as that of Peter Beinart.

First, they don’t care about Gilad Shalit. Like his Hamas kidnappers, the “Free Gaza” group is composed of anti-Zionists — people who don’t think there ought to be a Jewish state and that Jewish soldiers who defend it are, by definition, criminals who deserve what they get from Hamas. Most think the same about Israeli civilians who live under the threat of rocket fire and terrorist attack from Hamas.

Second, they are not humanitarians. They are Israel-haters. The goal of their Mediterranean cruise was not to help Gazans but to embarrass Israel. After all, if foreign sympathizers of the Palestinians really wanted to help the people of Gaza, they might oppose the rule of a tyrannical Islamist terror group, advocate for peace, not the destruction of Israel, and support efforts to resettle and absorb the descendants of the 1948 Arab refugees elsewhere rather than keep them in place in Gaza, where they can serve to continue to fuel the conflict.

Beinart needs to understand that the “Free Gaza” movement won’t lift a finger for Shalit for the same reason that the Palestinian leadership has refused to make peace for the last 17 years: they aren’t interested in compromise or peace; they want to destroy Israel. Like the “Free Gaza” organizers, the Palestinian leadership has already been put to the test and failed. But I guess ignoring inconvenient facts is one of the membership requirements if you want to join Peter Beinart’s elite club of “liberal Zionist” writers who bash Israel.

Peter Beinart weighed in today with another column at the Daily Beast designed to bolster his standing as a “liberal Zionist” rather than as merely another member of the pack of jackals attacking Israel for trying to enforce the blockade against the Hamas regime in Gaza.

Of course, Beinart has not changed his mind about the attempts to isolate the Islamist terrorists who seized power in a bloody coup and who pose the biggest obstacle to the two-state solution to the conflict, which he says he wants. He still buys into the Palestinian myths about the situation in Gaza. And he is equally resolute in his determination to ignore everything that has happened in the Middle East since 1993, when Israel began a series of attempts to buy peace with the Palestinians by trading land for the hope of peace. Because it is only by pretending that 17 years of Israeli concessions never happened that can he hold on to the falsehood that the lack of peace is due to Israeli intransigence aided and abetted by American supporters.

But, at least to his partial credit, Beinart hasn’t forgotten the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held captive by Hamas for four years. Beinart thinks the “Free Gaza” movement of foreign cheerleaders for Hamas ought to embrace Shalit’s cause and draw a moral equivalence between his plight and that of Palestinians trapped inside Gaza. He urges “Free Gaza” activists and others who are trying to aid Hamas by breaking the blockade to think of Shalit “as a Gazan — a caged, brutalized, Gazan Jew.” In doing so, he theorizes that they could gain the sympathy of Israelis who support the blockade in part because of Hamas’s refusal to free Shalit or even to allow the Red Cross to visit the prisoner. Beinart endorses Israeli journalist Eitan Haber’s proposal that the next ship that heads for Gaza be allowed through by the Israelis on the condition that it bring food to Shalit. That would, Beinart agrees, put the pro-Palestinian crowd to a test that would prove whether they are genuine humanitarians or merely Israel-haters.

Yet unfortunately for Beinart — and Shalit — the “Free Gaza” crowd has already been put to such a test. As I wrote last week, before the flotilla that Israel intercepted was launched in Turkey, the family of Gilad Shalit begged the organizers to take a package of letters and food to the Israeli being held in Gaza. In return, they promised to lend their voices to a call for lifting the blockade. Accepting this offer would have cost “Free Gaza” nothing and would only have given them good publicity and probably would have caused the Israeli government to seriously consider letting them through the blockade. But, in a decision that Beinart and other critics of Israel seemed to ignore, they refused the Shalit family.

Why? It’s not that hard to figure out even if your grasp of the Middle East is as dim as that of Peter Beinart.

First, they don’t care about Gilad Shalit. Like his Hamas kidnappers, the “Free Gaza” group is composed of anti-Zionists — people who don’t think there ought to be a Jewish state and that Jewish soldiers who defend it are, by definition, criminals who deserve what they get from Hamas. Most think the same about Israeli civilians who live under the threat of rocket fire and terrorist attack from Hamas.

Second, they are not humanitarians. They are Israel-haters. The goal of their Mediterranean cruise was not to help Gazans but to embarrass Israel. After all, if foreign sympathizers of the Palestinians really wanted to help the people of Gaza, they might oppose the rule of a tyrannical Islamist terror group, advocate for peace, not the destruction of Israel, and support efforts to resettle and absorb the descendants of the 1948 Arab refugees elsewhere rather than keep them in place in Gaza, where they can serve to continue to fuel the conflict.

Beinart needs to understand that the “Free Gaza” movement won’t lift a finger for Shalit for the same reason that the Palestinian leadership has refused to make peace for the last 17 years: they aren’t interested in compromise or peace; they want to destroy Israel. Like the “Free Gaza” organizers, the Palestinian leadership has already been put to the test and failed. But I guess ignoring inconvenient facts is one of the membership requirements if you want to join Peter Beinart’s elite club of “liberal Zionist” writers who bash Israel.

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Congress Speaks About Israel and the Flotilla

Even though Congress is in recess this week, the statements on the terrorist flotilla (should we call it an armada instead?) are pouring in. The overwhelming number are extremely supportive of Israel. There is a challenge to lawmakers and their staffs after a bunch of these have been issued — how to distinguish yours from the crowd? I’ll pull out two — one Democratic and one Republican in the spirit of bipartisanship (it’s actually “nonpartisanship”) — for special mention.

From Democrat Rep. Steve Israel, a pithy summation: “There is nothing humanitarian about lead pipes and knives. Israel unconditionally left Gaza and was rewarded with rocket fire. Israel established a blockade according to the rules of international law to protect itself from further rocket fire. A group of people chose to violate international law and Israel has the right to defend itself.”

And from Republican Rep. Connie Mack:

Since September 11 here in the United States, we have understood the necessity for increased surveillance of materials coming into our airports, seaports and borders. We recognize that screening for materials that can be used by terrorists to endanger our security must be a top priority. The terrorist regime Hamas rules over Gaza through force and remains a constant military threat to the safety and security of Israel and her people. Just as it is wise for us in the United States to ensure that cargo coming into our country is safe, so is it prudent for Israel to do the same and ensure that only non-military supplies are going into Gaza. However, yesterday’s flotilla was designed to avoid scrutiny. They could have had their materials sent through approved channels like the United Nations or the Red Cross, but instead, they chose to avoid the blockade and ship their materials directly to the terrorist-run regime in Gaza. Like the United States, Israel has every right to ensure its own safety and security. If those who sent the flotilla wanted these materials to go to Gaza for humanitarian aid, as they claimed, then they would have sent them through approved channels. It’s clear that this was a publicity stunt geared to break legitimate port security laws. Israel acted courageously on its own behalf. The Obama Administration should stand with Israel and support their right to keep their nation safe and secure.

He gets credit for making the comparison between Israel and the U.S. crystal clear and for reminding us that we are talking about a “terrorist-run regime in Gaza.”

Alas, at the other end of the spectrum is the loathsome Marcy Winograd, who is second to none in her hatred for Israel and her Cynthia Kinney–like fantastical theories. She posts a picture of the a man dressed in a “Free Gaza” T-shirt. And she cheerfully reports that one of her T-shirts was worn on the flotilla. The candidate from Hamas, I suppose. Then she puts out this drivel:

“I suspect the murders were committed as a warning to others who might want to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza. Ironically, the killings are bound to heighten awareness about the brutal blockade and to increase pressure to end the imprisonment of over a million people in Gaza.”

Adds Winograd, “Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred. Enough, we must stop this, and adhere to the laws that have been established by the international community. Working for peace and human rights for all is the only way forward. As a Jewish woman of conscience, I invite my opponent, Jane Harman, another Jewish woman, and all of Congress to join me in denouncing this kind of barbaric violence, demanding an end to the blockade, and seeking an international investigation into these murders. I recommit myself to working towards a true, just, and lasting peace.”

One note: so far there has been no statement from Joe Sestak, who signed on to the Gaza 54 letter urging the lifting of the blockade. I imagine he and his staff are trying to figure out which is better: rank hypocrisy (reverse course and stand with Israel) or becoming the Marcy Winograd of the Pennsylvania Senate race.

Even though Congress is in recess this week, the statements on the terrorist flotilla (should we call it an armada instead?) are pouring in. The overwhelming number are extremely supportive of Israel. There is a challenge to lawmakers and their staffs after a bunch of these have been issued — how to distinguish yours from the crowd? I’ll pull out two — one Democratic and one Republican in the spirit of bipartisanship (it’s actually “nonpartisanship”) — for special mention.

From Democrat Rep. Steve Israel, a pithy summation: “There is nothing humanitarian about lead pipes and knives. Israel unconditionally left Gaza and was rewarded with rocket fire. Israel established a blockade according to the rules of international law to protect itself from further rocket fire. A group of people chose to violate international law and Israel has the right to defend itself.”

And from Republican Rep. Connie Mack:

Since September 11 here in the United States, we have understood the necessity for increased surveillance of materials coming into our airports, seaports and borders. We recognize that screening for materials that can be used by terrorists to endanger our security must be a top priority. The terrorist regime Hamas rules over Gaza through force and remains a constant military threat to the safety and security of Israel and her people. Just as it is wise for us in the United States to ensure that cargo coming into our country is safe, so is it prudent for Israel to do the same and ensure that only non-military supplies are going into Gaza. However, yesterday’s flotilla was designed to avoid scrutiny. They could have had their materials sent through approved channels like the United Nations or the Red Cross, but instead, they chose to avoid the blockade and ship their materials directly to the terrorist-run regime in Gaza. Like the United States, Israel has every right to ensure its own safety and security. If those who sent the flotilla wanted these materials to go to Gaza for humanitarian aid, as they claimed, then they would have sent them through approved channels. It’s clear that this was a publicity stunt geared to break legitimate port security laws. Israel acted courageously on its own behalf. The Obama Administration should stand with Israel and support their right to keep their nation safe and secure.

He gets credit for making the comparison between Israel and the U.S. crystal clear and for reminding us that we are talking about a “terrorist-run regime in Gaza.”

Alas, at the other end of the spectrum is the loathsome Marcy Winograd, who is second to none in her hatred for Israel and her Cynthia Kinney–like fantastical theories. She posts a picture of the a man dressed in a “Free Gaza” T-shirt. And she cheerfully reports that one of her T-shirts was worn on the flotilla. The candidate from Hamas, I suppose. Then she puts out this drivel:

“I suspect the murders were committed as a warning to others who might want to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza. Ironically, the killings are bound to heighten awareness about the brutal blockade and to increase pressure to end the imprisonment of over a million people in Gaza.”

Adds Winograd, “Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred. Enough, we must stop this, and adhere to the laws that have been established by the international community. Working for peace and human rights for all is the only way forward. As a Jewish woman of conscience, I invite my opponent, Jane Harman, another Jewish woman, and all of Congress to join me in denouncing this kind of barbaric violence, demanding an end to the blockade, and seeking an international investigation into these murders. I recommit myself to working towards a true, just, and lasting peace.”

One note: so far there has been no statement from Joe Sestak, who signed on to the Gaza 54 letter urging the lifting of the blockade. I imagine he and his staff are trying to figure out which is better: rank hypocrisy (reverse course and stand with Israel) or becoming the Marcy Winograd of the Pennsylvania Senate race.

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The Limits of Anti-Israel Activists’ Compassion

For those who wish to end the continued existence of a sovereign Jewish state on the shores of the Mediterranean, there is only one cause worth caring about: breaking the limited blockade that both Israel and Egypt have placed on Hamas-ruled Gaza. No one in Gaza is starving. All are fed by a United Nations Agency — UNRWA — specifically set up to ensure the continued existence of a Palestinian refugee problem. Gaza is poor, but the region, which Israel evacuated in 2005, is now an independent entity ruled by the Hamas terrorist group. For years, it served as a launching pad for missile attacks on Israeli civilians in southern Israel. But after Israel’s counteroffensive in December 2008, the Islamists who run Gaza have mostly held their fire. This is done partly out of fear of more Israeli counterterror operations and partly because the blockade imposed on the area — a blockade that allows in food, medicine, and other humanitarian supplies but not construction materials that could aid Hamas’s homegrown weapons industry — has made it difficult for them to replenish their arsenal.

Thus, efforts to break this blockade and the international isolation imposed on this Hamasistan, created to force Gaza’s rulers to renounce their allegiance to a program pledged to the violent destruction of Israel, have little to do with sympathy for Gazans and everything to do with fueling anti-Israel propaganda. Though European sympathy for the “plight” of besieged Gaza is commonplace, support for breaking the blockade means freedom for Hamas, not the people who must live under the rule of Islamist tyrants.

But that hasn’t stopped anti-Israel activists from attempting to stage propaganda incidents highlighting their opposition to the blockade against Hamas. The latest is a so-called Freedom Flotilla of eight ships that left Istanbul, Turkey, this week. Al Jazeera, whose peppered a “news” report about the launch editorialized about how the “issue of Gaza moves Turks more than any other single issue,” noted that the convoy “is from the UK, Ireland, Algeria, Kuwait, Greece and Turkey, and is comprised of 800 people from 50 nationalities.” Though the rhetoric from the organizers centered on the supposed lack of food and medicine in Gaza, the report also noted that the ships are carrying 500 tons of construction equipment. Omitted from the Al Jazeera article was the fact that high-ranking members of the Hamas leadership also attended the festive launch of the ships. It is no surprise that Israel has said its Navy will prevent the ships from landing at Gaza and delivering their cargo. If they persist in trying to land, they will be diverted to Israel, where the passengers will be sent home, and any actual humanitarian supplies (as opposed to construction material) will be sent on to Gaza.

But though they claim they are trying to help people in need, there are limits to even the boundless compassion for humanity exhibited by those taking part in the Freedom Flotilla.

A lawyer representing the family of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas in 2006, approached the organizers of the Free Gaza flotilla. The Shalit family asked the pro-Palestinian group to bring letters and food packages to the kidnapped soldier, who has been denied Red Cross visits by his Hamas captors. In exchange, the family, which has the sympathy of all Israel and the ear of the Israeli government, offered to lobby to give the flotilla docking rights in Gaza. The response from these humanitarians: no!

Had they agreed to pass on the letters and packages from Shalit’s family, the pro-Palestinian group could have bolstered their shaky credibility as humanitarians. But by refusing, they have revealed themselves as nothing more than people bent on aiding and abetting an international terrorist group.

For those who wish to end the continued existence of a sovereign Jewish state on the shores of the Mediterranean, there is only one cause worth caring about: breaking the limited blockade that both Israel and Egypt have placed on Hamas-ruled Gaza. No one in Gaza is starving. All are fed by a United Nations Agency — UNRWA — specifically set up to ensure the continued existence of a Palestinian refugee problem. Gaza is poor, but the region, which Israel evacuated in 2005, is now an independent entity ruled by the Hamas terrorist group. For years, it served as a launching pad for missile attacks on Israeli civilians in southern Israel. But after Israel’s counteroffensive in December 2008, the Islamists who run Gaza have mostly held their fire. This is done partly out of fear of more Israeli counterterror operations and partly because the blockade imposed on the area — a blockade that allows in food, medicine, and other humanitarian supplies but not construction materials that could aid Hamas’s homegrown weapons industry — has made it difficult for them to replenish their arsenal.

Thus, efforts to break this blockade and the international isolation imposed on this Hamasistan, created to force Gaza’s rulers to renounce their allegiance to a program pledged to the violent destruction of Israel, have little to do with sympathy for Gazans and everything to do with fueling anti-Israel propaganda. Though European sympathy for the “plight” of besieged Gaza is commonplace, support for breaking the blockade means freedom for Hamas, not the people who must live under the rule of Islamist tyrants.

But that hasn’t stopped anti-Israel activists from attempting to stage propaganda incidents highlighting their opposition to the blockade against Hamas. The latest is a so-called Freedom Flotilla of eight ships that left Istanbul, Turkey, this week. Al Jazeera, whose peppered a “news” report about the launch editorialized about how the “issue of Gaza moves Turks more than any other single issue,” noted that the convoy “is from the UK, Ireland, Algeria, Kuwait, Greece and Turkey, and is comprised of 800 people from 50 nationalities.” Though the rhetoric from the organizers centered on the supposed lack of food and medicine in Gaza, the report also noted that the ships are carrying 500 tons of construction equipment. Omitted from the Al Jazeera article was the fact that high-ranking members of the Hamas leadership also attended the festive launch of the ships. It is no surprise that Israel has said its Navy will prevent the ships from landing at Gaza and delivering their cargo. If they persist in trying to land, they will be diverted to Israel, where the passengers will be sent home, and any actual humanitarian supplies (as opposed to construction material) will be sent on to Gaza.

But though they claim they are trying to help people in need, there are limits to even the boundless compassion for humanity exhibited by those taking part in the Freedom Flotilla.

A lawyer representing the family of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier kidnapped by Hamas in 2006, approached the organizers of the Free Gaza flotilla. The Shalit family asked the pro-Palestinian group to bring letters and food packages to the kidnapped soldier, who has been denied Red Cross visits by his Hamas captors. In exchange, the family, which has the sympathy of all Israel and the ear of the Israeli government, offered to lobby to give the flotilla docking rights in Gaza. The response from these humanitarians: no!

Had they agreed to pass on the letters and packages from Shalit’s family, the pro-Palestinian group could have bolstered their shaky credibility as humanitarians. But by refusing, they have revealed themselves as nothing more than people bent on aiding and abetting an international terrorist group.

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The Carter Fallout

In the aftermath of Jimmy Carter’s meetings with high-ranking Hamas officials last week, the Arab press has spoken: the former U.S. president’s mission failed miserably.

The Kuwaiti daily al-Watan observes that Carter’s prodding produced no changes in Hamas’ position on rocket attacks or Gilad Shalit, who has been held as a prisoner for nearly two years. Meanwhile, the Hariri-owned Lebanese daily al-Mustaqbal doubted that Carter could translate his pro-Palestinian intentions into meaningful results, recalling that the Camp David Accords hadn’t fulfilled Carter’s ambitions for Palestinian statehood thirty years ago. “He’s fit to run the Red Cross, but not the United States,” al-Mustaqbal concluded, calling Carter “naïve.” Even those supporting Carter’s engagement with Hamas in principle remained unconvinced. For example, though lauding Carter’s “political idealism,” an opinion piece published in the pan-Arab Elaf argued “political idealism alone is insufficient in political work.”

In short, while many believe that Hamas cannot be ignored in any forthcoming Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the consensus within the Arab press appears to be that Carter is an incapable activist rather than a serious statesman.

Yet, for all his moral stupidity, it is hard to take pleasure in Carter’s failure. After all, Carter’s very public meet-and-greet with Hamas seems like a harbinger of things to come. Indeed, in the two years since Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, support for engaging Hamas has become an increasingly mainstream position, endorsed by former policymakers from both Democratic and Republican administrations; The New York Times editorial board; and virtually every policy adviser for the leading Democratic presidential candidate. Moreover, sixty-four percent of Israelis support negotiating with Hamas, while Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai–acting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s approvalasked Carter to deliver his request for a meeting to Damascus-based Hamas leader Khalid Meshal. As the Annapolis “process”–which explicitly excluded radicals–appears increasingly hopeless, calls for dealing with Hamas will likely escalate further.

Of course, none of this changes the dangers associated with engaging Hamas, most especially the fact that doing so would validate Hamas’ stubborn refusal to recognize Israel and renounce terrorism as an effective strategy–anathema to the moderation that U.S. policy aims to promote. Policymakers must therefore focus on how Hamas can be prevented from declaring victory the next time a prominent American political figure dials Damascus. Much is at stake and, even while ventures such as Carter’s are still widely dismissed as tomfoolery, the tables may be turning.

In the aftermath of Jimmy Carter’s meetings with high-ranking Hamas officials last week, the Arab press has spoken: the former U.S. president’s mission failed miserably.

The Kuwaiti daily al-Watan observes that Carter’s prodding produced no changes in Hamas’ position on rocket attacks or Gilad Shalit, who has been held as a prisoner for nearly two years. Meanwhile, the Hariri-owned Lebanese daily al-Mustaqbal doubted that Carter could translate his pro-Palestinian intentions into meaningful results, recalling that the Camp David Accords hadn’t fulfilled Carter’s ambitions for Palestinian statehood thirty years ago. “He’s fit to run the Red Cross, but not the United States,” al-Mustaqbal concluded, calling Carter “naïve.” Even those supporting Carter’s engagement with Hamas in principle remained unconvinced. For example, though lauding Carter’s “political idealism,” an opinion piece published in the pan-Arab Elaf argued “political idealism alone is insufficient in political work.”

In short, while many believe that Hamas cannot be ignored in any forthcoming Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the consensus within the Arab press appears to be that Carter is an incapable activist rather than a serious statesman.

Yet, for all his moral stupidity, it is hard to take pleasure in Carter’s failure. After all, Carter’s very public meet-and-greet with Hamas seems like a harbinger of things to come. Indeed, in the two years since Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, support for engaging Hamas has become an increasingly mainstream position, endorsed by former policymakers from both Democratic and Republican administrations; The New York Times editorial board; and virtually every policy adviser for the leading Democratic presidential candidate. Moreover, sixty-four percent of Israelis support negotiating with Hamas, while Industry and Trade Minister Eli Yishai–acting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s approvalasked Carter to deliver his request for a meeting to Damascus-based Hamas leader Khalid Meshal. As the Annapolis “process”–which explicitly excluded radicals–appears increasingly hopeless, calls for dealing with Hamas will likely escalate further.

Of course, none of this changes the dangers associated with engaging Hamas, most especially the fact that doing so would validate Hamas’ stubborn refusal to recognize Israel and renounce terrorism as an effective strategy–anathema to the moderation that U.S. policy aims to promote. Policymakers must therefore focus on how Hamas can be prevented from declaring victory the next time a prominent American political figure dials Damascus. Much is at stake and, even while ventures such as Carter’s are still widely dismissed as tomfoolery, the tables may be turning.

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Bill Clinton: EMT

There’s no reason to think the following is a fabrication. But two days ago Bill Clinton painted a pretty dramatic picture of his involvement in the aftermath of the 1968 D.C. riots brought on by Martin Luther King’s Assassination:

Then, I was in Washington at Georgetown, the city exploded into flames and I turned my car into an ambulance and I took supplies to the African Americans that were burned out of their homes and were hiding in church basements basically trying to stay alive, and surrounded by national guardsmen protecting them.

Clinton gave that account in Indianapolis on Wednesday. In reporting on Bill’s appearance in North Carolina today, the Winston-Salem Journal describes him recalling a less colorful narrative of his heroics after King was shot:

“He later joined with Red Cross volunteers to take supplies to inner-city Washington,” the paper simply reports.

Might someone have suggested Bill tone the tale down a bit after Snipergate?

There’s no reason to think the following is a fabrication. But two days ago Bill Clinton painted a pretty dramatic picture of his involvement in the aftermath of the 1968 D.C. riots brought on by Martin Luther King’s Assassination:

Then, I was in Washington at Georgetown, the city exploded into flames and I turned my car into an ambulance and I took supplies to the African Americans that were burned out of their homes and were hiding in church basements basically trying to stay alive, and surrounded by national guardsmen protecting them.

Clinton gave that account in Indianapolis on Wednesday. In reporting on Bill’s appearance in North Carolina today, the Winston-Salem Journal describes him recalling a less colorful narrative of his heroics after King was shot:

“He later joined with Red Cross volunteers to take supplies to inner-city Washington,” the paper simply reports.

Might someone have suggested Bill tone the tale down a bit after Snipergate?

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Another Washington Toilet Scandal

Are we facing another scandal akin to Abu Ghraib or, at the very least, Guantanamo? The front page of the New York Times carries a story depicting a “secretive American detention center” at Bagram in Afghanistan that has been plagued by “political, legal, and security problems.” The Red Cross has complained to the Pentagon about dozens of prisoners “held incommunicado for weeks or even months in a previously undisclosed warren of isolation cells.” American “human-rights” lawyers have already filed federal suits on behalf of these men.

Who are these detainees? The same story tells us that of the 630 or so in captivity at Bagram most are Taliban fighters captured on the battlefield. Thirty are non-Afghan, i.e., foreign fighters, in other words, members of al Qaeda. The facility is described by the Times as “primarily a repository for more dangerous prisoners captured in Afghanistan.”

These prisoners were supposed to be transferred to a refurbished prison facility, Pul-i-Charkhi, under Afghan control. But according to Red Cross officials this prison has “a significant flaw.” It seems that initially men were held in cells of eight and the only toilets available were in a public place at the end of a corridor.

This arrangement proved inadequate: “To improve security and hygiene, the Americans equipped each two-man cell in the new block with its own toilet.”

But this arrangement also proved inadequate: “because the cultural modesty of Afghan men would make them uncomfortable sharing an open toilet, it was subsequently decided that the prisoners should be held individually.” This had the effect reducing the prison’s projected capacity from 670 to 330.

These details about the toilets raise several questions:

Is the absence of private toilets at Bagram one of the features that has led to the Red Cross complaints and the lawsuits in federal court?

Are Americans less culturally modest than Afghans? Do American prisons provide the same of level privacy that “dangerous prisoners” in Afghanistan are given to enjoy?

These are some little dots that, in light of this latest prison scandal, remain to be connected.

Are we facing another scandal akin to Abu Ghraib or, at the very least, Guantanamo? The front page of the New York Times carries a story depicting a “secretive American detention center” at Bagram in Afghanistan that has been plagued by “political, legal, and security problems.” The Red Cross has complained to the Pentagon about dozens of prisoners “held incommunicado for weeks or even months in a previously undisclosed warren of isolation cells.” American “human-rights” lawyers have already filed federal suits on behalf of these men.

Who are these detainees? The same story tells us that of the 630 or so in captivity at Bagram most are Taliban fighters captured on the battlefield. Thirty are non-Afghan, i.e., foreign fighters, in other words, members of al Qaeda. The facility is described by the Times as “primarily a repository for more dangerous prisoners captured in Afghanistan.”

These prisoners were supposed to be transferred to a refurbished prison facility, Pul-i-Charkhi, under Afghan control. But according to Red Cross officials this prison has “a significant flaw.” It seems that initially men were held in cells of eight and the only toilets available were in a public place at the end of a corridor.

This arrangement proved inadequate: “To improve security and hygiene, the Americans equipped each two-man cell in the new block with its own toilet.”

But this arrangement also proved inadequate: “because the cultural modesty of Afghan men would make them uncomfortable sharing an open toilet, it was subsequently decided that the prisoners should be held individually.” This had the effect reducing the prison’s projected capacity from 670 to 330.

These details about the toilets raise several questions:

Is the absence of private toilets at Bagram one of the features that has led to the Red Cross complaints and the lawsuits in federal court?

Are Americans less culturally modest than Afghans? Do American prisons provide the same of level privacy that “dangerous prisoners” in Afghanistan are given to enjoy?

These are some little dots that, in light of this latest prison scandal, remain to be connected.

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War Bucks

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal ran a fascinating piece about the board game Monopoly’s usefulness during World War II. The game, apparently, was used by British intelligence to smuggle real currency, maps, metal files, compasses, and other implements to POWs via Red Cross shipments. Soldiers were told to “look out for the special editions, identified by a red dot in the Free Parking space.” This ingenious tactic was used during the cold war as well. Of course, Monopoly had to be swapped out for more culturally appropriate Eastern-bloc variations, such as the Soviet classic “Manage.”

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal ran a fascinating piece about the board game Monopoly’s usefulness during World War II. The game, apparently, was used by British intelligence to smuggle real currency, maps, metal files, compasses, and other implements to POWs via Red Cross shipments. Soldiers were told to “look out for the special editions, identified by a red dot in the Free Parking space.” This ingenious tactic was used during the cold war as well. Of course, Monopoly had to be swapped out for more culturally appropriate Eastern-bloc variations, such as the Soviet classic “Manage.”

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Humanitarian Kidnappers

On the eve of the deployment of a joint European-African force on the Chad-Sudanese border in a modest attempt to protect long-suffering Darfur refugees, a slapdash French NGO has created a diplomatic incident. L’Arche de Zoé (a play on l’Arche de Noé, French for Noah’s ark) was caught trying to spirit 103 children out of Chad for delivery to French do-gooders. Six French humanitarians, three journalists, seven members of a Spanish cabin crew, and a Belgian pilot detained in an Abéché lockup since October 25 will be arraigned today and then hastily transferred to N’djamena because of credible threats of lynching by local Islamists.

The story has been covered with unusual diligence by French media. A crisis room was set up at the Foreign Affairs Ministry under the direction of Rama Yade, Under Secretary for Human Rights. President Sarkozy apologized to Idriss Déby, the President of Chad, and French ambassador Bruno Foucher abandoned the distraught humanitarians to the local jurisdiction.

Video footage of an informal interrogation of the suspects by the Chadian President resembled a soft version of a jihadi hostage show, except for the kidnapped children howling in the background, complete with snotty noses, tears welling up in big black eyes, and little hands hugging mugs. The plane crew in uniform and the kidnappers in humanitarian garb are seated on mats on the floor. Zoé’s Ark director Eric Breteau, looking like a naughty boy, stands face to face with the President and his scowling aides. The prisoners are led out in handcuffs. President Déby faces the camera and accuses the humanitarians of stealing African children to sell to pedophiles or, worse, to kill them and sell their organs. (He also accused them of tearing Muslim children away from their faith, but the media brushed over that one.)

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On the eve of the deployment of a joint European-African force on the Chad-Sudanese border in a modest attempt to protect long-suffering Darfur refugees, a slapdash French NGO has created a diplomatic incident. L’Arche de Zoé (a play on l’Arche de Noé, French for Noah’s ark) was caught trying to spirit 103 children out of Chad for delivery to French do-gooders. Six French humanitarians, three journalists, seven members of a Spanish cabin crew, and a Belgian pilot detained in an Abéché lockup since October 25 will be arraigned today and then hastily transferred to N’djamena because of credible threats of lynching by local Islamists.

The story has been covered with unusual diligence by French media. A crisis room was set up at the Foreign Affairs Ministry under the direction of Rama Yade, Under Secretary for Human Rights. President Sarkozy apologized to Idriss Déby, the President of Chad, and French ambassador Bruno Foucher abandoned the distraught humanitarians to the local jurisdiction.

Video footage of an informal interrogation of the suspects by the Chadian President resembled a soft version of a jihadi hostage show, except for the kidnapped children howling in the background, complete with snotty noses, tears welling up in big black eyes, and little hands hugging mugs. The plane crew in uniform and the kidnappers in humanitarian garb are seated on mats on the floor. Zoé’s Ark director Eric Breteau, looking like a naughty boy, stands face to face with the President and his scowling aides. The prisoners are led out in handcuffs. President Déby faces the camera and accuses the humanitarians of stealing African children to sell to pedophiles or, worse, to kill them and sell their organs. (He also accused them of tearing Muslim children away from their faith, but the media brushed over that one.)

Families that had contributed thousands of euros waited in vain at a provincial French airport for the precious cargo of Darfur refugees they were hoping to rescue and eventually adopt. In an initial reaction to the arrests, Zoé’s Ark spokespersons claimed they had acted in full legality, with the cooperation of French and Chadian authorities who suddenly reneged on prior agreements. Members of the association had hopped rides on French military aircraft; isn’t that proof that everyone knew and no one disapproved? French Foreign Ministry officials declare, on the contrary, that they had firmly advised the association to abandon its ill-conceived evacuation plan, which was presented openly as an end run around Chadian regulations against adoption. Other NGO’s operating in the region had filed complaints to remove their logos illegally posted on the Zoé’s Ark website.

But Breteau forged ahead under cover of a straw association—Children Rescue—through which he obtained authorizations to provide humanitarian relief to Darfur refugees in Chad. Apparently untroubled by the grammatical irregularity of “children rescue” and never doubting the connection with Zoe’s Ark, French military pilots unwittingly ferried them; local authorities allowed them to pursue their activities. No one in France has a good word to say about the grounded humanitarians…except for the Human Rights League and the Ark’s high profile lawyer, maître Gilbert Collard. Sordid revelations tumble out hourly. The kids were covered with bandages to corroborate the pretext of a “humanitarian evacuation.” The children are from Chad, not Darfur, and they are not orphans. Two of the older evacuees say their parents let them go with “some whites” who promised to send them to school and give them money, cookies, and a car when they grow up.

There is some NGO folly to the madness of this botched evacuation. Breteau, a former sales rep and volunteer fireman, branched out on his own after doing tsunami rescue work with the Red Cross. The tragic situation in Darfur fueled his megalomaniacal delusions. The extravagant ambitions announced on the Zoe’s Ark website came down to the pitiful transfer of a hundred pseudo-refugees. Now he and his accomplices are up against the harsh realities of a merciless African government and may soon be at the mercy of enraged Muslim fellow prisoners.

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