Hamas terrorists continued shooting rockets at Israel today as air raid sirens sounded all over the country including in Jerusalem. But the international media’s focus on the conflict continues to be the rising toll of Palestinian civilian casualties. Yet, as with previous conflicts, not much attention is being paid to the way Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields.
As I noted yesterday, even the New York Times found it necessary to report that the Israel Defense Forces are issuing warnings to Palestinians living in and around Hamas missile launchers and operations center in Gaza. But having decided to escalate another round of violence by launching hundreds of rockets into Israel, the Islamist group is still hoping to use the presence of Palestinian civilians around legitimate military targets as a weapon against the Jewish state.
In the past, this merely meant putting missile launchers next to schools, hospitals, and mosques as well among civilian homes in the densely populated strip. But as Israel has stepped up its efforts to try and spare civilians even as it seeks to silence the terrorist fire, Hamas has also increased its efforts to ensure that as many inhabitants of Gaza as possible are hurt in the fighting.
As Memri.org reports, speaking on Tuesday on Hamas’s Al Asqua-TV in Gaza, the group’s spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri urged the population of the strip to refuse to heed warnings and to use their bodies to shield Hamas facilities:
This attests to the character of our noble, Jihad-fighting people, who defend their rights and their homes with their bare chests and their blood. The policy of people confronting the Israeli warplanes with their bare chests in order to protect their homes has proven effective against the occupation. Also, this policy reflects the character of our brave, courageous people. We in Hamas call upon our people to adopt this policy, in order to protect the Palestinian homes.
The talk of defending “Palestinian homes” with “bare chests” is an allusion to the fact that instead of evacuating buildings after IDF warnings, Palestinians have instead surged into them in an effort to either deter the attack or to incur the maximum casualties from the attack.
The cynicism of this tactic is transparent but even though Hamas is making no secret of its intentions, the news reports about the conflict remain centered on the “disproportionate” force used by Israel and the contrast between Palestinian and Israeli casualty figures.
It is true that Hamas’s weaponry is no match for the sophisticated Israeli missile defense system that has, with U.S. help, been created to shield civilians from rocket fire from Gaza. Since, as the media continue to remind us, Palestinians have no “Iron Dome” system to protect them against Israeli counter-attacks, it is assumed that the war between Israel and Hamas is not a fair fight. In this manner, Hamas, cheered on by the so-called “moderate” Palestinians like Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas who accused Israel of “genocide” in its attacks on Gaza, reinforces the idea that it is a “David” fighting the Jewish “Goliath.”
That Israel faces challenges in what is a classic case of asymmetrical warfare is a given in this conflict. The Palestinians have perpetuated this war by continually refusing to make peace and recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. They are also attempting to manipulate Western opinion into believing their version of the conflict in which they falsely portray Israel as a “colonial” power occupying another people’s land rather than admitting that the dispute is part of an existential struggle aimed at wiping out the one Jewish state on the planet. The lopsided casualty figures bolster these specious talking points.
But it cannot be emphasized too much that Palestinian intent plays a much greater role in the casualties than technology. Hamas situates its weapons and fighters next to or among civilians not just because Gaza is crowded but because it is hoping that Israel will kill as many of their own people as possible. It indiscriminately fires rockets at Israeli population centers in part to kill as many Jews as possible though it has, to date, failed in that effort. But it is just as important to them to generate the Israeli counter-attacks that inevitably lead to Palestinian civilian deaths even if those numbers are inflated because many of those killed are actually Hamas terrorists.
In a war of perceptions, Hamas’s human shield tactics have given its leaders a winning strategy even if the result is tragedy for their own people. But the problem with those who draw superficial conclusions from the casualty figures is not just that they don’t understand what Hamas is doing to inflict as much pain on their own people as they can. It’s that these numbers obscure the basic point of the conflict. Hamas is not seeking to end the occupation of Gaza or the West Bank or to force Israel to draw its borders differently. Hamas’ purpose is to destroy Israel and kill its people. When they speak of “resistance” it is not an effort to push back against particular Israeli policies but a refusal to accept the permanence of the return of the Jews to their land. The misleading blood feud narrative adopted by the media in response to the carnage may seem even-handed. But there should be no mistake about the fact that the human shields of Gaza are merely a ploy aimed at diverting the world from the truth about Palestinian intentions.
Hamas’s Human Shield War
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Condemnations to go around.
The Trump administration is sending mixed signals when it comes to who represents the real threat to free speech and expression in America. On Tuesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions appeared before students and faculty at Georgetown University’s Law Center where he warned that “freedom of thought and speech” are “under attack” on America’s campuses.
“The American university was once the center of academic freedom — a place of robust debate, a forum for the competition of ideas,” Sessions said. “But it is transforming into an echo chamber of political correctness and homogenous thought, a shelter for fragile egos.”
“In this great land, the government does not get to tell you what to think or what to say,” Trump’s attorney general added. Coming on the heels of Trump’s decision to breathe new life into a dormant controversy involving the right of National Football League players to demonstrate in opposition to police violence targeting African-Americans—a proclivity he said should result in these protesters termination—these sentiments sound a discordant note.
It’s not just the players, either. When asked about ESPN host Jamele Hill’s claim that Trump was a “white supremacist,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called those remarks a “friable offense.” Coming from the most powerful office in the land, it’s reasonable for any employer to take these comments as more than just a pointed suggestion. They might have some teeth.
That is the contention made by the Atlantic’s Adam Serwer, who argued that the true threat to free speech in America today is not on college campuses but in the Oval Office. Quite unlike radical, often violent, activists like Antifa or censorious faculty who make a virtue of denying conservatives a platform for their ideas, Trump is the executor of government authority. Moreover, the lesson of Trump’s rise is that conservatives are not the high-minded stewards of enlightened free expression they pretend to be. They are as energized by the prospect of punishing their political adversaries as anyone; a claim that seems to me beyond debate.
Finally, though, Serwer makes a more disputable claim: “Campus violence is rare, but it also hardly stifles conservative speech,” he wrote, “more frequently, it backfires, enhancing the stature of conservative speakers, making them martyrs to right-wing audiences, and in some cases helping to sustain careers that could not thrive in the market absent support from wealthy conservative patrons.” For the moment, that seems to be the Trump effect, too.
Trump single-handedly resurrected the protest movement among prominent black athletes and ensured that not only would entire teams now take the knee before the national anthem but so would their white colleagues on and off the field. ESPN’s Hill has not been fired in the weeks that elapsed since Huckabee Sanders recommended it, though her profile on the network has declined (a business decision that might have more to do with increasingly political content alienating ESPN’s core audience).
Trump’s behavior isn’t just un-presidential; it’s un-republican. Conservatives should be careful about cheering him on, seeing as he’s just barely holding his coalition together while mobilizing a broader opposition. The president has flirted with denying public funding to institutions like the University of California, Berkeley or the taxpayer-backed stadiums that serve as America’s secular churches, but he hasn’t yet pulled that trigger. It’s easy to see where Trump and his government represent a potential threat to the constitutional right to free expression, but it’s harder to see where this threat is made kinetic. As Sessions said at Georgetown, “The president has free speech rights, too.”
As for college campuses, however, whether or not conservative ideas are popularized by vandalism and physical assaults meted out by unhinged student radicals seems immaterial. The fact of the matter is that it isn’t just right-wing provocateurs like Milo Yiannopoulos who have been run off campus. He is joined by the likes of lecturer Christina Hoff Sommers, IMF chief Christine Lagarde, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn. “No platforming” these speakers, as New York University Vice Provost Ulrich Baer advocated, may popularize their ideas among people who are already frequently exposed to them, but they do nothing for the national discourse. And when Middlebury College students batter a professor to protest Dr. Charles Murray, his lecture isn’t what makes headlines.
On American campuses, an ethos that draws a direct equivalency between challenging speech and literal physical trauma is taking hold. A racial slur is not protected speech, declared the Harvard Crimson’s student-run newspaper in 2012. It’s “an act of violence.” “[I]f people are given the resources to learn and either continue to speak hate speech or refuse to adapt their beliefs, then hostility may be warranted,” Wellesley College’s student-run newspaper agreed in 2017. A 2015 survey of 1,000 matriculated students nationwide found 53 percent agree that “choosing to use or not use certain words can constitute an act of violence.” Another poll that year found that 71 percent of freshmen believe colleges should “prohibit racist/sexist speech” on campus. Forty-three percent want “extreme speakers” banned. These findings dovetail with a 2010-11 poll of faculty, which found that 70 percent of women and a plurality of men (the results were only broken down by gender) think colleges should “prohibit” speech deemed bigoted.
A more recent survey found a majority of college students believe it is acceptable to shout down a controversial speaker and nearly one-fifth say it’s okay to respond to speech with which they disagree with violence. Lecturers like Fletcher School Professor Daniel Drezner suggest the worrying over this poll among conservatives is hysteria, and it would be if it were just one poll unsupported by evidence of censoriousness and rising violence. But it’s not.
Of course, it isn’t Antifa who is in power today, but Trump and his acolytes. By any rational calculation, the administration deserves more scrutiny than do college-age students and their aged instructors who live through their radicalism vicariously. But college-age radicals grow up. Today, they are simmering in institutions in which it is common to favorably compare costumed maniacs braining people with bike locks to the Boys of Pointe du Hoc. Tomorrow, they will be the secretary of education, attorney general, and president of the United States.
Trump is an awful steward of the powers of the presidency, but he has not yet abused his power to censor his opponents. The ostensibly powerless on campus, however, absolutely have. Ignoring that to make a partisan point would be supremely irresponsible.
The West's principle geostrategic adversary.
The American public and their president are focused on the accelerating nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula, and with good reason. Yet while the United States has turned its attention to one urgent strategic challenge, it has taken its eye off another: Russia.
The outside world is only just beginning to get a full understanding of the scale of Moscow’s abuses in the European territory it carved off Ukraine’s southern coast in 2014. According to a report conducted by the United Nations, Russian police, paramilitaries, and the FSB are implicated in grave human-rights abuses and terrorizing the population of Crimea. “The abuses included the extrajudicial killing of at least one pro-Ukrainian activist, the panel found, and while dozens of people abducted from 2014 to 2016 have been released, at least 10 are still missing,” the New York Times reported.
The report detailed how the law in this closed peninsula is arbitrarily applied. It noted the extent to which Russian citizenship imposed on the Crimean people has been used as a weapon, forced on some who did not seek it or denied others, along with rights to state-provided services and enfranchisement. Finally, the report indicated how ethnic and religious discrimination on the peninsula has exploded since 2014.
As is their centuries-old wont, Russian officials are allegedly repressing the peninsula’s Tartar minority, including its political representatives. Russia is also de-registering Jehovah’s Witnesses congregations as officially sanctioned religious groups. A separate report from the human rights organization Agora has confirmed these disturbing revelations and further alleged that the FSB has transformed Crimea into a total surveillance state. Individuals in Russia’s grasp are tracked, and residents are forced to submit fingerprint, DNA, and voice-recording samples to the government.
Russia is transforming Crimea into a Black Sea version of Kaliningrad. In that Baltic enclave, a vast, state-supported criminal enterprise specializes in trafficking drugs, people, and weapons in and out of Europe, which is to say nothing of its status as a forward positioning post for Russian troops and heavy weaponry.
Meanwhile, in Ukraine’s east, a Russian-sponsored “frozen conflict” continues to rage. Since April 2014, more than 34,000 conflict-related casualties have been reported. More than 10,000 have died. Barack Obama vetoed a bill to provide non-defensive weaponry to Ukraine in 2015, but the Republican-led legislature has declined to similarly test Trump’s commitment to Ukrainian sovereignty. Nevertheless, America’s diplomatic and advisory-level military commitments to supporting Ukraine’s side of the contact line in the Donbas region ensure that the U.S. will be drawn further into the fighting in that region if it flares, as it does at Moscow’s fancy.
Meanwhile, in the Middle East, a post-civil war Syria is beginning to take shape, but it is one dominated by great powers and not the hollowed out regime in Damascus. On Monday, the United States accused Russian forces of conducting airstrikes in Deir al-Zour province in eastern Syria. The accusation is a revealing one, seeing as Moscow effectively divided Syria into east and west zones of control marked by the Euphrates River following a June clash between U.S. and Syrian air assets. If the U.S. is prepared to accept Russia’s de facto bifurcation of Syria, Russia—and its Iranian allies—are not. “Iran, a strong backer of the Syrian government, needs Deir al-Zour to secure a land corridor from Tehran to its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah,” the Washington Post noted. There’s no room for the United States or the West in Syria in this post-conflict formulation.
The Russo-Iranian axis developed into a frustrating counterbalance to American power in the Middle East in the Obama era, and the Trump administration has failed in its early attempts to destabilize it. Today, Iran and Russia enjoy increased agility in Syria and the ability to deny America and its allies the freedom to act at their will. Alienated Sunni populations see the U.S. as complicit in the rise of Russia and Iran in their backyards. An ominous analysis conducted by Jennifer Cafarella and Fred and Kimberly Kagan warns that Russian and Iranian-linked Shiite political forces may be able to replace Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi with a more pro-Iranian figure in 2018, and the U.S. may lose all access to Iraq as a staging ground. The prospect of being forced out of both Iraq and Syria amid a growing Iranian, Russian, and potent Islamist terror threat looms large, and that could prove a decisive disadvantage if tensions between Iran and the United States take on a military dimension.
The fatal flaw in Obama’s strategic vision was the idea that the United States had the luxury of pivoting in one direction or the other. The hegemon is omnidirectional by necessity. While Northeast Asia has taken precedence, Eastern Europe and the Middle East are metastasizing. The United States has a Russia problem that it would rather ignore. Not only does this president have a bizarre soft spot for the autocrat in the Kremlin, he also shares his predecessor’s reluctance to engage in the strategic necessity of imposing costs on Russia as it pursues a newly extroverted foreign policy. That might prove a fatal conceit.
A disturbing claim.
Melissa Landa was, until recently, a clinical professor of education in the University of Maryland’s College of Education. She had been there for ten years, winning awards for her teaching and research, for the latter this very year.
But as of June 8, she was out on her ear. Landa believes that she was fired because she fights anti-Israel activism in academia. She is president of the Oberlin College chapter of Alumni for Campus Fairness and a member of both Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, for whom she has written against the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, and the Academic Engagement Network. I have discussed the important work of both organizations here.
We only have Landa’s word for it so far. But she tells the Algemeiner that the associate chair of her department, John O’Flahavan, began to sour on her when she became involved with the situation at Oberlin, including the anti-Semitic Facebook posts of Oberlin professor Joy Karega. According to Landa, O’Flahavan “discouraged my participation and defended Joy Karega’s freedom of speech, and was critical of my involvement in [the Oberlin chapter of the anti-BDS group Alums for Campus Fairness].” Department Chair Francine Hultgren also allegedly criticized Landa for being in Israel over Passover, a trip which required her to miss classes. The trip, Landa asserted, was approved by Hultgren “weeks in advance,” arrangements were made to cover the missed classes, and yet Hultgren accused Landa of “compromising [her] professional responsibilities by being away for such a long period of time.”
The Diamondback, the University of Maryland’s student newspaper, reported that Landa was sufficiently exercised over what she regards as the shabby treatment O’Flahavan and Hultgren subjected her to—she was removed from courses she had been teaching—that she filed a formal grievance against them. A faculty board found against Landa but also noted that “underlying interpersonal issues between [Landa] and [O’Flahavan] may have . . . factored into the staffing decision.” Moreover, the board wrote, “In the interest of the program [we hope] that a professional path for Dr. Landa can be found that harmonizes her teaching and scholarly interests with the needs of the Department.”
But three days after the board decision, in spite of a university policy against retaliation, Landa was told her contract would not be renewed. The University of Maryland’s Title IX office is now looking into whether the nonrenewal violated that policy or “was based on religious, political or national origin discrimination.”
The timing of Landa’s problems with her department, coinciding with her increasing visibility as an anti-BDS activist, is suspicious. So is the abrupt dismissal of an award-winning professor, who was scheduled to teach in the fall, just after that professor had filed a grievance against her department chair and associate chair. The main evidence that Landa was fired because of her stance on Israel in the academy so far remains Landa’s own testimony, and that isn’t enough. A thorough investigation is warranted. But thus far, Landa’s story has been covered by, apart from the student newspaper, only by Jewish or conservative outlets. It’s time people started paying attention.
The definition of sanity.
President Donald Trump’s address to the UN last week received considerable attention for what he actually said. No less interesting, however, is what he didn’t say. The speech contained zero mention of the Palestinians, zero mention of their conflict with Israel, and zero mention of the peace process Trump has been trying to revive.
This omission isn’t unprecedented, but it is unusual; most U.S. presidents have included the Israeli-Palestinian issue in their annual UN addresses. And it seems especially surprising for a president who has repeatedly declared Israeli-Palestinian peace to be one of his major foreign policy goals.
Yet the omission is perfectly consistent with Trump’s approach to the peace process to date, which has differed markedly from that of all his predecessors in one crucial regard: He appears to be trying to apply serious pressure to the Palestinians rather than only to Israel.
Take, for instance, his administration’s consistent refusal to say that the goal of the peace process is a two-state solution. Since efforts to achieve a two-state solution have repeatedly failed for almost 25 years now, it makes obvious sense for anyone who’s serious about trying to solve the conflict to at least consider whether this is really the most workable option. But even if, as seems likely, the administration actually does believe in the two-state solution, refusing to publicly commit to it serves an important purpose.
That’s because insisting that the end goal be a Palestinian state is a major concession to the Palestinians—something that has unfortunately been forgotten over the last quarter century. After all, throughout Israel’s first 45 years of existence, there was almost wall-to-wall consensus among Israelis that a Palestinian state would endanger their country. Even the 1993 Oslo Accord included no mention of Palestinian statehood, and the man who signed it, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, asserted in his final address to the Knesset in 1995 that he envisioned a “Palestinian entity . . . which is less than a state.”
Yet to date, this significant concession to the Palestinians has never been accompanied by a corresponding Palestinian concession to Israel. Though the Palestinians insist on a Palestinian nation-state, they still refuse to accept a Jewish nation-state alongside it. Instead, they demand that millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees be allowed to relocate to Israel, turning it into a binational state.
Nor has this major concession to the Palestinians been accompanied by a corresponding international concession to Israel. The European Union, for instance, repeatedly makes very specific demands of Israel, insisting that it accept a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines and Jerusalem as the capital of two states. But the EU has never demanded that the Palestinians accept a Jewish state or give up their idea of relocating millions of Palestinians to Israel. Instead, it merely calls for an unspecified “just, fair, agreed and realistic solution” to the Palestinian refugee problem, which the Palestinians–who view flooding Israel with millions of Palestinians as the only “just” solution–can easily interpret as support for their position.
In short, until Trump came along, the Palestinians won this major concession for free. Now, by refusing to declare a two-state solution as his goal, he has essentially told the Palestinians, for the first time in the history of the peace process, that every concession they previously pocketed is reversible unless and until they actually sign a deal. In other words, for the first time in the history of the peace process, he has told the Palestinians they have something to lose by intransigence. And if they want to reinstate America’s commitment to a Palestinian state, they will have to give something in exchange.
The same goes for Trump’s refusal even to mention the Palestinians in his UN speech. When former Secretary of State John Kerry repeatedly insisted that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the world’s most important foreign policy problem (a message routinely echoed by European diplomats), that gave the Palestinians tremendous leverage. Since they have always been the more intransigent side, the easiest path for any broker to follow is to simply support more and more Palestinian demands without requiring any substantive Palestinian concessions in return and then try to pressure Israel into agreeing. Thus, if world leaders are desperate to resolve the conflict, they will naturally tend to take that easy path in the hope of producing quick “achievements,” which is, in fact, what has happened over the last two decades. The result is that the Palestinians have concluded they can keep getting more simply by continuing to say no.
In his UN speech, Trump sent the opposite message: There are a lot of important foreign policy issues, like North Korea and Iran, and the Palestinian issue is so trivial by comparison that it doesn’t even merit a mention. In other words, though Trump would like to broker a peace deal, it isn’t necessary for America’s own interests. And therefore, it’s only worth investing time and effort in it if Palestinians and Israelis are both actually ready to deal, which means the Palestinians will have to be ready to finally make some concessions.
There are ample grounds for skepticism about whether Trump’s approach will work; based on the accumulated evidence of the last quarter century, I consider it far more likely that the Palestinians simply aren’t interested in signing a deal on any terms. Nevertheless, there is a plausible alternative theory. Perhaps Palestinians keep saying no simply because doing so has proven effective in securing more concessions. And if that’s the case, then reversing this perverse set of incentives by telling them they stand to lose from intransigence rather than gain by it could actually be effective.
Whether he succeeds or fails, Trump deserves credit for trying something new. Given the failure of his predecessors to achieve peace, only State Department bureaucrats could imagine that doing the same thing one more time would somehow produce different results.
Podcast: Trump starts a fight, but will he win it?
The first COMMENTARY podcast of the week finds us (me, Abe Greenwald, and Noah Rothman) discussing the weekend of knee-taking and Trump-tweeting about patriotism and the NFL and blah blah blah while North Korea threatens hydrogen bomb-testing and Puerto Rico reverts to a state of nature. And we enjoy the decline and fall of Valerie Plame. Give a listen.
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