Commentary Magazine


Topic: Hamas

‘Palestine’ is a Civil War Waiting to Happen

As Jonathan Tobin correctly noted earlier today, the possibility that Pope Francis didn’t really call Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “an angel of peace” doesn’t change the fact that the Vatican definitely did recognize the “State of Palestine.” That’s a setback to the cause of peace for many reasons, which Jonathan detailed in an excellent post last week. But I’d like to go into more depth on one point he raised: the question of which “Palestine” the Church is recognizing. Because “Palestine” isn’t merely split between the Fatah-controlled West Bank and Hamas-controlled Gaza by a quirk of geography; it’s a civil war waiting to happen.

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As Jonathan Tobin correctly noted earlier today, the possibility that Pope Francis didn’t really call Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “an angel of peace” doesn’t change the fact that the Vatican definitely did recognize the “State of Palestine.” That’s a setback to the cause of peace for many reasons, which Jonathan detailed in an excellent post last week. But I’d like to go into more depth on one point he raised: the question of which “Palestine” the Church is recognizing. Because “Palestine” isn’t merely split between the Fatah-controlled West Bank and Hamas-controlled Gaza by a quirk of geography; it’s a civil war waiting to happen.

Just last week, for instance, Hamas blamed Fatah for a series of recent bombings in Gaza and arrested 12 Fatah members as suspects. Last November, Hamas reportedly bombed the homes and vehicles of several senior Fatah officials in Gaza, as well as the site of a planned Fatah rally to mark the anniversary of Yasser Arafat’s death; as a result, Fatah canceled both the rally and a planned visit to Gaza by PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. Last month, PA ministers who did visit Gaza left in a huff after Hamas placed them under house arrest in their hotel. The previous month, Abbas and one of his senior advisors separately urged Arab states to bomb Hamas out of Gaza.

Both sides routinely arrest each other’s members, and then accuse each other of torturing the detainees (usually accurately in both cases). Both also routinely accuse each other of collaborating with Israel – the worst crime in the Palestinian lexicon. Needless to say, none of this contributes to Hamas-Fatah brotherly love.

Indeed, the parties are so busy feuding with each other that they can’t provide for their people’s most basic needs, like reconstructing Gaza after last summer’s war with Israel. The reconstruction has made almost no progress in the eight months since the war ended, and astoundingly, everyone except Human Rights Watch director Ken Roth agrees that this is the fault of the feuding Palestinian governments rather than Israel. That, for instance, is the stated view of the Arab League, which is usually quick to blame Israel for anything. And it’s also the stated view of the European Union, which is generally equally quick to blame Israel for everything.

That the violence has remained relatively low-level despite the intensity of this hatred is due to one thing only: Israel. Hamas’s main fighting strength is concentrated in Gaza, while Fatah’s is concentrated in the West Bank, and these territories are currently separated by an impassible barrier – some 37 kilometers of Israeli territory. Moreover, Israeli troops in the West Bank have prevented Hamas from building up its forces there: Last August, for instance, Israel arrested dozens of Hamas operatives in the West Bank whom both Israel and Abbas said were plotting a coup against the Fatah-led government.

But both those barriers to war would disappear if the world had its way: Israeli troops would vacate the West Bank, and some kind of corridor through Israel would be created to link the West Bank to Gaza. At that point, there would be nothing to stop Hamas and Fatah from all-out war. Indeed, that’s precisely what happened after Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005: Months of escalating violence ultimately erupted into war.

That war was bloody but swift. One week later, Hamas-ruled Gaza, 600 Palestinians were dead and thousands more had fled to the West Bank (Israel allowed the refugees through its territory). But since then, both sides have built up their forces considerably, so the next war might well be longer and bloodier. And I have yet to hear anyone explain quite how enabling such a war would benefit the Palestinians.

Thus anyone who really wants to create a Palestinian state should start by pressuring both Hamas and Fatah to address basic needs like reconstructing Gaza instead of spending all their time and energy feuding. That way, if and when such a state does emerge, it might actually be a good thing for the people who have to live in it rather than a disaster. And it would surely do far more to help the Palestinians right now than the empty recognition of a nonexistent state does.

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Hamas Victory Explains Israel’s Stand

In the wake of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s election victory, Israel is once again being urged to go back to negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and make concessions that will grant it independence in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem. Most of those calling for Netanyahu to implement a two-state solution ignore the fact that the Palestinians already have functional independence in Gaza because to do so would be to admit that the Hamas-run independent state that exists there in all but name is the true face of Palestinian nationalism. But, as the New York Times reported on Tuesday, the notion that it’s the alleged moderates of Fatah that run the PA in the West Bank rather than Hamas that has the support of most Palestinians was given the lie again by a much-watched student election at Bir Zeit University. The victory of the Hamas slate in the student election held there last month illustrates that any concessions forced on Israel in the West Bank might soon lead to another Hamas government there.

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In the wake of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s election victory, Israel is once again being urged to go back to negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and make concessions that will grant it independence in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem. Most of those calling for Netanyahu to implement a two-state solution ignore the fact that the Palestinians already have functional independence in Gaza because to do so would be to admit that the Hamas-run independent state that exists there in all but name is the true face of Palestinian nationalism. But, as the New York Times reported on Tuesday, the notion that it’s the alleged moderates of Fatah that run the PA in the West Bank rather than Hamas that has the support of most Palestinians was given the lie again by a much-watched student election at Bir Zeit University. The victory of the Hamas slate in the student election held there last month illustrates that any concessions forced on Israel in the West Bank might soon lead to another Hamas government there.

The Times story is rich with irony since it leads with the tale of how a young Palestinian woman who was considered to be immodestly dressed became the poster girl for Hamas supporters. The point was, even those Palestinians whose behavior would mark them down for persecution by the Islamist movement should it ever get the same kind of control over the West Bank that it currently has in Gaza were standing up to back them.

The Bir Zeit election may be dismissed as meaningless but in a Palestinian political world where elections are few and far between (PA leader Mahmoud Abbas is currently serving the tenth year of the four-year-term as president to which he was elected in 2005), it is the moral equivalent to the quadrennial Iowa Straw poll.

That Hamas doesn’t allow the same kind of student elections in Gaza or any free expression of any kind makes the student campaign for them seem counterintuitive. But anyone who thought Palestinian politics is about logic hasn’t been paying attention to the last century of history. While Hamas appears to have run a better campaign on the campus, the real reason that it prevailed was the impression that it was fighting Israel while Fatah was not. Even if most Palestinians don’t want to live in an Islamist state such as the repressive tyranny that exists in Gaza, Hamas’ popularity hasn’t suffered as a result of the disastrous war they started last summer. To the contrary, even secular West Bank Palestinians seem to prefer a party committed to war against Israel to a Fatah leadership that waffles between a stand in favor of negotiations and making it clear that they will never agree to any deal.

The problem here is that there’s more here at play than political symbolism. There’s a reason why Abbas hasn’t allowed another election since he was first to put into office to succeed Yasir Arafat. He knows that if given a choice there’s every reason to think Palestinians might choose Hamas even though it is and would be a disaster for them. Even if they know that Gaza’s problems are the result of the Hamas takeover and that life there is awful because of the Islamist group’s rule, its stand in favor of endless war remains popular. Indeed, West Bank Palestinians who were not cynically used as human shields by the terrorists last summer may be more inclined to back Hamas than Fatah.

Of course, Abbas doesn’t make himself or his party more popular by engaging in his own brand of tyranny. Hamas supporters on Bir Zeit were arrested after their successful election campaign. Fatah’s corruption is another reason why Palestinians resent them but unlike in the past, Hamas’s track record in Gaza makes it difficult to argue that there is a rationale for the Islamist group based on an expectation of good government.

Some will claim that the unpopularity of Fatah and the belief in Hamas’s war strategy is Israel’s fault because it refuses to make peace and give the Palestinians a state. But this ignores the fact that Fatah has repeatedly refused Israeli offers of peace and independence in almost of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem. Even the so-called moderates refuse to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. The dynamic of Palestinian politics has always given an advantage to any group that prioritized violence. Until a sea change in their culture occurs to change that, the peace process will be permanently stalled.

Israel withdrew every solider, settler and settlement from Gaza in 2005 and got more terror instead of peace. If it were to repeat the experiment in the West Bank as its foreign critics urge, the consequences would be incalculable. Even if Fatah were to remain in power, giving them sovereignty would place Israel’s security in jeopardy. If the West Bank were soon to fall into Hamas’s hands, it would mean a war that would make last summer’s fighting in Gaza look like a picnic.

Rather than an advertisement for Hamas’s appeal or even Fatah’s unpopularity, the Bir Zeit election is a warning to Israel of what might happen in the West Bank should it succumb to pressure and withdraw. Most Israelis may see a two state solution as the best option but not under the current circumstances. President Obama’s wishes notwithstanding, that’s something that no Israeli government will think of doing.

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Obama’s Double Standard on Civilian Casualties

I know it’s been a busy two weeks, but I’m still waiting for that apology. I’ve been waiting for it ever since the U.S. admitted on April 23 to accidentally killing two Western hostages in Pakistan, and doubly so after a U.S. airstrike allegedly killed 52 civilians in Syria last Friday. Clearly, I don’t expect an apology for the fact that American forces are composed of men rather than angels, and therefore sometimes makes mistakes. But I certainly do expect an apology for the Obama Administration’s refusal to acknowledge that so are Israel’s forces. In the administration’s view, Israel never makes honest mistakes. If Israel inadvertently kills civilians in wartime, then it wasn’t trying hard enough not to do so.

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I know it’s been a busy two weeks, but I’m still waiting for that apology. I’ve been waiting for it ever since the U.S. admitted on April 23 to accidentally killing two Western hostages in Pakistan, and doubly so after a U.S. airstrike allegedly killed 52 civilians in Syria last Friday. Clearly, I don’t expect an apology for the fact that American forces are composed of men rather than angels, and therefore sometimes makes mistakes. But I certainly do expect an apology for the Obama Administration’s refusal to acknowledge that so are Israel’s forces. In the administration’s view, Israel never makes honest mistakes. If Israel inadvertently kills civilians in wartime, then it wasn’t trying hard enough not to do so.

We don’t yet know what happened in Syria, but the drone strike on an al-Qaeda compound in Pakistan is instructive. Administration officials told the New York Times that the CIA had “no idea that the hostages were being held there despite hundreds of hours of surveillance.” Yet they apparently can’t conceive of Israel — in the midst of a shooting war where decisions on whether to return fire must be made instantly, rather than with the benefit of hundreds of hours of surveillance — being similarly unaware that civilians were present at various sites it targeted during last summer’s war with Hamas in Gaza.

Needless to say, American military professionals don’t share the administration’s view. The day after the White House announced the hostages’ deaths; Michael Schmitt and John Merriam published a summary of their detailed investigation into Israel’s targeting practices during that war. Schmitt, a professor of international law, heads the Stockton Center for the Study of International Law at the U.S. Naval War College and is considered a leading expert on the laws of armed conflict (LOAC). Merriam is a U.S. Army Judge Advocate and associate director of the Stockton Center. They were given unusual access to information, like targeting procedures that the Israel Defense Forces usually keeps secret; they were also allowed to observe IDF targeting cells at work and examine combat footage that hasn’t been publicly released. And here’s their conclusion:

Broadly speaking, we concluded that IDF positions on targeting law largely track those of the United States military. Moreover, even when they differ, the Israeli approach remains within the ambit of generally acceptable State practice … we found that their approach to targeting is consistent with the law and, in many cases, worthy of emulation.

They also pointed out that “the nuances of the Israeli approach … can only be understood in the context of the specific operational and strategic environment in which the IDF must fight.” And the complexities of that environment, which Israel’s critics largely ignore, go beyond such simple facts as Hamas’s penchant for launching rockets from civilian homes.

For instance, one key principle of LOAC is proportionality, meaning that an attack is illegal if the anticipated harm to civilians is disproportionate to the anticipated military benefit. But for a country that routinely trades hundreds of terrorists – who then resume killing Israelis – for a single captured soldier, the anticipated military benefit of preventing a soldier from being captured may be much higher than it would be for countries that don’t routinely make such trades, Schmitt and Merriam noted.

Yet the professionals’ view – also voiced by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey last November – never mattered to their civilian superiors. Even a Pentagon spokesman joined the administration pile-on accusing Israel of callous disregard for civilian life, declaring in a news briefing last July that “the Israelis need to do more to live up to their very high standards … for protecting civilian life.”

I don’t expect anything of people who think U.S. drone strikes are no less evil than Israel’s actions in Gaza. But the Obama Administration routinely defends its own civilian casualties as honest mistakes that occurred despite the strictest precautions. And to do that while simultaneously insisting that Israel’s can’t possibly be the same is the height of hypocrisy.

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Hamas Atrocities and the Rules of War

Last week the United Nations issued a report on Israel’s attacks on UN facilities in Gaza during last summer’s war. As I noted at the time, that even though the purpose of the exercise was to attack Israel and undermine its right to self-defense, even the UN report admitted that Hamas was storing weapons at schools run by the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) and that Hamas fighters were firing rockets and other weapons at Israeli targets from the vicinity of these places. Though there were examples of Israeli fire hitting civilians taking cover in UN shelters at the height of the fighting, these damning admissions raised questions about how the rules of war can possibly apply to a situation where armed killers who are themselves firing at Israeli civilians are using Palestinian civilians as human shields. This point was made today at a conference in Israel by the former head of the Israel Defense Forces. To make this point clear, retired General Benny Gantz recalled one incident that didn’t make it into the UN report in which a Palestinian mortar killed a four-year-old Israeli boy. According to Gantz the shell that took his life was fired from a United Nations building. The question the general raised is of what use are such rules if they serve to protect Hamas killers while endangering Jewish children?

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Last week the United Nations issued a report on Israel’s attacks on UN facilities in Gaza during last summer’s war. As I noted at the time, that even though the purpose of the exercise was to attack Israel and undermine its right to self-defense, even the UN report admitted that Hamas was storing weapons at schools run by the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) and that Hamas fighters were firing rockets and other weapons at Israeli targets from the vicinity of these places. Though there were examples of Israeli fire hitting civilians taking cover in UN shelters at the height of the fighting, these damning admissions raised questions about how the rules of war can possibly apply to a situation where armed killers who are themselves firing at Israeli civilians are using Palestinian civilians as human shields. This point was made today at a conference in Israel by the former head of the Israel Defense Forces. To make this point clear, retired General Benny Gantz recalled one incident that didn’t make it into the UN report in which a Palestinian mortar killed a four-year-old Israeli boy. According to Gantz the shell that took his life was fired from a United Nations building. The question the general raised is of what use are such rules if they serve to protect Hamas killers while endangering Jewish children?

The UN report gave Israel credit for the fact that incidents in which the Israel Defense Forces’ fire was deemed to be unjustified or wrongful due to the impact on civilians resulted in investigations and/or prosecutions of those involved. But it what failed to grasp was that two factors undermined most of the criticisms of Israel’s conduct in Gaza. One is that widespread infiltration of UNRWA by Hamas personnel who use UN facilities as storage depots. The other is the fact that the Hamas government of Gaza systematically exploits civilian buildings that are treated as off limits to Israeli fire for military purposes.

As Gantz detailed, it was well known, even during the war, that the Hamas leaders who were directing the rocket attacks on Israel were doing from the safety of hospital buildings. It was also clear throughout the campaign that Hamas was firing the thousands of rockets that were shot at Israeli cities from the immediate environs of shelters, schools and hospitals.

The IDF did its best to avoid hitting civilian targets and though there were casualties, the chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey later noted that the conduct of the Israelis was exemplary, undermining much of the unfair criticisms of the war put forward by both the Obama White House and the State Department. But while the Israelis were subjected to a double standard not applied to any other modern combatant, it’s worth asking whether we need to think again about a code of military conduct that says a sovereign nation is obligated to let terrorists shoot at children so long as they are around a building that is designated as off-limits.

Were the world prepared to let Israel go into Gaza and capture these terrorists and the government in whose name they operate, it might be possible to say that there is no need to think about rules. But we know this isn’t so. The leaders of Gaza were able to sit out the war inside hospitals secure in the knowledge that the Israelis wouldn’t shoot at their hideouts or attempt to root out this criminal conspiracy. Indeed, the Hamas-run independent Palestinian state in all but name knows that operates with impunity and need never fear that the Israelis will seek to destroy it.

How then is a legitimate democratic government supposed to protect its people? Four-year-old Daniel Tragerman was killed because his family in Nahal Oz near the Gaza border had only a few seconds to seek shelter when a Palestinian shot a mortar shell at them from the safety of a UN building compound. But there is no outcry at the world body to bring to justice his murderer. Nor is there any effort to bring UNRWA — which exists to perpetuate the Palestinian refugee problem so as to use them as props in the war against Israel — to account for its involvement in the war against the Jews.

Gantz doesn’t seem to have any ready answers as to how rules of engagement for the military or those of war can be adjusted to account for Hamas. Ethicists can debate the obligation to avoid causing deaths to civilians against the one that declares that governments must defend their citizens. But the problem here goes deeper than a mere moral dilemma. So long as both sides aren’t playing by the same rules, no one is safe. Those Palestinians that were made homeless or wounded and killed because of the war their Islamist overlords launched ought to hold Hamas accountable. But they won’t because Palestinian political culture still treats the war on Zionism as the national priority even if it means sacrificing the lives of their own people.

Gantz is probably right when he says the inevitable next round of fighting with Hamas will be worse than the last one. So, too will the condemnations of Israeli self-defense. Each incident will probably be used to justify economic warfare via the BDS (boycott, divest and sanction) movement against the Jewish state. You can count on Israel continuing to uphold high standards of conduct in which every effort will be made to spare innocent lives. But so long as terrorists are using UN buildings as launching pads for attacks on Jewish children, the IDF will have no choice but to shoot back. If that generates more UN reports and unfair criticism, so be it. No rule that gives a terrorist impunity to shoot at children should be treated as sacrosanct.

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Two Demonstrations and the Problem with Two States

Yesterday, a small left-wing fringe group organized demonstrations in three Israeli cities to protest the ongoing blockade of Hamas-run Gaza. In Jerusalem, the protest brought out a few dozen persons in front of the prime minister’s residence where they freely paraded with signs and apparently held forth in front of a rapt press corps eager, as always, to find Jews willing to criticize their country’s government. No one interfered with them and when they were done spouting off about the supposed injustices being done to a terrorist government that had rained down thousands of missiles on Israeli cities and used tunnels to try and conduct murder raids on civilians, they went home having encountered no interference from Israeli authorities. But a group in Gaza that tried to hold a protest earlier that day about the Hamas regime’s lack of interest in rebuilding the strip after the war they launched last summer wasn’t so lucky. And therein hangs a tale of why the push for a two-state solution that remains a priority of the Obama administration is based more on fantasy than reality.

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Yesterday, a small left-wing fringe group organized demonstrations in three Israeli cities to protest the ongoing blockade of Hamas-run Gaza. In Jerusalem, the protest brought out a few dozen persons in front of the prime minister’s residence where they freely paraded with signs and apparently held forth in front of a rapt press corps eager, as always, to find Jews willing to criticize their country’s government. No one interfered with them and when they were done spouting off about the supposed injustices being done to a terrorist government that had rained down thousands of missiles on Israeli cities and used tunnels to try and conduct murder raids on civilians, they went home having encountered no interference from Israeli authorities. But a group in Gaza that tried to hold a protest earlier that day about the Hamas regime’s lack of interest in rebuilding the strip after the war they launched last summer wasn’t so lucky. And therein hangs a tale of why the push for a two-state solution that remains a priority of the Obama administration is based more on fantasy than reality.

The Gaza demonstration involved 400 persons and took place in a neighborhood that was destroyed in last summer’s fighting. Its purpose appeared to be to promote more reconstruction of homes in the strip as well as to call for the ever-elusive Palestinian unity at a time when Gaza is ruled by Hamas while the West Bank remains under the thumb of Fatah. It also must be understood in the context of what’s been going on in Gaza as Hamas has been reportedly rapidly rebuilding their terror tunnel infrastructure on the border with Israel while also replenishing their rocket arsenal. Both of these endeavors are being conducted with the material and financial help of Iran and are clearly the priority of the Gaza government over the rebuilding of homes wrecked in Hamas’s unnecessary war.

But rather than merely let the 400 demonstrators have their say, Hamas acted in characteristic fashion for a tyrannical terrorist regime and brutally suppressed the protest. Hamas police entered the crowd and severely beat several demonstrators while arresting others in the guise of keeping the peace.

What have these two events to do with the two-state solution, support for which U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice said today was the measure of the next Israeli government? Everything.

The point isn’t just that Israel is a working democracy where the views of even a splinter group that seemed to sympathize with a terrorist government in Gaza was allowed to protest in front of the prime minister’s house while Hamas runs a police state. It’s that the government in Gaza is for all intents and purposes the independent Palestinian state that President Obama and his administration continue to advocate as necessary to peace. But far from being a force for peace, the Iran-funded Hamasistan in Gaza was and remains a permanent threat to peace. More than that, and just like the actions of the supposedly more moderate Fatah in Gaza, the Hamas government is an undemocratic and brutal regime determined not only to suppress dissidents but to treat the welfare of ordinary Palestinians as being less important than their mission of fomenting an endless war against Israel. Nor should it be forgotten that the purpose of that war isn’t to speed an Israeli retreat from the West Bank but to “liberate” all of “occupied Palestine,” a term by which they mean pre-1967 Israel as well as the disputed territories beyond the “green line.”

Additionally, this Hamas-run Palestinian state was created by Israel taking a risk for peace when it removed every single soldier and settler from Gaza in 2005. But rather than this becoming a step toward peace, what Israelis soon learned was that former Prime Minister Sharon had traded land for terror, not peace.

These parallel demonstrations are a reminder of the contrast between the conduct of a free society, even though it remains under siege from foreign foes, and a terrorist state. But they also illustrate the absurdity of a call to repeat the Gaza experiment in the West Bank. A two state solution might be ideal but not under the current circumstances. That Obama continues to expect Israel to do such a mad thing speaks volumes about his lack of concern for the Jewish state’s security as well as of his poor grasp of the realities of the Middle East even after more than six years in the White House.

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Gaza Casualties? Fault Hamas and UNRWA

On Monday the United Nations issued a report about attacks on their facilities in Gaza during last summer’s fighting between Hamas and Israel. The report’s conclusion was widely reported as finding that the deaths of 44 civilians were the fault of the Israeli military. Strictly speaking that’s true, as there’s little doubt that the casualties at some of their facilities were killed or wounded by Israeli fire. But before the anti-Israel propaganda machine starts cranking up to denounce the Israelis as war criminals—as the Palestinians are preparing to do at the International Criminal Court—a close reading of a document that was prepared by a hostile UN reveals a far more nuanced picture of what happened in Gaza. While some of the shelters in question might have been struck in error in the heat of battle in a confusing environment, even the UN was prepared to admit that many of their institutions in Gaza were being used as arms depots by Hamas and that armed fighters were shooting at Israel in the vicinity of many of the places that were attacked. While Israel’s military can’t be said to be perfect, the real fault for what happened belongs to both the Hamas terrorist overlords of Gaza and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that operated the facilities.

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On Monday the United Nations issued a report about attacks on their facilities in Gaza during last summer’s fighting between Hamas and Israel. The report’s conclusion was widely reported as finding that the deaths of 44 civilians were the fault of the Israeli military. Strictly speaking that’s true, as there’s little doubt that the casualties at some of their facilities were killed or wounded by Israeli fire. But before the anti-Israel propaganda machine starts cranking up to denounce the Israelis as war criminals—as the Palestinians are preparing to do at the International Criminal Court—a close reading of a document that was prepared by a hostile UN reveals a far more nuanced picture of what happened in Gaza. While some of the shelters in question might have been struck in error in the heat of battle in a confusing environment, even the UN was prepared to admit that many of their institutions in Gaza were being used as arms depots by Hamas and that armed fighters were shooting at Israel in the vicinity of many of the places that were attacked. While Israel’s military can’t be said to be perfect, the real fault for what happened belongs to both the Hamas terrorist overlords of Gaza and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) that operated the facilities.

Using their new perch as a member of UN agencies, it’s likely that the Palestinian Authority will seek to get the International Criminal Court to investigate and indict Israel for war crimes in Gaza. This is a dangerous gambit for the PA because even though the UN body is biased against the Jewish state, the evidence of criminal intent or behavior is lacking. Moreover, there is ample proof of Palestinian war crimes. Indeed, every one of the thousands of Hamas missiles fired at Israeli cities and towns was a crime. As were the attempts by the Islamist group to use tunnels dug underneath the international border between Gaza and Israel to commit acts of murder and kidnapping.

The story told in the UN report is not one of callous Israeli behavior. Rather, even this indictment shows that the Israel Defense Forces sought to avoid civilian casualties wherever possible and didn’t fire indiscriminately.

The problem for those wanting to use this document to bash Israel is that it confirms much of what the Israelis said about the use of UNRWA facilities, and specifically the schools designated as shelters. The report admits that several such schools were used for storing Hamas weaponry. Others were, as Israel insists, used as observation posts for Hamas military action. Many were the sites of firing of rockets at Israel and Israeli forces. While UNRWA sought to deflect blame for the use of their buildings for terrorism, even the UN report notes that their security measures to avoid this were inadequate and the agency needs to take the problem more seriously.

Moreover, the UN also admitted that some instances where firing took place that was not in accord with the strict rules of engagement (that compare favorably with those employed by U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan) were being subjected to criminal investigation. That is not the act of an army that doesn’t care about killing civilians.

There’s little doubt that a breakdown of each individual incident would be portrayed in a far less negative light in a document prepared by a more neutral party. After all, the UN was largely dependent on UNRWA for the report. But if we were to accept these findings as definitive, what can’t be forgotten is that the only reason there was any firing anywhere near UN facilities is that Hamas routinely used them and other buildings such as schools and hospitals to shield their efforts to shoot at Israelis. The people of Gaza as a whole, and not just those at UN buildings, were used as human shields by the terrorist movement that governs the strip, itself a war crime.

Moreover, UNRWA has a long record of allowing itself to be used by Hamas as it employed their members and showed little interest in preventing its buildings from being used the same way all other schools and humanitarian institutions were employed—as cover for Hamas fighters.

Even more to the point, the reason why Israelis were in Gaza—from which they removed every single soldier and settler in 2005 in a vain attempt to trade land for peace—was because the area has become a terrorist fortress. Gaza is an independent Palestinian state in all but name and a terrible precedent for those who want Israel to withdraw from the West Bank in the same manner.

Hamas continues to view all of Israel within the 1967 lines as “occupied territory” that must be liberated from the Jews. As long as it rules in Gaza and UNRWA is its willing accomplice, there will never be any “place of safety” in the strip or in Israel. That is the nub of the problem, not specific Israeli decisions to fire on areas where terrorists are shooting.

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Iran’s Terrorist Allies the First to Benefit From Nuclear Deal

President Obama did everything he could to convince Israelis not to reelect Benjamin Netanyahu. But a position paper just issued by Israel’s chief opposition party makes it clear that on the issue that most separates the U.S. from Israel—the Iran nuclear deal—there isn’t all that much daylight between the Likud and the Zionist Union parties. In it, the Labor-led group states that the deal struck by the West and Iran needs to be changed and that when it comes to this issue, “there is no coalition or opposition,” just a solid Israeli position. There are a lot of reasons why this is so, but one was made obvious today with a report from Israel’s Channel 2 that said in recent weeks Iran had stepped up arms shipments to its Hezbollah allies in Lebanon as well as to Hamas in Gaza. With the U.S. prepared to end sanctions on Tehran as part of its nuclear agreement, this illustrates that among the chief beneficiaries of a revitalized Iranian economy will be the Islamist regime’s terrorist allies.

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President Obama did everything he could to convince Israelis not to reelect Benjamin Netanyahu. But a position paper just issued by Israel’s chief opposition party makes it clear that on the issue that most separates the U.S. from Israel—the Iran nuclear deal—there isn’t all that much daylight between the Likud and the Zionist Union parties. In it, the Labor-led group states that the deal struck by the West and Iran needs to be changed and that when it comes to this issue, “there is no coalition or opposition,” just a solid Israeli position. There are a lot of reasons why this is so, but one was made obvious today with a report from Israel’s Channel 2 that said in recent weeks Iran had stepped up arms shipments to its Hezbollah allies in Lebanon as well as to Hamas in Gaza. With the U.S. prepared to end sanctions on Tehran as part of its nuclear agreement, this illustrates that among the chief beneficiaries of a revitalized Iranian economy will be the Islamist regime’s terrorist allies.

The Channel 2 report detailed that Iran has increased its already considerable flow of weapons and cash to its Hezbollah auxiliaries as well as to Hamas. Most troubling is the news that it is not satisfied with helping Hamas rebuild its terror tunnels and replenish its rocket arsenal in Gaza but is also seeking to arm cells of the Islamist group operating in the West Bank. Like Russia’s sale of sophisticated anti-aircraft missiles to Tehran, these moves are part of the inevitable exploitation of Western weakness by an Iranian regime that understands that it has scored a huge victory in the nuclear negotiations. This is a trend that will get only more dangerous as their economy begins to recover after the sanctions disappear.

Administration apologists may claim that Iran’s actions can be seen as a warning to Israel not to act on its own against its nuclear infrastructure. But Tehran knows as well as anyone that the chances of Israel launching a strike against them while the U.S. is engaged in negotiations over their nuclear ambitions is virtually nil. A more realistic analysis of these actions would see them for what they are, more evidence of Iran’s desire to extend its control over the entire region via the actions of its terrorist friends. In particular, it is hoping to use its growing influence to support the most radical Palestinian factions in order to make war with Israel more likely. That is the context in which most Israelis see U.S. efforts to create a new détente between Iran and the West.

The Zionist Union document also illustrates that for all of the demonization of Netanyahu that has been pursued by the administration and its liberal media cheering section, even his most bitter rivals largely accept his positions.

Though Labor and its right-wing antagonists have sniped at each other on Iran as they do on all issues, the Zionist Union paper shares the Netanyahu government’s belief that the current agreement is flawed and must be revised. Though the Obama administration claims that there is no alternative to a negotiation in which they have made concession after concession, mainstream Israeli parties all seem to understand that the choice here is not between diplomacy and war but between weakness and strength that might persuade the Iranians that they can’t count on the U.S. folding on every point as it has in the past. As veteran U.S. peace processer Aaron David Miller—who is no fan of Netanyahu—wrote today in the Wall Street Journal, both Israelis and Arabs understand that what the U.S. is pursuing is an Iran-centric policy that prizes good relations with Tehran over those with its traditional allies.

By choosing not to demand that Iran change its behavior toward other nations, give up terrorism, or drop its calls for Israel’s destruction—a reasonable point considering that nuclear capability theoretically could give it the power to effectuate that scenario—the United States has flashed a green light to Iran for further adventurism in pursuit of its goal of regional hegemony. The president may pretend that the nuclear issue can be separated from other concerns about Iran, but those who must fear its behavior are not so foolish.

Liberal Democrats in Congress who have proved susceptible to administration talking points about Netanyahu and the Likud allying themselves with the Republicans need to take note of the fact that the same party that the White House was trying to help by means both fair and foul (indirect State Department contributions to anti-Netanyahu groups in Israel) takes more or less the same position on the Iran deal as the prime minister. Those who think hostility to Netanyahu should help them choose to override their instincts to back Israel’s position on the Iran deal should think again.

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Iran Funds the Building of New Terror Tunnels for Hamas

President Obama’s all-out effort to sell his deal with Iran has largely gained a sympathetic hearing in the press. But while Obama is trying to pretend to be on his guard about Iran’s ambitions and even, in a departure from recent statements, showing respect for Israel’s legitimate concerns about this, the Iranians are, once again, demonstrating their contempt for Western illusions. The point isn’t just that Iran’s understanding of their commitments under the yet-to-be-drafted deal differs markedly from what the United States has claimed. It’s that the underlying purpose of President Obama’s initiative—allowing Iran to “get right with the world” and to inaugurate a new era of cooperation with Tehran—is being undermined by Iranian actions that already demonstrate that they intend to redouble efforts to achieve their goal of regional hegemony and destabilization of U.S. allies. Even before the announcement of last week’s agreement, Iranian-backed Shia rebels were taking over Yemen. But now comes news that makes the president’s hopes for a more moderate Iran seem even more ludicrous: the Islamist regime is funneling money to Hamas in Gaza to help it rebuild the tunnels it hopes to use to launch new terror raids inside Israel.

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President Obama’s all-out effort to sell his deal with Iran has largely gained a sympathetic hearing in the press. But while Obama is trying to pretend to be on his guard about Iran’s ambitions and even, in a departure from recent statements, showing respect for Israel’s legitimate concerns about this, the Iranians are, once again, demonstrating their contempt for Western illusions. The point isn’t just that Iran’s understanding of their commitments under the yet-to-be-drafted deal differs markedly from what the United States has claimed. It’s that the underlying purpose of President Obama’s initiative—allowing Iran to “get right with the world” and to inaugurate a new era of cooperation with Tehran—is being undermined by Iranian actions that already demonstrate that they intend to redouble efforts to achieve their goal of regional hegemony and destabilization of U.S. allies. Even before the announcement of last week’s agreement, Iranian-backed Shia rebels were taking over Yemen. But now comes news that makes the president’s hopes for a more moderate Iran seem even more ludicrous: the Islamist regime is funneling money to Hamas in Gaza to help it rebuild the tunnels it hopes to use to launch new terror raids inside Israel.

As Britain’s Daily Telegraph reports:

Iran has sent Hamas’s military wing tens of millions of dollars to help it rebuild the network of tunnels in Gaza destroyed by Israel’s invasion last summer, intelligence sources have told The Sunday Telegraph. It is also funding new missile supplies to replenish stocks used to bombard residential neighbourhoods in Israel during the war, code-named Operation Protective Edge by Israel.

Much like the White House’s determination to ignore everything the Iranians have continued to say about eliminating Israel, not to mention its history of violating commitments, this effort isn’t influencing the administration’s determination to press ahead with the nuclear agreement. Everything that might distract us from embracing the possibility that Iran is changing and will use its nuclear technology for peaceful purposes is deemed irrelevant to the issue at hand by the president and his defenders. So no one should think the thought of Iran directly attempting to foment a new war between Israel and Hamas will lessen the president’s enthusiasm for what he clearly believes to be a legacy achievement.

But those who, unlike President Obama, are not already besotted with the notion of détente with Iran should think very seriously about what this means for the future of the Middle East.

Even if the Iranians observe the rather loose limits on their nuclear ambitions and do not cheat their way to a bomb—as they could easily do given their continued possession of their nuclear infrastructure and stockpile—it must be understood that the deal makes their eventual possession of a bomb inevitable once the agreement expires. But even if we are to, as the administration demands, ignore this certainty, we must confront just how much the economic boost the deal will give its economy and the legitimacy it will grant the regime will impact its efforts to spread its influence and sow the seeds of conflict between Arab and Jew as well as Sunni and Shia.

It is one thing to claim, as President Obama does, that he got the best deal with Iran that was possible. On its face, that assertion can sound reasonable even if it is given the lie by the fact that he spent the last two years discarding all of his political and economic leverage over the Islamist regime and making endless concessions that make it a threshold nuclear power. But it is not much of a secret that the president sees his diplomatic efforts as having a larger goal than a technical and rather insubstantial check on the nuclear program that he pledged to dismantle in his 2012 reelection campaign.

The ultimate goal of the negotiations is to end the 36 years of strife between Iran and the West that followed the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought the theocratic regime to power. After decades of supporting terrorism against the West and threatening Israel’s destruction, the president is laboring under the delusion that what he has done is to open up a chance for a true rapprochement with Iran. That’s the argument some of his cheerleaders like the New York Times’s Roger Cohen and Nicholas Kristof have been making. They have long campaigned for changing the West’s view of Iran from that of a rigid, tyrannical, aggressive, and anti-Semitic regime to one that Americans can feel comfortable doing business with and embracing. The images of a kind, friendly Iran these writers and others like them have worked so hard to promote is based on the notion that the differences between the countries are just politics. The president’s own assertions about Iran being a “complicated” country that is on some levels no different from the United States echoes these disingenuous claims.

But while Iran has political factions that contend for influence and is populated by many nice people who might want to be kind to visiting Americans, none of this changes the fact that its government and military have very different intentions. The real Iran is not the picture postcard version writers like Cohen and Kristof give us but the cold hard facts of Iranian arms shipments and financial support for terrorists in Gaza and its auxiliaries in Yemen, Lebanon, and Syria. None of those “complicated” factions disagree about war on Israel or their nuclear goals.

This agreement will not just empower Iran’s nuclear efforts but will strengthen the regime economically in such a way as to make its replacement by more moderate forces unthinkable.

While Americans dream of an entente with exotic Persia, Iran’s leaders are busy preparing the way for violence. The Gaza terror tunnels and missiles are just the tip of the iceberg of Iranian efforts. The American seal of approval that the deal will give will make it easier for them to spread their influence, further isolating and endangering both moderate Arab governments and Israel. That is the cold, hard reality of Iranian power that defenders of this effort to appease Tehran must take into account. Senators pondering whether to vote to give themselves the right to approve the deal should be focused on events in Gaza and Yemen and not just the president’s empty promises about a new era of hope and change in the Middle East.

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The Election that Didn’t Happen Matters Far More than the One that Did

In the West, where regular elections are taken for granted, what interested people about yesterday’s Israeli ballot was the outcome. But in the Middle East, many were envious of the very fact that it took place. Nowhere was this truer than among Palestinians, who haven’t had an election in 10 years – not because Israel is preventing them from doing so, but because their own leadership is. And anyone who actually cares about the peace process ought to be far more worried by the Palestinian election that didn’t happen than by the outcome of the Israeli one that did.

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In the West, where regular elections are taken for granted, what interested people about yesterday’s Israeli ballot was the outcome. But in the Middle East, many were envious of the very fact that it took place. Nowhere was this truer than among Palestinians, who haven’t had an election in 10 years – not because Israel is preventing them from doing so, but because their own leadership is. And anyone who actually cares about the peace process ought to be far more worried by the Palestinian election that didn’t happen than by the outcome of the Israeli one that did.

A veteran Palestinian journalist from Ramallah summed up the prevailing sentiment succinctly. “We say all these bad things about Israel, but at least the people there have the right to vote and enjoy democracy,” he told Jerusalem Post reporter Khaled Abu Toameh before the election. “We really envy the Israelis. Our leaders don’t want elections. They want to remain in office forever.”

Ghanem Nuseibeh, an East Jerusalem Palestinian now living in Britain, put out an illuminating series of tweets throughout Election Day, including, “Over a million Arabs take part in Middle East’s most democratic elections today”; “The Arabs in Israel are the only Middle East Arab group that practices true democracy”; and “Israel is secure not because it will elect Bibi or Buji, but because of what it is doing today.” He was rooting for Isaac Herzog (“Buji”) and deplored Benjamin Netanyahu, but after acknowledging that his candidate had lost, he nevertheless tweeted, “Israel is the world’s most vibrant democracy” …. “If an Arab country had the same wide spectrum of political parties as Israel does, it would be fighting a civil war unseen in human history.”

Astoundingly, even Hamas in Gaza issued numerous tweets urging Israeli Arabs to vote for the Arab parties’ Joint List. One can only imagine what Gaza residents must have felt at seeing Hamas urge Palestinian Israelis to exercise a right Palestinians in Gaza are denied by their own Hamas-run government.

The absence of Palestinian elections can’t be blamed on “the occupation,” since said “occupation” didn’t prevent elections for the Palestinian Authority from being held in both 1994 and 2005/2006. Rather, it’s entirely the choice of the Palestinians’ own rival governments – Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza. Both have steadfastly refused to call new elections for fear of losing power.

Nor is the vote the only right Palestinians’ own governments deny them. They are also deprived of other basic civil rights like freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Both Hamas in Gaza and the PA in the West Bank routinely arrest and intimidate journalists; consequently, a recent study found, fully 80% of Palestinian journalists say they self-censor. Palestinians also face arrest even for Facebook posts criticizing their respective governments.

But aside from the fact that this denial of basic civil rights is bad in general, it has real implications for the peace process. Here, another of Nuseibeh’s Election Day tweets is instructive: “Neither the PA nor Bibi want peace. Difference is Israel can remove its own obstacle for peace, through free elections.”

Even if one disputes his assessment of Netanyahu, Abbas or both, his basic point is unarguable: If Israelis see a chance for peace and consider their own prime minister an obstacle to it, they can unseat him – an option they’ve in fact exercised in the past. Palestinians have no such option.

But the problem goes deeper than that – because Abbas, now in the 11th year of his four-year term, also lacks the democratic legitimacy needed to make the kind of concessions any peace agreement would entail. Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid summed up the issue bluntly in a lecture to the Limmud UK conference in December: Abbas, he told his shocked audience, will never be able to make peace with Israel, because he currently represents nobody except himself, his wife and his two sons.

And this does much to explain what most Western leaders consider the deplorable outcome of yesterday’s Israeli vote. As a poll taken last week showed, fully 64% of Israeli Jews agree that “no matter which party forms the next government the peace process with the Palestinians will not advance because there is no solution to the dispute,” and an identical 64% believe “the Palestinian leadership will not show greater flexibility and readiness for concessions” if Herzog replaces Netanyahu. In other words, Israelis saw no reason to vote for a premier more enthusiastic about pursuing peace talks because they saw no answering enthusiasm from the Palestinian side. Had they faced a new Palestinian government that did show interest in making peace, I suspect Israelis would choose Herzog over Netanyahu by a large majority.

Thus if Western leaders are serious about wanting Israeli-Palestinian peace, working to rectify the lack of Palestinian democracy would be far more productive than wringing their hands over the choices made by Israel’s democracy. For precisely because Israelis can always change their minds again in a few years, the Palestinian democracy deficit is far more detrimental to the prospects for peace than the outcome of any Israeli election ever could be.

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Is Turkey Hosting Hamas Training Camps?

I was on the set of a Turkish news talk show—maybe SkyTürk or CNNTürk—in Istanbul back in 2006 when news broke that the Turkish government would welcome the leader of Hamas in Turkey. Hamas had won Palestinian elections a few weeks previous, but Turkey’s decision to host the unrepentant terrorist group took both Turks and the West by surprise.

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I was on the set of a Turkish news talk show—maybe SkyTürk or CNNTürk—in Istanbul back in 2006 when news broke that the Turkish government would welcome the leader of Hamas in Turkey. Hamas had won Palestinian elections a few weeks previous, but Turkey’s decision to host the unrepentant terrorist group took both Turks and the West by surprise.

After all, in the wake of the Palestinian elections, the European Union, the United States, and other countries had demanded that Hamas first acquiesce to the basis of the Oslo Accords—that is foreswearing terrorism and recognizing Israel—before it would be a welcome player in the international community. This was good diplomacy, after all, because the precondition of the Palestinian Authority’s existence was the Palestinian abandonment of terror and recognition of Israel. It was not an optional aspect to the agreement. Should the Palestinian Authority cease respecting that aspect of the agreement, Israel would be justified legally in returning to the status quo ante.

The reason for the surprise at Turkish actions was that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had personally promised German Chancellor Angela Merkel just days before that Turkey would not invite the Hamas leader. Erdoğan thought he would be too clever by half, however, and explained that the invitation came not at the behest of Turkey but rather by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) which dominated the Turkish government.

Over subsequent years, the relationship between Erdoğan and Hamas grew tighter. Erdoğan’s affair with Hamas had little to do with sympathy toward the Palestinian cause—after all, this was a cause he undermined by favoring Hamas over Fatah—but rather with Hamas’ Islamist and perhaps anti-Semitic vision. Hamas leaders inside Turkey planned recent terrorist plots against Israel.

Perhaps the United States was willing to turn a blind eye toward Erdoğan’s dalliance with a terror group. That might have simply been a factor of the man in the Oval Office. But, if the latest reports are true, then Erdoğan has gone far beyond the realm of plausible deniability. From Israel’s Ynetnews:

Relations been Israel and Turkey have been on a slippery downward slope in recent years; of late, however, the situation has led to grave consequences beyond the realm of politics: Turkey has become a Hamas hotbed, and members of the organization’s military wing are undergoing military training on Turkish soil, with the knowledge, support and assistance of the local authorities. The U.S. administration has appealed in recent months to the Turkish government to prevent Hamas military activity in its territory, arguing that Turkey is a member of NATO and that most NATO members view Hamas as a terrorist organization. The appeals have gone unanswered.

The idea that Turkey—a NATO member—would allow military training camps on its soil for a group designated by the United States and much the rest of the West as a terrorist organization is not something that can be diplomatically cast aside. Just as states—even allied states—are designated as deficient when it comes to combating human trafficking or money laundering on the logic that they work to rectify their status, so too it is time to designate Turkey a state sponsor of terrorism with whatever sanctions incumbent levied until such a time as Turkey rectifies its behavior. Such a designation might have financial implications in the defense sector and general investment, but quiet diplomacy simply has not worked. It’s time to hold Turkey to account.

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Israel, Jordan, and the Disproportionate Response

In the wake of the brutal execution of Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh by ISIS, Jordan has unleashed a barrage of air attacks on the Islamist rebels. Over three days the Hashemite kingdom boasted of having hit some 56 targets and of killing 7,000 ISIS fighters. Whatever the actual figures, there can be no doubt that Jordan has massively increased its action against the jihadists, and now, with Jordanian television endlessly broadcasting images of King Abdullah in camouflage uniform strategizing alongside his generals, it is being reported that the Jordanians are moving a large force to the country’s Iraqi border. To be clear, there is nothing disproportionate about any of this. ISIS represents a very real threat to what is generally thought of as one of the weaker Arab states and the Jordanians are now using the kind of force warranted to seriously combat ISIS. But imagine if instead of ISIS it was Hamas, and if instead of Jordan boasting of 7,000 killed, it was Israel.

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In the wake of the brutal execution of Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh by ISIS, Jordan has unleashed a barrage of air attacks on the Islamist rebels. Over three days the Hashemite kingdom boasted of having hit some 56 targets and of killing 7,000 ISIS fighters. Whatever the actual figures, there can be no doubt that Jordan has massively increased its action against the jihadists, and now, with Jordanian television endlessly broadcasting images of King Abdullah in camouflage uniform strategizing alongside his generals, it is being reported that the Jordanians are moving a large force to the country’s Iraqi border. To be clear, there is nothing disproportionate about any of this. ISIS represents a very real threat to what is generally thought of as one of the weaker Arab states and the Jordanians are now using the kind of force warranted to seriously combat ISIS. But imagine if instead of ISIS it was Hamas, and if instead of Jordan boasting of 7,000 killed, it was Israel.

Of course Jordan had been participating in strikes against ISIS long before the kidnapping and murder of al-Kasasbeh. Back in September Jordan had joined with the Gulf states as part of the U.S.-led effort against ISIS. But since al-Kasasbeh’s horrific murder Jordan has begun to seriously flex what military muscle it has. Indeed, it is doing so in an open display of revenge against ISIS. Quite apart from the fact that many will consider such revenge a just response, it is also fully in Jordan’s national interest to push back ISIS before the rebels are able to cross the country’s porous desert border. No doubt many in the region will simply be grateful to see someone displaying the will to take serious action against ISIS and the terrible prospect that its rapid expansion represents.

Yet, watching all of this unfold one can’t help but think of the war that took place this summer shortly before allied strikes on ISIS began. The world was indeed shocked, albeit momentarily, by the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teenagers while on their way home from school. But as Israel launched Operation Brother’s Keeper in an attempt to find the boys and to round up Hamas operatives in the West Bank, there were already the first mutterings that Israel needed to show restraint. Concerns were expressed that Israel’s operation in the West Bank might “destabilize” the situation.

Then when a desperate Hamas short on friends and money used these events as an excuse to unleash an unprecedented wave of rocket and tunnel warfare against Israeli civilians, Israel’s allies formed a chorus calling on the Israeli government to show maximum restraint. That phrase was so chilling in its moral redundancy and yet so commonly heard that it became inspiration for a remarkably apt song by Peter Himmelman.

Fortunately, Israel ignored the calls coming from Washington and the European capitals, and acting in its national interest hit Hamas hard. But for doing so the Israelis were now subjected to another allegation; that this was a disproportionate response. Even John Kerry was unwittingly caught on camera discussing the matter in angry and condescending tones; “it’s a hell of a pinpoint operation, it’s a hell of a pinpoint operation!” the secretary of state was heard saying.

The discussion around the escalation in Jordan’s war against ISIS has been unrecognizable in comparison. Even if the claim that 7,000 ISIS fighters have been killed in airstrikes is true, how many civilians have been killed alongside those fighters? Today the question of civilian casualties goes virtually unmentioned, whereas during Israel’s war with Hamas every news screen seemed to keep a running tally of the numbers killed in Gaza, always with an emphasis on the claim that these were mostly civilians, often accompanied by sneering remarks by journalists about how few Israeli casualties there had been. Not enough for the liking of those in Europe such as Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo, that was for sure.

Then of course there has been the death of American hostage Kayla Mueller. ISIS had claimed she was killed in a Jordanian airstrike, however the Pentagon has made clear its belief that Mueller was in fact murdered by ISIS directly. But either way, imagine if it was being claimed that an American citizen had been killed during Israeli airstrikes on Gaza. What would be the reaction then, and where would most of the blame be placed?

To be clear, Jordan is not using disproportionate force against ISIS. Proportionality is measured in terms of the amount of force legitimately warranted to militarily defeat an enemy. It does not mean that if Hamas indiscriminately fires thousands of projectiles into Israeli civilian areas then Israel should simply do the same back to Gaza. Nor that if ISIS burns a Jordanian pilot to death then Jordan is only permitted to execute one ISIS fighter. Far from it. Jordan is permitted to use the amount of force necessary to defeat ISIS, but not more.

The truth is that most people agree that ISIS should be defeated, they agree ISIS is unquestionably evil. Not so with Hamas. Similarly, almost nobody in the West questions Jordan’s right to have taken preemptive action against ISIS in the first place. But clearly very many people fiercely opposed Israel’s right to take any real action to stop the attacks being launched against its people. Rather, most of Israel’s supposed allies applied pressure to try and force Israel into stopping the rockets by appeasing Hamas’s demands.

For many it seems that the definition of disproportionate is any action taken by the Jewish state that might limit its enemy’s abilities to eventually destroy it.

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What Keeps Palestinian Lovers Apart? It’s Their Leaders’ War, Not Israel

Who doesn’t sympathize with the plight of two lovers separated by a heartless bureaucracy? Certainly not Jodi Rudoren, the Jerusalem bureau chief of the New York Times who, with the assistance of one of the paper’s stringers in Gaza, wrote a story published yesterday in which the star-crossed romance of a Gaza woman and a Nablus man serves to highlight Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinians between the Hamas-run strip and the West Bank. The situation of teacher Dalia Shurrab and social media marketer Rashed Sameer Faddah is worthy of sympathy. But as much as the story Rudoren has written casts the Israelis as the villain of the piece, the real culprits are not to be found in the Jewish state. Palestinians who would like to see more liberal travel policies should address their anger to their leaders whose war on Israel is responsible for their inconvenience. Those who would like the borders of these areas to resemble the ones that separate Canada from the United States can’t at the same time support the ongoing war to extinguish the existence of the Jewish state.

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Who doesn’t sympathize with the plight of two lovers separated by a heartless bureaucracy? Certainly not Jodi Rudoren, the Jerusalem bureau chief of the New York Times who, with the assistance of one of the paper’s stringers in Gaza, wrote a story published yesterday in which the star-crossed romance of a Gaza woman and a Nablus man serves to highlight Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinians between the Hamas-run strip and the West Bank. The situation of teacher Dalia Shurrab and social media marketer Rashed Sameer Faddah is worthy of sympathy. But as much as the story Rudoren has written casts the Israelis as the villain of the piece, the real culprits are not to be found in the Jewish state. Palestinians who would like to see more liberal travel policies should address their anger to their leaders whose war on Israel is responsible for their inconvenience. Those who would like the borders of these areas to resemble the ones that separate Canada from the United States can’t at the same time support the ongoing war to extinguish the existence of the Jewish state.

There’s no doubt that Shurrab and Faddah appear to be innocent victims of a struggle that has nothing to do with the efforts of two individuals to find happiness. But when you are a citizen of an area ruled by a terrorist group pledged to fight a genocidal terrorist war against your neighbor, is it really fair to cry foul when the government of that country isn’t particularly interested in facilitating your travel?

Palestinians and their foreign supporters apparently think so. They believe that Israel should let Palestinians from Gaza come and go as they please and settle in the West Bank if they like. In a better and more peaceful world, that shouldn’t be a problem. Indeed, if the Palestinian Authority that runs the West Bank and/or the Hamas government in Gaza were ever prepared to make peace with Israel, it might be possible. As Rudoren points out, a commitment to facilitating free travel between the two Palestinian areas was part of the original Oslo Accords. That seems to paint the Israelis as not only hard-hearted but also treaty breakers. But the truth is a little more complicated than that.

Were Israel and the territories as peaceful as the Israelis who helped draft the Oslo Accords assumed they would be once their deal was signed then free passage might make sense. But the reality of Oslo was very different from the “New Middle East” fantasies popularized more than 20 years ago by Shimon Peres and others who championed the accords. Under PA leader and arch terrorist Yasir Arafat, both regions became hotbeds of terror and incitement. Free passage, which was a matter of course during the pre-Oslo period of Israeli rule, was impossible under those circumstances. Once Arafat turned down then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s two offers of statehood and independence in 2000 and 2001 and launched a terrorist war of attrition, it become even less likely. After Hamas seized control of Gaza in a bloody coup in 2007, even Western nations that were not sympathetic to Israel agreed that the area had to be kept in quarantine lest the terrorists exploit travel to further their bloody ends.

It is in that context that any restrictions on the ability of Palestinians to move between the West Bank and Gaza must be seen. It is true that Israeli authorities have adopted passport policies regarding the West Bank that are not liberal with respect to the ability of Palestinians to come and go as they please. But is there another country in the world locked in a mortal struggle against an adversary that would be more lenient with respect to such policies? The answer to that question is a resounding “no.”

The Palestinians and their foreign friends consider all of the West Bank and Jerusalem as sovereign Palestinian territory from which the Israeli must be evicted. But there has never been such a sovereign Arab state there and Jews have rights there as well. Even if the current Israeli government and its predecessors have signaled a willingness to negotiate a withdrawal from much of this land, that does not mean it has no right, in the absence of a peace treaty, to ensure that Palestinian travel from the Gaza terrorist enclave should be only allowed for humanitarian purposes such as visits to hospitals.

Perhaps one could argue weddings should also constitute such an exception. But does Israel really want to be put in the position of verifying that every Palestinian couple that seeks such a waiver is actually going to be married rather than part of a ruse that might be used to facilitate illegal action? Israel has enough problems dealing with the West Bank without becoming the moral equivalent of American immigration inspectors trolling for information to deny illegal immigrants green cards obtained under false pretenses.

But the bottom line of this issue is not about Israeli rules. It’s about a Palestinian people and its leadership that has consistently rejected every opportunity for peace including four times in the last 15 years. When the Palestinians are prepared to give up their dream of Israel’s extinction and recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, free passage between peaceful countries won’t be an issue. Until then, Palestinian lovers stuck in the two areas should send their complaints to Fatah and Hamas and not to Israel via the New York Times.

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New Chair Can’t Salvage UN Gaza Travesty

When the United Nations Human Rights Council announced its plan to convene a commission to investigate last summer’s war between Israel and Hamas, it didn’t even bother pretending to be fair to the Jewish state. The UNHRC spends most of its time ignoring all of the most egregious violations of human rights and atrocities around the world and, instead, concentrates almost all of its energies on demonizing Israel and its efforts to defend its citizens against terrorist attacks. The commission it impaneled reflected that same bias. At its head was William Schabas, a Canadian law professor who had already denounced Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as a war criminal and stated his belief that Hamas was not a terrorist group. Schabas bitterly resented the criticism that rained down on his head from those who considered the commission to be a kangaroo court. But rather than continue, he has now resigned, still insisting on his fitness to lead the effort. That is to be commended, but Israel ought not to be suckered into taking the UNHRC’s bait. Though it is possible that his successor might be a less egregious pick, Israel should stick to its decision not to cooperate with this travesty.

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When the United Nations Human Rights Council announced its plan to convene a commission to investigate last summer’s war between Israel and Hamas, it didn’t even bother pretending to be fair to the Jewish state. The UNHRC spends most of its time ignoring all of the most egregious violations of human rights and atrocities around the world and, instead, concentrates almost all of its energies on demonizing Israel and its efforts to defend its citizens against terrorist attacks. The commission it impaneled reflected that same bias. At its head was William Schabas, a Canadian law professor who had already denounced Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as a war criminal and stated his belief that Hamas was not a terrorist group. Schabas bitterly resented the criticism that rained down on his head from those who considered the commission to be a kangaroo court. But rather than continue, he has now resigned, still insisting on his fitness to lead the effort. That is to be commended, but Israel ought not to be suckered into taking the UNHRC’s bait. Though it is possible that his successor might be a less egregious pick, Israel should stick to its decision not to cooperate with this travesty.

Israel was criticized for deciding not to play along with the UNHRC. It was asserted that by boycotting the panel, it was losing an opportunity to make its case to the world about its side of the story. The decision would, it was asserted, leave the field open for the Palestinians to paint the war as a tale of Jewish aggression against helpless Gaza civilians and completely ignoring the fact that Hamas not only used those people as human shields but also started the war by raining missiles down on Israeli cities and using tunnels to funnel terrorists across the border to kidnap and murder Israelis.

But anyone who has followed the UNHRC knows that no matter how much effort Israel puts into its defense the result won’t change. Schabas was an outrageous choice but he was merely the figurehead at the top of a UN structure that dictates an indictment of Israel, not its principle author.

It should be recalled that the UNHRC’s investigation of the 2008 war in Gaza—the Goldstone Commission—was a travesty that was focused almost entirely on delegitimizing Israeli self-defense while largely downplaying the actual war crimes committed by the Hamas rulers of Gaza. Ultimately Judge Richard Goldstone, the South African Jew who had been appointed to chair that commission, repudiated its findings. But that recantation came too late. The damage was already done. Whereas the UNHRC thought to put a more acceptable face on its Star Chamber investigation of Israel with Goldstone, naming Schabas showed it no longer thought it worth the bother to even put up a pretense of objectivity.

That’s why Schabas’s withdrawal changes nothing about the UNHRC’s prejudice or its methods. No one who is likely to be named to this post would be objective and anyone who was would quickly discover, as Goldstone eventually did, that the UNHRC’s staff has one objective with respect to Israel and it is not fairness or the truth.

But rather than focus solely on what is, in effect, a pro forma effort that will produce a raft of slanders and distortions no matter what evidence is presented to the panel, observers should be directing their attention to the UNHRC itself. Despite efforts to reform it, this agency remains one of the worst examples of UN bias against Israel and the Jews. Rather than helping to stem the rising tide of anti-Semitism around the world, the UNHRC is aiding and abetting it. Rather than wring its hands about the likelihood of an unfair attack on Israel about the Gaza war, the United States ought to be pulling out of the UNHRC and leading efforts to isolate it so as to prevent the world body from doing even more damage. But since the Obama administration is led by a president who is infatuated with the UN and often enraged by the temerity of Israel’s leaders to both defend their country and to urge others to speak out against threats to its security—such as the Iranian nuclear threat—don’t expect common sense or courage from Washington on the UNHRC.

In the meantime, decent persons both here and elsewhere should be denouncing the UNHRC’s latest attempt to smear Israel, no matter who is at its head.

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Is Iran Preparing for a Two-Front War Against Israel?

The outbreak of violence along Israel’s northern border appeared to have died down by the end of the week. Hezbollah claimed a victory with a cross border shelling that left two Israeli soldiers dead. For the moment that appears to be enough for them and their Iranian paymasters as they contemplate their next move in a struggle that is as much about defending the Islamist regime’s gains in Syria and its nuclear program as anything else. But for residents of northern Israel, the attack was a reminder that at any moment, their lives could be turned upside down by a decision taken in Tehran to either turn up the heat on the Jewish state or perhaps even launch a war. The same is true of those living within range of Gaza, where terrorists also rule. Though those who claim to be Israel’s friends speak of its security concerns as if they were fictions created by Prime Minister Netanyahu to justify his policies, this week’s events once more made it clear that a two-front war in which both missiles and terror tunnels will play a major role are threats that cannot be dismissed.

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The outbreak of violence along Israel’s northern border appeared to have died down by the end of the week. Hezbollah claimed a victory with a cross border shelling that left two Israeli soldiers dead. For the moment that appears to be enough for them and their Iranian paymasters as they contemplate their next move in a struggle that is as much about defending the Islamist regime’s gains in Syria and its nuclear program as anything else. But for residents of northern Israel, the attack was a reminder that at any moment, their lives could be turned upside down by a decision taken in Tehran to either turn up the heat on the Jewish state or perhaps even launch a war. The same is true of those living within range of Gaza, where terrorists also rule. Though those who claim to be Israel’s friends speak of its security concerns as if they were fictions created by Prime Minister Netanyahu to justify his policies, this week’s events once more made it clear that a two-front war in which both missiles and terror tunnels will play a major role are threats that cannot be dismissed.

The aftermath of the dustup along the Lebanese border has been characterized mostly by renewed Israeli efforts to search for evidence of tunnels being dug across the border to facilitate more terror attacks. The construction equipment that has been reported in the vicinity of this week’s assault was widely assumed to be a sign that Hezbollah is preparing for more attacks perhaps this time aimed at killing and kidnapping civilians as well as soldiers.

The context was not just the usual tensions with the terror group but signs that Iran was upping the ante with Israel as it continued to refuse to budge in nuclear talks with the United States and its Western allies. Far from being separate issues, the ability of Iran to deploy its Hezbollah auxiliaries to pressure Israel must be understood as integral to its overall goal of seeking regional hegemony via the chaos in Iraq and the survival of its ally Bashar Assad in Syria.

Tensions with Hamas along Israel’s southern border should be seen in the same light.

Hamas has recently begun moving to renew its alliance with Iran after their split because they backed rival sides in the Syrian civil war. Assad’s victory was achieved with Iranian and Hezbollah help and Hamas has now conceded it made a mistake when it threw in with Saudi Arabia and Turkey to back the rebels.

But it too, has been using the respite since last summer’s war to rebuild. But the rebuilding has not been of the homes of Palestinians who were used as human shields by Hamas. Rather it has been rebuilding its military infrastructure of tunnels and shelters designed to protect its leaders, fighters and arsenal. Talk about international donors being slow to pay their pledges for the costs of rebuilding Gaza should be understood in the context of Hamas using as much of the aid as it can for its own purposes rather than to help those who languish under their despotic rule.

As for the residents of Gaza, Hamas isn’t completely neglecting them. As the Times of Israel reports, the ruling Islamist group has been operating camps for children in recent months. But the kids aren’t learning sports, fitness or arts and crafts. Some 15,000 teenagers have been undergoing terrorist training by the Izaddin al-Qassam, Hamas’s “military wing.” Many of them graduated the course yesterday.

Drills included weapons training and exercises simulating kidnapping IDF soldiers and infiltration into Israel through tunnels. Portraits of Israeli leaders were used in target practice for sniper training.

In case, the International Criminal Court is interested in investigating a real war crime as opposed to compiling charges against Israel for having the temerity to defend itself against terrorist assault, using children in this manner is an atrocity.

But the point of these two stories is that Israel must brace itself for a two-front war if Iran thinks it is in its interest to start one. That should cause President Obama to rethink his reckless pursuit of détente with Iran in which he has already sacrificed his former goal of dismantling their nuclear program. Further appeasement of Tehran will not bring peace to the region. To the contrary, Iran seems bent on expanding its reach and terrorism is the way to do it. With more daylight opening up between Washington and Jerusalem these days, the temptation for Iran to use the leverage it has acquired on Israel’s northern and southern borders may prove irresistible. If the U.S. wants to prevent such an outcome, it needs to be more realistic about the nature of its negotiating partner and more supportive of an ally that remains under siege from Islamist terrorists on two fronts.

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Presumed Guilty Until Proven Innocent

One of the worst things about many “human rights” organizations is the way they actually undermine some very fundamental human rights. A prime example is B’Tselem’s new report on Palestinian civilian deaths during this summer’s war in Gaza. Few people would disagree that the presumption of innocence is an important right, but when it comes to Israel, B’Tselem simply jettisons it. In fact, the group states with shocking explicitness that it considers Israel guilty until proven innocent.

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One of the worst things about many “human rights” organizations is the way they actually undermine some very fundamental human rights. A prime example is B’Tselem’s new report on Palestinian civilian deaths during this summer’s war in Gaza. Few people would disagree that the presumption of innocence is an important right, but when it comes to Israel, B’Tselem simply jettisons it. In fact, the group states with shocking explicitness that it considers Israel guilty until proven innocent.

Take, for instance, one incident the report discusses, an attack on the a-Dali building in Khan Yunis. B’Tselem doesn’t mention any combatants being present, but an alert Jerusalem Post reporter recalled that Amnesty International had identified one fatality as a combatant. He asked about this discrepancy, and here’s his account of B’Tselem’s response:

Without addressing the specific incident, a B’Tselem representative said there were cases where the group suspected that fighters may have been involved, but it was only reporting their involvement where the evidence was hard and clear.

In other words, if B’Tselem isn’t certain whether the victims were combatants or civilians, it lists them as civilians and then accuses Israel of war crimes. In fact, it does this even if it “suspects that fighters may have been involved.” In short, it presumes Israel’s guilt unless proven otherwise.

Moreover, the report stressed repeatedly that B’Tselem “has no way of knowing” why Israel struck any particular target, and evidently, it doesn’t care. But as NGO Monitor pointed out, the “why” is crucial: If, say, the building was used to store weapons or launch rockets at Israel, then it was a legitimate military target. Without knowing whether the building was targeted legitimately or indiscriminately, it’s impossible to accuse Israel of war crimes–unless, of course, you simply presume Israel’s guilt.

But B’Tselem goes beyond merely presuming Israel’s guilt; it also deliberately omits exculpatory evidence. Take, for instance, the attack on the Kaware home in Khan Yunis. As the report accurately says, the family left after receiving an IDF warning, but other civilians subsequently entered, and the IDF realized this too late to abort its strike. What B’Tselem left out, however, was that those civilians came deliberately to serve as human shields for the building, which the IDF claimed was a Hamas command center. The surviving Kawares said this explicitly, and several prominent media outlets reported it at the time. “Our neighbors came in to form a human shield,” Salah Kaware told the New York Times. Yet this all-important fact–that civilians had deliberately returned to serve as human shields, a development the IDF couldn’t have predicted–was simply omitted from the report.

The same goes for the bombing of Beit Lahiya. As the report correctly notes, the IDF warned residents to evacuate, and many did. But others stayed, and some were killed. B’Tselem blames the IDF for this, saying, “Many had nowhere to go, as the military was conducting strikes throughout the Gaza Strip.”

But Palestinian human-rights activist Bassem Eid offered a very different explanation in a lecture at last month’s Limmud conference in England. According to his sources in Gaza, armed Hamas gunmen arrived and warned that anyone who left town would be considered a collaborator. And Hamas, as is well known, executes collaborators. So faced with a choice of certain death at Hamas’s hands or possible death at the IDF’s hands, residents who encountered those gunmen returned home.

Perhaps B’Tselem truly didn’t know this–in which case either its research is shoddy or its sources in Gaza are unreliable. Or perhaps, as in the Kaware case, it deliberately omitted this information. But either way, the result is the same: B’Tselem blamed Israel for a crime actually committed by Hamas. Had Hamas not prevented the evacuation, those civilians wouldn’t have died.

The report did acknowledge that Hamas stored arms in civilian buildings, launched rockets from civilian areas, and otherwise violated international law; it even admitted that this made it “extremely challenging … to avoid harming civilians.” So how was Israel supposed to have surmounted this challenge? That’s not B’Tselem’s problem; it “does not purport to offer the Israeli government or the military any operative plans for conducting armed conflict in Gaza.”

In other words, it admits that preventing civilian casualties under these circumstances is nearly impossible, but declares that unless Israel can accomplish the impossible, it effectively has no right to defend its citizens against a terrorist organization. And self-defense may be an even more fundamental human right than the presumption of innocence.

But in B’Tselem’s view, evidently, Israelis have no rights. They are only and always guilty.

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Incitement Causes Routine Terror for Israel

The world was appalled earlier this month when Islamist terrorists committed a massacre at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris. But there will be no similar fuss about the brutal attack on an Israeli bus earlier today in which a Palestinian attacker stabbed 12 Israelis leaving some in serious condition. The incident, which took place in Tel Aviv, was, after all, merely just one more in a series of numerous attacks on Israelis by Palestinians using knives, guns, and even cars to commit indiscriminate acts of terror on civilians that have left many dead and more wounded in the last several months. What lies behind the recent upsurge in terror? The cause isn’t a mystery nor is the failure of the international community to condemn those responsible.

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The world was appalled earlier this month when Islamist terrorists committed a massacre at the offices of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris. But there will be no similar fuss about the brutal attack on an Israeli bus earlier today in which a Palestinian attacker stabbed 12 Israelis leaving some in serious condition. The incident, which took place in Tel Aviv, was, after all, merely just one more in a series of numerous attacks on Israelis by Palestinians using knives, guns, and even cars to commit indiscriminate acts of terror on civilians that have left many dead and more wounded in the last several months. What lies behind the recent upsurge in terror? The cause isn’t a mystery nor is the failure of the international community to condemn those responsible.

The key to understanding the increase in terror attacks is the willingness of both the Palestinian Authority and their Hamas rivals to incite hatred for both Israel and Jews in their official media and schools. Such incitement isn’t new but the recent efforts by Palestinian leaders to encourage terrorism in order to “defend” Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem against mythical Jewish attacks has created an atmosphere in which such acts are lauded in official media and often praised by their officials, including those like PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, as champions of peace.

It should be remembered that Abbas praised the Palestinian who attempted to assassinate a rabbi and activist who advocated for the right of Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem as a “martyr” who went “straight to heaven” when he was killed after a gunfight with Israeli soldiers. Using a tactic that has been tried by Palestinian leaders for a century, Abbas sought to inflate an argument over Jewish prayer rights—that were, ironically, opposed by the Israeli government—into a holy war.

Thus, it was no surprise that today’s attacker used the dispute over the Temple Mount as well as anger about the war launched by Hamas last summer as the excuse for his atrocity. As the New York Times reported, after the assailant was captured, he told Israeli police that he was inspired in part to try to kill random Jews by promises heard in an Islamic broadcast which spoke of “reaching paradise.” While the man, who was captured alive, did not get to Heaven and the promise of virgin rewards, he did have the consolation of being praised by Hamas spokespersons today as having committed a “heroic” act of “resistance.”

It is little wonder Israeli leaders are losing patience with Western governments that profess peace and advocate concessions to the Palestinians but find it hard to speak when it comes to condemning the acts that lead to Arab violence against Jews. Unlike most of the world, many Israelis rightly feel that attacks on Jews in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv should be seen in the same light as those on Jews in Paris. Indeed, the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe, fueled as it is by Islamist propaganda against Israel, is in no small measure the product of attitudes and prejudices imported to the Continent from the Middle East.

Those European governments and United Nations agencies that have been vocal in advocating for recognition of Palestinian independence fail to take into account that what they are calling for is, in effect, the creation of terror states, whether it is Hamasistan in Gaza or the hate-fueled Fatah-run kleptocracy in the West Bank.

The volume of recent Palestinian attacks illustrates the dilemma for those seeking to prop up a dead-in-the-water peace process. So long as Abbas isn’t held accountable for the incitement committed by both the PA and its officials, it’s hardly surprising that he sees no reason to halt the incitement. But until he does, all talk of a revived peace process is just that much more evidence that the world doesn’t value spilled Jewish blood. When terror against Jews is considered too routine to get too worked up about, it’s a surefire sign that peace is nowhere in sight.

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How the World Encourages Hamas to Recruit Child Soldiers

Hamas is currently recruiting thousands of Palestinians aged 15 to 21 into its new “Liberation Army” in Gaza, journalist Khaled Abu Toameh reported today. So on top of the fact that it’s spending its money on a military buildup even as thousands of residents of Hamas-controlled Gaza remain homeless with no help in sight, half the age cohort Hamas seeks to recruit consists of people under 18, whom the United Nations and international human-rights groups define as children. Recruiting child soldiers is generally considered a gross violation of human rights. Yet far from condemning this behavior, the “international community” is actively encouraging it.

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Hamas is currently recruiting thousands of Palestinians aged 15 to 21 into its new “Liberation Army” in Gaza, journalist Khaled Abu Toameh reported today. So on top of the fact that it’s spending its money on a military buildup even as thousands of residents of Hamas-controlled Gaza remain homeless with no help in sight, half the age cohort Hamas seeks to recruit consists of people under 18, whom the United Nations and international human-rights groups define as children. Recruiting child soldiers is generally considered a gross violation of human rights. Yet far from condemning this behavior, the “international community” is actively encouraging it.

After all, you don’t hear much about Hamas’s recruitment efforts from the UN, the EU, the media or major human-rights organizations. But if those child soldiers are someday killed fighting Israel, all of these bodies will vie over who can condemn Israel for “killing children” most vociferously. And it’s precisely that reaction that makes recruiting child soldiers a win-win for Hamas: By so doing, not only can it significantly expand its fighting forces, but it can also ensure that Israel suffers international vilification whenever a war breaks out–all without suffering any negative consequences to itself.

In fact, it’s a triple win for Hamas, because this tactic doesn’t only endanger the child soldiers themselves; it also endangers innocent 15-, 16-, and 17-year-olds. After all, if Hamas is recruiting children this age into its “army,” then Israeli soldiers have to treat every male in that age range as a potential combatant. And in the fog of battle–where it’s often hard for soldiers to tell exactly who is shooting at them, especially since Hamas operatives don’t wear uniforms and frequently open fire from amid civilians–anyone who looks like a potential combatant is more likely to be killed. Thus Israel will be accused of killing even more children.

During last summer’s war in Gaza, for instance, the “official” UN statistics reported worldwide asserted that almost a quarter of the Palestinian fatalities–24 percent–were children. Most people, hearing a figure like that, are shocked and appalled, and immediately conclude that Israel was at best guilty of using excessive force and at worst of war crimes. Consequently, Hamas benefits when this figure is inflated; Alan Dershowitz aptly termed this Hamas’s “dead-baby strategy.”

But it only works because the UN, the media, human-rights groups, world leaders, and all the other sources people depend on for information collaborate with it.

One way they do so is by neglecting to mention that some of those children–we’ll probably never know how many–were actually killed by misfired Hamas rockets or secondary explosions of the weaponry Hamas routinely stores in civilian houses; all Palestinian casualties are automatically blamed on Israel. Another is by neglecting to provide comparative data that would illustrate the difficulty of preventing civilian casualties while fighting terrorists in a dense urban environment, like the fact that the proportion of children killed in U.S. airstrikes in Iraq was much higher, at 39 percent.

A third reason, however, is that the UN carefully doesn’t mention how many of those “children” were males aged 15, 16, or 17; it defines everyone under age 18 as a child and lumps them all together in one grand total. Given Hamas’s known habit of recruiting teenagers, at least some of those killed “children” were certainly either actual combatants or people Israeli soldiers had valid reason to suspect of being combatants. But you’d never know that from the UN, the media, human-rights groups, or world leaders.

You might call this the “dead teenager” variant of Hamas’s strategy: Fan international hatred of Israel by recruiting child soldiers whose deaths will be reported worldwide as “Israel kills innocent children.” And as long as the international community keeps collaborating with this strategy, Hamas will have every incentive to keep right on recruiting child soldiers.

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Which Palestinian State Do They Want?

In the last week, Islamist terror in Europe has at least temporarily distracted the continent from its habitual foreign-policy obsession: the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. But in spite of the current focus on domestic terror, there can be little doubt that Europe’s parliaments and diplomats will soon be back campaigning to recognize a state of Palestine and for pressure on Israel to make unilateral concessions in order to make that state a reality. But as a story in today’s New York Times illustrates, those in the international community that are so intent to pretend that a Palestinian state already exists and is need of international recognition need to figure out which one they are backing. Is it the Hamas terrorist state in Gaza? Or the corrupt Fatah state in the West Bank?

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In the last week, Islamist terror in Europe has at least temporarily distracted the continent from its habitual foreign-policy obsession: the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. But in spite of the current focus on domestic terror, there can be little doubt that Europe’s parliaments and diplomats will soon be back campaigning to recognize a state of Palestine and for pressure on Israel to make unilateral concessions in order to make that state a reality. But as a story in today’s New York Times illustrates, those in the international community that are so intent to pretend that a Palestinian state already exists and is need of international recognition need to figure out which one they are backing. Is it the Hamas terrorist state in Gaza? Or the corrupt Fatah state in the West Bank?

The Times focuses on one tragicomic example of the dysfunctional world of Palestinian politics. At the Beit Hanoun crossing point between Israel and northern Gaza, there are two Palestinian border checkpoints a half-mile apart. Those who seek to enter Gaza from Israel must pass through both, enabling both Fatah and Hamas to pretend to control the area. When Hamas sought to set up its own makeshift facility at the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority site, the system broke down and no one other than foreigners or Palestinians with emergencies was able to pass. Hamas backed down yesterday and the situation returned to normal but the anomalous situation remains as two governments attempt to carry on operations.

This was supposed to have been solved last year when PA leader Mahmoud Abbas signed a unity pact with Hamas that would bring both areas under joint control. But the pact was more of a ruse intended to blow up the peace negotiations with Israel the PA had been forced into by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry than an actual attempt at unification. Though the two rival groups actually have much in common—principally a commitment to ongoing conflict with Israel and an aversion to recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn—they are bitterly divided by conflicting financial interests as well as ideologies.

Both lack democratic legitimacy. Hamas won elections but to speak of a terrorist group coercing a population to back them is antithetical to any notion of the rule of law. Though hailed as moderates by the international community, Abbas and Fatah are even worse in that respect, as they have shunned elections for years for fear of losing to Hamas because of the latter’s better credentials in terms of shedding Israeli blood. Abbas still calls himself PA president, but that is more a matter of courtesy than anything else since he is serving in the 10th year of a four-year term to which he was elected.

Both promote hate against Israel in their official media and schools making peace less likely with each generation of children more steeped in the violent language of the conflict and a sense that all violence against Jews is to be condoned than the one that preceded it. What the two also have in common is a corrupt political system. Both rule by distributing money to large numbers of no-show or no-work government employees. Spreading the wealth around in this manner means that a huge percentage of Palestinians are directly dependent on either the PA or Hamas. This frees up the elites of both groups to loot the vast sums donated to help the Palestinians by foreign governments for either personal use or to pay for terror activities. Thus while Fatah runs a kleptocracy that saps the economy of the West Bank and stifles development, the more religious Hamas thieves use their international aid for rockets and terror tunnels rather than personal enrichment. The former is despicable, but the latter is certainly more dangerous.

But the division between the two is real, as Hamas operates an independent state in all but name and Fatah runs most of the West Bank with Israel only intervening to try to hunt down terror suspects.

The point of drawing attention to this division is not just to understand that sovereignty over a single Palestinian state is a myth and would not be resolved by international recognition. Rather, it is to bring to the attention of the world that by empowering either or both, they are laying the foundation for generations of future conflict rather than peace.

The common Palestinian political culture both Hamas and Fatah share is one in which their national identity is inextricably tied up with a war against Zionism. Though Fatah can sound more moderate than Hamas, especially when its leader is addressing the international and Israeli press rather than domestic audiences, it is just as locked into the idea that making peace on any terms would be a betrayal of their basic principles.

Giving more power to either or both would be to ensure more war for the Middle East. In the case of the West Bank, that would mean a repeat of the experiment whereby Israel withdrew every last soldier, settler, and settlement and instead of getting peace, saw the strip transformed into a terrorist launching pad/fortress.

All of which takes us back to our original question. If European governments and their parliaments are so concerned about the wellbeing of ordinary Palestinians, instead of pouring more money directly into the hands of Fatah or indirectly to Hamas via aid groups, they should insist on reform of both. More to the point, they should refrain from creating one or two more terror states that will strengthen the very forces of Islamist intolerance that have brought bloodshed to their streets. Sympathy for the Palestinians is understandable. Seeking to further empower Hamas and/or Fatah is a prescription for chaos and violence.

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Palestinians Should Be Wary of ICC Gambit

In the wake of their failed attempt to get the United Nations Security Council to vote to recognize their independence without first making peace with Israel, the Palestinian Authority has begun the process of joining the International Criminal Court, where they will, according to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, become full members on April 1. Their goal is to use this platform to harass Israel and to launch war-crimes trials against the Jewish state. This is widely seen as a credible threat against the Israelis who have been unfairly assailed for their conduct when fighting Hamas terrorists in Gaza. But the PA shouldn’t be so eager to head to court. The efforts of Shurat HaDin—Israel Law Center to charge Palestinian leaders with war crimes could turn the tables on them in a way that may cause them to regret their decision.

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In the wake of their failed attempt to get the United Nations Security Council to vote to recognize their independence without first making peace with Israel, the Palestinian Authority has begun the process of joining the International Criminal Court, where they will, according to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, become full members on April 1. Their goal is to use this platform to harass Israel and to launch war-crimes trials against the Jewish state. This is widely seen as a credible threat against the Israelis who have been unfairly assailed for their conduct when fighting Hamas terrorists in Gaza. But the PA shouldn’t be so eager to head to court. The efforts of Shurat HaDin—Israel Law Center to charge Palestinian leaders with war crimes could turn the tables on them in a way that may cause them to regret their decision.

Though the U.S. has rightly argued that as a non-state, the PA cannot actually be part of the ICC, the UN has gone along with this farce. This will allow the Palestinians to begin making mischief for the Israelis by filing suits that will publicize a raft of specious charges all aimed at branding it as an “apartheid state” run by war criminals. This gambit not only helps the Palestinians avoid peace talks where they might be forced to either make peace with Israel or admit that they will never do so. It also aids their ongoing efforts to delegitimize Israeli self-defense against terrorist attacks like Hamas’s use of tunnels for cross-border kidnapping/murder raids and the launching of thousands of rockets at Israeli cities.

But the PA has opened up a Pandora’s box that they may not be able to close before it damages their own cause.

Shurat HaDin has gained an impressive reputation in the last decade for its vigorous efforts to use the law to hold Palestinian terror groups responsible for their crimes. It has successfully sued Palestinian groups and their backers for their involvement in terrorism. That has placed funders of terrorism and banks which make such actions possible in peril as their victory in federal court in New York showed last September when Jordan’s Arab Bank was held responsible for its role in passing along funds to Hamas. It is also poised to land another blow to the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization after a federal appeals court ruled this week that it could proceed with a $1 billion suit filed by the group on behalf of dozens of U.S. citizens and their families that were victims of Palestinian terrorism during the second intifada.

But even as the PA readies its efforts to attack the Israelis at the ICC, Shurat HaDin is preparing its own assault on both Fatah and Hamas. On Monday, it filed charges of war crimes, terrorism, and human-rights offenses against three members of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah Party: PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, minister Jibril Rajoub, and PA intelligence chief Majad Haraj. Prior to this, it had filed similar charges against Abbas as well as Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal.

Skepticism about the willingness of any international agency to deal fairly with Israel is justified. The UN is a stacked deck against the Jewish state and it is possible that the ICC will prove to be just as biased. But as a judicial body, the ICC isn’t quite as easy to manipulate as other UN agencies. That means that evidence and truth will play a far larger role in their proceedings than at the UN General Assembly. And that is very bad news for the Palestinians.

After all, the actions of Hamas and Fatah in carrying out terror attacks, using civilians as human shields, and violating international law are not open to much dispute. Nor is the fact that the PA and Hamas violently oppress their own people.

As Nitsana Darshan-Leitner told the Times of Israel:

“Abbas and his friends in terror organizations believe that the courts can be used as a weapon against Israel, while at the same time, the Palestinian leadership carries out crimes with utter impunity against their own people and against Israeli civilians.

“The PA and Hamas have to understand that the International Criminal Court is a double-edged sword,” Darshan-Leitner said. “Years of murder, acts of terrorism and incitement will now be brought before prosecutors for investigation.”

False prosecutions brought against it in the ICC may well tie up Israel. But the same can just as easily be said about the Palestinians. Though they may have an international community that has proved tolerant of anti-Semitism on their side, the Palestinians need to understand that they are at least as vulnerable as the Israelis if not more so. The world’s hypocrisy when it comes to attacks on Jews has convinced them that they have nothing to lose. By putting their own actions under a legal microscope, there’s little chance that the PA will come out of this unscathed, let alone victorious.

Though these cases are likely to be dragged out over the years, the Palestinians may come to regret their decision to use the UN to wage lawfare against Israel. Before it’s done, Shurat HaDin’s successful record in various courts may make Abbas and his cronies wish they had never heard of the ICC.

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Why Do Palestinians Want Both Statehood and ‘Occupation?’

Today, the Hamas terrorists who rule the Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza once again demonstrated their lack of concern for the subjects by denying a group of war orphans a chance to spend a week in Israel. Their reason: doing so would involve the teens visiting “occupied cities” and “settlements” and would undermine their effort to perpetuate a century-old war against Zionism. That Hamas would continue to rail against “occupation” while enjoying virtual sovereignty over part of the country is no contradiction. It actually dovetails nicely with the stand of their Fatah rivals who are seeking recognition of Palestinian statehood in the United Nations this week while also clinging to an “occupation” that allows them to avoid making peace.

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Today, the Hamas terrorists who rule the Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza once again demonstrated their lack of concern for the subjects by denying a group of war orphans a chance to spend a week in Israel. Their reason: doing so would involve the teens visiting “occupied cities” and “settlements” and would undermine their effort to perpetuate a century-old war against Zionism. That Hamas would continue to rail against “occupation” while enjoying virtual sovereignty over part of the country is no contradiction. It actually dovetails nicely with the stand of their Fatah rivals who are seeking recognition of Palestinian statehood in the United Nations this week while also clinging to an “occupation” that allows them to avoid making peace.

Some will harp on the casual cruelty of denying a break to schoolchildren who have been harmed by war and who could use a chance to get out of the claustrophobic strip. But that would be a mistake. The key issue here is not the Islamist group’s insensitivity or even its reflexive hostility to Israel. Rather, it is the language used in explaining its decision to turn the bus with the 37 orphans back from the border:

“Security forces prevented 37 children of martyrs from entering the land occupied in 1948 for a suspicious visit to a number of settlements and occupied cities,” wrote Hamas Interior Ministry spokesman Iyad Al-Bozom on Facebook Sunday. “This move came in order to safeguard our children’s education and protect them from the policy of normalization.”

Hamas’s harping on the occupied places that the orphans who were invited by Israel’s Kibbutz movement and two Israeli Arab towns is telling in that the places the kids were going to visit were not part of what the world is told is “occupied territory.” Indeed, every place on their itinerary was Israeli territory prior to the Six Day War in June 1967. For Hamas, “occupation” refers to any land on which the Jewish state may exist regardless of where its borders might be drawn. In this way, they make it clear that their “resistance” against “occupation” is not a protest about the West Bank or Jerusalem but a sign of their determination to wage war on Israel until it is destroyed. This renders moot if not absurd the conviction held by some on the Jewish left as well as the Obama administration that peace could still be obtained by an Israeli decision to trade land for peace.

Yet while this speaks volumes about the foolishness of those who believe Hamas is prepared to make peace, it should not be viewed as fundamentally different from the position of the Palestinian Authority as it tries to get the UN Security Council to vote to recognize their independence in all of the lands that Israel took during the Six Day War.

As the Times of Israel noted in a feature published on Friday, the PA is in the interesting position of demanding formally recognition of their sovereign rights while also insisting that all of that land — even areas that Israel does not control such as Gaza or those parts of the West Bank that are under PA rule — are “occupied.” This contradicts legal norms about statehood that can be accorded only to those that actually control the territory in question. PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and his followers say they merely wish to reverse the usual order so as to facilitate Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and even parts of Jerusalem where hundreds of thousands of Jews live in Jewish neighborhoods that have existed for decades. But this stand actually has much in common with the less presentable positions articulated by Hamas than is generally understood.

Had Abbas and the PA wanted a state they could have had one 14 years ago or the two other times when one was offered them by Israel under terms that are no different than those supported currently by the Obama administration and the Europeans. They are going to the UN not because they wish to actually have a state but because their desire is to avoid negotiations that might give them one if they were ever willing to actually sign a peace agreement with the Israelis.

Just like Hamas, which rails against “occupation” while governing what is functionally a Palestinian state, Abbas clings to policies that keep the status quo in place while still railing against it. The reason is that although its leader is wrongly proclaimed by Washington as a champion of peace, he and his movement are as committed to Israel’s destruction as Hamas. Accepting a state in the West Bank (with or without Hamas-ruled Gaza which would constitute a second Palestinian state) means not so much ending the “occupation” of that area as it does accepting that the parts of the country that are left to Israel must be considered part of a Jewish state and that the conflict is therefore ended for all time.

Until Fatah is willing to do that, its talk of statehood at the UN must be considered to be no different than Hamas’ blatant rejection of peace on any terms. And the sooner Western nations catch on to this fact and stop enabling the PA’s evasions, the better it will be for Palestinians and their children who need peace more than an unending and bloody war against Zionism.

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