Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israel Defense Forces

1967: Who Censored the Voices?

In January, the New York Times ran an article by its Jerusalem correspondent, Judi Rudoren, about a new documentary film entitled Censored Voices. The film is based on the original recordings of Israeli soldiers’ testimony from the 1967 Six-Day War—conversations that provided the basis for a 1968 bestseller entitled Siah Lohamim (Soldiers’ Talk) in Hebrew and published in the United States under the title The Seventh Day. The film includes material that wasn’t in the book, consisting of allegations of Israeli brutality and actions tantamount to war crimes. The film premiered at the Sundance film festival in Utah, but it’s been shown since then mostly at European festivals and it’s been running for over a month in Israeli theaters. It’s slated for American theatrical release in the fall.

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In January, the New York Times ran an article by its Jerusalem correspondent, Judi Rudoren, about a new documentary film entitled Censored Voices. The film is based on the original recordings of Israeli soldiers’ testimony from the 1967 Six-Day War—conversations that provided the basis for a 1968 bestseller entitled Siah Lohamim (Soldiers’ Talk) in Hebrew and published in the United States under the title The Seventh Day. The film includes material that wasn’t in the book, consisting of allegations of Israeli brutality and actions tantamount to war crimes. The film premiered at the Sundance film festival in Utah, but it’s been shown since then mostly at European festivals and it’s been running for over a month in Israeli theaters. It’s slated for American theatrical release in the fall.

Here at COMMENTARY, Jonathan Tobin did a quick dissection of the documentary as reported by Rudoren. The message of the film is, since the “occupation” of the West Bank is a sin, it must have arisen from an original sin, and that original sin was the very conduct of the Six-Day War. Even without seeing the documentary, Jonathan pretty much had it pegged.

But one aspect of the film’s back story especially intrigued me: The claim that the original transcripts of the tapes had been massively censored in 1967 by the Israeli military censor, so that most of the soldiers’ voices had been excluded from Soldiers’ Talk. In various interviews and in the film’s promotional material, the director Mor Loushy even put a figure on the extent of the official censorship: 70 percent of the original material had been axed. Not only had Israel committed crimes; it had silenced voices that dared to speak them. Censored Voices now gives us those voices.

Something about this tidy narrative seemed to me utterly contrived. Of course, Israel had (and has) military censorship. But the “silencing” trope has become so fashionable on the Israeli left that I wondered whether the 70-percent story might be an exaggeration or fiction, deliberately quantified so as to lodge itself in the minds of audiences. So I looked deeper into the editorial history of Soldiers’ Talk.

Read the results of my investigation over at Mosaic Magazine. It turns out that there was massive censorship of Soldiers’ Talk back in 1967. But the official censor didn’t do it. The man who did do it is, in fact, the hero of Censored Voices, and he’s facilitated and promoted the film. It’s one of the stranger stories out of Israel you’ll read this year. In the course of it, I also ask whether the stories chosen for Censored Voices, especially those alleging expulsions of Palestinians and killings of prisoners, are either reliable or meaningful to our understanding of the Six-Day War.

The fall theatrical run of Censored Voices will be designed to qualify it for a possible Oscar nomination in the documentary feature category. That means it will have to play in Manhattan and Los Angeles theaters, and be reviewed in the prestige press. Hopefully, my piece will lead viewers and reviewers to ask some hard questions that the makers of Censored Voices so far have managed to avoid.

“Who Censored the Six-Day War?” by Martin Kramer, here.

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Turning Security Lemons into High-Tech Lemonade

Bloomberg released its annual Global Innovation Index this week, and Israel was ranked fifth worldwide. Given Israel’s reputation as the “start-up nation,” that may not seem surprising (in fact, it should, but that’s a topic for another post). Yet “start-up nation” has become such a cliché that it often obscures one of the most important–and admirable–qualities behind Israel’s tech successes: a consistent determination to turn lemons into lemonade.

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Bloomberg released its annual Global Innovation Index this week, and Israel was ranked fifth worldwide. Given Israel’s reputation as the “start-up nation,” that may not seem surprising (in fact, it should, but that’s a topic for another post). Yet “start-up nation” has become such a cliché that it often obscures one of the most important–and admirable–qualities behind Israel’s tech successes: a consistent determination to turn lemons into lemonade.

This is true in many walks of Israeli life. Back in 2007, for instance, I wrote a column about the astounding fact that after losing a child in a war or terror attack, Israeli parents had repeatedly responded not with a desire for revenge, but with a desire to commemorate their child by doing something to make the world a better place. Consequently, bereaved parents in Israel have set up everything from public parks to foundations that help families care for special-needs children.

In the high-tech field, this same quality has led Israel to respond to a horrendous security environment by creating products that not only serve immediate defense needs, but have the potential to benefit humanity as a whole. And this response has played a major role in fueling its tech boom.

Take, for instance, the Iron Dome anti-missile system, which was born of the grim need to deal with nonstop rocket fire from Hamas-run Gaza. Though the system proved spectacularly successful during last summer’s war, it initially seemed to have limited application; few other countries routinely suffer rocket attacks from their neighbors.

Now, however, an Israeli-Canadian partnership is busy turning the technology behind Iron Dome into a system for smart electrical grid management. As the Jerusalem Post reported last month, “The same algorithms that help Iron Dome respond to complex inputs quickly and efficiently were applied to monitoring and controlling the electric grid,” which will both save energy and help reduce blackouts. The new technology “has the potential to change grid management in North America and beyond,” according to Henri Rothschild, president of the Canada-Israel Industrial R&D Foundation, which helped broker the joint venture.

Another example is a start-up that literally makes potable water out of thin air. Founder Arye Kohavi, whom Foreign Policy named as one of its 100 leading global thinkers last year, said he first began mulling this issue during his compulsory military service, when he discovered that supplying water to frontline troops in Lebanon or Gaza was a major logistical problem. Thus his original idea was a portable kit that soldiers could take into the field with them, enabling them to generate their own water supply with no input other than air–an idea he successfully pitched to Israel’s Defense Ministry, which enthusiastically backed the venture.

But with growing areas of the globe increasingly threatened by shortages of fresh water, Kohavi’s invention clearly has uses far beyond the military. After the Philippines suffered a severe earthquake in 2013, for instance, the Israel Defense Forces used one of his Water-Gen company’s devices on its disaster-relief mission there. Kohavi is currently working on other civilian applications for his product.

And there are numerous other examples. Just last week, for instance, Reuters ran a story about Israeli tech firms that had designed products to help disabled veterans and are now adapting them to the civilian market.

Israel isn’t the only country in the world that has been at war for decades. But few other countries have taken this obvious drawback and leveraged it into a spate of high-tech development that is benefiting people all over the globe. That determination to turn lemons into lemonade is a major source of Israel’s success–and not just in high-tech.

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Even During the Six Days of 1967, War Was Hell and Context Was Everything

That a portion, albeit a small minority, of Israeli society is deeply critical of its army, and even of the Zionist principles at the core of the state’s purpose, is not a secret or news. Nor is this something that is limited only to Jews and Israelis as Gilbert and Sullivan made clear when they included a line about “the idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone, all centuries but this, and every country but his own” in The Mikado. But with Israel, the stakes are higher than those for Americans or 19th century Britons who always blamed their own country first. Thus the New York Times article lauding a new documentary that seeks to portray the conduct of the Israel Defense Forces during the 1967 Six-Day War in a negative light must be seen not only as an expression of free opinion in a democracy but also an effort to undermine the Jewish state’s self defense. Censored Voices, which was shown at the prestigious Sundance Festival this past weekend, may be based on historical testimony, but its purpose seems more to be to buttress efforts to undermine the IDF’s current efforts than telling untold truths about the past.

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That a portion, albeit a small minority, of Israeli society is deeply critical of its army, and even of the Zionist principles at the core of the state’s purpose, is not a secret or news. Nor is this something that is limited only to Jews and Israelis as Gilbert and Sullivan made clear when they included a line about “the idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone, all centuries but this, and every country but his own” in The Mikado. But with Israel, the stakes are higher than those for Americans or 19th century Britons who always blamed their own country first. Thus the New York Times article lauding a new documentary that seeks to portray the conduct of the Israel Defense Forces during the 1967 Six-Day War in a negative light must be seen not only as an expression of free opinion in a democracy but also an effort to undermine the Jewish state’s self defense. Censored Voices, which was shown at the prestigious Sundance Festival this past weekend, may be based on historical testimony, but its purpose seems more to be to buttress efforts to undermine the IDF’s current efforts than telling untold truths about the past.

As Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren acknowledged, filmmaker Mor Loushy is a leftist critic of her own country. Her only previous effort was a movie that sought to discredit the Israeli tourism industry as being too oriented toward bolstering the Zionist narrative of a nation reborn through pioneering struggle. But she did happen upon a treasure trove of testimony about the Six-Day War when she obtained tapes of testimony about that conflict taken down at the time, much of which was included in a seminal book The Seventh Day. That volume famously explored the misgivings of many Israelis about their unexpected triumph and the sacrifices that were required by war. In particular many spoke of their discomfort about and being the conquerors in the fighting rather than underdogs fighting against long odds. As author Yossi Klein Halevi wrote in his justly acclaimed recent book Like Dreamers, these discussions about the aftermath of that war, which was widely and rightly seen as one of self-defense and survival, presaged all the debates about the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians in the decades that followed.

But not everything in the tapes used for the book were published. Some soldiers spoke of brutal behavior on the part of the IDF during the fighting as well as of claims of abuse of Arab prisoners. It is that material, obtained by Loushy from The Seventh Day’s editor Avraham Shapira, that forms the basis of her documentary.

The accounts upon which the film is based are contemporaneous and from soldiers claiming to be eyewitnesses. Thus, they must be treated as credible or at the very least as the basis for a reasonable investigation into any wrongdoing on the part of IDF soldiers. But Loushy’s motives here, as well as those that seek to laud this film, are not strictly objective. As Loushy tells the Times, she believes that if the topic of Israeli misbehavior were aired more thoroughly in the aftermath of the war, it might have made the country more amenable to accommodating its Arab and Palestinian foes.

This is, of course, nonsense. In the aftermath of its astounding victory in June 1967, Israel made clear its willingness to negotiate withdrawal from the territory that it had gained with the exception of the newly unified city of Jerusalem. The Arab world responded with its famous three “no’s”—no peace, no recognition, and no negotiations—to Israel. Nor have the Palestinians—even the so-called moderates among them—ever transcended their political culture in which rejection of Zionism is intrinsically linked with their national identity. Putting the onus for the lack of peace on Israel is not only illogical; it denies agency to the Palestinians.

But the focus on allegations of Israeli misbehavior—and it must be stressed that the incidents spoken of in the film have not been thoroughly or impartially investigated—also fails to put the issue in context. Israel was fighting for its life in June 1967. The world soon forgot the spectacle of isolated, tiny Israel in May of that year, preparing for an assault by nations whose leaders pledged to drive the Jews into the sea. Prior to the war, mass graves were dug in Israel’s cities in anticipation of large civilian casualties.

It should also be stated that if Israel’s soldiers were wary of taking prisoners or aggressive in their conduct, their activities must judged against the behavior of the troops of Arab armies toward Israelis who fell into their hands and not solely via historical hindsight.

But even if we were to concede that some Israelis didn’t live up to their army’s high standards of conduct, that hardly makes them unique in history. The same sorts of accusations in terms of abuse or killing of prisoners could be lodged against a minority of U.S. troops during World War Two—the “good war” as far as most Americans are concerned. There is just as much, if not more material to splice together an account of G.I. war crimes that could, if taken out of context, make it seem as if the Americans were the bad guys in that war and the Germans and the Japanese were the victims.

But though there are documented instances of Americans crossing the line in that conflict, such an account would tell us nothing about World War Two or about the respective combatants. Whether the war is justified or not or even if the opposing army is composed of genuine villains, war is always hell and even good people may wind up doing bad things. What matters is context. On its own, this topic constitutes a marginal footnote to history. But to re-write the narrative of 1967 to paint Israel as the wrongdoer is more of a falsification of history than anything else. If the point of Censored Voices is to add credence to the efforts to arraign Israel in the dock of international opinion or in that of the International Criminal Court for its efforts to defend the nation against Hamas terrorists, it must be seen as part of the effort to delegitimize the Jewish state.

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Daily Beast Flogs Gaza Atrocity Story Even Human Rights Groups Won’t Touch

If there is anything we have learned in the past few decades is that there is a thriving international journalism market for any story that can besmirch Israel’s image. Given the appetite of the mainstream media for the deluge of negative pieces alleging Israeli misbehavior during the Gaza war, it is therefore interesting to note that one particular such tale circulated by the Daily Beast has gotten no traction. But that hasn’t stopped the website from continuing to promote it despite the threadbare nature of its narrative and the less than sympathetic “victims” of the supposed “war crime.”

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If there is anything we have learned in the past few decades is that there is a thriving international journalism market for any story that can besmirch Israel’s image. Given the appetite of the mainstream media for the deluge of negative pieces alleging Israeli misbehavior during the Gaza war, it is therefore interesting to note that one particular such tale circulated by the Daily Beast has gotten no traction. But that hasn’t stopped the website from continuing to promote it despite the threadbare nature of its narrative and the less than sympathetic “victims” of the supposed “war crime.”

The story revolves around the claim that during the height of the fighting in the terror tunnels along the Israel-Gaza border, the Israel Defense Forces “executed” five Islamic Jihad terrorists who had supposedly peacefully laid down their arms. This is the tale left-wing Canadian journalist Jesse Rosenfeld has been peddling for the last month but none except his employers at the Daily Beast have been biting on it. This troubles Rosenfeld, who complains bitterly in his latest story about the indifference of the world to the allegations as well as the lack of an official commitment by the IDF to investigate his claims.

But there are a couple of easy explanations for this that have nothing to do with any sympathy for Israel on the part of a media corps that is deeply hostile to the Jewish state or the willingness of groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to circulate biased attacks on the IDF.

The first and most basic problem with Rosenfeld’s story is that he has no real proof that any such execution took place.

Islamic Jihad hasn’t made any such claim. Though perhaps that can be explained by the fact that although Rosenfeld’s narrative tries to make the terrorists in question appear as if they were making a heroic, if futile last stand against the dastardly Israelis, the group isn’t likely to embrace any story that ends with fighters that are supposedly eager to embrace death meekly surrendering.

Nor has he a single eyewitness from either side in the fighting or any physical proof of the allegation. The best he can do is to quote at length the claims of a member of Islamic Jihad who says he heard communications with the six on an Islamic Jihad walkie-talkie before they supposedly cried out for mercy when they ran out of ammo and were attacked by Israeli army dogs. He also says he talked to another Islamic Jihadist that Rosenfeld has never met who saw some of the fighting. It’s quite a story, but it’s hearsay piled upon hearsay. And yet he claims this interview is enough to justify a second story about his allegations of atrocities in the town of Khuzaa.

The only thing he has to go on is the fact that he claims to have seen a pile of bodies of slain Islamic Jihad fighters in a Gaza house that was obviously the scene of vicious fighting. After asking around enough, he finally got a Palestinian to tell him a version of what he wanted to hear, but any credible journalist or a responsible editor would have said that this thin tissue of allegations isn’t enough to justify publication let alone a string of stories revolving around the same unsubstantiated allegations.

Another interesting aspect that should be pointed out about this is that virtually all atrocity stories about Israeli behavior tend to involve at least some partial corroboration from soldiers who were unhappy about what they observed. The IDF is a citizen’s army and if something truly appalling happened, the odds are that an Israeli can probably be found who protested or was unhappy about it. But Rosenfeld can find no Israelis who remember anything untoward. Indeed, if there is no IDF investigation (something that can be generated by even the thinnest of accusations) it is because he hasn’t given the army (or anyone else) any information that could be used to start one.

That Rosenfeld should seek to glorify Islamic Jihadists as heroic fighters who fought until their last bullet after which their Israeli adversaries cruelly killed them is also somewhat fishy. The whole focus of the Palestinian propaganda machine, ably assisted by their allies in the media, has been to portray events in Gaza as a case of a powerful Israeli military slaughtering civilians with impunity. During the course of the fighting, journalists operating in Gaza never photographed or filmed Palestinian fighters or their launch of thousands of rockets from the vicinity of schools, mosques, shelters, and hospitals. But Rosenfeld has decided to try and make the most vicious and extreme Islamist terrorists into martyrs without a shred of credible evidence.

Seen from that perspective, it’s little wonder that no one but Rosenfeld has expressed any interest in his scoop. Given the willingness of the international press to publish just about anything negative about Israel, it speaks volumes that Rosenfeld is alone in claiming that this tale is worthy of further investigation. The only question is why the Daily Beast, which has other highly credible foreign news reporters, continues to allow him to circulate an unsubstantiated atrocity story. Rosenfeld’s shameless propaganda is a new low point for the media in a summer of journalistic malpractice in Gaza.

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Did Hamas Win? Not Exactly.

In today’s New York Times, Yediot Aharonot military analyst Ronen Bergman has some sobering conclusions about the fighting in Gaza. While he agrees that in an objective sense, Hamas was defeated on the battlefield by the Israel Defense Forces, it must be acknowledged that the terrorist group exposed some of the army’s deficiencies and may well have established itself as “an equal party in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.”

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In today’s New York Times, Yediot Aharonot military analyst Ronen Bergman has some sobering conclusions about the fighting in Gaza. While he agrees that in an objective sense, Hamas was defeated on the battlefield by the Israel Defense Forces, it must be acknowledged that the terrorist group exposed some of the army’s deficiencies and may well have established itself as “an equal party in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.”

For those who have acted as if Hamas is the victor in the fighting because it forced Israel to counter-attack and thus created havoc in Gaza, our John Podhoretz’s opinion on this issue published last week in the New York Post still holds. Hamas didn’t win. It lost much of its arsenal and saw its carefully built network of border tunnels destroyed before they could be used to pull off a massive terrorist atrocity. And for all the talk about Israel losing in the court of public opinion, it’s not clear that the latest war changed a thing in that battle. Due in no small measure to the rising tide of anti-Semitism, hatred for Israel is greater than ever. But support for the Jewish state here in the United States remains high.

And yet, as the always insightful Bergman notes, the IDF has plenty of lessons to learn from the last month. Iron Dome proved to be one of the greatest technological advances in recent military history as it effectively negated Hamas’s vast arsenal of long- and medium-range rockets (something that was very bad news indeed for Hezbollah which now realizes that their rocket threat on Israel’s northern border is now also officially useless). But along with the high-tech victory, there were also obvious intelligence failures. The Israelis underestimated the size of Hamas’s arsenal as well as the fighting ability of its cadres in Gaza. Nor was the army ready for the size or the scope of the tunnel threat once the fighting started. It will have to invest heavily in efforts to detect tunnel building or face a rerun of that episode in the future. Bergman also notes correctly that Israel’s special forces proved unable or unwilling to pull off any major operations that might have either inflicted great damage on Hamas or deal a devastating blow to the Islamists’ morale.

Does that all add up to a situation in which the war ends pretty much the way it started but “with significant damage to Israel’s deterrence,” as Bergman summed it up?

The hope within Israel’s Defense Ministry is that the devastating damage done to Hamas’s infrastructure will mean that it will be years before the terrorists think about starting another round. But considering that with Hamas seemingly determined to keep the rockets flying until it gets want it wants in negotiations, it is far from certain that this war is really over. Hamas is hoping to keep up a war of attrition and that is the sort of conflict that is hard for any democracy, even one, like Israel, that understands it is locked in a battle for the survival of their homeland, to win.

Moreover, Bergman’s conclusion about Hamas improving its status in negotiations with Egypt and Israel is inarguable. By surviving this war of choice that it started, Hamas can claim a victory of a sort. No matter how badly its forces are whipped in the field or how pathetic its rocket offensive has become with almost no real damage done to Israel despite thousands of attacks, as long as it is still standing when the shooting stops, it hasn’t entirely lost.

Nor does the talk about replacing Hamas with the supposedly more moderate and utterly irrelevant Palestinian Authority—at least at the border crossings—amount to much. Anyone who expects the humanitarian aid—including the concrete for rebuilding Gaza—that will inevitably flow into the strip to be kept out of Hamas’s hands is dreaming. Hamas isn’t giving up power voluntarily and there is no sign that it can be overthrown.

What Bergman’s conclusions do mean is that, as John noted last week, Israel’s only option in this conflict is to stay strong and prepare as best it can for the inevitable next round of a long war. Contrary to President Obama and others who want to save the Jewish state from itself, that war can’t be ended by territorial withdrawals on the West Bank that would create a larger and more dangerous version of Gaza.

Israel has good reason to be proud of its army after the last month. But no one should assume that their victories mean that the threat from Hamas has really been diminished. No one wants to give the murderers and war criminals of Hamas any credit but while their organization remains in charge in Gaza, they haven’t really been defeated. If Israel wants to change that unpalatable strategic conclusion, it’s going to have to do what it understandably appears unwilling to do: re-occupy Gaza and finish the Islamist terror movement once and for all.

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Morality and Self-Defense in Gaza

Today’s New York Times brings us a remarkable insight into the behavior of the Israel Defense Forces. As southern and central Israel were subjected to a relentless barrage of rockets from Hamas-run Gaza, the IDF sought to knock out the launchers and the bases from which they originated. But, as the Times reports, unlike Hamas and its other Palestinian allies, the Israelis are giving warnings to many of those they are trying to hit.

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Today’s New York Times brings us a remarkable insight into the behavior of the Israel Defense Forces. As southern and central Israel were subjected to a relentless barrage of rockets from Hamas-run Gaza, the IDF sought to knock out the launchers and the bases from which they originated. But, as the Times reports, unlike Hamas and its other Palestinian allies, the Israelis are giving warnings to many of those they are trying to hit.

The Israeli practice of calling up people whose homes have been used as Hamas bases or centers of missile production to tell them that a rocket or shell is about to hit them was used in the 2008-09 counter-offensive against Gazan terrorists. Its use is now being stepped up as Israel continues to try to silence the Hamas rockets. But the idea of a country defending its borders and population against terrorist assault by politely asking the people living in and around a legitimate military target to evacuate the place before it is demolished is virtually unprecedented in the history of warfare.

The Israelis are doing it for a number of reasons. One is that the IDF’s code of conduct has always promoted the concept of avoiding civilian casualties whenever possible. The other is that the Palestinians have deliberately sought to provoke Israeli counterattacks that would cause civilian deaths that could then be used to discredit the Jewish state.

But the problem with the practice is twofold.

One is that often the Palestinians don’t heed the warnings. In the case of one building in Khan Younis that Hamas had been using to fire rockets from or otherwise conduct operations, the warnings—a cell phone call and then a flare fired at the roof—came in time for everyone inside the place to flee. Those inside understood what was going on but rather than evacuate the target, local Palestinians decided to gather around the house to form a human shield for the Hamas operations with some even going to the roof of the doomed building. Seven people were killed despite the attempt by the Israelis to demolish the enemy hideout without taking any lives.

The other problem with this method is that if the goal of the tactic is to avoid international criticism, it doesn’t work. Hamas is deliberately firing missiles into heavily populated cities in the hope that some will get through Israel’s missile defenses and injure as many civilians as possible. In response, Israel tries to target Hamas fighters who hide among civilians. But no matter how hard the Israelis try to fight a “clean” war, they still wind up getting attacked by human-rights groups who hold them to a standard that would prohibit virtually any form of self-defense against the terrorists.

While morality and warfare are incompatible almost by definition, Israel has always tried to reconcile the two with mixed success. The only way to win wars is to kill the enemy and make it difficult if not impossible for them to continue fighting. That means removing the means of supply and production of weapons for the opponent. But in the asymmetrical warfare into which the Palestinians have forced Israel, an international community that has little sympathy for the Jewish state’s dilemma has branded the normal means of fighting a war as atrocities.

The standing rebuke to Israel is that its counter-attacks against Hamas targets in Gaza produce more casualties than the Palestinian barrage exacts from Israel. That is as true in the current fight as it was in the past as more than two dozen Palestinians have been killed in the recent exchanges while there have been no Israeli fatalities despite the hundreds of missiles whose purpose was to kill as many Jews as possible. Israeli counter-attacks are always called disproportionate though the last thing the Palestinians would want is for the IDF to respond in kind with attacks that, like those of Hamas, aim to kill civilians.

The notion that Israel needs to apologize for the inaccuracy of Hamas rockets or the success of the Iron dome anti-missile defense system is absurd. But not as absurd as the notion that Israel need apologize for the fact that its strikes on Hamas targets have sometimes exacted a lethal price on the terrorists and those, whether young or old, who were, as in the case with the Khan Younis building, foolish enough to stay in a place that was an obvious military target.

But the discussion about morality in the conflict with Hamas is ultimately pointless. For those who wrongly characterize the fighting going on in the Middle East as merely part of a blood feud between two crazed antagonists, it’s easy to dismiss Israeli efforts to spare the lives of its foes as either inadequate or insignificant in the context of the conduct of an immoral war on the Palestinian people. But to adopt such facile moral relativism is to misunderstand the conflict.

The difference between Hamas and the IDF isn’t merely a matter of technology. It’s that Hamas’s goal is the destruction of the Jewish state and the annihilation of its people. Israel’s goal is to survive and to eventually force the Palestinians to make peace. For those who share the Palestinian belief that the Jewish presence in the country is the real cause of the war, IDF tactics, no matter how fastidious, are irrelevant. By the same token, they consider any form of Palestinian “resistance” to be legitimate even if that means tacit approval for terror such as the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers last month or the indiscriminate firing of missiles on cities.

One can only applaud the tactics employed by the Israelis to avoid needless deaths. Yet even those involved with this noble effort must understand that the most moral thing they can do is to end the terrorist threat to Israeli civilians. Destroying Hamas’s ability to wage another campaign of terrorist warfare is also the most moral thing to do from the perspective of saving Palestinian lives. The people of Gaza will only be safe once the Hamas tyrants who have ruthlessly exploited their suffering are removed from power and stripped of their ability to plunge the region into conflict. Until that is accomplished, any further effort devoted to the discussion about morality and the Gaza conflict is a waste of time.

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For Want of a Camera

Last week’s incident in which two Palestinians were killed in the West Bank–allegedly by Israel Defense Forces soldiers who opened fire without provocation–is still under investigation. But the IDF continues to maintain that the video footage purporting to back this allegation was doctored.

As Jonathan Tobin noted on Wednesday, this isn’t inconceivable; such things have happened before. Even Amnesty researcher Donatella Rovera recently admitted that Palestinians have been known to falsify evidence (though it doesn’t seem to stop her organization from treating every Palestinian claim as gospel truth). Nevertheless, the IDF’s claim would undeniably be more credible if it could produce its own footage showing what really happened.

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Last week’s incident in which two Palestinians were killed in the West Bank–allegedly by Israel Defense Forces soldiers who opened fire without provocation–is still under investigation. But the IDF continues to maintain that the video footage purporting to back this allegation was doctored.

As Jonathan Tobin noted on Wednesday, this isn’t inconceivable; such things have happened before. Even Amnesty researcher Donatella Rovera recently admitted that Palestinians have been known to falsify evidence (though it doesn’t seem to stop her organization from treating every Palestinian claim as gospel truth). Nevertheless, the IDF’s claim would undeniably be more credible if it could produce its own footage showing what really happened.

But of course, it can’t–because one of the most technologically sophisticated armies in the world has somehow proven incapable of equipping its soldiers with the kind of simple cameras found on every cell phone. And so, day after day, week after week, it’s confronted with Palestinian allegations to which the only response it can offer is its soldiers’ unsupported testimony.   

A year ago, I thought the penny had finally dropped: The IDF announced with great fanfare that it had finally decided to train soldiers to film operations in the field. But it now turns out this vaunted project comprises all of 24 cameramen–24 people to provide round-the-clock coverage of the entire West Bank plus the Gaza border. It’s a joke. And not a very funny one.

There’s no reason why every single soldier couldn’t be equipped with a small, wearable camera that would operate automatically. This would have the additional benefit of cutting down on real abuses, from which no army is completely immune. Indeed, several Western countries have experimented with policemen wearing such cameras, and they have generally led to reductions in both real brutality and false claims of brutality.

But what seems like a no-brainer to me evidently isn’t so obvious to Israel’s chronically public-diplomacy-challenged government and army. Otherwise, they would have done something about it by now.

Consequently, this is an issue on which American Jewish help is badly needed. Jewish groups and individuals frequently meet with Israeli officials, both in the U.S. and in Israel, but it probably never occurs to them to raise a minor issue like IDF cameras at those meetings. If they thought of it at all, it would doubtless seem too obvious to need saying.

Unfortunately, it isn’t. And therefore, U.S. Jews would be doing Israel a big service if they started raising this issue at every single meeting with Israeli government officials or army officers. If Israeli leaders keep hearing about it from American Jews, maybe they’ll finally realize how important it is.

Or maybe they still won’t. But it’s worth a try–because waiting for them to figure it out on their own certainly isn’t working.

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Hamas Can Win Even By Losing

Israel’s Defense Forces have, by all accounts, performed well during Operation Pillar of Defense. In the wake of the massive bombardment of southern Israel by Hamas, the IDF carried out a deft targeted assassination of the head of the group’s military wing and carried out a wave of pinpoint bombings of terrorist missile caches and arms factories inside Gaza. The leadership of the terrorist movement that governs Gaza with an iron fist is cowering in the bunkers. Though there have been some unfortunate civilian casualties, they have been kept to a minimum despite the fact that Hamas has tried to hide its armaments and its personnel among noncombatants.

But these achievements should not obscure the fact that although Israel’s military is doing everything it can to suppress the missile fire, the terrorists have still managed to launch hundreds in the last two days, with a few even penetrating as far as the greater Tel Aviv area. Just as troubling is the heavy-duty diplomatic support the group has received from its regional allies Egypt and Turkey in addition to Russia’s refusal to join the West in supporting Israel’s right to self-defense.

Though the group has taken a pounding from the IDF, it may well have achieved the objectives it had in mind when it decided to use the aftermath of the U.S. presidential election to escalate the conflict with Israel. Whatever else has happened in the last week, Hamas has demonstrated the irrelevance of the Palestinian Authority and made clear that it, and not PA head Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party, is the face of Palestinian nationalism. By slamming hundreds of missiles in the last week into Israel it may have squandered part of the arsenal of more than 10,000 rockets it has amassed in the last four years and suffered a blow to its leadership. But it has also illustrated that the independent Palestinian state it has erected in Gaza is supported by the Arab and Muslim world and is, for all intents and purposes, invulnerable to international pressure or Israeli attacks. If that isn’t a victory for terrorism, I don’t know what else you could call it.

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Israel’s Defense Forces have, by all accounts, performed well during Operation Pillar of Defense. In the wake of the massive bombardment of southern Israel by Hamas, the IDF carried out a deft targeted assassination of the head of the group’s military wing and carried out a wave of pinpoint bombings of terrorist missile caches and arms factories inside Gaza. The leadership of the terrorist movement that governs Gaza with an iron fist is cowering in the bunkers. Though there have been some unfortunate civilian casualties, they have been kept to a minimum despite the fact that Hamas has tried to hide its armaments and its personnel among noncombatants.

But these achievements should not obscure the fact that although Israel’s military is doing everything it can to suppress the missile fire, the terrorists have still managed to launch hundreds in the last two days, with a few even penetrating as far as the greater Tel Aviv area. Just as troubling is the heavy-duty diplomatic support the group has received from its regional allies Egypt and Turkey in addition to Russia’s refusal to join the West in supporting Israel’s right to self-defense.

Though the group has taken a pounding from the IDF, it may well have achieved the objectives it had in mind when it decided to use the aftermath of the U.S. presidential election to escalate the conflict with Israel. Whatever else has happened in the last week, Hamas has demonstrated the irrelevance of the Palestinian Authority and made clear that it, and not PA head Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party, is the face of Palestinian nationalism. By slamming hundreds of missiles in the last week into Israel it may have squandered part of the arsenal of more than 10,000 rockets it has amassed in the last four years and suffered a blow to its leadership. But it has also illustrated that the independent Palestinian state it has erected in Gaza is supported by the Arab and Muslim world and is, for all intents and purposes, invulnerable to international pressure or Israeli attacks. If that isn’t a victory for terrorism, I don’t know what else you could call it.

In comparing this conflict to the one Hamas provoked at the end of 2008 when Israel was forced to launch Operation Cast Lead to try to put an end to the battering of its southern region, it’s clear the IDF has learned from its mistakes. The stories about Israel slaughtering Palestinians in 2008 were false since the vast majority of the 1,400 Arabs killed in the conflict were armed fighters, not civilians. Nevertheless, even more care has been taken this time. Israel is also doing much better at getting its message about the necessity of self-defense out to the world via both conventional means and social media.

But it must be understood that Hamas is in a much stronger position than it was four years ago.

Rather than Hamas being isolated, as it was in 2008, the Islamist governments of Egypt and Turkey are now powerful supporters of the Gaza regime. The Egyptians are openly backing Hamas and even sending their prime minister to Gaza to express solidarity while the group’s missiles rain down on Israeli civilian targets. Rather than counting on foreign volunteers or Palestinian civilians to serve as human shields for its terrorist cadres, Hamas can now depend on high-ranking Egyptian officials to visit even while it is still shooting at Israel.

Hamas is also counting on the usual routine of international diplomacy to save them from the consequences of their aggression. Though the Obama administration, along with the West, is backing Israel’s right to self-defense, tolerance for Israeli counter-attacks is probably limited and it won’t be long before Washington joins Moscow in calling for a cease-fire that will rescue Hamas from having more of its leadership and its weaponry eliminated.

Hamas also knows that although Israel is calling up reserves and sending them to the border in an attempt to intimidate the group into ending the shooting, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reluctant to launch a ground attack that will result in more casualties on both sides. A ground operation might do much to increase the pain for Hamas and to alter the cost-benefit ratio of their offensive so much as to perhaps turn this victory into a defeat. But that would come at a steep price for Israel in terms of its already shaky diplomatic situation.

All this means that if a cease-fire is agreed to in the next few days without much more damage being inflicted on the group, Hamas will have won a not inconsiderable victory.

Despite the Iron Dome anti-rocket system touted by both Israel and the United States, Hamas has shown it can still inflict tremendous pain on the Jewish state and even threaten metropolitan Tel Aviv. Iron Dome has intercepted less than half of the projectiles launched against Israel and saved many lives, but it can’t get all of them.

Hamas’s diplomatic support, particularly from Egypt, has demonstrated that it is invulnerable to pressure from the United States or anyone else. Israelis have also been reminded that no matter how outrageous the provocations of its enemies, much of the world will still insist that the Jewish state is at fault any time it defends itself.

While a cessation of missile fire will be a relief if it happens in the coming days, neither Israel’s government nor its population or its foreign supporters should take any satisfaction from what has happened this week. Netanyahu had no choice but to respond to Hamas and to do what he could to maintain Israel’s deterrence. But what we are watching shows that when you have a terrorist state on your doorstep that the world will not allow you to depose, there are no good options available to you and little chance for a good outcome.

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Now for a Public Service Announcement from the IDF

In response to months of sustained Hamas rocket attacks, the IDF kicked off its Gaza military operation this morning by dropping a missile onto Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari’s car. From the Israel Defense Forces Twitter feed, a fair warning to any of the late Jabari’s comrades who may have been thinking about taking a drive later today:

We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.

— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) November 14, 2012

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In response to months of sustained Hamas rocket attacks, the IDF kicked off its Gaza military operation this morning by dropping a missile onto Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari’s car. From the Israel Defense Forces Twitter feed, a fair warning to any of the late Jabari’s comrades who may have been thinking about taking a drive later today:

We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces above ground in the days ahead.

— IDF (@IDFSpokesperson) November 14, 2012

One thing that sets this military campaign apart from similar ones in the past is what you see above — the IDF’s very active social media response. The Israeli government was clearly prepared for a media operation as well as a military one this morning, and immediately began putting out information on Twitter and YouTube, including this video footage of the ultra-precise Jabari strike. In fact, the IDF Twitter stream has been busy all day. Clearly it makes it difficult for Hamas and Hamas sympathizers to claim Israel is intentionally targeting civilians, and for the left to claim Israel is reckless about civilian casualties, if clips like this are made public.

The Israel Project has more on the campaign, which also appears aimed at depleting Hamas weapons stockpiles:

Washington, November 14 — Responding to months of rocket barrages by Hamas-led terror groups targeting more than a million Israeli civilians, the IDF today launched a widespread campaign targeting military infrastructure and operatives in the Gaza Strip. The campaign has been identified by Israeli military officials as “Operation Pillar Of Defense,” and began with a pin-point strike targeting Ahmed Jabari, the commander of Hamas’s military wing and a terrorist linked to hundreds of terror operations over the span of decades. … 

Early reports indicate that in addition to targeting Hamas’s senior military leadership, Israel is specifically seeking to degrade Hamas’s stockpiles of these and other advanced weapons. Media outlets are reporting that the Israeli Air Force struck a suspected stockpile of advanced Fajr 5 missiles smuggled into the Gaza Strip from Iran. The weapon’s use in 2006 by Hezbollah, Iran’s Lebanese proxy, had constituted a major escalation during that year’s Lebanon II war with Israel.

Israel is calling it “Operation Pillar of Defense” in English, and “Operation Pillar of Cloud” in Hebrew. The Hebrew name is a reference to the “pillar of cloud” that led the Jewish people through the desert in Exodus.

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Rockets Prove Hamas Hasn’t Changed

In just the last month, Israel’s partial blockade of Hamas-run Gaza was subjected to a new round of condemnations by Amnesty International and other groups purporting to speak on behalf of the cause of human rights that are supposedly being violated by the Jewish state. The fact that Israel has never halted the flow of food or medicine into the strip and has continued to allow it to be hooked up to the country’s electrical grid and only sought to hold back construction materials and armaments has not stopped Israel-haters from promoting the myth that there is a humanitarian disaster going on in Gaza. Despite the loosening of the already lax blockade in the last year and the steady flow of material into Gaza via the now open border with Egypt or the smuggling tunnels run by Hamas, the complaints about Israel continue. But unfortunately, so too does the barrage of terrorist missiles from Gaza into southern Israel.

In the first six months of 2011, in a time when there was supposedly a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, nearly 300 rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza. That is a routine of terror that residents of the Jewish state have been accustomed to and which is met by silence from both the international community and the human rights crowd. But in the last day, the routine has escalated to the exceptional, as more than 40 missiles and mortar shells were launched from Gaza, resulting in a few casualties as well as frayed nerves throughout the affected area. Though Israel’s early warning system and missile defenses (as well as the poor aim of the Palestinians) prevented any fatalities, the latest surge of violence gives the lie both to the assertion that Hamas has adopted a policy of non-violence and the contention of Israel’s critics that its measures of self-defense against the terrorist army based there are unnecessary.

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In just the last month, Israel’s partial blockade of Hamas-run Gaza was subjected to a new round of condemnations by Amnesty International and other groups purporting to speak on behalf of the cause of human rights that are supposedly being violated by the Jewish state. The fact that Israel has never halted the flow of food or medicine into the strip and has continued to allow it to be hooked up to the country’s electrical grid and only sought to hold back construction materials and armaments has not stopped Israel-haters from promoting the myth that there is a humanitarian disaster going on in Gaza. Despite the loosening of the already lax blockade in the last year and the steady flow of material into Gaza via the now open border with Egypt or the smuggling tunnels run by Hamas, the complaints about Israel continue. But unfortunately, so too does the barrage of terrorist missiles from Gaza into southern Israel.

In the first six months of 2011, in a time when there was supposedly a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, nearly 300 rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza. That is a routine of terror that residents of the Jewish state have been accustomed to and which is met by silence from both the international community and the human rights crowd. But in the last day, the routine has escalated to the exceptional, as more than 40 missiles and mortar shells were launched from Gaza, resulting in a few casualties as well as frayed nerves throughout the affected area. Though Israel’s early warning system and missile defenses (as well as the poor aim of the Palestinians) prevented any fatalities, the latest surge of violence gives the lie both to the assertion that Hamas has adopted a policy of non-violence and the contention of Israel’s critics that its measures of self-defense against the terrorist army based there are unnecessary.

Lest there be any doubt about who is responsible for the rockets raining down on Israel, Hamas decided to claim responsibility for the escalation rather than to let some splinter group claim the glory of firing on the Jews. The attacks come only a day after a terror squad crossed from Gaza through Egyptian territory to hit Israel and kill one person (an Israeli Arab construction worker).

It’s not clear whether the proximate cause of the attacks was a desire to make a point about events in Egypt, where the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood — the group that spawned Hamas — won the presidency. Another possible theory is that it is related to internal Palestinian politics and reflects the justified concern on the part of Hamas that it is losing popularity because of the relative paucity of its attacks on Jewish targets in the last year.

But either way, the Kassam rockets, Grad missiles and mortar shells landing on Israeli buildings and fields are just the latest proof that the independent state that exists in all but name in Gaza is an armed camp whose main purpose is to continue the war on Israel’s existence. The idea that Gaza’s rulers should be trusted to join the government of the West Bank and then be granted the freedom to carry on their war on the Jews there is one that most Israelis regard as nothing short of insanity–even if it is what most of the international community ardently desires. Israel’s leaders will decide the nature and the timing of a response to the escalation. But the rockets are a reminder that the claims Hamas has reformed itself or that Israel need not fear the military buildup going on in Gaza are myths aimed at undermining the security of the Jewish state.

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Insights on Egypt from Israel

Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yaakov Amidror, who held several senior posts in the Israel Defense Forces, including head of the IDF division preparing Israel’s National Intelligence Assessment, held a conference call this morning sponsored by One Jerusalem. In discussing Egypt, he said this:

There is no question that this is one of the fruits of the Internet technology — that these are mechanisms which give people the ability to organize without an organization … [T]his is the strength of the opposition: the fact that it was not organized by someone, but is a matter of people who organized themselves.

But when it comes to the next stage …  I mean “We don’t want Mubarak” is okay, but now you want something that can bring you to another stage. For that, you need an organization. And in elections after some months, there are very few organizations who have the ability to organize themselves … [other than] the Muslim Brotherhood. They have a long history, they have very deep roots in the society and when they compete with other elements of the opposition, which do not have these traditions, this organization, these roots, it is a new phenomenon …

In The Case for Democracy, Natan Sharansky warned that elections are never the beginning of the democratic process, but can only occur after the basic institutions of a free society are in place — a free press, the rule of law, independent courts, political parties. It was why he praised George W. Bush’s landmark June 24, 2002, speech conditioning U.S. support for a Palestinian state on prior Palestinian success in building “a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty” — and then opposed the Roadmap, which he viewed as Bush’s abandonment of that condition in exchange for faith in Mahmoud Abbas as a “moderate.”

Sharansky’s insight was that moderation is not a function of a leader’s disposition or promises but of the society he governs: “One can rely on a free society to create the moderate, but one cannot rely on a moderate to create a free society.” In thinking about Egypt and its future, perhaps we can profit from a comparison of the Bush administration’s great achievement — the long, hard slog to create a representative government in Iraq — and the administration’s signal failure: the “shortcut” elections it sponsored in 2006 that produced the victory of Hamas.

The Obama administration’s current approach may be, as former State Department senior adviser Christian Whiton argues, too clever by half — closer to what produced Hamastan than what is necessary for a lasting democratic result.

Maj. Gen. (Res.) Yaakov Amidror, who held several senior posts in the Israel Defense Forces, including head of the IDF division preparing Israel’s National Intelligence Assessment, held a conference call this morning sponsored by One Jerusalem. In discussing Egypt, he said this:

There is no question that this is one of the fruits of the Internet technology — that these are mechanisms which give people the ability to organize without an organization … [T]his is the strength of the opposition: the fact that it was not organized by someone, but is a matter of people who organized themselves.

But when it comes to the next stage …  I mean “We don’t want Mubarak” is okay, but now you want something that can bring you to another stage. For that, you need an organization. And in elections after some months, there are very few organizations who have the ability to organize themselves … [other than] the Muslim Brotherhood. They have a long history, they have very deep roots in the society and when they compete with other elements of the opposition, which do not have these traditions, this organization, these roots, it is a new phenomenon …

In The Case for Democracy, Natan Sharansky warned that elections are never the beginning of the democratic process, but can only occur after the basic institutions of a free society are in place — a free press, the rule of law, independent courts, political parties. It was why he praised George W. Bush’s landmark June 24, 2002, speech conditioning U.S. support for a Palestinian state on prior Palestinian success in building “a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty” — and then opposed the Roadmap, which he viewed as Bush’s abandonment of that condition in exchange for faith in Mahmoud Abbas as a “moderate.”

Sharansky’s insight was that moderation is not a function of a leader’s disposition or promises but of the society he governs: “One can rely on a free society to create the moderate, but one cannot rely on a moderate to create a free society.” In thinking about Egypt and its future, perhaps we can profit from a comparison of the Bush administration’s great achievement — the long, hard slog to create a representative government in Iraq — and the administration’s signal failure: the “shortcut” elections it sponsored in 2006 that produced the victory of Hamas.

The Obama administration’s current approach may be, as former State Department senior adviser Christian Whiton argues, too clever by half — closer to what produced Hamastan than what is necessary for a lasting democratic result.

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Incitement Kills — but Not Always Its Intended Target

The Israel Defense Forces has finally published the conclusion of its inquiry into the death of Jawaher Abu Rahmah, the woman allegedly killed by Israeli tear gas while protesting the security fence in the West Bank town of Bili’in last month. The official conclusion of the inquiry, based on Abu Rahmah’s hospital records, is medical error: a misdiagnosis leading to inappropriate treatment. But if that conclusion is correct, then what really killed Abu Rahmah is not mere error but the Palestinians’ own anti-Israel incitement.

The inquiry concluded that “doctors believed Abu Rahmah was sickened by phosphorous fertilizer and nerve gas. She was therefore treated with atropine and fluids, without Palestinian doctors realizing that she had in fact inhaled tear gas.”

Atropine is the standard treatment for poisonous gas. But it can be deadly if given in large doses to someone who hasn’t inhaled poison gas.

And this is where incitement comes in. Anyone who knows anything about Israel would know that the IDF doesn’t even use nerve gas against combatants armed with sophisticated weapons, much less against rock-throwing demonstrators.

But wild allegations of preposterous Israeli crimes are standard fare among Palestinians, and indeed throughout the Arab world. Israel has been accused of everything from poisoning Palestinian wells with depleted uranium to sending sharks to attack Egypt’s Red Sea resorts in order to undermine that country’s tourist industry. And one staple of this genre is the claim that Israel uses poison gas against Palestinians. Indeed, the claim was publicly made by no less a person than Yasir Arafat’s wife in a 1999 meeting with then-First Lady Hillary Clinton: Suha Arafat charged that “intensive daily use of poison gas by Israeli forces” was causing cancer among Palestinians.

Had it not been for the fact that such preposterous claims are so routinely reported as fact that they have become widely believed, Abu Rahmah’s doctors would never have entertained the possibility that her symptoms were caused by poison gas. They would instead have focused on plausible causes of her complaint, and thereby avoided the fatal misdiagnosis.

Palestinian incitement has cost Israel thousands of dead and wounded and contributed to the blackening of its image overseas. But the Abu Rahmah case underscores the fact that the ultimate victim of such lies is the society that perpetrates them. For when the distinction between truth and falsehood loses all meaning, a society becomes dysfunctional.

You can’t run a functioning legal system if rampant conspiracy theories mean key verdicts will be widely disbelieved, as may well be the case with the inquiry into former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination. You can’t run an army if you fall so captive to your own propaganda that you misread both your own and the enemy’s capabilities — a fact that contributed to the Arabs states’ disastrous loss to Israel in 1967. And it turns out you can’t save lives if you let propaganda warp your diagnoses.

The Israel Defense Forces has finally published the conclusion of its inquiry into the death of Jawaher Abu Rahmah, the woman allegedly killed by Israeli tear gas while protesting the security fence in the West Bank town of Bili’in last month. The official conclusion of the inquiry, based on Abu Rahmah’s hospital records, is medical error: a misdiagnosis leading to inappropriate treatment. But if that conclusion is correct, then what really killed Abu Rahmah is not mere error but the Palestinians’ own anti-Israel incitement.

The inquiry concluded that “doctors believed Abu Rahmah was sickened by phosphorous fertilizer and nerve gas. She was therefore treated with atropine and fluids, without Palestinian doctors realizing that she had in fact inhaled tear gas.”

Atropine is the standard treatment for poisonous gas. But it can be deadly if given in large doses to someone who hasn’t inhaled poison gas.

And this is where incitement comes in. Anyone who knows anything about Israel would know that the IDF doesn’t even use nerve gas against combatants armed with sophisticated weapons, much less against rock-throwing demonstrators.

But wild allegations of preposterous Israeli crimes are standard fare among Palestinians, and indeed throughout the Arab world. Israel has been accused of everything from poisoning Palestinian wells with depleted uranium to sending sharks to attack Egypt’s Red Sea resorts in order to undermine that country’s tourist industry. And one staple of this genre is the claim that Israel uses poison gas against Palestinians. Indeed, the claim was publicly made by no less a person than Yasir Arafat’s wife in a 1999 meeting with then-First Lady Hillary Clinton: Suha Arafat charged that “intensive daily use of poison gas by Israeli forces” was causing cancer among Palestinians.

Had it not been for the fact that such preposterous claims are so routinely reported as fact that they have become widely believed, Abu Rahmah’s doctors would never have entertained the possibility that her symptoms were caused by poison gas. They would instead have focused on plausible causes of her complaint, and thereby avoided the fatal misdiagnosis.

Palestinian incitement has cost Israel thousands of dead and wounded and contributed to the blackening of its image overseas. But the Abu Rahmah case underscores the fact that the ultimate victim of such lies is the society that perpetrates them. For when the distinction between truth and falsehood loses all meaning, a society becomes dysfunctional.

You can’t run a functioning legal system if rampant conspiracy theories mean key verdicts will be widely disbelieved, as may well be the case with the inquiry into former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination. You can’t run an army if you fall so captive to your own propaganda that you misread both your own and the enemy’s capabilities — a fact that contributed to the Arabs states’ disastrous loss to Israel in 1967. And it turns out you can’t save lives if you let propaganda warp your diagnoses.

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Time Magazine Takes Its Israel Hatred to a New Level

Yesterday, I wrote that the recent controversial legislation at the Knesset would likely result in a full-fledged freak-out from the left over Israel’s supposed slide toward totalitarianism, and this morning Time magazine didn’t disappoint. How bad is it? Let’s just say that Time might as well save the money it spends on its Jerusalem-bureau reporters by publishing full press releases from the Elders instead.

The article, titled “Israel’s Rightward Lurch Scares Even Some Conservatives,” is packed full of misinformation and outright contempt for the Jewish state. The online version also includes links to alleged atrocities committed by Israel — i.e., “Watch video of Israel preparing to deport children of migrant workers,” “See photographs of young Palestinians in the age of Israel’s security wall,” “Watch video of the water crisis in the West Bank.”

It was written by Time’s Jerusalem-bureau chief, Karl Vick, who penned the November cover story about how Israelis were too busy living the 90210 lifestyle to worry about the peace process. The biased statements and factual inaccuracies in his latest piece are honestly too numerous to go through for a line-by-line rebuttal, but here’s a brief rundown of the worst of it.

1.    It claims — without evidence — that Jawaher Abu Rahma was killed by tear gas from IDF soldiers:

Last week, after a Palestinian woman died after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli troops, army spokesmen mounted a whisper campaign suggesting she died of natural causes. The unlikely, anonymous explanation was played prominently by Israeli newspapers. Those who said otherwise stood accused of “trying to de-legitimize the Israel Defense Forces.”

I wrote a full roundup of the IDF’s investigation into Abu Rahma’s death — which Vick nonsensically characterizes as a “whisper campaign” — here.

2.   It reports factually incorrect information about the recent NGO law passed by the Knesset and compares Israel to authoritarian states:

“Just last week, the coalition prompted cries of McCarthyism when it moved to crack down on Israeli human rights organizations deemed suspicious by a government that increasingly equates dissent with disloyalty. Taking a page from neighboring authoritarian states, Netanyahu encouraged support for the law, appointing a panel to investigate independent organizations that are critical of government actions.”

There are good reasons to oppose the NGO law, but to say that the panel was appointed to investigate groups simply because they are “critical of government actions” is completely disingenuous and inaccurate. The panel was created to examine whether NGOs involved in the delegitimization movement were being funded by foreign governments. It’s fine to disagree with such a move, as the American Jewish Committee did, but there is no need to blatantly mischaracterize it as Vick does.

3.   It quotes a historian who stops just shy of comparing Israel to Nazi Germany:

Ron Pundak, a historian who runs the Peres Center for Peace, sees the current atmosphere of Israeli politics as the ugliest in the nation’s history. “It’s totally abnormal,” he says. “From my point of view, this is reminiscent of the dark ages of different places in the world in the 1930s. Maybe not Germany, but Italy, maybe Argentina later. I fear we are reaching a slippery slope, if we are not already there.”

Yes, Time has always been renowned for its anti-Israel bias, but this article takes it to a new level. This is the type of story you’d expect to find on the Electronic Intifada — and it’s shameful that a mainstream publication is stooping to that level.

Yesterday, I wrote that the recent controversial legislation at the Knesset would likely result in a full-fledged freak-out from the left over Israel’s supposed slide toward totalitarianism, and this morning Time magazine didn’t disappoint. How bad is it? Let’s just say that Time might as well save the money it spends on its Jerusalem-bureau reporters by publishing full press releases from the Elders instead.

The article, titled “Israel’s Rightward Lurch Scares Even Some Conservatives,” is packed full of misinformation and outright contempt for the Jewish state. The online version also includes links to alleged atrocities committed by Israel — i.e., “Watch video of Israel preparing to deport children of migrant workers,” “See photographs of young Palestinians in the age of Israel’s security wall,” “Watch video of the water crisis in the West Bank.”

It was written by Time’s Jerusalem-bureau chief, Karl Vick, who penned the November cover story about how Israelis were too busy living the 90210 lifestyle to worry about the peace process. The biased statements and factual inaccuracies in his latest piece are honestly too numerous to go through for a line-by-line rebuttal, but here’s a brief rundown of the worst of it.

1.    It claims — without evidence — that Jawaher Abu Rahma was killed by tear gas from IDF soldiers:

Last week, after a Palestinian woman died after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli troops, army spokesmen mounted a whisper campaign suggesting she died of natural causes. The unlikely, anonymous explanation was played prominently by Israeli newspapers. Those who said otherwise stood accused of “trying to de-legitimize the Israel Defense Forces.”

I wrote a full roundup of the IDF’s investigation into Abu Rahma’s death — which Vick nonsensically characterizes as a “whisper campaign” — here.

2.   It reports factually incorrect information about the recent NGO law passed by the Knesset and compares Israel to authoritarian states:

“Just last week, the coalition prompted cries of McCarthyism when it moved to crack down on Israeli human rights organizations deemed suspicious by a government that increasingly equates dissent with disloyalty. Taking a page from neighboring authoritarian states, Netanyahu encouraged support for the law, appointing a panel to investigate independent organizations that are critical of government actions.”

There are good reasons to oppose the NGO law, but to say that the panel was appointed to investigate groups simply because they are “critical of government actions” is completely disingenuous and inaccurate. The panel was created to examine whether NGOs involved in the delegitimization movement were being funded by foreign governments. It’s fine to disagree with such a move, as the American Jewish Committee did, but there is no need to blatantly mischaracterize it as Vick does.

3.   It quotes a historian who stops just shy of comparing Israel to Nazi Germany:

Ron Pundak, a historian who runs the Peres Center for Peace, sees the current atmosphere of Israeli politics as the ugliest in the nation’s history. “It’s totally abnormal,” he says. “From my point of view, this is reminiscent of the dark ages of different places in the world in the 1930s. Maybe not Germany, but Italy, maybe Argentina later. I fear we are reaching a slippery slope, if we are not already there.”

Yes, Time has always been renowned for its anti-Israel bias, but this article takes it to a new level. This is the type of story you’d expect to find on the Electronic Intifada — and it’s shameful that a mainstream publication is stooping to that level.

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Did the Media Get Played by New ‘Pallywood’ Hoax?

The reports of a Palestinian activist who allegedly died from inhaling IDF tear gas at a pro-Palestinian demonstration have sparked an outpouring of condemnation from the international community. But it looks like the story — or at least the version told by Palestinian activists — may have been a total fabrication. An IDF investigation revealed multiple inconsistencies in the woman’s medical report, and some officials now believe she may have been terminally ill long before the rally began:

Military sources said, however, that there was no evidence that Abu Rahmah even participated in Friday’s demonstration against the security barrier in Bil’in — nor that she died from inhaling tear gas.

Following repeated requests from Israel’s defense establishment, the Palestinian Authority on Monday turned over the medical report on Abu Rahmah’s death. IDF officials say the medical report contradicts the family’s version of events.

According to information obtained by Haaretz from Palestinian medical sources, in the weeks before Abu Rahmah’s death she was taking drugs prescribed for a medical condition. It is not known whether these drugs, combined with the tear gas and the “skunk bombs” used by the soldiers, could have caused her death.

Her family says Abu Rahmah’s death was caused by the Israel Defense Forces’ use of a particularly lethal type of tear gas, but they cannot explain why other demonstrators affected by the tear gas did not need medical care.

Rahmah’s brother also confirmed that she had been suffering health problems in the weeks leading up to the rally:

Abu Rahmah’s brother Samir said that for several weeks his sister had complained of bad headaches, mainly near one ear. He said she also had dizzy spells and problems keeping her balance and had unusual marks on her skin.

Whatever the cause of Rahmah’s death, it’s extremely premature to blame the IDF’s use of tear gas, to say the least. This case holds a striking resemblance to the 2000 Al Dura case, where the shooting of a young Palestinian boy was falsely blamed on the IDF. In light of that incident — and other similar “Pallywood” (Palestinian + Hollywood) hoaxes — the media should treat reports like this with proper scrutiny. Read More

The reports of a Palestinian activist who allegedly died from inhaling IDF tear gas at a pro-Palestinian demonstration have sparked an outpouring of condemnation from the international community. But it looks like the story — or at least the version told by Palestinian activists — may have been a total fabrication. An IDF investigation revealed multiple inconsistencies in the woman’s medical report, and some officials now believe she may have been terminally ill long before the rally began:

Military sources said, however, that there was no evidence that Abu Rahmah even participated in Friday’s demonstration against the security barrier in Bil’in — nor that she died from inhaling tear gas.

Following repeated requests from Israel’s defense establishment, the Palestinian Authority on Monday turned over the medical report on Abu Rahmah’s death. IDF officials say the medical report contradicts the family’s version of events.

According to information obtained by Haaretz from Palestinian medical sources, in the weeks before Abu Rahmah’s death she was taking drugs prescribed for a medical condition. It is not known whether these drugs, combined with the tear gas and the “skunk bombs” used by the soldiers, could have caused her death.

Her family says Abu Rahmah’s death was caused by the Israel Defense Forces’ use of a particularly lethal type of tear gas, but they cannot explain why other demonstrators affected by the tear gas did not need medical care.

Rahmah’s brother also confirmed that she had been suffering health problems in the weeks leading up to the rally:

Abu Rahmah’s brother Samir said that for several weeks his sister had complained of bad headaches, mainly near one ear. He said she also had dizzy spells and problems keeping her balance and had unusual marks on her skin.

Whatever the cause of Rahmah’s death, it’s extremely premature to blame the IDF’s use of tear gas, to say the least. This case holds a striking resemblance to the 2000 Al Dura case, where the shooting of a young Palestinian boy was falsely blamed on the IDF. In light of that incident — and other similar “Pallywood” (Palestinian + Hollywood) hoaxes — the media should treat reports like this with proper scrutiny.

Of course, it’s far too much to ask for some news outlets to behave responsibly, especially when it comes to demonizing Israel. One of the worst offenders on the Rahmah story was the NYT’s Isabel Kershner, who unquestioningly regurgitated the claims of Palestinian activists in an article headlined “Tear Gas Kills Palestinian Protester”:

A Palestinian woman died Saturday after inhaling tear gas fired by Israeli forces a day earlier at a protest against Israel’s separation barrier in a West Bank village.

A hospital director, Dr. Muhammad Aideh, said the woman had arrived on Friday suffering from tear-gas asphyxiation and died despite hours of treatment.

The article didn’t question why one protester would die from non-toxic tear gas in an open, outdoor space while the hundreds of people around her remained unharmed. There was also apparently no attempt to get a comment on the death from any official Israeli sources.

Other outlets that blindly swallowed the original story were the Washington Post and the JTA.

But it wasn’t just the media that hyped the original allegations. Multiple NGOs were also quick to issue premature condemnations of Israel, according to NGO Monitor.

“NGO officials and media outlets made serious allegations about Jawaher Abu-Rahmah’s death, without verifying claims or checking the many inconsistencies in the reports,” said Prof. Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, in an e-mailed press release. “We again see that NGOs issue statements and condemnations consistent with their own political agendas, but lack the ability to verify any of the details.” Some of these groups included B’Tselem, Yesh Din, and Physicians for Human Rights in Israel.

The fact that so many organizations and media outlets jumped the gun on this issue is revealing. They’re obviously eager, for whatever reason, to attack Israel whenever possible, no matter how shoddy the allegations. An immediate correction should be demanded from the New York Times and any other publication that picked up the original story.

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West Bank Shows There Is a Military Solution to Terror

The “expert” report Max cited yesterday, which declared Afghanistan unwinnable even while acknowledging progress in the war, reflects a broader problem: the claim that “there is no military solution to terror” has become virtually unchallenged dogma among Western intelligentsia. Yet as Israel’s experience in the West Bank shows, terrorist organizations can be defeated — if their opponents are willing to invest the requisite time and resources.

In March 2002, Israel was at the height of a terrorist war begun in 2000 that ultimately claimed more victims — mainly civilians — than all the terror of the preceding 53 years combined. Every day saw multiple attacks, and a day without fatalities was rare. But then Israel launched a multi-year military campaign that steadily reduced Israeli fatalities from a peak of 450 in 2002 to 13 in 2007.

Last month, Haaretz published two other statistics reflecting this success: the number of wanted terrorists in the West Bank, once in the hundreds, is now almost zero. And Israeli troop levels in the West Bank are lower than they have been since the first intifada began in 1987.

Western bon ton likes to credit these achievements to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his American-trained security forces. But in reality, the number of Israelis killed by West Bank terror in the year before May 2008, when Fayyad’s forces began deploying, was all of eight — virtually identical to last year’s five and this year’s six. Indeed, had the war not already been over, Israel wouldn’t have agreed to Fayyad’s plan.

What produced this victory was the grunt work of counterterrorism: intelligence, arrests, interrogations, military operations, and, above all, enough boots on the ground long enough to make this possible. That wasn’t obvious in advance: as Haaretz reported, many senior Israel Defense Forces officers accepted the dogma that terrorist organizations can’t be defeated, because they have an infinite supply of new recruits. But then-Shin Bet security service chief Avi Dichter, who insisted that “the ‘terror barrel’ had a bottom,” proved correct.

What Dichter understood was that while there may be millions of potential terrorist recruits, counterterrorism can dry up the supply of actual recruits by making terrorism a business that doesn’t pay. The more terrorists you arrest or kill, the more potential recruits decide that the likelihood of death or imprisonment has become too high to make terror an attractive proposition.

Two articles, in 2007 and 2008, reveal how this dynamic works: Palestinian terrorists, once lionized, were now unmarriageable, because the near-certainty of Israeli retribution made marriage to a wanted man no life. As one father explained: “I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one. I want her to have a good life, without having the army coming into her house all the time to arrest her while her husband escapes into the streets.” And therefore, the terrorists were quitting.

Most terrorists aren’t die-hard fanatics, and non-fanatics respond to cost-benefit incentives. When terrorist organizations rule the roost, recruits will flock to their banner. But when the costs start outweighing the benefits, they will desert in droves. And then the “unwinnable” war is won.

The “expert” report Max cited yesterday, which declared Afghanistan unwinnable even while acknowledging progress in the war, reflects a broader problem: the claim that “there is no military solution to terror” has become virtually unchallenged dogma among Western intelligentsia. Yet as Israel’s experience in the West Bank shows, terrorist organizations can be defeated — if their opponents are willing to invest the requisite time and resources.

In March 2002, Israel was at the height of a terrorist war begun in 2000 that ultimately claimed more victims — mainly civilians — than all the terror of the preceding 53 years combined. Every day saw multiple attacks, and a day without fatalities was rare. But then Israel launched a multi-year military campaign that steadily reduced Israeli fatalities from a peak of 450 in 2002 to 13 in 2007.

Last month, Haaretz published two other statistics reflecting this success: the number of wanted terrorists in the West Bank, once in the hundreds, is now almost zero. And Israeli troop levels in the West Bank are lower than they have been since the first intifada began in 1987.

Western bon ton likes to credit these achievements to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his American-trained security forces. But in reality, the number of Israelis killed by West Bank terror in the year before May 2008, when Fayyad’s forces began deploying, was all of eight — virtually identical to last year’s five and this year’s six. Indeed, had the war not already been over, Israel wouldn’t have agreed to Fayyad’s plan.

What produced this victory was the grunt work of counterterrorism: intelligence, arrests, interrogations, military operations, and, above all, enough boots on the ground long enough to make this possible. That wasn’t obvious in advance: as Haaretz reported, many senior Israel Defense Forces officers accepted the dogma that terrorist organizations can’t be defeated, because they have an infinite supply of new recruits. But then-Shin Bet security service chief Avi Dichter, who insisted that “the ‘terror barrel’ had a bottom,” proved correct.

What Dichter understood was that while there may be millions of potential terrorist recruits, counterterrorism can dry up the supply of actual recruits by making terrorism a business that doesn’t pay. The more terrorists you arrest or kill, the more potential recruits decide that the likelihood of death or imprisonment has become too high to make terror an attractive proposition.

Two articles, in 2007 and 2008, reveal how this dynamic works: Palestinian terrorists, once lionized, were now unmarriageable, because the near-certainty of Israeli retribution made marriage to a wanted man no life. As one father explained: “I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one. I want her to have a good life, without having the army coming into her house all the time to arrest her while her husband escapes into the streets.” And therefore, the terrorists were quitting.

Most terrorists aren’t die-hard fanatics, and non-fanatics respond to cost-benefit incentives. When terrorist organizations rule the roost, recruits will flock to their banner. But when the costs start outweighing the benefits, they will desert in droves. And then the “unwinnable” war is won.

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Hamas Finally Admits Most Gaza Fatalities Were Combatants, Not Civilians

Here’s a news item certain to be ignored by every human rights organization, every UN agency, and every country that backed the Goldstone Report: almost two years after the war in Gaza ended, no less a person than Hamas’s interior minister has finally admitted that Israel was right all along about the casualties — the vast majority were combatants, not civilians.

The first crucial admission in Fathi Hammad’s interview with the London-based Al-Hayat is that the 250 policemen Israel killed on the war’s first day by bombing their station were indeed combatants, just as Israel claimed. Human rights organizations have repeatedly labeled this raid a deliberate slaughter of civilian police tasked solely with preserving law and order, dismissing Israel’s contention that these policemen functioned as an auxiliary Hamas army unit. But here’s what Hamas’s own interior minister says:

On the first day of the war, Israel targeted police stations and 250 martyrs who were part of Hamas and the various factions fell.

In short, just as Israel claimed, many of these policemen belonged to Hamas, while the remainder belonged to other “factions” — the standard Palestinian euphemism for their various armed militias.

In addition, Hammad said, “about 200 to 300 were killed from the Qassam Brigades, as well as 150 security personnel.” The Qassam Brigades are Hamas’s main fighting force.

Combining the higher of Hammad’s estimates for the Qassam Brigades, 300, with the 150 “security personnel” and the 250 policemen brings the total number of combatants killed by Israel to 700. Add in the fact that Israel also killed combatants from other organizations, like Islamic Jihad, and you’re already above the 709 people the Israel Defense Forces said it had definitely identified as combatants — that is, some of the 162 whose status the IDF couldn’t determine were (as it suspected) also combatants. Based on the IDF’s total casualty figure of 1,166, that means at least 61 percent of the Palestinian fatalities were combatants, and quite possibly more.

Nor does taking the lower estimate, 200, alter the results significantly: that gives a total of 600 combatants, which, assuming some from other organizations as well, brings you quite close to the IDF’s figure of 709.

And of course, even the lower estimate gives you almost double the 349 combatants cited by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.

So why did Hamas lie about its casualties for almost two years? Because in Hammad’s world, that’s simply standard practice. That’s why he also insisted in the interview that Israel really suffered 50 wartime fatalities, though it “acknowledged only 12”: he can’t conceive of a party to a conflict actually reporting its losses accurately.

But however belatedly, Hamas has now confirmed that most of the war’s casualties were indeed combatants rather than civilians, just as Israel always claimed. So now all that’s needed is a humble apology from all the individuals and organizations that have spent the past two years slanderously accusing Israel of the wholesale slaughter of civilians.

Unfortunately, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

Here’s a news item certain to be ignored by every human rights organization, every UN agency, and every country that backed the Goldstone Report: almost two years after the war in Gaza ended, no less a person than Hamas’s interior minister has finally admitted that Israel was right all along about the casualties — the vast majority were combatants, not civilians.

The first crucial admission in Fathi Hammad’s interview with the London-based Al-Hayat is that the 250 policemen Israel killed on the war’s first day by bombing their station were indeed combatants, just as Israel claimed. Human rights organizations have repeatedly labeled this raid a deliberate slaughter of civilian police tasked solely with preserving law and order, dismissing Israel’s contention that these policemen functioned as an auxiliary Hamas army unit. But here’s what Hamas’s own interior minister says:

On the first day of the war, Israel targeted police stations and 250 martyrs who were part of Hamas and the various factions fell.

In short, just as Israel claimed, many of these policemen belonged to Hamas, while the remainder belonged to other “factions” — the standard Palestinian euphemism for their various armed militias.

In addition, Hammad said, “about 200 to 300 were killed from the Qassam Brigades, as well as 150 security personnel.” The Qassam Brigades are Hamas’s main fighting force.

Combining the higher of Hammad’s estimates for the Qassam Brigades, 300, with the 150 “security personnel” and the 250 policemen brings the total number of combatants killed by Israel to 700. Add in the fact that Israel also killed combatants from other organizations, like Islamic Jihad, and you’re already above the 709 people the Israel Defense Forces said it had definitely identified as combatants — that is, some of the 162 whose status the IDF couldn’t determine were (as it suspected) also combatants. Based on the IDF’s total casualty figure of 1,166, that means at least 61 percent of the Palestinian fatalities were combatants, and quite possibly more.

Nor does taking the lower estimate, 200, alter the results significantly: that gives a total of 600 combatants, which, assuming some from other organizations as well, brings you quite close to the IDF’s figure of 709.

And of course, even the lower estimate gives you almost double the 349 combatants cited by the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights.

So why did Hamas lie about its casualties for almost two years? Because in Hammad’s world, that’s simply standard practice. That’s why he also insisted in the interview that Israel really suffered 50 wartime fatalities, though it “acknowledged only 12”: he can’t conceive of a party to a conflict actually reporting its losses accurately.

But however belatedly, Hamas has now confirmed that most of the war’s casualties were indeed combatants rather than civilians, just as Israel always claimed. So now all that’s needed is a humble apology from all the individuals and organizations that have spent the past two years slanderously accusing Israel of the wholesale slaughter of civilians.

Unfortunately, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

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WikiLeaks and the Gaza War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Count the Lies”

That’s how one observer of  J Street’s meltdown put it. Honestly, it’s hard to keep track. Eli Lake reveals a bunch more in his latest bombshell report:

J Street — the self-described pro-Israel, pro-peace lobbying group — facilitated meetings between members of Congress and South African Judge Richard Goldstone, author of the U.N. report that accused the Jewish state of systematic war crimes in its three-week military campaign against Hamas in Gaza.

Aside from the inexcusable shillery for the man whose report “is widely viewed as slanderous toward the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) among the American Jewish community and in Israel,” J Street — I know, you’ll be shocked — lied about its assistance to Goldstone. Lots of times.

First, there was Knesset member Colette Avital, who arranged the visit:

“When Judge Goldstone came to Washington, [J Street leaders were] suggesting that they might help him set up his appointments on Capitol Hill,” she said. Ms. Avital later disavowed knowledge of J Street’s dealings with Judge Goldstone during a conference call arranged by J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami.

After inducing Avital to recant, there were Ben-Ami’s own deceptions:

In a statement provided to The Washington Times this week, Mr. Ben-Ami said, “J Street did not host, arrange or facilitate any visit to Washington, D.C., by Judge Richard Goldstone.”

He went on to say, however, that “J Street staff spoke to colleagues at the organizations coordinating the meetings and, at their behest, reached out to a handful of congressional staff to inquire whether members would be interested in seeing Judge Goldstone.”

But it was far more than that, Lake reveals:

A senior officer of J Street, however, played a central role in arranging Judge Goldstone’s visit.

Judge Goldstone told The Times in an interview that he had sought the meetings after a discussion with longtime friend Morton H. Halperin — president of the Open Society Institute (OSI) and one of five senior officers at J Street, according to the group’s federal tax returns. Those forms list Mr. Halperin as a “director,” and say he spends 10 hours a week on J Street business.

“He suggested — and I agreed — that it would be a good idea for me to meet with some of the leading members of Congress,” Judge Goldstone said. “I thought it was important to correct the misimpressions.” He added that Mr. Halperin had hand-delivered a personal letter he had written to members of Congress.

And it turns out it was 10 or 12 meetings.

Another Ben-Ami half-truth: he claims that J Street “criticized the process at the U.N. Human Rights Council that led to his report and urged the U.S. to veto a possible Security Council resolution based on the report.” But, in fact, Halperin drafted Goldstone’s defense on Capitol Hill, and J Street never condemned the report’s contents.

And, of course, Soros and his multipronged operation are at the center of all of this:

All three organizations associated with Judge Goldstone’s visit to Washington — J Street, NAF and OSI — receive substantial funding from Hungarian-born billionaire, George Soros, a fierce critic of AIPAC and Israeli policies.

OSI controls nearly $2 billion in assets provided by Mr. Soros over the years. NAF, in turn, received $855,000 from OSI in 2009, though the money was not set aside for the think tank’s Middle East program. The Times disclosed last week that J Street had received $750,000 from Mr. Soros and his family despite repeated denials from the group that it had received any funding from Mr. Soros in the past.

Take your pick– is it the embrace of Israel’s enemies and slanderers or the lies that should send Soros Street to the ash heap of history? Both, I would suggest. Try as they might, not even the recipients of Soros Street’s cash (nor JTA) can spin this away. If you are on Richard Goldstone’s side, you are not pro-Israel. If you lie repeatedly, you lose your credibility, even with sympathetic media outlets. J Street is guilty on both counts. Perhaps Halperin, the all-purpose fixer for Soros, will turn off the lights at J Street on his way out.

That’s how one observer of  J Street’s meltdown put it. Honestly, it’s hard to keep track. Eli Lake reveals a bunch more in his latest bombshell report:

J Street — the self-described pro-Israel, pro-peace lobbying group — facilitated meetings between members of Congress and South African Judge Richard Goldstone, author of the U.N. report that accused the Jewish state of systematic war crimes in its three-week military campaign against Hamas in Gaza.

Aside from the inexcusable shillery for the man whose report “is widely viewed as slanderous toward the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) among the American Jewish community and in Israel,” J Street — I know, you’ll be shocked — lied about its assistance to Goldstone. Lots of times.

First, there was Knesset member Colette Avital, who arranged the visit:

“When Judge Goldstone came to Washington, [J Street leaders were] suggesting that they might help him set up his appointments on Capitol Hill,” she said. Ms. Avital later disavowed knowledge of J Street’s dealings with Judge Goldstone during a conference call arranged by J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami.

After inducing Avital to recant, there were Ben-Ami’s own deceptions:

In a statement provided to The Washington Times this week, Mr. Ben-Ami said, “J Street did not host, arrange or facilitate any visit to Washington, D.C., by Judge Richard Goldstone.”

He went on to say, however, that “J Street staff spoke to colleagues at the organizations coordinating the meetings and, at their behest, reached out to a handful of congressional staff to inquire whether members would be interested in seeing Judge Goldstone.”

But it was far more than that, Lake reveals:

A senior officer of J Street, however, played a central role in arranging Judge Goldstone’s visit.

Judge Goldstone told The Times in an interview that he had sought the meetings after a discussion with longtime friend Morton H. Halperin — president of the Open Society Institute (OSI) and one of five senior officers at J Street, according to the group’s federal tax returns. Those forms list Mr. Halperin as a “director,” and say he spends 10 hours a week on J Street business.

“He suggested — and I agreed — that it would be a good idea for me to meet with some of the leading members of Congress,” Judge Goldstone said. “I thought it was important to correct the misimpressions.” He added that Mr. Halperin had hand-delivered a personal letter he had written to members of Congress.

And it turns out it was 10 or 12 meetings.

Another Ben-Ami half-truth: he claims that J Street “criticized the process at the U.N. Human Rights Council that led to his report and urged the U.S. to veto a possible Security Council resolution based on the report.” But, in fact, Halperin drafted Goldstone’s defense on Capitol Hill, and J Street never condemned the report’s contents.

And, of course, Soros and his multipronged operation are at the center of all of this:

All three organizations associated with Judge Goldstone’s visit to Washington — J Street, NAF and OSI — receive substantial funding from Hungarian-born billionaire, George Soros, a fierce critic of AIPAC and Israeli policies.

OSI controls nearly $2 billion in assets provided by Mr. Soros over the years. NAF, in turn, received $855,000 from OSI in 2009, though the money was not set aside for the think tank’s Middle East program. The Times disclosed last week that J Street had received $750,000 from Mr. Soros and his family despite repeated denials from the group that it had received any funding from Mr. Soros in the past.

Take your pick– is it the embrace of Israel’s enemies and slanderers or the lies that should send Soros Street to the ash heap of history? Both, I would suggest. Try as they might, not even the recipients of Soros Street’s cash (nor JTA) can spin this away. If you are on Richard Goldstone’s side, you are not pro-Israel. If you lie repeatedly, you lose your credibility, even with sympathetic media outlets. J Street is guilty on both counts. Perhaps Halperin, the all-purpose fixer for Soros, will turn off the lights at J Street on his way out.

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Clinton’s Slander Against Israeli Democracy

Bill Clinton’s  comments on the number of Russian immigrants and settlers in the Israel Defense Forces do indeed, as Jennifer said, sound xenophobic. But Clinton’s slander is far more dangerous than mere xenophobia. For when he says the increased presence of “children of Russians and settlers, the hardest-core people against a division of the land… presents a staggering problem,” what he’s implying is that these soldiers cannot be trusted to obey a government order to evacuate territory — or in other words, that Israel is no longer a democratic state where the government controls the army. And nothing could be further from the truth.

It’s true that for the last decade, roughly one-third of newly minted infantry officers have been Orthodox Jews, almost triple their 12 percent share in the overall Jewish population. It’s also true that Russian immigrants and their children, representing about one-sixth of the Jewish population, constitute one-fourth of all combat soldiers.

But all this was equally true five years ago, when Israel withdrew from every inch of Gaza, dismantled its 21 settlements and evacuated four West Bank settlements to boot. Yet of the approximately 50,000 soldiers involved in the disengagement, a mere 63 refused to obey the evacuation order — about a tenth of a percent. That’s less than the number of leftists who have refused to serve in the West Bank — though they, too, are a tiny minority.

Both numbers are minuscule for a very good reason: most Israelis of every political stripe accept the principle that in a democracy, the army takes orders from the government regardless of the soldiers’ own political views. That’s as true of “Russians” and settlers as it is of secular leftists — as both the disengagement and several subsequent evacuations of illegal settlement outposts show. If Clinton offered no evidence for his libelous insinuation to the contrary, it’s because there isn’t any.

Nevertheless, if Clinton is truly concerned, the ones to blame aren’t the Russians and settlers but his secular leftist friends. For while army service is mandatory in Israel, combat units are strictly voluntary. Thus, if Russians and Orthodox Jews (most of whom, incidentally, aren’t settlers) are disproportionately represented in front-line units, it’s because they’re disproportionately willing to volunteer for combat duty, while the children of veteran Israeli leftists prefer safer jobs to the rear.

Consider, for instance, the demographic breakdown of the 13-man combat platoon in which a friend’s son currently serves: five men from hesder yeshivas, which combine Torah study with army service; four mizrahim (Israelis of Middle Eastern/North African descent); one Russian immigrant; one Ethiopian immigrant; one French immigrant; and one Israeli Arab (a real rarity, since non-Druse Arabs aren’t drafted, and very few volunteer). Glaringly absent are the Israeli-born, secular, Ashkenazi Jews of Clinton’s fond memories. Yet this group far outnumbers both Russian immigrants and Orthodox Jews.

Their shrinking presence in combat units troubles me, too — not out of any concern for Israeli democracy, but for what it says about their willingness to defend the country. But the army hasn’t suffered a hostile takeover. Clinton’s beloved leftists simply abdicated.

Bill Clinton’s  comments on the number of Russian immigrants and settlers in the Israel Defense Forces do indeed, as Jennifer said, sound xenophobic. But Clinton’s slander is far more dangerous than mere xenophobia. For when he says the increased presence of “children of Russians and settlers, the hardest-core people against a division of the land… presents a staggering problem,” what he’s implying is that these soldiers cannot be trusted to obey a government order to evacuate territory — or in other words, that Israel is no longer a democratic state where the government controls the army. And nothing could be further from the truth.

It’s true that for the last decade, roughly one-third of newly minted infantry officers have been Orthodox Jews, almost triple their 12 percent share in the overall Jewish population. It’s also true that Russian immigrants and their children, representing about one-sixth of the Jewish population, constitute one-fourth of all combat soldiers.

But all this was equally true five years ago, when Israel withdrew from every inch of Gaza, dismantled its 21 settlements and evacuated four West Bank settlements to boot. Yet of the approximately 50,000 soldiers involved in the disengagement, a mere 63 refused to obey the evacuation order — about a tenth of a percent. That’s less than the number of leftists who have refused to serve in the West Bank — though they, too, are a tiny minority.

Both numbers are minuscule for a very good reason: most Israelis of every political stripe accept the principle that in a democracy, the army takes orders from the government regardless of the soldiers’ own political views. That’s as true of “Russians” and settlers as it is of secular leftists — as both the disengagement and several subsequent evacuations of illegal settlement outposts show. If Clinton offered no evidence for his libelous insinuation to the contrary, it’s because there isn’t any.

Nevertheless, if Clinton is truly concerned, the ones to blame aren’t the Russians and settlers but his secular leftist friends. For while army service is mandatory in Israel, combat units are strictly voluntary. Thus, if Russians and Orthodox Jews (most of whom, incidentally, aren’t settlers) are disproportionately represented in front-line units, it’s because they’re disproportionately willing to volunteer for combat duty, while the children of veteran Israeli leftists prefer safer jobs to the rear.

Consider, for instance, the demographic breakdown of the 13-man combat platoon in which a friend’s son currently serves: five men from hesder yeshivas, which combine Torah study with army service; four mizrahim (Israelis of Middle Eastern/North African descent); one Russian immigrant; one Ethiopian immigrant; one French immigrant; and one Israeli Arab (a real rarity, since non-Druse Arabs aren’t drafted, and very few volunteer). Glaringly absent are the Israeli-born, secular, Ashkenazi Jews of Clinton’s fond memories. Yet this group far outnumbers both Russian immigrants and Orthodox Jews.

Their shrinking presence in combat units troubles me, too — not out of any concern for Israeli democracy, but for what it says about their willingness to defend the country. But the army hasn’t suffered a hostile takeover. Clinton’s beloved leftists simply abdicated.

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Delay Would Make Israeli-Palestinian Deal More Likely, Not Less

On Monday, I argued that Washington’s push for final-status talks now, when neither Israelis nor Palestinians actually think a deal is possible, could substantially worsen a situation that’s currently tolerable for both sides — a concern that Gabi Ashkenazi, the chief of staff of Israel Defense Forces, reiterated yesterday. But there’s another reason why talks now are a bad idea: Contrary to the accepted wisdom, the conflict is likely to be more resolvable in another few decades, not less.

First, after 16 years of existence, the Palestinian Authority has only now, under Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, finally started building institutions of statehood. Time would enable these institutions to grow and develop, increasing the chances that whatever Palestinian state a deal established would be viable rather than collapse into chaos.

Second, after years of alternately attacking Israel itself and tacitly abetting Hamas’s attacks, the PA has only now started seriously fighting terror — albeit mainly because Hamas threatens its own survival. This long track record of complicity in terror has been a major obstacle to an agreement, because it convinced Israelis that further territorial withdrawals would undermine their own security unless accompanied by stringent security provisions, including the continued IDF presence in parts of the West Bank, which Palestinians reject.

But if the PA now demonstrates a serious, long-term commitment to counterterrorism — and two years isn’t even close to constituting “long-term” — less stringent security provisions would be possible. The paradigm is Israel’s 1994 treaty with Jordan: The 27 years of de facto peace that preceded the agreement created a level of trust that enabled far less complex security arrangements than peace with Egypt did.

Most importantly, however, time is needed to enable the emergence of a new generation of leaders who are actually prepared to accept the existence of a Jewish state — something both PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad have repeatedly refused to do.

Indeed, just yesterday, Fayyad stormed out of a meeting of the UN Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which coordinates financial aid to the PA, rather than sign a summary statement referencing “two states for two peoples,” Jewish and Palestinian, rather than merely “two states.” Nor was this accidental: PA leaders are fine with two states, but only if both are Palestinian — with Israel’s conversion into a second Palestinian state being accomplished by flooding it with millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees.

This is due partly to the long shadow cast by Yasir Arafat, who dominated Palestinian politics for 50 years until his death in 2004. As Munib al-Masri — the West Bank’s wealthiest businessman, a close associate of Arafat’s, and a former supporter of Oslo who vehemently opposes the current talks — told Haaretz (Hebrew only) this month, neither Abbas “nor anyone else can concede more than Arafat did in negotiations with Israel. The Americans and Israelis don’t understand this.” And regarding the current generation, who grew up under Arafat’s thumb, he’s undoubtedly right.

But a new generation, growing up in a post-Arafat world, might be able to free itself of this shadow. And only once this happens will peace be possible.

On Monday, I argued that Washington’s push for final-status talks now, when neither Israelis nor Palestinians actually think a deal is possible, could substantially worsen a situation that’s currently tolerable for both sides — a concern that Gabi Ashkenazi, the chief of staff of Israel Defense Forces, reiterated yesterday. But there’s another reason why talks now are a bad idea: Contrary to the accepted wisdom, the conflict is likely to be more resolvable in another few decades, not less.

First, after 16 years of existence, the Palestinian Authority has only now, under Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, finally started building institutions of statehood. Time would enable these institutions to grow and develop, increasing the chances that whatever Palestinian state a deal established would be viable rather than collapse into chaos.

Second, after years of alternately attacking Israel itself and tacitly abetting Hamas’s attacks, the PA has only now started seriously fighting terror — albeit mainly because Hamas threatens its own survival. This long track record of complicity in terror has been a major obstacle to an agreement, because it convinced Israelis that further territorial withdrawals would undermine their own security unless accompanied by stringent security provisions, including the continued IDF presence in parts of the West Bank, which Palestinians reject.

But if the PA now demonstrates a serious, long-term commitment to counterterrorism — and two years isn’t even close to constituting “long-term” — less stringent security provisions would be possible. The paradigm is Israel’s 1994 treaty with Jordan: The 27 years of de facto peace that preceded the agreement created a level of trust that enabled far less complex security arrangements than peace with Egypt did.

Most importantly, however, time is needed to enable the emergence of a new generation of leaders who are actually prepared to accept the existence of a Jewish state — something both PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad have repeatedly refused to do.

Indeed, just yesterday, Fayyad stormed out of a meeting of the UN Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which coordinates financial aid to the PA, rather than sign a summary statement referencing “two states for two peoples,” Jewish and Palestinian, rather than merely “two states.” Nor was this accidental: PA leaders are fine with two states, but only if both are Palestinian — with Israel’s conversion into a second Palestinian state being accomplished by flooding it with millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees.

This is due partly to the long shadow cast by Yasir Arafat, who dominated Palestinian politics for 50 years until his death in 2004. As Munib al-Masri — the West Bank’s wealthiest businessman, a close associate of Arafat’s, and a former supporter of Oslo who vehemently opposes the current talks — told Haaretz (Hebrew only) this month, neither Abbas “nor anyone else can concede more than Arafat did in negotiations with Israel. The Americans and Israelis don’t understand this.” And regarding the current generation, who grew up under Arafat’s thumb, he’s undoubtedly right.

But a new generation, growing up in a post-Arafat world, might be able to free itself of this shadow. And only once this happens will peace be possible.

Read Less




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