Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Next War Will Be More Brutal.

The next war will be worse. It will be more brutal. The Israeli army will destroy more civilian infrastructure and more civilians will be killed and wounded.

This is the conclusion one gets from following the discourse about the Gaza War - and the Lebanon War that preceded it - that is taking place inside Israel. From within Israel, both these wars are now looking more and more like successes. The enemy was been terrified into keeping the peace, or so it seems to the Israeli public and it military planners.

And just as talk about the success of the "Dahiya Doctrine" predicted the planned brutality of the Gaza conflict, (see my prediction in October 2008) talk of the success of the hard hitting strategy of the Gaza war and that "more Goldstone Reports is a price worth paying" are predictors that the next war will see an increase in deliberate violence against any and all that is associated with the enemy. Israel seems happy to move towards "total war" - especially since it has the indisputable upper hand in fire power. Furthermore, Israeli military spokespersons seem to implicitly agree that all this is opposed to international laws and norms. It is the international law and norms that must change, they say.

This stance is dangerous for Israel. Not only does it make Israel an international moral pariah, not only does it undermine Israel's support in the West and among the Jewish diaspora, not only does it breed extreme bitterness among the Palestinians and Lebanese hit by Israeli war doctrine, not only does it brutalize and coarsen its own young people serving in its army, it removes Israel's right to legitimately complain when its own civilian targets are hit in the next war, and it gives Hamas, Hezbollah, etc the incentive and justification to do exactly that.

The article below originally appeared in the New York Times on Dec 24.


TEL AVIV — In the year since Israel launched its devastating military offensive against Hamas in Gaza, the country’s political and military leaders have faced intense international condemnation and accusations of possible war crimes.

But Israel seems to have few qualms. Officials and experts familiar with the country’s military doctrine say that given the growing threats from Iranian-backed militant organizations both in Gaza and in Lebanon, Israel will probably find itself fighting another, similar kind of war.

Only next time, some here suggest, Israel will apply more force.

“The next round will be different, but not in the way people think,” said Giora Eiland, a retired major general and former chief of Israel’s National Security Council. “The only way to be successful is to take much harsher action.”

Such talk has raised alarm among some critics in Israel, but so far it has stirred little public debate.

Both the three-week campaign in Gaza, which ended on Jan. 18, and Israel’s monthlong war in 2006 against the Shiite Hezbollah organization in Lebanon have brought relative quiet to Israel’s borders.

Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, the chief of Israel’s military intelligence, said the source of the quiet was “not the adoption of Zionism by our enemies.” The main factor, he recently told an audience at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, is Israeli deterrence, starting with the war in Lebanon and continuing with the Gaza operation that the Israelis called Cast Lead.

But decisive victory against irregular forces has been elusive. In the military’s assessment, the calm is temporary and fragile; Hamas and Hezbollah are said to be rearming, making another confrontation only a matter of time.

While the Israeli military has a clear advantage in fighting conventional armies, it is still adapting to the new and complicated demands of asymmetric warfare. The military says it is contending with enemies who fight out of uniform and hide behind civilians, intentionally firing rockets out of populated areas into densely populated areas of Israel.

Israel’s objective, according to Gabriel Siboni, a retired colonel who runs the military program at the Institute for National Security Studies, is to shorten and intensify the period of fighting and to lengthen the period between rounds.

Israel was accused of using disproportionate force in Lebanon, particularly after it flattened the Dahiya district in Beirut, a Shiite neighborhood that housed the command and control headquarters of Hezbollah. Over the month, more than a thousand Lebanese were killed.

But Israeli experts say that as long as the targets are legitimate ones, the whole point is to try to overwhelm the enemy with maximum force.

The destruction of Dahiya “sent a message to Hezbollah of the consequences” of confrontation, Mr. Siboni said.

The campaign in Gaza, intended to halt years of rocket fire against southern Israel, left up to 1,400 Palestinians dead, including hundreds of civilians. The human toll, as well as the extensive destruction of property, prompted a United Nations mission led by an internationally renowned judge, Richard Goldstone, to accuse Israel of deliberately attacking civilians and of violations of the international laws of war.

Israel rejected the Goldstone report as biased and fundamentally flawed. Israel says that while mistakes were made, it chose its targets on purely military merits and went to extraordinary lengths to warn civilians in Gaza to leave areas under attack.

But one of the abiding difficulties is defining the enemy when it is embedded among the population, whether as the sole power in the area, like Hamas in Gaza, or as a militia operating within a sovereign state, in the case of Hezbollah.

In the 2006 war, which was precipitated by a deadly cross-border raid by Hezbollah, Israel bombed the Beirut airport, a strategic bridge linking north and south Lebanon and some power supplies. But Israel said it was doing so only to hamper Hezbollah’s war effort, and it directed the brunt of its attacks against the militia.

Now, with Hezbollah playing a more active role in the Lebanese government, Lebanon could be held more responsible for Hezbollah actions against Israel, Israeli security officials and experts say.

Mr. Siboni said the idea was to inflict such damage that the other side would ask whether confrontation was worthwhile.

Military officials strenuously deny that Israel plans to hit economic or civilian infrastructure to cause suffering to the local population, in the hope of turning it against the war.

Brig. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, chief of the Israeli military’s Operations Department, told reporters at a recent briefing in Tel Aviv that the army would not shoot at targets that had no proven link “with any form of terror.” But, he added, “we are going to use fire.”

General Kochavi said that Israel would never deliberately fire on civilians but that civilian buildings containing weapons or rocket launchers would be bombed after residents had been warned to evacuate.

With the war in Gaza, however, the distinction between military and civilian infrastructure seemed to become increasingly blurred.

Among the targets destroyed in Gaza were the parliament building and the central prison. The Goldstone report said that it had found no evidence that these locations made an effective contribution to Hamas’s military effort, and determined that the Israeli attacks on them were a violation of international law.

Israel never claimed that the parliament building was being used to store or fire weapons. But after Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, Israel says, the parliament building became part of the Hamas infrastructure, and therefore a legitimate target to be destroyed.

David Benjamin, a lieutenant colonel in the reserves and a former senior adviser in the Israeli military’s legal department, said that Israel did not need to “buy in” to Hamas’s definitions of what was military and what was political. Israel considers all of Hamas a terrorist organization. The distinction, Mr. Benjamin said, is “artificial in my view.”

But he acknowledged that the bombing of the parliament building was “debatable” as far as the law was concerned. “Of all Cast Lead, maybe this is the only area where the army has been pushing the envelope,” he said.

Gerald Steinberg, a political scientist at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv, said the Goldstone report was viewed in Israel as a “political threat that needs to be thwarted politically,” but there was no sign, he said, that it had led to military restraint.

Critics both inside and outside Israel denounce what they — and at least one senior Israeli Army commander — have called the “Dahiya doctrine,” referring to the intention to inflict immense damage and destruction, an approach that would inevitably lead to civilian deaths.

A recent report by the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, a local advocacy group, pointed to what it called a “significant change” in the Israeli military’s combat doctrine. It said the shift was legally and politically dangerous and cast a “moral stain” on Israeli citizens, and it called for public debate.

But Israeli officials and security experts contend that other Western countries are facing similar challenges in their conflicts abroad. What must change, they say, is not the Israeli military’s conduct but the interpretation and application of the laws of war by the rest of the world.

In the meantime, Mr. Siboni said, Israel’s wars “may produce more Goldstones, but that may be the price you have to pay.”

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Murder and Revenge in the West Bank

Last Thursday, Rabbi Meir Avshalom Chai, (pictured above) a 45-year-old teacher and father of seven, was killed when someone opened fire at his car near Nablus, on the road between the Israeli settlements Shavei Shomron and Einav in the West Bank. Chai was a long time resident Shavei Shomron. He was alone in his car when shot; there were no witnesses. Shortly after the shooting, both the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the attack.

On Friday, hundreds of mourners gathered in Jerusalem to bury Chai. In eulogizing his father, Chai's 16-year-old son Eliyahu urged mourners not to consider seeking revenge for the attack. "The difference between us and them is that we are people, Jews, holy," he said.

By Friday night 120 Palestinians had been rounded up by the Palestinian Authority (PA) in its own investigation of the attack. One suspect identified by the PA had turned himself in and was being interrogated.

At 3 AM on Saturday morning, Israeli forces burst into the homes of three Palestinian militants in Nablus and shot them dead. The IDF claims these where the very men responsible for the killing of Rabbi Chai. How they know this, and for certain is not clear. The three Palestinians killed were Raghsan Abu Sharah aged 40, Anan Sabah aged 36, and Raed a-Sarkaji aged 40.

The IDF claims the men were shot dead after failing to surrender despite repeated demands. However, according to B'Tselem, the Israeli human rights monitoring group, in two of the three cases the troops behaved as if they were preparing for an execution, not an arrest. Relatives and eyewitnesses told B'Tselem that the two were unarmed and did not attempt to flee, and that the soldiers weren't trying to stop them, but rather shot them from close range once their identity was revealed. There were no witnesses to the shooting of the third man.

A senior IDF officer quickly rejected claims that the militants had been executed, telling reporters of Israel TV that "the soldiers called on the terrorist to surrender and turn himself in. He refused and hid in his room and sent his wife out toward us. In cases where there is a threat to our troops [sic] and a wanted militant refuses to surrender, IDF forces are permitted to open fire in order to neutralize the threat. I am pleased that none of our fighters were hurt, but the risk factor was very high in this operation."

Another senior IDF official admitted to Israel Radio that the three militants had not fired at Israeli troops and that two of them were unarmed, but that the Israeli soldiers knew that the terror squad that had carried out Thursday's attack was highly skilled and had access to firearms and therefore posed a threat. He stressed that the operation was carried out in accordance with IDF regulations, and that the soldiers first fired protest dispersal ammunition, then fired at the walls, and only later fired at the militants.

In one case, according to other reports, the soldiers fired an anti-tank shell into the wanted mans house before storming it.

According to IDF spokesman the defense establishment is investigating why the three, who are considered fairly mature, decided to execute the attack themselves, and why they acted so shortly after being released from the Israeli prison. The spokesman did not say how they knew for certain that these men where in fact the attackers.

The raids where coordinated and all took place in the dark of the early morning. "It was important to act simultaneously, because we believed [emphasis added] there was a connection between all three suspects," explained a senior officer.

The fact that the terrorists are not young, said the officer, indicated they have an extensive background in terrorist activities, as well as experience and knowledge. "They acted in order to cover their tracks. The risk level in this operation was high because the three had access to weapons and would not hesitate to use them," he said, in attempting to justify the army's killing of all three in the act of arresting them. [None of the three used any weapons during the attempted arrests, and only one was found to have weapons in his house.]

Asked why the IDF could not have left the arrests to the PA which seemed to be acting aggressively to investigate the killing of Chai, and already had one suspect under arrest, a senior officer of the IDF Central Command replied, "They acted with determination, but alongside that we have the responsibility to act against whoever executed the attack and settle the score with them."

Ten thousand people are reported to have attended the funerals of the three slain Palestians in Nablus. The Aqsa Martyrs Brigade - to whom the three slain men belonged - threatened swift retaliation to the killings of the three. "The occupation (Israel) is opening the gates to hell," said Abu Mahmoud, a senior al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades commander. Fatah's armed wind vowed to respond "in the language of blood and fire."

* * *

After writing the above, I came across this, from Israels largest circulation daily Yediot Akhronot. It sheds further light on the possible motivation for the IDFs aggressive tactics, and possible negative repercussions. (A translation of the full artical can be found on Coteret) of the terrorists was released from an Israeli prison last January after having served a seven-year term. Against the backdrop of the fears about the consequences of the Shalit deal, the death of a recidivist terrorist who was released from prison sends a message to anyone who might be released in the framework of a deal: you’re being watched, no matter where you go.

There have been increasing numbers of people within Fatah who have called on the movement to take the militant route ever since the Fatah Central Conference that was held earlier this year. The operation yesterday also sends a clear message to those extremists who are trying to undermine Abu Mazen and who long for the days of the armed struggle.

But justice needs to be meted out intelligently and prudently. While it is true that the operation in Nablus does not violate any agreement between Israel and the PA, and the IDF is entitled to decide to send large numbers of troops into the city to go in pursuit of suspects, in these sensitive political times and against the backdrop of the persistent security and the ongoing and sincere efforts by the Palestinian Authority to deal with the terror organizations—perhaps an operation on this scale ought to have been approved first by the political echelon in Israel.

There are quite a few security officials who now lament the fact that Israel destroyed Fatah and all of its institutions during the second Intifada. The dosage, they say, was excessive. Fatah hasn’t been able to recover, and the Palestinian Authority, which relies on it, headed by Abu Mazen, has been trying for the past five years to gain momentum, without much success. On the way, it also lost one of its wings in Gaza.

The Palestinian Authority was not negligent in its investigation. Dozens of people were arrested, including people who fled the IDF’s manhunt in Nablus. The law and public order that has been maintained in Nablus is considered to be one of the most salient achievements of the Palestinian security forces and the Israeli security policy. Israel has an agreement with the PA: Israel will refrain from taking dramatic action in Nablus and other cities, except under irregular circumstances. The PA has asked to be given more and more security responsibilities in Area A. This weekend Israel gave them the figurative finger. The operation in Nablus overtly undermines the standing of the Palestinian Authority. Is that in Israel’s interest? ...

Friday, December 25, 2009

Where is the Palestinian Ghandi?

"Where is the Palestinian Ghandi?" I often hear this asked by supporters of Israel frustrated by what they see as unjustified Palestinian violence.

(Where the American Indians "unjustified" in their violent and often brutal opposition to the invasion of Europeans? Unwise perhaps? And even if their violence was unjustified, does that justify the white settlers. More to the point, does it invalidate native land claims today?)

And where is the Palestinian Martin Luther King? This is what President Obama was effectively asking in his speech in Cairo last June when he said:
Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding.

The answer, ironically, is that he may be sitting in an Israeli jail. The Israeli security forces have been cracking down hard lately on precisely those Palestineans who want to move their struggle to the non-violent arena: to strikes, boycotts, and mass - but non-violent - demonstrations.

The following article, by Amira Haas, appeared in Haaterz earlier this week:

There is an internal document that has not been leaked, or perhaps has not even been written, but all the forces are acting according to its inspiration: the Shin Bet, Israel Defense Forces, Border Police, police, and civil and military judges. They have found the true enemy who refuses to whither away: The popular struggle against the occupation.
Over the past few months, the efforts to suppress the struggle have increased. The target: Palestinians and Jewish Israelis unwilling to give up their right to resist reign of demographic separation and Jewish supremacy. The means: Dispersing demonstrations with live ammunition, late-night army raids and mass arrests. Since the beginning of the year, 29 Palestinians have been wounded by IDF snipers while demonstrating against the separation fence. The snipers fired expanding bullets, despite an explicit 2001 order from the Military Adjutant General not to use such ammunition to break up demonstrations. After soldiers killed A'kel Srour in June, the shooting stopped, but then resumed in November.

Since June, dozens of demonstrators have been arrested in a series of nighttime military raids. Most are from Na'alin and Bil'in, whose land has been stolen by the fence, and some are from the Nablus area, which is stricken by settlers' abuse. Military judges have handed down short prison terms for incitement, throwing stones and endangering security. One union activist from Nablus was sent to
administrative detention - imprisonment without a trial - while another activist is still being interrogated.

For a few weeks now, the police have refused to approve demonstrations against the settlement in Sheikh Jarrah, an abomination approved by the courts. On each of the last two Fridays, police arrested more than 20 protesters for 24 hours. Ten were held for half an hour in a cell filled with vomit and diarrhea in the Russian Compound in Jerusalem.

Israel also recently arrested two main activists from the Palestinian organization Stop the Wall, which is involved in research and international activity which calls for the boycott of Israel and companies profiting from the occupation. Mohammad Othman [pictured at the top of this blog entry] was arrested three months ago. After two months of interrogation did not yield any information, he was sent to administrative detention. The organization's coordinator, Jamal Juma'a [pictured to the right], a 47-year-old resident of Jerusalem, was arrested on December 15. His detention was extended two days ago for another four days, and not the 14 requested by the prosecutor.
The purpose of the coordinated oppression: To wear down the activists and deter others from joining the popular struggle, which has proven its efficacy in other countries at other times. What is dangerous about a popular struggle is that it is impossible to label it as terror and then use that as an excuse to strengthen the regime of privileges, as Israel has done for the past 20 years.

The popular struggle, even if it is limited, shows that the Palestinian public is learning from its past mistakes and from the use of arms, and is offering alternatives that even senior officials in the Palestinian Authority have been forced to support - at least on the level of public statements.

Yuval Diskin and Amos Yadlin, the respective heads of the Shin Bet security service and Military Intelligence, already have exposed their fears. During an intelligence briefing to the cabinet they said: "The Palestinians want to continue and build a state from the bottom up ... and force an agreement on Israel from above ... The quiet security [situation] in the West Bank and the fact that the [Palestinian] Authority is acting against terror in an efficient manner has caused the international community to turn to Israel and demand progress."

The brutal repression of the first intifada, and the suppression of the first unarmed demonstrations of the second intifada with live fire, have proved to Palestinians that the Israelis do not listen. The repression left a vacuum that was filled by those who sanctified the use of arms.

Is that what the security establishment and its political superiors are trying to achieve today, too, in order to relieve us of the burden of a popular uprising?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Say It Aint So, Garrison

Say it ain't so. Has Garrison Keillor gone antisemitic?

As the voice of the American Midwestern Lutheran Heartland one always had to wonder if Garrison's wise, calm, just-plain-folks charm might come along with a disdain for "the urban elites", "the cosmopolitans", and the pushy value-lacking, money-hungry New York Jews.

In a column in the Baltimore Sun, Keillor derides all the shlocky non-Christian Christmas songs that fill the malls: the ones that take Jesus out of the picture. Keillor, presumably a believing Christian under that folksy but ironic persona, objects to the secularization of Christmas, and its adoption by "non-believers" as an American rather than Christian holiday.

Fair enough. I have mixed feelings about Adam Sander's Hanukkah Song.

But Keillor crosses the line when he blames the Jews for ruining Christmas.

This [non Christian Christmas songs] is spiritual piracy and cultural elitism, and we Christians have stood for it long enough. And all those lousy holiday songs by Jewish guys that trash up the malls every year, Rudolph and the chestnuts and the rest of that dreck. Did one of our guys write "Grab your loafers, come along if you wanna, and we'll blow that shofar for Rosh Hashanah"? No, we didn't.

Presumably he is talking about Irving Berlin's White Christmas - or something similar.

Hey Garrison, I got news for you: both Jingle Bells and Jingle Bell Rock where written by 100% pure goyim. And the cute fat red suited commercialized Santa Claus? Blame Coca Cola.

(And furthermore, if you want to listen to explicitly religious music, go to church, or do it at home. The malls need less "Silent Night", not more. Frosty The Snowman may be shlock - but at least its non-denominational shlock.)

To be fair, Keiller is not just out to blame the Jews for too little Jesus in the current holiday spirit. He blames the Unitarians too.

Apparently, xenophobia, intolerance, and an injured sense of entitlement - that sense that OUR way of life is being threatened, and by THEM, is a alive and well in the American Heartland, or at least Garrison Keiller thinks so.

Too bad. I really loved Prairie Home Companion.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Happy Hannukah

Eight Days of Hanukkah from Tablet Magazine on Vimeo.

Hannukah - the holiday of universal freedom!

Philosemitism shines forth! Jews are in! The American dream is but an extension of the ancient Hebrew's struggles !

In case you don't get the irony of a Hannukah song, sung by a Syrian American and written by one of the most conservative Senators in the U.S. senate - and a Mormon to boot - catch this reflection on the holiday- by a thoughtful Toronto Jew that appeared in yesterday's NY Times.

By the way, and talking about cultural appropriation, didn't Hatch's mezuzah make you do a double take? I think I liked December better when all we had to put up with was non stop Christmas carols and manger scenes on every corner.

Happy Hannukah !

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Well, that didn't last long!

Yesterday, December 1, the Israeli government was to begin enforcing its much ballyhooed 10 month "building freeze" in the West Bank.

Palestinians - and the U.S., but in much quieter tones, - had been demanding a total cessation of Israeli construction in the West bank as a condition for continued peace negotiations. The Palestinians felt, rightly in my opinion, that Israel would, as in the past, drag on negotiations while at the same time gobbling up more and more Palestinian land and creating more and more facts on the ground that pre-empt ever handing over the disputed land to a future Palestinian state. They had demanded and total cessation of all construction in all of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Instead, on Nov 25, Israeli PM Netanyahu announced that Israel was "magnanimously" and "unilaterally" (both seems to be favourite Israeli government terms) instituting a 10 month “freeze” on construction in the West Bank. A great show of good will! says the PM.

The Palestinians rejected this as being too little, and little more than a smoke screen.

  • It did not include East Jerusalem.

  • It did not include construction of projects with existing permits.

  • It did not include “public buildings”.

  • And it was to last only 10 months.

Israel insisted this was a major and a sincere effort to show good will and to restrict growth of Israeli settlements into disputed lands.

The new policy was to go into effect, yesterday. Today, one day into the new regime, an exception was announced. Permits will be issued for 84 new, previously not permited, buildings – representing 492 residential units – to be built in the West Bank. And work can begin during the “freeze.”

As meagre as Israel’s original gesture had been, the government couldn’t even live within its own parameters for 24 hours! The pressure from the Israeli right (both in and outside the government) was simply too great.

And if the U.S. or the Palestineans don't like it, too damn bad.

source: haaretz