On July 26, some 7,000 Israelis demonstrated for peace and condemned the Israeli ravaging of Gaza in Tel Aviv (see the Jewish Forward here). Two Saturdays ago, 10,000 came out again in Tel Aviv.
Though dissenters have been physically attacked by mobs, some including in the army, are, with great courage, standing up.
Three weeks, several people sent around the fine interview below with Henry Siegman, a rabbi, a Zionist as a child avoiding the Nazis, a former President of the American Jewish Congress and the Synagogue Council of America and member of the Council on Foreign Relations, who is appalled at Israeli expansion, occupation and the massacre of civilians - "mowing the lawn" - and is rethinking, as any decent person might, the Zionist project. Of course, it is important for the human rights of each Israeli to be upheld. But the state of Israel has no "right" to commit crimes against civilians (3 Israeli civilians dead because of Hamas rockets; in Gaza, according to the World Health Organization, 467 Palestinian children have been murdered since July and at least 9 more in the latest attacks; more than 3,000 children have been wounded, of which an estimated 1,000 will suffer a lifelong disability. The United Nations estimates at least 373,000 children require direct and specialized trauma support. And, based on the total number of adults killed, there may be up to 1,500 orphans...).
Proporationality and distinction of civilians/innocents are humanitarian laws of war. As Jeff Halper details below, an Israeli military/publicity/academic (led by an "ethicist" named Yadlin) apparatus is fighting to destroy these laws. What it does, as Rashid Khalidi names it in the New Yorker here, is collective punishment.
Siegman makes the central point that Israel is becoming an isolated, racist place (the mobs chanting "death to Arabs" burning a Palestinian teenager and assaulting "leftists" - see here). If you choose as apartheid South Africa once did, to have the US government as your only friend, you are likely to find yourself shunned by others - even by most young Americans, including Jews - and to, once there is enough international pressure, be forced to relent. Of course, Israel wants to drive the Palestinians out of the Territories and "settle" them on barren tracts - that is worse even than the bantustans under apartheid where African immigrants were to labor for Europeans. This Greater Israel from the river to the sea is in the Likud - Netanyahu's ruling party - program unmentioned in the US. Hamas repulsively as well as stupidly proclaimed the fraudulent Protocols of the Elders of Zion in its 1988 platform; the State of Israel, however, daily occupies, murders and displaces innocent and wronged Palestinians.
Further, Israel has nuclear weapons, and in a larger war in the Middle East, might find itself threatened enough to use them (claims about the rationality of people in charge, there or elsewhere, will not withstand watching Errol Morris's "The Fog of War" about the Cuban missile crisis...).
But Siegman also sees a deep psychological point. Israel's leaders look at Palestinians as a violent national movement (particularly Hamas) and see, as they once were, themselves.
For instance, Netanyahu and the US (Obama and the abject Hilary Clinton, channeling John McCain, in her recent interview with Jeffrey Goldberg) offer the talking point that Israel has no "partner for peace in Hamas." The corporate media, docile toward Israel, echoes them. Noone turns this mirror on the governing coalition in Israel itself...
For the Likud party led by Netanyahu as well as the Israel "Home" party and others are expanding across the West Bank. They have already created some 234 illegal settlements, with some 650,000 settlers, on the best land - 42% of the total - and are working to seize all of it except for a few "reservations" - I underline the conscious analogy with US "settlement" and ethnic cleansing against native americans. See here.
The Israeli government treats longstanding occupants of East Jerusalem as resident aliens, and as in the case of the actor Ramzi Bin Al-Shibh who played Martin Luther King in West Bank productions and went to study in Barcelona, bar them from returning. Parents with deeds have property rights, but not their children...
In nonviolent demonstrations in villages like Nabi Saleh, the IDF regularly shoots people (two members of the Tamimi family, the name of the villagers, were murdered two weeks before I came and two weeks after I left). The program to diminish the Palestinian population proceeds apace.
Why don't President Obama and American corporate media and think tank academics notice that Israel, the illegal and immoral Occupying power - the one that has, to international horror, laid waste, yet again, to Gaza - is, in its very government, no partner for peace?
This is what Carl Jung names projection. Netanyahu, occupier and murderer of civilians, looks out on Hamas and swears there will never be a Palestinian state (see Rashid Khalidi in the New Yorker here). He and the rightwing parties (and for that matter, Center parties), are "no partners for peace." The government is, in fact, the agent of occupation; with advanced military equipment mainly supplied by the United States - everyone who sees an "Apache" helicopter, the only kind in the Occupied Territories knows who is responsible for this situation; Israel keeps down the Palestinians, not vice versa.
Israeli leaders claim to see others, but they name themselves.
Obama rightly says that no country will tolerate rockets being fired into it by a "neighbor." But as Siegman points out, no people will put up with the kind of imposed suffering levied on the Gazans - the deliberate near starvation or "diet" - for 47 years, even before this attack. What the Israeli government actually does, it blames - in imagination - on the Palestinians.
And of course, occupying a "neighbor" - controlling the four borders, the airspace, the sea, no airport, no way out - means that there is no independent Gaza firing rockets. So Obama is wrong. Hamas is not the aggressor or occupier, but rather Israel is. Hamas is a desperate, misguided resistance (misguided, even criminal, in so far as it fires projectiles, likely to murder civilians) in an Occupied country, one justified in self-defense against the forces of Occupation.
Hamas rockets have murdered 3 ordinary Israelis.
These rocket attacks terrorize Israelis and instigate support for the ethnic cleansing the government commits.
In contrast, high tech rockets, drones and armed invasion massacre Palestinians, killing so far some 476 children among many others, blowing up UN schools and hospitals, destroying water facilities for most of the population, laying waste....
Israel has contempt for international law, seeking to pervert and destroy it. It strikes massively at civilians and evokes horror even among European allies, as well as demonstrations all over the world.
As Jeff Halper, the leader of the Israeli Committee against Home Demolitions [in Palestine], has recently emphasized in an important article below, Israel's leaders have sought to suggest that urban guerrillas, in the dense Occupied population, are using civilians as shields. That was the Japanese position on the Chinese Communists as "fish in the sea of the people." The Japanese imperialists, whom Netanyahu emulates, sought to "drain the water," murdering in North China some 20 million people in the winter of 1940-41 (see Chalmers Johnson, Peasant Nationalism and Communist Power: the Emergence of Revolutionary China 1937-45).
That was the de facto position of US forces including Colonel Patrick E. Connor and Governor John Evans about attacking native americans camped in winter during the American Civil War. It was responsible for the massacres of indigenous women and children in many surprise attacks (Sand Creek in Colorado in 1864 was different only in that Chivington and his "soldiers" murdered and mutilated women and children, taking no prisoners...).
That was the de facto position of the US in Vietnam where it slaughtered most of the 3 million who died in the American aggression. It was the explicit position of Hitler on the Eastern front where he sought to "raze Stalingrad and Leningrad to the ground," and kill their populations.
International humanitarian law bars the killing of civilians. Because Netanyahu repeats over and over that Hamas hides among civilians and is somehow "responsible" for their deaths, that does not, one whit, justify Isreal's murders.
Further, the high tech weaponry provided by the United States government and US weapons manufacturers, for the most part, is used in the slaughter.
And what do American military officials, perhaps influenced by retired General Stanley McChrystal on the importance in "counterinsurgency" of murdering civilians (the counterinsurgency doctrine fails for this reason, but the scale of deliberate Israeli slaughters is different), think?
"'Holy bejeezus,' exclaimed retired Lt. Gen. Robert Gard when told the numbers of artillery pieces and rounds fired during the July 21 action. 'That rate of fire over that period of time is astonishing. If the figures are even half right, Israel’s response was absolutely disproportionate.' A West Point graduate who is a veteran of two wars and is the chairman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, D.C., he added that even if Israeli artillery units fired guided munitions, it would have made little difference.
Even the most sophisticated munitions have a circular area of probability, Gard explained, with a certain percentage of shells landing dozens or even hundreds of feet from intended targets. Highly trained artillery commanders know this and compensate for their misses by firing more shells. So if even 10 percent of the shells fired at combatants in Shujaiya landed close to but did not hit their targets — a higher than average rate of accuracy — that would have meant at least 700 lethal shells landing among the civilian population of Shujaiya during the night of July 20 into June 21. And the kill radius of even the most precisely targeted 155-mm shell is 164 feet. Put another way, as Gard said, “precision weapons aren’t all that precise.”
Senior U.S. officers who are familiar with the battle and Israeli artillery operations, which are modeled on U.S. doctrine, assessed that, given that rate of artillery fire into Shujaiya, IDF commanders were not precisely targeting Palestinian military formations as much as laying down an indiscriminate barrage aimed at cratering the neighborhood. The cratering operation was designed to collapse the Hamas tunnels discovered when IDF ground units came under fire in the neighborhood. Initially, said the senior Pentagon officer, Israel’s artillery used 'suppressing fire to protect their forward units but then poured in everything they had, in a kind of walking barrage. Suppressing fire is perfectly defensible. A walking barrage isn’t.'
That the Israelis explained the civilian casualty toll by saying the neighborhood’s noncombatant population had been ordered to stay in their homes and were used as human shields by Hamas reinforced the belief among some senior U.S. officers that artillery fire into Shujaiya was indiscriminate.
'Listen, we know what it’s like to kill civilians in war,' said the senior U.S. officer. 'Hell, we even put it on the front pages. We call it collateral damage. We absolutely try to minimize it, because we know it turns people against you. Killing civilians is a sure prescription for defeat. But that’s not what the IDF did in Shujaiya on July 21. Human shields? C’mon, just own up to it.'”
And proporationality, as Jeff Halper emphasizes below? And distinction as to targets? These are central pillars of the international humanitarian law, of decency against such killings; an entire Israeli government/publicity apparatus seeks to rip them down.
Worse yet, through Richard Perle and other neocons from Israel, Israeli propagandists brought this criminal - legally as well as morally - interpretation to the United States during the Bush-Cheney aggression in Iraq. America became the leading torturer state - and under Obama, a governmental protector of torturers - while it is now rightly shocked at the barbarism of the hateful Islamic State for beheading the innocent American journalist, James Foley. The world is rightly repelled by the Islamic State.
But what authority does the United States, the torturer at Abu Ghraib and Bagram and Guantanamo, the murderer of over a hundred prisoners in Pentagon custody according to Pentagon statistics, have in defending international humanitarian law?
What moral authority does Obama, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on his promise of decency, have now to combat this killing, which he rightly names evil?
This is a pretty big and important thing war criminal officials in Israel and America spat on and threw away...
The supporters of Israel now have to value Israeli life beyond all others, court bigotry, not notice that many people around the world (including anti-Nazis like me) cannot stand Israeli murderousness and instigation of mob violence to seize more land in the West Bank and find the hypocrisy of the Israeli elite odious. For those who still somehow believe Israeli statements about Hamas hiding weapons among civilians in any of the cases the Israeli government murders families and refugees, read the Gareth Porter report below.
Netanyahu (and even the US State Department which was finally horrified by some of the killings, murdering children sheltering in a UN school, for example) points at Hamas and names himself.
In the first days of the war, Ury Avnery wrote a great piece early on how Hitler might have talked about the British government hiding among London civilians, Winston Churchill in his "rathole" while others are slaughtered.
Hamas is confined by blockade in an oppressed and heavily populated territory. To fight back, it has to be somewhere. So inevitably there will be some weapons in the vicinity of some civilians. But the Israeli claim that weapons are sheltered among civilians a) would not force them to kill civilians if they were smart (the rockets had little physical effect in Israel - though again, the fear caused among ordinary Israelis is an enormous spur to racism - and did not start until Israel arrested several hundred "Hamas" former prisoners in Israeli jails who had been released in the deal for Gilad Shalit) and b) is a lie, and in the face of the periodic and planned destruction of Gaza - many "mowing[s of] the lawn" - a bloody one.
Of a Gaza hospital that was bombed, Mats Gilbert, the Norwegian doctor who wrote a UN report on denial of health care under the Occupation, noted that there were no military people in the hospital. When asked hostilely on the BBC - BBC reporting on Israel is almost as bad as American reporting - if he had seen any Hamas people there, he thought about it for a minute and then send yes, the Hamas minister for health had been at the hospital...
"Hamas is the elected, governing authority in the West Bank," he had to note, and an administrator at the Hospital is not controversial among those who are not crazy...
But Israel and its supporters look at Hamas, which threatens civilians, and see themselves (the killers of 476 children...).
I have criticized Hamas sharply in these posts (this has not prevented my getting several letters with this Israeli government talking point and the claim - not an answer to an argument - that I must not be objective (the need, rather than offering argument or evidence, to say such a thing, a common trope cultivated by the Israeli government and AIPAC among its followers, reveals bad faith, projection...). They are not a good organization nor a real hope for Palestinians.
But as Siegman points out, they are no different from the Irgun and the Stern gang, part of the original violence against Palestinians which cleared out some 800,000 from "a land without people." Siegman read Benny Morris Righteous Victims and discovered that Yitzhak Rabin, later a prime minister but then a captain, had been ordered by David Ben Gurion to murder civilians to drive out the Palestinians. Rabin had lined them up and done so.
What is the difference between this and Hamas, Siegman asks?
Is not this, too, Israeli projection on Hamas?
Projection is a fierce and irrational relation to another, making her "an other."
In the case of indigenous peoples, colonial, settler regimes see them as the murderous "enemy" - often characterizing them as "female" and "irrational" - and slaughter them, civilians included. The State of Israel, as its defenders need to repeat aloud, a kind of shibboleth, is not as bad as the Nazis. But the psychological mechanism by which Germans demonized Jews and Slavs and Roma is exactly the same.
They do to others what they claim others would do to them, and on an increasingly massive scale...
Netanyahu says that though he egged on the racist mobs in Israel attacking Arab-Israelis and "leftists," he will bring to justice those who burned Mohammed El-Khdeir alive. "In surrounding countries," he says, "such murderers are honored, in Israel they are brought to justice."
Siegman points out that Shamir and Begin were leaders of the armed gangs which murdered Palestinian civilians, and have airports named after them. Rabin, too, became Prime Minister. So the celebration of such war criminals is even more central in Israel than it is in "neighboring countries."
And Ben Gurion, the founder, who put them up to murdering Palestinian civilians, became a Prime Minister after whom the Tel Aviv Airport is named. Netanyahu looks at Palestinians and sees himself.
What Siegman hopes is that Israelis will begin to look at themselves, not demonize - project on - Palestinians. He would wish, rightly, that they cease the Occupation and make peace.
But it is hard for Israelis, who have the Founding Myth "a land without a people for a people without land," to take in Benny Morris, Ilan Pappe and even Ari Shavit's discoveries that the Israeli army and its allies deliberately murdered civilians to create pre-1967 Israel. What Israel accuses the Palestinians of doing is what Israel has done to the Palestinians a) in the original "transfer" of 800,000, and b) in the creation of the settlements and the steady displacement of Palestinians - "permanent residents" according to the conquerors - from the Occupied Territories along with cyclic "mowing the lawn" in Gaza.
This second ethnic cleansing is of grave danger to Israel since it a) horrifies the world except the elite in its American ally (and Obama and Netanyahu no longer get along) and b) has destroyed a chance for Israel to live in peace and stability (being armed and having the US as an ally) within its 1967 borders.
It is this, the offer of Egyptian Prime Minister Anwar Sadat, which the younger Siegman regarded as "the coming of the millennium." He could not - and cannot - believe that the Center-Left government of Israel turned it down for expansion (to occupy the Sinai).
Superficially, there is little difference between what Israel does and Hamas. The Israeli government projects on Hamas its own criminality and worse its criminal intent to transfer people out of the West Bank and occupy the territory "from the River to the Sea." Hamas's supporters echo the slogan about what will happen to the "Zionist entity."
But, more deeply it is Israel that is actually doing the ethnic cleansing in the West Bank and more stridently, Gaza.
Moreover, Hamas is a representative (a bad one) of the people who live in the Occupied Territories. For it to strike at Israeli soldiers is self-defense. Israel was always the Occupying or aggressive power. After World War II, it did this because this was the place the international community would let Jews settle. That may be a kind of extenuation for original Israeli crimes. The Jews, who had been murdered in the millions and expelled from Europe needed as place to live, but Israel's leaders murdered/expelled civilians to create it.
There is now no excuse at all for Israel trading stability for expansion, as Noam Chomsky strikingly puts it. There is no excuse for turning down the offer from Sadat which, as a Zionist, Siegman had fervently prayed for: the "Messiah has come."
That was the beginning of Siegman rethinking Zionism, and long before its current, desperate pass...
If expansion, mass murder, destruction of what is decent in international law and transfer anew are the price for greater Israel, what is the justification for Israel?
And Israel had and has at hand an alternative, as Siegman underlines: it could leave the Occupied Territories. It could end the siege (as it promised and reneged on in 2012).
If in the supposed name of Jews, the Israeli government ravages Palestinians who are the Jews of the Occupied Territories, will most really not speak truth to power to these decadent would-be interwar "Europeans," and with Isaiah, denounce their crimes?
Will we not join with Jewish Voice for Peace and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement?
And will the world stand by and permit such repeated slaughters?
Time is fleeting for Israel. It is now, justifiably, widely disliked (I note, however, that European anti-semitism in the form of attacking Jewish owned stores is criminal and abjectly recalls Nazism; its perpetrators should be stopped and shunned by any decent movement).
America aid - $3 billion for military equipment and a new Congressional appropriation for Raytheon to send more missiles to Iron Dome (I mention this because one would never find out reading corporate American papers who the profiteers are) - is what Israel depends on. Every helicopter in the Occupied territories, as I saw in the West Bank, is an Apache (again, the interlocking between American ethnic cleansing of indigenous peoples and Israeli ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians is highlighted by the names of American weapons - h/t Tink Tinker, Billy Stratton).
If ordinary Americans come to see the massacres for what they are - if they are allowed to understand, because we, not the kept corporate media, push it - that the West Bank is illegally occupied territory, they will - and increasingly do - resist.
Israel is the bully on the block. It learned this from American ethnic cleansing of indigenous people and the Nazis. It wants to keep "them" down.
Hamas is following the Irgun and the founders of Israel in its violence toward ordinary Israelis. But it would be likely to settle for an end to the Occupation - its central demand - if Israel offered it. Hamas cannot collapse Israel which has a mighty military machine.
But the Israeli government can collapse Israel. The expansion project attempts to drive out the majority of Palestinians. If as Siegman points out, they as well as Arab Israelis and many Jews who cannot stand this murderous apartheid project, protest nonviolently (a cause that Hamas rockets harm...), if BDS spreads out (and many Jewish college students are joining with it), if more Palestinian villagers on the West Bank protest nonviolently see here and here and are given publicity, not hidden behind a Wall and the dishonorable silence of the American press, Israel will be seen as an apartheid-ridden, persecuting even of Israeli dissenters travesty of its onetime hopes. That would be a mass nonviolent Palestinian and perhaps Israeli spring.
And the apartheid government may well collapse.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: As we continue our coverage of the Israeli offensive in Gaza, we spend the rest of the hour with Henry Siegman, the former executive director of the American Jewish Congress, long described as one of the nation’s "big three" Jewish organizations along with the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League. Henry Siegman was born in 1930 in Frankfurt, Germany. Three years later, the Nazis came to power. After fleeing Nazi troops in Belgium, his family eventually moved to the United States. His father was a leader of the European Zionist movement, pushing for the creation of a Jewish state. In New York, Henry Siegman studied and was ordained as an Orthodox rabbi by Yeshiva Torah Vodaas. He later became head of the Synagogue Council of America. After his time at the American Jewish Congress, Siegman became a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He now serves as president of the U.S./Middle East Project.
AMY GOODMAN: Over the years, Henry Siegman has become a vocal critic of Israel’s policies in the Occupied Territories and has urged Isral to engage with Hamas. He has called the Palestinian struggle for a state, quote, "the mirror image of the Zionist movement" that led to the founding of Israel in 1948. He recently wrote a piece for Politico headlined "Israel Provoked This War." Nermeen Shaikh and I sat down with him on Tuesday. I started by asking Henry Siegman if he could characterize the situation in Gaza at the moment.
HENRY SIEGMAN: Yes, it’s disastrous. It’s disastrous, both in political terms, which is to say the situation cannot conceivably, certainly in the short run, lead to any positive results, to an improvement in the lives of either Israelis or Palestinians, and of course it’s disastrous in humanitarian terms, the kind of slaughter that’s taking place there. When one thinks that this is what is necessary for Israel to survive, that the Zionist dream is based on the slaughter of—repeated slaughter of innocents on a scale that we’re watching these days on television, that is really a profound, profound crisis—and should be a profound crisis—in the thinking of all of us who were committed to the establishment of the state and to its success. It leads one virtually to a whole rethinking of this historical phenomenon.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: What do you believe—Mr. Siegman, what do you believe the objectives of Israel are in this present assault on Gaza?
HENRY SIEGMAN: Well, they have several objectives, although I’m not sure that each of them is specifically responsible for the carnage we’re seeing now. It has what seems on the surface a justifiable objective of ending these attacks, the rockets that come from Gaza and are aimed—it’s hard to say they’re aimed at civilians, because they never seem to land anywhere that causes serious damage, but they could and would have, if not for luck. So, on the face of it, Israel has a right to do what it’s doing now, and, of course, it’s been affirmed by even president of the United States, repeatedly, that no country would agree to live with that kind of a threat repeatedly hanging over it.
But what he doesn’t add, and what perverts this principle, undermines the principle, is that no country and no people would live the way Gazans have been made to live. And consequently, this moral equation which puts Israel on top as the victim that has to act to prevent its situation from continuing that way, and the Palestinians in Gaza, or Hamas, the organization responsible for Gaza, who are the attackers, our media rarely ever points out that these are people who have a right to live a decent, normal life, too. And they, too, must think, "What can we do to put an end to this?"
And this is why in the Politico article that you mentioned, I pointed out the question of the morality of Israel’s action depends, in the first instance, on the question: Couldn’t Israel be doing something in preventing this disaster that is playing out now, in terms of the destruction of human lives? Couldn’t they have done something that didn’t require that cost? And the answer is: Sure, that they could have ended the occupation, with results—whatever the risks are, they certainly aren’t greater than the price being paid now for Israel’s effort to continue and sustain permanently their relationship to the Palestinians.
AMY GOODMAN: When you say that Israel could end the violence by ending the occupation, Israel says it does not occupy Gaza, that it left years ago. I wanted to play a clip for you from MSNBC. It was last week, and the host, Joy Reid, was interviewing the Israeli spokesperson, Mark Regev.
MARK REGEV: Listen, if you’ll allow me to, I want to take issue with one important word you said. You said Israel is the occupying authority. You’re forgetting Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip. We took down all the settlements, and the settlers who didn’t want to leave, we forced them to leave. We pulled back to the 1967 international frontier. There is no Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip. We haven’t been there for some eight years.
AMY GOODMAN: Henry Siegman, can you respond?
HENRY SIEGMAN: OK, yeah. That is of course utter nonsense, and for several reasons. First of all, Gaza is controlled completely, like the West Bank, because it is totally surrounded by Israel. Israel could not be imposing the kind of chokehold it has on Gaza if it were not surrounding, if its military were not surrounding Gaza, and not just on the territory, but also on the air, on the sea. No one there can make a move without coming into contact with the Israeli IDF, you know, outside this imprisoned area where Gazans live. So, there’s no one I have encountered, who is involved with international law, who’s ever suggested to me that in international law Gaza is not considered occupied. So that’s sheer nonsense.
But there’s another point triggered by your question to me, and this is the propaganda machine, and these official spokespeople will always tell you, "Take a look at what kind of people these are. Here we turned over Gaza to them. And you’d think they would invest their energies in building up the area, making it a model government and model economy. Instead, they’re working on rockets." The implication here is that they, in effect, offered Palestinians a mini state, and they didn’t take advantage of it, so the issue isn’t really Palestinian statehood. That is the purpose of this kind of critique.
And I have always asked myself, and this has a great deal to do with my own changing views about the policies of governments, not about the Jewish state qua Jewish state, but of the policies pursued by Israeli governments and supported—you know, they say Israel is a model democracy in the Middle East, so you must assume—the public has to assume some responsibility for what the government does, because they put governments in place. So, the question I ask myself: What if the situation were reversed? You know, there is a Talmudic saying in Pirkei Avot, The Ethics of the Fathers: "Al tadin et chavercha ad shetagiah lemekomo," "Don’t judge your neighbor until you can imagine yourself in his place." So, my first question when I deal with any issue related to the Israeli-Palestinian issue: What if we were in their place?
What if the situation were reversed, and the Jewish population were locked into, were told, "Here, you have less than 2 percent of Palestine, so now behave. No more resistance. And let us deal with the rest"? Is there any Jew who would have said this is a reasonable proposition, that we cease our resistance, we cease our effort to establish a Jewish state, at least on one-half of Palestine, which is authorized by the U.N.? Nobody would agree to that. They would say this is absurd. So the expectations that Palestinians—and I’m speaking now about the resistance as a concept; I’m not talking about rockets, whether they were justified or not. They’re not. I think that sending rockets that are going to kill civilians is a crime. But for Palestinians to try, in any way they can, to end this state of affair—and to expect of them to end their struggle and just focus on less than 2 percent to build a country is absurd. That is part of—that’s propaganda, but it’s not a discussion of either politics or morality.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: One of the things that’s repeated most often is, the problem with the Palestinian unity government is, of course, that Hamas is now part of it, and Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel and also by the United States. I’d just like to read you a short quote from an article that you wrote in 2009 in the London Review of Books. You said, "Hamas is no more a 'terror organisation' ... than the Zionist movement was during its struggle for a Jewish homeland. In the late 1930s and 1940s, parties within the Zionist movement resorted to terrorist activities for strategic reasons." Could you elaborate on that and what you see as the parallels between the two?
HENRY SIEGMAN: Well, I’m glad I said that. In fact, I repeated it in a letter to The New York Times the other day, a week or two ago. The fact is that Israel had, pre-state—in its pre-state stage, several terrorist groups that did exactly what Hamas does today. I don’t mean they sent rockets, but they killed innocent people. And they did that in an even more targeted way than these rockets do. Benny Morris published a book that is considered the Bible on that particular period, the war of—
AMY GOODMAN: The Israeli historian.
HENRY SIEGMAN: Sorry?
AMY GOODMAN: The Israeli historian, Benny Morris.
HENRY SIEGMAN: The Israeli historian, right, then in the book Righteous Victims, in which he said—I recall, when I read it, I was shocked—in which he—particularly in his most recently updated book, which was based on some new information that the Israel’s Defense—the IDF finally had to open up and publish, that Israeli generals received direct instructions from Ben-Gurion during the War of Independence to kill civilians, or line them up against the wall and shoot them, in order to help to encourage the exodus, that in fact resulted, of 700,000 Palestinians, who were driven out of their—left their homes, and their towns and villages were destroyed. This was terror, even within not just the terrorist groups, the pre-state terrorists, but this is within the military, the Israeli military, that fought the War of Independence. And in this recent book, that has received so much public attention by Ari—you know, My Promised Land.
AMY GOODMAN: Shavit.
HENRY SIEGMAN: Ari Shavit. He describes several such incidents, too. And incidentally, one of the people who—according to Benny Morris, one of the people who received these orders—and they were oral orders, but he, in his book, describes why he believes that these orders were given, were given to none other than Rabin, who was not a general then, but he—and that he executed these orders.
AMY GOODMAN: Meaning?
HENRY SIEGMAN: Meaning?
AMY GOODMAN: What did it mean that he executed these orders, Rabin?
HENRY SIEGMAN: That he executed civilians. And the rationale given for this when Shavit, some years ago, had an interview with Benny Morris and said to him, "My God, you are saying that there was deliberate ethnic cleansing here?" And Morris said, "Yes, there was." And he says, "And you justify it?" And he said, "Yes, because otherwise there would not have been a state." And Shavit did not follow up. And that was one of my turning points myself, when I saw that. He would not follow up and say, "Well, if that is a justification, the struggle for statehood, why can’t Palestinians do that? What’s wrong with Hamas? Why are they demonized if they do what we did?"
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to the Israeli prime minister earlier this month, Benjamin Netanyahu, vowing to punish those responsible for the killing of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the Palestinian teen who was burned alive following the murders of three Israeli teens. But in doing so, Netanyahu drew a distinction between Israel and its neighbors in how it deals with, quote, "murderers."
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: I know that in our society, the society of Israel, there is no place for such murderers. And that’s the difference between us and our neighbors. They consider murderers to be heroes. They name public squares after them. We don’t. We condemn them, and we put them on trial, and we’ll put them in prison.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talking about the difference. Henry Siegman, can you respond?
HENRY SIEGMAN: Well, the only difference I can think of is that in Israel they made the heads of the two major pre-state terrorist groups prime ministers. So this distinction he’s drawing is simply false; it’s not true. The heads of the two terrorist groups, which incidentally, again, going back to Benny Morris, in his book, Righteous Victims, he writes, in this pre-state account, that the targeting of civilians was started by the Jewish terrorist groups, and the Arab—and the Arab groups followed.
AMY GOODMAN: You’re talking about Irgun and the Stern Gang.
HENRY SIEGMAN: Yes, yes. And as you know, both the head of the Irgun and both the head of the Stern Gang—I’m talking about Begin and Shamir—became prime ministers of the state of Israel. And contrary to Netanyahu, public highways and streets are named after them.
AMY GOODMAN: Henry Siegman, former head of the American Jewish Congress. We’ll continue our conversation with him in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report, as we continue our conversation with Henry Siegman, president of the U.S./Middle East Project, former head of the American Jewish Congress. I interviewed him Tuesday with Nermeen Shaikh.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: I’d like to turn, Henry Siegman, to Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas, who was speaking to Charlie Rose of PBS. He said Hamas was willing to coexist with Jews but said it would not live, quote, "with a state of occupiers."
KHALED MESHAAL: [translated] I am ready to coexist with the Jews, with the Christians, and with the Arabs and non-Arabs, and with those who agree with my ideas and also disagree with them; however, I do not coexist with the occupiers, with the settlers and those who put a siege on us.
CHARLIE ROSE: It’s one thing to say you want to coexist with the Jews. It’s another thing you want to coexist with the state of Israel. Do you want to coexist with the state of Israel? Do you want to represent—do you want to recognize Israel as a Jewish state?
KHALED MESHAAL: [translated] No. I said I do not want to live with a state of occupiers.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: That was Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas, speaking to Charlie Rose. Henry Siegman, could you respond to that, and specifically the claim made by Israelis repeatedly that they can’t negotiate with a political organization that refuses the state of Israel’s right to exist in its present form?
HENRY SIEGMAN: Yes. It so happens that in both international custom and international law, political parties, like Hamas, are not required or even ever asked to recognize states, whether they recognize a state or not. The question is whether the government of which they are a part and that makes policy and executes policy, whether that government is prepared to recognize other states. And this is true in the case of Israel, as well, the government of Israel, any government. I, incidentally, discussed this with Meshaal, not once, but several times, face to face, and asked him whether he would be part of a government that recognizes the state of Israel, and he says—and he said, "Yes, provided"—they had a proviso—he said, "provided that the Palestinian public approves that policy." And he repeated to me the fact that—he said, "You’re absolutely right." He says, "People ask us will we recognize the state of Israel, and will we affirm that it’s legitimately a Jewish state." He said, "No, we won’t do that. But we have never said that we will not serve in a government that has public support for that position, that we will not serve in such a government."
But a more important point to be made here—and this is why these distinctions are so dishonest—the state of Israel does not recognize a Palestinian state, which is to say there are parties in Netanyahu’s government—very important parties, not marginal parties—including his own, the Likud, that to this day has an official platform that does not recognize the right of Palestinians to have a state anywhere in Palestine. And, of course, you have Naftali Bennett’s party, the HaBayit HaYehudi, which says this openly, that there will never be a state, a Palestinian state, anywhere in Palestine. Why hasn’t our government or anyone said, "Like Hamas, if you have parties like that in your government, you are not a peace partner, and you are a terrorist group, if in fact you use violence to implement your policy, as Hamas does"? So the hypocrisy in the discussion that is taking place publicly is just mind-boggling.
AMY GOODMAN: Henry Siegman, you’re the head, the former head, of one of the leading Jewish organizations, the American Jewish Congress.
HENRY SIEGMAN: Two of them, also of the Synagogue Council of America.
AMY GOODMAN: So, these are major establishment Jewish organizations. You said you went to see Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas, not once, but several times to meet with him. The U.S. government calls Hamas a terrorist organization. They will not communicate with them. They communicate with them through other parties, through other countries, to talk to them. Talk about your decision to meet with Khaled Meshaal, where you met with him, and the significance of your conversations.
HENRY SIEGMAN: Well, first of all, it should be noted that the U.S. has no such policy of not meeting with terrorist organizations. It has a policy of not meeting with Hamas. That’s quite different. We’re very happy to meet with the Taliban and to negotiate with them. And they cut off hands and heads of people, and they kill girls who go to school. And that didn’t prevent the United States from having negotiations with the Taliban, so that’s nonsense that we don’t talk to terrorist organizations. We talk to enemies if we want to cease the slaughter, and we’re happy to do so and to try to reach an agreement that puts an end to it. And why Hamas should be the exception, again, I find dishonest. And the only reason that we do that is in response to the pressures from AIPAC and, of course, Israel’s position. The largest caucus, parliamentary caucus, in Israel’s Knesset is called the caucus of Eretz Yisrael HaShlema, which the Likud leads.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain that in English, "the land of Israel."
HENRY SIEGMAN: An "eretz," in English—in English, it means the whole land of Israel. This is a parliamentary caucus, the largest caucus in the Knesset, which is totally dedicated to not permit any government to establish a Palestinian state anywhere in the land of Israel, headed by Likud, senior Likud members of Knesset, and headed—a party that is headed by the prime minister of Israel. And what boggles the imagination is that no one talks about this, no one points this out, and no one says, "How can you take these positions via Hamas if this is exactly what is going on within your own government that you are heading?"
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Henry Siegman, as you are far more familiar than most, the argument made by Israel and supporters of Israel is that what might be construed as a disproportionate response by Israel to Hamas has to do with the historical experience of the persecution of the Jews and, of course, the Holocaust. So how do you respond to those kinds of claims?
HENRY SIEGMAN: Well, I don’t accept that at all, because the lesson from the persecutions would seem to me—and certainly if you follow Jewish tradition, the lesson of those persecutions, we have always said, until the state of Israel came into being, is that you do not treat people in that kind of an inhumane and cruel way. And the hope always was that Israel would be a model democracy, but not just a democracy, but a state that would practice Jewish values, in terms of its humanitarian approach to these issues, its pursuit of justice and so on.
I have always felt that, for me, the Holocaust experience, which was important to me, since I lived two years under Nazi occupation, most of it running from place to place and in hiding—I always thought that the important lesson of the Holocaust is not that there is evil, that there are evil people in this world who could do the most unimaginable, unimaginably cruel things. That was not the great lesson of the Holocaust. The great lesson of the Holocaust is that decent, cultured people, people we would otherwise consider good people, can allow such evil to prevail, that the German public—these were not monsters, but it was OK with them that the Nazi machine did what it did. Now I draw no comparisons between the Nazi machine and Israeli policy. And what I resent most deeply is when people say, "How dare you invoke the Nazi experience?" The point isn’t, you know, what exactly they did, but the point is the evidence that they gave that decent people can watch evil and do nothing about it. That is the most important lesson of the Holocaust, not the Hitlers and not the SS, but the public that allowed this to happen. And my deep disappointment is that the Israeli public, precisely because Israel is a democracy and cannot say, "We’re not responsible what our leaders do," that the public puts these people back into office again and again.
AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned your experience as a Holocaust survivor. Could you just go into it a little more deeply? You were born in 1930 in Germany. And talk about the rise of the Nazis and how your family escaped.
HENRY SIEGMAN: Well, I don’t consider myself a Holocaust survivor, in the sense that I was not in a concentration camp. But I lived under Nazi occupation. I was born in 1930, but the Nazis came to power in—I think in 1933. And shortly thereafter, we lived in Germany at the time. My parents lived in Germany, in Frankfurt. And they left. My father decided to give up a very successful business and to move to Belgium then, and on the assumption that Belgium was safe, that we would be escaping the Nazis. But in 1940, the Germans invaded Belgium, and they invaded France. That was in early 1940, I believe. And so, it’s a long story, but for the next—from that point on until February 1942, when we arrived, finally arrived in the United States.
And how my father pulled that off is a miracle; to this day, I don’t fully understand, because there were six children that he had to bring with him, and my mother, of course. We ran from place to place. First we were at Dunkirk, where the classic evacuation, memorable evacuation took place, and the French and the British soldiers withdrew to across the channel. We happened to find ourselves there at the time. And then we were sent back by the—when the Nazi troops finally caught up with us in Dunkirk, they sent us back to Antwerp. And then my father had connections with the police chief, because of his business interests in Antwerp before the Nazis came. He was tipped off the morning that we were supposed to be—the Gestapo was supposed to come to our house to take all of us away. And so we just picked up, and we managed to get to Paris. And from Paris, we crossed—we were smuggled across the border into occupied Vichy France, and we were there for about a year, again without proper papers and in hiding. Then we tried to cross into Spain. And we did, but when we arrived at the Spanish border, they finally closed the border and sent us back into France.
So, then we managed to get a boat to take us from Marseille to North Africa, where we were interned briefly in a camp in North Africa. And then the—what I believe was the last ship, a Portuguese, a neutral ship, taking refugees to the United States stopped in North Africa. We boarded that ship. And we were on the high seas for two months, because the Nazi subs were already busy sinking the ships that they encountered. So we had to go all the way around to avoid various Nazi submarine-infested areas.
So after two months on the high seas, we arrived in New York, where we were sent to Ellis Island, which was full of Bundists, who had been German Bundists, who were arrested and were being sent back to Germany. But as we walked into Ellis Island into that hallway, something I will never forget, "We’re in America at last!" And those Bundists were greeting each other in the hallway, "Heil Hitler!" So the "Heil Hitlers" that we were trying to escape in Europe was the first thing we encountered as we landed on Ellis Island.
AMY GOODMAN: And how did you end up becoming head of one of the country’s—or, as you said, country’s two major Jewish organizations? And what was your position on Zionism after World War II?
HENRY SIEGMAN: Well, my father was one of the leaders of European Zionism. He was the head of the Mizrachi in the religious Zionist movement, not just in Belgium, but in Western Europe. And the leaders, the heads, the founders of the Mizrachi—mayor of Berlin himself, Gold, many others—were guests in our house in Antwerp. And they used to take me on their knees and teach me Hebrew songs from Israel. So, I had—I was raised on mother’s milk, and I was an ardent—as a kid even, an ardent Zionist. I recall on the ship coming over, we were coming to America, and I was writing poetry and songs—I was 10 years old, 11 years old—about the blue sky of Palestine. In those days we referred to it as Palestina, Palestine.
And so, into adulthood, not until well after the ’67 War, when I came across—and I got to know Rabin and others, and I came across a discussion in which I was told by Israelis, by the Israeli people who I was talking to, government, senior government people, that they had an initiative from Sadat about peace and withdrawal and so on. And Rabin said, "But clearly, the Israeli public is not prepared for that now." And that hit me like a hammer. I always had this notion drilled into me that if only the Arabs were to reach out and be willing to live in peace with Israel, that would be the time of the Messiah. And the Messiah came, and the Israeli leadership said, "No, public opinion is not ready for that." And I wrote a piece then in Moment magazine—if you recall, it was published by Leonard Fein—and he made it a cover story, and the title was, "For the Sake of Zion, I Will Not Remain Silent." And that triggered my re-examination of things I had been told and what was going on on the ground.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Prior to that, your sense had always been that if the Arabs reached out, there would be two states: Palestine and Israel.
HENRY SIEGMAN: I had no doubt about that. I mean, that was, you know, just a given, that we are sharing. The resolution said, you know, two states. The resolution, which Israel—the partition resolution, which Israel invoked in its Declaration of Independence, planted, rooted its legitimacy in that—it cited the Palestinian—the partition plan. But when someone these days says, "But there’s a partition plan that said that the rest of it, that was not assigned to Israel, is the legitimate patrimony of the Palestinian people," the answer given is, "Ah, yeah, but they voted they would not accept it, and the partition plan was never officially adopted." Well, why are you quoting it then in your Declaration of Independence, if you consider it to be null and void and not—anyway.
AMY GOODMAN: And the response of—or the slogan, the idea that was put forward so much in the founding of the state of Israel: Palestine is a land without people for a people without land?
HENRY SIEGMAN: Well, that was the common understanding and referred to repeatedly in Ari Shavit’s book and others, that the Zionist movement, at its very birth, was founded on an untruth, on a myth, that Palestine was a country without a people. And as he says, obviously—and he recognizes in his book that it was a lie. And therefore, from the very beginning, Zionism didn’t confront this profound moral dilemma that lay at its very heart. How do you deal with that reality? And as a consequence of that, one of the ways in which they dealt with it was to see to the expulsion of 700,000 people from their cities, from their towns and villages, and the destruction of all of them, which, to his credit, Ari Shavit writes about very painfully and honestly.
AMY GOODMAN: Henry Siegman, president of the U.S./Middle East Project. He’s the former executive director of the American Jewish Congress as well as the Synagogue Council of America. He recently wrote a piece for Politico headlined "Israel Provoked This War." We’ll link to it at democracynow.org. Tune in tomorrow for part two of our conversation with Henry Siegman, where he talks about U.S. support for Israel and U.S. media coverage.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. As we continue our coverage of the Israeli offensive on Gaza, we turn to part two of our conversation with Henry Siegman, the former head of the American Jewish Congress and the Synagogue Council of America. What he says about the future of Israel and the ongoing assault on Gaza may surprise you. Siegman was born in 1930 in Frankfurt, Germany. His family fled Germany as the Nazis came to power. He eventually arrived in the United States in 1942. His father was a leader of European Zionism, pushing for the creation of a Jewish state. In New York, Henry Siegman studied and was ordained as an Orthodox rabbi by Yeshiva Torah Vodaas. He now serves as president of the U.S./Middle East Project. He recently wrote a piece for Politico headlined "Israel Provoked This War: It’s Up to President Obama to Stop It."
Democracy Now!'s Nermeen Shaikh and I sat down with Henry Siegman on Tuesday. I asked him about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's claim that Israel is just responding to the thousands of rockets that Hamas and other groups are firing from Gaza.
HENRY SIEGMAN: My response is that they wouldn’t be firing those rockets if you weren’t out—if you didn’t have an occupation in place. And one of the reasons you say you do not have an occupation in place is because you really don’t have a united partner, Palestinian partner, to make peace with, and when Palestinians seek to establish that kind of a government, which they just recently did, bringing Hamas into the governmental structure, Palestinian governmental structure, that is headed by Abbas, you seek to destroy that. You won’t recognize it. And this is why I say there are several reasons for the Israeli action. A primary one is to prevent this new government from actually succeeding. It’s an attempt to break up the new unity government set up by the Palestinians.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Why would they do that? Why would they want to do that?
HENRY SIEGMAN: They want to do that, for the first time—for years, I have been suggesting and arguing that they want to do that because they are intent on preventing the development of a Palestinian state. To put it bluntly, they want all of it. They want all of Palestine.
Now, this is something that Netanyahu said openly and without any reservations when he was not in government. He wrote about it, published a book about it, his opposition to a Palestinian state, that Israel couldn’t allow that. The difference between the time that he—and he, incidentally, opposed not just Palestinian statehood. He opposed peace agreements with Egypt. He opposed peace agreements with Jordan. Any positive step towards a stabilization and a more peaceful region, Netanyahu has been on record as opposing.
And when he came into office as prime minister, he understood that it is not a smart thing to say that Israel’s policy is to maintain the occupation permanently. So, the only difference between his positions in the past and the position now is that he pretends that he really would like to see a two-state solution, which, as you know, is the affirmation he made in his so-called Bar-Ilan speech several years ago. And some naive people said, "Ah, you know, redemption is at hand," when, to his own people, he winked and made clear, and as I just read recently—I didn’t know that—that it’s on record that his father said, "Of course he didn’t mean it. He will attach conditions that will make it impossible." But that was his tactic. His tactic was to say, "We are all in favor of it, but if only we had a Palestinian partner."
Now, in fact, they’ve had a Palestinian partner that’s been willing and able—they set up institutions that the World Bank has said are more effective than most states that are members of the U.N. today. And that, of course, made no difference, and continued to say we do not have a partner, because you have nearly two million Palestinians in Gaza who are not represented. So the unity government became a threat to that tactic of pretending to be in support of a Palestinian state.
AMY GOODMAN: In a response to the piece that you wrote for Politico that was headlined "Israel Provoked This War," the Anti-Defamation League writes, quote, "Hamas has a charter which they live up to every day calling for Israel’s destruction. Hamas has used the last two years of relative quiet to build up an arsenal of rockets whose sole purpose is to attack Israel. Hamas has built a huge network of tunnels leading into Israel with the purpose of murdering large numbers of Israelis and seizing hostages." Henry Siegman, can you respond?
HENRY SIEGMAN: What I would point out to my former friend Abe Foxman of the ADL is that, too, is Israel’s charter, or at least the policy of this government and of many previous governments, which is to prevent the emergence of a Palestinian state. And they have built up their army and their armaments to implement that policy. And the difference between Hamas and the state of Israel is that the state of Israel is actually doing it. They’re actually implementing it, and they’re actually preventing a Palestinian state, which doesn’t exist. And millions of Palestinians live in this subservient position without rights and without security, without hope and without a future. That’s not the state of—the state of Israel is a very successful state, and happily Jews live there with a thriving economy and with an army whose main purpose is preventing that Palestinian state from coming into being. That’s their mandate.
But sadly and shockingly, they can stand by, even though international law says if you’re occupying people from outside of your country, you have a responsibility to protect them. I mean, the responsibility to protect is the people you are occupying. The soldiers who are there, ostensibly to implement that mandate, will watch settler violence when it occurs when they attack Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, and they won’t do a thing to prevent it. They won’t intervene to protect the people they are supposed to protect, and they will tell you, "That’s not our job. Our job is to protect the Jews."
NERMEEN SHAIKH: On the question of the support, the successive U.S. administrations supporting Israel, I’d like to again quote from something you said in a 2002 New York Times interview with Chris Hedges. You said, "The support for Israel," in the United States, "fills a spiritual vacuum. If you do not support the government of Israel then your Jewishness, not your political judgment, is in question." So could you explain what you mean by that and what the implications of that have been, in terms of U.S. governments supporting Israeli government policy?
HENRY SIEGMAN: Well, what I meant by that, and that was an interview quite a while ago—
NERMEEN SHAIKH: 2002, yes.
HENRY SIEGMAN: I see, OK, which is not all that long ago, for me anyway. I meant by that something quite simple, that for many American Jews—and, I suspect, for most American Jews—Israel has become the content of their Jewish religious identification. It has very little other content. I rarely have been at a Shabbat service where a rabbi gives a sermon where Israel isn’t a subject of the sermon. And typically, they are—the sermons are not in the spirit of an Isaiah, you know, who says, "My god, is this what God wants from you? Your hands are bloody; they’re filled with blood. But he doesn’t want your fast. He doesn’t want—he despises the sacrifices and your prayers. What he wants is to feed, to feed the hungry, to pursue justice and so on." But that’s not what you hear from rabbis in the synagogues in this country. So, what I meant by that is that there’s much more to Judaism and to the meaning that you give to your Jewish identity than support for the likes of Netanyahu.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And Henry Siegman, what do you think the Obama administration has done since his first administration? And what do you think he ought to be doing differently, on the question of Israel-Palestine and, in particular, his response to this most recent military assault on Gaza?
HENRY SIEGMAN: Look, I have written about this for years now. It’s not all that complicated. It is quite clear that, left to its own devices, if Israel—if the United States says to the Palestinians, "Hey, you guys have got to talk not to us; you’ve got to talk to the Palestinians—to the Israelis, and you have to come to an understanding that’s how peace is made, but we can’t interfere. You know, we cannot tell Israel what to do"—left to their own devices, there will never be a Palestinian state. And the question is—I have very serious doubts that we have not gone beyond the point where a Palestinian state is possible. The purpose of the settlement movement was to make it impossible. And I believe they have succeeded: That project has achieved its goal.
AMY GOODMAN: The Jewish settlements.
HENRY SIEGMAN: The Jewish settlers have achieved the irreversibility of the settlement movement, in terms of the vast infrastructure that has been put in place. So, even if there were a leftist government, so-called leftist government, that came to power, it would not be able to do it, because of the upheaval that would be necessary to create such a state.
There is only one thing—as far as I’m concerned, there are only two things that could happen that could still, perhaps, produce a Palestinian state. The first one is for the—because the United States remains absolutely essential in terms of Israel’s security, to its continued success and survival. If at some point the United States were to say, "You have now reached a point—we have been your biggest supporters. We have been with you through thick and thin. And we have based—we have treated you"—you know, a lot of people say, criticizing the U.S. and the international community, that we have double standards, that we expect things of Israel that we don’t expect of the rest of the world. We do have double standards, but it works the other way around: We grant Israel privileges and tolerate behavior that we would not in other allies. We may say there’s nothing we can do to change that, but we don’t give them billions of dollars. And we don’t go to the U.N., at the Security Council, to veto when the international—efforts by the United Nations to prevent that bad behavior. So we have double standards, but it works the other way. But if the United States were to say to Israel, "It’s our common values that underlie this very special relationship we have with you and these privileges that we have extended to you, but this can’t go on. We can’t do that when those values are being undermined. The values—what you are doing today contradicts American values. We are a democratic country, and we cannot be seen as aiding and abetting this oppression and permanent disenfranchisement of an entire people. So, you’re on your own." The issue is not America sending planes and missiles to bomb Tel Aviv as punishment; the issue is America removing itself from being a collaborator in the policies and a facilitator, making it easy and providing the tools for Israel to do that. So, if at some point the United States were to say what is said in Hebrew, ad kan, you know, "So far, but no further. We can’t—this is not what we can do. You want to do it? You’re on your own," that would change—that could still change the situation, because the one thing Israelis do not want to do is have the country live in a world where America is not there to have their back.
And the other possibility, which I have also written about, is for Palestinians to say, "OK, you won. You didn’t want us to have a state. We see that you’ve won. You have all of it." So our struggle is no longer to push the border to—to maintain a '67 border, where nobody is going to come to their help, because borderlines—international opinion doesn't mobilize around those issues. But this is a struggle against what looks and smells like apartheid—we want citizenship, we want full rights in all of Palestine—and make that the struggle. If Palestinians were to undertake that kind of a struggle in a credible way, where the Israeli public would see that they really mean it and they are going to fight for that in a nonviolent way, not by sending rockets, for citizenship, I am convinced—and I’ve seen no polls that contradict that belief—that they would say to their government, "Wait a minute, that is unacceptable, in fact, for us, and we cannot allow that. We don’t want a majority Arab population here." I’ve talked to Palestinian leadership and urged them to move in that direction. There is now a growing movement among younger Palestinians in that direction. And that, I hope, may yet happen. Now, it has to be a serious movement. It can’t just be a trick to get another state, but only if it is serious, where they are ready to accept citizenship and fight for it in a single state of all of Palestine, is it possible for the Israeli public to say, "This we cannot want, too, and we have to have a government that will accept the two states."
AMY GOODMAN: Why would Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has said he supports a two-state solution, create a situation that makes it virtually impossible, since it leads to this second possibility, which is a one-state solution, to the possibility that he does not want, which would be a majority Arab country?
HENRY SIEGMAN: He obviously believes that a one-state—well, I said earlier in our conversation that he never meant—when he said in his Bar-Ilan speech that he embraces a two-state, that was totally contrived. It was dishonest. Or, in simple English, he lied. And I appreciated the fact that several weeks ago, two weeks ago, he had a press conference in which he said—he didn’t say, "I lied," but he said, "There will never be a truly sovereign Palestinian state anywhere in Palestine." So, it’s quite clear now, and one of his friends, the former editor of The Jerusalem Post, who now edits The Times of Israel, had this big headline: "Finally, Now We Know It." We know he never meant it. He didn’t say this critically; he said this positively. "Finally, he’s back in the fold, and we know he will never allow a sovereign Palestinian state." Now, what will he do with a majority Arab population? He will do what the head of HaBayit HaYehudi, Bennett, has been advocating and proposed.
AMY GOODMAN: That means Jewish Home party in Israel.
HENRY SIEGMAN: That means the Jewish Home, and the Jewish Home meaning everywhere. And what he has said is that we’ll solve this problem of a potential apartheid in Israel in the following way: We will allow certain enclaves where there are heavy population—heavily populated by Palestinians, in certain parts of the West Bank, and those enclaves will be surrounded by our military. In other words, a bunch of Gazas; there will be several Gazas. Gaza, of course, will be shed or will become one of those enclaves, so they’re not part of the population of Israel. All the rest of Israel—the Jordan Valley, Area C, all of Area C, which is over 60 percent of the West Bank—will be annexed unilaterally by Israel. So, we will have shed two million Palestinians from Gaza. We will have shed another million and a half that live in the cities and in the more populated urban areas, in those enclaves—in those, essentially, bantustans. And the rest, that there are—what did he say? There are 50,000 Palestinians who live in Area C. We will make them citizens, and voila, apartheid is solved. That is—I believed that for the longest time, but that is the plan of Bibi Netanyahu. He may have to settle for less than 60 percent of the West Bank, but essentially he thinks he can solve this problem, this demographic bomb, as it’s been described, in this manner.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: You’ve also expressed in an interview in 2012 with The Jewish Daily Forward a concern that if Israel continues on its present path, its path in 2012, which I think it’s safe to say it continues today, that Israel will not be able to exist even for another 50 years. Could you explain what you mean by that? Why couldn’t it exist in the form that you’ve just described, for instance?
HENRY SIEGMAN: In which form?
NERMEEN SHAIKH: What you were saying earlier about the way in which the—
HENRY SIEGMAN: You mean in Bennett’s form?
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well—
HENRY SIEGMAN: Well, it certainly would not be existing as a Jewish state, and neither as a democratic state or a Jewish state.
AMY GOODMAN: Because?
HENRY SIEGMAN: Because a country that creates—for the same reason that South Africa could not claim it is a democratic state, because it has a bunch of bantustans.
AMY GOODMAN: Do you see Israel as an apartheid state?
HENRY SIEGMAN: If they were to implement Bennett’s plan, absolutely. I don’t know if technically this is apartheid, but it certainly would not be a democratic state. It would lose its right to call itself a democracy.
AMY GOODMAN: Henry Siegman, I wanted to ask you about media coverage of the conflict right now in Gaza. In a comment to close the CBS show Face the Nation on Sunday, the host, Bob Schieffer, suggested Hamas forces Israel to kill Palestinian children.
BOB SCHIEFFER: In the Middle East, the Palestinian people find themselves in the grip of a terrorist group that is embarked on a strategy to get its own children killed in order to build sympathy for its cause—a strategy that might actually be working, at least in some quarters. Last week I found a quote of many years ago by Golda Meir, one of Israel’s early leaders, which might have been said yesterday: "We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children," she said, "but we can never forgive them for forcing us to kill their children."
AMY GOODMAN: That was the host, the journalist Bob Schieffer, on Face the Nation. You knew Prime Minister Golda Meir.
HENRY SIEGMAN: Yes, I did. I wasn’t a friend of hers, but I knew her, and I heard her when she made that statement. And I thought then, and think now, that it is an embarrassingly hypocritical statement. This statement was made by a woman who also said "Palestinians? There are no Palestinians! I am a Palestinian." If you don’t want to kill Palestinians, if that’s what pains you so much, you don’t have to kill them. You can give them their rights, and you can end the occupation. And to put the blame for the occupation and for the killing of innocents that we are seeing in Gaza now on the Palestinians—why? Because they want a state of their own? They want what Jews wanted and achieved? I find that, to put it mildly, less than admirable. There is something deeply hypocritical about that original statement and about repeating it on the air over here as a great moral insight.
AMY GOODMAN: Henry Siegman, president of the U.S./Middle East Project, former head of the American Jewish Congress and the Synagogue Council of America, recently wrote a piece for Politico headlined "Israel Provoked This War."
"How Israel Undermines International Law Through "Lawfare"
by JEFF HALPER
Israel's Assault on International Humanitarian Law
Operation Protective Edge was not merely a military assault on a primarily civilian population. As in its previous “operations” (Cast Lead in 2008-9 and Pillar of Defense in 2012), it was also part of an ongoing assault on international humanitarian law (IHL) by a highly coordinated team of Israeli lawyers, military officers, PR people and politicians, led by (no less) a philosopher of ethics. It is an effort not only to get Israel off the hook for massive violations of human rights and international law, but to help other governments overcome similar constraints when they embark as well on “asymmetrical warfare,” “counterinsurgency” and “counter-terrorism” against peoples resisting domination. It is a campaign that Israel calls “lawfare” and had better be taken seriously by us all.
The urgency of this campaign has been underscored by a series of notable legal setbacks and challenges Israel has incurred over the past decade or so, beginning with the indictment of Ariel Sharon in 2001 by a Belgian court over his involvement in the Sabra and Shatila massacres, for which he escaped trial. In the wake of Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, when Sharon’s government oversaw the demolition of hundreds of Palestinian homes in the West Bank, the utter destruction of virtually all the infrastructure of Palestinian cities, the death of 497 Palestinians and the arrest of 7000 people, Israel was accused of war crimes, but succeeded in foiling a UN investigation.
In 2004, at the request of the General Assembly, the International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that Israel’s construction of the wall inside Palestinian territory is “contrary to international law” and must be dismantled. The ruling was upheld almost unanimously by the UN General Assembly, with only Israel, the US, Australia and a few Pacific atolls dissenting – though, again, it lacked any means of enforcement. In the second Lebanon War in 2006, after destroying the Dahiya neighborhood in Beirut, the Hizbollah “stronghold,” Israel announced its “Dahiya Doctrine.” Declared Gadi Eisenkott, head of the IDF’s Northern Command,
What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006, “will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on…. We will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases.… This is not a recommendation. This is a plan. And it has been approved.”
And it was applied again. The Goldstone Report on Operation Cast Lead concluded that
The tactics used by Israeli military armed forces in the Gaza offensive [of 2008-2009] are consistent with previous practices, most recently during the Lebanon war in 2006. A concept known as the Dahiya doctrine emerged then, involving the application of disproportionate force and the causing of great damage and destruction to civilian property and infrastructure, and suffering to civilian populations.
The Dahiya Doctrine violates two cardinal principles of IHL: The Principle of Distinction and the Principle of Disproportionality. The Principle of Distinction, embodied in the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their two Additional Protocols of 1977, lays down a hard-and-fast rule: civilians cannot be targeted by armies. On the contrary, they must be protected; violence to life and person is strictly prohibited, as are “outrages upon personal dignity.” The Principle of Proportionality, also embodied in the 1977 Protocols to the Fourth Geneva Conventions considers it a war crime to intentionally attack a military objective in the knowledge that the incidental civilian injuries would be clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage. “The presence within the civilian population of individuals who do not come within the definition of civilians,” says Protocol I, Article 50 (3), “does not deprive the population of its civilian character.”
Not only were these principles violated yet again in the current round of fighting – and the Israeli government, aware of this, has carefully prepared its defense before the UN Human Rights Council’s international committee of inquiry as well as before the International Criminal Court, should the Palestinian Authority turn to it – but an additional doctrine of intentional disproportionality has also been declared and perpetrated: the Hannibal Doctrine. This states that when an Israeli soldier is captured, rescuing him becomes the main mission, no matter how many civilians are killed or injured, how much damage is caused, or even if the captured soldier himself is killed or wounded by “friendly” fire. When, then, it was believed (falsely, it turned out) that an IDF soldier had been captured by Hamas in the Rafah area, the entire urban area came under massive Israeli artillery fire and air strikes, in which hundreds of buildings were destroyed and at least 130 people killed.
New Categories of Combatants
Violations of the Principles of Distinction and Disproportionality constitute grave breaches of international law – and we can only imagine what states would do if they were eliminated from the legal code or significantly watered down. But this is precisely what Israel aims to do. Using the Palestinians as their guinea pigs in a bold and aggressive strategy of “fixing” international law, it wants to create new categories of combatants – “non-legitimate actors” such as “terrorists,” “insurgents” and “non-state actors,” together with the civilian population that supports them – so that anyone resisting state oppression can no longer claim protection. This is especially relevant when, as British General Rupert Smith tells us, modern warfare is rapidly moving away from the traditional inter-state model to what he calls a “new paradigm” – “war amongst the people” – in which “We fight amongst the people, not on the battlefield.” A more popular term used by military people, “asymmetrical warfare,” is perhaps more honest and revealing, since it highlights the vast power differential that exists between states and their militaries and the relative weakness of the non-state forces confronting them.
But “the people,” those pesky “non-state actors,” also have rights. Back in 1960, the UN General Assembly’s Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples endorsed the right of peoples to self-determination and, by extension, their right to resist, even by armed force, “alien subjugation, domination and exploitation.” The push-back by governments over the years, and certainly since 9/11, led by the US and Israel, has been to delegitimize the right of non-state actors to resist oppression. Thus, when Obama or the EU uphold Israel’s right to defend itself, they do not include as part of that right that of an occupied people to defend itself. Indeed, non-state actors are cast as “terrorists” (the category into which Israel dumps all insurgents, revolutionaries and, by extension, any protesters threatening the powers-that-be), thus deprived of any legitimacy as “a side” to a conflict with whom negotiations are possible. When they seek the protection of international law, as did the people of Gaza, and take steps to hold state actors accountable for their illegal actions, they are engaging in what Israel defines as “lawfare”: when “terrorists” employ international law as a weapon against democracies. Israel’s campaign against lawfare attempts to cast non-state actors as the villains, of course, but “lawfare’ best describes Israel’s own efforts to bend IHL to its needs – a kind of asymmetrical lawfare to remove all constraints on states in their attempts to pursue wars against peoples.
The Kasher-Yadlin Doctrine
Israel’s lawfare campaign is led by two Israeli figures. One is Asa Kasher, a professor of philosophy and “practical ethics” at Tel Aviv University, the author of the Israeli army’s Code of Conduct. Indeed, attaching a professional ethicist to the IDF provides the basis for Israel’s oft-stated claim to have the “most moral army in the world.” The second figure is Major General Amos Yadlin, former head of the IDF’s National Defense College, under whose auspices Kasher and his “team” formulated the Code of Conduct, and today the head of Military Intelligence.
It is completely appropriate and understandable that Israel should be leading the campaign to remove the protections enjoyed by non-combatant civilians, Kasher vigorously asserts. “The decisive question,” he says,
is how enlightened countries conduct themselves. We in Israel are in a key position in the development of law in this field because we are on the front lines in the fight against terrorism. This is gradually being recognized both in the Israeli legal system and abroad…. What we are doing is becoming the law. These are concepts that are not purely legal, but also contain strong ethical elements.
The Geneva Conventions are based on hundreds of years of tradition of the fair rules of combat. They were appropriate for classic warfare, where one army fought another. But in our time the whole business of rules of fair combat has been pushed aside. There are international efforts underway to revise the rules to accommodate the war against terrorism. According to the new provisions, there is still a distinction between who can and cannot be hit, but not in the blatant approach which existed in the past. The concept of proportionality has also changed….
I am not optimistic enough to assume that the world will soon acknowledge Israel’s lead in developing customary international law. My hope is that our doctrine, give or take some amendments, will in this fashion be incorporated into customary international law in order to regulate warfare and limit its calamities.
In order to provide a philosophical basis for undermining the Principles of Distinction and Proportionality, Kasher and Yadlin put forward a “new doctrine of military ethics” based on their version of a “Just War Doctrine of Fighting Terror.” Basically they privilege states in their conflicts with non-state actors by giving them the authority to deem an adversary “terrorist,” a term lacking any agreed-upon definition in IHL, thereby depriving it of any legal protection. They define an “act of terror,” as an act, carried out by individuals or organizations, not on behalf of any state, for the purpose of killing or otherwise injuring persons, insofar as they are members of a particular population, in order to instill fear among the members of that population (‘terrorize’ them), so as to cause them to change the nature of the related regime or of the related government or of policies implemented by related institutions, whether for political or ideological (including religious) reasons.
If we remove the words “not on behalf of any state,” this definition of a terrorist act conforms precisely to Israel’s Dahiya Doctrine. According to Major General Giora Eiland, attacks against Israel will be deterred by harming “the civilian population to such an extent that it will bring pressure to bear on the enemy combatants.” Reducing a popular struggle to a series of discrete acts, moreover, makes it possible to label an entire resistance movement “terrorist” purely on the basis of one or more particular acts, with no regard to its situation or the justness of its cause. Once this is done, it is easy to criminalize non-state resistance, since terrorism is, in Kasher’s words, “utterly immoral.”
Israel’s attempts to have the Iranian Revolutionary Guards declared a “terror organization,” even though it is an agent of a state, shows the tendentiousness of Kasher’s and Yadlin’s philosophical definitions, since it does not fit into their very own “state/non-state” dichotomy. What, then, would prevent the international community from naming the IDF and various covert Israeli agencies such as the Mossad or the Shin Bet (the General Security Services) as “terror organizations”? The Goldstone Report itself concluded that Israel’s offensive against Gaza during Operation Cast Lead was “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population.”
Having de-legitimized state-defined “acts of terrorism,” Kasher and Yadlin then go on to further legitimize state actions such as those taken by Israel against Hizbollah, Hamas or, indeed, all Palestinian resistance, by invoking “self-defense” – again, a claim which, according to Just War Theory and Article 51 of the UN Charter, only a state can make. In order to do so, they begin the narrative of events leading up to the attacks on Gaza with the discreet acts that the “terrorist” organization had done by launching rockets on Israel without any regard whatsoever for 47 years of occupation, 25 years of closure, seven years of a self-described regime of semi-starvation and the attacks on Hamas that preceded the rocket fire – or, for that matter, the right of Palestinians to resist “alien subjugation, domination and exploitation.”
State Terrorism -- The Greater Peril
Kasher and Yadlin also imply that states cannot engage in terrorism – only because they are states which have a “legitimate monopoly” over the use of force. In fact, the non-state “terrorism from below” which so concerns them pales in scale when compared to “terrorism from above,” State Terrorism. In his book Death By Government, R.J. Rummel points out that over the course of the 20th century about 170,000 innocent civilians were killed by non-state actors, a significant figure to be sure. But, he adds, during the first eighty-eight years of this [20th] century, almost 170 million men, women and children have been shot, beaten, tortured, knifed, burned, starved, frozen, crushed or worked to death; buried alive, drowned, hung, bombed or killed in any other of the myriad ways governments have inflicted death on unarmed, helpless citizens and foreigners. The dead could conceivably be nearly 360 million people.
And that, written in 1994, does not include Zaire, Bosnia, Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda, Saddam Hussein’s reign, the impact of UN sanctions on the Iraqi civilian population and other state-sponsored murders that occurred after Rummel compiled his figures. It also does not account for all the forms of State Terrorism that do not result in death: torture, imprisonment, repression, house demolitions, induced starvation, intimidation and all the rest.
“We do not deny,” Kasher concedes, “that a state can act for the purpose of killing persons in order to terrorize a population with the goal of achieving some political or ideological goal.” However, he adds,
when such acts are performed on behalf of a state, or by some of its overt or covert agencies or proxies, we apply to the ensuing conflict moral, ethical and legal principles that are commonly held to pertain to ordinary international conflicts between states or similar political entities. In such a context, a state that killed numerous citizens of another state in order to terrorize its citizenry would be guilty of what is commonly regarded as a war crime [italics added].
Kasher’s caveat – “a state that killed numerous citizens of another state in order to terrorize its citizenry” – does not relate at all to a state that terrorizes its own citizens, and lets Israel off the hook, since the terrorized population of Gaza are not citizens of another state.
Israel’s strategy of lawfare rests on repeating illegal acts while continuing to justify them with “new military ethics.” “If you do something for long enough,” says Colonel (res.) Daniel Reisner, former head of the IDF’s Legal Department, “the world will accept it. The whole of international law is now based on the notion that an act that is forbidden today becomes permissible if executed by enough countries…. International law progresses through violations. We invented the targeted assassinations thesis [that extra-judicial killings are permitted when it is necessary to stop a certain operation against the citizens of Israel and when the role played by the target is crucial to the operation] and we had to push it. Eight years later it is in the center of the bounds of legality.”
“The more often Western states apply principles that originated in Israel to their own non-traditional conflicts in places like Afghanistan and Iraq,” says Kasher, “then the greater the chance these principles have of becoming a valuable part of international law.”
A few years ago (2005) the The Jerusalem Post published a revealing interview with an Israeli “expert in international law” who, choosing to remain anonymous, explained:
International law is the language of the world and it’s more or less the yardstick by which we measure ourselves today. It’s the lingua franca of international organizations. So you have to play the game if you want to be a member of the world community. And the game works like this. As long as you claim you are working within international law and you come up with a reasonable argument as to why what you are doing is within the context of international law, you’re fine. That’s how it goes. This is a very cynical view of how the world works. So, even if you’re being inventive, or even if you’re being a bit radical, as long as you can explain it in that context, most countries will not say you’re a war criminal.
This, again, is serious stuff. Just as Israel exports its occupation – its weaponry and tactics of suppression – to such willing customers as US and European militaries, security agencies and police forces, so, too, does it export its legal expertise in manipulating IHL and its effective PR/hasbara techniques. Gaza itself represents little more than a testing ground for these varied instruments of suppression of Gaza. It is the globalization of Gaza that is a key Israeli export. Exports, however, need local agents to package the product and create a market for it in the local economy. Thus, B’nai Brith in the US spawned “The Lawfare Project” under the slogan “Protecting Against the Politicization of Human Rights”
Globalizing Gaza in both military and legal terms raises the slogan “we are all Palestinians” from one of political solidarity to literal accuracy. Its collolary also highlights a key element of international politics of which we must be keenly aware: our governments are all Israel.
Jeff Halper is the head of The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published on Tuesday, August 12, 2014
by Inter Press Service [ http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-avoided-threat-to-act-on-israels-civilian-targeting/ ]
U.S. Kept Mum for Weeks on Israel's Civilian Targeting in Gaza
by Gareth Porter [http://www.commondreams.org/author/gareth-porter ]
IMAGE [ http://www.commondreams.org/sites/default/files/styles/cd_large/public/headlines/avoidedthreat.jpg?itok=2qIXxJep ]
A Palestinian searches through rubble of his destroyed home hit by Israeli strikes in Towers Al-andaa - the northern Gaza Strip. (UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan)
IMAGE [ http://www.commondreams.org/sites/default/files/avoidedthreat-a.jpg ]
United Nations officials and human rights organisations have characterised Israeli attacks on civilian targets during the IDF war on Gaza as violations of the laws of war.
During the war, Israeli bombardment leveled whole urban neighbourhoods, leaving more than 10,000 houses destroyed and 30,000 damaged and killing 1,300 civilians, according to U.N. data. Israeli forces also struck six schools providing shelter to refugees under U.N. protection, killing at least 47 refugees and wounding more than 340.
But the Barack Obama administration's public posture during the war signaled to Israel that it would not be held accountable for such violations.
A review of the transcripts of daily press briefings by the State Department during the Israeli attack shows that the Obama administration refused to condemn Israeli attacks on civilian targets in the first three weeks of the war.
U.S. officials were well aware of Israel's history of rejecting any distinction between military and civilian targets in previous wars in Lebanon and Gaza.
The administration's public stance in daily briefings in the early days of the war suggested little or no concern about Israeli violations of the laws of war.During the 2006 Israeli War in Lebanon, IDF spokesman Jacob Dalal had told the Associated Press that eliminating Hezbollah as a terrorist institution required hitting all Hezbollah institutions, including "grassroots institutions that breed more followers".
And during Israel's "Operation Cast Lead" in December 2008 and January 2009, the IDF had shelled a school in the Jabaliya refugee camp, killing 42 civilians. The IDF's justification had been that it was responding to mortar fire from the building, but officials of the United Nations Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) who ran the school had denied that claim.
Given that history, Obama administration policy makers knew that Israel would certainly resort to similar targeting in its Gaza operation unless it believed it would suffer serious consequences for doing so. But the administration's public stance in daily briefings in the early days of the war suggested little or no concern about Israeli violations of the laws of war.
On Jul. 10, two days after the operation began, State Department spokesperson Jan Psaki was asked in the daily briefing whether the administration was trying to stop the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, as well as the firing of rockets by Hamas.
Psaki's answer was to recite an Israeli talking point. "There's a difference," she said, "between Hamas, a terrorist organisation that's indiscriminately attacking innocent civilians…in Israel, and the right of Israel to respond and protect their own civilians."
After four children playing on a beach were killed as journalists watched on Jul. 16, Psaki was asked whether the administration believed Israel was violating the international laws of war. She responded that she was unaware of any discussion of that question.
Psaki said that "tragic event makes clear that Israel must take every possible step to meet its standards for protecting civilians from being killed. We will continue to underscore that point to Israel; the Secretary [of State John Kerry] has made that point directly as well."
The IDF shelled Al-Wafa Rehabilitation and Geriatric Hospital on Jul. 17, claiming it was a response to launches of rockets 100 metres from the hospital. Psaki was asked the next day whether her failure to warn the Israelis publicly against bombing the hospital had "made any difference".
She said, "We're urging all parties to respect the civilian nature of schools and medical facilities…." But she refused to speculate about "what would've happened or wouldn't have happened" had she issued an explicit warning.
On Jun. 16, two days before the ground offensive began, the IDF began dropping leaflets warning the entire populations of the Zeitoun and Shujaiyyeh neighbourhoods to evacuate. It was a clear indication they were to be heavily bombed. IDF bombing and shelling leveled entire blocks of Shujaiyyeh Jul. 20 and 21, citing rockets fired from that neighbourhood.
Kerry was recorded commenting to an aide on an open microphone Jul. 20 that it was a "hell of a pinpoint operation", revealing the administration's private view. But instead of warning that the Israeli targeting policy was unacceptable, Kerry declared in a CNN interview that Israel was "under siege from a terrorist organisation", implying the right to do whatever it believed necessary.
State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf said on Jul. 21 that Kerry had "encouraged" the Israelis to "take steps to prevent civilian casualties", but she refused to be more specific.
On Jul. 23, Al Wafa hospital was hit by an Israeli airstrike, forcing the staff to evacuate it. The IDF now charged that it had been used as a "command centre and rocket launching site".
Joe Catron, an American who had been staying at the hospital as part of an international "human shield" to prevent attacks on it, denied that claim, saying he would have heard any rocket launched close to the hospital.
On the same day, three missiles hit a park next to the Al Shifa hospital, killing 10 and wounding 46. The IDF blamed the explosions on Hamas rockets that had fallen short. The idea that three Hamas rockets had fallen short within such short distances from one another, however, was hardly a credible explanation.
The IDF also appeared to target facilities run by the UNRWA. On Jul. 23 and 24, Israeli tank shells hit Palestinian refugees at two different school compounds designated as U.N. shelters, despite intensive communications by U.N. officials to IDF asking to spare them.
An attack on a U.N. refugee shelter at Beit Hanoun elementary school Jul. 24 killed 15 civilians and wounded more than 200. The IDF again claimed a Hamas rocket had fallen short. But it also claimed Hamas fighters had fired on Israeli troops from the compound, then later retreated from the claim.
At the Jul. 24 briefing, Harf read a statement deploring the Beit Hanoun strike and the "rising death toll in Gaza" and said that a UNRWA facility "is not a legitimate target".
Harf said Israel "could do a bit more" to show restraint. But when a reporter asked if the United States was "willing to take any kind of action" if Israel did not respond to U.S. advice, Harf said the U.S. focus was "getting a ceasefire", implying that it was not prepared to impose any consequences on Israel for refusing to change its military tactics in Gaza.
On Jul. 25, a reporter at the daily briefing observed that the hospital and schools had been targeted despite reports confirming that there had been no militants or rockets in them.
But Harf refused to accept that characterisation of the situation and repeated the Israeli line that Hamas had used U.N. facilities to "hide rockets". She said she could not confirm whether there were rockets in "the specific school that was hit".
The IDF hit another UNRWA school sheltering refugees at Jabaliya refugee camp Jul. 30, killing 10 and wounding more than 100. The IDF acknowledged it had fired several tank shells at the school, claiming again that mortar shells had been fired from there.
That was too much for the Obama administration. White House spokesman Josh Earnest called the attack "totally unacceptable and totally indefensible" and even made it clear that there was little doubt that Israel was responsible.
Even then, however, the administration merely repeated its call for Israel to "do more to live up to the high standards that they have set for themselves", as Earnest put it.
On Aug. 3, the IDF struck yet another refugee facility at the Rafah Boys Prep School A, killing 12 refugees and wounding 27. The IDF said it had been targeting three "terrorists" riding a motorcycle who had passed near the school.
"The suspicion that militants operated nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians," said Psaki.
But that criticism of Israeli attacks was far too restrained and too late. The IDF had already carried out what appear to have been massive violations of the laws of war.
Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare
"Al Jazeera America
Why Israel’s bombardment of Gaza neighborhood left US officers ‘stunned’
Analysis: Military sources say Pentagon’s assessment of Shujaiya shelling alarmed even Secretary of State John Kerry
August 27, 2014
by Mark Perry
The cease-fire announced Tuesday between Israel and Palestinian factions — if it holds — will end seven weeks of fighting that killed more than 2,200 Gazans and 69 Israelis. But as the rival camps seek to put their spin on the outcome, one assessment of Israel’s Gaza operation that won’t be publicized is the U.S. military’s. Though the Pentagon shies from publicly expressing judgments that might fall afoul of a decidedly pro-Israel Congress, senior U.S. military sources speaking on condition of anonymity offered scathing assessments of Israeli tactics, particularly in the Shujaiya neighborhood of Gaza City.
One of the more curious moments in Israel’s Operation Protective Edge came on July 20, when a live microphone at Fox News caught U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry commenting sarcastically on Israel’s military action. “It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation,” Kerry said. “It’s a hell of a pinpoint operation.”
Rain of high-explosive shells
Kerry’s comment followed the heaviest bombardment of the war to that point, as Israeli artillery rained thousands of high-explosive shells on Shujaiya, a residential area on the eastern edge of Gaza City. A high-ranking U.S. military officer said that the source of Kerry’s apparent consternation was almost certainly a Pentagon summary report assessing the Israeli barrage on which he had been briefed by an aide moments earlier.
According to this senior U.S. officer, who had access to the July 21 Pentagon summary of the previous 24 hours of Israeli operations, the internal report showed that 11 Israeli artillery battalions — a minimum of 258 artillery pieces, according to the officer’s estimate — pumped at least 7,000 high explosive shells into the Gaza neighborhood, which included a barrage of some 4,800 shells during a seven-hour period at the height of the operation. Senior U.S. officers were stunned by the report.
Twice daily throughout the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) operation, a select group of senior U.S. military and intelligence officers at the Pentagon received lengthy written summaries of Israeli military action in Gaza. The reports — compiled from information gleaned from open sources, Israeli military officers with whom U.S. officials speak and satellite images — offered a detailed assessment of Israel’s battlefield tactics and the performance of its weaponry, a considerable portion of it supplied by the United States.
Although these reports shy from offering political judgments on the operation, a number of senior U.S. military officers who spoke about the contents of those daily reports were highly critical of some of the IDF’s tactics, particularly in the Israeli ground invasion of Shujaiya. An official spokesman at the Pentagon declined to comment on the contents of this article.
On July 16, the IDF dropped leaflets into Shujaiya, warning residents of an imminent Israeli attack and urging them to evacuate the area. The next day, after a short artillery preparation, three IDF units, led by the Golani Brigade, began a ground assault into the neighborhood to destroy Hamas bunkers and break up Hamas formations.
‘Take off the gloves’
The incursion went well at first, with Golani soldiers meeting little resistance. But by late on Saturday afternoon, July 19, forward elements of the brigade were running head on into well-organized Hamas units, and some IDF formations were pinned down in vicious fighting in Shujaiya’s streets and alleys. What had been envisaged as a limited ground operation was not going as planned, with Hamas units emerging from tunnels and bunkers in attempts to exploit IDF weaknesses. The Hamas units were well prepared and trained, with their formations hidden so well that Israeli soldiers were rarely able to pinpoint their locations.
“The ground assault was poorly handled into eastern Gaza City,” an Israel civilian adviser to the IDF’s chief of staff said at the time. “The Hamas fighters showed an unexpected tenacity and were far more effective against our armored units than we’d anticipated.”
By late Saturday night and into Sunday morning, the fight had devolved into a series of vicious small unit clashes, with IDF squads facing off against Hamas squads, sniper units and teams carrying lethal anti-tank rockets. In one eight-hour period starting early on July 20, the IDF suffered 13 dead, seven of them in an armored personnel carrier that caught fire after a Hamas sapper team detonated an anti-tank mine beneath it. When the IDF moved to retrieve the bodies and the stricken APC, Hamas fighters targeted the rescue vehicles and engaged in gun battles with IDF combat teams as the rescue convoy retreated.
In the early hours of that Sunday morning, with IDF casualties mounting, senior officers directed IDF tank commanders to “take off the gloves” and “to open fire at anything that moves,” according to reports in the Israeli press.
The three Israeli units assaulting Shujaiya were never in danger of being defeated, but the losses the IDF suffered in the four-day house-to-house battle embarrassed IDF commanders. By the afternoon of July 19, even before Israel had suffered most of its casualties, the scale of resistance prompted Israeli battlefield commanders to blanket Shujaiya with high-explosive artillery rounds, rockets fired from helicopters and bombs dropped by F-16s. The decision was confirmed at the highest levels of the IDF.
By Sunday night, Palestinian officials were denouncing the bombardment of Shujaiya as a massacre, and international pressure mounted on the Israeli government to explain the heavy casualty toll being inflicted on Gaza civilians. The IDF told the press that Shujaiya had been a “fortress for Hamas terrorists” and reiterated that while Israel had “warned civilians” to evacuate, “Hamas ordered them to stay. Hamas put them in the line of fire.”
‘The only possible reason for doing that is to kill a lot of people in as short a period of time as possible … It’s not mowing the lawn. It’s removing the topsoil.’
a senior U.S. military officer
Kerry’s hot-microphone comments reflect the shock among U.S. observers at the scale and lethality of the Israeli bombardment.
“Eleven battalions of IDF artillery is equivalent to the artillery we deploy to support two divisions of U.S. infantry,” a senior Pentagon officer with access to the daily briefings said. “That’s a massive amount of firepower, and it’s absolutely deadly.” Another officer, a retired artillery commander who served in Iraq, said the Pentagon’s assessment might well have underestimated the firepower the IDF brought to bear on Shujaiya. “This is the equivalent of the artillery we deploy to support a full corps,” he said. “It’s just a huge number of weapons.”
Artillery pieces used during the operation included a mix of Soltam M71 guns and U.S.-manufactured Paladin M109s (a 155-mm howitzer), each of which can fire three shells per minute. “The only possible reason for doing that is to kill a lot of people in as short a period of time as possible,” said the senior U.S. military officer. “It’s not mowing the lawn,” he added, referring to a popular IDF term for periodic military operations against Hamas in Gaza. “It’s removing the topsoil.”
“Holy bejeezus,” exclaimed retired Lt. Gen. Robert Gard when told the numbers of artillery pieces and rounds fired during the July 21 action. “That rate of fire over that period of time is astonishing. If the figures are even half right, Israel’s response was absolutely disproportionate.” A West Point graduate who is a veteran of two wars and is the chairman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, D.C., he added that even if Israeli artillery units fired guided munitions, it would have made little difference.
Even the most sophisticated munitions have a circular area of probability, Gard explained, with a certain percentage of shells landing dozens or even hundreds of feet from intended targets. Highly trained artillery commanders know this and compensate for their misses by firing more shells. So if even 10 percent of the shells fired at combatants in Shujaiya landed close to but did not hit their targets — a higher than average rate of accuracy — that would have meant at least 700 lethal shells landing among the civilian population of Shujaiya during the night of July 20 into June 21. And the kill radius of even the most precisely targeted 155-mm shell is 164 feet. Put another way, as Gard said, “precision weapons aren’t all that precise.”
Senior U.S. officers who are familiar with the battle and Israeli artillery operations, which are modeled on U.S. doctrine, assessed that, given that rate of artillery fire into Shujaiya, IDF commanders were not precisely targeting Palestinian military formations as much as laying down an indiscriminate barrage aimed at cratering the neighborhood. The cratering operation was designed to collapse the Hamas tunnels discovered when IDF ground units came under fire in the neighborhood. Initially, said the senior Pentagon officer, Israel’s artillery used “suppressing fire to protect their forward units but then poured in everything they had, in a kind of walking barrage. Suppressing fire is perfectly defensible. A walking barrage isn’t.”
That the Israelis explained the civilian casualty toll by saying the neighborhood’s noncombatant population had been ordered to stay in their homes and were used as human shields by Hamas reinforced the belief among some senior U.S. officers that artillery fire into Shujaiya was indiscriminate.
“Listen, we know what it’s like to kill civilians in war,” said the senior U.S. officer. “Hell, we even put it on the front pages. We call it collateral damage. We absolutely try to minimize it, because we know it turns people against you. Killing civilians is a sure prescription for defeat. But that’s not what the IDF did in Shujaiya on July 21. Human shields? C’mon, just own up to it.”