Grieving Over Gaza
January 14, 2009
I write as an Israeli.
In the past two-and-a-half weeks Israeli forces have killed over 900 people in Gaza; Palestinian rockets have killed four Israelis and Palestinian fighters have killed six soldiers. As the assault began, Bibi Netanyahu, the leader of Israel's definitive right-wing party, Likud, said that talk of comparative numbers is not pertinent to the validity of Operation Cast Lead
. That might be true, but the grotesque proportions of one to one hundred in counting the dead should give us pause, should make us reflect on the mantras of the conventional wisdom.
We are told by the mainstream media that Hamas broke the half-year truce agreed upon in June and refused to extend it past the December expiration date. Whether or not the truce was adhered to in its first four months is a question of interpretation rather than fact. Israelis will tell you that the Palestinians did, in fact, launch some Qassam missiles into Israel. True. Palestinians will tell you that Israel did not, in fact, live up to its side of the bargain and continued, even intensified, the siege of Gaza, stopping the electricity, water, fuel, food and medicines crucial for decent survival. True again. But no one denies that on November 4 Israel carried out an incursion into Gaza, killing seven Palestinians and setting off the renewal of violence--Qassam launchings into Israel by Hamas and Israeli killings of Palestinians in Gaza--that was in full swing by the time the truce expired.
We are also led to believe that Hamas refused to extend the half-year cease-fire. But even the mainstream news in the ten days before the attack started clearly reported that Hamas's positions just before the expiration date were vague and divided; and that starting on December 21 it made several overtures to Israel, via Egypt and Turkey, to discuss and consider continuing the truce. Israel refused.
Then we are urged by most conventional media, buttressed by "experts" on Israel, that no nation on earth would tolerate the rocketing of its civilians. That might be true. But such legal posturing, deriving from supposed expertise in the laws of war, seems to forget that the option of going to war, not to mention bombing indiscriminately from on high, is prescribed as a last resort after all other alternatives have been tried and exhausted. Refusing to engage with Hamas, Israel has, instead, put Gaza under blockade. To quote Michael Walzer, who taught us long ago about just and unjust wars--siege is the oldest form of total war.
As to indiscriminate bombing and shelling, we are fed the constant diet of "collateral damage," as if killing of civilians (now estimated as most of the dead, with over half being women and children) can be so effortlessly explained or excused. So, on the one hand, Israel is touted as having amazingly sophisticated methods of targeting while, on the other, it is facilely pardoned for missing the targets. The adage of collateral damage goes a long way--as long as sixteen people, most of them women and children, dying when one Hamas leader is targeted and killed; or forty people seeking shelter in a UN school. And note: in order to count as a bona fide civilian, in order not to be a legitimate target, a person living in Gaza mustn't be in the police force, in a university, in a mosque, or in a hospital run by the Gazan authorities. So indiscriminate is Operation Cast Lead that several Israeli human rights groups and organizations have mounted a wide campaign, crying "Civilians Are Not Cannon Fodder." Neither in Gaza nor in Israel. But that impartiality between Gaza and Israel brings us back to comparing the numbers. Over 900 people, out of a population of 1.5 million, have been killed in Gaza. That is equivalent to 180,000 Americans being killed--in two weeks.
Walzer himself has recently, in The New Republic, accused those using the proportionality argument of incautious lack of judgment. Yet some of those using that argument are Israelis demonstrating, arm in arm with Palestinians, against the carnage. Contrary to what one hears in the mainstream media, which adopts the conventional wisdom pitting all critiques of Israel as venomously pro-Palestinian--in Israel even as a fifth column--these are Israelis (and Jews) who know the unconventional facts. They are marginalized in the current Israeli ecstasy of battle; and ignored by the mainstream media.
I write as an Israeli. Some of us, as Israelis, are grieving over what we have become. Blaming the other side with a roster of rehearsed clichés cannot mitigate the grief.
Co-authored with Anat Biletzki: "a systematic pattern does exist: it is overwhelmingly Israel, not Palestine, that kills first following a lull"
Reigniting Violence: How Do Ceasefires End?
By Nancy Kanwisher, Johannes Haushofer, & Anat Biletzki
As Israel and Palestine suffer a hideous new spasm of terror, misery, and mayhem, it is important to ask how this situation came about. Perhaps an understanding of recent events will afford lessons for the future.
How did the recent ceasefire unravel? The mainstream media in the US and Israel places the blame squarely on Hamas. Indeed, a massive barrage of Palestinian rockets were fired into Israel in November and December, and ending this rocket fire is the stated goal of the current Israeli invasion of Gaza. However, this account leaves out crucial facts.
First, and most importantly, the ceasefire was remarkably effective: after it began in June 2008, the rate of rocket and mortar fire from Gaza dropped to almost zero, and stayed there for four straight months (see Figure 1, from a factsheet produced by the Israeli consulate in NYC). So much for the widespread view, exemplified in yesterday's New York Times editorial that: "There is little chance of restraining Hamas without dealing with its patrons in Syria and Iran." Instead, the data shows clearly that Hamas can indeed control the violence if it so chooses, and sometimes it does, for long periods of time.
Second, and just as important, what happened to end this striking period of peace? On November 4th, Israel killed a Palestinian, an event that was followed by a volley of mortars fired from Gaza. Immediately after that, an Israeli air strike killed six more Palestinians. Then a massive barrage of rockets was unleashed, leading to the end of the ceasefire.
Figure 1. Number of Palestinian rockets fired in each month of 2008 (adapted from The Israeli consulate in NYC [pdf])
Thus the latest ceasefire ended when Israel first killed Palestinians, and Palestinians then fired rockets into Israel. However, before attempting to glean lessons from this event, we need to know if this case is atypical, or if it reflects a systematic pattern.
We decided to tally the data to find out. We analyzed the entire timeline of killings of Palestinians by Israelis, and killings of Israelis by Palestinians, in the Second Intifada, based on the data from the widely-respected Israeli Human Rights group B'Tselem (including all the data from September 2000 to October 2008).
We defined "conflict pauses" as periods of one or more days when no one is killed on either side, and we asked which side kills first after conflict pauses of different durations. As shown in Figure 2, this analysis shows that it is overwhelmingly Israel that kills first after a pause in the conflict: 79% of all conflict pauses were interrupted when Israel killed a Palestinian, while only 8% were interrupted by Palestinian attacks (the remaining 13% were interrupted by both sides on the same day). In addition, we found that this pattern -- in which Israel is more likely than Palestine to kill first after a conflict pause -- becomes more pronounced for longer conflict pauses. Indeed, of the 25 periods of nonviolence lasting longer than a week, Israel unilaterally interrupted 24, or 96%, and it unilaterally interrupted 100% of the 14 periods of nonviolence lasting longer than 9 days.
Figure 2. For conflict pauses of different durations (i.e., periods of time when no one is killed on either side), we show here the percentage of times from the Second Intifada in which Israelis ended the period of nonviolence by killing one or more Palestinians (black), the percentage of times that Palestinians ended the period of nonviolence by killing Israelis (grey), and the percentage of times that both sides killed on the same day (white). Virtually all periods of nonviolence lasting more than a week were ended when the Israelis killed Palestinians first. We include here the data from all pause durations that actually occurred.
Thus, a systematic pattern does exist: it is overwhelmingly Israel, not Palestine, that kills first following a lull. Indeed, it is virtually always Israel that kills first after a lull lasting more than a week.
The lessons from these data are clear:
First, Hamas can indeed control the rockets, when it is in their interest. The data shows that ceasefires can work, reducing the violence to nearly zero for months at a time.
Second, if Israel wants to reduce rocket fire from Gaza, it should cherish and preserve the peace when it starts to break out, not be the first to kill.
Note: For a detailed account of the breakdown of the ceasefire and the precise numbers of rockets fired in November from the point of view of the Israeli military, see http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/English/eng_n/html/hamas_e011.htm
THE SECOND NORTH AMERICAN CONFERENCE ON JUDAISM AND HUMAN RIGHTS
Professor Anat Biletzki, Tel Aviv University
Questions of Principle regarding Human Rights in the Occupied Territories
Anat Biletzki, Tel Aviv University
- Human rights are considered universal and a-political. This workshop will examine questions of principle that arise in the work of Human Rights Organizations given the highly charged political context in Israel and the ongoing military conflict. These involve the politicization of human rights (Can we do human rights without taking a political side? Is our identity – as Jews, as Israelis – compromised by defending the rights of "the other side"?); the universalism of human rights (Are we obligated to defend the rights of all? What about settlers, terrorists, leaders of opposition groups on both sides?); and the constant challenge of security vs. human rights (Can torture, administrative detention, and the Security Wall be justified even if/when they are clear violations of Palestinian human rights?)
- This workshop will present the present state of human rights in the Occupied Territories. After posing the legal questions of responsibility (Israel and/or the Palestinian Authority?), it will provide comprehensive data concerning collective punishment, restrictions on movement, violence and interrogations by security forces, administrative detention, settlements and settlers, family unification, and the general rise of human rights violations by both Israeli and Palestinian groups and authorities. The Settlement Project and the Wall (aka the Security Barrier) will provide concluding icons of the current discussion about human rights in the context of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.