The refusal of 43 men and women to continue their reserve duty in Israel’s elite 8200 intelligence-gathering unit has taken Israel by storm. The group published a letter on Friday, and it made its way quickly into the Israeli, American, and international headlines. The letter stated that these soldiers and officers are no longer willing to serve in their capacities as occupiers. In their words: “We refuse to take part in actions against Palestinians and refuse to serve as tools in deepening the military control over the Occupied Territories… We cannot continue to serve this system in good conscience, denying the rights of millions of people.”
The response in Israel has been deafening. Members of Knesset who are also former members of the 8200 unit have spoken out. Likud MK and Coalition Leader Yariv Levin announced that “those who refuse to help defend our country cross the line between supporting the Israeli democracy and the freedom it represents to supporting Palestinian terror…” Labor MK and Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog rebuked the letter-writers and emphasized that there were other ways to generate discussion. Not long after it was published, 150 members of Unit 8200 wrote a response letter, calling the move a “cynical use of politics in their legal and moral duty to serve in the reserve unit.”
The question everyone is asking now is — is it? Is this explosive letter a mere political stunt designed to aim more antagonism at a 47-year occupation? Or is it, as the signatories claim, something deeper — an attempt to take responsibility for the unnecessary invasion of privacy of a people who have no civil or legal recourse. It’s hard to tell, and, as with most sticky moral issues, likely a bit of both.
When I sat down with three of the original 43 signatories — a philosophy student, a technology and communications employee, and a computer science doctoral candidate — my first impression was one of earnestness: these were the “good kids.” As an Israeli 18-year-old, you don’t get into Unit 8200 by being a slacker. You get in by doing well in school and by showing flexible thinking, confidence and the ability to work well with others. The hope is that these qualities, plus training, will give these young people enough dexterity and thoughtfulness that they can be trusted with the secrets of Israel’s deep state. Unit 8200 graduates go on to found and power Israel’s innovative start-ups, and these three were likely to be no exception.
Palestinian Gigi Hadid eyes Israeli Michaela Bercu on Vogue’s 1988 November issue / Vogue
When Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour was preparing the cover shoot for her very first issue back in 1988, she chose an Israeli model — Michaela Bercu — to grace the front of the glossy magazine. This summer, as Wintour prepared for the relaunch of the magazine’s website, she chose a Palestinian-American model — Gigi Hadid — to recreate the iconic cover.
Over at Haaretz, Shahar Atwan says it’s “interesting to wonder how much thought Wintour and Co. gave to Hadid’s family background when they mulled placing her in Bercu’s shoes,” but concludes that it “wouldn’t be fair on Hadid” if she was selected because of her Palestinian roots. Besides, Atwan says, Wintour had “more than enough reason to choose Hadid regardless of the political connotations.”
Atwan seems eager to toss off the possibility that Hadid’s Palestinian background helped her land this photoshoot — but from where I’m sitting, that possibility looks more than likely. In fact, I’d be surprised if the model’s background did not play a significant role in her selection. And I don’t think that’s “unfair” — to Hadid, or anyone else — at all. Just the opposite.
Americans have endured endless hours of Gaza media coverage in the past month, from CNN’s Wolf Blitzer crawling through Hamas tunnels to live reports of rocket launches and airstrikes.
In between, spokespersons for both sides flooded the airways, each trying to formulate an argument able of convincing American viewers, already overwhelmed by news from the Middle East, to support his or her side.
But what message really works with the American audience?
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi and Meagan Buren, both experts in public opinion and formerly with The Israel Project, set out to find a real-time answer to this question.
As war raged in Gaza, they gathered focus groups representing different swaths of the American public. The participants, gathered in a conference room on a weekday evening, went through several hours of hearing almost every possible message about the conflict. Then, in discussions and by using a tiny dial that collected their responses, members of the focus groups rated the level of empathy they felt toward messages conveyed by Israeli, Palestinian and American officials in TV interviews. Taken together, the input from these handheld dials produced a graph depicting exactly which message worked well and which fell flat. When the line climbed beyond the halfway marker, it was a sign that the message was working well; when it dipped below, it was clearly time to abandon this line of argument.
As an Israeli who lives in New York, I know that I can sometimes be unfair. On the one hand, I often get defensive when people criticize Israel. On the other, I can also get upset when people seem to blindly support Israel. Criticizing Israel is allowed, and even important for Israel’s wellbeing, but there are productive and unproductive ways to do it. In that spirit, here are eight ground rules that I believe can help improve the Israel debate.
Many conversations about Israel deteriorate into fights over whether or not the country even has the right to exist. This is not a productive question. Everyone has the right to exist all over the world, and that should never be doubted. The real question is whether Israel has the right to continue pursuing some of its policies.
The Israeli government is a coalition that is expected in some way to represent at least a majority of Israelis. That does not mean that all Israelis agree with the actions of Israel’s government. And just as there is a diversity of opinions in Israel, we should also expect and accept that Jews in the Diaspora will have a diversity of opinions.
Conversations about Israel tend to drag out when you’re simultaneously trying to prove your loyalty to, and criticize, Israel. Save yourself the trouble. Supporting Israel’s government is not the only way to show you’re a good Jew or patriotic Israeli. Criticizing can also be a form of caring.
The first thing I noticed when my shared taxi dropped me off in Jerusalem earlier this month were the flags. In the Beit Hakerem neighborhood where I was staying — a mostly secular Jewish area in southwest Jerusalem — balconies were strung with large Israeli flags and rows of miniature ones. Car antennas were adorned with pennants and ribbons. Even the neighborhood light rail station was donning blue and white, with flags flapping from the lampposts. This latter show of patriotism on public property was new, my host told me, since Operation Protective Edge began.
Jewish Israelis have supported the war with Gaza in overwhelming numbers. A much-cited Israeli Democracy Institute poll from late July said that more than 90% of them believed that the war is “just.” (Since the poll, truce talks have begun, and there was a major pro-peace rally in Tel Aviv a few days ago.)
The wall-to-wall blue and white stood in sharp contrast to colorful New York City, from which I had just arrived. There, the Gaza war was hotly disputed in the streets and in the press. The American Jewish community had largely rallied around Israel, saying the country has a right to defend itself against rocket fire from Hamas. But a small and vocal minority of Jews staged high-profile events to protest Israel’s campaign and the large civilian death toll. My Facebook and Twitter feeds were roiling with the debate. The images of death and wreckage from Gaza were inescapable.
(JTA) — After four weeks of a punishing Israel air and ground campaign that left nearly 2,000 dead and much of Gaza in ruins, Hamas has lived to see another day.
For Israel, that might not be the worst thing. That’s because for all of Hamas’ violent extremism, it also governs a territory, maintains a social service wing and controls smaller, more extremist factions. Through mediators, Hamas and Israel have reached agreements in 2011 and 2012, and are negotiating another one right now in Cairo.
But many of Hamas’ jihadi fellow travelers in Gaza don’t have the same interests. For most, their sole goal is to fight — not just against Israel, but to spread Islamist rule across the whole world. That’s why, in the thick of the conflict on July 28, outgoing U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency head Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn said ousting Hamas could bring on “something like ISIS,” the radical Islamist group now conquering swaths of Iraq and Syria.
“If Hamas were destroyed and gone, we would probably end up with something much worse,” Flynn said, according to Reuters. “The region would end up with something much worse.”
Who are these groups? Here’s a quick rundown of the other major organizations in Gaza that seek Israel’s destruction.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad – Sometimes known in Israel simply as Jihad, this is the second-biggest militant group in Gaza after Hamas. Founded in 1979 as a break-away from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic Jihad resembles Hamas in many ways. It’s a Palestinian national movement, it receives funding from Iran and has a small social service wing that includes schools, hospitals and family mediation services, according to the New York Times. It is also party to the negotiations taking place in Cairo.
A 2011 Reuters article estimated the Islamic Jihad’s militia, the Al-Quds Brigade, at 8,000 fighters, compared to tens of thousands of Hamas fighters. Islamic Jihad executed a number of terror attacks during the second intifada a decade ago, including the 2001 abduction and murder of two 14-year-old boys in Gush Etzion. It has frequently fired rockets at Israel from Gaza, including during the three rounds of conflict between Israel and Hamas in recent years.
Popular Resistance Committees – The Popular Resistance Committees, or PRC, is a break-away from the Palestinian Fatah Party, which governs the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. The PRC was founded in 2000 and opposes Fatah’s peace process with Israel. Unlike many groups operating in Gaza, the PRC is not Islamist. In 2012, Yediot Aharonot estimated that it was the third-strongest militia in Gaza and that it receives much of its funding from the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which is also backed by Iran.
The PRC also executed terror attacks during the second intifada. In 2006, it collaborated with Hamas on the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier.
Jihadi groups — There are a number of jihadi groups reported to be active in Gaza and allied with, or supportive of, the ISIS and Al-Qaeda agenda of reestablishing an international Islamic caliphate. Among them, the Army of Islam, which participated in the Shalit kidnapping and kidnapped BBC reporter Alan Johnston in 2007.
Another group, Tawhid wal’Jihad, has shot a number of rockets at Israel and is most famous for the 2011 kidnapping and murder of Vittorio Arrigoni, an Italian activist with International Solidarity Movement. Another, Jund Ansar Allah, attempted to attack Israel on horseback in 2009 and declared Gaza an Islamic emirate later that year, leading to a gunfight with Hamas forces.
Confused about Gaza? You’re not alone.
Le Monde has created an animated map to help people who can’t tell Gaza from the West Bank navigate the facts.
Say what you will about supposed French bias against Israel, the map is fairly informative, easy to follow and essentially lays out the bare bones of a very long and complex conflict — a good tool for someone who hasn’t been following the situation too closely.
Watch for yourself:
For Israelis and Palestinians, as well for their friends and family around the world, these past few weeks have been torture. Each day for Israel brings new rocket attacks, new cross-border terrorist raids, new funerals and shivas for IDF soldiers. Each day for Palestinians in Gaza brings new rounds of artillery shelling, fresh explosions and devastation. We spend all day desperately wanting to avert our eyes from the carnage, and go to bed every night hoping that by morning, the fighting will have stopped.
As devoted friends of Israel and passionate advocates for Israeli-Palestinian peace, we at J Street have been clear since the fighting began that Israel has a definite and obvious right, as all nations do, to defend its citizens against terrorism. Hamas is a repugnant terrorist organization whose sworn aim is the destruction of the state and people of Israel. Failure to recognize this represents willful blindness.
We cannot, however, as American Jewish friends of Israel, turn a blind eye to the plight of Gazan civilians. Some deeply disturbing rhetoric has come from some in the American Jewish community - not just from the fringe, but from well-respected leaders. In an article last week, American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris wrote bitterly of the international community’s concern for “poor, defenseless Gaza.” Responding to the recent tragedies of Palestinian children dying in United Nations schools, he correctly noted several documented instances of Hamas hiding weapons in such schools. Instead of condemning Hamas and expressing sympathy with the plight of the defenseless children, Harris attributed their deaths to “patterns of behavior” of Palestinian parents, who “allow [their] children to go to a school which is used as an arms depot.”
This conflation of all Gazans with Hamas is untrue and unacceptable. The article did not mention that children killed at the UN school in Jabalya were there seeking shelter because Israel had told them, and hundreds of thousands of others, that their homes could face bombing and shelling. It omitted that all exits and entrances to Gaza are controlled by Israel and Egypt, leaving Gazan civilians with nowhere to go and nowhere else to hide. The White House has condemned the shelling of the school as “totally indefensible.”
Harris wrote that for Jews, “our corner of the world is about the affirmation of life. That defines the core of our being, the essence of the societies we aspire to build, and the way we conduct ourselves.” We agree. Affirming and respecting life is exactly what Jewish people should aspire to.
It seems impossible to me that I am typing this line: Genocide is never permissible. Full stop.
That one would even need to type such a line destroys me. That an author proposed such an idea? A horror.
But It is also his newspaper. It is also the world he – they? We? – live in where anyone could have possibly believe it was morally acceptable, that it was even remotely possible, to not only conceive of, but to write, to propose, to recommend, genocide. And then to post a story that endorses this destruction of humanity, to let that story run, unadulterated, to allow it to be out there in the world, the smiling face of its author next to it, as though this was not an abomination. For that is what it is: an abomination.
For that is what it is: an abomination.
Times of Israel. For shame. Yes they took it down. But no. It should never have been there.
[UPDATE: After this blog post was written it came to my attention that the Times of Israel offered bloggers unfettered access to parts of their site without oversight. This doesn’t absolve them of responsibility for the content of their website but it does mean it may not have been vetted. This was not clear at first reading of the piece and it appears that, as a result of this hateful story, their policy has shifted. It’s gratifying to know editors at the Times if Israel recognize hate mongering.]
Were we not children of genocide, it would still be unacceptable. Were we not descendents of pogroms, of murder, of hate, it would still be unacceptable. Were we not people who insist upon the humanity of all those around us.
Are we not that people? Are we not believers in the future?
To propose genocide is to permanently dehumanize us. To propose murder, to propose destruction, is to have cemented over our own humanity in the creation of a faceless enemy, is to have failed to see the basic humanity in us all.
Inna Vernikov, left; Penelope Cruz, right / Courtesy of the author; Instagram
You are a remarkable actress and a strikingly beautiful model. I have been following your successful career for years. Your performance in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” was an inspiring work of art. In fact, I am often complimented on just how much I look like you.
That being said, your sudden urge to comment on the centuries-long Middle East conflict has left me dumbfounded. Even more so, however, the contents of your uncalled-for outburst.
In the letter you recently signed, you unequivocally denounced the state of Israel for committing acts of “genocide” on the civilians of Gaza and demanded that Israel cease its fire. “Palestinians’ homes are being destroyed; they are being denied water, electricity [and] free movement to their hospitals, schools, and fields while the international community does nothing.”
The only power plant supplying electricity to Gaza was hit by Israeli shelling / Getty Images
Editor’s Note: Walid Abuzaid’s diary is running in two parts. You can read the first part here. This is the second installment.
Thursday, July 17
It’s 10 p.m. when the power finally returns. The electricity has been down since 11 p.m. last night. The power company said the electricity lines were down during the bombardments and that there’ll only be six hours of electricity every day.
I turn on the water heater so I can finally shower in the morning, since Eimar is asleep at last and I don’t want to make any noise. As I brush my teeth, I’m reminded of the salty water I have to shower in. When I asked the tower guard, Abu-Zeyad, about it when I returned home at the beginning of July, he said the water pipes for the whole neighborhood were damaged a while ago and no one has repaired them. I remember Mohammed, my friend from Beit Lahia, complaining about it since moving here after the war began. The water they use back in their home is really sweet water coming from the wells.
We gather around in the living room, the TV is on the news channel; we don’t follow any Ramadan series this year. Although Lamar forces us every once in a while to switch to MBC so she can watch the prank series with the sharks. We still check the news channels during every commercial. Nirmeen, my step-mom, tells us about her friend from university that has a Swedish passport. She and her family left in the morning and they’re now safe in Jordan. Lamar hears this and angrily asks my father, “When are you going to get us passports so we can travel whenever we want?” I’m speechless, so is my father. I wonder how many desperate fathers and mothers don’t have an answer to that question.
A Palestinian carries the remains of an Israeli shell in the Gaza Strip / Getty Images
Editor’s Note: Walid Abuzaid’s diary will run in two parts. This is the first installment.
Thursday, June 27
I was in Cyprus when it all started. When we heard about the kidnapped teens, we were thrilled by the possibility of another prisoner release. Hamas would be held responsible for the kidnapping, but we treat our prisoners well — at least the one prisoner we’ve ever had.
It’s my last night in Cyprus and one of so few in which I smile before I go to bed, for tomorrow I’m on my way home. I know it isn’t the smartest decision I’ve ever made, but I miss Gaza. I miss my life.
“I don’t want to f**king go to Cairo, I want to go to Gaza. How many times do I have to tell you? Do you want me to say it slower?!” I yell at the woman at the gate who takes my passport and makes me watch every passenger get on that plane until the gate closes. “Wait here, please,” she says for the 10th time, before whining about Arabs in Turkish to the lady next to her, who lends me her seat while I wait. An airline employee official who speaks Arabic finally arrives. She hasn’t come for me, but rather for the Yemenite whose Saudi residency has expired. He isn’t allowed to go to Cairo either; nor does he want to.
For three days I’m being prevented from traveling to Cairo from the Istanbul Airport, since Rafah crossing isn’t open until Sunday. I try explaining that I do not want to enter Cairo, and that I agree to be held in that disgusting deportation hall in the Cairo airport until the border opens. Yet, nothing I say changes the officials’ minds. In Arabic, “How do you even know Rafah will be open?” the translator dares to ask me. I refuse to even glance at him and continue to scream in English at the cold officials. It’ll be three days of this.
A Palestinian girl waits for permission to cross into Egypt at the Rafah crossing in the Gaza Strip.
Monday, June 30
I’m finally home, after my dad spent a lot of money to buy me another plane ticket on a different airline. I only had 30 euros for the way back; that’s what was left from the 250 euros that my uncle sent from Germany.
My bag is still in Cairo, but who cares — I’m home. I’ll go to my other uncle, the lawyer, and have him write a contract that will allow my relative in Egypt, Mohammed, to collect my bag for me. Then I’ll go to the bar association to make it all official, before sending the papers through DHL and waiting a week for them to arrive. After that, Mohammed may have to wait a few hours at the airport until he receives my bag. Following that, all that’s left is to wait for the border to open again. Simple!
This isn’t even what I intended to write about, god damn it.
Tuesday, July 1
I’m getting ready to embrace my mom, after not seeing her for almost a year. “Wasim, we’re f**ked; they’ve just found the bodies of the three Israelis. Don’t tell mom.” My younger brother, of course, decides to use that as an excuse to tell Mom that I’m still not in Gaza in order to surprise her when I get to her home. Wasim is like that. He arrived from Indiana just a couple of days before I did. He was there on a year-long youth exchange and study program — the same one I did in 2012. We call it a taste of freedom.
Wednesday, July 2
My mother cries all through the night, a sense of déjà vu overwhelms me as I recall the night of Nov. 11, 2013.
Back at my dad’s, home, we discuss the repercussions. My father and I don’t usually agree, but this time we both know something bad is going to happen. He asks my stepmother, Nirmeen, for the grocery list. She points out that she has already evaluated the situation and the list will be longer than a week. Lamar, my younger sister, comes along for one last ride before she has to stay in an apartment for an unknown length of time. She understands. She remembers October 2012, she was three years old then.
Thursday, July 10
We are in the living room with an incredible view. We can see Gaza’s entire harbor. I try to cover two-year-old Eimar’s ears when a rocket drops and destroys a mini yacht called “Gaza’s Arc.” She can’t sleep yet; she’s scared. She likes the fire though. She laughs.
“You look upset, you’ve been watching that boat for 30 minutes, what’s wrong?” Wasim wonders. “I don’t know what was in it,” I respond, “I don’t know why they bombed it, but I know someone loved that boat. That boat was someone’s dream, they just killed someone’s dream. That’s far worse than killing them.”
Friday, July 11
My dad and I go out for the first time in five days to get rgag, a kind of bread made in a saj oven, for the delicious Fatteh dish. It’s 5:22 p.m., the electricity’s been out for three hours. It’s the usual eight-hour rounds and the batteries are almost out. The windows of the house are open and the sweet wind is blowing in. I can hear the jets, drones, gunboats and the occasional thud. Eimar is still awake.
Saturday, July 12, 8:23 p.m.
I’ve just finished eating and I’m heading to my room for a long-awaited smoke or two. My mind is rushing with thoughts of the Brazil vs. Netherlands match. I saw a photo of Neymar with the rest of the team earlier today. I hope Brazil saves some face and wins the game — that would cheer up my Brazilian friend Pedro a bit. I’ve been to Amsterdam, and have friends there too, so I also want the Netherlands to win. Oh well. I’ll go on Facebook before I start looking for a good online stream of the match, one that can tolerate my agonizingly slow Internet speed.
“Breaking: Al-Qassam Brigades threatens to hit Tel Aviv with J-80 rockets at 9 p.m.”
“You still want to go donate blood?” Wasim asks sarcastically. I don’t indulge him this time. A couple of minutes later my mom calls. She succeeds in convincing me not to go out tonight. I haven’t moved from my place yet. I’ve smoked four cigarettes so far. It’s 8:58 p.m.
My dad asks me to take the car keys to the guard tower so he can park it in the underground garage. A chance to buy more cigarettes, I tell myself. I’m dreading the fact that I have to walk rather than “borrow” the car to drive to the market, since, like last night, Abu-Malek has closed up his shop. I don’t blame him. Tonight will be a particularly loud one, and I’m rehearsing the lies I have to tell Eimar.
Palestinians carry a boy following an Israeli military strike on the Gaza beach / Getty Images
In the current outburst of violence, perhaps the only pliable and docile actor is Israel’s center-left. Politically speaking, opposition leader Isaac Herzog might as well be cowering in a shelter. He toes Prime Minister Netanyahu’s line, supporting both the airstrikes and the ground invasion. True, he popped up to demand an exit strategy from the government, but he did so just as Hamas was rejecting a cease-fire — rendering his quibbles about an exit strategy weak and irrelevant. Centrist Minister of Finance Yair Lapid is even more accommodating, loosening the purse-strings for an indefinite war.
The trouble is that acquiescing to periodic escalations in Gaza makes mincemeat of the mainstream left’s supposed stance on the conflict. It’s a strategic disaster.
Palestinians celebrate after Hamas’ armed wing said it had captured an Israeli soldier / Getty Images
Immediately after a Hamas military spokesperson announced the capture of an Israeli soldier this Sunday, the streets of Gaza, Hebron, Ramallah and Bethlehem erupted in fireworks and celebration. Israel confirmed this week that the body of, Oron Shaul, a soldier presumably killed when an armored vehicle was hit by an anti-tank missile, went missing.
If Hamas has the body they are likely to demand the release of prisoners in exchange for the body. In 2008, Israel released five Lebanese prisoners, including notorious murderer Samir Kuntar, for the corpses of two Israeli soldiers.
But rewarding terrorists by releasing prisoners in exchange for the body will only embolden Hamas and incentivize more kidnapping attempts and lead to more terrorism.
A Palestinian gestures as flames rise from the site of an Israeli air strike in Gaza / Getty Images
I’m done apologizing for Israel.
It’s tiring to apologize over and over. Instead, I’ve decided to come clean: I am a progressive American rabbi who leans left pretty hard. I’ve been engaged, as a US faith leader, in work to reform gun laws, extend LGBT rights around the world, grant refuge to illegal immigrants, protect women’s reproductive choice, and more. Paint me blue.
So, when it comes to Israel, many of those with whom I engage in social reform expect me to react to Israel’s military actions in Gaza with scorn and criticism. To be fair, there are times when I do. My Zionism demands I speak out on behalf of the Israel that remains, in my world-view, the most ambitious project-in-process of the Jewish People. Whereas Israel’s 66 short years have witnessed strength and resilience that have redefined Jewish identity in profound ways, the global Jewish family remains interwoven with Israel. If you question this, scan the last week’s news for anti-Israel rallies in Antwerp, Los Angeles, Paris, Boston, and elsewhere that featured widespread anti-Semitic chants and violence against Jews.
So I’m a progressive US faith leader. I’m a Zionist in Berkeley, CA. I’m a Jew in the world, worried for my family. So here is my response to those criticizing Israel this week.
When some of us hear “Gaza,” we picture bombs or rockets or rubble.
What if, instead, we pictured an adorable little girl in a pink hat? Or a grandfather playing with his grandchild? Or young men handing out ice cream cones?
A new short film by Palestinian filmmaker Hadeel Assali is an ingenious exercise in juxtaposition. The audio: a journalist’s call for help in the embattled Gaza neighborhood of Shejaia last weekend. The visuals: footage of smiling and laughing Palestinians in Gaza last summer.
Instead of stirring us to voyeurism by showing dead brown bodies in the streets, this video stirs us to empathy by showing us the bodies of people who live and laugh and love. It’s a refreshing departure from the ceaseless televised carnage — which, by the way, has a disturbing race element to it: Can you imagine how people would react if dozens of dead white kids were shown on screen that way? And if those dead white kids were then used as the punchline for, say, an Onion article?
Rather than dehumanizing Palestinian bodies, this video shows their basic humanity, reminding us what’s at stake in Gaza.
Israeli armored personnel carrier rolls at army deployment near Israel’s border with Gaza / Getty Images
In his piece “Israel’s Moral Army?” in these pages, Michael Mitchell impressively deconstructs the Israel Defense Force’s conduct during its current military operation in Gaza. Using a variety of pedagogical criteria (international law, Jewish tradition, ethical theory) he ultimately challenges Israel’s claim to being a “moral army” — or, to use a title often wielded by its politicians and supporters, “the most moral army in the world.”
Mitchell notes that while there is “evidence that Israel is taking significant measures to minimize civilian deaths,” it is also “quite possible that innocent people have been killed by IDF decisions to strike a target when it knew that doing so could put civilians at risk.”
If the IDF aspires to be a “moral army,” especially one that affirms both the universal dignity of each human life and the respect for the human embodiment of the divine image particular to the Jewish ethical tradition, it is in these instances that its conduct falls from regrettable to wrong.
Given the overwhelming support for “Operation Protective Edge” throughout Israel, the American political world and the American Jewish establishment, it is courageous for Mitchell, a Tel Aviv resident, to openly label the IDF’s actions in Gaza as “ethically wrong.” But beyond his relatively narrow analysis of the ethics of warfare, there are larger issues he leaves crucially unexamined.
Most notably, while Mitchell invokes the principles of self-defense in wartime, he ignores the broader question of whether or not this war itself is, as Israel claims, an actual war of self-defense. While Israeli and American politicians — and Israel-supporters the world over — have been defending Israel’s actions in Gaza by invoking Israel’s right to self-defense against Hamas rocket fire, the timeline of events leading up to Israel’s military assault on Gaza suggests otherwise.
(JTA) — The ratio of Palestinian deaths to Israeli deaths is one of the most important measurements of the Gaza war.
The toll clearly disproportionate — as of this writing, about 192:1. There are a few different ways to look at this rate.
Critics of Israel herald the lopsided figure as evidence of Israeli barbarism. But such a simplistic view misses several important points. One, the Israeli death toll is low because Iron Dome, Israel’s missile defense system, is successfully intercepting incoming rockets. The Palestinians have no defense against Israeli missiles.
Second, the ratio would be more lopsided if Israel were trying to kill Palestinian civilians. But by most accounts it’s trying not to do that. This is the most important element in interpreting the death toll: While Hamas measures its success by how many Israelis it is able to kill, Israel measures its success in part by how few Palestinian civilians it kills.
So how is Israel doing compared to previous Israel-Hamas battles? The Palestinian death toll is much lower than it was in 2008-’09, when a ground invasion preceded by an air campaign resulted in some 1,150 Palestinian deaths over three weeks. But the Palestinian casualty count now isn’t too different from November 2012, when an eight-day air campaign resulted in an estimated 158-177 Palestinian deaths.
The Israeli death rate, meanwhile, is down significantly — from 13 in 2008-’09 and six in 2012 to one so far in nine days of fighting.
Tariq Abu Khdeir is hugged by his mother following his beating in East Jerusalem / Getty Images
I have no idea what Tariq Khdeir was doing on the day he was savagely beaten.
I have no idea if — like the American high school student in my own home – Tariq woke up late and lazy, because that’s what vacation’s like. Maybe he slipped on headphones as he reached for his cell, checking his texts or the World Cup stats. Maybe he jumped straight out of bed. Maybe he lay quietly under the covers, trying desperately not to remember his cousin Muhammad’s voice, not to envision his grisly murder, not to hear the sobbing of his family.
Maybe Tariq Khdeir woke up filled with sorrow and helplessness. Maybe he woke up filled with rage. All those years in American schools, walking American streets, hearing about what life was like for his cousins in East Jerusalem, and then there he was, right in the house, with wailing family and shattered hearts. Maybe Tariq wanted to at least see Palestinians fighting back in his cousin’s name, just to see the rocks thrown, just to see the anger and maybe some fear on the other side.
Maybe Tariq Khdeir wrapped his head in a red-and-white checked keffiyeh because he’d been warned not to go out, and he didn’t want to get busted. Maybe he wrapped his head because he didn’t want to be recognized by police. Maybe he got out there and, like many angry young men before him, felt the power of rage surging through the streets and his own veins and picked up a rock. Maybe Tariq Khdeir threw some rocks — he says he didn’t, but for the sake of argument, let’s imagine he did. Grief and fury can muddle the minds of even straight-A students.
I don’t know what Tariq Khdeir did that day, or how he felt, or what he was thinking, but here’s what I do know: He went out to the streets. He was at a protest that had shaded into riot, and his head was wrapped in a keffiyeh. And two Israeli police officers, broad of chest and fully armed, grabbed him – a slight 15-year-old boy — and dragged him to where they believed they would not be seen, and they beat the ever-loving daylights out of him. They held him down. They kicked him. They hit him. They took turns. They broke his nose. They blackened and bloodied his eyes. They held him down and beat him.
Tariq didn’t have a weapon in his hand or on his person. He’d been separated from whoever he’d been with. Whatever he may or may not have done in the moments before the now infamous video of fists and feet raining down on his body, Tariq Khdeir was not any threat, of any kind, to those who pushed him to the ground and raised their boots.
Palestinian families leave their houses following Israeli air strikes in Gaza City / Getty Images
When I was 14 years old, I remember my father, Edgar M. Bronfman, publicly calling for the end of Israeli settlement building. It was 1977, the very beginning of the implementation of the Drobles Plan, and only a few thousand settlers lived in what we now call the Occupied Territories. At the time, I was only a boy, and I did not understand the urgency with which my father spoke against the construction of settlements.
“Israel is to be a light unto the nations,” he would say to me. “Israel must behave according to a higher moral and ethical code.”
“Why?” I would ask. With the look and a tone that only my father could muster, he would reply, “Otherwise, what’s the point?”
My father’s words became more and more strident as the decades passed. But today, as we grapple with the wrenching pain of the murder of Jewish and Muslim youth, they have never rung so true. Why do I hear my father’s words about settlements at this time? Simply put, the settlements are the greatest impediment to enduring peace in Israel, and the deaths of four innocent children last week should cause us to examine our own beliefs and actions.