Did Israel Employ “Disproportionate Force” in 2014 in Gaza?

Did Israel Employ “Disproportionate Force” in 2014 in Gaza?

Recently, in the wake of U. S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ insistence that Israel used “Disproportionate Force” against Gaza in 2014, the debate about whether or not Israel did, in fact, act “disproportionately” has resurged.

It is important to understand the background leading up to Israel’s 2014 incursion into Gaza. Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other militant/terrorist groups in Gaza had been bombarding Southern Israel for years, with increasing frequency.

Israel had warned Hamas that it would be held responsible if the rockets did not stop. They didn’t, and Israel eventually mounted a large-scale attack on military targets in Gaza after a major escalation on Hamas’ part, which fired over 40 rockets into Israel on July 7, 2014. Israel’s operation (“Protective Edge”) began the next day, July 8..

Casualties in Gaza were estimated by the UN Human Rights Council, Hamas, and Israel, with the number of killed ranging between 2,125 to 2,310. Hamas and the UNHRC claimed that 1,617 (70%) and 1,462 (65%) respectively were civilians, while Israel claimed that 761 (36%) were civilians. There were 66 Israeli soldiers killed, along with 5 Israeli civilians and 1 Thai civilian.

Israel’s goal in the campaign, which lasted approximately seven weeks (July 8 to August 26), was to stop the rocket fire. An additional goal, which became more critical as the campaign unfolded, was to find and destroy as many Hamas tunnels as possible. These tunnels were constructed with the aim of infiltrating and attacking Israeli civilians inside Israel proper.

Much of the world has criticized Israel for what it calls “disproportionate force”, or, in other words, they claim that Israel responded with WAY more force than was necessary, resulting in an excessive number of civilians killed and wounded, and much more property damage than was necessary.

But, is that true?

The IDF stated that it attacked 5,263 targets in Gaza, including:

  • 1,814 rocket and mortar launch or otherwise related sites
  • 191 weapon factories and warehouses
  • 1,914 command and control centers
  • 237 government institutions supporting the militant activity
  • hundreds of military outposts inside buildings

In addition, Israel found and destroyed some 34 tunnels leading out of Gaza and into (or toward) Israel.

In Gaza, Hamas (and other “militant” groups) bases its facilities in predominantly residential areas, as well as inside mosques, schools, and hospitals. There are many first-hand accounts substantiating this. This makes it almost impossible to avoid civilian casualties, but, Israel went to unprecedented lengths to warn civilians of impending strikes, including telephone calls, emails, text messages, radio broadcasts, leaflets dropped from the air, and “roof knocking”, wherein objects are dropped on roofs to warn residents that they need to evacuate. Still, Israel aborted many attacks when they determined that civilians were present in the target areas.

Proportionality

The concept of “proportionality” in warfare is well-established, and is part of most national legal systems.

Generally, it states that nations must not deliberately attack civilians, but if civilians are killed or wounded in attacks on legitimate military targets, that is “proportional”. The caveat is that the incidental loss of civilian lives cannot be “excessive” in relation to the anticipated “concrete” results of the attack.

What that means, in essence, is that if an army is attacking a military force’s capabilities and forces, with the objective of denying the enemy the ability to wage war, or of “convincing” him that it is not in his interests to continue fighting, without the intention to harm civilians, those civilian deaths are “proportionate”. In World War II, the Allies bombed several German cities, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians, with the aim of forcing the Axis forces to surrender. The Americans detonated two atomic bombs over Japan with the same aim, vastly increasing the number of enemy civilians killed while vastly reducing the number of Allied soldiers killed.

The principle of proportionality does not require that roughly equal numbers of combatants on both sides of a conflict will be killed. The principle refers strictly to the use of force necessary to defeat the enemy and render him unable to continue.

It would appear silly, in my opinion, to expect that wars would produce the same number of casualties on both sides. In order for a conflict to end, one side must be defeated, or, both sides must arrive at the realization that continuing would be so horrible as to be impossible.

In the case of Israel vs. Gaza/Hamas, the hostilities ended when Hamas decided it had had enough and agreed to a cease-fire. Had they not agreed, Israel would have continued their campaign.

One might argue that because Hamas did not surrender unconditionally (as did the Japanese and Germans in WWII), it is highly likely that this conflict will “flare up” in the future, especially given that Hamas is rebuilding its capabilities with the express objective of attacking Israel. But, for the most part, the rockets are not flying.

For a more detailed discussion of specific laws about proportionality, see http://www.crimesofwar.org/a-z-guide/proportionality-principle-of/ or do a Google search. There is a plethora of material defining “proportionality”.

That brings us to a discussion of whether or not Israel employed “disproportionate force”.

Israel continued its bombardments and ground attacks until Hamas agreed to and abided by a cease-fire.

Prior to that point, Israel had proposed several cease-fires, but Hamas either breached them or rejected them, indicating that further attacks on their capabilities were necessary.

Once Hamas agreed to a cease-fire and honored it, Israel stopped firing.

It is important to note that following the final cease-fire, there have been almost no rockets fired from Gaza right up to present time, indicating that Israel’s application of force was both necessary and justified.

Israel’s elaborate and widespread efforts to avoid casualties have been widely acknowledged as going well beyond any measures taken by ANY army in ANY war to date, and in fact, the ratio of civilian casualties to “fighters” is the lowest of any major conflict in history.  This alone would indicate that Israel did not inflict “disproportionate” damage on Gaza.

The incidence of civilian casualties is tragic, but entirely expected, especially in an urban warfare environment in a densely populated area. It is impossible to avoid, particularly when, as was the case in Gaza, the ruling party (Hamas) forcibly prevented civilians from evacuating areas that were to be attacked. This, in itself, constitutes a war crime on Hamas’ part.

In summary, I have to disagree vehemently with candidate Sanders’ position that Israel employed disproportionate force. There simply is no evidence to support that contention, and there is ample evidence to suggest precisely the opposite – Israel employed the necessary amount of force to compel Hamas and its associated organizations to stop firing rockets at civilians inside Israel. That was the objective of the Israeli forces, and it was attained. That is, by any legal definition of the proportionality principle, “proportionate”.

 

 

 

How To Beat The BDS Movement

NOTE: This article was originally published in The Algemeiner.

In recent years, the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions) movement has gained significant ground in their war against Israel.

They have a strong presence on many university campuses across the world, including in the United States. Many of the groups most actively involved in anti-Israel activities are offshoots of radical Muslim organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, and Hamas, and even though these groups are officially considered terrorist groups by the US government, they are allowed to function nonetheless.

These groups are typified by student organizations such as “Students for Justice in Palestine” (SJP), Muslim Student Associations on many campuses, and even “Jewish Voices for Peace” (JVP). They work hard to include more “leftist” Jewish students in hopes of appearing to be inclusive and to refute claims that they are, at heart, anti-semitic.

Their more well-known activities include “actions” such as placing fake eviction notices on and under student dormitory doors, holding annual “Israel Apartheid Week” activities complete with “die-in’s”, checkpoints, and propaganda walls, organizing very loud and vocal protests, working to pass divestment resolutions in student governments, pushing to exclude Jewish and pro-Israel students from any discussion, posting billboards and posters equating Israel with Nazi Germany or as an “Apartheid” nation, and preventing speakers trying to present objective or pro-Israel perspectives from speaking on campuses. This activity has spilled over to other “leftist” oriented groups such as “Black Lives Matter”, LGBT networks, and women’s rights groups, as well as the more “traditional” leftist groups and organizations such as the Communist party, Socialist groups, etc.

Their “claim to fame”, so to speak, is that they are loud, vocal, reject civil discourse with holders of any oppositional views, and work very hard to prevent presentation of any objective facts, since those conflict drastically with their own versions of “truth”, most of which are quite easily controverted, since objective history does not support their contentions in the least.

To date, opposition to these tactics has been scattered, disorganized, and largely ineffective, in spite of some successes such as the recent passage at University of California of a somewhat watered-down anti-semitism policy.

I believe that we, as a community that supports a strong, democratic, tolerant Israel, must do a much better job of combating the BDS movement.

The short version of what we need to do is:

  1. Promote the hell out of Israel through advertising campaigns, public relations, free trips to Israel, movies and television shows showing positive images of Israel. Show positive images of Israel at every opportunity. Put up billboards advertising travel to Israel, showing as often as possible the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic nature of Israel. Enlist prominent advertising and public relations firms to assist in any way possible. They are experts at this, let them help

  2. Organize strong and large rallies in every major city in support of Israel. Utilize existing organizations, recruit on campuses, bus in participants from other cities in order to make rallies LARGE, march on Washington DC in mass numbers, making sure to have great pro-Israel signs and slogans, based 100% on incontrovertible truth.

  3. Mount large and very vocal, well-organized counter-demonstrations to EVERY BDS-related event, whether on campus or anywhere else. When a BDS-related or anti-Israel event is announced, show up en masse outside with protest signs, loudspeakers, signs, banners, and provide the truth. Don’t let them get away with simply presenting their lies without opposition, which is largely what happens now. When they have prominent BDS and anti-Israel speakers, make sure to have large “anti” demonstrations with huge numbers of people. Always obey the law, don’t prevent the speaker from speaking, but ask pointed, probing questions during Q&A sessions, and, if possible, set up speakers directly opposite to present truths to counter their lies.

  4. Lawfare – sue them for slander, have them arrested for disturbing the peace when they invade and disrupt speakers at events, and pressure university administrations to shut them down when they violate campus policies on both anti-semitism and free speech. Enlist the help of “The Lawfare Project” (thelawfareproject.org) in understanding what is possible and how to start the process. If, as frequently occurs, BDS groups break campus rules or laws, use EVERY possible measure to go after them with campus authorities and have them prosecuted by local law enforcement. If they initiate physical contact (assault), file complaints with both campus and local police. Make sure to have video of EVERYTHING, and provide it as evidence as well as publicizing it on social media.

  5. Go after (legally) primary supporters of BDS. Find out who they are, expose them, and encourage supporters of Israel to avoid doing business with these people and their companies. Some of the supporters of BDS are very wealthy people with vast business interests. We need to learn about them and understand where their vulnerabilities lie, then exploit those vulnerabilities.

  6. Support organizations such as Amcha, Stand With Us, Canary Mission, Stop BDS on Campus, Fighting BDS, Stop BDS Now, and others, while at the same time pushing them to coordinate activities more effectively.

  7. Involve the Israeli government to a much larger extent in support of these activities. Utilize the resources of the Israeli Intelligence community to expose the backers of BDS. So far, Israel has not seemed to take BDS as seriously as it I think it should. While I’m sure there are “behind the scenes” activities going on, they are clearly not as effective as they need to be. Israel needs to be a key player in this fight.

The bottom line is that we need to shine a light on the lies promulgated by the BDS movement. Their entire movement is based on untruths, and the voices raised in opposition are, so far, largely ineffective.

While it is unlikely that we can win in organizations like the UN Human Rights Council, where Israel is excoriated on a daily basis, or in the UN General Assembly, the support of the masses, including politicians on the right AND on the left, is critical. The support of the major churches is critical, and the support of university faculties, especially in the Middle East Studies departments, many of which are now hotbeds of anti-Israel activity and anti-Israel “education” funded by Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations, is also critical.

The atmosphere on many campuses across America is toxic to Jewish students, many of whom cannot even identify themselves as Jewish without feeling threatened. This must stop, and the only way to do it is to be organized along the lines of the civil rights movement of the 1960’s in the United States.

Pro-Israel groups should study the Civil Rights movement and work to promote an understanding that it is no more acceptable to discriminate against Jews than it is to discriminate against Blacks. The tactics of Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders have been largely effective, and we need to emulate them.

This is, effectively, a war. It is a war for the survival of Israel as an independent nation accepted by the majority of the nations of the world. Just like any war, we have to have an effective strategy to defeat the enemy. Our tactics need to line up with our strategy, and we need to fight to win. Winning is crucial in this war, and so far, our strategy and tactics are unclear and ineffective, as can be seen by the successes of the BDS movement.

The worst thing we can do is to underestimate the capabilities and resolve of our enemies, or believe that this will just “blow over”. It won’t. It’s time to fight strongly, smartly, and effectively, and to mobilize all the resources at our disposal.

Are Jewish Organizations Obligated To Host Jewish, Anti-Israel Groups?

NOTE: This article was originally published by The Algemeiner

Last month (March, 2016), the university campus organization, Hillel, was roundly criticized for its decision to host the group “Breaking the Silence” at Brown and Columbia universities.  Hillel’s defense of their decision to host the group was essentially that (a) Hillel’s Jewish students seek to invite these groups, not Hillel itself, and (b) by agreeing to host them, Hillel can try to provide clarifying context for the programs.

A recent article in The Algemeiner discusses Hillel’s decision to host this group despite its apparent conflict with Hillel’s “Standards of Partnership,” which call for Hillel to reject interactions with “organizations, groups, or speakers that as a matter of policy of practice: Delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel… or support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions (BDS) against the State of Israel.”.

To many of us, it is clear that “Breaking the Silence” is antagonistic to the State of Israel, regardless of their protestation that they are just trying to make Israel “better.” While the group claims not to support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, they are currently under investigation for spying against the state by illegally obtaining military information, and their members routinely demonize the IDF by making unsubstantiated claims of brutality, torture, and murder. The group also refuses to share with the state any evidence of these allegations, making it impossible for the state to investigate them.

Israel, as a matter of course, takes very seriously allegations of misdeeds by soldiers, and frequently arrests and tries soldiers accused of such actions. But, when Breaking the Silence makes its accusations, there is no way for Israel to investigate or counter them, since there is no official record or complaint about whatever crimes were allegedly committed. Breaking the Silence categorically refuses to provide any information on the grounds that their members’ privacy and safety might be compromised. But, just as certainly, their actions place them squarely in the camp of those who are determined to smear Israel and damage it.

Anonymous, unsubstantiated accusations are the equivalent of an electronic lynch mob.

In this case, Hillel apparently believes that it is acting as an “educational organization,” and as such, allowing Breaking the Silence to present its perspective is a good thing.

To some degree, this is, of course true. We should always look at conflicts and events from multiple perspectives.

However, letting Breaking the Silence present its perspective without providing solid, clear, counter-arguments and context at exactly the same time does not serve any educational agenda, it is simply providing Breaking the Silence with a platform. It’s not much different than if Hillel were to provide a platform for explicitly pro-BDS groups like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) or Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), which are virulently anti-Israel and frequently veer into antisemitism. These organizations themselves are not interested in “hearing the other side,” as both are known for disrupting pro-Israel speakers and preventing them from speaking. They are both also diametrically opposed to “dialogue” in any form with supporters of Israel.

One should no more give Breaking the Silence a free platform at Hillel than one would SJP or JVP, or Electronic Intifada, for that matter.

Considering that Hillel’s vision is “to inspire Jewish students to build an enduring commitment to Jewish life, learning and Israel,” it is clearly counter-productive to bring groups like Breaking the Silence to Hillel or to support, in any way, this type of group.

I believe that Hillel has an obligation to first and foremost present the best of Israel. Build up the knowledge of Jewish students about what is good and beautiful about Israel. Make sure students have a connection to Israel before exposing them to less beautiful aspects of Israel.

By all means, present information about ALL aspects of Israel. Discuss the pros and cons of settlements, legal issues related to territories conquered in 1948 and 1967, discrimination against non-Ashkenazi immigrants and Arab citizens, but always with the aim to promote a love for Israel. Israel DOES work very hard to eliminate these issues, and that should always be clear.

Sometimes, we worry too much about the perceived “underdog” at the expense of our love for Israel. It is when we bend over backward to give a platform to those who are willing to lie that we surrender ourselves to the passivity for which Jews were characterized for centuries, and which led, in no small measure, to our march into the concentration camps. “Don’t rock the boat. Maybe there’s some truth in what they say. We should listen.” No, we should NOT listen. We should present the truth, always, and reject the lies. We should demand protection under the law, and we should expose exactly HOW our enemies lie about us.

Breaking the Silence has proven that they do not have the best interests of Israel at heart. They should not be given a platform by any Jewish organization, nor should Jewish organizations like Hillel give space to any anti-Israel organization.