J Street, a “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace” national organization, issued this statement on Nov. 30th: “AS HUMANITARIAN PAUSE NEARS END, US MUST DEMAND CHANGE IN ISRAELI TACTICS AND MUST NOT PROVIDE A BLANK CHECK FOR NETANYAHU.” It states in part:
While J Street supports Israel’s right to take military action in accordance with international law to bring Hamas terrorists to justice and protect Israeli citizens, we echo the Biden Administration’s clear admonition to the Netanyahu government: “Be surgical, be targeted, be precise, try to minimize civilian casualties wherever possible.” . . .
America’s continued support for Israel as fighting may soon resume should be grounded in two principles: (1) There must be guardrails around Israel’s conduct of the war (2) There can be no blank check for the Netanyahu government in the upcoming aid package.
Writing in The New Republic (“The Palestinian People Should be Enraged at Both Israel and Hamas“), Hussein Ibish, an Arab-American think-tank analyst, noted that:
By attacking southern Israel and essentially killing or kidnapping everyone they encountered, including Arab Bedouins and Asian laborers, Hamas effectively perpetrated two huge massacres: the first of Israelis on the day itself, and the second of the Palestinians being played out on a much grander scale by Israel.
This is not to minimize the horrible suffering of Gazans at this time, but in a Partners for Progressive Israel webinar on this war & international law, featuring Michael Walzer and Michael Sfard, Walzer noted that for Hamas, Palestinians killed in Gaza by Israel are “assets,” politically speaking. Walzer is a renowned scholarly authority on “Just War Theory,” while Michael Sfard is a well-known defender of Palestinians in Israeli courts and often consulted on human rights issues in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Sfard cited the strike on a refugee camp targeting a Hamas brigade commander, while knowingly killing 60 or 70 non-combatants, as a “textbook example of disproportional attack.” In a new piece in Quillette (“Gaza and the Asymmetry Trap“), Prof. Walzer grapples with the moral and practical difficulties of applying the rule of “proportionality” in the kind of war being waged in Gaza — that if civilian casualties are inflicted in pursuit of a combat objective, their number must be proportionate to the military value of the target.
An article in Israel’s +972 Magazine indicates that previous restraints in IDF bombing attacks are no longer in force, violating proportionality in international law. The article does not exempt Hamas from the criminal conduct of its Oct. 7th assault, but focuses upon Israel’s actions since:
Israel launched its assault on Gaza in the aftermath of the October 7 Hamas-led offensive on southern Israel. During that attack, under a hail of rocket fire, Palestinian militants massacred more than 840 civilians and killed 350 soldiers and security personnel, kidnapped around 240 people — civilians and soldiers — to Gaza, and committed widespread sexual violence, including rape, according to a report by the NGO Physicians for Human Rights Israel.
From the first moment after the October 7 attack, decisionmakers in Israel openly declared that the response would be of a completely different magnitude to previous military operations in Gaza, with the stated aim of totally eradicating Hamas. “The emphasis is on damage and not on accuracy,” said IDF Spokesperson Daniel Hagari on Oct. 9. The army swiftly translated those declarations into actions.“‘A mass assassination factory’: Inside Israel’s calculated bombing of Gaza”
by Yuval Abraham, Nov. 30, 2023
If even 50% of what this report alleges is true, much of the IDF’s behavior is illegal. There are enough official, on-the-record statements to support the notion that the IDF is taking a new approach to civilians in targeted areas, with the use of Artificial Intelligence, and the decision to bring down high-rise public buildings and residences — “power targets” intended as “a deliberate attack on Palestinian society [that] will exert ‘civil pressure’ on Hamas.”
The Jerusalem Post corroborates the +972 coverage of what Air Force chief Omer Tishler said in a news briefing:
“We are attacking very aggressively any place which Hamas and its people are using,” he said.
Of course, he said the IDF is not targeting civilians as Hamas did in mass numbers on Saturday and continues to do with rocket fire, “there is always a military target, but we are not being surgical.”
Tactically, he explained that if in past ’rounds’ of fighting with Gaza, the air force would target one or two Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad targets or high-ranking officers at a time, now it is targeting whole neighborhoods of terrorist targets all at once.“IDF bombs whole Gaza neighborhoods to hit Hamas targets – official”
by Yonah Jeremy Bob, Oct. 11, 2023
Failures of Intelligence, Imagination and Political Policy
Hours before the war resumed in Gaza, the NY Times released a bombshell report by Ronen Bergman and Adam Goldman that Israeli intelligence officials learned about Hamas’s battle plan for the Oct. 7th terrorist attack more than a year ago. Yet military and intelligence officials characterized the plan as “aspirational,” considering it beyond Hamas’s capacity to implement.
This Times article accords perfectly with recent reporting by Haaretz on Israeli intelligence failures, including editor-in-chief Aluf Benn writing that “Netanyahu Ignored All the Warnings and Looming Threats…,” and “focused on crushing democracy, establishing his status as the supreme ruler and transferring resources to the ultra-Orthodox and the settlements.”
Haaretz writer Chaim Levinson wrote similarly that the “Head of the research division [of Military Intelligence] warned in March and July that Israel’s sociopolitical crisis over the judicial overhaul was stirring enemies to chance military action.”
An additional dimension was the sexism on display of ignoring what female IDF spotters were seeing and warning about, and then abandoning them unarmed and undefended to be murdered or captured:
Over the past year, the Israel Defense Forces’ spotters situated on the Gaza border, all women, warned that something unusual was happening. Those who survived the October 7 massacre are convinced that if it had been men sounding the alarm, things would look different today.
“The Women Soldiers Who Warned of a Pending Hamas Attack – and Were Ignored”
by Yaniv Kubovich, Haaretz, Nov. 20, 2023
The irony was noted in another Haaretz article (“Israel’s Deadly Complacency Wasn’t Just an Intelligence Failure“) of the surprise attack on Oct. 7th occurring one day after the 50th anniversary of the Yom Kippur War in October 1973, and characterized by a similar Israeli blindness and arrogance. Post-war analyses concluded that the IDF’s failures in the early days of that war were rooted in “Ha-konseptzia” — the prevailing conception of Israeli governmental and security echelons that Arab forces, then chiefly Egypt and Syria, did not have a military option against Israel in the wake of their overwhelming defeat in 1967. SImilarly, in the run-up to the current war, there was a prevailing conception that Hamas lacked both the capability and the interest in mounting a major operation against Israel:
People in the communities next to Gaza heard Hamas training to infiltrate Israel, but the army disregarded their warnings and curtailed their surveillance capabilities. The army’s spotters detected suspicious digging, but their superiors claimed it was for farmwork. The blindness of intelligence wasn’t due only to a failure to identify the signs. Political considerations also played a part. . . .
Since returning to power in 2009, Benjamin Netanyahu viewed Hamas rule in Gaza as a useful tool for warding off the threat of a diplomatic peace process. From his viewpoint, that threat was embodied in the peace proposal put forward by the Arab League as early as 2002, centering around the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, together with the termination of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Netanyahu and his camp … did all they could to prevent its realization. Hamas, which is unwilling to recognize Israel and is committed to its destruction, also rejected the Arab League’s peace initiative. As long as Hamas rule continued in Gaza, Netanyahu was able to use it as an excuse for a lack of progress toward a diplomatic settlement with the Palestinian Authority, . . . Netanyahu not only refrained from eliminating Hamas rule in Gaza, but actually strengthened the organization by allowing it to receive suitcases of money from Qatar.
Haaretz, Nov. 11, 2023
What the Arab World Sees
There’s a YouTube recording of Ghaith al-Omari being interviewed by Nadine Epstein, the editor of Moment Magazine, on Nov. 13. An adviser to the PLO negotiating team in 1999-2001 and the former executive director of the American Task Force on Palestine, al-Omari is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and an expert commentator on Palestinian politics.
Although slightly dated by fast-moving events since, his insights on Palestinian and Arab reactions to the Gaza war are illuminating. He notes how the image of Israel as an aggressor state is exacerbated by one-sided coverage in Arab media, such as in al-Jazeera and on social media, downplaying or even denying that Hamas initiated the war with its horrendous attacks on Oct. 7th. The very real footage of carnage in Gaza has been amplified by brutal statements from Israeli officials, such as that by Israel’s Heritage Minister to use a nuclear bomb.
A Possible Scenario for the Day After
Eric Lee, a writer and activist who was a founding editor of the international trade union news site, LabourStart.org, has an idea. Currently living in the UK, Lee was a socialist activist from New York who made Aliyah and was a kibbutznik for a number of years. In a Times of Israel blog post, he suggests that the United Nations revive its dormant Trusteeship Council and designate Gaza as a Trust territory, with Turkey as the administering authority, given its status as the “last country to claim ownership of Gaza” during the Ottoman Empire.
Unlikely as this may sound, it would be preferable to Israel depopulating Gaza and/or reoccupying it with settlements, as some extremists in Israel would like to see. And Trusteeship is a more likely scenario than returning Gaza to the Palestinian Authority, which was kicked out violently in June 2007. Aside from having no legitimacy if returned to power by the IDF, the PA currently doesn’t seem to have the capacity to even govern the 40% of the West Bank that it theoretically administers.