Here are more signs that the Gaza onslaught has reshaped the American discussion of Israel and Palestine, in three arguments from intellectuals.
1, Ken Roth of Human Rights Watch said on Democracy Now yesterday that Palestinians should end the “charade” and go to the International Criminal Court to have Israel hauled up on war crimes. Roth has been more careful in his indictments in the past. He is obviously angry about the Israeli slaughter, and about Israeli immunity.
“They seem not to learn… they are completely on notice. We’ve accused them of this in the past. They just keep repeating it.”
Roth sees a design, of targeting civilians: “to try to make the people of Gaza pay a price because Hamas is ruling over them.”
Full excerpt below.
2, Leon Wieseltier, a longtime supporter of anything Israel wants to do, confesses in The New Republic that he finds Israel’s failure to sort out militants from civilians “sickening,” and more importantly, that he needs to distance himself from the Israel lobby and Israeli society. The overwhelming Israeli support for the the slaughter makes him “queasy.” And as for the lobby, “I have been surprised by the magnitude of the indifference in the Jewish world to the human costs of Israel’s defense.” In refusing to defer to Israelis in his judgment of the massacre, Wieseltier parts company with Michael Walzer, who said on an Americans for Peace Now call that it was too easy to sit in Princeton and judge people in Israel, or Bill Kristol, who has said that it is “cavalier” to sit on the Upper West Side and second-guess Israelis. These men defer to Israeli judgment (presumably in part out of a religious understanding that Israeli Jews are aliyah, higher, while we in the Diaspora are yoredim, or lower); Wieseltier has no such astral body.
Full excerpt below.
3. Finally I’ve thrown in great analysis of the Israeli tactics by David Bromwich at Huffpo. Bromwich hasn’t shifted any from his recent book, but the Vietnam “Free Fire Zone” analogy he makes is one I’ve heard from other Americans and needs to be highlighted.
1. Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, interviewed by Nermeen Shaikh at Democracy Now! Roth doesn’t parse anything; he says Israel committed war crimes:
And no matter how many times the Israeli military spokesmen scream, “Human shields! Human shields!” most of the people being killed in Gaza are being killed because Israel is paying insufficient care to saving civilian lives. There’s been case after case in which Israel has used the wrong weaponry or has shot at people with many civilians around. And these, in our view, are war crimes.
He calls on Palestine to go to the ICC as “the only realistic proposal” to deal with these war crimes:
Now, Palestine, having now been recognized by the U.N. General Assembly as a state, actually is entitled to ratify the International Criminal Court treaty, or even short of that, to simply invite the International Criminal Court to come in and conduct an investigation. I don’t quite understand what the Palestinian representative was doing in The Hague, because this is not just a matter of going and discussing whether maybe the International Criminal Court might get involved. You know, they should stop the charade and just invite the International Criminal Court in. It’s a simple thing to do.
Now, of course, the reason they’re not doing it is probably twofold. I mean, one is that the U.S. government and certain Western governments are shamefully putting pressure on the Palestinian Authority not to do that, threatening to withhold aid and all kinds of severe consequences. And this is their effort to protect Israel from a proper war crimes investigation. The other factor which may be playing a part is, of course, Hamas’s vulnerability to prosecution, as well. And we don’t know to what extent Hamas is telling the Palestinian Authority, you know, “Don’t you dare really bring in the International Criminal Court, because we’re at jeopardy, as well.”
But, you know, the bottom line is that this charade is not real, and we hope that the Palestinian Authority will get off the fence and go forward and actually invite in the International Criminal Court as the only realistic prospect for bringing justice to the many, many victims of these war crimes….
Here he expresses his anger at Israel’s contempt for the distinction between militants and civilians:
you know, for example, when they hit the beach cafe killing nine people watching the World Cup, we don’t even know if there was a militant there, but that was a wholly inappropriate time to shoot. Or when they claimed to have been going after a militant, hit his family home and killed 25 civilians who were breaking the Ramadan fast. These are clearly disproportionate harm to civilians, a war crime regardless of whether there might have been a militant in the vicinity or not..
They seem not to learn. I mean, we’ve gone through this in the prior Gaza efforts. We went through it with the Hezbollah war. I actually, you know, after the Hezbollah war, went and briefed the senior Israeli lawyer for the military, describing many of these same problems, the fact that you can’t just issue a warning and assume that everybody left, in that case, is Hezbollah. So, you know, they are completely on notice. We’ve accused them of this in the past. They just keep repeating it. And it seems to be almost by design to try to make the people of Gaza pay a price because Hamas is ruling over them. But, of course, you know, that’s the same logic that they criticize Hamas for, where Hamas will say, “Oh, well, you know, Israel elected Netanyahu, therefore any Israeli civilian is fair game,” or, “All Israeli males might go into the military, so therefore we can fire indiscriminate rockets.” I mean, that’s a war crime logic, and Israel is oftentimes acting according to the same logic in Gaza.
2. Here is Leon Wieseltier in the New Republic. I’m leaving out his condemnations of Hamas and the validation of Israel’s war on Gaza. Though you will see that he is excited that Israelis are shooting guns. I am focusing on his fine response to the enormity, his moral rage at the idea of “mowing the lawn.”
I do not know how to do the arithmetic of conscience. Officials in Gaza say that 1,834 Palestinians have been killed. An IDF spokesman says that “approximately 900 militants in combat” have been killed. That leaves about 900 dead civilians. Is that doctrinally acceptable? Is it “mowing the lawn”? What is the concept which can confidently prescribe that when three Hamas operatives are on a motorcycle at a school where people are waiting in line for food supplies, the trigger should be pulled? If the villains can be identified, so can the people. There are no concepts that can catch up with the murder of children. After all, even Satan has not yet devised the proper vengeance for the death of a child. I have been surprised by the magnitude of the indifference in the Jewish world to the human costs of Israel’s defense against the missiles and the tunnels. Some of the e-mails I have received have been lunatic in their lack of compassion. According to a poll by the Israel Democracy Institute, 95 percent of Jewish Israelis believe the war in Gaza is just. It is easy to see why: Self-defense is also a moral duty. But only 4 percent believe that the Israeli military has used excessive force. This makes me queasy. Unanimity, or close to it, is no guarantee of truth. No excessive force, anywhere?
There are two ways to interpret my disquiet. The first, a canard of the right, is to view it as a breach of solidarity, as a wobble in hard times. The second, a canard of the left, is to view it as moral complacence, as a cunning form of complicity with what it deplores. Needless to say, I do not regard myself as a turncoat or a pawn. It is not sickening that Israel is defending itself—it is, by the standard of Jewish historical experience, exhilarating; but some of what Israel is doing to defend itself is sickening.
3. Finally here is David Bromwich in Huffington Post, “Actions and Intentions in Gaza,” saying what Ken Roth is saying, that Israel’s contempt for the distinction between militants and civilians demonstrates that it has an implicit policy of harming civilians. The Vietnam analogy is extremely helpful.
You do not kill unarmed people in such numbers, and you do not kill women and children on such a scale, when the constantly considered aim of your forces is not to inflict unnecessary injury on civilians. Conversely, when you take the most scrupulous measures to avoid the killing of innocents, it does not turn out that the vast majority of the people you have killed are innocents.
Because the pattern admits of no misunderstanding, we should withdraw credence from Netanyahu’s profession of his secondary aim: the great care taken against harm to civilians. The facts suggest, rather, a tacit condoning of retaliation against any Palestinian who comes into view. The Netanyahu government has permitted such killing to recur, and at the same time has denied that it is happening. “I’m 60,” saysthe Gazan human rights lawyer Raji Sourani:
“I lived all my entire life in this part of the world, and I’m working in this field for the last 40 years. I attended the last wars, in 2008, 2009 and 2012. I can assure you one thing: Yes, war crimes happened, and entire families have been erased — Samouni, Daya, and others. Houses were destroyed. Civilian targets were targeted. And we documented that. But the scale never, ever was on this level … We never, ever have had entire areas, like Shejaiya, like Khuzaa, like Zanaa, like Beit Hanoun, like Beit Lahia, razed. Doesn’t exist anymore. Hundreds of bombs, weighing one ton, dropped on the heads of the people while they are there.”
Other witnesses have said the same. There are whole streets and sections of towns in Gaza that look as if they had become free-fire zones for Israeli soldiers.
“Free-fire zone” was an unwritten concept of American combat in Vietnam. (One of the returning soldiers to expose the fact and explain its meaning was John Kerry.) Americans who have read that history know that the killing of women and children on such a scale does not happen by accident. It happens when soldiers who are angry at the loss of comrades have been shown, by unwritten orders or by a leeway that amounts to permission, that they are free to decide “in the heat” whom they want to kill, and that those whom they target need not be armed or anywhere close to anyone armed. Naval shelling that kills four children playing on a beach can be classified as one of the mysteries of war. The response of the IDF to similar incidents in 2008-2009, “We will investigate,” is seldom heard these days. The response is now, “We have no record of that.”