Israel Won. Hamas Lost. Period.

Israel won this war. Don’t be ridiculous. If you thought Israel ever considered toppling Hamas, much less dismantling it as an organization, you had no idea what Israel was doing there in Gaza or how near impossible it would be for a military operation to destroy an organization. Operation Protective Edge was a military success, even with the diplomatic problems.

Gaza Hamas Rockets Fired

Two Gazan rockets launched at Sderot – date unknown (CC BY SA 2.0 tipinfo via Flickr)

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What Judaism Should Take Away from Sunni Islam’s Tragedy

I realized I sounded like the most liberal person on my Facebook feed when I addressed the revelation that some ISIS recruits ordered beginner books on Islam before going off to Syria and Iraq to fight in a very proud “Muslim” militia. This discovery is a pretty strong indictment of the caliber of recruit, but only if you’re familiar with the dearth in Islamic learning today already – well, at least in Sunni Islam. Shiite Islam, believe it or not, actually has most of its shite together (pun intended).

Sunni Islam’s historic learning centers have shifted, the same as Judaism: from Israel and Babylon to Spain to Provence & Egypt to Poland & Lithuania to New York & Israel again. Sunni Islam is facing a major gap in learning in one particular area: the Arab World. But for many centuries, the center was Al-Azhar. Al-Azhar in Egypt has historically been a center for Islamic culture and thought, so much so that its prestigious top posts have been considered not just the most authoritative in the Arab World, but authoritative to all Sunni Muslims the world over. But for at least the last few decades its student body has been dictated by the Egyptian government, which has had no interest in strengthening religion in the country. Egypt’s military government has operated society in much the way the Soviet Union used to designate people’s professions when they were young. As it happens, the most intelligent have been sent into engineering and science, while the bottom of the barrel was sent to . . . Al-Azhar. The result has been the center of Sunni learning slowly falling apart. Saudi Arabia was there to fill the void though with a very particular type of Sunni philosophy. Financing schools across the Islamic world, particularly in Pakistan, the demanding nature of Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi school of thought is considered the spark for most modern Islamist movements.

Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, Egypt

Al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, Egypt (CC BY SA 3.0 Buyoof via Wikimedia Commons)

In summary, it’s been a disaster, particularly for the Arab World. There is no center for Palestinian or Lebanese or Jordanian or Syrian Sunni Islam. Arab Sunni Islam lacks a strong leadership. Its strongest leaders are hell-bent on political ideologies, no matter how religious they profess to be. Sociopaths like Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi have easily filled the void – a void whose structure is entirely political and only colored in with the deep green saturation of Islam whose own bones have been gutted. To Muslims’ credit, many are aware of how much cultural traditions and even tribal codes of law sometimes are misrepresented as Islamic tradition – particularly in places like Afghanistan. But the Arab World has been hit hard by this. Islam, at least in the Arab world, is at best a shell being constantly shattered and taped back together by groups like ISIS and the slew of political militias operating across the Middle East.

What It Means for Jews

It’s a fact that Israel should be well aware of. Arab Sunni Islam has largely replaced clerisy with heresy, though don’t let those leaders hear you say it. While it constitutes a grave threat across the scope of humanity and obviously for Israelis that this situation has arisen, it is an inherent weakness to many Islamist movements that their leadership is hollow when it comes to religious authority. Sunni Islam faces a crisis in leadership.

The current Grand Mufti of Al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayeb, is an imbecile. He was appointed by Hosni Mubarak in 2010, but his education was not found at Al-Azhar, rather in a Ph.D. in Islamic Philosophy from the Paris-Sorbonne University in France. At times, it shines that his academic approach has overshadowed the jurisprudential approach needed to manage the religious lives of millions of people. He has deliberately taken Quranic verses deliberately out of context to justify political anti-Semitism and insinuate that Zionist-like movements have been thorns in the side of Muslims for 1,400 years. His stupidity might be his own fault, but his holding such a historically important position for Sunni Islam is the result of decades of neglect.

And from here we see that Judaism, in all its imperfection, is in much better shape. But Sunni Islam’s experience is a very harsh lesson for the Jewish people, whose educational centers are functionally in tact but are scant and face certain idiosyncratic issues.

Despite the seemingly miraculous, near-immediate reestablishment of displaced Yeshivas after the Holocaust, Jewish education though is quite limited around the world. Other movements in Judaism have had fewer than a dozen institutions of higher religious education between them. Divisions within the religion noticeably motivate different communities’ liberal and stringent tendencies to dig in and hold their positions, reinforcing their own views and often losing sight of the original position in law or point of a tradition, to the point that people become either so permissive or so strict that they violate other rules and principles of Jewish law or philosophy.

Knowledge of Hebrew is piss-poor. Bible literacy is atrocious in much of the Jewish community. Religion is considered malleable even without super-heating it to melting temperatures. It’s a different type of religious extremism, but one resulting from a general unfamiliarity with the sources essential to Jewish law.

So I propose a completely different way of doing things.

A Different Type of Convergence Plan

I could care less about your personal beliefs about the literal or metaphoric nature of the Bible in your respective personal and communal versions of Judaism – at least relative to this. At least teach something. At least enrich your literacy and expand the scope of what you know about that book, as well as its infinite series of commentaries and elucidations. Learn Hebrew. Learn Aramaic. Learn Yiddish. Go out of your way to find a Jew who is different than you, someone else who has picked up a philosophy of serial studying. Debate. Argue. Scream. But at least listen. Fight over coffee and converse deep into Friday night dinners, still debating the nature of the universe until the sun rises on Saturday morning and you take what you might have learned and that new-found respect for the way your Jewish peer understands the world and apply it to enrich how you see things yourself. Deliberately force the Jewish people to educate themselves, to educate each other and function as a much larger, less-divided community.

Returning from the Muslim-Jewish Conference just two weeks ago, I picked up as much about other Jewish groups as I did of the various Muslim groups represented there. The chief theme of an event like that is to not persuade the respective delegations to agree with each other, merely to get each other; merely to understand each other. And as oblivious as Jews might secretly think they are of their own religion and the practices of other groups, they are clearly capable and much more knowledgeable than they think. They clearly have the energy to punch above their own weight and represent themselves on a global stage with their own country and a globally represented community despite its small numbers – and lack of central leadership. The ability to invest so much spirit into an event like this with another group demonstrates that Jews have just as much capability to do this for themselves and march in lockstep with each other when they have to.

A Choice between Contempt and Admiration

Not tolerance. Not acceptance. Respect and more. Awe. Regard. Esteem.

For the sake of the next generation of Jews and Judaism, let us all take it as an imperative not to repeat the self-destructive errors of Sunni Islam in our own religious community. We have been through too much to treat each other with the type of contempt that Salafi Islamists treat each other with. As the most extreme of jihadist groups continue to recruit and even turn on each other, let’s remind ourselves that we as a people not only don’t want to mimic this tragic, embarrassing and self-destructive pattern of religious suicide. Let’s remind ourselves that we as a Jewish people have actually done this to ourselves in the past. We fought each other in the days leading up to the Roman destruction of the Temple. More recently, we allowed ourselves to slander each other during the 19th century and the early 20th, something which only stopped when our bitterly divided communities could not muster the strength to protect each other from the Nazi destroyer.

Jewish Population of Europe on the Eve of the Holocaust & World War II

Jewish Population of Europe in 1933, before Hitler’s Rise as Chancellor of Germany

It’s been a damning history that is not worth repeating. And now, on the heels of a humanitarian and political disaster with the rise of ISIS, we are watching all the worst of our own history happen to others: the zealous nature of past Jewish civil wars reflected in the battles between militias in Syria; the attempt to send Einsatzgruppen-style death squads against Christians and Yazidis in Iraq; the effort to form an evil empire stretched across an entire region of the world.

ISIS Massacre in Iraq

ISIS Massacre in Iraq

Jews, Hebrews, Israelites – whatever we might call ourselves – we have come way, way too far and had way, way too much experience to continue tripping over each other’s petty internal differences to not even muster a measly budget to make sure Jews the world over can recognize the freaking Aleph-Bet. We are too ambitious to limit our potential to waiting for the world to help us rescue ourselves from anti-Semitism.

Here we are, on the edge of a new era in history where Jews either wait to see how things develop or we can take an active role in shaping the world around us. I did not move my ass to Israel to wait for the European Union to do something about hatred toward Jews or for some sociopathic militia to mimic the Holocaust 500 miles away from the Jewish army sworn to never again allow such an atrocity to stain the earth with innocent blood.

Areas of ISIS control in Syria & Iraq, where religious minorities are being subjected to systematic murder.

Areas of ISIS control in Syria & Iraq, where religious minorities are being subjected to systematic murder.

Realizing the Jewish people’s potential to protect their own integrity, ensure their own prosperity and to simultaneously fulfill a mission to be a Light unto the Nations begins at home and with the little things. Before we talk about the glory of a Jewish people who have conquered their own petty differences, we need to embrace what is ours and to understand it both for ourselves and as a community: learn Hebrew; recognize the sacred texts; know Jewish history; don’t make assumptions about what kind of history can’t repeat itself; don’t make assumptions about the meaning of religious principles; don’t accuse each other of heresy – look what that has done to Sunni Islam. Most importantly, just understand your fellow Jew. If you aren’t Orthodox, figure out what’s behind your Orthodox peer. If you are Orthodox, get the view of your Reform brother. If you are or are not religious, have a respect for your neighbor that you’d want from him yourself.

Just a Few Suggestions

1. Make Jewish Education Happen by All Means at Our Disposal.

Break the spiral. If Jews can’t afford to come to a private school to get Hebrew, then bring it to them. For God’s sake push your local district to bring Hebrew to public schools. Modern Hebrew, as a foreign language, is a critical language for modern technology and politics. It is justifiable as an academic endeavor just as much as Spanish, French or Chinese is. For the private schools who give their students minimal exposure, flip your classes into immersion programs. Teach whole classes in Hebrew. Require your religious sessions to read entire chapters of Hebrew text. Bring this language completely back from the dead and finish the amazingly holy work of Modern Hebrew’s renaissance man, Eliezer Ben Yehuda.

2. Increase Contact with Other Jewish Communities

For all the risks that your students might pick up ‘undesirable’ ideas from “heretical” or “archaic” groups of wayward Jews, remember the consequences of allowing those divisions to get worse. In less savory economic times, no one can assume that perfect stranger communities who have made presumptions about each other for decades would have a hard time not attacking each other: if the comforts of the Western world where most Jews live were replaced by the poverty and corruption endemic to areas consumed by radical militias, Orthodox and Reform Jews’ civility toward each other today would be a distant fantasy. While the going isn’t so rough, the Jewish community has a duty to not be so presumptuous that it can’t happen to them. Break the barriers between us. We don’t have to agree. We just have to be brothers and sisters again. Neither group is too much a pushover to allow the other to simply talk them out of their hardened beliefs anyway. In all likelihood, and pretty much the point, we would find in each other ways to improve our own groups, thus unintentionally bringing our respective Jewish divisions together, setting the stage for another generation to take that progress even further.

3. Internationalize the Community

Israel is its center, but that isn’t to neglect New York or Paris. The global Jewish network is surprisingly weak considering how hard the community has worked for its resources. It is the vital interest of Israel and the Diaspora to not just be strategic allies to fight anti-Semitism, terrorism and neo-fascism, but also to approach many challenges as a single entity. Were the Jewish community in a country where they are greatly outnumbered and unorganized to face a violent surge in anti-Jewish violence, it will be the combined military and financial resources of Israel and the Diaspora that will have to respond to either extract the embattled community to safe ground or to beat back the threat. This is a very real possibility in 2014 in ways it hasn’t been since 1944. Had Israel lost the War of Independence in 1948, no one can say for certain how the Jewish world would have been able to pick up the pieces of the Holocaust the way it has. Now that Israel and the Diaspora have simultaneously rebuilt their societies, now is the time to invest in those two societies’ continued prosperity.

Learn your brother’s language: Hebrew, English, French, Russian and more. Go out of your way to build friendships with Jews the world over.

4. Speak Softly: Appoint a Representative for Global Jewry to Speak for Us

It should be an unequivocal goal that Jews appoint their own global Chief Rabbi on par with the Pope in Rome. The Pope cannot represent us. No matter how disparate we are, we cannot deprive ourselves of someone to look to for guidance, or to obscure our people’s immense care for global affairs by not having someone who can speak before tens of thousands of people and demonstrate that the Jewish people are on the map to make a difference. And in that same motion, do the very opposite of what Sunni Islam has allowed: a vacuum in confident and representative leadership.


5. Carry a Big Stick: Put Teeth and Grit behind the Principles of Modern Jewry.

Never Again. No Slavery. It’s not just for the Jewish people to talk up these themes. They are guiding policies that Israel and its partners in the Diaspora must actively put forward. Intervention to prevent genocide is the most natural outgrowth of the experience of centuries of persecution. Going forward, the State of Israel must take a moral stand – especially against the morally corrupt, double-standard-laden United Nations – and intervene in every way it can against evil armies like ISIS when they make ethnic mass murder their guiding policy. Jewish organizations from the left and right should reflect the way the Israeli left and right work hand in hand when Israel goes to war: lobby your respective governments to do whatever it takes to block genocide on any continent, in any country where it might occur.

Block human trafficking. End modern day forms of slavery like international prostitution. Join the effort against mass crime rings exporting kidnapped women throughout Europe, prisoners of war forced to labor for their captors in squalor.

Judaism & Islam as Anchors to Peace in the Middle East & Beyond

The following is an extremely long and general, but fairly thorough mission statement requested of me by the organizers of the Muslim-Jewish Conference in Vienna, Austria. I might be the only resident of a Jewish town in Judea & Samaria, the only resident of a West Bank settlement, who will be attending (I could be wrong). The fact I am a Religious Zionist makes me the ideal demographic to represent the community. I’m not sure if my spot on the left-right political continuum is as reflective, but this writing is a major exposé for me. I am never this open about certain views I have. I gain nothing from hiding some of my views on these issues, and the Jewish people gain much less by bottling up these views to the world at period in history where Jews’ very rights to free expression, association, religious practice and political independence face scrutiny that no other ethnic or religious group in the world experiences.

I was asked to characterize the conflict between Jews and Muslims, identify causes and then offer some idea for how to resolve that fight. I don’t expect a majority or minority to agree or disagree with me. My views are my own, though I admit I hope they weigh on how people view their own spirituality, politics, diplomatics (coined) and vision of the world . . .

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UNRWA is Corrupted: It’s Become an Organ of Hamas Control of Gaza

Qassam rockets on display in Sderot, where they have been fired incessantly for 10 years.

Qassam rockets on display in Sderot, where they have been fired incessantly for 10 years.

Wow UNRWA, way to go. Seriously. Are you seriously going to tell us you had no idea this was happening? This is why the United Nations is considered a biased and useless, if not dangerous, organization by Israelis. It’s such a shame considering the Jewish tradition of scholarship, law and peace that the world’s foremost international organization either deliberately or apathetically treats Israel unfairly by international standards and ignores flagrant attempts of attrition, aggression and incitement to genocide against Israel and its people.

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There’s Nothing Concrete about Gaza’s Military Casualties

The only source for the casualty numbers in Gaza are from Gazans, and the only thing calling the majority of them civilians is the Gazan reporting. Even Al Jazeera points out the majority of dead – majority, not 25% or 50% – are males of fighting age.

A list of the dead as posted on Al-Jazeera on Saturday, July 19 had 307 names, 85% of them male. “In fact more than two-thirds of the fatalities are males aged 18 to 60, despite the fact that they represent around 20% of Gaza’s population.

Male casualties of typical combat age are disproportionately the majority of Gaza deaths

Blue = Male; Red = Female

Male casualties of typical combat age are disproportionately the majority of Gaza deaths

Blue = Gaza’s general demographics; Red = demographics of Gaza casualties

Hezbollah and Hamas infamously covered up the number of their soldiers killed during the 2006 war (in Lebanon and Gaza respectively). To this date, Hezbollah has never confirmed the number of combatants that were killed, but all indications are they composed much more than half the dead, unlike the reports during the war that the dead were mostly civilian. Israel estimated 500-600 Hezbollah killers had been killed out of 800-900 deaths. The Telegraph reported the same numbers in 2006:

Although Hizbollah has refused to make public the extent of the casualties it has suffered, Lebanese officials estimate that up to 500 fighters have been killed in the past three weeks of hostilities with Israel, and another 1,500 injured.”

- Con Coughlin, Telegraph, August 4, 2006

The Only Estimate of Gaza Civilian Casualties Comes from Hamas-Controlled Hospitals

Diplomats are referencing unconfirmed reports about the civilian casualty rate. And while the death of civilians is a tragedy, there’s a big difference saying that 85% of those killed were actually fighters. Saying the opposite is to construe a convoluted argument that Israeli tactics are negligent. The tech and reservation and strategy Israel uses in these wars doesn’t jive with an 85% casualty figure.

Even the United States, which killed at least 3,200 and possibly as many as 7,500 Iraqi civilians during the first phase of the Iraq War in 2003, still managed a 50% combatant (soldier) casualty rate among Iraqis with arguably much more indiscriminate bombing in Iraqi cities.

For a much smaller operation, it’s ridiculous to consider verbatim Gazan reports, filtered by the Hamas government, that claim this high a civilian casualty rate while simultaneously preventing journalists open coverage of combatant activity in combat zones.

Again, the amount of dead is tragic, even the Hamas fighters and even though they are my enemy. Still, it makes a major difference in international law whether or not those dead are so disproportionately fighters or civilians. International perceptions of what is happening on the ground are misconstrued. Don’t judge the Israeli actions to be indiscriminate without knowing for sure. Stop the war of course, push for a ceasefire (better yet, a full armistice) to prevent further deaths; but don’t accuse people of crimes without evidence.

Don’t discount Israeli arguments and propaganda while treating Hamas arguments and propaganda as gospel.

Full disclosure, this was published by the IDF about one mosque being used for combat.

Full disclosure, this was published by the IDF about one mosque being used for combat.

It has been Israeli arguments that have bore fruit in the last few weeks that were once dismissed as pure propaganda: Hamas using UN schools as rocket storehouses; Hamas firing from hospitals, mosques and schools; Hamas diverting thousands of tons of concrete for military purposes rather than civilian projects (vindicating Israel’s embargo).

Forging Ahead during a War: Jews & Muslims

For everyone I am contacts with on Facebook, Jewish, Muslim, Israeli, Arab and other, remember that this war will end. It won’t go on forever. Consider how you feel now and how you want to feel later. That isn’t to say you might not have changed your views on certain things, or your emotions won’t color your thoughts and your train of thought wouldn’t have changed, but ultimately this conflict still needs a light at the end of the tunnel . . . even if it takes ANOTHER generation.

I’m 28, have lived in Israel for only five years and just had my first child. My generation is just now getting the chance to enter leadership positions that could impact what the goals of either side of this conflict are, or how the general population of either side of the war sees the other.

Beyond the generalities, platitudes and lip service, Jews and Muslims unfortunately have some major problems with each other. What worries me about those divisions is that they are symptomatic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not divisions in and of themselves that can easily be solved when cooled passions are reignited every time there’s a rocket, suicide bomber, airstrike or blockade.

On August 7th, I’ll be traveling to Vienna, Austria for the fifth annual Muslim-Jewish Conference, where 100 young leaders will try to lead from the front, build bridges and overcome differences between the two communities. Speaking frankly, it’s one hell of a time for it to be happening. Operation Protective Edge is raging. Protests in Europe have evolved into riots. Social media channels, particularly Twitter, have turned into hotbeds of hate, misinformation and propaganda rather than areas of constructive discourse.

I’ll openly admit being caught up in the frenzy, something I’m trying to step back from in order to reach a constructive frame of mind in August.

Every discussion we have will have to have a practical angle, a pivoting point where theory can become something of an actionable reality.

Boots on the Ground or Birds in the Air?

For everyone who believes a ground invasion will put a dent into Hamas, I am not coming to burst your bubble from some sort of diplomatic or philosophical perspective. From a strategic perspective, it might not do anything. A ground assault is only worth it if there is a tangible benefit to the attack. I’m not saying that in legal terms, as in military attacks gain legitimacy from some sort of measurable gain. This is a strategic issue.

Camels and Tanks – Negev Desert, Israel, CC BY 2.0 from Chalky Lives via Flickr

What is the defined goal of an invasion? At what point will a full-scale incursion achieve a difference-making goal? Can Israel locate and destroy Gaza’s main rocket cache or production center? Can it incapacitate Hamas’ military leadership?

If it’s not clear these things – or another unmentioned benefit – can be achieved, then it is ill-advised to launch that kind of campaign. The special forces incursion the other night is said to have achieved its isolated objective. It was tight, clutch, well-planned and had a clear mission. An invasion would have to have that sort of endgame attached to it.

The other thing to remember is that Hamas started this war. This is not on Israel’s terms no matter how hard Israel is beating Hamas. Hamas knows it will tactically lose, so don’t give it a chance to win in other ways by even killing one single Israeli soldier – a goal they have not come close to achieving as of right now. Also consider the possibility Hamas wants to escalate the war to that level and draw the IDF into an urban jungle.

If we do go in, if not in this war but perhaps and more likely a later one, Israel needs to set the ground rules ahead of time. Hamas cannot expect an Israeli invasion. In the meantime, continue to pummel Hamas from the air. I trust the IDF knows a lot more than me on when it can achieve a major objective, so if they see fit and know what they need and can obtain, then they should go for it. Otherwise, wait for the opportune time.

Aggression & Genocide: Cynical Uses of Major Words by Hamas & Fatah

Palestinian definitions of aggression and genocide are wrong and ridiculous.

I am writing this post out of concern for the fact that Israelis increasingly think the only way to wage war with Arab terrorist organizations like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, Hezbollah, ISIS and whomever else is to ‘think like’ or ‘act like Arabs.’ The idea is an exaggeration of the need to maintain a deterrent against kidnappings, murders, rocket attacks and incursion (i.e., terrorism). But some people take it too far, thinking the only way to match a force like Hamas is to act like them and to even talk like them. Prime Minister Netanyahu has gotten into this game of talking down to the enemy, something Hamas engages in all the time. It’s annoying, mostly because no matter what we say, it makes it look as though the smarter kid on the playground is getting caught up in a senseless fight. Two particular ways these groups are goading at Israel is the deliberate misuse of the terms “aggression and genocide.”

Netanyahu needs to stop talking. Seriously, shut up. Stop threatening and warning Hamas. Don’t say anything. Just do. Just shoot. Just respond. Don’t get into a shouting match. If Hamas wants to cynically call Israeli responses to rocket fire “aggression” and Abbas wants to call civilian deaths who were in a combat zone “genocide,” it’s not worth engaging in discourse. Mahmoud Abbas is a weak leader, precisely because of his mouth. Khaled Mashaal is a self-interested and vicarious politician with no connection the Gaza. Seriously, don’t engage them by word. They can’t respond. They never do. Their words are empty, so don’t try to match their meaningless threats with your own. Just get things done. Stop talking. Just stop.

Those two terms in particular are a mind-numbing annoyance for anyone who has ever taken AP History. “Aggression” and “genocide” are internationally defined terms. They have very, very specific definitions which have never, ever matched the way that Hamas or Fatah have used them to describe Israeli policies or actions.

The definition of aggression is absurdly long, yet abundantly clear.

Aggression: An Unprovoked and Unjustified Military Attack

The Definition of Aggression

Yes. That’s right. This was debated. This was legislated. The entire world came to a consensus on it. The definition can come down to this: any war that is launched without any justification of self-defense and intended to injure or destroy the other country is an act of aggression. Here are just some snippets from the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3314 that defines aggression from December 14, 1974:

Article I Aggression is the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations, as set out in this Definition. Article 2 The First use of armed force by a State in contravention of the Charter shall constitute prima facie evidence of an act of aggression although the Security Council may, in conformity with the Charter, conclude that a determination that an act of aggression has been committed would not be justified in the light of other relevant circumstances, including the fact that the acts concerned or their consequences are not of sufficient gravity.

The initiation of force, inconsistent with the UN Charter that outlines how states must relate to each other, is the definition of aggression here. If a state is attacked, however, then a response to that attack is not defined as aggression.

Case in point, Israel’s wars against Gaza (not Palestine, not the West Bank, not the Palestinian Authority, but the Gaza Strip alone) have all been wars of defense, provoked by rocket attacks from the Hamas-governed territory.  Hamas does not have the right to attack civilian population centers in Israel, a war crime in and of itself. These attacks are often used to strengthen Hamas’ popularity when it wanes in the Gaza Strip. These rocket salvos are not launched in response to any Israeli military action that would have constituted a threat to the Gaza Strip.

Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah have all used the term “aggression” to define every Israeli military action against the Gaza Strip since 2006. Operation Protective Edge is the fourth Gazan-Israeli war since Hamas overthrew Fatah in early 2006.

Here is a list of the four Israeli campaigns against Hamas in Gaza and Hamas’ preceding acts of aggression:

2006, Operation Summer Rains:

In June 2006, Hamas raided a small Israeli battalion along the Israeli-Gazan border and captured Gilad Shalit, provoking Operation Summer Rains from Israel. Two weeks later, Hezbollah mirrored the Hamas attack and drew Israel into a war in Lebanon, both acts of aggression against the State of Israel.

2008, Operation Cast Lead:

Hamas had launched 50 rocket attacks leading up to the operation; 18 rocket attacks came on December 16th, hours before Hamas declared a ceasefire with Israel to be void. On December 21 alone, Hamas launched 50 Qassem rockets at Israel. Hamas launched another 60 rockets on December 24. By the end of the month, Israel launched Cast Lead. Afterwards, Human Rights Watch accused Hamas of not only deliberately firing at Israeli civilian-populated areas, but launching rockets from Gazan civilian-populated areas, putting Gazan civilians at risk of legitimate Israeli counterattacks.

2012, Operation Pillar of Defense:

In October, Hamas launched 116 rockets and 55 mortar shells at Israel. Following another two weeks of rocket attacks, Israel attacked and killed Hamas commander Ahmad Jabari, launching Operation Pillar of Defense, which resulted in a total of 1,734 rocket attacks by Hamas in the month of November.

2014, Operation Protective Edge:

Following the triple murder of Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar & Naftali Frenkel near Hebron, 40 rockets were launched at Israel, including 16 on June 30th alone, out of apparent celebration that the three boys had been found murdered – a crime which Hamas had openly endorsed. Rockets the first week of July increased , leading up to Israel’s response: Operation Protective Edge.

The Difference between Causes of War and Conduct in War

Without sounding cliche, both sides of the war (or at least either side’s supporters) have conflated aggression and war crimes.

In one pointless exchange I had on Twitter, someone stated that civilian targets become legitimate when they are citizens of an occupying power:

 

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Aggression relates to the cause for war, or in international law the ‘right to war,’ jus ad bellum. How either side conducts itself during war is a matter of jus in bello, justice during war. In a paper analyzing the 2008-09 war between Israel and Hamas, Dr. Avril McDonald made it clear the two can’t be conflated:

“Equally, a breach of jus ad bellum (or indeed jus in bello) by an opposing party does not justify or excuse breaches of jus in bello.”

- Dr. Avril McDonald (associate professor of international law at the University of Groningen) , Operation Cast Lead: Drawing the Battle Lines of the Legal Dispute

Hamas uses the term “aggression” consistently to describe every. single. action. by the Israeli Defense Forces. At best, Hamas misunderstands what the term means. At worst and more probably, they are deliberately misusing the term to justify continuous aggressive attacks of their own against Israel. Hamas’ deliberately indiscriminate rocket launches are a definite war crime – not to mention when they admit trying to aim their rockets at certain cities and locations, like the nuclear reactor in Dimona. On that note, let’s shift to the second word of dispute:

The Definition of Genocide

CC BY-SA 2.0 World Economic Forum from Cologny, Switzerland — AbuMazem via Wikimedia Commons

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of “genocide” over Operation Protective Edge. He made the comments after less than 50 people had been killed by Israel’s operation:

“It’s genocide — the killing of entire families is genocide by Israel against our Palestinian people.

“What’s happening now is a war against the Palestinian people as a whole and not against the factions.

“We know that Israel is not defending itself, it is defending settlements, its main project.”

“We are moving in several ways to stop the Israeli aggression and spilling of Palestinian blood, including talking to Egyptian President (Abdel Fattah) al-Sisi and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.”

It’s not genocide. Genocide has a very specific definition which does not include casualties from collateral damage or people who were warned to leave their houses or areas beforehand and even refused to. Hamas’ Interior Ministry in the Gaza Strip has told people to ignore those warnings and stay in their homes. The only thing that seems to be identifying targets for Israel is whether or not someone in Hamas or Islamic Jihad’s command structure lives in the house. There is absolutely no evidence of systematic genocide of people simply because they are Muslim, or Palestinian or particularly Gazan.

And here is the cherry on top:

“Shall we recall Auschwitz?”

No, we shall not.

The comparison itself is an insult. He even invoked Auschwitz to compare the air war and siege of Gaza to the Nazi Holocaust. Gaza is not full of labor camps. There are no gas chambers. There is no effort whatsoever to wipe Gazans from the face of the earth.

Mahmoud Abbas has never made such comparisons with past Palestinian acts of terrorism that killed a similar amount of people. In 2012, his own Fatah party commemorated the anniversary of a major terrorist attack that murdered 37 Israelis in 1978, saying of one of the operation’s leaders:

“On this day in 1959 Martyr (Shahida) Dalal Mughrabi was born, hero of the ‘Martyr Kamal Adwan’ mission, bride of Jaffa and the gentle energizing force of Fatah.”

Another example comes from 2013, when Abbas’ office sent someone to greet the mother of a convicted murderer, Issa Abd Rabbo, whose son has been in prison since 1984 for the double murder of two Israeli hikers that year.

David Pollock has highlighted the consistent pattern of hate speech and murder justification by officials of the Palestinian Authority and other major Palestinian organizations. In his concluding remarks in a recent position paper:

“It is futile to debate whether Israeli settlements or Palestinian hate speech are more or less to blame for the conflict’s persistence. The major lesson of past successes, failures, and false starts are that incitement is a serious problem, but also a fixable one. It is at least as much an obstacle to peace as any other more tangible issue, so steps to end it should be integrated into any attempt to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. All interested parties — Israelis, Palestinians, Americans, Europeans, and others — should now pay at least as much attention to hate speech as to housing starts.”

Speaking from the gut, I have to say Mahmoud Abbas is a terrible person for his inconsistent application of what mass murder really is. He’s evil for comparing victims of collateral damage to systematic attempts to destroy entire peoples, and a cynic for HIS DOCTORAL THESIS THAT DENIES THE HOLOCAUST. So when he said, after 43 Gazan deaths, that Israel was committing genocide, it was important to consider that he had demanded freedom for actual murderers who chose their victims solely on their nationality; that the deaths in Gaza are from collateral damage after aiming for rocket launching sites in residential areas OR attacking the homes of Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders who had received advanced warning to leave their homes.

The definition of genocide itself is defined in Articles II & III of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide:

Article II: In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Article III: The following acts shall be punishable:
(a) Genocide;
(b) Conspiracy to commit genocide;
(c) Direct and public incitement to commit genocide;
(d) Attempt to commit genocide;
(e) Complicity in genocide.

In Article III, section (d), it refers also to the attempt to commit genocide as a crime. I’m going to stay in the present, in 2014 (without getting into the numerous times that Arab armies bragged that this was their goal in going to war with Israel).

Israel has made no statement that it intends to annihilate Palestinians. There has been no effort to launch a massive barrage of weapons that do not discriminate in their targets. In short, there is no justification to accuse Israel of genocide. Mahmoud Abbas is using rhetoric without regard for the meaning of his words.

There is no conspiracy to wipe out Palestinians. Israelis have never tried to justify the murder of Palestinian civilians simply for their nationality or religion. On the contrary, this is a crime that Mahmoud Abbas, his Fatah party and several other Palestinian organizations in control of either the West Bank or Gaza Strip have done on several occasions. In fact, there hasn’t been a single word by Mahmoud Abbas on this specific gem from Hamas:

Hamas’ Attack on Dimona is Nuclear Terrorism

In the first few days of the war, Hamas admitted it had deliberately fired rockets at Dimona, aiming to hit Israel’s sole nuclear reactor. Attempts were made on Wednesday, July 9th and Thursday, July 10th to strike Dimona. There can be no dispute that a rocket explosion at the nuclear reactor would be a serious environmental catastrophe and that anyone who were to fire at the reactor would know there was always a high risk in doing so. It is not safe to assume that any rockets fired at Dimona would be intercepted or fall short of the reactor. The fact that they need to be intercepted is prove positive that these rockets present a legitimate threat to the safety of the residents and infrastructure of Dimona. Any rocket fired at Dimona and Dimona especially is itself a war crime and should be taken seriously by international bodies as an attempt to commit genocide against the State of Israel.

Iron Dome fires a volley to intercept a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip during Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012 (CC BY-SA 3.0 Emanuel Yellin, עמנואל ילין – Own work via Wikimedia Commons)

In addition to international conventions against genocide itself, there is a recent treaty on nuclear terrorism, which covers the specific crime of targeting a nuclear facility with the intent of its destruction.

Article 2 of the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism states:

1. Any person commits an offence within the meaning of this Convention if that person unlawfully and intentionally:
(a) Possesses radioactive material or makes or possesses a device:
(i) With the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury; or
(ii) With the intent to cause substantial damage to property or to the environment;
(b) Uses in any way radioactive material or a device, or uses or damages a nuclear facility in a manner which releases or risks the release of radioactive material:
(i) With the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury; or
(ii) With the intent to cause substantial damage to property or to the environment; or
(iii) With the intent to compel a natural or legal person, an international organization or a State to do or refrain from doing an act.
2. Any person also commits an offence if that person:
(a) Threatens, under circumstances which indicate the credibility of the threat, to commit an offence as set forth in paragraph 1(b) of the present article;

This is a small snippet of a reaction; a very minute effort on my part to highlight the irrationality of Palestinian accusations against Israeli policy and military responses to Hamas’ rocket attrition and attempts to infiltrate the Israeli border to commit acts of sabotage and terrorism. With a justified military operation to combat aggressive rocket attacks, Israel is accused of aggression and genocide for the pure purpose of incitement and to mislead the world.

Happy Canada Day

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he was “sickened by the news of three Israeli teenagers being found murdered near Hebron” and that “those responsible must be brought to justice.”

We in Gush Etzion and Israel thank you for your support.

Despite the pain that my area, Gush Etzion, is going through, I’m sure that they won’t mind my saying a Happy Canada Day to all the Canadian supporters of Gush Etzion.

canada gush etzion fancy wm

Avenge, Don’t Revenge, the Deaths of Our Boys

The entire world was given a chance to express their solidarity with Israel in the face of the disparity it faces on a daily basis, where its citizens face physical threats on a daily basis from a constantly evolving list of enemies. This one case of three boys was a chance for anyone that wanted to do to stand up and say something fairly simple: Bring Back Their Boys. Even in the darkness that is the news these boys may have died soon after they disappeared, the reaction of certain diplomats at the United Nations, the split reaction of the Palestinian government and awkwardly celebratory reactions of thousands of Palestinians themselves demonstrated to the Jewish people they face a very formidable stupidity in this list of enemies which celebrates the exchange of death over the continuity of life.

Yes, it’s one case. It’s three boys in the scheme of hundreds of cases of disappearances and murder over the years, but it was a case that Israelis near unanimously decided was a special sort of outrage. No statement was made here today by the butchers on the Bank. There is no sympathy that can be extracted for any sort of nationalistic cause that celebrates a 16-year-old’s kidnapping by smiling and giving out candy.

A reminder to everyone who reads this: if you want vengeance, leave it to the IDF. Trust them. Embrace them like the citizens of Gush Etzion did during the search. Be in lock-step with them. Follow their lead. If you are called up, follow its command. Do not stoop to the level of hicks who murder hitchhikers. Do not give them the satisfaction of an emotional response. Allow the IDF to extract justice or wage war. If you want the death penalty, fight for it through the civil means the State of Israel has established. Push for legislation. Do not let your rage cut down a single olive tree, nor anything more intense. I suspect no one would try to match the evil that was perpetuated outside Hebron, but let’s not consider ourselves to be so arrogant that our own rage might justify retaliation.

The three kidnapped teens, from left to right: Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach (photo credit: Courtesy)

Retaliation should be measured and intelligent. Don’t fight hard, fight smart. Do not stoop to the level of Hamas that justifies kidnapping and murder. Don’t give them the satisfaction of weakening our resolve for a strategic, calculated and efficient counterattack. Let our army do the job. Support the IDF and be vigilant.

The Jewish people are better. They are not weak. They are not frightened. THEY ARE NOT TERRIFIED.

We, Together, Are An Army

I support the Israeli Defense Forces as our army against a force for murdering innocent people like the self-righteous Hamas. The Israeli Police now know they need to be better and more serious when they receive calls about kidnappings – not to be small-headed in their approach to crime. The State will now have to weigh an intelligent response.

Support making this country better. Do not let their deaths be in vain and let your desire for revenge overcome what this country needs right now. The Jewish people, the Israeli people have just been wronged. Do not give its enemies the satisfaction of a global outcry against revenge attacks. Do not stoop to their levels.

Many children will be named in the memory of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali, so it is now your jobs to ensure those future Sons of Israel are welcomed into a nation made richer and stronger by tragedy. Learn Torah in their memories. Say hello to someone you politically argue with every day and be friendly. Do not judge your fellow Israeli by size or material of yarmulke and certainly by whether or not he wears one. Do not judge your neighbor by whether or not she covers her hair while married. Make our society better, do not let it descend into the obvious darkness the murderers’ corner of the world has.

Know the Enemy; Don’t Be Like Them

Refuse the culture of revenge. Embrace a culture of justice. Reject an emotional, uncultivated response. Embrace wisdom and strategy. Reject a culture of death. Embrace a culture of life.

Study your enemy if you must but do not rush to engage him. Help our army that defends for us, which fights for us.

Some of you out there might be aware that only about 65 years ago were the Jewish people confronted with the reality they needed an army.  There was very little in terms of clear Jewish Law on how a Jewish army may conduct itself.  Among the few laws recorded before the founding of the State of Israel was the rule that a soldier whose fear of battle is too debilitating is not only permitted to not go out to war, but obligated to. While this is a reality in every army, it does not have to be the reality of the Israeli one.  Undisciplined emotion is what enables fear to take root in the human mind and undermine its spirit.  Fear can also be a great motivator, but only if channeled correctly.  There is a difference though between being afraid and being terrified.  In a moment such as this one, where the Israeli collective is so unified in its grief and rage, remember the service you will do your nation to channel your rage and your fear instead of allowing them to run rampant.  Do not let this crime corrupt you, as its intent was.  Don’t let this massacre deviate you from the Path of the Righteous.  Take satisfaction in knowing that any man or woman who celebrates this tragedy is now less of a human being and less in control of their own sense of logic: they have just shown the world they are lacking in humanity.  It is vital now to demonstrate to the world we march in the spirit of justice; that we don’t give in to our anger nor our hate nor our suffering.  We are better than the logic of a terrorist.  We are able to outmaneuver terrorism.  Our army will not be deterred nor our nation sucked into the gravitas of revenge.

We shall avenge the deaths of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali – but we won’t take revenge.  We don’t abduct 16-year-olds outside of their high schools or mosques, from their houses of God, then murder them in fields.  We don’t do that.  We have been through too much to stoop so low and to let our wisdom escape from us.  We have the real capability to destroy Hamas and others like them by fighting their fire with a very different fire.  We have a righteous anger, so allow it to burn like a torch, not like a wildfire.  Take your grief and channel it to make our country a better place. Say “NO” to terrorism by refusing to engage it on its terms. Fight back right.