The Oldest Hatred

Europe is convulsing with “anti-Semitic hatred and violence”:http://pajamasmedia.com/blog/anti-semitism-sweeps-europe-in-wake-of-gaza-operation/ again. I hardly even know what to say. Marty Peretz at The New Republic should be “required reading”:http://blogs.tnr.com/tnr/blogs/the_spine/archive/2009/01/11/reviving-the-oldest-hatred.aspx right now: “If you are not shocked by the replenishment of the oldest hatred you are shocked by nothing.”

Child Abuse in Gaza

This is horrendous:

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Does “Black Hawk Down” Portray an American War Crime?

Jeffrey Goldberg and Mark Bowden “discuss the infamous battle in Mogadishu”:http://jeffreygoldberg.theatlantic.com/archives/2009/01/at_least_nine_hundred_people.php where 24 American soldiers and 1,000 Somalis — 800 of them civilians — were killed in 24 hours.

Don’t Forget to Vote

Don’t forget to vote for me in the “2008 Weblog Awards”:http://2008.weblogawards.org/polls/best-middle-east-or-africa-blog/. The Best Middle East or Africa Blog category only has two serious contenders left, and I’m one of them. You can vote every 24 hours, and it just takes a second. “Don’t let Juan Cole win”:http://2008.weblogawards.org/polls/best-middle-east-or-africa-blog/.

Hamas is Responsible

Steven Erlanger wrote “a revealing article”:http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/11/world/middleeast/11hamas.html?ref=world in the New York Times about the methods of urban warfare used by the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas in Gaza. He shows that Hamas is committing war crimes against both Israelis and Palestinians, and that Hamas knows better than most that Israelis take great care to avoid harming civilians despite propaganda saying otherwise.

“Unwilling to take Israel’s bait and come into the open,” he wrote, “Hamas militants are fighting in civilian clothes; even the police have been ordered to take off their uniforms.”

Hamas is in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions here, but that’s nothing new. Hamas never agreed to uphold the Conventions in the first place. Its raison d’’tre is the destruction of an entire country, after all. The laws and ethics of civilized warfare are anathema to groups like Hamas.

Nevertheless, everyone should be familiar with what the Geneva Conventions actually say. The Society of Professional Journalists provides “a good summary explanation”:http://www.spj.org/gc-intro.asp that most of my colleagues should know well by now:

The Geneva Conventions and supplementary protocols make a distinction between combatants and civilians. The two groups must be treated differently by the warring sides and, therefore, combatants must be clearly distinguishable from civilians… In order for the distinction between combatants and civilians to be clear, combatants must wear uniforms and carry their weapons openly during military operations and during preparation for them… Combatants who deliberately violate the rules about maintaining a clear separation between combatant and noncombatant groups and thus endanger the civilian population are no longer protected by the Geneva Convention.

These protocols have been carefully crafted by leaders of civilized nations and are not to be lightly dismissed. It may be convenient to blame the Israelis when civilians are killed by their air strikes in Gaza, but the Geneva Conventions clearly state that Hamas fighters endangered those civilians by disguising themselves.

Not only do Israelis have a harder time figuring out who is a target and who needs protection, we all have a harder time identifying those who have already been wounded and killed. Hamas says mostly civilians have been wounded and killed in the fighting in Gaza, but its fighters look just like everyone else. They can trot out the bodies of two dead terrorists in front of the cameras and say they’re civilians, thus easily fooling just about anyone. The number of civilian casualties, therefore, appears much higher than it really is. But even if that weren’t the case, far more civilians are being killed in this war because Hamas is fighting dirty.

Israelis, in the meantime, go far out of their way to avoid harming the civilians of Gaza. They have even developed weapons for precisely this purpose.

“A new Israeli weapon,” Erlanger writes, “is tailored to the Hamas tactic of asking civilians to stand on the roofs of buildings so Israeli pilots will not bomb. The Israelis are countering with a missile designed, paradoxically, not to explode. They aim the missiles at empty areas of the roofs to frighten residents into leaving the buildings, a tactic called ‘a knock on the roof’.”

If Israelis were targeting civilians, as Hamas and hysterical critics like to claim, it ought to go without saying that they would never have developed a “weapon” that scatters civilians away for their own protection.

Activists, professors, journalists, bloggers, and other uninformed individuals may believe Israelis kill civilians either negligently or on purpose, but even Hamas knows that’s a lie. Otherwise, Hamas would not ask “civilians to stand on the roofs of buildings so Israeli pilots will not bomb,” as Erlanger reports.

Hamas knows the truth but uses its lie as a weapon. And it works. Millions all over the world believe Israel massacres civilians in Gaza and that claims to the contrary from the military are disinformation and smokescreen.

Israelis, by contrast, don’t use human shields to deter Palestinian rocket attacks. The very idea is absurd. Hamas aims at civilians on purpose, as much as it can aim its crude rockets. A congregation of Israeli human shields would only make a bulls-eye at which Hamas could aim.

“Read the rest in Commentary Magazine”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/totten/50132.

Somebody Gets It

A Palestinian government official in the West Bank calls Hamas “a black and bloody militia” and “hopes to put its leaders on trial for war crimes”:http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1231424929296.

Publishing Schedule

I have a massive amount of material from my recent trips to Iraq and Lebanon to write up, but the war in Gaza is sucking up my time and attention. It’s the biggest story by far in the Middle East right now, and nothing I have from the other countries is time-sensitive. I hope you don’t mind if I stick with this a little bit longer before I return to my usual beat. I have a few more analysis pieces I need to write, one of which will contrast the 2009 war against Hamas in Gaza with the 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon.

I doubt this conflict will last very much longer, and I’ll get to the other material as soon as it winds down. If it does last a lot longer (and I really hope that it doesn’t), I will get to work on my Lebanon and Iraq material anyway.

PS – Don’t forget to vote for me in the 2008 Weblog Awards. You can vote every 24 hours until the poll closes on Tuesday. “Juan Cole is slowly catching up, so I need your help”:http://2008.weblogawards.org/polls/best-middle-east-or-africa-blog/. It only takes about two seconds to go over there and click on my name. Thanks in advance.

Hamas Rigged a School and a Zoo to Explode

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Well, Isn’t That Interesting

“U.S. thwarted Israeli plan to bomb Iranian nuclear facility”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/10/AR2009011002257.html.

A Warning from Hamas

Hamas refuses to stop firing rockets at Israeli civilans and “threatens to kill international peacekeepers”:http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3653889,00.html.

Specifically, Hamas Politburo Chief Khaled Maashal threatens to treat international peacekeepers as an “occupying entity,” but we all know what that means when a Palestinian terrorist leader says it. This may just be bravado and posturing against the Egyptian cease-fire plan on Maashal’s part, but those working on crafting a resolution to the war in Gaza would be irresponsible if they didn’t take his warning into account.

Don’t forget that United Nations personnel were car-bombed in Iraq and that American peacekeepers were truck-bombed in Lebanon. And almost as many Lebanese Army soldiers were killed in 2007 in the Nahr al Bared Palestinian refugee camp as the British lost in Iraq since 2003. Everyone is a potential target in the Middle East.

If a peacekeeping force goes into Gaza with more authority than UNIFIL has in South Lebanon, it could happen. I slightly doubt it, but I don’t know, and I could be wrong. Gaza very well may be populated with more terrorists per square mile than any other place in the world. It is not a place where international forces should tread lightly.

I’d also like to point out, as an aside, that Israel isn’t leveling even empty threats at international peacekeepers.

Gaza and Afghanistan

Readers of this site know I support Israel’s war in Gaza. Long-time readers also know I opposed Israel’s 2006 war in Lebanon. Unlike some, I do not automatically assume critics of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead hate Jews or support terrorists. I’d be a patent hypocrite if I did, since I’ve had the very same accusations unfairly hurled at me in the past.

I do, however, object to the entirely predictable hysteria about Israeli “war crimes” by critics who demonstrate that they don’t know “what a war crime actually is”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/totten/48801, and who have no objection, or at least little or no vocal objection, to the war crimes Hamas commits every day.

There is a non-hysterical case to be made against Israel’s war in Gaza. The fact that people are being killed in the war is not it. Innocents as well as combatants die in every war. If you have nothing to object to besides that, then you should oppose the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan for the same reason. That war is also being fought “disproportionately.” Far more innocent civilians have been killed over there than in Gaza. No doubt the rage among some in the Islamic world at the sight of those innocents killed encourages them to join the fight against us.

And Afghanistan isn’t currently shooting rockets at the United States.

Nearly every argument I have read and heard about Israel’s war in Gaza applies ten-fold to the war in Afghanistan. Yet many, if not most, of the very same people who deploy those arguments support the war in Afghanistan.

I find that curious.

So here’s some free advice to the critics of Israel. Find an argument that applies specifically to the war in Gaza that can’t also be said about every other war fought by a democracy against a terrorist army. If you cannot do that, you are not going to convince anybody.

UPDATE: “Here”:http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/mesh/2009/01/israels-ghosts/ is an example of a well-reasoned and non-hysterical argument. And “here”:http://yaacovlozowick.blogspot.com/2009/01/real-people-real-war-wisps-of-faint.html is an indirect rebuttal that is also well-reasoned and non-hysterical.

American Exceptionalism

Senators Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell introduced a “Senate resolution yesterday that strongly backs Israel against Hamas in Gaza”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/rubin/49541, and it passed unanimously.

Americans are really exceptional. Nearly alone are we willing to side with a democracy against “an avowedly genocidal terrorist army”:http://www.mideastweb.org/hamas.htm that seeks to eradicate it.

UPDATE: The House of Representatives “did the same”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/rubin/49912. 390 voted for it. Four Democrats voted against it, as did Republican Ron Paul from Texas.

Juan Cole’s Hysterical Campaign

“Professor Juan Cole”:http://www.juancole.com/2009/01/neoconservative-style-weblog-awards.html is slowly catching up to me in the 2008 Weblog Awards in the Best Middle East or Africa Blog category, and his simultaneous campaign against me and the state of Israel is hysterical.

Here is what he has to say about Israel:

Israeli atrocities in Gaza are endangering American security. If the Israeli operation were something other than a cynical power play that almost wholly disregards civilian welfare, then the US would be right to support it and damn the consequences. But it is a shame to place our land and even our democracy in danger on behalf of a barbaric military operation.

Southern Israel has been under indiscriminate rocket fire from Hamas for years. And Hamas’ stated goal, as Cole knows very well, “is the total destruction of Israel”:http://www.mideastweb.org/hamas.htm. No government on earth would sit idly by while tens of thousands of its citizens live under constant rocket attack, and Cole knows that, too. He also knows that the Israel Defense Forces “adheres to the laws of war”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/totten/48801, goes out of its way to avoid harming civilians, and even warns terrorist leaders themselves that their homes are on the target list.

Victor Davis Hanson, on the other hand, “nails it correctly.”:http://pajamasmedia.com/victordavishanson/say-they-arent-so/ “Every terrorist Hamas rocket is aimed at a Democratic civilian; every Democratic IDF air -to -ground missile is aimed at a terrorist.”

Cole knows all this, and yet he does not care. He insists on characterizing Israel’s defensive war as “barbaric” and “a cynical power play.”

Here is what he has to say about me in the same piece:

Michael J. Totten has surged way ahead in the voting online for the best Middle East weblog. The way he has done this is very instructive and tells us something about how the Neoconservatives always run rings around the American left and leave them with nothing to do but complain about Neoconservative power. First, Totten demonized me and mobilized rightwingers in general and right-Zionists in particular to vote for him as a way of voting against Informed Comment.

Cole is free to characterize me as some kind of right-wing Zionist lunatic all he wants. But he also knows very well that the American public and the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly back Israel’s war against Hamas. And if he thinks only neoconservatives, right-wingers in general, and right-Zionists in particular have my back in the voting, he’s wrong.

Uber Pig at Blackfive “posted the following yesterday”:http://www.blackfive.net/main/2009/01/best-middle-eas.html:

I’m the token liberal here at Blackfive. Some of you have issues with that. I respect that. And so when I say that it’s really important that Juan Cole not win the 2008 Weblog Awards for Best Middle East or Africa Blog, you should understand that it is really important. It’s not that he hates America, or that he hates Israel. It’s that he’s dumb. That may have qualified him for a tenured professorship at the University of Michigan, but the blogosphere should hold itself to a higher standard.

My advice? Vote for Michael Totten.

Few, if any, of our elected representatives in Congress have heard about our competition in the 2008 Weblog Awards, but 99 percent of them voted in favor of my position on Israel and against that of Juan Cole. The professor is way outside the mainstream, and I’m right in the middle of it. Senators Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell aren’t likely to vote for me in this contest, but you can. “So please do so, and do so every day until Tuesday while the polls remain open”:http://2008.weblogawards.org/polls/best-middle-east-or-africa-blog/.

A Defense of Barack Obama

President-elect Barack Obama is getting grief from all corners for refusing to say anything substantial about the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. It’s a legitimate complaint up to a point. Obama deliberately campaigned as a Rorschach candidate upon whom would-be supporters could project their own views. The downside to Obama’s strategy is that potential opponents can also project their criticisms onto him and he’ll be left with too few friends instead of too many. In this case, both supporters and enemies of Israel who assume Obama agrees with them can criticize him for not speaking up.

In less than two weeks, when Obama is officially inaugurated as President of the United States, this will change. A president has to take a position and live with the consequences. Executive leaders must stand alone with their decisions and cannot vote “present.”

That said, I’d like to weigh in here as supportive of Obama’s decision to keep quiet.

I don’t know what Obama really thinks about Israel’s war in Gaza, but I can guess. He has a track record of relevant statements, and “his most recent was this one”:http://jeffreygoldberg.theatlantic.com/archives/2008/12/the_gaza_war.php: “If someone was sending rockets on my house where my daughters were sleeping at night, I would do everything to stop it, and I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.” It’s possible, though, that he only said that to reduce skepticism among Israelis. Perhaps Obama is quietly joining France’s Nicolas Sarkozy in “his condemnation of Israel”:http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/05/sarkozy-gaza-israel-ceasefire instead of quietly joining Germany’s Angela Merkel in “her support”:http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3646569,00.html.

Whatever he thinks, his silence ought to be welcomed among supporters of Israel for at least one of two reasons.

If Obama opposes Israel’s use of force to defend itself from missile attack, he deserves credit for keeping his opinion to himself while he is not actually president. As he has stated on several occasions: the United States only has one president at a time. “We can’t have two administrations running foreign policy at the same time,” “he says”:http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5iH2sWK6L75ntNmA5ZTOc_UTpCh_gD95ID4FO0. “We simply can’t do it.” He could try to undermine the current President Bush, but he’s right that it wouldn’t be proper.

On the other hand, perhaps he silently supports Israel’s short operation in Gaza against a terrorist army with whom he himself repeatedly said he would refuse to negotiate. If he said so out loud, though, his global “hope and change” honeymoon would be over before it even began. It’s not in his interest to hobble himself from the start, nor is it in America’s interest or Israel’s.

“Read the rest in Commentary Magazine”:http://www.commentarymagazine.com/blogs/index.php/totten/49551.

A Prayer for the Children of Gaza

I am neither religious nor Jewish, but I can’t help but be touched by “this Jewish prayer for the children of Gaza”:http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1052871.html published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz while Israelis are in the midst of a shooting war with a violent fascist regime. If Hamas ever publishes prayers like this one for the children of Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be over.

Lord who is the creator of all children, hear our prayer this accursed day. God whom we call Blessed, turn your face to these, the children of Gaza, that they may know your blessings, and your shelter, that they may know light and warmth, where there is now only blackness and smoke, and a cold which cuts and clenches the skin.

Almighty who makes exceptions, which we call miracles, make an exception of the children of Gaza. Shield them from us and from their own. Spare them. Heal them. Let them stand in safety. Deliver them from hunger and horror and fury and grief. Deliver them from us, and from their own.

Thanks to “the indispensible Jeffrey Goldberg”:http://jeffreygoldberg.theatlantic.com/ for pointing me to this.


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