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The Gaza War – Goldstone Report – An Israeli Defense by Rabbi John Rosove

I open today’s blogpost to my colleague Rabbi John Rosove who reflects upon the Gildstone report. Rabbi Rosove, a true lover of Israel, sits on the left sife of the political spectrum so his words are both interesting and informative

The Gaza War – Goldstone Report – An Israeli Defense
by Rabbi John Rosove

Friends of Israel:
I have watched with deep concern for Israel’s good name and the truth how the world is reacting to Israel relative to its Operation Cast Lead in Gaza and post-Goldstone Report. To that end, based on a variety of sources I have written a response to charges that Israel has committed crimes against the Palestinian people (below).
I begin with a disclaimer – I have always considered myself in sympathy with the Israeli moderate and left wings vis a vis the rights of Palestinians. I still do, but I also recognize that despite my own ideals and hopes for Israel’s future as part of a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, that I have less and less faith that this is possible in our generation because I believe that all the Palestinian leadership in all parties including Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, and so forth, are still ascribing to the one-state solution – the destruction of Israel and the replacement of a Palestinian State. This does not mean that the Palestinian people are all for this – for I believe that most want to live in peace and can accept a Jewish State of Israel. However, in the Arab and Muslim world, there are two kinds of government – Islamic fundamentalist and secular dictatorships – and the will of the people is always subverted.
One more important point: I pray that the Israeli government appoints an independent commission headed up by someone such as former Israeli Supreme Court Justice Aharon Barak to investigate and give a report on all accusations leveled against Israel in the Goldstone Report. As a democracy and a Jewish State, the Jewish people deserve nothing less. Israel’s judiciary is certainly capable of telling the truth about what happened during the war, and about elucidating as clearly as possible Israel’s innocence and possible culpability.
I have tried to be as factual as possible in the following. Please feel free to distribute it to whomever you wish – but please identify its author. I claim no originality below, but I do take responsibility for the over-all choice of information and the perspective.
Rabbi John Rosove
Temple Israel of Hollywood
President – PSW Region of the Reform Zionists of America (for identification purposes only)
Los Angeles, CA

The Gaza War – Goldstone Report – An Israeli Defense
by Rabbi John Rosove

Is Israel being unfairly maligned because it initiated the Gaza War in 2008?

Answer: It is important to note as background that between 2001 and 2009, Hamas and other Palestinian terrorists launched 12,000 katyusha rockets and mortars from Gaza at uncontested southern Israeli settlements in an ongoing barrage that caused a number of deaths, injuries and general terror. These rockets were sent as far north as Ashkelon and Ashdod. By 2009, nearly one million Israelis came under the reach of Hamas rockets launched from Gaza. After Israeli unilateral withdrew from Gaza in 2005 there was a 500% increase in rocket fire the following year, in 2006, despite the fact that there was no longer a territorial conflict in that region.

Israel chose not to respond in a forceful military action for years because of the risks such an action would pose to innocent Palestinian civilian life among whom the terrorists deliberately embedded themselves, and because Israel feared that many Israeli soldiers would become casualties.

Every-day life for innocent Israelis living in the south had become intolerable. The population in Sderot shrunk from 29,000 to 10,000. Children slept most nights in shelters and developed Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome with symptoms including high anxiety and bed-wetting. Those who could leave left their homes and moved to safer ground. Unemployment was very high. Israeli citizens living in those southern settlements couldn’t decide whom they hated more, Hamas or the Israeli government for not protecting them.

Israeli leaders worried that should Hamas attain even more deadly and sophisticated missiles from its sponsor state Iran, that it was only a matter of time that Tel Aviv, Beersheba and other major Israeli cities would become targets. When that time came (and it was judged to be sooner rather than later) millions of Israeli civilians would be in danger of deadly attack.

The Need for Israel to Act
December 2008

With all this in mind, Israel finally decided that it could wait no longer and needed to act decisively (even at the risk of Israeli and innocent civilian Palestinian casualties) to eliminate the threat of Hamas. And so, on December 27, 2008 Israel launched a war with the goal of ending the rocket barrage and destroying Hamas’ military capability. Israel’s targets were Hamas weapons stockpiles, launch sites and tunnels used to move contraband into Gaza from Egypt.

Israel Fights Unconventional War

No other nation in the world would have shown as much restraint as Israel has faced with identical threats to its people and territory. Israel did attack schools, clinics and mosques, however it did so because those selected targets were being used as launching areas for rockets and as rocket stockpiles. However, first Israel dropped thousands of leaflets giving residents nearby warning, made thousands of phone calls to homes in neighborhoods where these attacks were launched, and sent thousands of text messages of warning to Palestinian residents. In spite of Israel’s unprecedented efforts to warn civilians she has been forcefully condemned all over the world and been accused unfairly of “disproportionately” attacking sites in Gaza and even deliberately attacking civilians.

Colonel Richard Kemp, who led British forces in Afghanistan, studied Israel’s tactics in Gaza and, in testimony before the United Nations Human Rights Council (that would eventually condemn both Israel’s tactics and motives in its response to the Goldstone Report) said “During Operation Cast Lead, the Israel army did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare. Israel did so while facing an enemy that deliberately positioned its military capability behind the human shield of the civilian population.”

Efforts to Contain Hamas’ Military Threat against Israel before going to War

Ever since Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005 uprooting Israeli settlers, the Jewish State enforced a strict naval blockade to prevent shipments of armaments coming from Iran and being brought into Gaza by sea. A security fence between Israel and Gaza successfully prevented suicide bombers from entering Israel from Gaza. In spite of the threat to Israel, the Jewish State has regularly opened the borders to permit food and medical supplies into Gaza, and even did so during the fighting itself.

Israel had to choose between three options in confronting the Gaza rockets. It could attack the whole area indiscriminately, as the Russian Army did in Chechnya. It could simply give up and take no steps to protect its own civilians which, in the Israeli case would have amounted to giving Hamas a license to kill, or to do as much as possible to separate the civilians from the military targets and minimize casualties to the greatest possible extent. Hamas sought to merge them, using civilians as human shields. Israel chose the last option.

Hamas Military Strategy

As a matter of policy, Hamas fired its rockets from the rooftops of private homes that it commandeered as launch sites from unwilling owners. Hamas has consistently used the Palestinians as human “shields” and launch missiles from schools, hospitals, and mosques presuming that Israel would never fire back at those targets out of its concern for the safety of innocent Palestinian lives. As a tactic and policy directive, Hamas fighters intimidated residents whose homes were being used for storage and launching of rockets to not speak out to the press. Indeed, as noted above, Israel resisted doing so for years until it concluded that it had no choice but to fight back.

Israel’s Concerns about Morality in War
relative to the Gaza War against Hamas

(The following is taken from a news brief – “Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs” – Volume 9, No. 18 – February 4, 2010 by Professor Asa Kasher, the Laura Schwarz-Kipp Professor Emeritus of Professional Ethics and Philosophy of Practice, and Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Tel Aviv University. Dr. Asa is the Co author of the Israel Defense Forces Code of Ethics, “The Spirit of the IDF: Values and Basic Principles, “ 1994.)

Conventional warfare between two clearly identified armies of separate nation states is essentially different from battling an entity that is not clearly identifiable, that embeds itself in civilian neighborhoods, wears civilian clothing, and attacks both its opponent’s military forces as guerilla forces and as terrorist actions deliberately targeting civilian communities. Israel has been forced to fight both kinds of enemies. In Israel’s early history (relative to wars Israel fought in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973) the IDF fought organized armies of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and other units from Arab nations (including Iraq, Saudi Arabia, etc.). However, in recent years, the IDF has fought non-state terror organizations most recently in Lebanon against Hezbollah, in the West Bank against Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and other terrorist organizations, and in Gaza against Hamas terrorists.

Since the founding of the State of Israel, the morality of warfare is of utmost concern in the IDF and is emphasized in the IDF’s training of soldiers. Even so, Israel has been unfairly and preposterously charged with war crimes (i.e. genocide) and deliberate, pre-meditated, indiscriminate, and disproportionate assault upon civilians.

What is the truth about what Israel has done in its self-defense, and about the moral standards to which Israel holds the IDF and its solders when fighting both conventional and non-conventional war? The following points are important in seeking to understand the unique situation in which Israel finds itself vis a vis its enemies:

Israelis have fought against established national armies in wars between 1948 and 1973, and against terrorist organizations since. Conventional fighting against established armies and the ethical rules that govern such warfare are necessarily very different than those when the enemy is a terrorist organization fighting from within civilian populations.
The IDF Ethics document mandates a number of actions that Israel must take before deciding to go to war. These include the requirement that non-combatants must be warned that they are residents of a neighborhood where it is dangerous to stay should fighting begin. In Gaza, the IDF employed a variety of unprecedented efforts meant to minimize injury to non-combatants, including the massive distribution of warning leaflets, thousands of phone calls, and non-lethal warning fire to encourage civilians to leave the area.
No army in the world will endanger its soldiers in order to avoid hitting the warned neighbors when seeking out an enemy in such civilian populated areas. In such wars Israel justifiably favors the lives of its own soldiers (as does every nation in similar circumstances) over the lives of the well-warned neighbors in a terrorist embedded area, especially when Israel is operating in a territory that Israel herself does not effectively control (this is different than if fighting occurred in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem where Israel is in control). In such territories not under Israeli control Israel believes it does not bear the moral responsibility for properly separating between dangerous individuals and harmless ones (note: nor would any other country in the world).
Israel does not consider proportionality in numerical terms, but rather in the context of assessing existing threats and the measures that must be taken in order to avert those threats. Proportionality, therefore, is considered justifiable even when considering the tragic death of innocents if significant military advantage is gained as a result.
Three considerations Israel weighs before going to war:
1. Israel assesses whether a war is “just” before launching a campaign. She did so on December 27, 2008 after sustaining eight years of rocket attacks (i.e. 12,000 rockets launched against civilians in southern Israel from Hamas and others in Gaza).
2. Israel follows the principle of “last resort” which dictates that if a dispute can be solved without resort to military force and the inflicting of casualties, then the parties are obligated to do so. In other words, military force is justified only if all other alternatives have been exhausted. Relative to the Gaza war, Israel waited eight years and after 12,000 rockets were deliberately and incessantly fired upon uncontested Israeli civilian territory before launching a large-scale military response.
3. The third is the “probability of victory principle” that affirms that a military operation may be launched only if it has a reasonable chance of successfully achieving its aims. Such operations cannot be initiated as a symbolic gesture of bravery, if there is no chance of victory, or even if the gesture is for the purpose of restoring deterrence. The victory must be to eliminate a military threat and improve the security situation for Israel’s citizens.

Moral Standards of the IDF: The following are principles that Israeli soldiers are taught during training and expected to uphold:
1. The value of protecting the human dignity of every human being, even the most vile terrorist;
2. The sanctity of human life of Israel’s troops, Israel’s citizens, and others;
3. Tohar haneshek – Purity of arms — i.e. purity of the usage of arms. Soldiers may use force only for accomplishing their mission, and nothing more. Anything beyond what is absolutely necessary is deemed immoral;
4. The minimizing of causalities, both of Israeli soldiers and non-combatants. In non-conventional fighting in which one side are terrorists that hide in civilian neighborhoods, Israel can only target those who are directly involved in the fighting against her, thereby justifying targeted killing when it is necessary to stop operations against the citizens of Israel. This is not a form of deterrence, which would be impermissible. Rather, it is for the purpose of eliminating a significant threat to Israeli lives. Deterrence is only a byproduct of an action.
5. The warning of non-combatants – In the Gaza war Israel distributed hundreds of thousands of leaflets, made 150,000 warning phone calls, and used non-lethal warning fire in unprecedented numbers to warn civilians to leave their homes and neighborhoods when a legitimate military target was identified.
6. In cases when civilians never leave their homes because they are old, sick, caring for relatives, afraid that their homes will be looted, or because they claim they have no place to go, Israel feels it cannot be responsible for the protection of such civilians in areas not under its control, and that no army in the world would endanger its own soldiers to avoid hitting well-warned neighbors of an enemy or terrorist.

Answering Charges that Israel Targets Civilians

Israel has never deliberately targeted innocent civilians despite charges to the contrary in the United Nations and in the Goldstone Report (2009). Israel’s concern for innocent life is part of the culture of the Israel Defense Forces, part of an honor code developed since the establishment of the Jewish State called Tohar haneshek (lit. “purity of arms” – see above). Yes, mistakes have been made as they are always made in war, and individual Israeli soldiers have been guilty of excess, bad judgment and even criminality from time to time. In such cases Israel does indeed investigate, charges and tries guilty individuals of criminality and negligence. The claim in the Goldstone Report that Israel deliberately targeted civilians was based on non-corroborated Palestinian testimony. Israel’s justification for initiating the war was self-defense and the IDF’s stated goal was to destroy Hamas’ military capability after years of attacks on Israeli civilian populations. There are no quotes of Israel’s Prime Minister, Defense Minister, or Chief of Staff that would suggest otherwise, despite the UN Gaza Report’s statement to the contrary where it asserts that “statements by political and military leaders prior to and during the military operations in Gaza leave little doubt that disproportional destruction and violence against civilians were part of a deliberate policy.” No objective observer or reader of the record could come to this conclusion, suggesting that the report is blatantly politically biased.

IDF Internal Investigation of its Conduct of the Gaza War

The Israeli government published a reply (February, 2010) to the UNHRC report of its conduct of the War. The IDF undertook 150 probes of which 36 resulted in criminal prosecutions – 19 involved shooting toward civilians, and 17 involved using civilians as human shields, mistreating detainees and theft. The IDF investigation concluded the following:

The IDF disciplined a brigadier-general and a colonel for exceeding their authority, because they employed white phosphorus shells in a comparatively confined area where civilians could be jeopardized. Three innocent people were wounded. White phosphorus is used to illumine dark areas and create a cloud shield, but it also causes skin to burn.
Israel did not purposefully bomb wells in Jabalya to deprive the people there of fresh drinking water. In fact, the wells were situated within a Hamas compound.
Israel did not deliberately attack the wastewater treatment plant in Gaza City. But there is a good chance the plant was damaged by Hamas to hamper the movement of IDF soldiers.
Israel did not blow up the Bader flour factory to create a bread shortage in Gaza. But the site was a strategic high point in a Hamas-fortified zone. It was not the IDF that set the plant ablaze.
The destroyed Abu Askar family house was used to store Grad rockets. The family was telephoned and urged to leave before the house was shelled.

Beyond these, the war has left a serious humanitarian crisis including a lack of adequate clean water, open sewers, destroyed homes and buildings, and massive injuries. Were Gaza in Israeli territory responsibility for reconstruction and aid would be Israel’s alone. Though few other armies in the world would worry about the destruction left in the wake of a war in some other nation’s territory, it is a Jewish responsibility to do precisely that. To that end, Israel has consistently opened the the gates to Gaza to allow truck convoys to deliver food and medicine. However, this is not enough to address the serious difficulties left following the war. Many continue to blame Israel for these problems and claim that she is not only criminally responsible, but morally responsible. In fairness, given the circumstances that led to the war and Hamas’ abject refusal and inability to put the lives of its citizens first, the larger blame must be placed at the feet of Hamas who have governed Gaza with a strong hand since it conducted a coup against the democratically elected government of the Palestinian Authority in 2006. Since then it has squandered the years to help adequately build Gaza and alleviate suffering that had been part and parcel of Gazan life for decades.

Efforts to Create Moral Equivalence

One significant difference between Israel and Hamas is that as a matter of policy Hamas deliberately attacks civilians and Israel does not. Yes, critics of Israel often create a straw dog and charge that the two forces are morally equivalent in intent, but this is not the case.

Evidence of International Moral Hypocrisy
Unfair Excessive Criticism of Israel

Most estimates confirm that 1338 Palestinians were killed in a month of fighting in Gaza, of which Israel is fairly certain that a third were civilian causalities and two thirds were Hamas terrorists and members of other extremist Palestinian groups. A review of the actual members of the Hamas police force against which Israel fought during the war shows that no less than 91% of the fatalities among the Palestinian police (313 out of 343) were members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam military wing of Hamas or other terrorist groups. One of these policemen was responsible for the murder of three U.S. security men in northern Gaza in 2003.

This relatively small number of deaths compares with thousands that the United States killed in Faluja, Iraq in 2008 in far less time (During this operation, about 6000 Iraqis including 1200-2000 insurgents were killed. Of the city’s 50,000 buildings, some 10,000 were destroyed, including 60 mosques. In the mid-1980s 10,000 people killed by Syrian President Hafez el Assad the Syrian city of Hama, and King Hussein of Jordan killed 10,000 Palestinians in September, 1970 in what came to be known as “Black September.” Compare the death of innocents in Gaza as well to the thousands of murders taking place in Ghana, Afghanistan, Sudan, and many other places in the world today, and then consider how much United Nations attention has been directed at Israel while none is directed at places where far more serious and egregious human rights violations have and are occuring.

The disproportionate cry of “criminality” against the State of Israel when no such cry of protest is made by other nations to far greater death tolls suggests that there is a fundamental antipathy towards Israel by many nations and groups and little willingness to take on well-known brutal dictatorships in the Muslim world by the UNHRC.

No nation, including the United States, takes as much care to protect innocent civilians as does Israel – yet, she is condemned when fighting a war of self-defense. European governments, many of which are influenced by a very small but growing Muslim population (currently 5%) is an ill omen.

In response to the question above – any reasonable person would have to conclude that, yes, Israel is being unfairly maligned by its critics. It is interesting to note that there was a strange silence during the Gaza War from the leaders of moderate Arab nations. Hamas is not popular among these nations because of its Muslim extremism and links with Iran. Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt were said to secretly hope that Israel would change the balance of power in the Palestinian areas and buttress the more moderate Fatah in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Ironically, despite the widespread destruction in Gaza provoked over a period of years, Hamas has grown in popularity politically than ever before.

The Goldstone Report

The Goldstone Report (with the participation and cooperation only of Hamas – Israel refused to work with any UN Agency because of its mistrust of past UN actions towards Israel) accused both Hamas and Israel of having committed war crimes. The UNHRC then went one step further. It took the Goldstone Report and crafted a resolution in the General Assembly that condemned only Israel as guilty of war crimes, making no mention of Hamas having fired 12,000 missiles on civilian targets in southern Israel or embedding itself in civilian neighborhoods, mosques, schools, hospitals and clinics. Nor did the UNHRC account for a new kind of warfare, not between armies, but between one nation (Israel acting in self defense against terrorist attacks on its civilians over a period of years) and Hamas which used civilians as human shields as it aggressively fired missiles into uncontested Israeli territory. One member of the commission, Professor Christine Chinkin, charged as a co-signer to a published letter in the London Times on January 11, 2009, before she joined the mission and only a week after the war began, when judgments would have been completely premature, that “Israel’s actions amounted to aggression and not self-defense.”

The Goldstone Report alleges that Israel deliberately attacked non-combatants as a matter of policy.

Comparing Israel to Nazi Germany

The comparison has been made by haters of Israel that Israel has acted in Gaza as the Nazis had acted towards the Jews during the Holocaust. This obscene effort to attach moral equivalency to Israel’s legitimate actions of self-defense completely disregards the question of scale and intent – genocidal murder by the Nazis on the one hand and self-defense while making every effort to avoid civilian casualties by Israel on the other. Leading international military experts have said that never in the history of warfare has one nation, Israel, gone to such lengths to avoid civilian deaths. One must conclude that anyone who makes such a comparison is operating from a position of hatred and anti-Semitism, not legitimate critique.

The Long-Term Effects of the Gaza Report

The UN Human Rights Commission’s report condemning Israel’s action in Gaza with no condemnation of Hamas’ years of attacks on Israeli civilians and Hamas using its own Palestinian civilians as human shields was a victory of Hamas and its international terrorist strategy, which can be seen in its reaction to the report. Musa Abu Marzuk, the second-in-command of Hamas, said in an interview with Al Arabiya in October, 2009 following the UN Human Rights Council endorsement of the report: “The report acquits Hamas almost entirely.” The Report calls for an escrow account to be established for compensating Palestinian victims, and for Israel to contribute to that account. But no similar measure of remuneration is proposed for Israel’s victims. The report calls on state parties to the Geneva Conventions to open investigations of Israelis for war-crimes, that could lead to more politicized complaints against Israeli officers in Europe, while Hamas commanders are not criticized. It is to be remembered that both the US Government and the European Union have deemed Hamas an international terrorist organization.

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