2009-01-31

View on the Media: Gaza and Middle East Peace

Yaacov Lozowick: International Law, Warfare, and Freedom of Speech

"I'm not much of a fan of applying law to political issues, which is what the International Law Brigade is so busy doing these past decades. I spelled out my position here, back in 2007.

A few days ago Haaretz ran a long story about the International Law Department in the IDF, and how it fits into the picture. It's a fascinating article, especially if you set aside the newspaper's agenda (They're horrified by their findings). Among many interesting things in the article is the description of the inevitable result of turning warfare into a legal question: the army hires good lawyers, and they find loopholes. That what lawyers are for, after all, irrespective of whether you like Israel or not. The moment you start measuring actions of war with legal tools, you'll start measuring the actions of war with legal tools.

This of course emphasizes the utter silliness of all those pundits and journalists who chatter on and on about what is or isn't illegal in wartime: they mostly have no legal training, those folks, and even the few who do aren't using it in their reports, because if they were, the reports would inevitably resemble legal briefs, and no-one would read them except other legal types - not what the media outlets want."


Frank Furedi: After Gaza: what’s behind 21st-century anti-Semitism?
"First, a health warning. For some time now it has been difficult to have a grown-up discussion about anti-Semitism. In post-Second World War Europe, this issue, perhaps more than any other, has provoked powerful memories and emotions. The debate about what constitutes anti-Semitism, and where it is being expressed, can be a moral minefield, and it can impact both positively and negatively on European attitudes towards Jewish people. As a result, there are frequently controversies about whether or not a certain statement or act is anti-Semitic.

For example, in early January an appeals court in Cologne, Germany, ruled that Henryk Broder, a German-Jewish journalist, could describe the statements made by a fellow Jew, Evelyn Hecht-Galinski, as anti-Semitic. ‘Even German courts are beginning to understand that it is not enough to be Jewish in order not to be anti-Semitic’, boasted Broder (1). This court case highlighted another difficulty in understanding the nature of anti-Semitism today. In recent times, how Jews are perceived has become closely bound up with the issue of Israel. So Broder had denounced the Jewess Hecht-Galinski as anti-Semitic because she had equated Israel’s policies with those of Nazi Germany. As far as Hecht-Galinski was concerned, Broder’s claim that her criticism of Israel in such a fashion was ‘anti-Semitic’ represented defamation against her character.

Disputes such as this one should remind us that there is a powerful subjective and interpretative element to how we characterise another individual’s words and behaviour – and these acts of interpretation can be influenced by unstated cultural and political assumptions. Today, there are at least four important trends that complicate our understanding of how anti-Semitism works."


Katrin Bennhold: Peres sees a 'fair chance' for advances in Mideast
""The first 100 days are the best a government has," Peres said in an interview at the World Economic Forum here, where he has been a regular presence. "The problems are known. The negotiators know them. If they are handled carefully, there is a fair chance we can make critical advances."

A day after meeting Mitchell in Israel, Peres said that he had clearly sensed a momentum to act.

"I think the Obama administration would like to start as early as possible and move as fast as they can, trying to bring back the peace negotiations on track," Peres said. "I told Mr. Mitchell and I told the heads of our parties. I said, look, let's do it, right at the beginning of the term. Don't wait for the four years to pass. The best time is the early portion of the term."

But Peres was hazier on the question of Palestinian disunity. Abbas has been Israel's sole negotiating partner, but he has had no authority in Gaza since Hamas defeated his Fatah faction in a civil war in June 2007.

Hamas, which refused to recognize Israel's right to exist, has accepted Abbas's right to negotiate with Israel, but has also asserted that his four-year presidential term officially expired on Jan. 9."


Michael Gerson: Tackling a Fallacy in Gaza
"Israel's recent operations in Gaza began in an atmosphere of criticism, including the widespread prediction that the use of force wouldn't "solve anything." Since, in this view, a negotiated peace is the only eventual answer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is a mistake for Israel to engage its enemies in an endless cycle of violence. Hamas in particular would only be strengthened.

This augury of futility was wrong. Israeli forces, responding to an intolerable provocation, inflicted lopsided casualties on Hamas, which displayed a discrediting combination of cowardice and brutality. Hamas fighters used civilians as shields instead of shielding civilians -- and some Palestinians seemed to resent it. Hamas leaders hid in the basements of hospitals while ordering public executions for Palestinian rivals, acting more like members of a criminal gang than a nationalist movement. Allies such as Iran, Syria and Hezbollah provided little practical help to Hamas, probably calculating that its rocket campaign against Israel was suicidal or at least foolishly premature. The international boycott against Hamas is holding. And the scale of missile attacks on Israeli citizens has been dramatically reduced.

'This hasn't solved the problem,' retired Maj. Gen. Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national security adviser, told me. 'But it has introduced a completely different cost calculation for Hamas.' The launching of Hamas rockets against civilians now has a predictable price -- the essence of deterrence. The smuggling of weapons to Gaza through Egypt remains a challenge. But Hamas leaders are currently occupied, Eiland argues, "not just rebuilding buildings, but rebuilding their political standing and legitimacy." And this makes Hamas more likely to keep a cease-fire."


Yotam Feldman and Uri Blau: Consent and advise
"On the first day of Operation Cast Lead, the air force bombed the graduation ceremony of a police course, killing dozens of policemen. Months earlier, an operational and legal controversy was already swirling around the planned attack. According to a military source who was involved in the planning, bombing the site of the ceremony was authorized with no difficulty, but questions were raised about the intent to strike at the graduates of the course. Military Intelligence, convinced the attack was justified, pressed for its implementation. Representatives of the international law division (ILD) in the Military Advocate General's Office at first objected, fearing a possible violation of international law.

'This was a very large group of people who at that moment were ostensibly civilians and the next day would become legitimate military targets," says an operational source. "You take these dozens of policemen and put them in your gunsights. That certainly came up in all the discussions and soul-searching.'

Over the course of several months, the operational echelons, particularly Military Intelligence, kept up the pressure on the army's legal staff. In the end, ILD authorized the air strike as it was carried out. The "incrimination" of the policemen (that is, justifying an attack on them) was based on their categorization as a resistance force in the event of an Israeli incursion into the Gaza Strip; not on information about any of them as individuals.

'Underlying our rationale was the way Hamas used the security forces," says a senior ILD figure. "Actually, one can look at the totality as the equivalent of the enemy's armed force, so they were not perceived as police. In our eyes, all the armed forces of Hamas are the equivalent of the army, just as in the face of the enemy's army every soldier is a legitimate target.'

Experts in international law term the justification for the bombing raid problematic. 'In a properly run state, attacking policemen as though they are soldiers is prohibited," says Prof. Yuval Shany, who teaches public international law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "When we are dealing with a government like Hamas, in which the boundaries between the different forces are not clear, the police force may have a combat role. But if you follow that line, there is not much that differentiates them from [Israeli] reservists or even from 16-year-olds who will be drafted in two years. You have to draw the line and restrict attacks to those in active service. This is not the only case in which the IDF offered a flexible interpretation of the law. The army attacked the infrastructure of the Hamas government and hit ministries. But unless you can show that there was military equipment in those offices, an attack on structures that do not serve a military purpose is a violation of the rules of war. The buildings are civilian sites and must not be attacked.'

However, after entertaining initial doubts, ILD authorized the bombing of Hamas governmental targets. 'As we understand it,' says a senior figure in ILD, 'the way Hamas operates is to use the entire governmental infrastructure for the organization's terrorist purposes, so that the distinctions are a bit different. We adjust the targets to the case of a terrorist regime.'"