Israel-Gaza: six current fallacies

It’s perfectly possible to be sickened by the dreadful atrocities reportedly accompanying the current Israeli action against Hamas in Gaza, and at the same time to be disheartened by the widespread victories of hearts over heads in the clamour — from which almost no political leader feels strong enough to distance himself or herself — for an immediate and unconditional cease-fire.  Even if such a thing were to happen, the consequences in the medium term would almost certainly entail more suffering and loss of life on both sides than if the Security Council were to concentrate instead on an institutional framework to give both sides an alternative to violence for achieving their principal aims.  Practical institutional arrangements could reduce the likelihood of the tragedy repeating itself, and hold out some hope of ending the violence on a reasonably durable basis.  Unfortunately such a practical approach is hampered by widespread attachment to several fallacies:

Fallacy #1: The most urgent need is for an immediate, unconditional end to the fighting by both sides.

Wrong.  The immediate need is for the establishment of an international monitoring and peace-keeping force to monitor observance of a cease-fire by both sides, to supervise the reopening of the legal crossing-points into and out of Gaza and the closing of the tunnels into Egypt, to enforce the UN arms embargo, and to hold the ring while a UN good offices group tries to help Hamas and Fatah in both Gaza and the West Bank to heal the rift between them and find a way to share power.  An Egyptian initiative on these lines, supported by France, is still being negotiated and has reasonable prospects of success; it has been widely commended by a number of relevant governments and is explicitly welcomed in yesterday’s Security Council resolution 1860 (2009).  It’s a conditional, not an unconditional, cease-fire that’s urgently needed.

Fallacy #2: International pressure expressed in UN Security Council Resolutions, EU and other governmental declarations, articles and letters in the western media, demonstrations and marches on the Israeli Embassy, needs to be exerted on Israel to force it to stop fighting at once and withdraw from Gaza.

Such action may make people who are very naturally outraged and distressed by the daily horrors of the conflict feel better, but on its own it will achieve nothing but (1) feed Israel’s far-from-irrational paranoia and intensify its excessive dependence on the Americans, and (2) encourage Hamas to continue its rocket attacks on Israel in the vain hope that Israel will be forced to bow to international pressure and withdraw from Gaza with none of its objectives achieved.

Fallacy #3: If there’s enough international pressure for a cease-fire, Israel and Hamas will be forced to stop fighting.

Both sides have certain legitimate objectives for their resort to violence (as well as some less legitimate aims):  Hamas seeks an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza;  Israel seeks an end to both Hamas rocket attacks and illegal arms smuggling into Gaza.  International action is perfectly possible to help both sides to achieve these aims — provided that they stop using violence to achieve them.  Neither side will stop the use of violence against the other unless given a political motive for doing so.

Yesterday the Security Council adopted a resolution — not under Chapter VII of the Charter, and so not binding — calling for an immediate cease-fire.  Both sides in the conflict explicitly rejected the resolution. The next day The Independent reported that:

Israel and Hamas responded to a UN peace demand by hammering away at each other with bombs, shells and rockets today. [Independent, 9/i/09]

It’s difficult to see what has been achieved by what is hardly more than a futile gesture instead and in advance of concrete measures to provide a motive for ending violence and to set up a new internationally supervised arrangement to maximise the chances of an eventual cease-fire being reasonably durable — as indeed the UNSC Resolution itself requires, but without accompanying its impeccable sentiments by practical action.

The US abstained on the resolution for precisely this reason:

[Condoleezza Rice] said that the United States thought it important to see the outcomes of the Egyptian mediation efforts in order to “see what this resolution might have been supporting”, and that was why her delegation had abstained in the vote. Still, after a great deal of consideration, the United States had decided that the resolution, the text, goals and objectives of which it supported, should be allowed to go forward.

The French, although they voted in favour of the resolution, criticised it even more explicitly and on the same grounds:

BERNARD KOUCHNER, Minister for Foreign Affairs of France[and this month’s President of the Security Council], speaking in his national capacity, … expressed regret that it had not been possible to give a little more time to reconcile different views or to endorse the results of negotiations now under way.  The message of hope needed to be heeded without delay and negotiation under way needed to achieve prompt results.

The Security Council has wasted several days agonising over the small print of a resolution which has achieved precisely nothing, instead of working on practical measures whose outline has been perfectly clear since the outset of the conflict.  Why has the real work been left to the Egyptians and the French?  It’s inexplicable, and inexcusable.

Fallacy #4: The reaction of Israel to the periodic rocket attacks on it by Hamas has been ‘disproportionate’ and therefore illegal, since Israel has already killed far more Gaza civilians than the number of Israeli civilians killed by Hamas rockets.

This implies that Israel has some kind of duty under international law to wait until enough of its citizens have been killed by Hamas to justify an attack that would entail roughly the same number of casualties — presumably terminating the military action when the same number of Gaza civilians had been killed, whether or not the purpose of the action (ending the rocket attacks) had been achieved.

The concept of a proportional response also implies a sort of equivalence between Israel and Hamas.  No such equivalence exists.  Whatever one might think of Israeli excesses and lack of restraint, of its obstinate refusal to act to dismantle the illegal settlements in the West Bank and to stop its brutal treatment of the Palestinians, the fact remains that Israel is a recognised state with a right and duty to defend its citizens against attack.  Hamas is not a legitimate government (it won the Palestine-wide elections of 2006 but then seized power from the legitimate institutions of Fatah in a coup accompanied by bitter factional fighting in the same year) and Gaza is not a state.  Hamas’s formally proclaimed objectives — to eliminate the state of Israel by force — are manifestly contrary to international law, including the Charter, and in no way justify using violence, especially against innocent civilians, to achieve them.  It is a non-state agent to which any definition of ‘terrorist’ , however mealy-mouthed, ineluctably applies.  Israel, by contrast, has a strong case for arguing that it is acting in exercise of its “inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security” — the words of Article 51 of the Charter.  Regrettably, the Security Council has not yet taken any such measures.  Yesterday’s innocuous but ineffectual resolution is absolutely no substitute for them.

Fallacy #5: The international community has an obligation to recognise the Hamas administration of Gaza and to respect its policies, including conducting negotiations to settle current disputes, because Hamas won the 2006 Palestine elections.

No such obligations flow, or can flow, from winning an election.  Hitler and the Nazis won democratic elections in Germany but this conferred on them no entitlement to international respect for their policies.  It may be (and probably is) convenient and desirable for (e.g.) the Americans, the Quartet and the Israelis, and other Arab governments, to enter into and maintain a discreet dialogue with Hamas leaders, but Hamas’s proclaimed objectives and policies don’t at present provide sufficient common ground or legitimacy to make formal relations, still less formal negotiations, possible or desirable.

Fallacy #6: Tony Blair is the ‘peace envoy’ of the Quartet (the US, Russia, the UN and the EU), charged with giving fresh impetus to the Arab-Israel peace process.

Mr Blair’s job is totally unconnected with the peace process, such as it is (or isn’t):

In his new role as envoy to the Middle East, Tony Blair will be charged with shoring up Palestinian institutions, but not with trying to nail down a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians because Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, is handling that job herself, [US] administration officials said Wednesday. …
[T]he State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, said in announcing the appointment…  “Secretary Rice and President Bush are going to focus on the political negotiations, as they have, and Mr. Blair is going to focus his considerable talents and his efforts on building those Palestinian institutions.” Bush administration officials defined Blair‘s mandate as one in which he would mobilize international assistance to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, identify and secure financing for Palestinian institutions and governing tasks, and hash out [sic] plans to promote Palestinian economic development. [International Herald Tribune, 28 June 07]

— and many other sources, such as:

Is Tony Blair going to solve the Middle East conflict then?
He might like to think so, but he’s actually constrained by the narrow job description as defined by the international Quartet which appointed him.
[Independent on Sunday, 15 July 2007,]

While a conflict of this ferocity, inflicting such appalling suffering on so many helpless and guiltless people, continues to rage, it’s pure — or impure — self-indulgence to waste time on the blame game, however satisfying that might be.  There’ll be ample opportunity to resume that later, helpfully or otherwise.  The immediate task is to bring the violence to an end and to do it in a way that will reduce as far as possible the risk that it will start again as soon as the world has lost interest in it.  Simply clamouring for an immediate cease-fire (and especially demanding that it be ‘unconditional’) on its own is not only pointless: it actually hampers and delays the hard work of hammering out practical new arrangements that might actually bring about an end to the fighting, and provide some hope of contributing to a longer-term settlement.  It performs no useful service to the bereaved and dying of Gaza, or to the beleaguered citizens of Israel living within range of Hamas rockets, to pretend otherwise.

Turning a blind eye to the flaws in all these fallacies does potential harm to the prospects for peace; it certainly does them no good.


42 Responses

  1. Ronnie says:

    Perhaps we could add that, as often, it is not a flip-flop situation with one side right and the other therefore wrong, and that we cannot begin by purporting to rewrite even 60 years of history.  Or that wars will be fought and military action taken in my lifetime without soldiers, some civilians and even some babies being killed.  In Ulster we unionists are generally on the side of the Israelis, flying their flag when we run  out of the red, white and blue, while nationalists on the other hand……….(Probably not  is missing above after wars will.)

  2. Owen Barder says:

    Fallacy #7 Hamas is the aggressor

    Israel has illegally occupied Palestinian territories for more than 40 years, and the international community has done nothing about it.  It isn’t wholly unreasonable for a people occupied by a foreign power to use violence in an attempt to end that occupation.  If Israel wants peace, it should return to its UN-mandated borders and allow people who lived in that territory to return as full citizens.

    Brian writes: The key UN resolutions defining the basis for an eventual settlement allow for negotiation of the precise borders to which Israel should withdraw under such a settlement. Defining which Palestinian Arab ‘refugees’ should be allowed to ‘return’ is also something that remains, I think, to be negotiated. But neither of these difficult issues is immediately relevant, surely, to the current crisis in Gaza, which arises not from Israel’s occupation of Gaza but from Israel’s complete withdrawal from it, leaving Hamas free to use Gaza as a launch-pad for repeated rocket attacks on Israel.

  3. Oliver Miles says:

    I am shocked at what amounts pretty well to justification of Israel’s policy of an eye for an eyelash, as it was labelled in Avi Shlaim’s recent article in the Guardian — essential reading at We could have used much the same arguments when I served in Belfast 20 years ago to justify air raids on South Armagh and sending assassination squads into Co Monaghan.
    The question of proportionality arises not merely in considering Israel’s Christmas war. In the three years between so-called withdrawal from Gaza and the war, 11 Israelis were killed from Gaza and over 1,200 Palestinians were killed in Gaza.
    Israel’s actions in Gaza are illegal, immoral and ineffective. Although most of the rockets fired into Israel from Gaza have been fired by Hamas, many have not. If the Israelis succeed in destroying Hamas as an effective authority in Gaza, the problem will not be solved. Just as the destruction of the Islamic Courts’ authority in Somalia produced a boom in piracy, so we may expect more rockets and perhaps other horrors from anarchy in Gaza.
    The argument that Israel as a state – a democratic state – and its opponents as terrorists are subject to different moral and legal standards is no more convincing than the counterargument that Israel is the illegal occupier and the Palestinians are merely resisting occupation. Indeed it is rather less convincing, because the notion that the Israeli occupation is illegal stems not only from the principle of the non-acquisition of territory by war but from repeated restatement in resolutions of the Security Council.
    Israeli treatment of Gaza can only be understood as part of its handling of the Palestine problem. Since the withdrawal of settlers  (but not of military occupation) from Gaza, a much larger number of new settlers have gone into the West Bank. The purpose of the settlement policy, and quite explicitly of the settlers themselves, is to render the two state solution impossible by taking over the land which would form a Palestinian state, and thus to perpetuate a greater Israel. This is the policy which has been described as national suicide, essentially because Jews would be in a minority in greater Israel and thus Israel would have to choose whether to be Jewish or democratic; it could not be both. As the outgoing prime minister Ehud Olmert put it in a legacy interview in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Aharonot in September “We face the need to decide but are not willing to tell ourselves, yes, this is what we have to do. We have to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, the meaning of which is that in practice we will withdraw from almost all the territories, if not all the territories.”
    Note for British readers: it was at about this stage in the Lebanon war in 2006 that the Americans forgot to inform the British government that they were resupplying Israel’s bunker busters, cluster bombs and so on through their bases in Britain. Alex Salmond and his friends made a fuss and Prestwick was closed to this traffic. For the first time since devolution England and Scotland had different foreign policies. What was never explained was why British government countenanced American shipment to Israel of weapons which British companies would certainly not have been allowed to supply. Let us hope our planespotters are on their toes.
    Nick Clegg has quite rightly called for a stop to arms sales to Israel. This would not be a new policy, merely implementation of existing British and European policy that we do not sell arms which are likely to be used either for internal repression or external aggression. Clegg has also proposed suspension of the planned enhancement of Israel’s relations with the European Union. There are two good reasons for taking these steps now. First, Israel is approaching general elections, in which the favourite is Binyamin Netanyahu. In a contest between warmongers, the peace movement in Israel has lost ground with voters because it can be represented as a party of unrealistic daydreamers who are not even supported by those treacherous Europeans. Secondly, the world is waiting for word from the Obama oracle; we should not despair of having some influence there as well.
    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to get this off my chest.

  4. Barrie says:

    You and other readers may like to see Robin Lustig’s latest blog entry here:

    Thanks for this reference, Barrie. Lustig’s summary of the rival victims’ sentiments seems entirely plausible.


  5. Brian says:

    In response to this post, an old friend has sent me this from “Robert Fisk´s World: Wherever I go, I hear the same tired Middle East comparisons”, The Independent (London), 10 January 2009:

    It took Fintan O’Toole, The Irish Times’s resident philosopher-in-
    chief, to speak the unspeakable. `When does the mandate of victimhood
    expire?´ he asked. `At what point does the Nazi genocide of Europe’s
    Jews cease to excuse the state of Israel from the demands of
    international law and of common humanity?’

    In reply, I have written, perhaps intemperately:

    It never — well, hardly ever — ceases to amaze me that the overwhelming body of pro-Palestinian Arab, anti-Israel opinion among the bien-pensants of the west (apart of course from the Americans) constantly complains that majority opinion in the west leans over backwards to condone Israeli crimes, excesses, brutality etc. because of the tired old excuse of Jewish victim status in the Holocaust.  In fact you would have a hard time finding any established commentator in western Europe prepared to say a good word about Israel:  victim status is now almost universally conferred here on the Palestinians.  If anyone links the Israelis to the Holocaust it’s almost always to equate them with the Nazis.  A few commentators still maintain a sympathetic attitude to Israel but virtually all of them are Jewish, sometimes crusading Zionists, and anyway they are a tiny minority.  (Of course that doesn’t invalidate their arguments;  but it lays them open to the reaction:  You would say, that, wouldn’t you?)

    In a very few cases, anti-Israel commentaries give off an anti-semitic smell;  many more reflect deep-rooted anti-Americanism (generally not just confined to anti-Bushism).  Some are implicitly pacifist, unable to stomach evidence of the effects of the use of military force, whatever the cause.  Some automatically support the under-dog (i.e. the Palestinians).  Remarks such as:  “Israeli anger at the rockets fired into Israel daily by Hamas from Gaza is understandable” are invariably followed by “but”.  I have yet to see a convincing answer to Israel’s question:  “What would your democratically elected government do if part of your country was being subjected to lethal rocket attacks from a neighbouring country, every day, week after week, month after month?”  Those who condemn the Israeli action as ‘disproportionate’ have yet to define an Israeli response that would both qualify as ‘proportionate’ and hold out a realistic hope of ending Hamas’s attacks. If anything is disproportionate, it is surely that Hamas deliberately and consciously targets innocent civilians, while the Israeli military try (not always effectively and with lamentable lapses) to target only Hamas militants and their rocket launch pads. There is also a built-in disproportion in that the Israeli armed forces are those of a sovereign government with a monopoly of the use of armed force, whereas Hamas fighters are in many cases not in military uniform and not subject to the orders or discipline of any recognised or answerable government. It is often forgotten that the requirement to respond ‘proportionately’ refers to the objective of the military action, not to any equivalence of civilian or military casualties by both sides in a conflict.

    As I have said in my blog post, it’s striking that after days of deliberation, the Security Council has still failed to come up with concrete measures to ensure an end to Hamas rocket attacks on Israel by means of international action and an international presence on the ground:  it has contented itself with a pious demand for an immediate cease-fire, in effect requiring Israel to abandon its military response to Hamas attacks before it has been able to achieve either of its main objectives, both of them legitimate:  ending the rocket attacks and stopping the smuggling of illegal arms into Gaza.  A more one-sided, anti-Israel resolution it would be difficult to imagine. 

    The problem here is that it is virtually impossible to dissent from any aspect of the massive volume of anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian (even, sometimes, pro-Hamas) material emanating from the commentariat without being labelled an Israeli apologist who by implication condones every excess, brutality, obstinacy and political blunder committed by Israel — as indeed at least one of the comments above already does.  If like me you are half-Jewish by ancestry, you are even more vulnerable to this charge.  A reasonably even-handed, objective and fair-minded perspective, without capitulating to the current wave of hostility to Israel’s action in Gaza, is almost impossible to achieve.  This seems to me a pity.

  6. Dave says:

    You won’t get an answer to, “What would your democratically elected government do if part of your country was being subjected to lethal rocket attacks from a neighbouring country, every day, week after week, month after month?”

    Nor to a related one: what countries faced with explicit and plausible threats of genocide by their neighbours for more than 60 years have ever behaved as you would wish Israel to behave?  How are they doing now? 

    I hope no-one will be so misguided as to say, “Britain in World War 2”.  No doubt Britain would have been enslaved and looted if she had lost the war but the generality of the population would not have been annihilated.

    Brian writes: Apologies for the delay in responding to this. You are quite right: there has so far been a high-decibel silence in response to my question about what else any other democratic government would do if its country was being subjected to continuous rocket attack from a neighbour. And I’m still waiting for suggested replies to your own related question. By the same token, I wish someone who condemns Israel’s response to the Hamas rockets as “disproportionate” would describe an alternative response that would be (a) “proportionate” and (b) likely to be effective in stopping the rocket attacks. Pointing to the disparity in casualty figures for the two sides is not relevant to this unless Israel’s critics can point to an action by Israel which would cause no more casualties than Israel has suffered but which would persuade or force Hamas to stop firing rockets at innocent Israeli civilians, including children and their mothers.

  7. Oliver Miles says:

    I don’t actually think it is very difficult to answer the question “what would your democratically elected government do …?”, though my answer borrows a few ideas from Mmes Thatcher and Mowlem and Messrs Whitelaw, Major and Blair.
    -Release all internees held without trial (they probably were the wrong people when they were arrested, but they will be more likely to become terrorists the longer they are held).
    -Ensure that criminal trials are as fair as possible, allow for appeals however unwelcome.
    -Insist that the security forces exercise the utmost restraint, and take very seriously any allegations of extra-judicial killings, ill-treatment of suspects etc.
    -Address real and perceived human rights issues with imagination and generosity: democratic representation, employment, education.
    -Define objectives that the adversary will have to address seriously.
    -Demonstrate a humane approach; respect cultural values and address symbolic grievances.
    -Actively seek agreement with governments perceived as sympathetic to or supporting the adversary; establish links in depth to troubleshoot and look for opportunities.
    -Choose intermediaries of outstanding quality and impartiality.
    -Open channels or back channels to the adversary.
    -Bring to the boil slowly, stirring as little as possible.
    It would be easy to find peace-minded Israelis and Palestinians who would accept this recipe, but let me return to the hard man Olmert and his legacy interview, dare I say road to Damascus, with a few more quotations.
    “In the end we have an opportunity that is limited in time—a time so short as to cause terrible distress—in which we may be able to take a historical step . . .the decision we have to make is a decision that we have been refusing for 40 years to look at open-eyed. . .the meaning of which is that in practice we will withdraw from almost all the territories, if not all the territories.  We will leave a percentage of these territories in our hands, but will have to give the Palestinians a similar percentage, because without that there will be no peace.”
       Including in Jerusalem?
    “Including in Jerusalem, with special solutions that I can envision on the topic of the Temple Mount and the sacred and historical sites.  Whoever talks seriously about wanting security in Jerusalem and not wanting tractors and bulldozers to crush the legs of his best friends, as happened to a close friend of mine, has to give up parts of Jerusalem. . .
    I am not proposing to make peace with Syria while only giving up the Golan Heights.  The Syrians know full well what they will have to give up in order to receive the Golan Heights. . .  They know: these things have been made clear to them. . . let us assume that in the next year or two a regional war breaks out and we reach a military confrontation with Syria.  I have no doubt that we will roundly defeat them. . .  I only ask myself, what will happen when we beat them?  First of all, we will pay prices, and they will be painful. After we pay what we will pay, what will we tell them?  Let’s talk.  And what will the Syrians say to us?  Let’s talk about the Golan Heights.
    So I ask, why get into a war with the Syrians, [with] losses, destructions, damages, to reach what can be reached without paying such heavy prices.. .True, an agreement with Syria bears a risk.  Whoever wants to operate with zero risks, should move to Switzerland or Iceland.  Whoever wants to make peace in the Middle East should understand that he also has to take risks.  I am not proposing to take insane risks: I am proposing to take risks versus which there are chances of dramatic changes.
    I read the words spoken by our retired generals. . they are still living in the War of Independence or the Sinai campaign.  With them, it is all about tanks and land and controlling territories and controlled territories and this hilltop and that hilltop.  All these things are worthless.
    Every grain of land in the expanse between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea that we give up will scorch my heart.  These are parts of the historical Land of Israel. . .
    The goal is to try to reach for the first time the delineation of an exact border line between us and the Palestinians, where the whole world—the United States, the UN, Europe—will say, these are the borders of the State of Israel, we recognize them, we anchor them in formal resolutions of international institutions.  These are Israel’s borders, and these are the recognized borders of the Palestinian state. . .
    Who thinks seriously that if we sit on another hilltop, on another hundred meters, that this is what will make the difference for the State of Israel’s basic security?  We can go inside another two kilometers and the range of the rockets will be another 10 kilometers.  As is happening in Gaza, which we evacuated down to the last meters, and the threat still exists. . .It is good that we left Gaza.  . .

    Menahem Begin sent Dayan to meet with Tuhami in Morocco, and before the negotiations started, before he even met with Sadat, before he knew whether Sadat would smile one way or the other, whether he would say one thing to him or the other, Dayan told Tuhami on Begin’s behalf, we are willing to withdraw from all of Sinai.  He started from the end.  He first of all told him, I am willing to withdraw from all of Sinai.  Now let’s negotiate.”

    Brian writes: Oliver, thank you. I am responding to this extremely interesting comment, and to a point in your earlier comment, in a new separate comment of my own.

  8. Brian says:

    Oliver, there are many very positive and constructive things in both your comments, most of which I cordially agree with, but your suggested answer to the Israeli question “What would your democratically elected government do if part of your country was being subjected to lethal rocket attacks from a neighbouring country, every day, week after week, month after month?” relates only to the long-term measures that Israel can reasonably be expected to adopt, not to how the Israeli government should respond to the immediate challenge represented by Hamas rocket attacks (and any other rocket attacks from Gaza) in order to protect its citizens today and tomorrow, not next year or the year after.  Your proposed long-term measures strike me as (mostly) eminently sound and far-sighted: but do you expect Israelis who are exposed to daily rocketing from Gaza to sit patiently in their bunkers while the rockets explode around them, waiting for a long-term, overall settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians? 

    You describe the current Israeli military action in Gaza designed to end the rocket attacks as “illegal, immoral and ineffective”: but action taken in self-defence against an armed attack is clearly not illegal under the Charter (Art. 51) so long as it is proportionate to the legitimate military objective of ending the rocket attacks — and no-one has so far suggested an alternative military response capable of achieving that objective (and therefore proportionate to it) which would cause less damage to human life and property while being equally likely to achieve its purpose.  It is ‘immoral’ only if you regard all military action in self-defence as immoral, an extreme pacifist position which is admirable but potentially suicidal.  As to whether it’s ‘ineffective’, isn’t it a little early to pronounce it a failure?  If it eventually spurs Security Council and Arab governments into action under UN auspices to set up an international monitoring presence for the kind of purposes outlined in my post above and as envisaged in the Egyptian-French initiative, leading to an end to Hamas rockets, to the Israeli incursion, to the blockade of Gaza and to the smuggling of illegal arms into Gaza, would that constitute ineffectiveness and failure for the Israeli action?   A big ‘if’, certainly, but then the stakes are high: and I still await someone’s description of a plausible alternative.

    With reference to your earlier comment, I am not suggesting, as you seem to suppose I am, “that Israel as a state — a democratic state — and its opponents as terrorists are subject to different moral and legal standards”:  on the contrary, I am arguing that identical moral and legal standards apply equally to both the sovereign state of Israel and to the terrorist non-state organisation Hamas, and that by those same standards Israel’s behaviour and objectives (Israel’s survival and security) are legitimate and understandable, if often ugly and provocative in execution, while the objectives and behaviour of Hamas, dedicated to the destruction by force of a UN member state, are repulsive, illegal and non-negotiable.  In that sense the two sides surely can’t be equated with each other.

    Finally, it seems to me essential to draw a distinction between a judgement of Israel’s current action in Gaza on the one hand, and a judgement of Israeli policies and actions in relation to an eventual long-term settlement on the other.  My blog post above is intended to address only the former;  some of the responses to it in comments here apply mainly or solely to the latter.  In dealing with the Gaza crisis and the urgent need for international action to end the violence, it’s really essential to put aside the blame game:  to ask, not “which are the good guys and which are the bad guys?”, nor even “how should Israel modify its policies in order to facilitate a durable long-term settlement?”, important though the second of those questions may be.  The pressing question now, the only pressing question, is Lenin’s:  What is to be done?

  9. Some notes on the situation

    Brian writes: Thanks for this. But it seems to me at first glance a highly partisan and unreliable guide!

  10. michael says:


    I’m impressed with your erudition, arguments and logic, and I don’t say that to many people. I too have Jewish ancestors. They lived in Vienna. I’ve always been proud of that bit of me, and I despise anti-semetism, neither am I anti-Israel, or anti-American, but I’m not sure how I can prove any of this.

    The trouble I have with what you’ve written, whilst I agree with your arguements and conclusions, is the assumptions and premises involved, it these I question. I could, as an exercise, write a similiar piece to yours, but from the opposite perspective, one far less favourable to Israel and far more sympathetic to the Palestinians and Arabs, and I believe the arguments and conclusions would be just as valid as yours and just as ‘wrong’ because I’d be working from a different set of assumptions and premises, and what would any of this signify or prove? That I was more intelligent than you, better informed, more right, that international law was on my side in the argument/conflict and not on yours, that your view of history was flawed, slanted and biased and anti-Palestinian and pro-Israel? We’d be like two advocates tilting at one another in court, only there’d be no real jury to decide, or even care very much about what we said. Outside, in the real world, some child, Jakob or Aysha, would have been killed by a bomb, and in that perspective our stylised discussion wouldn’t reall mean very much. Words are important, but children are more important.

    Sorry, I’m wandering. The point is that Israel’s story or history, does have a mirror-image, Palestinian history, which from their perspective is equally valid and ‘true’. It’s the general denial of their story by the West that’s leading them towards an accute sense of collosal injustice and growing anger, and after the attack on Gaza a growing desire and will to fight back and seek revenge.

    Words are of course important in this deep and bitter conflict. What’s seen a ‘just’ for Israel is seen as profound injustice when examined from a Palestinian perspective. As far as I can see both people, Jews and Muslims have, at the very least, an equally valid claim on the same piece of land between the sea and the river.

    The central part of your argument is based on the concept of ‘ligitimacy’, that Israel is a real, accepted country and therefore has rights and responsibilities and duties which the Palestinians don’t have, especially the Palestinians who refuse to accept Israel’s right to exist. But as Palestine has effectively been wiped off the map and replaced by Israel it’s virtually impossible for them to claim the ligitimacy that is normally conferred on a country by the international community.

    I don’t think Israel can really be said to be defending itself againts attack either. It’s not as if Israel has been totally passive when Hamas has fired their rockets into Israel. Israel has attacked Hamas in return, but then Hamas would say that they are only responding to previous attacks by Israel. Where does one draw the line? Whose version of who started it is correct? Does one just chose the side one identifies with most easily or the side that one supports? Or the side that has ‘right’ on its side?

    Yesterday on a French radio show I heard a journalist say that over 500 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli attacks over the past year, not in Gaza, but in the West Bank, yet no rockets are being fired from the West Bank, so one could say that the Palestinians can be killed in huge numbers by Israel with the ‘excuse’ of rocket attacks as justification.

    Also I don’t think one can deny that Israel is attacking Gaza and has clearly invaded Gaza right now. Hamas hasn’t invaded Israel and obviously couldn’t, they are a puny militia facing a well-trained, modern and very powerful army. From a historical perspective one can argue, seen from a Palestinian perspective, that it’s actually Israel that’s been successfully attacking Arab forces for over sixty years and that Israel has been expanding and taking more and more land over this period. I believe it’s facts like these, that one side is so much stronger militarily than the other that’s the basis of the arguments about proportion in this conflict, especially today in Gaza.

    Also, Brian, you criticise people who make a comparison between Israel and the Nazis. I to think don’t accept this comparison. However, you do this yourself, but from the other end of the telescope, when you compare Hamas ‘democracy’ and Hitler’s ‘democracy.’ Can one really have it both ways. Your comparison is allowed and somehow reasonable and obvious, but when others compare the situation in Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto, somehow this is outrageous.

    I’ve probably written too much already, so I’ll conclude with this. I think Israel, or rather Israeli nationalism is very dangerous, for Israel, and not just the Palestinians. The Israeli right-wing wishes to destroy the Palestinians and subjugate them permanently, pushing them into little more than reservations which have no realistic chance of becoming a country. The two state solution is dead as a doornail. Israeli nationalists and the extreme religious groups want to slowly strangle the Palestinians and take over all of the territory between the Jordan and the sea. I believe this is an incredibly dangerous and destabilising strategy, not to mention clearly illegal in international law, for what that’s worth in this conflict.

    Brian writes: Thanks for this thoughtful comment. There’s much in it that I and most other observers would readily agree with, but also a lot that I would respectfully dispute. I will mention just two here. (1) I didn’t ‘compare’ the Hamas and Hitler regimes and don’t claim that they have anything relevant in common (except of course their acknowledged anti-semitism). I merely pointed to the fact that just because the Nazis were democratically elected, there was no moral or legal obligation on the rest of the world to respect their policies; and the same goes for Hamas. (2) I don’t think the evidence supports your account of Israel’s real aims vis-a-vis Palestine. I believe that the Israelis are ready in principle to accept a land-for-peace two-state solution and to live in recognised and secure borders alongside a Palestine which recognises its right to exist. Israel’s precise borders in such a settlement have still to be negotiated, by general agreement, and pending that negotiation Israel will do everything possible to strengthen its negotiating position by changing the reality on the ground to its own advantage. In my view a much bigger question mark hangs over the willingness of a sufficiently large number of Palestinians to sign up for the permanent existence of a Jewish state on what many of them regard as Palestinian soil. The last Palestinian elections were won, remember, by the party which rejects the two-state solution and the existence of israel, and which actively wages a war of attrition against Israel in order to ramp up the level of violence and eventually to destroy it. Unfortunately, whichever of us is right, the lookout for peace is very poor indeed. We just have to keep on plugging away at it: there’s no alternative.

  11. michael says:

    I suppose, in fairness, I should try and answer the ‘what is to be done’ bit. I think Israel should offer to withdraw from Gaza and negotiate with Hamas on a ‘permanent’ ceasefire. This is possible because Hamas has offered this before, however, I don’t believe Israel wants a ceasefire with Hamas, Israel wants to destroy Hamas because they a threat to Israel.

    Israel should withdraw from the entire West Bank to it’s pre-1967 borders. Palestine would exist in Gaza and the West  Bank joined by a tunnel or motorway, rail-link. For twenty years these borders would be policed by a neutral international force. This is basically the deal that’s been on the table for several years from the Arab side, and it’s been tactitly accepted by Hamas as well. If this deal was accepted by Israel, a real two state solution, Hamas’ militancy would be undermined at a stroke and moderates would come to power. This would prove that Israel was willing to negotiate and that the only langauge they understood, wasn’t force, which is Hamas’ argument.

    Obvioulsy Gaza isn’t a viable state, the ‘reservations’ aren’t viable either, it has to be Gaza and the West Bank together or nothing. That’s the best deal Israel can expect, if it isn’t too late for peace and moderation already. But I don’t believe for a second that the nationalist right in Israel will ever accept such a compromise, because they aren’t dreaming of peace or two states, they are dreaming of driving the Palestinians out of the entire country and establishing a ethnically pure Israel without any Arabs.

    Brian writes: Michael, thank you. I wouldn’t dissent from any of that, and I suppose that if ever there’s to be a durable peace it will be along the broad lines you describe. But as far as I’m aware, all Hamas has ever agreed to consider is a ‘long-term truce’, not a ‘permanent cease-fire’, and I don’t see how Israel could accept a situation in which a Palestinian gun would be permanently held to its head in the form of a threat to end the truce (how long is ‘long-term’?). Moreover Hamas’s founding charter commits it to the eventual eradication of Israel and that removes any common ground on which ‘negotiations’ could be held. Finally, I doubt if any democratically elected Israeli government could agree to withdraw again from Gaza without a prior end to Hamas rocketing of southern Israel and some kind of international guarantee against its resumption. If Israel is eventually forced out of Gaza by international pressure without Hamas also being forced to give up its rocket attacks, a heavy responsibility will rest on the shoulders of the governments represented on the Security Council and the Arab governments of the region for their craven failure to institute practical measures on the ground to facilitate and enforce a durable, if not permanent, end to the violence of Hamas and the Israelis alike.

  12. amk says:

    This article contains the transcript of Associated Press State Department Correspondent Matthew Lee asking Deputy Secretary of State Sean McCormack “What’s wrong with an immediate cease-fire that doesn’t have to be sustainable and durable if, during the pause that you get from an immediate cease-fire, something longer-term can be negotiated?”. McCormack flounders. Perhaps Brian can come up with a better answer?

    Surely a truly sustainable cease fire would require the creation of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders?

    Brian writes: I’m surprised that the State Department spokesperson found it so difficult, apparently, to answer such a simple question – so simple as to verge on the naive. It must be obvious that if the military pressure on Hamas to end its rocket attacks on Israel is lifted by a cease-fire that’s not accompanied by corresponding measures to persuade or force Hamas to stop the rocket attacks (and the smuggling into Gaza of illegal arms for use against Israel), Hamas will simply continue or resume the rocket attacks. If the proposed cease-fire is short-term to permit negotiations on ‘something long-term’, Hamas will use the pause to re-group, replenish its weaponry and prepare new launch pads, and resume rocketing as soon as the pause ends. If there’s an unconditional cease-fire, what possible motive would Hamas have for giving up its policy of attacking Israel again? It’s a bit like saying that the Allies should have suspended their invasion of occupied Europe in 1944-45 to allow time during a pause in the fighting for “something longer-term” to be negotiated. Why would the Israelis agree to a unilateral cease-fire without any guarantee that Hamas will stop the rocket attacks, the main purpose of their incursion into Gaza in the first place?

    What’s clearly needed is an agreement on the lines of what the Egyptians and the French are currently trying to negotiate, under which an international monitoring and enforcement group would be stationed along the Gaza borders to ensure that the israelis would cease fire and withdraw their forces from Gaza, Hamas would stop firing rockets into Israel, Israel (and Egypt!) would reopen the crossing points into Gaza, and all entry points into Gaza would be internationally monitored to ensure that no more illegal arms would be smuggled into Gaza for Hamas. But there’s no possibility that Hamas would agree to such a deal if Israel relieves the pressure on it by declaring a cease-fire beforehand. Unless all these elements are brought together in an internationally guaranteed agreement to which Hamas as well as Israel is a party, the situation will return to the status quo ante and nothing will have been achieved.

    “Durable” is not the same thing as “permanent”. For a permanent end to the violence, an overall settlement between Israel and the Palestinians will be required, and that, I fear, is a long way off. For the people of Gaza and of southern Israel, something durable is needed very soon indeed.

  13. amk says:

    Broken link. Try this.

  14. Peter Harvey says:


    You say

    Hamas’s founding charter commits it to the eventual eradication of Israel and that removes any common ground on which ‘negotiations’ could be held.

    This is similar to the problem in Ireland when the Republic’s Constitution claimed  sovereignty over all 32 counties of the island. Although it was widely known to be a dead letter, that claim had to be removed before the situation of Northern Ireland could be resolved.

  15. Jeremy says:

    Having followed all the comments provoked by your rational but still, in my view, insensitive apologia for Israel’s disproportionate and horrifying onslaught on Gaza, I am suprised that noone has pointed to the fact that the cease-fire ended by Hamas had not been honestly implemented by Israel. As I understand it, one of the conditions was that the crossing points into Gaza were to be kept open but this was not implemented. Also I am shocked that the Israeli action was at least in part prompted by the conjunction of imminent national elections and the impunity still afforded by the last days of Bush’s presidency.
    It is hard to disagree with Michael’s summary of the attitude of the more hard-line israelis towards the Palestinians and their determination never to allow a separate Palestinian state. I was depressed on my one visit to Israel to find attitudes, even among some of the more moderate, akin to the majority of whites in South Africa during the apartheid era. Facing overwhelming military power, buttressed by what is regarded as unjust and unreasoning Western support, it is no wonder that the Palestinians and most of the rest of the Arab world are so resentful and intransigent. Surely you can understand this? If only the Israelis could as well, then there might be a real prospect of a political solution. However appalling the carnage, force alone will never bring stability to the region. Meanwhile a cease-fire with some guarantees and international monitoring grows daily more urgent.

    Brian writes: Thanks, Jeremy. My post may have been ‘insensitive’, but an apologia for Israel it was not. Nor was it a commentary on the rights and wrongs of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nor a list of recommendations for resolving it in the longer term. It listed half a dozen common fallacies (as I see them) in current media and other discussion of the Israeli incursion into Gaza and suggested the necessary ingredients for bringing about an end to that crisis on a reasonably durable basis. None of the (predictably hotly critical) comments here so far seems to me to have disputed the validity of these suggested ingredients. A cease-fire, I repeat, is only one of them, as indeed your last sentence recognises.

    I have already dealt with the ‘disproportionate’ argument in response to earlier comments, admittedly not necessarily to your satisfaction; to my own, anyway.

    So much of current coverage and debate is so savagely one-sided that any attempt at a more balanced approach inevitably gives the impression of one-sidedness in the opposite direction. I see no reason to be shocked by the obvious influence on the timing of the Israeli action of the forthcoming Israeli elections (it’s not uncommon for democratically elected governments to try to respond to public sentiments and anxieties as fresh elections approach) and of the transition between Presidents in the United States (there would have been even more savage criticism of the Israelis if they had dumped this crisis on a new President days or even a few weeks after he had taken office). Do you really expect any government not to take political and electoral factors into account in determining the timing of a major and controversial initiative, and to pick the timing that offers the best chance of success for it? As to whether Israel is to blame for the ending of the cease-fire because of its failure to keep the crossing-points into Gaza open, my understanding is that Israel closed them to stop the smuggling of illegal arms into Gaza: and incidentally so did Egypt!

    Apart from these points, I agree generally with most of your comment (don’t faint!).

  16. Dave says:

    I would go further than Peter Harvey as neither the Hamas Charter nor the PLO Covenant, still not legally abrogated I believe, are dead letters.  Comparisons with Northern Ireland are facile but not apposite.  They might be if a Sinn Fein government had been elected in the South, had as its aim the annihilation or expulsion of the entire non-Irish population of the British Isles, and was causing or allowing the bombardment of Belfast or the mainland from its territory.  Then I think our reaction would have been at least as robust as Sir Oliver suggests.

    On another matter, what does your moderation process involve?  Does it consider factual content as well as tone?  What I thought was a fairly innocuous question from me, still unanswered btw, awaited moderation for several hours.  Fair enough; you have to be careful, although my comment contained nothing factually remarkable.

    On the other hand, Michael quoted a startling allegation, “Yesterday on a French radio show I heard a journalist say that over 500 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli attacks over the past year, not in Gaza, but in the West Bank, yet no rockets are being fired from the West Bank, so one could say that the Palestinians can be killed in huge numbers by Israel with the ‘excuse’ of rocket attacks as justification.”

    We know nothing about the French journalist.  He could be a member of the Moulin Rouge Chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood for all we know.

    Should such statements be moderated, I wonder?  When denigration of Israel is practically a routine activity of the MSM, it’s easy to just accept them at face value.  That’s how it was with the Jenin “massacre”, which turned out to be a case of distortion and exponential exaggeration, but no-one has been penalised so far as I know for getting it wrong.  Then there was the al-Durrah case still going through the French courts.  It now appears from the litigation that there is serious doubt whether the the tragic death of this child was caused by a Palestinian or an IDF bullet, but people have been murdered because of the original TV news report.  Perhaps Michael will let you know the outcome.

    I follow the ME conflict fairly regularly but have not seen the statistics quoted by Michael, so I emailed an Israeli friend whom I believe to be reliable.  His reply:-
    ‘IDF hunts down gunmen in the West Bank……must not call them terrorists…….. and many have been captured and some killed……..while resisting arrest or “just” while firing at Israelis, for example the drivers of those bulldozers in Jerusalem or the gunman in Mercaz Harav Yeshiva.
    ‘It is possible that 500 have been arrested in the last year and but far fewer have been killed, my estimate is about 50……..and I am waiting for details from a “reliable source”.’

    Meanwhile, maybe Michael can elaborate.

    Brian writes: Dave, thanks for this. I don’t know, and can’t work out, which comments the system reserves for me to moderate (approve, delete or label as spam): I think that certain features have been identified over the years as characteristic of spam and when in doubt, the system leaves it to the blog owner to decide. I have no idea what it was in your earlier comment (or this) that caused it to be referred to me for moderation. In general my policy is always to ‘approve’ comments unless (a) they are obviousoly spam, or (b) they are obscene or use foul language or are completely irrelevant or contain personal abuse (of me or of anyone else). Such comments, causing me to delete them, are forttunately extremely rare. I certainly don’t suppress comments containing what I believe or know to be factual inaccuracies or questionable assertions: to do so would entail hours of research on which I have no intention of embarking, although I might append a personal response querying an alleged fact or an obviously misguided or fallacious expression of opinion. Even these I prefer to leave to other commenters to query or expose, precisely as you have helpfully done in this comment.

    And finally I don’t apologise for the fact that it took several hours for me to “approve” your earlier comment: contrary to what my wife accuses me of, I don’t reckon to spend all day, and half the night, checking my blog for comments, and in some cases — e.g. if I’m away without internet access — it may well be several days before I can deal with the queue of comments awaiting moderation. But i realise that it’s frustrating for someone who has taken a lot of trouble over a carefully researched and thoughtful comment to have to wait an appreciable time to see it appear on the blog. It often happens to me when I comment on others’ blogs, so I know how you feel.

    I hope this answers your question about my moderating policy. I think your other questions are addressed to Michael, whose replies I too shall await with much interest.

  17. Bob says:

    Brian, thank you for braving the slings and arrows of people like me (pro-Palestinian, not even half Jewish) in tackling Gaza on your blog as popularly requested. I knew you would highlight some of our differences on the subject, but not as many as you actually have.  So I’ll TRY to be brief with my arrows…
    Your initial ‘six fallacies’ disorientated me. I wanted to get down to what was actually happening in Gaza and found myself side-tracked by what I have to call your Aunt Sallies.  So I skipped quickly over them – except to note your tendency (whilst knocking them down yourself) to equate the unequal! For example you refer to (a) ‘ the loss of life on both sides’ (my bold print) –  11 Israeli deaths since 2006 against 1290 Palestinian, including 222 children ?! And to (b) ‘the daily horrors of the conflict’.  Which daily horrors exactly? Those visited on Israelis, with their heavyweight army, American protection, homes, jobs, schools, electricity, clean water, hospitals, etc – but threatened by wildly inaccurate albeit un-nerving Quassam rockets (fired by Islamic Jihad and other groups as well as by Hamas)? Or those suffered by Gazans, with their widely devastated land, 49% unemployment, 4 hours of electricity a day if they’re lucky, negligible clean water, hospitals without drugs, etc, suffering death and destruction daily from F16 fighter jets, tanks and artillery, and with a sickening level of psychological damage to children recorded in 2006 by researchers from Queen’s University, Ontario, who describe 98% of children in Gaza as suffering PTSD from the effects of shootings, explosions, family deaths, etc, with bed-wetting and other trauma symptoms commonplace, and over a third of boys aged 8-12 expressing the incredible wish to die in suicide attacks on Israelis.
    Such reports of the misery and danger of life in Gaza are commonplace and can be triangulated from many authentic sources ( as well as, doubtless, from the horrified howls of the ‘bien pensants’ in the liberal west…).
    But we’re trying to think what’s to be done, aren’t we? And to achieve this we need to understand what has actually been done thus far, and by whom. Read any of the recent Guardian articles by Dr Karma Nabulsi, Palestinian exile and Fellow and tutor in politics at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, to learn something – from the inside – of what the west has helped the Israelis make of Gaza. ( Read also her account – as a former PLO member  – of how Hamas and Fatah parted company after 2006; it differs crucially from your own account in Fallacy #4.)
    In the Guardian of Jan 3rd 2009 Dr Nabulsi describes the destruction, squalor and hopelessness in which she found old friends living during a recent visit back to Gaza, and concludes, ” Western governments, having overtly supported the blockade for two years now fasten their shocked gaze upon the tormented and devastated Gaza they have created, as if they were mere spectators.”
    So this is what has been done to Gaza. But why? This ‘collective and illegal punishment, which verges on genocide’ (Richard Falk, former UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied territories and Princeton professor of international law) isn’t Hamas’s own fault for ‘failing to stop the firing of rockets into Israel’, as Israeli propaganda maintains. This simplistic ‘crime and punishment’ argument is a cynical fig- leaf covering deeper Israeli and American designs. Here’s one proof why : During the June 2008 six-month ceasefire Israel was supposed to open the border crossings into Gaza, but chose not to, hoping, according to Jane’s Foreign Reports, that Hamas would break the ceasefire before international pressure forced them (Israel) to open the crossings. But Hamas didn’t break the peace, so on November 4th Israeli agents entered Gaza and killed six Palestinians, thus provoking Hamas to retaliate by the only means possible – the resumption of rocket-firing. This agent-provocateur exercise gave Israel its excuse for continuing its attacks on Gaza, and with it, on Hamas. Far-fetched? In December Hamas again offered peace, but the Israeli newspaper Haaretz revealed that the plan to keep up the assault on Gaza had been laid six months earlier, and peace wasn’t wanted. (J.Pilger New Statesman 12/1/09).
    Since I know what mention of the name Pilger does to some people….let me bring in Sir Jeremy Greenstock. To his credit Sir Jeremy gave us a few rarely-heard truths about Gaza on the Today programme this morning. In fact he might have been quoting Dr Nabulsi, and knocked on the head a few of the commonly-pedalled myths about the subject whilst he was at it.  In your second reply to Oliver Miles you allude to the ” terrorist non-state Hamas’s objectives and behaviour dedicated to the destruction by force of a UN member state, Israel” – objectives and behaviour you consider “repulsive, illegal and non-negotiable.” But Sir Jeremy makes it clear – as do other writers, including Oxford (Jewish) professor of international relations, Avi Shlaim (Guardian 7/1/09) – that this is not at all a true representation of Hamas’s objectives; that the so-called Hamas charter was originally drawn up by a Hamas-associated imam, but was never adopted by the organisation after its election victory in 2006 . On the contrary Hamas, in co-operation at the time with Fatah, expressed willingness to negotiate for as long as it might take to work out a joint settlement with Israel. But with the EU compliant, this naive ambition was rapidly sabotaged by Israel and the Americans, neither of whom wanted a Palestinian Authority with any trace of Hamas about it. And so began the successful Israeli-American project to alienate Hamas from Fatah, showing preference for their Fatah stooge Mahmoud Abbas. Now they hope finally to destroy Hamas, leaving their puppets in the West Bank to do their bidding. Which is what they mean by ‘ almost having finished their work in Gaza.’
    Yet to the world, Israel is still ‘protecting its sovereign right to defend its people from illegal attack….’ even though it has provoked the continuation of those attacks as a cover for its own violent ends.
    Sir Jeremy went on to explain that Hamas is a grievance-based organisation ( because after winning a fair and free election it was then ignored and rebuffed), and though desperate to end the blockade of Gaza, it has to keep its electorate onside by showing resistance to the violent** occupier, which it does by the only means possible – firing its largely symbolic rockets into Israel. By the same token, Ms Livni and Messrs Barak and Netanyahu keep their voting public on board by turning the screw on Gaza  – now indiscriminately, not even giving warnings to Gazans when they are about to come under fire, as they at least did a week ago. 
    (** Jonathan Cook, a writer based in Nazareth, writing in Counterpunch of Jan 9th 2009 quotes Lt Col Amir of the IDF speaking to Israeli TV : ” We are very violent. We are not shying away from any method of preventing casualties among our troops.”
    Now apparently they are using phosphorous shells…
    Brian, I look in vain for equal guilt, for even-handed ways in which this tragedy might be ended, and I can’t find them. I just find exaggerated pleas by Israeli apologists and spin-doctors that the (legally and fairly elected) ‘terrorists’ of Hamas be stopped from terrifying Israeli citizens “or the massacre and mutilations will continue”.  But I see this as the most cynical form of casuistry. Israel’s real aim is to punish the people of Gaza collectively ( a war crime under the 4th Geneva Convention) NOT until the rockets stop, but until it has obliterated Hamas, the only democratically elected government in the Arab world and hence Israel’s political foe – which it dishonestly calls a terrorist organisation.
    Even if Israeli protests that they try hard to avoid killing children and civilians are true, quotations like the one from Lt Col Amir – and others – and the recent tendency to attack schools, hospitals, UN buildings, etc, on the pretext that they have Hamas fighters hiding in them show a steely intent.
    Sir Jeremy ended his interview this morning with: ” The truth is not being told about this (Gaza)situation. Hamas has never broken one UN resolution; Israel has broken many.”
    Now there’s a shock for tomorrow’s newspapers….
    What fair or sensible resolution can there be? Karma Nabulsi suggests:
    1. The west must allow the Palestinians their own representation, and
    2. Must convene a real international peace conference – which no one has attempted since 1991 – as recommended in the Baker Commission’s report on the Iraq war and as championed by Jimmy Carter.
    3. The Palestinians must dissolve the PA and convene direct elections to The Palestine National Council, thereby recapturing the essence of the PLO and transform it into the ‘popular and democratic institution it once had the chance of becoming.’

    Brian writes: Thank you for this, Bob. I respect your strong feelings — which, believe it or not, I largely share. But I have been trying to avoid having this post and its comments slide into an endless replay of the blame game, with passionate denunciations of one side (usually you-know-which) or the other, exchanges of wildly differing statistics and allegations from mostly dodgy sources, and sweeping proposals for an eventual long-term settlement of the whole Arab-Israel-Palestine issue. Numerous other blogs cater for all of that. I have tried instead to encourage explicit suggestions for ending the present conflict in and from Gaza both quickly and on a basis that minimises the likelihood of the same situation coming round again in a few weeks’ or months’ time, with the same misery and suffering being inflicted yet again on the same guiltless people, and no prospect of any better short-term outcome. The proposals of Karma Nabulsi which you summarise at the end of your comment may or may not be realistic and constructive: but they are plainly irrelevant to an early end to the killing and suffering that still continues in Gaza. They would take many years to implement, if indeed it’s ever going to be possible to implement them at all, whereas what’s needed for Gaza is a settlement within days that gives all the parties to the fighting a solid motive for stopping it — and for not resuming it the moment the international press has gone home. I have yet to read a comment that contradicts the concrete suggestions in my original post or my demonstration that “an immediate and unconditional cease-fire now”, without being synchronised with the other measures necessary to prevent the cycle of violence in Gaza returning over and over again, would actually cause more human suffering and grief, even in the short to medium term, than a broader settlement of the kind that the Egyptians and the French are currently trying to negotiate (and which the Security Council has scandalously failed to put together itself).

  18. michael says:

    As I didn’t hear the name of the French journalist, who might I suppose have been a Muslim and therfore ‘unreliable’ and I was listening on old-fashioned long-wave, and I didn’t hear the entire programme, I’ll grant that it was perhaps wrong of me to mention it the way I did. I’m not even exactly sure he said 500 over a year, which, to be honest, I thought was a lot. He was speaking rather quickly and had an ‘arab’ accent. He may have said during the last year or two, or something close to that. Still 200 a year on the West Bank alone is still an awful lot of people, whether one chooses to call them ‘gunmen’ or ‘terrorists’ ‘freedom fighters’  ‘the resistance’ or whatever. I’d like to hear what the figure really is from a ‘reliable’ source too.

  19. michael says:

    Hello, I’m back again. This is probably futile and of little interest, as I get the feeling the number of Palestinians killed doesn’t really matter very much compared to Israelis.

    Finding out precisely how many have been killed was harder than I thought it would be. It depends on who is doing the counting, where and how, and who is included. This isn’t meant to be definitive or exhaustive.

    Over 6000 Palestinians have been killed by the Israelis over the last eight years. That’s roughly 640 a year. In 2008 around 500 Palestinians were killed in Gaza and the West Bank. As far as I can tell over half were killed in the West Bank. In the same period, that is, 8 years over a thousand Israelis were killed. Absolutely terrible, what a waste. Think if those numbers were extrapolated to the UK! We’d be talking about something like 60 or 70 thousand on both sides, no wonder people are angry and afraid!

    Coincidentallly, I was at a highschool today, meeting my fans, and we talked about the situation in Gaza and I was shocked at what I heard. These are teenagers but not poorly educated ones, far from it. If people think the mainstream media give an anti-Israeli slant or bias to everything they should have talked to these kids. They all, to a boy and girl, thought that the casualties caused by the Hamas rockets were causing not hundreds, but thousands of Israeli deaths. This was their honest impression from the information they gleaned from the press and television. They also told me their parents talked and thought the same thing. I then mentioned the true numbers on both sides during this conflict and leading up to it. They didn’t believe me at first. I was almost called a liar. Israel was under attack and in mortal danger and only retaliating for the rockets which were killing thousands of Israelis.

    I then produced my file of press cuttings and we looked at the online sources together and when they saw I wasn’t lying, mad or mistaken, their attitude changed radically. They got angry as hell and told me they’d been lied to! I replied that it wasn’t quite that simple. They hadn’t been lied to, at least not directly, they’ed been groomed, given an impression, not the facts, not the real truth.

    Now this is only anecdotal and it isn’t evidence, but I did find it an interesting experience. And no, I won’t be giving the name of the school or the country. I don’t think that’s relevant.

    Brian writes: That’s a remarkable and surprising story. As I have a small piece of evidence that others don’t have, I think I can identify the country in which this happened, but I’ll only say here that it seems not to have been anywhere in Britain. In fact I can’t imagine many state schools in Britain where the pupils would ever have heard of Hamas, its rockets, or indeed Israel, still less have a view, however mistaken, about the statistics or the rights and wrongs of the conflict. I hope I’m wrong. Those however who get their ‘facts’ and opinions, often hopelessly muddled up together, from the mainstream media in Britain, both print and electronic, are likely to be overwhelmingly hostile to Israel and to have very little understanding of the Israeli case. I’m not saying that those commenting on this have to accept the Israeli case: only that it’s impossible to comment sensibly unless you understand it and have soberly considered the pros and cons of the limited range of options open to any Israeli government. Of course the same goes for the Palestinians and even Hamas.

  20. michael says:

    Sorry, I’m tired as I’ve had a rather long day at the mill, trying to pervert the minds of the young and impressionable, I’m rather good at it. It’s about 750 Palestinians killed a year, not 640, sorry. Time to go to bed.

  21. Matt says:

    Well it’s all very sad and I just can’t be bothered to trawl over the entrails of a deeply disturbing situation to determine the morality or otherwise of the participants. However, terrible as it is, few things are too serious to not venture a small joke…this made me laugh

    Brian writes: What a relief. It made me laugh, too. And thank you also for sparing us an essay on “the morality or otherwise of the participants”, a topic that, contrary to appearances, has no place here (but plenty of space almost everywhere else, it seems).

  22. robin says:

    I am appalled at the facility with which such a collection of intelligent, literate and even quite knowledgable persons have so completely failed to engage with the substance of your original posting, and have instead ridden off in a variety of angry (but futile) directions. The problem you pose of what “we” (the UK? the EU? the US? the UN?) should do to address the present crisis is not answered, or assisted, by the repetition of 60 year-old mantras about who is to blame for the situation.

    If anyone really wants to play that game, there is a rich choice of candidates: Theodor Herzl, Balfour, the Nazis, David ben Gurion, Ernest Bevin, King Abdullah, Nasser, Yasser Arafat, the Israeli constitution, successive Israeli governments, Hezbollah, Hamas, Syria, Iran, successive American presidents – not to mention the Israeli and Palestinian electorates. Every one of these – and lots of others besides – have helped to create the present mess, and attempting to apportion blame between them is futile, even where it is not partisan (as most of the comments above are).

    To return then to your very proper question: given we are where we are, what do we do? Of course, one answer, which no-one wishes (openly) to consider is Nothing. In practice, underneath all the breast-beating, anguished reporting and voyeuristic TV viewing, that is precisely what we are doing – Nothing. There is even a case to be made that this is the only sensible response: it could well be argued that the 60-year continuation of this recurrent disaster, which could be/have been sorted out by the main protagonists in very short order with much less ultimate loss of life than has occurred/will occur – this continuation is only exacerbated by the continual meddling of bien-pensants in the West.
    But I sense that this hard-nosed agenda is unlikely to be acceptable either to present company or to a Western world dominated by short-run sentiment (we will of course all forget about Israel/Palestine once the shooting stops – until the next time).

    So, if we really must do something – interfering busybodies that we are – your suggestions, Brian, seem to me to be eminently sensible. I would quarrel, mildly, with only one of your contentions. I would not describe the alleged need for an immediate unconditional cease-fire as a fallacy, but rather as a mealy-mouthed effort to seem to be doing something while actually just letting off a lot of hot air without any effect whatever. Of course it would be great if everyone immediately and unconditionally stopped firing – but everyone who votes for this silly notion knows (surely?) that its actualisation is about as likely as the Second Coming to-morrow – or to-day.

    Meanwhile if your other correspondents want to take issue with your actual prescriptions, rather than with what they (impertinently in my view) take to be your pro-Israeli stance, then I will be interested in what they have to say. Meanwhile, good on you.

    And, in case I have to say it, I am not aware of any Semitic ancestry from either side of the Jordan.


    Brian writes: Very many thanks for this, Robin. I couldn’t have put it better (or, especially, more succinctly) myself. I especially loudly applaud your wise reminder that among the options to be seriously considered when faced by an intractable problem is to do nothing, and let events take their course. One of the weaknesses of our democratic systems is that the media and the politicians can’t even conceive of a problem to which there is no rapid solution, or at any rate whose solution will not be assisted by ‘our’ (the UK’s, the UN’s, NATO’s, the EU’s, the international community’s, bloggers’) intervention, often amounting to little more than naive interference. One of the earliest pieces of advice I received from my line manager within days of joining the public service about a thousand years ago was to bear in mind that some problems simply don’t have quick solutions, and that trying to solve them instantly sometimes makes bad situations worse. Unfortunately civil servants and diplomats rarely have the courage or chutzpah, when their ministers demand immediate recommendations on what ‘we’ should do about some new crisis in a remote part of the world, to say Nothing, Minister. And few ministers have the courage or chutzpah to stand up in the House of Commons and tell MPs that the government is not proposing to do anything about some new crisis in which no British interests are at stake. They are far too scared of the Murdoch press and the Sun newspaper.

    In the case of the Gaza affair, I think it’s difficult to stand aside, partly because we (UK) have responsibilities as a permanent member of the Security Council (a privilege that I often think brings us more pain and penalties than rewards or pleasures, but which feeds national patriotic vanity), and partly because these events have a potentially malign impact on the problem of the west’s relations with the Muslim world, including our own Muslim compatriots, something about which we can’t afford to be indifferent or inactive. I much regret, therefore, that our foreign and commonwealth secretary wasted his own and the Security Council’s time laboriously drafting and then negotiating the small print of a resolution which is nothing more than a statement of pious hopes and which, as you rightly observe, has not affected the situation on the ground in any way whatever. The Council would have been far more profitably engaged in seeking to put in place concrete arrangements of the kind envisaged in the proposals currently being discussed with the protagonists by the Egyptians, President Sarkozy, and now apparently Mr Tony Blair (remember him?), although these matters are far removed from the terms of his mandate as an emissary or envoy of the Quartet — see the last of my ‘fallacies’ in the original post above. But with Ms Condoleezza Rice packing her bags and looking out her piano music for her Life After W, there’s currently no-one likely to invite Mr Blair to stop empire-building and attend to the humbler job he is supposed to be doing.

  23. Peter Harvey says:

    What is to be done? Only one thing. An agreement must be implemented whereby Israel has its borders recognised (in whatever shape that may be) and guaranteed by its Arab neighbours. A free trade area with free movement of people would be a nice consequence too.

    Doing anything but that constitutes a waste of time, effort, personal well-being and, worst of all, lives. But obstinacy, stupidity and malevolence on both sides, but very largely on the Arab side (plus Iran), are hindering that solution. So time, effort, personal well-being and, worst of all, lives will continue to be wasted for the foreseeable future.

    For me, there is nothing further worth saying.

    Brian writes: I agree that these are the only important fundamentals. But there must first be a band-aid over the current situation in Gaza, which is too ugly and tragic to wait for a long-term settlement. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the principal obstacle to even a band-aid to stop the violence in Gaza is Hamas’s refusal either to stop its rocket attacks on Israel or to contemplate the stationing of an international or even a Fatah-based Palestine Authority monitoring force on Gaza territory or supervising the entry crossing into Gaza from Egypt. A secondary obstacle seems to be Egypt’s corresponding reluctance to have anyone but Egyptians and possibly Fatah supervising the Egyptian entry point into Gaza. Of course all this is subordinate to the overriding need for an overall settlement of the kind you, Peter, outline, but for the unfortunate people of Gaza it’s plainly the top priority issue.

  24. michael says:

    Robin and Brian,

    This is extraordinary, the idea that ‘we’ in the West should or are doing ‘nothing’ in relation to the conflict in Israel/Palestine, is patently absurd. Western governments are deeply involved, supplying weapons, giving massive diplomatic support and massive economic aid to Israel on a scale that dwarfs our ‘help’ to the Palestinians. We are partisan in the conflict. We support Israel because we identify with Israel as a Western democracy involved in the global war against terrorism.

    Brian writes: If you read what Robin and I wrote, you will see that we both accepted that doing nothing is not an option, although in many other situations it’s the least harmful course.

  25. amk says:

    Concerning the US abstention on the UNSC cease fire resolution, Juan Cole discusses Ehud Olmert’s claim that he told Bush not to back the resolution despite Bush’s ignorance of the contents, and Bush then overrode Condoleeza Rice. There are also other accounts claiming Rice had formulated the resolution, and other diplomats were surprised that the US abstained. Make of this what you will.

    Brian writes: I think the facts are by now pretty well established. Condoleezza Rice played an active part in the drafting of the resolution and fully expected to vote for it. A telephone call from Olmert to Bush persuaded him to instruct the US delegation to abstain instead, to the evident embarrassment and humiliation of Ms Rice. If Bush and Rice had more than a week left in office this shoddy tale could be seen as disturbing. As it is, it’s insignificant. The resolution was hot air anyway and has had no effect on the ground. The saddest thing is that the UK foreign and commonwealth secretary seems to have been largely instrumental in promoting it, distracting the Security Council from the really important task of setting up concrete arrangements in and around Gaza that might bring the fighting (including Hamas’s rocket attacks on Israel) to an end.

  26. Dave says:

    Michael, your figures look a bit flaky to me, especially when you say more Palestinians were killed on the West Bank than in Gaza in 2008.  UN OCHA has produced a document, covering the period Sep 2000 to end July 2007, not quite the same period but it shows a pattern. This is:!OpenDocument .
    The document states, “The vast majority of Palestinian deaths occurred in the Gaza Strip”, including 78% in 2006 and 67% in 2007.
    UN OCHA btw is not notoriously sympathetic to Israel and there is material in the document that is unwelcome and unpleasant reading to supporters of both sides.
    Reading from the graphs it appears that nearly 100 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank in 2005, 140 in 2006 and 60 in 7 months of 2007.
    More importantly, the 4228 Palestinians killed under a range of circumstances in the nearly 7 years covered by the report include a significant number of intra-Palestinian killings, eg “More than twice as many Palestinians were killed by other Palestinians (415) in 2007 as were killed by Israelis (185).” 

    The report shows a steep decline in the number of Israeli civilian deaths since 2002, which I suspect is due mainly to the separation barrier.
    Was this document one of the online sources you shared with the high school students?
    Finally, in the light of the above, you may wish to consider whether your talk fairly represented the position to the students.  If not, it would be appropriate to write to the school.

  27. Oliver Miles says:

    Just to keep the pot boiling here are a couple more Gaza fallacies, both quoted repeatedly in the mini debate in Parliament following David Milliband’s statement on 12 January (at pretty well ignored by the media, like most things that happen in Parliament these days):
    Fallacy# 7: It was Hamas that broke the ceasefire.
    In fact both sides repeatedly broke it; one particularly egregious breach was the Israeli raid into Gaza on 5 November in which six Hamas members were killed.
    Fallacy# 8: Smuggling weapons into Gaza is illegal.
    Under what law? The Israelis say they are no longer occupying Gaza. Palestinian law? Egyptian law? As for international law, who gives a fig for that?

    Brian writes: Oliver, leaving aside your concluding joke about international law (one answer to your rhetorical question is that millions of us do), I’m horrified to discover that I don’t know the source of the ban on the provision of arms to Hamas, although there is clearly a very wide consensus that such provision is illegal and it seems unlikely that all the legal advisers in all the foreign ministries advising their ministers on the subject have failed to do their homework. It must surely be buried in one of the innumerable Security Council resolutions, although if so it would be interesting to know whether the resolution was legally binding because adopted under Chapter VII of the Charter, or not. Anyway, I’ll be surprised if your number 8 does turn out to be a fallacy. Can anyone provide chapter and verse on this?

    The provision of arms to a non-state organisation for deliberate and intentional use against purely civilian targets in a neighbouring country would presumably be illegal under international humanitarian law, but that’s a slightly different argument.

    As to your No. 7, we are into largely semantic territory here. The fact, if it is a fact, that both sides broke the ceasefire doesn’t falsify the assertion that Hamas broke it: indeed, it confirms it. There’s an obvious material difference between a one-off attack such as the one by Israel that you mention, and a resumption of continuous, indefinite and daily rocket attacks by Hamas against Israel. Hamas, as I understand it, has sought to justify its resumption of rocket attacks not by reference to a single Israeli attack, or even several, but on the grounds that Israel’s action in closing the crossing-points into and out of Gaza (and presumably Egypt’s similar action) was in breach of the cease-fire agreement, Israel of course arguing that it was forced to close the crossings by the volume of ‘illegal’ smuggling of arms into Gaza for use by Hamas against Israeli civilians. I haven’t noticed any of our numerous pro-Hamas commentators in recent weeks pointing out that rocketing and killing Israeli civilians (however few) was a blatantly ‘disproportionate’ response to a dispute over arms smuggling and the closure of border crossings by both Israel and Egypt.

  28. Dave says:

    Bob referred to Sir Jeremy Greenstock’s interview on Today. As his thesis was debunked systematically by Melanie Phillips in her Spectator blog, ,I only need to add some aspects that she didn’t cover.
    Part of the interview is worth reproducing verbatim:  “The Charter was drawn up by a Hamas-linked imam some years ago and has never been adopted since Hamas was elected as the Palestinian Government in January 2006 as part of their political programme.”  A similar point was made in a letter to a local newspaper a few weeks ago, in that the Hamas Covenant was described as “an obsolete document”.  However, another reader then pointed out that the front cover of the Hamas election manifesto had shown a map of Palestine including the whole of Israel’s territory without a single Israeli town!
    Lest there be any doubt, the Covenant has not been formally abrogated or amended.  The entire anti-Semitic genocidal document can be read in full on Yale University’s Avalon Project website at .

    If I were an Israeli, I would find it very hard to suppress the suspicion that Hamas were playing a long game: you get a state, you have a 10 year truce, you arm to the teeth, you increase the section of the population of military age and go to  war at a time of your own choosing.  This is standard Arafat.  He said that Israel could not be destroyed at a single step; it had to be done in stages.
    I don’t know whether Sir Jeremy has read the terms of the “truce” agreement.  I certainly haven’t.  Anyway, he acquits Hamas of responsibility for the 20 rockets and 18 mortars fired between June and November 2007.  Apparently it wasn’t them, it was Islamic Jihad.  Yet Hamas ruled the roost in the Strip at the time and could presumably have prevented the bombardment.  After all, they could be pretty coercive when they felt like it.  Didn’t we hear of Fatah members being thrown off high buildings?  I don’t suggest they should have done that to IJ, but perhaps they could have locked them up.
    There is surely no reason why terrorist groups should enjoy a tactical advantage simply because of their fragmented and protean structure.
    As to the crossings, the Oslo Accords gives Israel the right to control them as well as the right to ensure its own security.  Security checks are time-consuming and even our own HMRC sometimes misses something, but if Israel does so the consequences may be lethal.  I understand that there was recently an incident when sodium nitrate, used in Kassams, was found hidden in a consignment of sugar.
    Sir Oliver Miles wrote, “…the notion that the Israeli occupation is illegal stems not only from the principle of the non-acquisition of territory by war but from repeated restatement in resolutions of the Security Council”.  But they would have to be resolutions under Ch VII of the UN Charter, wouldn’t they?  I’m not aware of any, although I understand there is an argument that Resolution 338 somehow converts Resolution 242 into a Ch VII resolution.  But if that is legally binding then Arab countries are also in default for not terminating states of belligerency.  I confess, though, that I haven’t reread the documents recently.

  29. Dave says:

    Michael, one other thing. You wrote, “Think if those numbers were extrapolated to the UK! We’d be talking about something like 60 or 70 thousand on both sides, no wonder people are angry and afraid!”.

    Well yes.  But by a sad and macabre coincidence I believe that is roughly equal to the number of French civilians killed by Anglo-US bombardment in World War 2, which was of course proportionately greater as the French population was far less then than ours is now.  This was an example of dreadful collateral damage inflicted on a civilian population (one btw that had no hostile intentions at all towards Britain and the US) in pursuit of a legitimate military objective.

    I don’t believe there has ever been any widespread criticism of this action of the Western allies at least on this side of the channel.  Contrast the case of Israel, where the protests are deafening.

  30. John Miles says:

    If we forget – if only for a few seconds – the rights and wrongs of all this, what has this invasion actually achieved?

    Brian writes: It’s a very good question. One gloomy but plausible answer is offered in today’s (19 Jan) Guardian‘s article by Alastair Crooke, the ex-MI6 man and acknowledged expert on the region and the issues. On the other hand, the flurry of activity in Cairo, Doha and Washington with major heads of state gathering in emergency sessions to try to hammer out ways of setting up international monitoring of the Gaza borders to enable the crossings to be opened but monitored for action against smuggling in of arms for Hamas, plus international monitoring of an Israel-Hamas joint cease-fire, would never have taken place if it had not been for the Israeli incursion in response to Hamas’s incessant rocket attacks. It’s far too soon to say whether all these meetings and negotiations will lead to any concrete action on the ground that would markedly reduce the risk of Hamas resuming rocket attacks and Israel once again resorting to a massive attack in response to them. But it’s worth remembering that the Israeli incursion into Lebanon in 2006 in retaliation against Hezbollah’s attacks on Israel was almost universally judged a defeat for Israel (including by most Israelis), yet it did have the direct result that the border buffer zone was more effectively policed, Hezbollah being forced back behind it, and it successfully ended Hezbollah rocket attacks on northern Israel. The parallel is not exact — parallels never are; but it might be suggestive, even if it’s generally agreed that the cost in civilian lives in Gaza has been too great to justify the security or military advantage gained by Israel — if any.

  31. Dave says:

    It would be rash to attempt a more definite answer to John Miles’s question than the one Brian has already given.  Certainly it would be a big step in the right direction if Hamas could be prevented from restocking its arsenal but it’s a very big if, and a major unknown is how much they have left.  I wouldn’t rule out that Hamas or one of the other terrorist organisations may attempt a spectacular atrocity on the eve of the Israeli election in the hope that a right wing government come to power in Israel.  This would keep the temperature up and would be in accordance with precedent.  After the assassination of Rabin in 1995, Labour was well ahead in the opinion polls and was expected to be returned to power on a wave of sympathy.  In the event, however, following two major suicide bombings, Netanyahu was victorious.
    For a viewpoint equally as gloomy as Crooke’s, though less in accord with conventional wisdom, try Gunnar Heinsohn’s article of 12 January, “Ending the West’s Proxy War Against Israel ” in .

    Brian writes: Dave, thanks for drawing attention to this very striking and suggestive article in the Wall Street Journal (by a controversial German sociologist, not an American, by the way). Unfortunately or otherwise, I don’t think the solution to the demographic problem advanced by Dr Heinsohn is likely to be adopted any time soon….

    More seriously, it’s just possible that if Israel’s next prime minister does turn out to be the right-wing Netanyahu, current favourite to win the election, he might be in a stronger position than his more moderate centrist political adversaries to contemplate the huge domestic political risk of committing his government to the dismantlement of the West Bank settlements and the withdrawal of Israel to its 1967 borders (subject, as everyone agrees, to any one-for-one land swaps that might be agreed between Israel and the Palestinians for mutual advantage). The credentials of a right-wing leader as a tough nationalist might enable him to take such a risk where someone of the moderate centre would be vulnerable to the charge of weakness and surrender. Only Nixon had sufficiently well established anti-communist credentials to be able to recognise communist China, remember. But it’s a very long shot.

  32. Oliver Miles says:

    More on illegal arms smuggling.
    In Parliament on 12 January David Miliband said “The emergency meeting of EU Foreign Ministers called, with my support, on 30 December for . . . action on the illegal traffic in arms and their components into Gaza.” But it is interesting that a text in published in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz of the “U.S.-Israel agreement to end Gaza arms smuggling” of 17 January, which led to the Israeli decision to declare an end to hostilities, does not use the word “illegal”, though it implies it by calling the activity “smuggling”.
    Tony Aust, former legal adviser at the FCO, has in reply to a question from me commented on the question of arms smuggling into Gaza:

    Until 1948, Gaza was governed by the UK under the British Mandate over Palestine. From 1948 to 1967 Egypt governed Gaza and may have banned smuggling. In 1967 Gaza was occupied by Israel. 1979 Egypt gave up any claim to Gaza, and in the Oslo Accords of 1994, between the PLO and Israel, day-to-day control of Gaza was passed to the Palestinians, though Israel did not cease to occupy Gaza until 2005. In 2007 Hamas took over control of Gaza.
         Certainly some law must apply in Gaza if only to cover day-to-day things, and it would be normal for much of Mandate law to still apply there. Smuggling into Gaza may also be contrary to that or Palestinian law, even during the time of Israeli occupation, and now. This may prohibit smuggling even though Hamas encourages it.
        Smuggling arms from Egypt may also be contrary to Egyptian law. 
        The Oslo Accords also gave Israel control over Gaza’s airspace, territorial waters and the land borders, hence the help which the UK and others has agreed to give in trying to prevent smuggling into Gaza from the sea.
        I do not know of any international law dealing specifically with smuggling. Smuggling seems to be regulated only by national laws. The international law of the sea may be relevant to enforcement of such national laws, especially in the territorial waters of Egypt and Israel.  

    I find it amusing that the law which is being broken may be one promulgated by the British during the Palestine mandate. Maybe the State Department legal advisers also found it amusing, and were smarter than their European counterparts.

    Brian writes: Many thanks. Fascinating! It would make an excellent Parliamentary Question to the foreign & commonwealth secretary. I wonder if his current legal advisers would come up with anything more solid than Tony Aust’s analysis!

  33. Dave says:

    A more familiar example of Mandate law still applied today is punishment by house demolition, introduced in response to the Arab revolt of the 1930s.

  34. John Miles says:

    It’s always easy to pontificate after the event, but to me anyway, it seems that if all this has failed to  produce any reasonably obvious positive result it’s hard to justify its cost in lives lost, lives more or less ruined and damage to Gaza’s pretty feeble infrastructure.
    In other words Israel’s campaign is wide open to the charge of being  – to use the fashionable buzz-word – disproportionate.

    Brian writes: Not necessarily. The proportionality requirement refers to the legitimate and in principle achievable military objective sought, not to actual achievement (which obviously can’t be predicted at the time of the action). But if little or no benefit actually flows from events that have caused so many deaths and so much grief and suffering and destruction for, mainly, Gaza Palestinians, it will certainly be a huge tragedy; indeed already is, regardless of any eventual benefits. And it’s still too soon to say for sure that there won’t be any benefits. If no benefits materialise, a heavy responsibility will rest on the shoulders of those who have failed to establish, or have obstructed, the internationalisation of the borders and the cease-fire: primarily the members of the Security Council apart from France, the Quartet, the UN Secretary-General, the Egyptians and Hamas.

  35. John Miles says:

    Have the Israelis themselves ever explained precisely what military objectives they were looking for when they started their campaign?
    And what exactly do they now think they’ve achieved?

  36. Dave says:

    For John Miles: Bicom’s news release of 29 December is probably in accordance with the official Israel Government view ––the-purpose-of-israel-s-gaza-operation I hope that link works.
    You can also look at the Israel Embassy website, Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, IDF and so on.

    It’s unlikely that there is unanimity in that democratic country as to what has been achieved, let alone “exactly”!  For the flavour of some of the debate you could consult the online English language editions of Ha’aretz or the Jerusalem Post.  Preferences vary.

    Brian writes: Thanks. This is a useful statement of the Israeli official position. The link works fine.

  37. Robin says:

    [Note:  Robin’s comment, below, is his reply to a manuscript note by a mutual friend, A., about my ‘Israel-Gaza Fallacies’ post (above — but not about the comments on it).  The contents of the mutual friend’s note can be inferred from this reply, which was addressed to A.  — Brian, 22 Jan 09]

    I do wonder why the Israel/Palestine thing has, over the last 10+ years, evoked such an extraordinary (and, dare I say it, disproportionate) level of outrage among normally sober and level-headed people, some of whom are, like yourself [A], even capable of connected thought, and analysis.

    I use “disproportionate” deliberately of course (and will attempt to justify my usage later on), because the word has been thrown about in the public prints in relation to Israel’s recent actions in Gaza without any clear explanation of what the writer means by it. And you [A] haven’t helped.

    At times the implication appears to be that the casualties inflicted on the Palestinians in Gaza (reportedly some 1,200 dead) are “disproportionate” to (i.e. much greater than) the 13 suffered by Israel. But this doesn’t make sense, does it? Such an attitude would lead to the conclusion that, in any conflict, each party must ensure that the casualties suffered by its own side are in proper proportion to those suffered by the enemy; consequently, that one cannot undertake any military action likely to result in death until the other side has killed (or can reasonably be expected/enabled to kill) a sufficient number of one’s own side to ensure proportionality in the eventual outcome.

    This, of course, is the logic of insanity: surely not even our most eminent journalists could have meant to suggest anything so silly? And no way can I imagine that you [A] do. Nor, I think, has anyone suggested that Britain and the US were somehow at fault in killing more Germans than they themselves lost on the Western fronts; indeed most British and US subjects would have regarded this as a matter for self-congratulation – or, at the very least, thankfulness.

    Then again, the contrast is frequently made between the number of “innocent civilians” (I’m not sure how one distinguishes between an innocent and a guilty civilian, but let that pass) killed on either side – some 600+ Palestinians and 3 Israelis. But the same argument applies: while it is customary these days to deplore the killing of civilians (which was not a matter of over-riding concern in Europe’s 20th century wars) it remains a fact that in war civilians who are unfortunate enough to live in an area of conflict, do get killed quite regularly; it is difficult to see how human happiness would be enhanced by evening up the numbers on either side.

    Surely what the concept of proportionality is supposed to mean is that, in an armed conflict (as in an unarmed police operation), the level of force used should be proportionate to the (legitimate) objective being pursued. In this context, it could well be said that the bombing of Dresden in 1944 was disproportionate to the objective of defeating Hitler; its motivation was revenge for Coventry etc – hardly a legitimate objective. It has also been said that dropping two atom bombs on Japan in 1945 was disproportionate to the objective of winning the war in the East. (Against which it is argued that an additional objective was the minimisation of Allied casualties to be anticipated had the war continued: clearly this is an unknowable figure, rendering the debate insoluble, at least in terms of proportionality.)

    Were Israel’s objectives in Gaza legitimate? I believe that its declared objectives were legitimate; I suspect there were a number of undeclared objectives, but I’m not clear that that matters in this context. Was its use of force proportionate to the achievement of these objectives? Well, if you [A] want to answer this in the negative, I think you have to make a credible suggestion for what lesser application of force, or what other means, diplomatic or what have you, might have been employed with a reasonable prospect of early success to this end. Over the passage of many years no-one has produced an answer, and I have none.

    May I add that I do not wish to defend Israel’s actions in Gaza (or elsewhere in the Palestinian conflict). Some of them have been against her own interests, either immediate or long-term or sometimes both; others have been illegal and/or unconscionable. I merely wish to urge that we stop foaming at the mouth and start thinking clearly, both about the situations we are discussing and the words we use to describe them.

    Which brings me back to my opening question: why is our whole reaction to the Israel/Palestine thing so disproportionate? I mean, in the last few years we have seen genocide in Rwanda and in Darfur (probably on-going, but our butterfly media are now occupied elsewhere); ethnic cleansing in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo; mayhem in Kenya and Zimbabwe; racism in Tibet (and many other parts of China); slaughter in Sri Lanka, in Eritrea, in Somalia; a periodic near-approach to Armageddon in Kashmir – and on and on…. Yes, it’s true that Western governments have tried to intervene, with greater or lesser effect, in some of these appalling situations; it’s true that each of them has, at some point, been granted a pompous editorial in The Times, but none of them, it seems to me, has induced anything like the furious outrage (and the media for once are only reproducing the feelings expressed on all sides around me) aroused by the deaths, individually tragic, of a mere (yes, I know) 1,200 people in Gaza, almost half of them, if it matters, apparently combatants. (The wounded we see on TV are always “innocent civilians”, preferably children.)

    Might it be that, just as M [another mutual friend, a white South African] used to maintain, that all whites are, at bottom, racist, so all Gentiles are, in the last analysis, anti-Semitic? I prefer to believe not, in the one case and the other, but the anti-Israeli rants that I find on Brian’s blog, and everywhere else I look or listen, do make me wonder – not because they are anti-Israeli, but because they are rants.

    Brian’s original contribution to this debate asked the only question that is, in my view, worth asking – not how do we undo the history of the last 60 years, or which of two sides is to blame for it, but where do we go from here? Of course I realise that in one sense that is a pro-Israeli question: a Palestinian would reply that he doesn’t want to go anywhere from here, he wants to turn the clock back to 1947, or 1907, or somewhere else. But that’s not on any conceivable agenda, is it? Any more than we propose to restore Germans to the Sudetenland, or to East Prussia, or Poles to Western Russia or Ukraine, or Moors to El Andalus, or Greeks to Byzantium? So why can’t we stop asking the stupidly-divisive questions about the past and look to the future – before events that we might all deplore make that future for us?

  38. Kieron says:

    Dear Brian

    I just wondered what you thought of Chomsky’s postings on this

    I thought the low point of your arguments was to say that this wholesale slaughter of innocents in Gaza by Israel was in some way part of their right for self defence under the UN Charter.   Obviously it has nothing to do with self-defence . It was planned well in advance and is an attempt to crush any opposition to its policies by collective punishment of a crushed captive population, control over resources and  possible opposition to its Fatah allies who unfortunately for the Israelis lost the free elections. That the impression I get anyway. I’m with Bob on this one.

    Anyway If self defence was all they cared for they could set up a massive array of anti-missile missile bases on its southern border. 

    Brian writes: You and I will just have to agree to differ about the principal motivation for Israel’s attack on Gaza, although we can probably agree that the scale of deaths and destruction which it caused was appalling, and that the IDF seems fairly clearly to have committed a number of unpardonable atrocities in the course of it. But that doesn’t negate the justification under international law for a military response by Israel to Hamas’s rocket attacks on southern Israel; nor is it relevant to the central purpose of this post and some at least of the comments on it, namely to try to identify measures that would not only bring the violence by both sides to a rapid end, but would also reduce to the minimum the risk of yet another resumption of rocket attacks by Hamas followed inevitably by yet another military response by Israel. The violence has now (26 January 09) stopped for the time being, but it’s too early to judge whether the proposed measures to provide international monitoring of the re-opening of the crossing points, the closing of the tunnels used for smuggling arms illegally to Hamas for fresh aggression against Israel, of Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, and of the observation by both sides of a durable cease-fire, will materialise now that the pressures for them have largely disappeared.

    I have made three serious attempts to read to the end of the Chomsky article which you recommend, but have been defeated each time. What is it about this conflict that reduces men and women who have previously been reasonable and balanced in their views, able to understand (even if not to support) opposing views of the antagonists in a conflict, and concerned to evaluate their sources rather than simply parroting them, to rabid, one-sided partisans who disqualify themselves from being taken seriously in just a few opening sentences? (Those who wish to point out that Noam Chomsky has never in his life been reasonable or balanced in his views needn’t bother to do so here.)

    As to your closing suggestion, if you know of an anti-missile missile system that has been shown to work (which the American system still doesn’t after decades of development) and which a country with a total population slightly smaller than London’s — or roughly half that of Burkina Faso — would have the resources to build and install, I suggest that you send the details of it to the Israeli ambassador.

  39. Dave says:

    Pace Robin, I think any rants on this blog are far less shrill than elsewhere, though perhaps I’m just case-hardened.  Most of the comments in Melanie Phillips’s blog are pro-Israel but those that are anti can be quite venomous.  I’m sure not all gentiles are anti-semitic, and it is no longer PC to make directly anti-Jewish statements in public but hostility to Israel is a wonderful flag of convenience for those who wish to exercise their anti-semitism without any expenditure of moral courage.  (Perhaps I should say perverse moral courage.)

    Sometimes the disguise is very thin indeed.  A few years ago when a British citizen was shot dead in tragic circumstances by an IDF soldier who it transpired was an Arab, a woman commented in a local paper that Israel had always got others to do its dirty work.  I wonder whether she paused to think how many soldiers from the Commonwealth were used in the world wars.  Two million Indians on the Western Front in WW1, wasn’t it?  Double standards perhaps?

    1947 or 1907 not on any conceivable agenda?  I’m sure it’s on Ahmedinejad’s, and I recall hearing one of the Dimblebys asking a caller on “Any Answers”, “Do you think Israel has the right to exist?”  And the return of Moors to El Andalus is certainly on al Qaeda’s agenda.

    btw the number of casualties may need a closer look than it has had up till now, see

  40. John Miles says:

    Thank you, Dave,
    I may have missed something, but Bicom seem to me to be just the least bit coy about the details of Israel’s war aims.
    “Israel’s immediate aim, therefore, is to inflict as heavy damage as possible on Hamas military and security infrastructure in Gaza in order to weaken the organisation, to interrupt its ability to fire at Israel, and to set a new deterrence benchmark in order to put a stop to the rocket fire,” is about as specific as they seem to get.
    In practice this isn’t all that different from, “Let’s give Johnny Hamas a bloody nose.”
    To which many of us are tempted to add, “Bloody well serves’em right.”

    The establishment of what “new deterrence benchmark” made the Israelis decide it was time for “unilateral withdrawal?”

    A cynic might wonder if this had anything to with the inauguration of Mr Obama.
    Or is that just reading meanings?

  41. Dave says:

    Well, John Miles, I don’t think the war aims stated by Bicom could be achieved w/o inflicting a “bloody nose” on Hamas.  (Which prompts the thought that it is difficult to engage in a contentious discussion in a blog w/o getting into semantics.)

    The “new deterrence benchmark”?  My impression was that the reason for withdrawal was a belief that a stage had been reached where smuggling of weapons and materiel could be suppressed successfully.  I acknowledge that this aspect did not get major emphasis in the Bicom note of 29 Dec 2008.  I also suspect that the belief may have been over-influenced by wishful thinking.

    Your question makes me wonder whether I inadvertently laid claim to greater knowledge and expertise than I could possibly substantiate.  What is clear is that there is a lot of conflicting opinion in Israel about the timing of the decision among people with far greater expertise than mine.

    There is also a range of conflicting opinion in the British Jewish community about the campaign as a whole, which you will be able to see for yourself if you want to pop into a public library that stocks the current Jewish Chronicle.

    Inauguration of Obama?  If there’s an Israeli equivalent of the 30 year rule and you’re patient, you may not need to speculate.  But I don’t expect to be around.

  1. 11 January, 2009


    I once had the misfortune to live in an Arab country: in the two years that I spent in Saudi Arabia (1982-84) I never once saw the face of a Saudi woman, a British friend feared expulsion because his wife……

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