Thursday, April 23, 2009

Waging Just War: The Discussion Goes On

Amos Harel, who's a serious journalist who knows his stuff, listened carefully to the IDF officers reporting yesterday, and came away only partially convinced:
The five detailed Israel Defense Forces investigations into Operation Cast Lead reflect a meticulous focus on the trees, and a stubborn refusal to discuss the forest. The probes lasted three months, and were thorough and extensive, but they failed to give convincing answers to some substantive issues regarding the Gaza offensive.
For more than two hours, a group of senior officers presented the findings to the media. The IDF has many good responses for the accusations, some of which came from Hamas and the UN and were proven wrong. In other instances, mistakes caused civilian deaths, but even in the case of 21 family members killed due to faulty intelligence, it is commonly accepted that these kinds of mistakes occur during fighting in difficult environments...

True, measures were taken: millions of leaflets were dropped, and some 165,000 calls were made to Gaza homes, but this does not ensure that the civilians will run, or that they will be protected when they enter open terrain. The army stressed that it fired phosphorus munitions only in "open areas," but did not define this term. Conversations with artillery and infantry troops who participated in the operation suggest that the definitions were fairly loose, and that the required distance from civilian homes became shorter as fighting continued.
I can see his line of reasoning. Making 165,000 (!) phone calls may not be enough, if the recipients move to open areas which will later be bombed because they're open. Harel isn't some pacifist fool spouting nonsense, nor an antisemite out to castigate Israel no matter what. He's part of the internal Israeli discussion about means methods morality and results, and he's saying that the ultimate balance chosen wasn't good enough. Since there will be more wars, we need to get that balance right, as I never tire of saying.

But it's an internal Israeli discussion. Back at the time I wrote about the computer systems that enabled the IDF to make those 165,000 phone calls. Outsiders from countries that aren't threatened by armed enemies and haven't had such discussions ought not butt in on this one; even the folks from countries at war might ask themselves if their countries wold go to such lengths, before damning us for not fully succeeding.

In which context you might want to read Ari Shavit's column from this morning. Shavit is a left-of-center columnist with a propensity for pompousness, but sometimes he's worth reading.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not about the occupation. If it were about the occupation, it would have erupted in 1967 and not in 1920. If it were a conflict over the occupation, it would have ended in 2000 and not continued to this day. If it were about the occupation, it would be easy to terminate it by means of a full Israeli withdrawal and full Palestinian recognition of Israel after the withdrawal. However, withdrawal is not being implemented and recognition is not being given because the conflict is not about the occupation...

The best illustration of the Palestinian refusal was provided last year. In the summer of 2008, Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, made Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) an unprecedented peace proposal: Israel would retain only 6.5 percent of the West Bank (the settlement blocs) and in return the Palestinians would receive full territorial compensation in the Mount Hebron area, in the Beit She'an Valley and in the Judean Hills. Jerusalem would be divided on a demographic basis, with the holy basin to be entrusted to a special international regime. However, Abu Mazen did not accept Olmert's end-of-occupation offer. He rejected out of hand the principle of dividing the country into two nation-states.


Anonymous said...

"Since there will be more wars, we need to get that balance right, as I never tire of saying."

Please stop aiming for absolutes.
To get the balance right is impossible -
you may get closer to the ideal balance but while you try, the sanity and well-being of your young people must be protected arduously -
I do not know about women soldiers but the men I grew up with were deeply troubled and at least some of them presumably due to the experience of "normal" warfare - at least I hope some I knew were of that kind

PetraMB said...

Yaacov, I disagree with your commentary on Harel's piece. Let me first say I'm a Haaretz subscriber and hold/used to hold the paper in the highest regard. However, I think they behaved disgracefully and violated all professional standards with some of their reporting on the Gaza war, which is of course particularly true WRT their "revelations" about the "testimony" of soldiers who were simply relating some rumors the had heard. When I first read this article, I knew there was something fishy in the way it was presented, without any fact checking. Then came the T-shirt story, again blown out of all proportion, etc etc.

Now to the Harel article. The sentence to highlight is where Harel says:
"True, the IDF killed fewer civilians than other armies have in similar circumstances..."

Then, of course and inevitably, comes his BUT...
But here's my but: this sentence is very revealing, because it shows that Harel thinks the IDF should be held to higher standards than all other armies -- well, we all know a lot of people who wholeheartedly agree with this, and many of this people do so motivated by the hope that if there is enough of an international outcry each time the IDF moves, Israel will finally realize that it has no right to defend itself.

So NO, the way much of the debate about Gaza was conducted in Haaretz is not about Israel and how to be sure that the IDF behaves in ways that reflect the values of Israeli society, but it's about how best to curry favor with Haaretz admirers abroad. The Guardian might smell here a whiff of competition.