Friday, August 14, 2009

Law and Occupation

Someone with the tag "Kung Fu Jew" left this comment on a previous post
I think we need to acknowledge that warfare is indeed changing since Israel's inception. But all I'm sensing here is disgruntled complaints about how it's not fair that Israel can't play by the older, more barbaric set of rules. Or how other countries can get away with it, but Israel can't. Suggesting that we lower the bar for Israel, not raise it for other countries, strikes me as wrong.There is a necessary adaptation to a new contemporary understanding of war that the world must make. Changing our international laws of war to account for guerrilla terrorism is part of that. But at least America's public voted down Bush's version of the answer. (And largely Israel's answer, by similarity.) I also think it's fair to say that Israel can't be sympathized with for trying to fight an unjust war justly. Having done work in the territories, I can say that I don't need the majority voices to tell me that what goes on there is unacceptable. I have eyes, it's pretty plain to me that settlement expansion and a majority of the security barrier are not for security at all. There is no just war Israel can fight until the occupation is over. And I feel comfortable with that.

Short and pungent.

Kung Fu blogs at Judaism Without Borders. So here's my response.

Israel plays according to the laws of war. It is more scrupulous about it than any other country, as I document on this blog with regularity.

The problem with the criticism of Israel which pretends to be based on international law is that it isn't. It's based upon an imaginary version of international law – and yes, this imaginary version is not used for any other country. This is hypocrisy and antisemitism, both.

America's public is just fine with the fact that its own way of waging war is far less scrupulous about the laws of war than that of Israel, again a point I make regularly on this blog. Moving from the Bush to the Obama administration has not changed this. Collateral damage is acceptable to Americans to a degree Israel would never dream of; Obama has no intention of changing this because it's the American way of war, though in Afghanistan at the moment the Americans are beginning to be more careful: for tactical reasons, not moral or legal ones.

Settlement expansion in the West Bank is far more limited than you think. The security barrier incorporates less than 5% of the West Bank. Moreover, it has proved to be wildly successful in saving lives.

The war isn't about the occupation. Israel offered to disband most settlements and end the occupation in July 2000 and the Palestinians answered with a wave of suicide murders. Israel unilaterally ended its occupation of Gaza in 2005, and the Palestinians answered with thousands of rockets at civilians. In both cases the Palestinian violence eventually ended when Israel responded with effective violence, thereby proving that its reaction had been proportional to the threat – which takes us back to international law.

The war is about Israel's right to exist. Even prominent Palestinian apologists such as Agha and Malley now admit this. The Palestinians, to give them credit, never said otherwise. Never. Our problem was that we weren't listening to what they were saying quite openly.


A. Jay Adler said...

Yaacov, all well said and to the point. I’ll make a few other points, keeping in mind that I feel the same way about the settlements as your correspondent.

1. Seeking out of Jewish pride to hold Israel to the highest standard (which you do regularly document Israel already meets) is one thing; focusing especially on how Israel may or may not, in anyone’s judgments, meet this standard while regularly ignoring other conflicts, and behavior within them, all over the globe, to the effect of promoting a general prejudice against Israel is another.

2. While there may be, in humane documents and legal texts, a “new contemporary understanding of war,” there is no new contemporary understanding of death or national annihilation or of the uselessness of apology and admission of error after they occur.

3. I wonder, when your correspondent writes of Israel and “war,” what specifically he refers to by “war”? Which conflicts? Does he isolate the recent Gaza conflict? Does he recognize an ongoing conflict since 1948? What is his understanding of the contextual dimensions and history of these conflicts and “war”?

4. And when he refers to the “occupation,” does he acknowledge that the majority of Palestinians do not live under Israeli occupation? What is his knowledge of the whole unchanging history of the occupation of the lands he conceives to be so occupied, i.e. Israeli efforts, despite the settlements, to safely and productively unoccupy them, and Palestinian response to those efforts?

Michael W. said...

Kung Fu Jew is a regular contributor to Jewschool blog.

Avigdor said...

He's the founder of Jewschool. Lately, I've been regularly cross posting your better thoughts on Jewschool. In this case, it was here.

Anonymous said...

The laws of war (condensed):

1. If someone is shooting at you, shoot back until they stop shooting.
2. Try not to hit people who are not shooting at you.

Israel's enemies -- they aren't critics because they don't think critically -- only see #2 and pretend #1 does not exist, but ONLY in the case of Israel.

Esser Agaroth said...


Why do we need a moral defense of Israel's wars?

We have a halachic one, and should give a rat's tuchus over what the goyim think. We've been having to do that for the past 2,000 or so years for our survival in Galuth.

No more.

Anonymous said...

Have you seen the latest put-down of the Israeli Defense of Cast Lead? Thought you might want to know:

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

Israel plays according to the laws of war. It is more scrupulous about it than any other country

This is not true. When Argentina invaded the Falklands, not a single civilian or member of the 79-strong military guard was killed by the invading army.

Of course, you can't compare the Falklands to Gaza -- just like you can't compare Gaza to Afghanistan, where the enemy has real possibilities of hitting the Americans.

In other words, kindly stop making foolish analogies.

Seeking out of Jewish pride to hold Israel to the highest standard...

These words of reader A. Jay Adler provide us with an interesting insight.

Yaacov, have you ever thought of doing a post about those Zionists who make ludicrous claims of Israeli morality?

For instance, many Zionists make the absurd claim that Israeli soldiers are taught to risk their own lives to avoid harming civilians (see here! Aren't you aware of the damage these people cause to Zionism? If you claim to meet an impossibly high standard, then you'll be judged by that standard!

Yaacov, I want you to write a post saying something like "Alan Dershowitz, please take notice -- Israeli soldiers DON'T risk their own lives to save civilians." If you don't, you'll be complicit wit that lie-telling.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Yaacov, any chance you might comment on this JPost article which is critical of the 160-page IDF report on Cast Lead?

In particular, the accusation is that "It is in the section that deals with Israel's management of the fighting that the report fails badly. In the 40-page chapter entitled "IDF's Conduct of the Operation and Procedures to Ensure Compliance with International Law," the government does almost nothing to refute the allegations its critics have leveled against Israel."


JG Campbell,
Bristol UK

Esser Agaroth said...

Jews in the Jewish Homeland shouldn't give a damn about "international law" or "international standards," only Torah Law.

Anonymous said...

I cannot download the original full report as I get a 'broken link' message every time that I try. Any advice for me how to get the original report

Anonymous said...

I cannot download the original full report as I get a 'broken link' message every time that I try. Any advice for me how to get the original report

Yaacov said...

Fake Ibrahim -

So far as I remember, 3 civilians were killed in the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands. With a population of less that 3,000 (but 500,000 sheep) that makes for more than 0.1% of the population. If we assume there are 4,000,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, Israel has killed a smaller proportion of civilians in a very bloody decade of war whch the Palestinians launched and whose targets have been mostly Israeli civilians.

But of course, the Falklands aren't proof of Argentinian criminality: the Dirty War is. Who many innocent Argentinian civilians were turtured and then murdered? I seem to remember the number of 30,000.

As for your second point, I never cease to be amazed by you, Fake Ibrahim. Can't you get it into your head who you're writing to? Not only do I know of cases where Israeli troops endangered their lives so as not to hurt civilians; I even knew people who were killed because the IDF refuses to wage war the American way. (Which is, of course, itself vastly preferable to the Argentinian way).

So if you wish to appologize for being an idiot, this would be a fine place to do so.

Yaacov said...

Annonymous who can't find the IDF report: go to the site of Israel's Foreign Ministry ( or google it. The report is right in the middle of the homepage, here

and in PDF, here

Yaacov said...

Jonathan -

I've read the JP article. I don't see what case is unanswered. Everything he says the report doesn't do, it does. The exception would be that it doesn't detail which unit did exactly what at which place - but no army in the world would publish that sort of data.

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

True Yaacov:

1) The three Falklands civilians were killed when the British shelled Stanley from the sea. They were deaths from friendly fire. See here. So please don't make a further fool of yourself. The Argentinians didn't kill a single Falkland civilian, just as I said.

2) The ethical code of the IDF only allows a soldier to risk his own life for two reasons: a) to carry out his mission; b) to save a fellow soldier. See here. Also, Asa Kasher, the philosopher who gave Israel moral justification for the Gaza war, said explicitly: "If it's between the soldier and the terrorist's neighbor, the priority is the soldier. Any country would do the same." See here.

They've been lying to you all along, Yaacov.

Roy Lofquist said...

Dear Sir,

I must take strong exception to the views expressed by you about the American Military. The American Military fights on far more dangerous, far more lethal battlefields than does the IDF. Big booms are far less discriminatory that a rifle.

I've got a great idea for getting rich. We buy a zoo, see. Then we put the animals from the petting zoo in the lion's cage and we put the lions in the petting zoo. That we we don't have to buy all that expensive meat for the lions!