Incompetence or indifference?

There’s a ceasefire now between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza, and that’s good, because it’s better that people get to sleep without fear, really and truly. But if it doesn’t lead to a genuine peace accord (which…), it’s just a breather and we’ll be right back here again in four years or four months. So it goes.

Meantime, in all the flurry of activity, I somehow forgot to post this here, so I post it now.

As a peace advocate, I am forever confronted by Israeli and/or American Jews (and the occasional gentile) who take one look at any exchange of fire between Israel and Palestinian militants and say: “Yes, sure, all civilian deaths are terrible—but for Israelis, they’re unintentional. The Palestinians actually target civilians.”

And as one of those civilians who used to be targeted on the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, I have no problem saying that intentionally targeting civilians is wrong—is, in fact, a war crime. I’ve said it before, and I’ll no doubt say it again, but I have no love for Hamas or the other extremist Palestinian militant groups. None.

But I weary of the desperate clinging to the word “unintentional” on my side of this decades-long war.

From the end of September 2000 through the end of September 2012, Israel was responsible for the deaths of 3,034 Palestinian noncombatants, of whom well more than a third were minors: 1,338. And that’s not counting the noncombatants and children (including several toddlers and at least one pregnant woman) killed in the last week alone.

Whether these corpses can be considered collateral damage, accidents, the unintended outcome of well-targeted efforts—simply no longer matters to me. When your state has piled up more than 3000 dead bodies, more than 1,300 of them the bodies of children, it simply no longer matters.

If we accept at face value the idea that Israel takes every possible precaution to preclude civilian deaths (a notion I cannot help but question when I read reports like this, and this, and this), then we are left with only one possible explanation: Rank, criminal incompetence.

If we reject the idea of incompetence (though I have yet to meet a human being incapable of serious error), then we are left with only one other possible explanation: Rank, criminal indifference.

I can already hear the protests that Hamas and other militants hide among civilians, that they are really to blame for these deaths, that it’s not Israel’s fault—and I do not deny that Palestinian extremists share the blame.

But is it really “hiding among civilians” to go to your own house? Is it really “hiding among civilians” to drive down a residential street?

And what if the shoe were on the other foot? Are we willing to say that Israeli soldiers are “hiding among civilians” when they ride city buses, or that Israel’s Defense Ministry is “hiding among civilians” because it’s located in the very heart of Tel Aviv? Yes, Hamas are terrorists and the IDF is a state’s army—but are military targets in civilian locales legitimate, or not?

I can no longer keep track of all the Israeli and American Jews who have contacted me in recent days to tell me (as if I might not have yet heard) that Hamas intentionally targets civilians, and Israel does not.

But when I look at those numbers, when I see the pictures of tiny, broken bodies pulled from utter destruction, when I see the wailing of fathers and mothers, their dead children wrapped in white shrouds, never to feel their parents’ arms around them again—I no longer care.

Incompetence or indifference, neither can be an excuse anymore. And in the meantime, more children die.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.


What Israel doesn’t get about Twitter.

I spend a lot of time on Twitter, and since the violence escalated between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza last week, my Twitter time has only increased.

And as others have noted before me, official Israel doesn’t seem to really get how Twitter works.

The IDF Spokesman has tweeted warnings to members of Hamas not to show their faces above ground, warned journalists to stay away from Hamas operatives (which would likely make it difficult for them to get the story) and, of course, sent out the now infamous poster of Ahmed Jabari, the assassinated head of Hamas’s military wing, with the word “ELIMINATED” emblazoned across it.

For his part, Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S., American-Israeli Michael Oren, has tweeted and then deleted an apparent willingness to negotiate with Hamas, has made a point of the “pin-point” accuracy of Israel’s airstrikes (with nary a mention of the pictures that suggest otherwise), and while he’s expressed concern over the fact that Hamas is known to intimidate members of the press in Gaza, he has yet to tweet his concern for the members of the press who were in the Gaza City media tower when Israel bombed it. Twice. (For the record: Several were injured, and one lost his leg.)

What official Israel doesn’t understand is that Twitter is not a press release office, where people in official positions offer top-down, authoritative information, setting the narrative for any and all, in 140-characters bites. Twitter is not, to put it another way, the best outlet for hasbara.

Twitter is, in fact, as far from top-down as it could be—it is horizontal, and sideways, and loop-de-loop. If you misspeak, there’s no simple deletion—that tweet will live in screen-caps forever and aye, unless and until you actually address what was said. If you crow about the deaths of your enemies, people all over the world now have an equal chance to point out just how heartless that makes you look. And no matter how hard you try to direct the narrative, millions of other voices can chime in to say you’re wrong—and do so in the hearing of the very people you’re trying to win over.

A big part of why my Jerusalem-born-and-bred husband and I chose to raise our Israeli children in the Diaspora can be seen buried in official Israel’s hasbara-ish tweets: A callous, arrogant indifference to the lives of those we occupy (and upon whom we are now waging war), and a swaggering, overweening insistence that everybody else sit down and listen. Even if it means stretching, ignoring, or re-weighting the truth, even if it means a constant drumbeat of insistence that we, and only we, suffer. That we, and only we, deserve human compassion. That we, and only we, have a right to behave as if we live in the middle of a war.

The unwillingness to admit the existence of legitimate competing narratives, the cavalier indifference to any lives lost on the way to our latest target, and the stalwart insistence that Israel is always right drove my husband and me from our home. It is reflecting very badly on that home as this war continues.

And far more to the point: If more reasonable voices do not appear soon (on Twitter or, rather more importantly, in the halls of Israeli power), I fear that it will ultimately mean the end of the Zionist dream.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.

Yes, again! On HuffPost Live, talking about Israel and Gaza.

It was significantly less shouty than the segment that I did on Friday, but I fear I wandered around a bit when I first started talking, but then later I got to say “I’m sorry, did you call me a liar?” So that was ok.

To watch it click here; if you’re my mom, I start talking at about the 4 minute mark.

Some helpful background for talking with folks who support Israel’s Pillar of Defense operation in Gaza.

On Friday, commenter Jane mentioned that she’s been getting email from a beloved (and generally pretty groovy!) family member asking her to “Join my cause: Israel Has a Right to Protect Itself,” and that while she understands the point, she would like to help dial down the tone a little and “have an actual discussion about what the occupation and the settlements are doing to real, live human beings” (which desire, it should be noted, Jane acknowledged as being “like the unicorn of Israel/Palestine politics”…!)

I thought I’d front page the question and my response, because I know that people frequently come here looking for just that kind of help!

With a few small edits, this is what I said:

I try to take a two-pronged approach.

One prong is purely practical: Whatever one thinks about the ethics of Israel’s policies, have they worked? Israel has been talking about chopping Hamas to pieces (literally) for 25 years — are Israel’s citizens safe now? Did that work? You could send her this, about how futile Israel’s anti-Hamas efforts have been which, among other things, points out that

“In other words, a policy with the stated goal of weakening Hamas in Gaza has not only had the effect of strengthening its rule there but also resulted in the proliferation of tunnels through which terrorist groups have been able to obtain weapons.”

And if she counters with “We tried peace” (which is what people often counter with), you can say that during the years of the Oslo Accords, during which time Palestinians were nominally supposed to start building their state, settler numbers doubled (and the settler population has since more than doubled again) — which is to say: The number of people living on land that everyone in the world including Israel thinks is Palestinian doubled at precisely the time that Israel said that it had committed to establishing a Palestinian state on that land.

And if she counters with “But Israel withdrew from Gaza” (ditto), you can say that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas *begged* Israel to negotiate that withdrawal, or to at least negotiate security arrangements, and the Sharon government refused — meaning that the minute Israel left (though it remains surrounding Gaza, determining who and what goes in and out), Hamas was free to claim victory for the withdrawal, and thus, there have never been any arrangements with the Palestinian government to deal with security breaches. Five months after the withdrawal (January 2006), Hamas narrowly won legislative elections, in part because of the impression that their terrorist campaigns ran Israel out of town.

The second prong is: This is a war. When people are in the middle of a war, they react defensively, they prepare for battle, they become enraged when their homes are destroyed and children killed, and sometimes they do terrible things, whether on purpose or by error. This is how it always is and always has been — you’re right that Israel has a right to defend itself, but it simply makes no sense to expect that Palestinians won’t react to their suffering, too.

My Atlantic piece might also be helpful — it’s meant to demonstrate just how much each side has been firing away at each other all along + causality numbers. I don’t editorialize in it, I just present the facts, but the facts paint something of a picture. You might send her that, as well.