Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Awards Time

Today's "Missing the Forest for the Trees" award goes to Bibi for this speech. Speaking to graduates of Jerusalem's National Security College, Netanyahu argued that "If the Palestinians in Gaza had the power to overthrow the government, they would," and that "The fact that the Hamas government is forcing women to wear head coverings is not making the organization popular among Palestinians."

Exactly right. But what is Israel's counter-offer to the Palestinians of Gaza? A blockade on food and water. Using white phosphorous in heavily populated areas. Israel seems to understand that not all Gazans are huge fans of Hamas. What their policy seems to not reflect, however, is that Israel can actively use this dislike to its advantage. By offering the Palestinians a better immediate situation, Israel can shift the balance of power from Hamas, creating more favorable conditions for negotiation as well as security.


1) "Netanyahu: Gazans Want to Overthrow Hamas," Haaretz, July 28, 2009.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Rahat March

As this article from Haaretz explains, far-right wing leader Baruch Marzel led a march through the Bedouin city of Rahat. In response, Bedouin threw stones at the demonstrators, one of which hit a policeman.

Marzel attempts, in the article, to equate illegal building in Rahat with settlement building in the West Bank. This is completely inaccuate. Rahat is an Israeli city (with roughly 43,000 residents) in which Israeli (Bedouin) citizens are sometimes building without permits. In contrast, outposts are often built outside of settlements without the permission of the Israeli government and certainly without the permision of Palestinians. Equating building in Israel by Israelis without a permit to illegal settlement expansion in the West Bank is like equating stealing a pack of gum to robbing a house.

The real reason for the protest may actually be that the settler movement, facing increasing pressure, is retaliating for the lack of support they are recieveing from the Israeli government and international community. This has nothing to do with Beduoin whatsoever, and is intended only as a provocation.

And ultimately, the marches will only further isolate Negev Bedouin society. While Marzel spoke of the prescence of the Islamic Movement in Rahat, demonstrations by far-rightists will only scare the population into seeking the protection the Islamic Movement can provide. As if the lack of integration by the Israeli government wasn't enough of an incentive already, Marzel is only contributing to the problem he so self-righteously was campaigning against.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Probably not the best move by the Obama administration. Bringing up Jerusalem is kind of the third rail in Israel-Arab negotiations. The issue is buried way back in the attic of final status issues for a reason.

On a separate note, Salam Fayyad, Palestinian PM, made comments supporting the US' pressure on Israel. These will most likely polarize Israeli public opinion and not be particularly helpful to the US. If Fayyad hadn't noticed, the US doesn't really need much help making Israel react to a demand on settlements. The best Palestinian strategy would be to lay low for now and get ready for when Obama pressures them.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Great post

Isaac Luria of J Street (not Safed) wrote an excellent article for The Forward about how differences in opinion within the Jewish community are not necessarily alienating the youth.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Amnesty Report

Amnesty International (AI) has released its report on human rights in Operation Cast Lead. The report begins by describing Israeli human rights violations, then moves on to Hamas' human rights violations, and then discusses the applicable international law.

The background research for the report appears to be very solid. Countless interviews and personal stories really demonstrate an earnest attempt by AI to confirm or deny rumors about the use of certain weapons or tactics in Gaza and Southern Israel. Amnesty also clearly made a conscious effort to be even-handed in its approach, filling the reports appendix with harrowing and shocking accounts from both Palestinian and Israeli civilians.

However, the report too often cites "international law" without explaining which parts of which laws it's accusing any given side of violating. Bunching the entire legal analysis at the end makes it difficult to fully understand the legal context of the crimes AI is accusing both sides of committing. Also, in one case, AI quotes the Int'l Committee on the Red Cross' commentary on international law, which is not actually a legal source. It also makes legal assumptions that are not universally agreed-upon. For example, AI argues that Israel is in a belligerent occupation. I am inclined to agree with this analysis, but it is not universally accepted among legal scholars that this is the case, and its a bit irresponsible of AI to try to slip in its more liberal assumptions.

Additionally, the report says in many cases that "Israel failed to provide evidence to the contrary." The report does not explain cases in which Israel couldn't provide evidence and cases in which it didn't. AI is extremely mistrusted in Israel, and while the government should make a better effort to seriously address AI's claims, lack of response does not imply guilt. A well-respected organization like AI should be more responsible than to imply that lack of response indicates that the tragedy was avoidable.

Furthermore, the accounts are not always contextualized. In one case, Israel is fingered for attacking a hospital. While AI's assessment is very reasonable, they fail to mention the use of Shifa Hospital by Hamas as a military base, a blatant violation of the Geneva Conventions.

This indicates my overall objection to the report. AI points out numerous violations of vague and sweeping passages of international law. It does not contextualize the extreme difficulty of upholding human rights in a war situation, and does not fully seem to recognize the inevitable violations of human rights which will occur upon the decision of one actor to use force against another. While an honest and earnest attempt, the report is simply not on a wavelength which is useful for policymakers, and unfortunately is not likely to have the effect of significantly improving respect for human rights in future conflicts.