Meditations on todays news

I opened my newspaper this morning (Wednesday) and was greeted with the headline: the White House has no comment on the regularization law that was passed yesterday, and will talk about it when PM Netanyahu visits Washington to meet with President Trump next week.

Imagine my relief. I mean, why should the White House have an opinion about something which is really an internal Israeli affair? I am amused well, pretty irritated, actually by the way Haaretz and my social media friends have decided to call it the land grab law, when it actually goes farther to compensate owners of land than customary common law would. As Eugene Kontorovich explains,

Israels proposed Regulations Bill has attracted broad international criticism, including from the U.S. State Department and the European Union, as well as from opposition Israeli politicians and some government lawyers. The bill seeks to solve a situation in which, over several decades, over one thousand Israeli homes in West Bank settlements have been built in open areas to which Palestinians subsequently asserted property claims, typically based on broad give-aways of state land by the King of Jordan during the Hashemite occupation (1949-67). The homes are in communities built with some level of government involvement. Thus the bill provides the government would compensate the landowners 125% of the value of the land, in order to allow the communities that have been built there to remain.

The plots are generally open, uncultivated fields. The frequently used characterization of private Palestinian lands is misleading. In the overwhelming majority of cases, no individual Palestinians have come forward to claim the lands. Indeed, in most cases, no property claimants asserted their interests for decades after houses were built, a situation that in common law would certainly warrant the application of adverse possession doctrines, under which long-term possession of property unprotested by owners can change legal title, exactly to prevent these kinds of conflict between long-term users and owners who slept on their rights . Under Jordanian law, rules of prescription, which would turn the land over to its existing inhabitants, would apply. In cases like the community of Amona, which inspired but are not covered by the law, the Court made its determination without any fact-finding, and the lands claimed by the Palestinian petitioners only slightly overlap with those on which the Israeli homes stand.

Its not really a big deal, is it? No Palestinians are being exploited, and the residents of Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria are just getting the same kind of protection for their investment as people in the rest of Israel, the US and many other developed countries have. Better, since the state is willing to pick up the tab for compensation.

Of course the world leaders in virtue and morality, the EU and the governments of Germany and France, are dead set against the law. The folks whose wisdom brought us two world wars and a Holocaust have lost confidence that we are serious about the two-state solution that they hope will slice our country into indefensibility.

Later today I listened on the radio to the reactions of the European representatives in Israel. You would think that the Knesset had passed a law demanding that the Palestinians must throw all their male children into the sea, and not one that simply makes it possible to compensate people in return for taking property that they may not even have clear title to, and havent used for years, if ever. I am becoming more and more convinced that after Iran, Europe is our greatest enemy, and the Palestinians their weapon.

Well, Amona is rubble, its residents are homeless, and the cabal made up of the Civil Administration (the military entity that rules Area C, where almost all Jewish settlements are and few Arabs live), the left-leaning legal establishment, and the subversive European-paid NGOs are smacking their lips over how they will do the same to numerous other Jewish communities, just as soon as the Supreme Court voids the new law.

Because, after all, who cares what the democratically elected Knesset and government decide? Dont we understand who really runs the country and knows whats good for us? Those religious settler fanatics are an obstacle to peace! Just ask the talking heads on Israeli radio and TV.

Which brings me to the next headline: Channel 2 reports that Netanyahu told the police that have been investigating him nonstop for who knows how long, that he didnt know about bottles of champagne and other gifts received by his wife from a businessman friend, and he didnt check the value of cigars that he himself was given. He just smoked them! Not only that, but he told the police that he bought plenty of cigars with his own money.

So, just some random thoughts on this scandal: Channel 2 has been selectively dribbling out information about Netanyahus supposedly confidential police investigations for months. Where do they get it, and why is it OK for them to release out-of-context snippets of interrogations in a country where the names and faces of people accused of crimes are routinely redacted from news reports?

The investigation itself is on the same level as one of the previous ones, in which Mrs. Netanyahu was accused of returning deposit bottles that had been used at official functions, and keeping the money. Yes, she did it; yes, the small amount of money was returned; and yes, the silliness of creating a scandal about deposit bottles was duly noted.

The fact is that the same media people that deliberately mischaracterize the regularization law and also gleefully bash Netanyahu on every occasion, are running a long-term project to make him look like a crook. How much of the evening news is devoted to his non-scandals, almost every day? How many hours has he wasted, answering police questions and trying to deal with the fallout from these frivolous investigations? Hes the Prime Minister of the strongest country in the region, economically and militarily, the one and only Jewish state which half the world hates and wants to destroy and you are busting his balls about some cigars?

This isnt really funny. Netanyahu has said that he believes there is a media campaign to force the Attorney General to indict him. And if he is indicted, he could be forced to resign.

The story on page 11 of the newspaper reminds me that not everything is frivolous or political. It is about Trump and Iran trading barbs over the Iranian missile development program. Now that Obama is gone, it may be possible for the US and Israel to develop an effective policy to prevent their common enemy, Iran, from producing and deploying nuclear weapons.

I devoutly hope that this will be the main subject for discussion between Netanyahu and Trump, rather than Judean real estate law. Or cigars.

What kind of a state are we?

Tuesday afternoon we started to hear that the police and IDF were preparing to remove the 40 families that live in the community of Amona, in the Binyamin region of Judea. Just now, a few moments ago, I heard on the radio that the evacuation (some prefer expulsion) is beginning. It doesnt look like it will go smoothly.

To explain the situation in the fewest possible words, the community was built 20 years ago. A portion of it, about one half acre out of a total of 125 acres, is owned by Palestinian Arabs who were given title to the land by the King of Jordan, during the 19-year Jordanian occupation. About 15 more acres are registered in the names of Arabs who apparently do not exist.

The Supreme Court of Israel decided that the only acceptable remedy was to bulldoze the entire community. The Court did not accept the suggestion that the Arab owners, who had never utilized the land, could be paid compensation for it. The government developed a compromise that would have provided an alternative location nearby for some of the families, which the community agreed to. But this was stymied when additional Palestinians petitioned the court claiming to own that land. The residents were only told that the deal was off a few days ago.

The Palestinians have been assisted in their legal proceedings by the Israeli organization Yesh Din. Yesh Din received more than $4.6 million from foreign government bodies between 2012 and 2016. Foreign sources accounted for 93.5% of their total donations. Yesh Din specializes in lawfare against Israel and the IDF.

This raises, yet again, a very fundamental question for the State of Israel. In a sentence, what are we?

Are we the nation-state of the Jewish people in its historical homeland, which derives its right to the land from both the biblical promise made to us by Hashem and the modern promise made by the international community in the Palestine Mandate, a right that we defended more than once by force of arms? Are we a Zionist state, in other words?

Or are we something else a multinational state which exists at the pleasure of todays post-nationalist, anti-Jewish international establishment?

It would seem that the answer should be obvious, and it is to the great majority of Israeli Jews. But the state has not acted as though it believes in its own Zionist principles.

When the Jordanian occupation and its illegal annexation of land set aside for the Jewish people was ended in 1967, Israel did not annex Judea and Samaria, because its leadership was forced by its friends in Europe and the US to accept the idea of land for peace. Israel would give Judea and Samaria back to Jordan, for example, and Jordan would give us a peace treaty.

The injustice inherent in this is obvious. Who gave Jordan the right to take that land in violation of international law and to ethnically cleanse it of Jews? How can we be asked to give something back that was ours in the first place? But this was our policy until King Hussein decided in 1988 that he didnt want the hassle of trying to control the PLO, and transferred his ownership of the land to the PLO. And shortly thereafter, the Israeli government tried to continue the land for peace process with the PLO via the Oslo accords.

Israel never annexed the land it regained in 1967 (except for Jerusalem) and it even retained Jordanian law in Judea and Samaria. Because Israeli governments believed that some or all of the territory would ultimately be returned to Arab control, it treated it as occupied territory, despite the fact that, by the most reasonable interpretation of international law, for the first time since 1948 it was not under occupation.

24 years later and several wars and intifadas later, Israelis have finally come to realize that an exchange of land for peace wont bring peace. Anyone with half a brain who looks at recent history (especially the results of the withdrawal from Gaza) and listens to what the Palestinians themselves say and do, understands that.

Its often said that surveys show that a majority of Israelis favor a 2-state solution. That is correct, if the survey question is something like Do you favor giving up the territories in return for peace and security? The unfairness of this question is manifest if we rewrite it as follows: If giving up the territories would bring peace and security, would you favor it?

Since giving up the territories would put a terrorist entity next door to Tel Aviv, and since the Arabs wont even pretend to agree that they would give up their claims on Israel in return for the territories, and since the PLO is unstable and easily overthrown, the if clause of the conditional statement is certainly false. And virtually every Israeli knows this.

A religious Zionist also understands the importance to his or her spiritual life of the places mentioned in the tanach, like Hevron and many others. But even a secular Zionist appreciates the first words of the Declaration of Independence:

ERETZ-ISRAEL was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.

After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom.

Virtually every Israeli knows this as well except possibly much of our leadership and our legal establishment.

If the lessons of history, international law, and Zionist ideology (both religious and secular) were translated into action, the courts would find a way to legalize Amona and other communities that would also be fair to the Arabs. Ultimately, we would annex all of Eretz Israel.

Unfortunately, the government has yet to get clear of the land for peace mentality; and the legal establishment seems dedicated to beating us into the mold of the multinational, secular democratic state that former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak so much admired.

This needs to change. Fear of the international community is not a reason to deny our own birthright. Politicized institutions like the UN and the International Criminal Court have no moral authority, and no practical way to punish Israel. And there is absolutely no reason we must allow foreign agents like Yesh Din to continue to subvert our country.

In fact, now, while there is an American government that for the first time may itself be able to shake off the ideas of land for peace and the 2-state solution, is the perfect time for Israel to finally become the truly Zionist state that Jabotinsky, Begin and Ben-Gurion dreamed of.

Resolution 2334 and the Women of the Wall

I watched the Israeli TV news last night, which showed excerpts from the funerals of the four young people who were run down by a terrorist (a Jerusalem Arab) driving a large truck, who then turned around and took another run at them before being shot. It was hard to bear. So I am not at all in a pleasant mood.

The Palestinian strategy aims to drive the Jews out of the land of Israel by a combination of violence and diplomatic pressure. Lately, a diplomatic offensive has coincided with both official and unofficial Palestinian incitement to terrorism.

Two weeks ago UN Security Council resolution 2334 was passed, calling Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and eastern Jerusalem illegal, and defining all the land outside the 1949 armistice line as occupied Palestinian land. 2334 is certainly the most anti-Israel resolution that has ever come out of the Security Council, and one of the worst products of the UN since the General Assembly declared Zionism racism in 1975.

Instead of vetoing it, as it has previous anti-Israel resolutions, the Obama Administration abstained and allowed it to pass. Indeed, the Israeli government believes that the administration even helped create it. The administration insists that there is nothing new in the resolution. But actually it upends other critical UN resolutions and marks a very significant shift in American policy.

Resolution 2334 was criticized by almost every legitimate Jewish institution in the US and Israel (that is, every one to the right of J Street, the phony pro-Israel group set up by George Soros to challenge AIPAC). Even the Union for Reform Judaisms Rick Jacobs had to admit that the UN has disqualified itself from playing a constructive role in dealing with the conflict, although he seems to agree with most of the resolutions content.

One of the many serious implications of the resolution was that virtually all the important holy places of Judaism were placed on Palestinian land, including of course the Temple Mount and the Western Wall (the Kotel hamaaravi).

So I was surprised and even shocked when I saw this news item:

Israeli NGO Mattot Arim reports that Women of the Wall refuses to take part in the efforts to oppose the recent anti-Kotel UN resolution.

Mattot Arim said it turned to Women of the Wall for help in opposing the resolution because the latters website places the Western Wall very high on its pedestal. The site states the Western Wall is the principal symbol of Jewish peoplehood and sovereignty. It also refers positively to the Jewish peoples return to Jerusalem in 1967.

Mattot Arim pointed out to WoW that the new UNSC Resolution states precisely the opposite namely, the Security Council does not recognize any changes to the 4 June 1967 lines, including with regard to Jerusalem. This means not only Judea and Samaria, but also all of eastern Jerusalem, the Western Wall and the Old City, is territory illegally occupied by Israel.

WoW said in response that it would not take a stance on the resolution nor join the effort to rescind it. The Women wrote to Mattot Arim that their struggle is to achieve equality for women at the Kotel. They said they choose not to comment on issues which are outside the purview of our struggle because our group comprises women of many different political persuasions.

Mattot Arim is a politically right-wing organization, and the WoW are mostly left-wingers. But it would certainly seem that on this issue they would have common ground. Ironically, if resolution 2334 were implemented and the Temple complex turned over to the Arabs, most likely there would be perfect equality between Jewish men and women at the Kotel neither group would be allowed to pray there!

Many WoW members support the extreme left-wing Meretz party, which except for the Arab parties is the only one in the Knesset that applauded the passage of 2334. For Meretz, theres no greater evil than settlements and occupation. These are the ones whose political persuasions present a problem.

But then why bother to demonstrate against Israeli policies that discriminate against women at the Kotel if you think the site shouldnt be part of Israel at all?

Maybe they should think about the conflict between their Jewish spirituality and their politics.

The Azaria verdict

At 10 AM on Wednesday, a military court handed down the verdict in the manslaughter trial of Sgt. Elor Azaria, called by the media the soldier who shot in Hevron.

10 months ago, Azaria shot and killed an Arab terrorist who was lying on the pavement, several minutes after the terrorist was shot and wounded while stabbing another soldier, who was lightly injured.

The IDFs rules of engagement stipulate that deadly force should not be used in such circumstances (considered law enforcement rather than war) unless there is an immediate threat to life. Azaria said that he thought there was such a threat, that the terrorist could have been wearing an explosive vest under his jacket.

He was initially charged with murder, but the prosecution decided that it would be difficult to prove premeditation. The manslaughter charge only requires a deliberate, wrongful killing. He could be sentenced to as much as 20 years in prison, but he will probably get much less than that.

In Israeli military court there are three judges, one of whom is the head judge, a professional who is appointed by the President of the state, on recommendation of the Judicial Selection Committee, like civilian judges. The other two can be officers who may not have a legal background. In this case there were two professionals and a field commander. Cases are decided by a majority vote. There are no juries.

The verdict and the penalty turn on whether the judges believe Azarias testimony. They could have decided that he lied, or that he was telling the truth but should have acted differently, based on the information available to him. Or they could decide that he told the truth and that his action was justified.

The trial has been the biggest thing in the media for the past months, bigger than all the countless sexual harassment scandals put together. The country is strongly divided about the appropriate response to Azarias act, ranging from jail time to a medal. Before the verdict was announced, there were rowdy demonstrations in his favor outside the courtroom (which had been moved to a more secure location and closed to the public).

Its important in this connection to note why the incident became a media circus. The shooting was videotaped by an activist for the left-wing NGO Btselem and the tape shown over and over by the media. What would probably have been a simple matter one way or the other became a national affair.

Im not going to discuss all the evidence that has been presented, such as whether he heard a paramedic at the scene call out watch out, he has a suicide vest, whether shooting might detonate the vest, whether the terrorist had already been checked, and more. The trial went on for 6 months, and a great deal of testimony was presented. The courts opinion will cite the facts that the judges found important in reaching their decision.

My guess before the announcement was that he would be convicted that the judges would decide that a reasonable soldier would not have fired, given the facts and the rules of engagement. I also thought that the sentence will be relatively light, in consideration of the pressures on the soldier.

***

At exactly 10 AM, I turned on the radio. Israel Radios reporters repeated the words of the head judge, Maya Heller, as she read the verdict (the court did not permit the proceedings to be broadcast, so a reporter inside transmitted her words by WhatsApp to the broadcasters outside). Because there is a requirement that an innocent defendant must be informed immediately, the fact that there was no such announcement at the beginning the whole judgment took 2-1/2 hours to read told the story.

Elor Azaria was found guilty of manslaughter and conduct unbecoming of an IDF soldier.

The judges did not believe him, and the judgment was unrelievedly harsh. They rejected every one of his points of defense. They did not accept his explanation that he was afraid the terrorist had an explosive vest or that he was reaching for a knife. They found contradictions between various versions of Azarias story, and said that he appeared to be changing his story as he went along in order to improve his case. They gave significant weight to testimony that Azaria said he stabbed my friend, he deserves to die to another soldier immediately before the shooting. They did not accept arguments from a psychiatric panel that he suffered from PTSD or that he was significantly impaired by lack of sleep or other factors. They accepted the autopsy data that it was Azarias bullet that caused the terrorists death (and rejected the opposing view of former chief pathologist Yehuda Hiss, who did not examine the body). They did not credit the statements of several reserve generals who testified on Azarias behalf. Finally, they decided that the shooting was not merely an error, but demonstrated criminal intent. Criminal intent!

I didnt hear a word of excuse or understanding. The judges agreed with Chief of Staff Eisenkot and former Minister of Defense Yaalon that the shooting was entirely unjustified. Had he been accused of murder, I believe that Azaria would have been convicted of that as well.

The punishment will be determined by the court and announced in about ten days. From what I heard from the judge, I suspect that I was mistaken in thinking that he will get a light sentence.

***

Something here is wrong.

Of course, the IDFs judges had no alternative. An army has rules, and Azaria broke an important one. His explanation that he felt endangered didnt hold water, no matter how much one wants to support him. He knew what he was doing: killing a terrorist. The court was right about that and the best explanation for his motive was provided by his comment that the terrorist deserved to die. But it didnt have to come to this.

Explaining his tough stance last April, Moshe Yaalon said Part of the power [of the IDF], as many have described it Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin and others is our ethical strength. We arent Daesh.

We arent. But we also arent a people who would send a soldier to prison for killing a terrorist. There is a feeling in Israel that has become sort of a slogan in this case, that our soldiers are everyones children. How can we abandon our children? Chief of Staff Eisenkot disagrees. Yesterday he said this:

An 18-year-old man serving in the army is not everyones child. He is a fighter, a soldier, who must dedicate his life to carry out the tasks we give him. We cannot be confused about this.

Hes both right and wrong. A young man who is a soldier does have to dedicate his life to and sometimes lose it for his country and his people, at least for the 32 months of his service. But he is still everyones child. Yaalon said that part of our power comes from our ethical strength, but it also comes from the way we love our soldiers and our army. There are many who would like Israel to have a professional army, but this hasnt happened yet (and I think it would be a disaster).

Among the most troubling aspects of this case were the statements condemning Azarias act made by Eisenkot, Yaalon, other officers, and even PM Netanyahu (who later changed his tune) immediately after the Btselem video was made public. Eisenkot and Yaalon later said that it wasnt the video that convinced them, that they already had received evidence from the chain of command but surely it had something to do with their making public statements of this sort (in the US, this would be grounds for appeal).

Indeed, this is where everything went off the rails. Elor Azaria should have had a hearing with his commanding officer, and maybe gotten a weekend of guard duty and an explanation of the rules. Instead, thanks to a video camera probably bought with European money, another kind of soldier, one fighting the cognitive war against Israel, threw the nation into chaos. As usual, we walked right into this.

The distinction between law enforcement and war becomes blurred when terrorists are stalking us and especially our soldiers and police in the streets, with every day bringing reports of stabbings and vehicular attacks, as was the case when Azaria killed his terrorist. No, Azarias wasnt a split-second decision where hesitation could be fatal, as the court noted, but our soldiers and police do face such decisions on a daily basis. Could not this verdict deter them from taking action in a situation that isnt so clear-cut?

Soldiers dont make good policemen anyway. They are trained to kill the enemy, not to detain suspects who have rights. Enemy soldiers in a firefight dont have rights.

And we mustnt forget that in the eyes of our enemies in todays asymmetric war, no Jew in the Land of Israel, from a baby to an 80-year old grandmother, has a right to live. Possibly if the nation had an official death penalty for terrorism, soldiers wouldnt feel the need to take the law into their own hands.

In this kind of war, is the principle that a terrorist deserves to die a bad one?

The international community and its Israel problem

I am writing on Wednesday, after the passage of UNSC resolution 2334 and John Kerrys speech laying out his parameters for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And after that, there will or will not be another Security Council resolution, in which the so-called international community will continue on its path to making Israel indefensible and ultimately seeing her disappear.

Today Im going to take a longer view and ask a more fundamental question than how are they going to try to stick it to us tomorrow? Today I want to know whats in it for them in sticking it to us?

This is interesting, because the obvious answer seems to be nothing. Look at this objectively: Israel is a tiny country which actually contributes a lot to civilization in science, technology, medicine and more. The Palestinians (PLO and Hamas varieties) basically have one interest, and that is destroying Israel and taking over their tiny piece of land. Their major contribution to civilization seems to be the popularization of airline hijacking and suicide bombing. Israel tried several times to give away large chunks of its country which it is fully entitled to keep in order to end the conflict, but the Palestinians have refused every time. Lucky for us.

Most of the nations, if asked, would say that it has to do with the human rights of the Palestinians. This is interesting too, because the Palestinians seem to think they have a right to kill anyone Jewish they come across. Israel argues persuasively that it really has to take security measures that affect the Palestinians, because otherwise they would exercise their right to murder us. How do we know? Experience: the withdrawal from Gaza and the various prisoner releases. Give them a chance, and they try to kill us. It happens every time.

Its even more interesting that for all the people deprived of their human rights around the world often much more severely than the Palestinians, who have more rights than Arabs living in Arab countries the international community expends far more money and energy on the Palestinians than on anyone else.

So lets try to figure this out. Who would benefit if the Palestinians got their wish and we disappeared? Possibly only the Palestinians themselves and Iran, which wants to become the regional hegemon and sees us as an obstacle. But how does that explain the anti-Israel activity in almost all the European countries, especially the most progressive ones like the Scandinavian countries, France, Germany, Britain and others? How does it explain that other pole of the Axis of anti-Israelness, the White House? And how does it explain the particular passion with which they have taken sides?

Interests are insufficient to explain this. We need to look at psychology.

The Palestinians got their start from the Soviet KGB as a weapon against American influence in the Middle East. The Soviet psychological warfare experts melded third-world anti-imperialism with traditional Jew-hatred to create the meme of an oppressed Palestinian people whose human rights were being denied them by vicious European Jewish colonists. This powerful but totally false story, convincingly told, found its way into leftist dogma. It was eagerly lapped up by the affluenza-sufferers of the New Left, many of them Jewish, who were looking for a connection to the Wretched of the Earth, in the words of Frantz Fanon.

People are fond of saying that they are critical of Israeli policy but they dont hate Jews. But passionate anti-Zionism is never pure. A natural question to ask is, if Israel is so evil, what makes it so? And the obvious answer is because the Jews are evil. Anti-Zionism and Jew-hatred go together. One gives rise to the other. The Palestinians made-up history only works if you believe Israeli Jews capable of deliberate ethnic cleansing and murder; if you believe that they are like Nazis. And if Jews are like Nazis, then their state is a Nazi state.

When the New Lefties of 1960s Europe grew up, many of them became Social Democrats. While they may have grown away from anarchism and created its opposite in the European Union, they kept their ideas about Israel and the Palestinians. It was a satisfying relief for Europeans, embarrassed by their fathers crimes during the Holocaust, to realize that the Jews themselves were actually Nazis.

In America, the New Left virtually conquered academia, where terrorists like Bill Ayres and Bernardine Dohrn became respected members of the academic community. Big grants to universities from Saudi Arabia and other oil states ensured that there would be Middle East Studies departments to promote the correct line on Israel.

The Left in America was very fertile ground for Jew hatred. It was politically incorrect to say that you hated Jews, but you could say anything you wanted about Israel. And what about the Israel Lobby? And little by little, like in the Occupy movement, it became OK to suggest that maybe Jews had too much influence in the media, Hollywood and banking.

The black community in America was infected with anti-Jewish attitudes as well, probably originally traceable to the Nation of Islam, later amplified by conflicts with Jewish landlords, teachers and shop-owners, and fertilized by the influence of the radical Left on the Black Power movement.

Barack Obamas ideas about Israel and the Palestinians probably developed from multiple sources: his early Muslim background; the influence of friends like Ayres and Dohrn, anti-Israel blogger Ali Abunimah, Columbia professor and PLO operative Rashid Khalidi, and academics like Edward Said; and the anti-Jewish climate in the black community. Obama chose advisors that shared his point of view, like Susan Rice, Ben Rhodes and Rob Malley.

The Muslim world quite naturally cleaved to the side of the Palestinians, because, after all, most Palestinians are Muslims. But there was also a sinister cross-pollination from ancient European Jew-hatred that was introduced by Hitlers associate Haj Amin al-Husseini, as well as the numerous Nazi war criminals that found asylum in places like Egypt and Syria after the war. Egypt has virtually no Jews left, and yet a common insult there is to call someone a Jew. When Mubarak was deposed, cartoons and posters showed him with a star of David on his forehead.

It is now possible to understand the automatic majority votes against Israel in the UN, or, more to the point, the obsessive focus of the UN on Israel, and why real atrocities that occur elsewhere in the world are comparatively barely noticed. We can see why the terrorism committed on a regular basis by Palestinians against Jews for at least a hundred years receives only lip service, while Jewish building in Jerusalem makes Obama furious. We can understand why the outcome of the vote for Security Council resolution 2334 was greeted with sustained applause. We can see why the European nations and the EU spend millions of Euros every year supporting subversive anti-state NGOs in Israel, and why the human rights of Palestinians are more important to them than those of anyone else. And we can see why Barack Obama has consistently worked against Israel over his entire term, winding up with a still-unfolding diplomatic strike.

Even though national interest is cited Kerry even argued in his speech that American interests were served by destabilizing Israel! the real motivation for these policies is deep, irrational, and unfortunately, very familiar.

Questions and answers about UN Security Council resolution 2334

A cartoon posted by Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party, which bloodily thanks the 14 nations that voted for UNSC resolution 2334.

A cartoon posted by Mahmoud Abbas Fatah party, which bloodily thanks the 14 nations that voted for UNSC resolution 2334. Courtesy Palestinian Media Watch.

On Friday, December 23, 2016, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2334 with a vote of 14 in favor and one abstention the US.

What does the resolution say? A lot of things (full text is here), but some of the important ones are

  • The statement that Israels establishment of settlements across the Green Line (including eastern Jerusalem) has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-State solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace, and the demand that Israel cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.
  • The condemnation of attempts to change the demographic composition, character and status of the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967.
  • The statement that the UN will recognize no changes in the pre-1967 lines except those agreed upon by both sides.
  • The call for all States to distinguish, in their relevant dealings, between the territory of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.
  • The condemnation of violence, terrorism, incitement, etc. (The fig leaf that allowed the US to abstain on what was originally a 100% anti-Israel resolution).
  • The request that the UN Secretary-General report on the progress of implementing the resolution every three months.

Is the resolution binding? No. It is a Chapter VI resolution, which is defined as a recommendation. So the UN cant impose sanctions on Israel for violating its provisions. Only a Chapter VII resolution would be binding and would allow the imposition of economic sanctions or even the use of military force.

That makes settlements, illegal, right? No. It just asserts that they are. It refers to the 4th Geneva Convention (art. 49), but the legal argument based on this is particularly weak. A discussion of the basis for Israeli sovereignty over all the land from the Jordan to the Mediterranean is here. Its important to understand that this resolution does not create international law, it only expresses the UNs opinion about it.

Does this mean that Israel is occupying Palestinian territory? No. It means that that is what the UN wants to call it. But there is no such thing as Palestine for Israel to occupy, and declarations by the UN cant make it so. Incidentally, the US never accepted this formulation before (see below).

What about the pre-1967 lines? The cease-fire agreements of 1949 that delimited them explicitly say that they are just the lines marking the locations of the armies when the shooting stopped, and they are not borders. They have no political significance. The Arabs particularly insisted on this, because they hoped to push Israel back even further. So the resolution says that the UN will not accept any changes in lines that are meaningless anyway.

Can it be construed as a call for BDS? It will doubtless be seen as a justification for the EU labeling of products from settlements. It will encourage unofficial or official boycotts of settlement products or even Israeli products, academics, artists, sports teams and more, on the basis of the claim that Israel is violating international law. There is no doubt that it will be cited as providing a legal basis for BDS activity, even though it has no legal significance.

Can Israelis be charged in the International Criminal Court on the basis of this resolution? Unclear. The ICC has jurisdiction over crimes committed by a national of a state party to the Rome Statute or in the territory of a state party. Israel (and the US and Russia!) did not accept the Rome Statute. Palestine while not a sovereign state, managed to get the ICCs prosecutor to accept it as a state party anyway. The legal validity of this is questionable, but in the fantasy world of international politics, who cares?

The ICC can also take cases when directly referred by the Security Council under Chapter VII. This is not the case with this resolution.

Is the resolution balanced? Absolutely not. It affirms the Palestinians public position, which is that all the land beyond the Green Line belongs to them. If anything presupposes the outcome of negotiations, this is it! Israels stance in negotiations has been that it will cede some land to the Palestinians in return for recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people, demilitarization of the Palestinian state and an end to further claims (including the right of return). But if the land is recognized as belonging to the Palestinians from the start, then Israel has no right to demand anything in return.

But doesnt it also criticize the Palestinians? They dont see it that way. The resolution condemns all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as all acts of provocation, incitement and destruction. But the official position of the PLO and Hamas is that their terrorism, provocation, incitement and destruction is actually not violence, but legitimate resistance to occupation. Israel, in their view, is guilty of all of the above.

Does it encourage terrorism? See the cartoon tweeted by Fatah (Mahmoud Abbas party) at the head of this post.

What is its relationship to previous resolutions and agreements? Although it mentions UNSC resolutions 242 and 336, it contradicts them, as well as the Oslo accords, by referring to occupied Palestinian land (the clause about accepting changes in the lines that are negotiated by the parties is a weak attempt to sidestep this argument). There is no recognition of Palestinian ownership anywhere in international law, and in fact there are good reasons to believe that Israel holds title to it.

How does this represent a significant change in US policy? The US has always insisted that the UN is no place to decide the issues that divide Israel and the Arabs, and that all issues such as borders, settlements, Jerusalem, refugees, and others must be decided by the parties. While it has said that settlement activity is illegitimate it has not previously used the expression illegal. And it has never taken the position that any of the territories is occupied Palestinian land.

In 1994, the UNSC passed a resolution condemning the mass shooting in Hevron by Baruch Goldstein. Here are some of the remarks by US Ambassador Madeline Albright in the discussion following its passage (H/T Jim Wald):

The United States supports the operative paragraphs of the resolution that the Council has just adopted. However, we sought a paragraph-by-paragraph vote on this resolution because we wanted to record our objections to language introduced there. Had this language appeared in the operative paragraphs of the resolution, let me be clear: we would have exercised our veto. In fact, we are today voting against a resolution in the Commission on the Status of Women precisely because it implies that Jerusalem is occupied Palestinian territory.

We simply do not support the description of the territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 war as occupied Palestinian territory. In the view of my Government, this language could be taken to indicate sovereignty, a matter which both Israel and the PLO have agreed must be decided in negotiations on the final status of the territories. As agreed between them, those negotiations will begin not later than two years after the implementation of the Declaration of Principles.

How much responsibility does the Obama Administration bear for this resolution? A Palestinian delegation met with administration officials earlier this month to discuss a draft of the resolution that they intended to introduce. At that time, Western diplomatic sources suggested that the administration might go along with it if some of the clauses were toned down, which was done. The resolution was introduced by Egypt in a surprise move; and after Israeli pressure and a statement by President-elect Trump influenced Egypt to delay the vote, it was re-introduced by four other non-permanent Security Council members (New Zealand, Malaysia, Senegal and Venezuela) and quickly passed.

PM Netanyahu has credibly accused the Obama Administration of colluding to push the resolution through, saying that it initiated [the resolution], stood behind it, coordinated on the wording and demanded that it be passed, although the administration denies this. Israeli sources claim that Joe Biden called the president of Ukraine and pressured him to vote for it.

It is true that the US has abstained on anti-Israel resolutions in the past, and even voted affirmatively on some. For example, the Carter Administration voted for UNSC resolution 465 in 1980, which contained some similar language to the present resolution (although President Carter claimed the vote was an unintentional foul-up). Most of these resolutions condemned specific actions of Israel, such as the abduction of Adolf Eichmann in 1960 or the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981. But in todays climate of vituperation, hatred and threats against Israel by so many actors in so many different venues, the support of the US for Israel at the Security Council has come to have greater significance. Obamas action is therefore perceived as a serious withdrawal of support.

Does it matter that the US abstained rather than voting for the resolution? After the vote, Ambassador Samantha Power said (at length) that she abstained rather than voting for the resolution because of the well-known anti-Israel bias of the UN, and because it was too narrowly focused on settlements and didnt give enough emphasis to Palestinian terrorism. She indicated that she would have vetoed it if it had not contained what I called the fig leaf provision condemning terrorism and incitement.

The fact is that the abstention and the long, relatively friendly to Israel speech made by Ms Power will have absolutely zero effect on the consequences of this resolution. The speech will be forgotten, but the content of the resolution will not.

Practically, how bad is this for Israel? It doesnt appear to have any immediate, direct effects. It has no significance in international law. It will not cause Israel to withdraw from the territories and it might even spur Israel to build more in the territories and Jerusalem or even extend Israeli law to parts of Judea and Samaria.

But it may be only the opening volley in a diplomatic campaign, which could play out before January 20. It sets the stage for follow-on resolutions under Chapter VII that could call for real sanctions against Israel or ICC prosecutions of its leaders, and the requirement for the Secretary General to report every three months will generate even more anti-Israel activity at the UN. It might be cited as a reason for arrest and harassment of Israelis abroad under the principle of universal jurisdiction, or even an ICC prosecution without a Chapter VII resolution. It will be used to justify boycotts, and even terrorism.

And perhaps most important in the short term at a time that worldwide hatred and threats against the Jewish people and the Jew among nations are greater than ever before, it will encourage Israels enemies, who will take it as a sign that the international community, including the US, is behind them.

The terrorist veto

Dear Mr. President-Elect and Mr. Prime Minister,

You understand that you are being tested, do you not?

Mr. Trump, they want to know if you are as tough as you say you are and if you will live up to your promises. And Mr. Netanyahu, will you for once confront an issue head-on instead of finding a way to deflect it?

Im talking about the embassy.

Jerusalem has been Israels capital since the cease-fire agreements were signed in 1949. The Knesset, the seat of Israels government, has been there ever since except for a few months in 1949, when it met in a Tel Aviv theater while a more permanent location was prepared. Jerusalem was also the capital of the Kingdom of Judah under King David around 1000 BCE. Israel has never had another capital.

When the city was divided and part of it was occupied by Jordan, it remained the capital of Israel. Even if under some hypothetical peace agreement the city were to be re-divided, it would still be the capital of Israel. The argument that recognition of this fact somehow presupposes the outcome of negotiations or is an obstacle to peace is ludicrous. Nobody is talking about putting the embassy in a disputed part of the city. It would be no different than the Knesset.

Some point to the 1947 UN partition resolution (UNGA 181), which called for all of Jerusalem to be placed under international control, as a justification for denying Israels clear title. But this resolution was a non-binding recommendation and it was never implemented, since the Arabs chose to try to settle the question of a Jewish state by war. If the US Administration and State Department insist on this, then they should also insist that much of the Galil and the Negev also dont belong to Israel, following the map of resolution 181. They dont, because they realize that it would be insane to do so.

The non-recognition of Israels capital is no less than a denial of Israels sovereignty. What else does it mean to say that a state cant choose its own capital city on its own territory?

Mr. Trump and Mr. Netanyahu, if you do not proceed with the transfer of the embassy, you will be allowing the gang of murderers and thieves that the international community and the Israeli government has cravenly anointed as the leadership of the Palestinian Arabs, to exercise a terrorists veto over this overdue recognition of Israels sovereignty.

PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat recently said that such a move would create chaos, lawlessness and extremism. He also promised that the infuriated Arab public around the world would force US embassies in their countries to close (presumably by means of rocks and firebombs). Erekat said that moving the embassy would legitimize Israels illegal annexation of eastern Jerusalem. I hate to repeat myself, but how does moving it to western Jerusalem do that?

Erekats comments are meant as a threat that he will invoke the terrorists veto. He knows that you, Mr. Trump, dont want to see US embassies worldwide under siege, and that you, Mr. Netanyahu, dont want to be blamed for yet another intifada in which Israelis, Jewish and Arab, will die. The gangsters of the PLO are confident that this technique that they have employed countless times will be successful yet again.

But appeasement is not the way to respond to terrorism. Surely weve all learned that by now! If the US embassy may not be located in Jerusalem, then why should the Knesset and the Prime Ministers office be there? If Jerusalem isnt part of Israel, why is Tel Aviv? Maybe the Jews should all move back to Poland, Iraq and Russia?

Giving in to blackmail seems like the easy way out, but in the end you will pay ten times as much.

This is a test, Mr. Trump and Mr. Netanyahu. Please dont fail it.

Sincerely,

Vic Rosenthal
Abu Yehuda

A national purpose

ERETZ-ISRAEL was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped. Here they first attained to statehood, created cultural values of national and universal significance and gave to the world the eternal Book of Books.

After being forcibly exiled from their land, the people kept faith with it throughout their Dispersion and never ceased to pray and hope for their return to it and for the restoration in it of their political freedom. Beginning of Israels Declaration of Independence, May 14, 1948

Today there is a deepening ideological divide on one important issue among Israeli Jews. Its not especially useful to simply refer to it as left vs. right, although ones opinion on this issue usually predicts where one falls on the political spectrum. It is a divergence of opinion about what kind of country we want to have. Its the disagreement about defining a Jewish state.

To see how diverse views are on this subject, here are two quotations. The first is from Aharon Barak, Israeli Supreme Court Chief President from 1995-2006, the person most responsible for the constitutional revolution that has made the Court the most powerful branch of government in Israel, more so than the Cabinet and the Knesset combined:

The content of the phrase Jewish state will be determined by the level of abstraction which shall be given it. In my opinion, one should give this phrase meaning on a high level of abstraction, which will unite all members of society and find the common among them. The level of abstraction should be so high, until it becomes identical to the democratic nature of the state. The state is Jewish not in a halachic-religious sense, but in the sense that Jews have the right to immigrate to it, and their national experience is the experience of the state (this is expressed, inter alia, in the language and the holidays).

The basic values of Judaism are the basic values of the state. I mean the values of love of man, the sanctity of life, social justice, doing what is good and just, protecting human dignity, the rule of law over the legislator and the like, values which Judaism bequeathed to the whole world. Reference to those values is on their universal level of abstraction, which suits Israels democratic character, thus one should not identify the values of the state of Israel as a Jewish state with the traditional Jewish civil law. It should not be forgotten that in Israel there is a considerable non-Jewish minority. Indeed, the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish state are those universal values common to members of democratic society, which grew from Jewish tradition and history.

What Barak did (Hillel Neuer, in the article in which this appears, calls it breathtaking intellectual legerdemain) was to stipulate that Jewish values are identical to the liberal humanistic ones that underlie the secular Western morality that characterizes the most progressive elements in Europe and the US, apparently on the grounds that the latter grew from Jewish tradition and history.

If anything specifically Jewish were to remain from this creative abstraction, Barak noted further that there is a considerable non-Jewish minority who, it is implied, must not be coerced by laws derived from Jewish tradition that were not subsequently adopted by secular progressive humanists.

In other words, according to Barak, democracy demands that only that part of Jewish tradition with which non-Jews agree can have a part in the definition of the Jewish state. Baraks idea of a Jewish state is a Hebrew-speaking liberal democracy with a Jewish majority, a Law of Return, Jewish holidays, and so forth.

Now let us look at another point of view, this one from Zeev Jabotinsky, which was quoted by Menachem Begin when he presented his government to the 9th Knesset in 1977:

Indeed, the true nucleus of our national uniqueness is the pure fruit of the Land of Israel. Before coming to the Land of Israel we were not a nation and we did not exist. On the soil of the Land of Israel the Jewish nation was forged from the fragments of various peoples. On the soil of the Land of Israel we grew and became citizens; we harvested the belief in one god, breathing in the winds of the land, and as we struggle for independence and sovereignty we were enveloped by the winds and our bodies were fed by the grain which grew on our soil. The ideas of our prophets developed in the Land of Israel, and it was there that the Song of Songs was penned. Everything that is Jewish in us was given to us by the Land of Israel. Everything else that is in us is not Jewish. The Jewish people and the Land of Israel are one and the same thing.

Neither Jabotinsky nor Begin were religious in the sense that the term is used in Israel today. Both of them believed in democratic governance and in granting full civil rights to non-Jewish citizens of Israel. And yet both were firmly committed to the idea that there was a transcendent connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. Either would have been strongly opposed to the view of the state as no more than a Hebrew-speaking democracy with a right of return for Jews (although Begin personally respected Aharon Barak and appointed him legal adviser for the Camp David negotiations with Anwar Sadat).

We could put it this way: Barak wants a state whose essence is liberal democracy, and which is accidentally by virtue of its Jewish majority Jewish; and Jabotinsky and Begin wanted one whose essence is to be an expression of Jewish nationhood on its land, and which has chosen to accomplish this in the form of a liberal democracy.

These two competing visions imply seriously different directions in policy, particularly in connection with questions of sovereignty in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem. Leaving aside the question of whether territorial compromise would be more likely to lead to peace or war which is at the heart of the left-right divide the Jabotinsky-Begin people believe that the historical and religious heart of the Jewish nation is located across the Green Line, and that giving up sovereignty over them would make it impossible for the state to carry out its true purpose: to be a vehicle for the restoration of the Jewish nation to its own land. Baraks followers, conversely, think that keeping sovereignty is dangerous to the states primary purpose, which is to be a liberal democracy.

Im with Begin and Jabotinsky and the Declaration of Independence. Baraks vision contradicts itself. He wants to keep the Law of Return, the Hebrew language, the Jewish holidays and so forth. But he has no way to justify this on purely democratic grounds. Arab citizens of Israel have called for a democratic state founded on equality between the two national groups with a Law of Return for Palestinians, equal status between Hebrew and Arabic, and more. Baraks principle that Jewish = democratic factors out the Jewish part, and leaves him with no argument against them. It also leaves the state with no ideological foundation. Liberal democracy is a form of government, not a reason for being.

Is such a foundation necessary for national survival? I think it is. France, Germany and Sweden are (or were) nation-states, created to provide an expression for the national aspirations of their peoples. But Europe decided to reject nationalism, to declare national aspirations dangerous. Now Europe is struggling with birthrates below replacement level, and some leaders have even chosen to commit national suicide by inviting migrants to solve their manpower problems and in the process wash away their native cultures.

Most ordinary Israeli Jews understand that Zionism is more than liberalism, that a Jewish state is more than a democratic state, and that Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem are more than bargaining chips in a peace process. Most of them are uneasy about what is happening to Amona. Most of them, religious or not, think Jews should be allowed to pray on the Temple Mount.

Israel needs a national purpose greater than just being a refuge or a neighborhood. Such a transcendent purpose is found in Judaism and the Torah. Thats why those whom we call religious tend to agree with Jabotinsky and Begin on this issue. But following their example, it is not necessary to be observant in order to understand and respect the historical connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, and to see its settlement by Jews as the overriding national goal of a Jewish, Zionist state.

The truth is a minority opinion

This morning I got an email from an American correspondent asking what are the arguments for the legitimacy of Israeli communities (not settlements) across the Green Line, including all of Jerusalem. When I responded, I realized that although I have written about this before, it needs to be repeated and repeated, because in this case the truth is a minority opinion. So here is a slightly more complete version of my answer:

The Jewish people have a legal, historical and moral right to live anywhere in the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean; and the only sovereign power in this region is Israel, the state of the Jewish people. Here is why:

From a legal point of view, the land was originally a part of the Ottoman Empire, which ceased to exist at the end of WWI. Palestine was set aside for the Jewish people by the Palestine Mandate, which was supposed to be administered for their benefit by Britain, which then tried to subvert it for its own interests. Its clear that while the intent of the Mandate was that all residents would have civil rights, rights to a national home were reserved for the Jewish people, who were also explicitly granted the right of close settlement on the land. This was affirmed for all the land from the river to the sea by the representatives of the international community in 1923.

The partition resolution of November 1947 (UNGA 181) was non-binding a recommendation for a permanent settlement after the end of the Mandate. But it was never implemented. In 1948, the Arabs rejected the UNs partition resolution and invaded the territory of the former Mandate, blatantly violating the UN Charter in an attempt to acquire the territory for themselves. The 1949 ceasefire agreement that ended hostilities was not a peace agreement, and both sides insisted that that the ceasefire lines were not political boundaries. Their only significance was to mark the locations of the armies when the shooting stopped.

The 19-year Jordanian annexation of the territory it controlled that followed was illegal, only recognized by Britain (and maybe Pakistan). This occupation did not change the status of the land in any way.

The state of Israel was declared in 1948 and recognized by numerous other states. But what were its borders? Certainly not the armistice lines and not the recommendations of the partition resolution. However, legal scholars Eugene Kontorovich and Avi Bell recently provided a clear answer:

Israels borders and territorial scope are a source of seemingly endless debate. Remarkably, despite the intensity of the debates, little attention has been paid to relevance of the doctrine of uti possidetis juris to resolving legal aspects of the border dispute. Uti possidetis juris is widely acknowledged as the doctrine of customary international law that is central to determining territorial sovereignty in the era of decolonization. The doctrine provides that emerging states presumptively inherit their pre-independence administrative boundaries.

Applied to the case of Israel, uti possidetis juris would dictate that Israel inherit the boundaries of the Mandate of Palestine as they existed in May, 1948. The doctrine would thus support Israeli claims to any or all of the currently hotly disputed areas of Jerusalem (including East Jerusalem), the West Bank, and even potentially the Gaza Strip (though not the Golan Heights)

Israels practical acquisition of sovereignty over all the land in 1967 is thus entirely legitimate. And since Israel did not occupy land belonging to any other sovereign power, it is incorrect to refer to Judea and Samaria as occupied territory. Naftali Bennetts statement that you cant occupy your own land is precisely correct.

Article 49 of the 4th Geneva convention, the usual justification for saying that settlements are illegal only applies to occupied territory, which Judea and Samaria are not. But even if they were occupied territory, the intent of article 49 was to prevent forcible transfer of a population the way the Nazis sent German Jews to occupied Poland, not people moving of their own free will.

From a historical point of view, the Palestinians claim that they lived here for generations and European Jews came and displaced them. But in fact all but a few Palestinians are descended from Arabs who migrated to the area for economic reasons after the advent of Zionism, and even fewer arrived before the invasion by Muhammad Ali in the 1830s. The Jewish connection to the land doesnt need further explication. Judea and Samaria, in fact, represent the biblical heartland of the Jewish people, where its history took place and where its holy places are located. If there is any part of the land of Israel that should belong to the Jewish people, it is Judea (including Jerusalem) and Samaria.

From a moral point of view, the Palestinians have had criminal leaders that have relied on war and terrorism to achieve their goals. Haj Amin al-Husseini started several pogroms in pre-state Palestine, and then collaborated with Hitler in his attempt to bring the Holocaust to the Middle East. Yasser Arafat and the PLO popularized airline (and other) hijacking to blackmail nations into supporting his goals, and was responsible for at least one major regional war (Lebanon 1982) and countless massacres and terror attacks against Israel and other nations. Hamas explicitly calls for genocide against Jews and is guilty of numerous war crimes. Palestinians have refused territorial compromises when offered and have started several wars against Israel (1947, second intifada, Hamas wars). Why should they be allowed to benefit from these actions?

Jerusalem. One interesting additional issue is the insistence of the US State Department that no part of Jerusalem, eastern or western, belongs to Israel. The 1947 partition resolution called for Jerusalem to be under international control. But as I noted, the resolution was only advisory and was never implemented. The Mandate did not give any special status to Jerusalem. The State Departments insistence on this point is inconsistent, given that it appears to agree that Acco and Nazareth, which were to be parts of the Arab state proposed in 1947, are currently parts of Israel. It is also indefensible. And the deliberate vehemence with which the Obama Administration has pressed this view is irrational, insulting and clearly anti-Zionist.

I hope the information in this post will be helpful to my correspondent, and to others as well. Ill add that nothing would make me happier than to hear the Government of Israel make an unambiguous declaration of sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, as is our legal, historical and moral right.

The Third Lebanon War will be the Last Lebanon War

hizpositionsmap

If Ive learned anything in my relatively comfortable and placid life it is that despite my good luck, evil is real. Sometimes it grows and sometimes declines. Today its gathering strength.

Hezbollah came into being in 1985, as a response to the Lebanese Civil War, Western interventions, and the Israeli invasion and its aftermath. Its stated goals were the elimination of Western influence, the assertion of Islamic (Shiite) dominance over Lebanon, and the destruction of Israel, which its founders saw as a tool of the West and an ally of Lebanese Christians.

Its attitude toward Israel is shown by this snippet from an open letter published by its founders in a Lebanese newspaper:

hizbstatement

The month-long Second Lebanon War in 2006 was fought by an IDF grown complacent from years of occupation duty and a leadership team (PM Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Chief of Staff Dan Halutz) who were only marginally competent. While Hezbollah suffered heavy losses and much Lebanese infrastructure was destroyed, Israel was unable to stop the heavy rocket fire on the northern part of the country, which continued until a UN-brokered cease-fire came into effect. 120 IDF soldiers and 43 Israeli civilians were killed, and as many as a half-million Israelis were displaced as a result of Hezbollah rocket attacks. Israel tried to destroy Hezbollahs leadership both from the air and by commando operations, and failed to do so. UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which was negotiated by Livni to end the fighting, proved worthless in preventing Hezbollah from rearming and rebuilding military infrastructure. Wikipedia called the result a stalemate, and I agree.

By 2016, Hezbollah has achieved most of its goals. It now completely controls Lebanon for all intents and purposes. It has not destroyed Israel, and after its bloody skirmish with the IDF ten years ago, it seems to have decided that it will wait until its chance of success is much greater. Over the years it has lost most of its autonomy to its Iranian patron. Nothing illustrates this more clearly than the way it has been used to fight and suffer many casualties on behalf of Iranian interests in Syria.

Militarily, Hezbollah seems to grow stronger as time goes on, despite its losses in 2006 and more recently in Syria. In the 2006 war, it fired about 4,000 rockets into Israel, mostly inaccurate short-range Katyusha or Grad rockets with a range of about 30 km. Although it possessed some longer-range rockets, they were destroyed by IAF bombardment before they could be launched. Hezbollah had about 13,000 rockets at the beginning of the war.

Today, thanks to Iran, it is estimated that Hezbollah has at least ten times as many rockets, many of them capable of longer ranges and/or larger payloads, and some with guidance systems that make it possible to hit a precise target, like a military base or industrial installation. Hezbollah has also made plans for incursions into Israel to kidnap civilians or even to hold territory, possibly by way of tunnels like those constructed by Hamas. If Hezbollah is allowed to actualize its plans, the destruction wrought in Israel will be worse by far than in any previous war.

War is terrible no matter how it is fought, but Iran has planned our next one with a particularly diabolical twist: as the map preceding this post shows, it has embedded rocket launchers and other military infrastructure in civilian residential areas. A 2013 report describes an Iranian-funded program to enlist residents of southern Lebanon as human shields:

the Shiite terror group launched a major social/real-estate project that bolstered its political standing: It purchased lands on the outskirts of the villages, built homes on these lands and offered them to poor Shiite families at bargain prices (to rent or buy), one the condition that at least one rocket launcher would be placed in one of the houses rooms or in the basement, along with a number of rockets, which will be fired at predetermined targets in Israel when the order is given.

In addition, Hezbollah has set up camouflaged defense positions in villages which contain advanced Russian-made anti-tank missiles it had received from Syria. Hezbollah gunmen have planted large explosive devices along the access roads, and inside the villages structures that were purchased by the organization were converted into arms caches.

In this manner some 180 Shiite villages and small towns situated between the Zahrani River and the border with Israel have been converted into fighting zones in which Hezbollah is preparing above and below ground for the next conflict with Israel. Hezbollah has some 65,000 [now more than twice that number vr] rockets and missiles at its disposal.

The deliberate use of civilians as shields is a war crime, prohibited by the Geneva Convention. But according to the rules of war, an action that causes casualties among civilians is not considered disproportional if the force used was necessary to achieve a military objective. In other words, if a Lebanese family is killed because there is a missile launcher firing from its garage, Hezbollah has committed a war crime, and Israel has not.

Israel has warned Hezbollah and the Lebanese government on numerous occasions over the past several years most recently when it declassified and released the map above on Tuesday. Officials from the Prime Minister on down have made it clear that a rocket attack will be met with overwhelming force targeting the launchers and other infrastructure, regardless of where it is located. The IDFs Deputy Chief of Staff recently said that the next war would do devastating damage to Lebanon. They have correctly stated that both morally and legally, Hezbollah will be responsible for civilians that are hurt or killed as a result.

But emotional appeals are powerful, especially when it is claimed that children are being hurt. In 2006, Hezbollah made use of humanitarian concerns both real and fabricated (fascinating link!) to sway opinion against Israel. Even Condoleezza Rice was influenced to call for a cease-fire by the bombing of a building in which civilians including children were killed (although its likely that the number of casualties was inflated and heart-rending photos were faked).

This technique, also used by Hamas, will certainly be repeated. During the 2014 Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, US Secretary of State John Kerry sarcastically referred to a pinpoint operation after 13 IDF soldiers and 62 Palestinians were killed in the battle of Shujaiyya, where civilians were warned to evacuate but did not do so because of Hamas threats. President Obama also reacted to a widely-criticized attack on a UN school in Jabaliya and even held up shipments of arms to Israel as a result.

The use of human shields is therefore an effective political and psychological weapon, either because officials and the public are actually affected by emotional appeals or find it convenient to use them as justifications for the actions that they would like to take anyway.

But today Hezbollah is entirely different from Hamas. Tehran has built it into an existential threat. If war breaks out we will have to unleash as quickly as possible the most powerful conventional weapons at our disposal against the rocket launchers. Look at the map! Perhaps such an attack would kill tens of thousands in Lebanon. But theres no alternative. Israel is a tiny country with a concentrated population. We cant absorb hundreds of missiles an hour, especially accurate ones with heavy payloads. We cant afford to wait, not even a few minutes, once it starts.

Incidentally, if Hezbollah and Iran want to reap the benefit of the human shield strategy, then now is the time to do it. I suspect that Trump and his advisors would be less biased against Israel than the present administration, and therefore less likely to interfere with Israels response. Our enemies probably agree with me, and this means war is more likely in the next two months than at a later time. Maybe thats why our officials have made the effort just now to ensure that Iran and Hezbollah understand the consequences of their possible actions.

It only makes sense to threaten Iran as well. The regime would be happy to sacrifice Lebanon and its people to destroy Israel, and the regime is pulling the strings, not Nasrallah. There need to be consequences for Iranian leaders too.

Evil is growing stronger and good is retreating. Deterrence may put off the reckoning for a time, but unless something completely unforeseen happens, the day will come when our PM will have to give the order to save one nation by destroying another. Im glad Im not the one to do it.

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