Thursday, January 29, 2009

Pope Benedict addresses the Shoah; SSPX rebukes Richard Williamson's anti-semitic remarks

While I renew with affection the expression of my full and unquestionable solidarity with our brothers receivers of the First Covenant, I hope that the memory of the Shoah leads mankind to reflect on the unpredictable power of evil when it conquers the heart of man. May the Shoah be for all a warning against forgetfulness, against denial or reductionism, because the violence against a single human being is violence against all. No man is an island, a famous poet write. The Shoah particularly teaches, both old an the new generations, that only the tiresome path of listening and dialogue, of love and of forgiveness lead the peoples, the cultures, and the religions of the world to the hoped-for goal of fraternity and peace in truth. May violence never again crush the dignity of man!
Excerpt from Pope Benedict XVI's General Audience, which includes a clarification of his intentions for lifting the excommunications on the hierarchy of the SSPX as an invitation for them to "full communion with the Church, thus testifying true fidelity and true recognition of the Magisterium and of the authority of the Pope and of the Second Vatican Council."
  • Superior General of the SSPX: Bishop Williamson forbidden to speak on political or historical matters January 27, 2009:
    We view this matter with great concern, as this exorbitance has caused severe damage to our religious mission. We apologize to the Holy Father and to all people of good will for the trouble it has caused.

    It must remain clear that those comments do not reflect in any way the attitude of our community. That is why I have forbidden Bishop Williamson to issue any public opinion on any political or historical matter until further notice.

  • Note of the District Superior for Germany of the SSPX:
    The banalization of the genocide of the Jews by the Nazi regime and of its horror are unacceptable for us.

    The persecution and murder of an incalculable number of Jews under the Third Reich touches us painfully and they also violate the Christian commandment of love for neighbor which does not distinguish ethnicities.

    I must apologize for this behavior and dissociate myself from such a view.

    Such dissociation is also necessary for us because the father of Archbishop Lefebvre died in a KZ [concentration camp] and because numerous Catholic priests lost their lives in Hitler's concentration camps.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

When reality gets in the way of a good rant ...

"The Israelis withdrew after beating the living hell out of a terrorized civilian population and killing over a thousand innocent people, including hundreds of children. How noble."

Mark P. Shea, Catholic "Apologist"

There is a good reason to be skeptical of Hamas' claims of civilian casualties, given historical precedent of Palestinian sources for inflating the numbers.

A survey of recent stories indicates that we're a long way from sorting this out.

  • Gazan doctor says death toll inflated January 22, 2009:
    What really is behind the numbers reported on the number of civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip? Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera reported Thursday that a doctor working in Gaza's Shifa Hospital claimed that Hamas has intentionally inflated the number of casualties resulting from Israel's Operation Cast Lead.

    "The number of deceased stands at no more than 500 to 600. Most of them are youths between the ages of 17 to 23 who were recruited to the ranks of Hamas, who sent them to the slaughter," according to the newspaper article.

    The doctor wished to remain unidentified, out of fear for his life.

    A senior Palestinian Health Ministry official later denied the claims, and the Israel Defense Forces' estimate on the number of casualties in Gaza has also remained unchanged.

    Despite the claims, the IDF stood behind its estimate that between 1,100 to 1,200 people were killed in the Strip during the fighting, more than two-thirds of them Hamas members.

  • The number of Palestinians killed in Operation Cast Lead did not exceed five or six hundred, Lorenzo Cremonesi, a correspondent for Italy's Corriere della sera reported on Thursday Jerusalem Post:
    Cremonesi based his report on tours of hospitals in the Gaza Strip and on interviews with families of casualties. He also assessed the number of wounded to be far lower than 5,000, the number quoted by Hamas and repeated by the UN and the Red Cross in Gaza.

    "It is sufficient to visit several hospitals [in the Gaza Strip] to understand that the numbers don't add up," he wrote. [...]

    Cremonesi interviewed Gazans who echoed Israel's insistence of how Hamas gunmen used civilians as human shields. One Gazan recalled civilians in Gaza shouting at Hamas and Islamic Jihad men, "Go away, go away from here! Do you want the Israelis to kill us all? Do you want our children to die under their bombs? Take your guns and missiles with you."

    "Traitors, collaborators with Israel, spies of Fatah, cowards! The soldiers of the holy war will punish you. And in any case you will all die, like us. Fighting the Zionist Jews we are all destined for paradise. Do you not wish to die with us?" the religious fanatics of Hamas reportedly responded.

  • Elder of Zion calls attention to Hamas "creative accounting of dead terrorists":
    The shop prints customized, full-color posters and banners commemorating the dead _ a Palestinian tradition for people killed by Israel. In the wake of Israel's 22-day Gaza offensive _ which killed nearly 1,300 Palestinians _ the shop is one of Gaza's few businesses experiencing a postwar boom. ...

    While not comprehensive, the posters enter a new element into the debate over how many militants were killed by Israel. The Israel military says it killed 700, while Hamas and other militant groups say they lost 158. In its final report on the death toll, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights said 223 of the 1,285 killed in the war were fighters.

    Although the shop hasn't kept records, al-Hor guesses he has done posters for 350 people since the war's end, about 250 of them militants, suggesting the militant groups lost more fighters than they acknowledge. Other say the groups often claim the dead as members of their movements even when they were not.

  • Hamas tried to hijack ambulances during Gaza war Sydney Morning Herald:
    Palestinian civilians living in Gaza during the three-week war with Israel have spoken of the challenge of being caught between Hamas and Israeli soldiers as the radical Islamic movement that controls the Gaza strip attempted to hijack ambulances.

    Mohammed Shriteh, 30, is an ambulance driver registered with and trained by the Palestinian Red Crescent Society.

    His first day of work in the al-Quds neighbourhood was January 1, the sixth day of the war. "Mostly the war was not as fast or as chaotic as I expected," Mr Shriteh told the Herald. "We would co-ordinate with the Israelis before we pick up patients, because they have all our names, and our IDs, so they would not shoot at us."

    Mr Shriteh said the more immediate threat was from Hamas, who would lure the ambulances into the heart of a battle to transport fighters to safety. ...

    Mr Shriteh says Hamas made several attempts to hijack the al-Quds Hospital's fleet of ambulances during the war.

  • IDF: Only 250 of Gaza fatalities were civilians YNetNews. January 26, 2009:
    Gaza Division Chief Brigadier-General Eyal Eisenberg alluded to the fact that the majority of the Palestinian fatalities were Hamas operatives, but refused to specify numbers.

    The IDF has yet to verify the identity of some 200 fatalities, mostly men in their 20s, whose identification is delayed because they are still buried under the rubble. The defense establishment believed many of them would prove to be Hamas men.

    Many of the fatalities were considered to be civilians at first, because there were no weapons found with them, said a military source, "But that method of operation is consistent with the way Hamas was hiding in the midst of civilians, moving between their strongholds with no weapons. In many cases someone thought to be a civilian casualty turned out to be a Hamas operative after we ran our checks."

    The civilian-gunman casualty ratio, he added, was one to three, proving that the IDF was targeting Hamas and not civilians. The IDF stressed that the forces took significant precautions in order to avoid harming any civilians; but considering the way that Hamas chose to involve civilians in the fighting, mounting a surgical strike resulting in absolutely no civilian casualties was impossible.

  • EU envoy lays Gaza blame on Hamas BBC News. January 26, 2009:
    A senior European Union official touring war-torn Gaza has blamed the ruling militant movement Hamas for the humanitarian crisis there.

    Humanitarian aid chief Louis Michel called the destruction left by Israel's offensive "abominable", but said Hamas bore "overwhelming responsibility".

    He said there would be no dialogue with the "terrorist" movement until it gave up violence and recognised Israel.

    He also announced emergency aid for Gaza worth more than US $70m (£50m).


    Touring some of Gaza's worst-hit areas of Israel's 22-day assault which killed about 1,300 Palestinians, including 400 children, Mr Michel described the situation as "abominable, indescribable".

    "At this time we have to also recall the overwhelming responsibility of Hamas," he said.

    "I intentionally say this here - Hamas is a terrorist movement and it has to be denounced as such."

    Thirteen Israelis were killed in the conflict, and Mr Michel later visited the southern Israeli town of Sderot, the target of Palestinian militant rocket fire.

    There, he called on Israel to lift its blockade of Gaza and accused both sides of violating humanitarian law.

    "Please open the crossings, you have to broaden the range of products that you let in," he urged Israel's authorities. "We, the EU, condemn Qassam attacks and military options which target the civilian population."

To be sure, civilian deaths are lamentable, and speaking from a Catholic POV, Israel may bear some culpability. Nonetheless, there is a problem when a Catholic apologist not only parrots with a straight face blatant propaganda already crumbling under scrutiny -- but places the blame squarely on the Israeli Defense Forces, with nary a mention of Hamas.

But, you know, let's not let reality get in the way of a good rant.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Cease-fire -- as Europe pledges to keep Hamas from re-arming

Haaretz reports that One day after Israel announced a unilateral cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, six key European leaders on Sunday pledged to work to prevent Hamas from rearming:
The commitments were offered both at the Sharm al-Sheikh summit in Egypt and at a meeting in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

The six leaders - British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian President Silvio Berlusconi, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero and Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, who currently holds the European Union's rotating presidency - offered to provide troops and technological assistance to prevent Hamas from smuggling weapons and terrorists into the Gaza Strip, in cooperation with Egypt and the United States.

They expressed support for the cease-fire in Gaza and for an end to Palestinian rocket fire on southern Israel.

Olmert said that on Saturday, he also received a letter from EU leaders pledging cooperation in halting the arms smuggling into Gaza.

At the start of the Jerusalem meeting, Olmert said that Israel has no intention of staying in the Gaza Strip or reconquering it, despite its three-week offensive on the Hamas-ruled coastal territory.

* * *

During the January 18th' Angelus, Pope Benedict offered a prayer for the victims of violence in the Holy Land:

"Let us also bring before the Lord today the hundreds of children, old people, women who are innocent victims of the inconceivable violence, the wounded, those who are grieving for their loved ones and those who have lost their possessions," he said.

"I also invite you to accompany with your prayers the efforts of numerous persons of good will who are trying to stop the tragedy," the Pontiff continued. "I sincerely hope that it is seen how to profit, with wisdom, from the space opened up to reinstate the truce and move toward peaceful and durable solutions."

"In this regard, I renew my encouragement of those who, on the one side and on the other, believe that in the Holy Land there is room for all, that they help their people to rise up from the rubble and terror and courageously take up again the thread of dialogue in justice and truth," affirmed Benedict XVI. "This is the only way that they can effectively unlock a future of peace for the children of that dear land!"

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Understanding the Vatican's "Neutrality" on the conflict in Gaza

David-Maria A. Jaeger, an Israeli Franciscan Priest, defends the Vatican's "neutrality":
Now as an Israeli (and it would be the same for the citizen of any other Nation), it never displeases me to see that there are those who look at my Nation with sympathy, who wish to understand its reasons, and who are determined to comprehend even the most difficult and controversial choices of its government. And as a human being, first and foremost, it can never displease me that there are those who feel deeply for the unending sufferings of a helpless civilian population, which is even otherwise sorely tried. But as a Catholic, as a Priest, it offends me that there are those who abuse this as an occasion to attack the Church. It displeases me very much that that there are still any who obstinately refuse to recognise that the Church in general, and the Holy See in particular, do not participate, and by their nature cannot participate, in political debate, do not take sides in temporal disputes, cannot and must not do it, and that in the end it is in the interest of everybody that they do not; that there are those who decline to acknowledge that the Holy See is not simply one more voice in the often cacophonous chorus of international actors.

The Church speaks on a completely different plane. She has a completely different mission. The Church never supports one Nation against another, and never acts as arbitrator, except when invited to do so by all the parties concerned. The Church promotes solely the exigencies of humanity and gives voice to mercy, to divine and human pity, to that righteousness that love alone fulfils. If there are circumstances in which political communities, acting within the specific logic of this-worldly power-relationships, judge that they cannot avoid the recourse to force, the Church cannot be there to bless their arms. This was recognised by Benedict XV well before being confirmed by Benedict XVI.

The persistence of the Holy See in discouraging and deploring always, everywhere and in whatever circumstances, the recourse to violence, and in promoting “in season and out of season” the sole ways of peaceful dialogue, cannot be reduced to the level of the disagreements among actors on the international scene, but must be seen as the pure expression of its own mission in representation of a “Kingdom that is not of this world. To read these expressions of that which is specific to the Church as if they were simple political partisanship, or the fruit of cold diplomatic calculations, or else ostentation of some “pacifist ideology” (in opposition to other political-military doctrines), means not knowing who and what the Church is. And when those who do so are cultured persons, who should be able to know better and understand more, this kind of attitude causes much wonderment, indeed perplexity and sadness.

Let all of these critics pause for a moment and think, and let them then admit that if the Church of Christ were to abandon this her high mission, and were to lower herself to the level of just another participant in the quarrel – albeit on the side that they believe to be in the right – our world would thereby be made frighteningly and dangerously the poorer.

Personally, I can respect the Vatican's position as described by Fr. Jaeger. I would also add that this position as explicated in this essay seems to be fully embodied in the words and actions of Pope Benedict XVI.

Less so, or perhaps not at all, in Cardinal Martino, who -- in keeping with a remarkable penchant for provoking repeated controversy with the most ridiculous of remarks -- likened the situation in Gaza to "a concentration camp".

According to the New York Times, The Vatican sought to distance itself from Martino's remarks:

The Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, called Cardinal Martino’s choice of words “inopportune,” and said they created “irritation and confusion” more than illumination.

While calling the cardinal “an authoritative person,” Rev. Lombardi added that “The more authoritative voice and line would be that of the pope.”

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Israel-Hamas Conflict - A Roundup

  • Israel has defeated a special unit of Hamas trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard; and two captured terrorists admit they were "surprised" by Israel's response to Hamas' rocket attacks (Israel National News reports):
    Two captured terrorists interviewed by Maariv/NRG say that Hamas was not expecting Israel's response to the escalation in missile attacks on Israeli targets that preceded Operation Cast Lead. One of them, a 52-year-old victim of a premature detonation who had already done time in an Israeli jail, said, "Hamas took a gamble. We thought, at worst Israel will come and do something from the air - something superficial. They'll come in and go out. We never thought that we would reach the point where fear will swallow the heart and the feet will want to flee. You [Israel] are fighting like you fought in '48. What got into you all of a sudden?"

    The second terrorist, a 21-year-old, said Hamas brought order to Gaza, but also brought fear. He noted that it was dangerous in Gaza for non-Hamas members, citing an instance of his being beaten and another in which he saw a friend killed when he went to get gas. "Now they're all gone," he said. "There have been no Hamasniks in the streets since the start of the campaign."

  • Palestinian "Fauxtography" GatewayPundit. "Using children's toys, like using children's shoes, is a very effective tool for the photographer turned propagandist."

  • Gaza's True 'Disproportion', by Carlos Alberto Montaner. Washington Post January 12, 2009:
    Here's another very important asymmetry. The Jews build underground shelters in all houses near the border; they close the schools and hide the children at the least sign of danger; they treat the death of a single soldier as a national tragedy; they do everything possible to rescue their prisoners, and protect the civilian population from the consequences of war. In contrast, the authorities in Gaza, drunk with violence, fire their machine guns irresponsibly into the air to express joy or grief (causing numerous injuries), do not hesitate to install their headquarters or hide their guns in schools, mosques or hospitals, use human shields to protect themselves, turn to suicidal terrorists and reward the families of such "martyrs" with money.

    One week before Hamas broke the truce and stepped up its rocket attacks against the Jewish state (the spark that set off this conflict), I was in Israel, where I had been invited to deliver a lecture at the University of Tel Aviv. As part of the contacts organized by my hosts, I visited the Wolfson Medical Center to learn about the program "Save a Child's Heart." I was very moved. It is a foundation devoted to providing heart surgery for very poor children, most of them from the Arab world. As it happened, I witnessed the hurried arrival of a tiny 5-day-old girl, who had to be operated on at once to keep her from dying. She was brought in by her mother, a woman in a black head covering that allowed me to see only her tear-filled eyes, and her husband, a small, bearded man who watched with amazement the indescribable kindness with which a group of doctors and nurses treated the baby. The family came from Gaza.

    Since the war erupted, I have asked myself constantly what became of them all.

  • Israelis near Gaza can’t lower guard - Sebastian Rotella reports from Sderot, Israel. Los Angeles Times January 15, 2009:
    Hamas units that build and fire rockets have suffered severe losses but retain hundreds of rockets in their arsenal, intelligence officials say. The Israeli officials warn that a pipeline used for smuggling arms and components through tunnels from Egypt will resume functioning unless a concerted military or diplomatic solution shuts it down.

    And Israeli leaders assert that ending the attacks has become more difficult because Hamas fighters resort to firing from densely populated areas in Gaza, using civilians as a shield against retaliation.

    "To surround yourself with innocent people and to launch it from within a city, from within a refugee camp, is not a tactical situation," said Avi Dichter, Israel's minister of public security, during a visit to Sderot on Tuesday. He said Israeli forces "can see the line of the missile in the sky and you know exactly where it comes from. But to respond with artillery to the middle of a refugee camp, I think that everybody understands that it's impossible."

    And bad news -- the rockets are getting more and more advanced:
    Hamas smuggled in explosives and chemicals enabling the production of a more advanced generation of Qassams with a range of up to 11 miles, said an Israeli intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons. The rockets had had a range of about 7 1/2 miles.

    In addition, militants developed a network of tunnels from Egypt to smuggle in more potent Grad rockets manufactured in China, Iran and North Korea and supplied by Iran, according to Capt. Ron Edelheit, a spokesman for the Israeli military.

    "The impact is much larger because the explosives payload is much bigger," Edelheit said. "The amount of casualties is much higher. If a Qassam hits a house, everything in a room might be destroyed. When a Grad hits an apartment building, it is so much larger it can take down the whole home."

  • Can we trust the casualty numbers? -- Stephanie Guttman reminds us that as you read about the Gaza death toll, remember Jenin:
    virtually every public official in the Gaza strip, including hospital administrators, is, in effect, a Hamas appointee. It is, after all, a totalitarian regime that has crushed any remnant of a free press and thrown dissenters off the roofs of buildings. Israel thus “seriously questions Hamas’s figures,” but at this point — obviously — it has no way of doing the kind of intense forensic investigation needed to issue its own more precise estimate.

    It’s time to recall another Israeli incursion in which Palestinians used casualty numbers seemingly plucked out of the air to justify its claim that Israel was employing “disproportionate force.” In the spring of 2002, after months of near-daily suicide bombings inside Israel, the IDF decided to make a major incursion into the Jenin refugee camp ...

    The last time the Palestinians protested a "massacre of thousands", the United Nations "found no evidence of such, supported IDF claims that about 45 Palestinians had died, mostly men aged 18 to 45." When it was claimed that Israelis had shelled the "western wing" of a hospital, it was later discovered that “there never was such a wing and, in any case, no part of the hospital was shelled or bombed.”

    In What is a "child"?, blogger Elder of Zion reminds us that, while statistics given to the Western media, without exception, refer to any Palestinian Arab victim in the violence who is under 18 as being a "child", a considerable number of young adults are employed in Hamas' terrorist activities.

Would this classify as child abuse?

Nizar Rayyan, Martyr to Hatred

An Israeli air strike on a home in the Gaza Strip on Thursday killed a senior Hamas political leader Nizar Rayyan. Sadly, his 4 wifes and 11 children perished with him, persuaded by Rayyan to martyr themselves for the cause:
Surviving family members spoke to local Arab media and said that in the days before his death, Rayyan had repeatedly asked his children, "Who wants to die with me as a martyr?" The children would respond, "Yes, daddy, we all want to be with you alive or dead."

Rayyan's adult daughter, Wala, said even the younger children wished to die with their father. "If In the days before his death, Rayyan has repeatedly asked his children, "Who wants to die with me as a martyr?" you had asked my four-year-old sister Aisha, who died in the attack, she would have told you that she preferred to die as a martyr," Wala told Ma'an news.

One of Rayyan's daughter-in-laws said she was offered the chance to die with the family. She stopped by the family's large home in Jabaliya and was asked by Rayyan if she wished to die with him, his wives and their children. She agreed to die, but later left the building, shortly before the IAF strike.

As it turned out, when Rayyan offered his daughter-in-law the "opportunity" to die he had already received a phone call from the IDF warning him to evacuate his house due to an impending airstrike.

In the summer of 2006, Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for The Atlantic and the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror (Vintage), had an opportunity to interview Rayyan. He came away with convinced Why Israel Can’t Make Peace With Hamas:
I asked him the question I always ask of Hamas leaders: Could you agree to anything more than a tactical cease-fire with Israel? I felt slightly ridiculous asking: A man who believes that God every now and again transforms Jews into pigs and apes might not be the most obvious candidate for peace talks at Camp David. Mr. Rayyan answered the question as I thought he would, saying that a long-term cease-fire would be unnecessary, because it will not take long for the forces of Islam to eradicate Israel.

There is a fixed idea among some Israeli leaders that Hamas can be bombed into moderation. This is a false and dangerous notion. It is true that Hamas can be deterred militarily for a time, but tanks cannot defeat deeply felt belief.

The reverse is also true: Hamas cannot be cajoled into moderation. Neither position credits Hamas with sincerity, or seriousness.

The only small chance for peace today is the same chance that existed before the Gaza invasion: The moderate Arab states, Europe, the United States and, mainly, Israel, must help Hamas’s enemy, Fatah, prepare the West Bank for real freedom, and then hope that the people of Gaza, vast numbers of whom are unsympathetic to Hamas, see the West Bank as an alternative to the squalid vision of Hassan Nasrallah and Nizar Rayyan.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Holding Sderot Hostage

The above video was posted by Dawn Eden, who remarks on the night Hamas struck an Israeli synagogue:
While the United Nations cries out against Israel for defending itself—and takes no notice of Hamas' using its own citizens as human shields—residents of the Israeli town of Sderot, one mile from Gaza, have lived under Hamas rocket fire for eight years.

This extraordinarily moving video shows what happened at a Sderot synagogue on May 17, 2007, the night it was struck by a Qassam rocket just after congregants celebrated a scribe's completion of the temple's new Torah., a citizens-journalism site in the hard-hit town, made the above video as well as this one, taped on Thursday, after a Qassam rocket severely damaged a Sderot home. It relates how one of the firefighters responding to the hit discovered it was the home of his own parents—who were unhurt, thank God.

These and other videos on hint at the human toll that Hamas rocket attacks have taken on Israel for years. Sderot's suffering has been almost entirely ignored by the international media, save for rare exceptions ...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Vatican's response to the war between Israel and Hamas

The Italian journalist and commentator on all-things-Vatican Sandro Magister discusses the oft-perplexing policy of the Church with regard to the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, barely concealing his frustration in the title: "In Gaza, the Vatican Raises the White Flag":
The authorities of the Catholic Church do not defend the existence of Israel – which its enemies want to annihilate, and is ultimately at stake in the conflict – with the same explicit, powerful determination with which they raise their voices in defense of the "nonnegotiable" principles concerning human life.

This has been seen in recent days. The authorities of the Church, and Benedict XVI himself, have raised their voices in condemnation of "the massive violence that has broken out in the Gaza Strip in response to other violence" only after Israel began bombing the installations of the terrorist movement Hamas in that territory. Not before. Not when Hamas was tightening its brutal grip on Gaza, massacring the Muslims faithful to president Abu Mazen, humiliating the tiny Christian communities, and launching rockets every day against the Israelis in the surrounding area.

About Hamas and its vaunted "mission" of wiping the Jewish state from the face of the earth, about Hamas as an outpost for Iran's expansionist aims in the Middle East, about Hamas as an ally of Hezbollah and Syria, the Vatican authorities have never raised the red alert. They have never shown that they see Hamas as a deadly danger to Israel and an obstacle to the birth of a Palestinian state, in addition to its being a nightmare for the Arab regimes in the area, from Egypt to Jordan to Saudi Arabia.

In the December 29-30 issue of L'Osservatore Romano, a front-page commentary by Luca M. Possati, checked word by word by the Vatican secretariat of state, claimed that "for the Jewish state, the only possible idea of security must come through dialogue with all, even those who do not recognize it." Read: Hamas.

Many are prompted to wonder what kind of "dialogue" can possibly be achieved with those who not only show little inclination to engage in discourse, but, according to its fundamental statement of principles, asserts that "Israel will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors"; that militant Jihad against Israel is "an individual duty binding on every Muslim man and woman"; that "[Peace] initiatives, the so-called peaceful solutions, and the international conferences to resolve the Palestinian problem, are all contrary to the beliefs of the Islamic Resistance Movement" and that "There is no solution to the Palestinian problem except by Jihad. The initiatives, proposals and International Conferences are but a waste of time, an exercise in futility."

This past week, Cardinal Renato Martino, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, fanned the flames of controversy with a comparison of the Gaza Strip to "a huge concentration camp". John Allen Jr covered the incident:

To be fair to Martino, the full text of his comments on Gaza comes across as more balanced than the sound-bite cited above. Here's what he said, in a Jan. 7 interview with the Italian Web site Il Sussidiario ("Subsidiarity"), in my translation: "The consequences of egoism are hatred, poverty and injustice. It's always the unarmed populations who pay. Look at the conditions in Gaza -- more and more, it resembles a huge concentration camp. …What's needed is will on both sides, because both are guilty. Israelis and Palestinians are sons of the same land, and they have to be separated, like you'd do with two brothers. … If they can't come to an agreement, someone else has to feel the duty to do it. The world can't stand by and do nothing."

Yet even given that context, Martino is no naïf, having spent 16 years as the Vatican's observer to the United Nations. He had to know that his reference to a "concentration camp" could not help but call to mind the crude imagery popular in Arab and Islamic extremist circles comparing Israel to Nazi Germany. Cartoons routinely show the Star of David twisted into a swastika, Israeli Defense Forces dressed up as SS storm troopers, and so on. The comment was, therefore, the diplomatic equivalent of a poke in the eye. (That's not to mention the dubious wisdom of a Vatican official invoking the memory of World War II-era concentration camps, since the question of Christian acquiescence in the Holocaust remains a tremendously sensitive point in Christian/Jewish relations.)

This, of course, is merely the latest instance in which Israel and its supporters have complained about prejudice in the Vatican's approach to what it calls the "Holy Land" -- a linguistic convention intended to express neutrality, but taken by many Israelis as a subtle refusal to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state.

Mr. Allen, appearing sympathetic to the frustration of Israelis with the Vatican's response ("here's what drives Israelis crazy: Generally, the Vatican gets cranked up to denounce violence in the Holy Land only when it's initiated by Israel"), nonetheless emphasizes four points to put it all in context:
  1. First, the broad aim of Vatican diplomacy is to support a two-state solution that would provide stability and security for both Israelis and Palestinians. As a result, commentary from the Holy See has been critical of violence on both sides. In his Angelus address on January 1, for example, Pope Benedict XVI affirmed "the profound desire to live in peace that stirs in the hearts of the vast majority of both the Israeli and Palestinian populations, which has one again been placed at risk by the massive violence unleashed in the Gaza Strip in response to other violence." On Jan. 4, the pope implored "the authorities and those responsible on both sides, Israeli and Palestinian, to act immediately to put an end to this tragic situation."
  2. Second, in the past the most egregiously anti-Israeli line from the Vatican generally came from L'Osservatore Romano under its former editor, Italian layman Mario Agnes. A transition in leadership has meant that this time around, the tone from Vatican media has been more even-handed. A statement from Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesperson, in late December on Vatican Radio offers a case in point: "Hamas is a prisoner of a logic of hatred," Lombardi said, "Israel of a logic of trusting in force as the best response to hatred."
  3. Third, Benedict XVI has been far more willing to openly challenge Muslim leaders to repudiate violence and terrorism than John Paul II, as well as to demand "reciprocity," meaning an acknowledgement of the right to religious freedom, from majority Islamic states.
  4. Fourth, despite Martino's rhetoric, not everyone perceives an anti-Israeli tilt to Vatican commentary. After Benedict XVI condemned the violence in Gaza on Jan. 6, a prominent Saudi commentator wrote: "The pope could and should have been much more explicit. He should have convened a synod for Gaza, as he did for Lebanon. But he preferred to kowtow to the Jews, whatever their crimes and sins."

* * *

Last week, The Vatican expressed alarm over the burning of Israeli flags by Muslims protesting against Israeli actions in Gaza during Muslim prayers staged outside Italian cathedrals (according to Robert Owen of the Times (UK), reports):

Cardinal Renato Martino, head of the Vatican Council for Justice and Peace, said he was not disturbed "by prayer as such." If Muslims wished to come to St Peter's to pray, he would not object, the cardinal said. "Prayer always does good".

However prayers held recently outside the Duomo in Milan and the Basilica of San Petronio in Bologna, with thousands of prostrate Muslims facing Mecca, had been accompanied by flag burning which was not only anti Israeli but anti Semitic, with protesters carrying banners depicting the Star of David alongside the Nazi swastika. "What matters is the spirit in which one prays - and prayer excludes hate" Cardinal Martino said.

Bishop Ernesto Vecchi, vicar general of the Bologna diocese, said the Muslim prayers were "not just prayers but a challenge, not so much to the basilica itself as to our democratic system and culture". Bishop Vecchi suggested the staging of mass prayers outside Christian churches in Italy was a deliberate move "on orders from afar" as part of a strategy of "Islamisation" of Europe.

However, Abu Imad, the imam of the main Milan mosque, claimed that the demonstration had ended up on the cathedral square "by chance" at the hour of prayer, "so we prayed. There was no provocation or insult intended."

On Friday, January 9th, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, the Holy See's permanent observer at the U.N. offices in Geneva, delivered the following address regarding the conflict in Gaza (via Zenit News Service):

The Delegation of the Holy See would like to express its solidarity with both the people in Gaza, who are dying and suffering because of the ongoing military assault by the Israeli Defense Forces, and the people in Sderot, Ashkelon and other Israeli cities who are living under the constant terror of rocket attacks launched by Palestinian militants from within the Gaza Strip, which have caused casualties and wounded a number of people.

The patriarchs and heads of churches of Jerusalem marked last Sunday as a day of prayer with the intention to put an end to the conflict in Gaza and to restore peace and justice in the Holy Land. It is their conviction that the continuation of bloodshed and violence will not lead to peace and justice but breed more hatred and hostility and thus a continued confrontation between the two peoples. These religious leaders call upon both parties to return to their senses and refrain from all violent acts, which only bring destruction and tragedy. They urge them instead to work to resolve their differences through peaceful and nonviolent means.

The Holy Father, Benedict XVI, underlined last Sunday that the refusal of dialogue between the parties has led to unspeakable suffering for the population in Gaza, victims of hatred and war.

Mr. President, it is evident that the warring parties are not able to exit from this vicious circle of violence without the help of the international community that should therefore fulfill its responsibilities, intervene actively to stop the bloodshed, provide access for emergency humanitarian assistance, and end all forms of confrontation. At the same time, the international community should remain engaged in removing the root causes of the conflict that can only be resolved within the framework of a lasting solution of the greater Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on the international resolutions adopted during the years.

May I conclude with the words of Pope Benedict XVI pronounced yesterday during the annual meeting with diplomats accredited to the Holy See: "Once again I would repeat that military options are no solution and that violence, wherever it comes from and whatever form it takes, must be firmly condemned. I express my hope that, with the decisive commitment of the international community, the ceasefire in the Gaza Strip will be re-established -- an indispensable condition for restoring acceptable living conditions to the population -- and that negotiations for peace will resume, with the rejection of hatred, acts of provocation and the use of arms."

Sunday, January 11, 2009

War Crimes

An article in the New York Times -- A Gaza War Full of Traps and Trickery -- describes "a war of new tactics, quick adaptation and lethal tricks" that is now taking place, as Israel and Hamas slug it out on the streets of Gaza:
Hamas, with training from Iran and Hezbollah, has used the last two years to turn Gaza into a deadly maze of tunnels, booby traps and sophisticated roadside bombs. Weapons are hidden in mosques, schoolyards and civilian houses, and the leadership’s war room is a bunker beneath Gaza’s largest hospital, Israeli intelligence officials say.

Unwilling to take Israel’s bait and come into the open, Hamas militants are fighting in civilian clothes; even the police have been ordered to take off their uniforms. The militants emerge from tunnels to shoot automatic weapons or antitank missiles, then disappear back inside, hoping to lure the Israeli soldiers with their fire.

In one apartment building in Zeitoun, in northern Gaza, Hamas set an inventive, deadly trap. According to an Israeli journalist embedded with Israeli troops, the militants placed a mannequin in a hallway off the building’s main entrance. They hoped to draw fire from Israeli soldiers who might, through the blur of night vision goggles and split-second decisions, mistake the figure for a fighter. The mannequin was rigged to explode and bring down the building.

The deliberate exploitation of civilians by Hamas in this manner, the use of schools and mosques as ammunition dumps; the wearing of civilian clothes by Hamas' fighters -- are clear violations of internationally-agreed ethical conduct during wartime.

Yet, it is appalling how the focus of criticism, in this case as in times past, is on Israel -- a nation which by all appearances is making a concerted effort to abide my the rules of war, including the targeting of civilians.

Meanwhile, in another candid report, the New York Times reveals a scene from a Gazan hospital and the shocking reaction of one terrorist to the suffering around him:

A car arrived with more patients. One was a 21-year-old man with shrapnel in his left leg who demanded quick treatment. He turned out to be a militant with Islamic Jihad. He was smiling a big smile.

“Hurry, I must get back so I can keep fighting,” he told the doctors.

He was told that there were more serious cases than his, that he needed to wait. But he insisted. “We are fighting the Israelis,” he said. “When we fire we run, but they hit back so fast. We run into the houses to get away.” He continued smiling.

“Why are you so happy?” this reporter asked. “Look around you.”

A girl who looked about 18 screamed as a surgeon removed shrapnel from her leg. An elderly man was soaked in blood. A baby a few weeks old and slightly wounded looked around helplessly. A man lay with parts of his brain coming out. His family wailed at his side.

“Don’t you see that these people are hurting?” the militant was asked.

“But I am from the people, too,” he said, his smile incandescent. “They lost their loved ones as martyrs. They should be happy. I want to be a martyr, too.”

It is questionable whether the people of Gaza share his enthusiasm.


Friday, January 9, 2009

Former Israeli ambassador to Holy See: "people play the ostrich in the West" (regarding rising fundamentalism)

In an interview with the Catholic Herald, Israeli's former ambassador to the Holy See warns of an encroaching Islamic fundamentalism (January 9, 2009):
"In the last 12 to 15 years 85 per cent of worldwide terroristic attacks happened in moderate Muslim countries where extremist Muslims killed their own brothers in order to prevent any dialogue with the West. They want to overcome and rule those countries, but this is only phase number one.

"We cannot avoid the fact that many want to find the world living under the reign of Islam. Such is the goal of Osama Bin Laden and the Wahhabis, and Ahmadinejad of Iran and their proxies Hezbollah and Hamas.

"We're looking at a huge monster threatening the world's peace, not only for Israel. We're too small for them to deal with, the major threat is to Europe and the West. Because of a lack of interest and information people play the ostrich in the West and do not see the threat as something tangible and imminent.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Israeli-Hamas Conflict - A Roundup

  • 12-29-08: Hamas executes wounded Gazans charged with "collaborating with Israel":
    On Monday, Dr. Ashour was not the only official in charge. Armed Hamas militants in civilian clothes roamed the halls. Asked their function, they said it was to provide security. But there was internal bloodletting under way.

    In the fourth-floor orthopedic section, a woman in her late 20s asked a militant to let her see Saleh Hajoj, her 32-year-old husband. She was turned away and left the hospital. Fifteen minutes later, Mr. Hajoj was carried out by young men pretending to transfer him to another ward. As he lay on the stretcher, he was shot in the left side of the head.

    Mr. Hajoj, like five others killed at the hospital this way in 24 hours, was accused of collaboration with Israel. He had been in the central prison awaiting trial by Hamas judges; when Israel destroyed the prison on Sunday he and the others were transferred to the hospital. But their trials were short-circuited.

  • 12-30-08: "A Fatah Friend Writes: I'm Supporting the Israeli Air Force" - Jeffrey Goldberg @ The Atlantic conveys the news by way of a Palestinian friend that Fatah has been assisting the Israelis by providing information on Hamas targets. (His friend is the subject of a book, Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror -- the memoir of an American-bred Zionist and his 15-year friendship with a Palestinian insurgent).

  • 01-01-09: The New York Times recently reported on Israel's targeting of tunnels used by Hamas to smuggle weapons, explosives and arms-making materials and the efforts the IDF is making to discriminate such tunnels from those used by Gazan civilians for economic purposes:
    Both Ahmeds are businessmen; they, too, have tunnels, through which they ship consumer goods like cigarettes and snacks, like the popular Egyptian potato chips called Chipsy and Crunchy, as well as larger products like generators, televisions and washing machines.

    “It’s the No. 1 economy here,” Hillal Ahmed said. “Dollars, pounds, shekels, it all comes from the tunnels.” He laughed and opened his wallet. “We work for dollars,” he said, showing four neatly folded $100 bills. ...

    Hamas, the residents said, controls other tunnels, conduits for guns, cement, explosives and fertilizers for explosives.

    Muhammad al-Zarb said that the Israelis somehow seemed to know which tunnels were commercial and which were run by Hamas, and that they seemed to be selective in their bombing. “If someone has a tunnel for Chipsy [snacks], it seems O.K.,” he said. “When a Hamas guy has a tunnel for weapons, they bomb it.”

  • 01-02-09: The Conflict's Root Cause (Powerline). Only one side of the present conflict is raising its youth from birth to hate -- to desire nothing less but mass murder.

  • 01-02-09: "Your mother is a whore! ... NUKE ISRAEL ... Go back to the ovens. You need a big oven. That is what you need ..." -- Pro-Hamas supporters enjoying their freedom of speech in the land of the free, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Powerline.

  • 01-05-09: Gaza priest's message at Mass for peace: 'We cry and nobody hears us', by Judith Sudilovsky. Catholic News Service:
    In a center pew of St. Catherine's [adjacent to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank], Victor Zoughbi knelt in prayer.

    He told Catholic News Service after Mass he was praying "not just for the people in Gaza but also for those in Tel Aviv. Every (Israeli) soldier going into Gaza now has a mother who is sitting glued to the television with her heart in her throat. He who truly has God in his heart loves everybody."

    Zoughbi said he did not understand the purpose of Hamas' rockets, given their inaccuracy, and he emphasized the fact that there is only one Palestinian government headed by Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. In June 2007, Hamas split with Abbas' Fatah movement and took control of the Gaza Strip. Abbas' government still controls the West Bank.

    "What are we fighting over -- for a piece of land? Take the land. In the end the land will swallow us all," he said, noting that, given the situation, he was not able to speak so freely with many of his friends and acquaintances lest his loyalty be called into question.

  • 01-05-09: US couple in Israel using tub to protect kids against Hamas missiles, by Judith Sudilovsky. Catholic News Service:
    JERUSALEM (CNS) -- Americans Robin and Matthew Umberger, both 32, have been putting their three children to sleep each night in the bathtub of their home in Beersheba, Israel, to protect them against incoming Palestinian missiles.

    As the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip expanded, the militant Islamic group Hamas' resolve to hit Israeli targets continued and expanded, and for the first time Beersheba, Israel's fourth-largest city, became a target for incoming rockets, mortars and missiles.

    "The worst part is you never know when or where one will fall so we stay inside the house all day," Matthew Umberger, who is originally from Thayer, Kan., told Catholic News Service in a telephone interview. "The kids were afraid of the sirens at first but they have gotten used to it. It has been stressful for the kids. We are all tired."

    Robin Umberger said she told her children, ages 1-8, that some "bad people" wanted to hurt others but that God was taking care of their family.

    "I emphasized that when they are frightened they should pray for the kids who are in Gaza who are in danger and whose situation is worse than ours. It is very sad," said Robin Umberger, originally from Oklahoma.


    Having experienced fear for his family for a few days, he said he can now begin to comprehend the experiences of Israelis in border communities like Sderot.

    "Your perspective changes a little when the missiles start landing in your backyard," he said.

  • 01-06-09: How the U.N. Perpetuates the 'Refugee' Problem, by Natan Sharansky:
    Of course, it is easy to blame Hamas. It is they, after all, who deliberately put their weapons caches in mosques, their rocket launchers in schoolyards, and their command centers in hospitals -- all with the explicit goal of maximizing the tragedy of an Israeli response.

    Yet Hamas is not the only Palestinian group at fault. In 2005, shortly after the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, I met with the chief of staff to the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. My question to him: Now that we have uprooted thousands of Jews and empowered Gazans to be masters of their own fate, can we hope that within a year's time there will be fewer refugees in the camps? "Absolutely not," he said. "The refugees will be relocated only in the context of the final status [agreement]. How can we move them if we do not know where they will live? Maybe they will live in Israel."

    In withdrawing from Gaza, Israel made painful concessions for peace by forcibly removing Jews from their homes. And yet even the Palestinian Authority, the most moderate among Palestinian political groups, would not consider easing their own people's plight in the wake of Israel's compromise. This is because the suffering of the refugees is essential to their broader political struggle.

  • The Israeli Embassy in London has established a blog, Aid2Gaza "which aims to give as much information as possible on all the international aid being sent into Gaza."

  • 01-06-09: The Jerusalem Post reports that Hamas has set up an independent hospital in the Gaza Strip to treat its own wounded - and, according to Israeli estimates, is pilfering a significant portion of the medicine allowed into the Strip. Nonetheless, the Israeli Defense Ministry said it would continue faciliating the transfer of food and medical supplies to the people of Gaza.

  • 01-07-09: This past Friday, the Hamas television show Pioneers of Tomorrow (a child-indoctrination version of "Sesame Street") depicted the bunny Assoud dying in a Gaza hospital after an Israeli attack.

    Assaud the Jew-eating Bunny was introduced to Gazan children in February 2008:

    The Pioneers of Tomorrow children’s series produced by Palestinian group Hamas and made famous by a Mickey Mouse-looking character declaring jihad on Israel and the US, introduced Assud the Bunny.

    Assud - who said in his first episode that he would “get rid of the Jews, Allah willing, and… will eat them up” - replaced his brother, Nahoul the Bee, according to the translation from the Middle East Media Research Institute.

    [...]In an interview with the program’s host, a young girl purportedly named Saraa Barhoum, Assud talked about becoming martyrdom.

    "We are all martyrdom-seekers, are we not, Saraa?” Assud said on the show.

    Saraa said: “Of course we are. We are all ready to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of our homeland. We will sacrifice our souls and everything we own for the homeland."

    Assoud will join Farfour, Hamas' copycat version of Mickey Mouse, in Paradise. (Farfour was "martyred" by an Israeli on May 11, 2007).

    Yes, I wish I was joking.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Proportionality and Discrimination in Israel's war against Hamas

There is an aspect to the debate over "proportionality" that seems to reduce it to a mathematical tit-for-tat -- as if the governing consideration was maintaining an equal body count among both parties. A good example is this post from Vox Nova:
I’m not sure I really care about anyone’s definition of proportion if it involves over 270 dead in 7 days to “protect” from 7 dead in two years from rocket attacks in a population over 5 million. As I would likewise condemn the daily shootings in Milwaukee, I will also go out on a limb and say bombing Milwaukee would be a gross injustice, be it by the State of Wisconsin or any other entity empowered to promote justice and the general welfare.
To which DarwinCatholic responds:
I guess the question would be: Does incompetance in achieving one’s aim (I think one can hardly imagine that it’s Hamas’s intent not to actually kill many people when firing thousands or rockets into Israel) make one less deserving of retaliation for an attack? It would tend to strike me that the fact that the faction which controls the government of Gaza is constantly launching rockets into Israel would make taking them down justifiable (though one can certainly question Israel’s chosen means) regardless of whether they generally achieved their goal of killing Israelis.
David Keyes' strikes a similar note in Commentary's blog "Contentions":
Israel is like a battered woman who speaks glowingly of the days when she is beaten lightly. Any sensible nation would recognize that the number killed from such attacks is utterly irrelevant. What matters is the number of people the terrorists intended to kill and the number of citizens living in fear. Six people were killed in the 1993 World Trade Center attack. But 60,000 would have been killed has the terrorists not been so dim-witted and miscalculated the proper size of the bomb. The question arises: Should the US have responded to six deaths or 60,000 deaths? The answer is patently clear. Stupidity, incompetence and the inability to shoot accurately does not absolve terrorists of responsibility for their intentions. Israel, in other words, should respond to every rocket as if it landed directly on a restaurant or school.
Again, since Israel left Gaza in 2005, giving Palestinians an opportunity to administer their own affairs, more than 6300 rockets and mortars have been fired by Gaza into Israel -- more than 3,000 in the past year alone. It is true that the body count inflicted by Hamas is minimal -- due to a combination of Israeli's speedy reaction to warnings of impending attacks; the poor accuracy and short range of some of its rockets (such as the home-made Qassam, lacking any guidance system); and the sheer good fortune (as when a rocket hit a synagogue in Sderot shortly after services ended).

Obviously, the low Israeli body count at present is certainly not for lack of trying on Hamas' part. On December 31st, Hamas fired 60 long-range Chinese rockets at Israel ("Danger Room" 12/31/08):

These weren't short-range, home-made Qassam rockets that make up the bulk of Hamas' arsenal. Nor were they the longer-flying 122 mm Grad rockets, designed by the Soviets and made in Iran. Some of today's rockets flew an alarming 22 miles, hitting an empty school house in Beersheva, the unofficial capital of the Negev Desert region. And they were made in China.

The Israel military says that these Chinese rockets not only fly twice as far as the Grads, and four times further than the Qassams. They can "potentially cause much greater damage," too -- with "metal pallets that can spread out across a radius of up to 100 meters from the point of impact," according to YnetNews.

The presence of these rockets changes the equation significantly, placing in grave danger all communities within 24 miles of the Gaza strip.

In The Proportionality Trap" (Commentary 12/28/2008), J.G. Thayer examines some problems in deciding the "proportionate use of force" against a terrorist organization:

The notion that one should only respond to an attack with roughly the same force used by the aggressor is based on some fatally flawed presumptions.

The first is that the aggressor can be expected to respond in a rational manner. In this case, the presumption is that Hamas is actually interested in a peaceful solution and mutually beneficial situation. That is provably false. One need only look at Hamas’s charter and the group’s words and deeds to see that it is unabashedly dedicated to the absolute destruction of Israel.

The second fallacy is more subtle. The point of a “proportional” response is that it is intended to end the current hostilities and return to the status quo. And in this case, it implies that the status quo prior to the provocations was acceptable.

Hamas speaks of a “truce,” but their definition of a “truce” is one that no one else would recognize as valid. It consisted of a steady, constant bombardment of Israel by rocket and mortar shells. When they declared the truce to be at an end, they escalated the attacks, which in turn prompted Israel’s air strikes. Had Israel restrained itself to a “proportional” attack, then it would have been saying that the prior status quo — the rocket and mortar attacks reduced to one or two a day — was acceptable.

Thus far, those criticizing Israel have yet to offer a reasonable and practical suggestion as to how it can defend itself against Hamas' terror attacks.

In "Gaza and the Law of Armed Conflict", Michael Totten examines the behavior of Israel and Hamas in light of "The Laws of Armed Conflict" between civilized nations; namely, the idea of proportionality:

Proportionality, in short and according to the law, “prohibits the use of any kind or degree of force that exceeds that needed to accomplish the military objective.”

In other words, if a surgical strike is all that is needed to take out a Grad rocket launcher, carpet bombing the entire city or even the neighborhood isn’t allowed.

Hamas is still firing rockets; therefore, the IDF is not using more force than necessary to disrupt the firing of rockets. Israel, arguably, is using less force than necessary. And the IDF, unlike Hamas, does what it can to minimize injury to civilians. Militants often operate against Israel from civilian areas,” the Associated Press reported last week. “Late Saturday, thousands of Gazans received Arabic-language cell-phone messages from the Israeli military, urging them to leave homes where militants might have stashed weapons.” Israeli commanders are even warning individual Hamas leaders that their homes are on the target list so they can vacate the premises in advance.

and discrimination in the selection of targets:

Distinction, according to the Law of Armed Conflict, “means discriminating between lawful combatant targets and noncombatant targets such as civilians, civilian property, POWs, and wounded personnel who are out of combat. The central idea of distinction is to only engage valid military targets. An indiscriminate attack is one that strikes military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction. Distinction requires defenders to separate military objects from civilian objects to the maximum extent feasible. Therefore, it would be inappropriate to locate a hospital or POW camp next to an ammunition factory.”

Hamas violates this doctrine in two ways at once. Its fighters launch Qassam, Katyusha, and Grad rockets into Israeli civilian areas, and they fire those rockets from inside Palestinian civilian areas. Both are prohibited by the Law of Armed Conflict.

The law does not, however, prohibit Israel from striking legitimate military targets in civilian areas. “Although civilians may not be made the object of a direct attack, the LOAC recognizes that a military target need not be spared because its destruction may cause collateral damage that results in the unintended death or injury to civilians or damage to their property.”

Curiously, the majority of the commentary on the war has focused not so much on Hamas' ongoing terrorist attacks on Israeli towns (with the intent of killing and injuring civilians and promoting terror -- and with the stated intent of obliterating the Jewish state) as the measures Israel is taking in self-defense.

Probably the most substantial treatment of this issue that I've seen to date is the recent paper, International Law and Fighting in Gaza, by Justus Reid Weiner and Avi Bell (Jerusalem Center for Global Affairs).

Additional News & Commentary

  • Moral Clarity in Gaza, by Charles Krauthammer. Washington Post January 2, 2009. "At war today in Gaza, one combatant is committed to causing the most civilian pain and suffering on both sides. The other combatant is committed to saving as many lives as possible -- also on both sides."
  • Hard Truths About the Conflict, by Robert J. Leiber. Washington Post January 1, 2008:
    ... what we are witnessing is not a "cycle" of violence. The IDF airstrikes are a reaction to the unrelenting rocket and mortar attacks against the Jewish state. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 in the hope that the Palestinians would use the opportunity to prepare for an eventual agreement and a two-state solution in which they would live side by side in peace with Israel. Since then, there have been more than 3,500 such attacks aimed at areas of southern Israel, including over 200 launches since Dec. 19, after Hamas chose not to extend a six-month truce. The expanding range of these missiles now covers an area populated by as many as 700,000 Israelis.