Sunday, March 22, 2015

Why Netanyahu Gave Pope Francis His Father’s History of the Spanish Inquisition

An old story (dating from 2013), but interesting nonetheless -- from The Tablet: Why Netanyahu gave Pope Francis his father’s history of the Spanish Inquisition
Benjamin Netanyahu had an audience with Pope Francis in Rome, where he invited the supreme pontiff to Israel and presented him with a variety of gifts. One of them, as you can see in the photo above, was a Spanish translation of a history of the Spanish Inquisition, written by Bibi’s late father, Ben Zion Netanyahu. At first glance, The Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain
looks like a rather awkward selection. After all, when visiting with the pope, it’s probably best not to remind him of his institution’s role in the infamous persecution and torture of innocent Jews. Certain things would seem better left unsaid on state visits.

But this isn’t your typical history of the Spanish Inquisition. In fact, Ben Zion Netanyahu’s revisionist account of the event was so controversial that when he passed away in April 2012, the New York Times chronicled the debate over it in his obituary. Understanding the book’s unique argument enables us to understand why Netanyahu chose to give such an ostensibly undiplomatic gift to the Pope. ... Read the rest

Monday, July 21, 2014

  • Israel's humanitarian aid to Gaza continues. Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs 08/14/14:
    Despite the constant fire into Israel, the Kerem Shalom crossing remained open during Operation Protective Edge and the flow of goods and fuel into the Gaza Strip continued.

    The Kerem Shalom crossing continues to operate with high security. The IDF acceded to the request of hundreds of Palestinians who hold foreign citizenship to leave the Gaza Strip. The Erez Crossing in northern Gaza also remains open to Palestinian pedestrians for humanitarian cases.

  • IDF Field Hospital Treats Gazan Civilians Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 08/12/14:
    Israel has done something that would be unthinkable in other nations in times of war: it has set up a field hospital at the Erez Crossing, on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip. The aim of the field hospital, which opened on Sunday, July 20, is to provide humanitarian care to Gazan civilians injured during the current conflict between the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas terrorists.

    Major Guy Inbar, spokesperson for the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), said that, as of August 11, the field hospital had treated 51 people. Among them were women, children and the elderly.

    This is despite efforts by Hamas to dissuade Gazans in urgent need of care from visiting the facility, added Inbar.

    “The hospital started as an initiative of COGAT’s general to give first assistance and humanitarian aid to Palestinians injured since the beginning of the operation [in Gaza],” he said.
    “Some of the Palestinians received first and immediate aid and returned to Gaza; some were in critical condition and were transferred for further treatment to Israel, the West Bank or Jordan.”

  • Cement delivered to the Gaza Strip used to build tunnels Israeli Minisry of Foreign Affairs. 08/12/14:
    Cement was needed by Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the Gazan civilian population after Operation Cast Lead to build new buildings and rebuild those that had been damaged during the operation. However, Hamas made wide use of the cement that reached the Gaza Strip or was manufactured there to rebuild its military infrastructure and to construct new military-terrorist facilities.

    A significant amount of the cement was allotted to building the extensive system of attack tunnels exposed during Operation Protective Edge, smuggling tunnels, and defensive tunnels under Gaza's urban landscape. The cement was also used to construct posts and facilities for weapons storage, military training and rocket launching.

    Allotting the cement to military purposes at the expense of Gazan civilian needs was part of Hamas' strategic concept of giving priority to rebuilding and upgrading its military capabilities.

  • Caught on camera: A Hamas squad assembles and fires a rocket right across the street from a reporter's hotel room in Gaza New Delhi Television. 08/05/14. [Video]
  • Gaza Bishop: Hamas Used Church to Fire Rockets CBN News. 08/06/14.
  • Review of Hamas violations of international law Elder of Zion 08/01/14.
  • Hamas threatening journalists in Gaza who expose abuse of civilians Times of Israel 07/28/14.
  • For Israel, by John J. Conley, S.J. America :
    As imperfect as any other government, the State of Israel should not be immune from criticism. Many unilateral claims and histories will require correction through patient diplomacy if any simulacrum of peace is to be achieved in this tormented region. Every effort should be undertaken to de-escalate the current outbreak of violence and to reignite negotiations toward an equitable reconciliation. Nonetheless, our growing moral obsession with the mote in Israel’s eye is disturbing. This scapegoating suggests that an ancient, lethal prejudice has yet to die.
  • Moral Clarity in Gaza, by Charles Krauthammer. 07/17/14:
    Israel accepts an Egyptian-proposed Gaza cease-fire; Hamas keeps firing. Hamas deliberately aims rockets at civilians; Israel painstakingly tries to avoid them, actually telephoning civilians in the area and dropping warning charges, so-called roof knocking.

    “Here’s the difference between us,” explains the Israeli prime minister. “We’re using missile defense to protect our civilians, and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles.”

    Rarely does international politics present a moment of such moral clarity. ...

  • The Gaza Rules, by William Saletan. "Israel, unlike Hamas, isn’t trying to kill civilians. It’s taking pains to spare them." 07/18/14.
  • The Palestinian ‘Genocide’ Lie, by Jonah Goldberg. National Review 07/16/14. "It’s a moral scandal that it’s even necessary to debunk equating Israel with the Nazis."
  • Hamas is Destroying Gaza, by William Saletan. "The Palestinian militants are showing an utter disregard for their own people." 07/16/14.
  • Top Nine Gaza Media Myths CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America). 07/21/14. "With Israeli ground action in Gaza now underway, in response to ceaseless Hamas attacks, the usual media myths and misrepresentations about Gaza are being recycled, with some new ones thrown in. Here are some of the key myths, gleaned from present and past coverage ..."
  • I'm Done Apologizing for Israel, by Rabbi Menachem Creditor. Huffington Post 07/21/14:
    Israel is treating wounded Palestinians during this conflict, risking Israeli lives in surgical strikes to destroy weapons-smuggling tunnels created with building materials Israel allowed into Gaza for infrastructure projects to benefit Palestinian society. Just for a moment, consider the deaths that would result from Israel wishing harm on Palestinian civilians. In just the last 48 hours, Israel has allowed over 10 tons of goods into Gaza. During the past weeks, Israel has agreed to two humanitarian cease-fires. In the first hours of those ceasefires, Hamas rained down over 70 missiles onto Israel civilians.

    I ask: What do Israel's enraged critics truly desire?

  • Hamas is playing a dangerous game with Gazan lives Washington Post 07/15/14. "Why would Hamas insist on continuing the fight when it is faring so poorly? The only plausible answer is stomach-turning: The Islamic movement calculates that it can win the concessions it has yet to obtain from Israel and Egypt not by striking Israel but by perpetuating the killing of its own people in Israeli counterattacks."
  • Hamas killed 160 Palestinian children to build Gaza terror tunnels | Inside the Hamas tunnel terror network The Tablet

Monday, June 16, 2014

Pope Francis' "Invocation for Peace" between Israel and Palestine

Monday, May 26, 2014

Pope Francis' Visit to Israel

Addresses by Pope Francis

Media Coverage

  • Photo Story of Pope Francis’ Historic Pilgrimage to the Holy Land Salt and Light TV. 05/28/14.
  • Pope, arriving in Holy Land, calls for religious freedom in Middle East 05/24/14.
  • At Amman Mass, pope calls on Christians to promote peace Catholic News Service. 05/24/14.
  • At River Jordan, pope meets suffering, speaks against arms trade Catholic News Service. 05/24/14. Jordan's powerful and marginalized joined together at the banks of the River Jordan to welcome Pope Francis at the site believed to be where Jesus was baptized.
  • When Pope Francis asked an Israeli Reporter, "How Can I Help?", by Gerard O'Connell. America 05/24/14:
    On 13 June 2013, Pope Francis granted an interview to Israel’s Channel 2 TV at Santa Marta, the Vatican guesthouse where he lives. That interview made history; it was the first time that a TV crew entered Santa Marta to interview the pope.

    What is not known, however, is that immediately afterwards Francis asked to speak in private with the TV reporter, Henrique Cymerman. He opened the conversation with a highly significant question regarding the Israeli-Palestinian situation: “How can I help?” and he then followed up with a series of other pertinent questions. ...

  • Bayit Yehudi denies boycott of Pope Jerusalem Post 05/25/14. Fewer than 10 ministers greeted Pope Francis, much fewer than US president Barack Obama in 2013; Bayit Yehudi had no representative at the greeting ceremony, insists there was not planned boycott of the pope.
  • Pope concludes first day in Israel with visit to Jerusalem Jerusalem Post 05/25/14.
  • Francis prays in silence before the Wall of division La Stampa "Vatican Insider" 05/25/14:
    Pope Francis has touched the Wall of Division. In a resounding unscheduled stop during his visit to the Holy Land, before the Mass in Bethlehem’s Manger Square, the Bishop of Rome asked to be driven in front of a point of the cement barrier that Israel has been constructing since 2002 and that runs largely through Palestinian occupied territory, contravening international laws. There, Pope Francis remained a few minutes in total silence, surrounded by a group of young Palestinians.

    It was a silence that said more than a thousand speeches could, before the wall that, as the Mayor of Bethlehem Vera Baboun has said, also separates the Birthplace of Jesus from the place of his Resurrection. ...

  • Pope invites Israeli, Palestinian leaders to Rome to pray for peace, by Francis X. Rocca. Catholic News Service. 05/25/14:
    Pope Francis invited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Shimon Peres to pray together at the Vatican for peace between their nations. ...

    arriving at Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv, Pope Francis was greeted by Peres and by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. There the pope repeated his invitation to Peres using exactly the same words with which he had invited Abbas.

    He also urged Israel to stay on the "path of dialogue, reconciliation and peace," saying "there is simply no other way."

    "The right of the state of Israel to exist and to flourish in peace and security within internationally recognized borders must be universally recognized," the pope said. "At the same time, there must also be a recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to a sovereign homeland and their right to live with dignity and with freedom of movement."

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Jesus as "Palestinian" - the ramifications of Historical Revisionism

  • More Christmas Lies from Palestinians Commentary 12/23.13:
    However one approaches the narrative about Christianity’s origins, there is no doubt that the historical Jesus was a Jew, not an Arab. The only point of transforming him into a Palestinian Arab is to hijack the history of biblical-era Judaism in order to burnish the myth that current-day Jews have no place in the land of Israel.

  • Why Do Christians Tolerate Palestinian Historical Revisionism?, Evelyn Gordon. Commentary 12/26/2013:
    ... the most striking aspect of this story is that objections to such historical revision come almost exclusively from Jews, whereas many Christian churches and organizations seem to have no problem with it. After all, it’s not only Jewish history and the Jewish religion Palestinians thereby erase; they are also erasing Christian history and the Christian religion.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Francis and Netanyahu shake hands: “All is resolved through dialogue”, by Giacomo Galeazzi. On December 2nd, Francis held a cordial meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu who gave him a book by his father on the Inquisition in Spain in the fifteenth century:
“To the great pastor and guardian of our common heritage” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote as a dedication to Francis in the book The Origins of the Inquisition in Spain in the fifteenth century which he gave to him at today’s meeting in the Vatican. In the current geopolitical context, the expected scenario was a meeting between the Israeli hawk and the Vatican dove. But what we saw was a frank and constructive meeting on some thorny issues regarding the Middle East. ...

Monday, April 8, 2013

Pope Francis on the Holocaust

Pope Francis on the Holocaust, by Eloisa Perez-Lozano. 04/08/13:
“The great powers washed their hands, looked the other way, because they knew much more than what they were saying,” Francis says.

He points out that the Holocaust is a genocide, like others in the twentieth century, but it has something the others do not have. According to Francis, there is an “idolatrous construction against the Jewish people.”

“The pure race, the superior being, are the idols on which the basis of Nazism was formed,” he says. “It is not only a geopolitical problem, there also exists a religious-cultural issue.”


Sunday, March 31, 2013

Pope Francis, Rome chief rabbi exchange Passover, Easter greetings

ROME (JTA) – Pope Francis and Rome’s Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni exchanged greetings to mark Passover and Easter.

The two holidays overlap this year.

The holidays, Di Segni wrote to the pontiff, “represent both the link and the separation between our religions.” He noted that over history Easter often was the occasion of anti-Semitic attacks. Today, however, “these days are experienced by both faiths in joy and harmony,” a fact for which he paid tribute to “all those people who have been committed to this healing.”

Di Segni offered a prayer for the pope “in the spirit of respect and brotherly friendship” with the hope that the lord “renders us able to reciprocally understand the sense of difference and the value of brotherhood.”

In his own message to Di Segni on the eve of Passover, the pope prayed that “the Almighty, who freed His people from slavery in Egypt to guide them to the Promised Land, continue to deliver you from all evil and to accompany you with His blessing. I ask you to pray for me, as I assure you of my prayers for you, confident that we can deepen [our] ties of mutual esteem and friendship.”

On Sunday, Christian pilgrims from around the world marked Easter in Jerusalem, where Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal led Mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is believed to be the place where Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead on Easter.

Source: JTA News 03/31/13.


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Following the Escalation of Conflict in Hamas - Recommended Reading

It has been a while since I've posted to this blog and I apologize for the silence. Work and other projects have kept me preoccupied. But with the recent renewal of Hamas' terrorist attacks it seems opportune to mention some recommended reading.
  • First and foremost when Israel makes the news, I find myself turning to Elder of Zion -- an ironic play on the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, it is one of the best Israeli blogs that I know of for up-to-date information, news and commentary on the conflict. (Pro-Israeli bias? Why yes, of course).
  • Jeffrey Goldberg @ The Atlantic writes from a left-of-center perspective, but still provides beneficial reading. For instance, he notes an alternative timeline to the Gaza escalation (drawing attention to Egypt and Iran's provision of arms to Hamas) as well as commenting on the press' obsession with "proportionality":
    ... The casualty count is lopsided, but why? A couple of reasons: Hamas rockets are inaccurate; Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system is working well. But the Israeli body count isn't low because Hamas is trying to minimize Israeli casualties. Quite the opposite: Hamas's intention is to kill as many Israelis as possible. Without vigilance, and luck, and without active attempts by the Israeli Air Force to destroy rocket launchers before they can be used, the Israeli body count would be much higher. The U.S. judges the threat from al Qaeda based on the group's intentions and plans, not merely on the number of Americans it has killed over the past 10 years. This is the correct approach to dealing with such a threat.
    Jeffrey is also author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror, a story of his friendship and ongoing dialogue with Rafiq, a member of the PLO, when he served as a prison guard for the IDF.
  • CAMERA: Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting - Founded in 1982, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America is a media-monitoring, research and membership organization devoted to promoting accurate and balanced coverage of Israel and the Middle East. On the latest conflict, for example, they point out ten things the Huffington Post got wrong about Gaza (a response to The Huffington Post's Nov. 15 piece, “Ten Things You Need to Know About Gaza,” written by Mehdi Hasan), and wonders at the dearth of media attention to Hamas' instructions to civilians to "stay put"-- employing their use as "human shields" for their rocket positions.
  • Backspin, the official blog of, provides regular updates countering media spin in the BBC and Associated Press (among others).
  • Yaacov Lozowick is the author of Right to Exist: A Moral Defense of Israel's Wars -- his blog is dedicated to "personal musings on Israel, Jewish matters, history and how they all affect each other."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Saturday, July 2, 2011

"When John Paul II nearly recognized Israel"

When John Paul II nearly recognized israel: an untold story , by Lisa Palmieri-Billig. Vatican Insider June 25, 2011:
John Paul II wanted Vatican recognition of Israel long before December 30, 1993 when diplomatic relations were sealed in Jerusalem with the signing of the Fundamental Agreement between the State of Vatican City and the State of Israel.

Clear signs of John Paul II’s intentions were already evident in his April 20, 1984 Apostolic Letter “Redemptionis Anno” when he used the term “State of Israel” for the very first time in an official Vatican document (“For the Jewish People who live in the State of Israel and who preserve in this land such precious witness of their story and faith, we must invoke a desired security and just tranquility which is the prerogative of every nation and condition of life and progress for every society.”)

Ambassador Nathan Ben-Horin - a retired Israeli diplomat who served three times as Israel’s unofficial emissary to the Vatican in the Rome Embassy between 1961 and 1985 is presently in Rome for the launch of his recent book, "Nuovi Orizzonti tra ebrei e cristiani". In this interview, he explains the change in world circumstances that first impeded and then made possible the historic breakthrough between the Vatican and Israel. ... [Read the rest].

Saturday, April 2, 2011

“From the time of Jesus to today we have never had better relations”

From 30 Giorni [30 Days] magazine, October 2010, an interview with Shimon Peres, President of Israel.

Goldstone Recants Goldstone Report

Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and war crimes, by Richard Goldstone. (Washington Post April 1, 2001):
We know a lot more today about what happened in the Gaza war of 2008-09 than we did when I chaired the fact-finding mission appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council that produced what has come to be known as the Goldstone Report. If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.

The allegations of intentionality by Israel were based on the deaths of and injuries to civilians in situations where our fact-finding mission had no evidence on which to draw any other reasonable conclusion. While the investigations published by the Israeli military and recognized in the U.N. committee’s report have established the validity of some incidents that we investigated in cases involving individual soldiers, they also indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.

(And no, despite the date, it's not an April Fool's joke). Jeffrey Goldberg:
We now have a situation in which the founder of Human Rights Watch has denounced his organization for spreading falsehoods about Israeli actions in the Gaza war, and in which the author of the United Nations report condemning Israel now condemns his own work. Who is going to go next?
CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) asks:
While that's a dramatic and notable admission, the question remains: Why didn't he know then what was known then?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Pope Benedict's meeting with the ADL

The Pope Will Be There David Mills. First Things' "First Thoughts" November 6, 2010.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Pope meets Israeli president

Pope Benedict XVI and Israeli President Shimon Peres met in a private audience this week as the first direct peace talks in two years between Israeli and Palestinian leaders were launched in the United States. Catholic Herald has he report:
... According to a written statement released on September 1 by the presidential spokesman, Mr Peres wanted to ask the Pope for assistance in the return of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who was kidnapped from the Gaza border four years ago and is believed to be held in the Gaza Strip.

The president also wished to express concerns over Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the potential impact a nuclear weapons arsenal in Iran would have on the Middle East, the statement said.

Details about the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as how to strengthen relations between Israel and the Vatican, were other talking points Mr Peres intended to discuss with the Pope, it said.

At the end of the papal audience, the president gave the Pope a silver menorah made by an Israeli artist.

He had the following personal dedication inscribed on the foot-tall menorah: “To his Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, the shepherd who seeks to lead us to the fields of blessings and the fields of peace. With great esteem, Shimon Peres, president of the State of Israel.”

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

George Weigel stands "in defense of Israel's legitimacy"

In Defense of Israel’s Legitimacy George Weigel. First Things' "On The Square" August 18, 2010:
Last month, I was happy to join with former Spanish prime minister Jose Maria Aznar, Nobel Peace Prize laureate David Trimble, Italian philosopher and political leader Marcello Pera, and several other international figures in launching a global “Friends of Israel” Initiative, which debuted in the United States in a July 8 Wall Street Journal op-ed article. The initiative, begun under Mr. Aznar’s leadership, intends to challenge the campaign of moral and political delegitimation to which the State of Israel has been subjected in recent years—a campaign which my colleagues and I believe has grave moral and strategic implications for the entire West.

As we stated in our joint Journal op-ed, we are an eclectic group: none of us speaks for any Israeli government; all of us have our disagreements with Israeli policy. More importantly, however, we are agreed on the following, basic points ... [more]


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Israel confronts the Gaza Freedom Flotilla (Ongoing Roundup)

NOTE: This roundup will be continuously updated with further information

This past Memorial Day weekend, "Israel boarded a Gaza-bound 'Freedom Flotilla' and killed an indeterminate number of innocent bystanders as they attempted to take control international waters."

Well, at least that's the take of Henry Karlson of Vox Nova -- who appears to be taking his talking points from Egyptian passenger Hazem Farouq:

"It was hell on the sea. I saw Israeli soldiers killing activists in cold blood and then walking on their bodies ... The Israeli soldiers sprayed bullets as if they were a mafia in an American film."

Unfortunately, as with such accounts of Israel's actions, the facts tend to get in the way. Let's examine the various claims of this Catholic blog regarding what happened this weekend ...

Tantamount to Piracy?

[Henry Karlson @ Vox Nova] Israel is claiming the massacre is justified because their soldiers were attacked. They fail to point out they were attacked when they were boarding a vessel they had no lawful authority to board, acting like pirates who think they control the seas.
For what it's worth, the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs provides a page explaining the legal background behind the Gaza flotilla and the maritime blockade of Gaza:
A maritime blockade is in effect off the coast of Gaza. Such blockade has been imposed, as Israel is currently in a state of armed conflict with the Hamas regime that controls Gaza, which has repeatedly bombed civilian targets in Israel with weapons that have been smuggled into Gaza via the sea. [...]

[I]t should be noted that Israel publicized the existence of the blockade and the precise coordinates of such by means of the accepted international professional maritime channels. Israel also provided appropriate notification to the affected governments and to the organizers of the Gaza protest flotilla. Moreover, in real time, the ships participating in the protest flotilla were warned repeatedly that a maritime blockade is in effect. [...]

Given the protesters explicit intention to violate the naval blockade, Israel exercised its right under international law to enforce the blockade. It should be noted that prior to undertaking enforcement measures, explicit warnings were relayed directly to the captains of the vessels, expressing Israel's intent to exercise its right to enforce the blockade.

Not only did Israel convey explicit warnings against breaking the blockade, but the interception came after numerous appeals to governments, organizations, and flotilla organizers ahead of their departures, and also during their journeys towards the Gaza shore [to convey the humanitarian supplies by another route]:
In these appeals, it was clarified to the flotilla organizers that they would be able to anchor in the Ashdod port, unload their equipment and transfer it over to the Gaza Strip in an organized manner after it would undergo accepted security checks. When flotilla organizers made it clear that they had no intention of cooperating and accepting the invitation to the Ashdod port, it was decided to intercept the boats and to bring them to the Ashdod port.
Consequently, Israel believed it was well within its rights to enforce a declared blockade. See also Israel, the Flotilla and International Waters (discussion with Yaakov @


Ed Morgan, a professor of international law at the University of Toronto, offers a helpful primer on the "Law of the Sea", by which we can judge the flotilla incident:
A naval blockade is defined in Article 7.71 of the U.S. Naval Handbook as “a belligerent operation to prevent vessels and/or aircraft of all nations, enemy as well as neutral, from entering or exiting specified ports, airfields, or coastal areas belonging to, occupied by, or under the control of an enemy nation.” It is designed to stop ships from crossing a cordon separating the enemy’s coast from the high seas. It is therefore often enforced in what would otherwise be international waters approaching, but not necessarily inside, the territorial sea of the blockaded party. [...]

A maritime blockade is for security purposes only, and must allow humanitarian assistance to the civilian population. Since the ships sailing for Gaza were on a declared humanitarian mission, those on board had the right to expect that any humanitarian goods would ultimately find their way to their intended recipients. On the other hand, having announced its blockade, Israel had no obligation to take the ships’ crew at their word as to the nature of the cargo. The blockading party has the right to fashion the arrangements, including search at a nearby port, under which passage of humanitarian goods is permitted. San Remo specifies that this inspection should include supervision by a neutral party to prevent the unwarranted seizure of humanitarian supplies and the abuse of humanitarian assistance by the blockaded party.

Finally, the rule of proportionate force, applicable to all armed conflict, applies equally to a naval blockade. Blockading navies are obliged to arrest a ship rather than simply fire on it, and once its soldiers are on board an arrested ship their actions must be proportionate to the threat that they meet. While Israel appears to have met the other criteria eliminating a macro offence, here the facts will have to be gathered from witnesses and videos to determine what level of force was truly needed at the spot where the paintballs met the hammers.

A disproportionate or justified use of armed force?

[Henry Karlson @ Vox Nova] Probably those who attacked the soldiers were acting reflexively without thinking. Let alone the moral question, in all practicality, this was not the wisest thing to do, because the soldiers were heavily armed and could take control of the ship without difficulty.
(Elder of Ziyon notes), these would be the same "peace activists" who attacked the IDF commandoes with chains and iron rods, throwing them over railings, stabbing them, and calling for a repeat of Mohammed's massacre of Jews at Khaybar. By contrast, the soldiers by their account were not "heavily armed" but rather were woefully unprepared -- armed with equipped with paintball rifles used to disperse minor protests, and handguns as a last resort in life-threatening situations (as reported by Yediot Ahronot).

Here's how one IDF soldier described the incident:
"We went down with our bare hands and met passengers with glass bottles and clubs," said one fighter squadron participated in the operation.

"We were lynched," testified one of the fighters in the hospital. "For every person that came down, three or four people beat him. They were all with metal batons, knives, glass bottles. At one point there was live fire."

"In fact I got there last," said a fighter squadron in an interview with Channel 2 News. "I saw the guys scattered on the deck surrounded each of them with about four people beating him."

"Trying to defend myself I probably broke my hand . All who got on board had no weapons in hand, but their bare hands," explained the soldier. "We came to work things out, but they came for war - the gun was absolutely our last resort."

According to Army Radio reporter Gal Lev-Rom, "the soldiers said they were truly not prepared to face violence of this nature":
“The activists had many things ready for an attack on the soldiers,” Lev-Rom said, “including, for instance, a box of 20-30 slingshots with metal balls; these can kill. There were also all sorts of knives and many similar things. These are what they call ‘cold’ weapons, as opposed to live fire. It was quite clear that a lynch had been prepared.”

Lev-Rom said, however, that it appears the army, “even though it prepared for many different scenarios, was not ready for this one. The army seems not to have known what type of people were there and what type of weapons they had. It was hard for Israel to conceive that the ship, sponsored by the country of Turkey, would have such weapons. Israel was prepared to deal with anarchists, and instead had to deal with terrorists – that’s the feeling here.”

A Reuters cameraman on the Israel Navy ship Kidon, sailing close to the convoy, said IDF commanders monitoring the operation were surprised by the strong resistance (Haaretz):
One of the commandos said some of the soldiers were stripped of their helmets and equipment and a several were tossed from the top deck to a lower deck, forcing them to jump into the sea to escape.

"They jumped me, hit me with clubs and bottles and stole my rifle," one of the commandos said. "I pulled out my pistol and had no choice but to shoot."

The soldiers said they were forced to open fire after the activists struck one of their comrades in the head and trampled on him. A senior IDF field commander ordered the soldiers then to respond with fire, a decision which the commandos said received full backing the military echelon.

The IDF said its rules of engagement allowed troops to open fire in what it called a "life-threatening situation".


According to Free Gaza's account of the events, "Under darkness of night, Israeli commandoes dropped from a helicopter onto the Turkish passenger ship, Mavi Marmara, and began to shoot the moment their feet hit the deck. They fired directly into the crowd of civilians asleep."

However, a Turkish paper published pictures of Israeli commandos taken hostage during the initial moments of the flotilla raid, which reveals Free Gaza's claim to be a complete fabrication. The blog Elder of Ziyon comments:

The Turkish newspaper that published the pictures of the IDF soldiers today does not use the meme of ruthless IDF soldiers shooting from the helicopter and murdering civilians within seconds of landing on deck - nor do the pictures support that narrative in the least. Rather, they prove Israel's version of events completely. Yet the Turkish press, as we had seen Friday from some of the Arabic press, instead say how weak and ineffectual the IDF soldiers were, all but mocking them for not using lethal force initially.

The newspaper notes, with glee, the fear in the soldiers' faces captured in the photos. It discusses how the brave "humanitarians" fought the mighty IDF with sacks of onions. The article calls the soldiers "amateurish" and "incompetent."

To the supporters of the IHH and its partners, the IDF's reticence in using lethal force is a clear sign of weakness, not a sign of caring about human life.

  • "We had no choice" - "They had murder in their eyes". The Jerusalem Post gives an eyewitness account of the commando who killed six of the attackers:
    The 15th and last naval commando from Flotilla 13 (the Shayetet) to rappel down onto the ship from the helicopter, S. said on Thursday that he was immediately attacked by what the IDF has called “the mob of mercenaries” aboard the vessel, just like the soldiers who had boarded just before him.

    Looking to his side, he saw three of his commanders lying wounded – one with a gunshot wound to the stomach and another with a gunshot wound to the knee. A third was lying unconscious; his skull was fractured by a devastating blow with a metal bar.

    As the next in the chain of command, S., who has been in the Shayetet for three and a half years, immediately took charge.

    He pushed the wounded soldiers up against the wall of the upper deck and created a perimeter of soldiers around them to begin treating their wounds, he said. He then arranged his men to form a second perimeter, and pulled out his 9 mm. Glock pistol to stave off the charging attackers and to protect his wounded comrades.

    The attackers had already seized two pistols from the commandos, and fired repeatedly at them. Facing more than a dozen of the mercenaries, and convinced their lives were in danger, he and his colleagues opened fire, he said. S. singlehandedly killed six men. His colleagues killed another three.

    Humanitarians and "Peace activists"

    Henry Karlson (Vox Nova) moves on to describe the convoy itself and it's "humanitarian mission":
    "The Freedom Flotilla carries more than 10,000 tons of relief and developmental aid to Gaza, along with roughly 700 participants from more than 30 countries, among them volunteers from Canada, South Africa, Algeria, Turkey, Macedonia, Pakistan, Yemin, Kosovo, the UK and US and Kuwait – and an exiled former Archbishop of Jerusalem who currently lives in the Vatican."

    Here we see the situation involves not just Muslim nations, but many of the nations of the West, such as the United States. We also see that the retired Archbishop of Jerusalem is on board the ship, indicating the active role the Church has had in this humanitarian aid.

    The archbishop in question would be Father Hilarion Capucci
    ... the archbishop of Jerusalem during the 1960s and early 1970s, was arrested by Israeli security forces in 1974 for material support of a terrorist organization. According to Paul Merkley, a historian and author of the book Christian Attitudes Towards the State of Israel, Capucci used his official limousine and "the cover of his priestly office to personally smuggle explosives, submachine guns, and even katyusha rockets into Israel, which were then used in PLO terrorist actions accounting for the loss of many lives."

    The Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement on its English language website this week, announcing the priest's participation in the flotilla and claiming that "the Israeli occupation exiled father Capucci from Palestine because of his honorable national stands."

    Sentenced to fifty-seven years in an Israeli prison, the gunrunning clergyman was granted a reprieve in 1977 after direct intervention from the Vatican. The Catholic Church called for Capucci's release on the grounds that his incarceration only served to "aggravate tension."

    The Church promised Israeli authorities that Capucci would cease all involvement in political issues regarding the state of Israel. Since that time Capucci has positioned himself as a prominent anti-Zionist activist. In 2009 he was arrested and transferred to Syria by Israeli security forces after attempting to illegally enter Gaza by sea. The former terrorist is also active in promoting the right of return for those Arabs who fled during the 1948 invasion of the newly declared state of Israel.

    According to the former archbishop, the founder of his religion was "the first Fedayeen" and he was merely "following his example."

    So much for the "Church's involvement" -- what about the rest of the occupants?

    As Jonathan Schanzer (Weekly Standard) points out, the convoy of ships allegedly trying to bring aid to the Gaza Strip was organized by a group belonging to an officially designated terrorist organization:
    The Turkish IHH (Islan Haklary Ve Hurriyetleri Vakfi in Turkish) was founded in 1992, and reportedly popped up on the CIA's radar in 1996 for its radical Islamist leanings. Like many other Islamist charities, the IHH has a record of providing relief to areas where disaster has struck in the Muslim world.

    However, the organization is not a force for good. The Turkish nonprofit belongs to a Saudi-based umbrella organization known to finance terrorism called the Union of Good (Ittilaf al-Kheir in Arabic). Notably, the Union is chaired by Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, who is known best for his religious ruling that encourages suicide attacks against Israeli civilians. According to one report, Qardawi personally transferred millions of dollars to the Union in an effort to provide financial support to Hamas.

    In 2008, the Israelis banned IHH, along with 35 other Islamist charities worldwide, for its ties to the Union of Good. This was a follow-on designation; Israelis first blocked the Union of Good from operating in the West Bank and Gaza in 2002. [Read the rest]

    See also: IHH's support and finance of radical Islamic terror networks - a report by The Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, according to which it's pretty clear that the activists aboard the Flotilla were hoping to provoke a confrontation with Israel:

    On April 7, 2010, IHH head Bülent Yildirim told a press conference in Istanbul that the flotilla would be a “test” for Israel. He said that should Israel oppose the flotilla it would be considered “a declaration of war” on the countries whose activists arrived on board the ships (IHH website, April 7, 2010). In a fiery speech given at the launching of the Mavi Marmaris on May 23, he said to Israel, “Handle this crisis well. If you prevent [the flotilla from reaching the Gaza Strip] you will remain isolated in the world and harm yourselves” (IHH website in Turkish, May 23, 2010). On May 21 Muhammad Kaya, head of IHH’s branch office in the Gaza Strip, said there was a plan to send flotillas to the Gaza Strip every month (Al-Jazeera-Info website,, May 21, 2010).
    Violence and possibly "martyrdom" against Israel was not only anticipated, but sought after according to Dr. Abd Al-Fatah Shayyeq Naaman, lecturer in Shari'ah law at a university in Yemen:
    "The [Gaza] flotilla commander said yesterday: 'We will not allow the Zionists to get near us and we will use resistance against them.'

    How will they wage resistance? They will resist with their fingernails. They are people who seek Martyrdom for Allah, as much as they want to reach Gaza, but the first [Martyrdom] is more desirable."

    [Al-Aqsa TV (Hamas), May 30, 2010]


    The International Muslim Brotherhood had a heavy hand in orchestrating the flotilla, reports Thomas Jocelyn (Weekly Standard June 3, 2010):
    [T]he flotilla was organized in large part by a radical Turkish Islamist organization named IHH (Islan Haklary Ve Hurriyetleri Vakfi). The IHH, in turn, is part of a Saudi-based umbrella group called the Union of Good, which was created by Hamas. [...]

    The Union of Good’s leaders include Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, a top Muslim Brotherhood cleric, and Sheikh Abd al Majid al Zindani, who heads Yemen’s Islah party. Zindani and the Islah party have deep Brotherhood roots.

    In other words, the IHH is an offshoot of the Union of Good, which is in turn an offshoot of the Brotherhood -- as is Hamas.

    Jocelyn goes on to investigate various flotilla passengers' connections to the Muslim Brotherhood. See also MEMRI's extensive investigation and profile of the flotilla passengers: "Writing Wills, Preparing for Martyrdom, Determined to Reach Gaza or Die".

    Not without reason does Israeli ambassador Michael B. Oren describe the flotilla as "An Assault, Cloaked in Peace" (New York Times June 3, 2010):
    What the videos don’t show, however, are several curious aspects Israeli authorities are now investigating. First, about 100 of those detained from the boats were carrying immense sums in their pockets — nearly a million euros in total. Second, Israel discovered spent bullet cartridges on the Mavi Marmara that are of a caliber not used by the Israeli commandos, some of whom suffered gunshot wounds. Also found on the boat were propaganda clips showing passengers “injured” by Israeli forces; these videos, however, were filmed during daylight, hours before the nighttime operation occurred.

    The investigations of all this evidence will be transparent, in accordance with Israel’s security needs.

    And The Washington Post now charges the Turkish government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan with responsibility for the flotilla fiasco:
    Turkey's ambassador to the United States makes the argument that Israel had no cause to clash with the "European lawmakers, journalists, business leaders and an 86-year-old Holocaust survivor" who were aboard the flotilla. But there was no fighting with those people, or with five of the six boats in the fleet. All of the violence occurred aboard the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara, and all of those who were killed were members or volunteers for the Islamic "charity" that owned the ship, the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH).

    The relationship between Mr. Erdogan's government and the IHH ought to be one focus of any international investigation into the incident. The foundation is a member of the "Union of Good," a coalition that was formed to provide material support to Hamas and that was named as a terrorist entity by the United States in 2008.

    Against the Distribution of Humanitarian Aid?

    What of the humanitarian supplies that Israel was dead-set against giving to the Gazans? (Jerusalem Post June 4, 2010):

    Twenty-four hours after the last ship of the Gaza aid flotilla entered the Ashdod Port under the watchful eye of the Israeli Navy, all of the equipment on board was examined Tuesday and the majority of it was loaded onto trucks headed to the Kerem Shalom border crossing. The flotilla’s flagship, the Marmara - where the clash between Israeli commandoes and the passengers took place and which held the participant’s personal belongings - had yet to be fully inspected.

    In a statement to reporters at the port on Tuesday, Colonel Moshe Levi, commander of the IDF’s Gaza Strip Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA), said that none ofthe equipment found on board the three cargo ships was in shortage in Gaza.

    In fact, on the topic of humanitarian aid to Gaza, see this report: Behind the Headlines: The Israeli humanitarian lifeline to Gaza (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs):
    Large quantities of essential food items like baby formula, wheat, meat, dairy products and other perishables are transferred daily and weekly to Gaza. Fertilizers that cannot be used to make explosives are shipped into the Strip regularly, as are potato seeds, eggs for reproduction, bees, and equipment for the flower industry.

    In 2009 alone, more than 738,000 tons of food and supplies entered Gaza. Pictures in local newspapers show local markets aplenty with fruit, vegetables, cheese, spices, bread and meat to feed 1.4 million Gazans.

    In the first quarter of 2010 (January-March), 94,500 tons of supplies were transferred in 3,676 trucks to the Strip: 48,000 tons of food products; 40,000 tons of wheat; 2,760 tons of rice; 1,987 tons of clothes and footwear; 553 tons of milk powder and baby food.

    In a typical week the IDF coordinates the transfer of hundreds of trucks containing about 15,000 tons of supplies. During the week of May 18, 2010 there were more than 100 truckloads of animal food, 65 trucks of fruit and vegetables; 22 truckloads of sugar, some 27 truckloads of meat, poultry and fish; and 40 trucks of dairy products. At holiday times, Israel increases transfers. During the Muslim holy days of Ramadhan and Eid al-Adha, Israel shipped some 11,000 heads of cattle into the Strip.


    Israel's attempts to deliver the humanitarian aid were thwarted by Hamas, who refused to accept the cargo (CNN June 2, 2010):
    Palestinian sources confirmed that trucks that arrived from Israel at the Rafah terminal at the Israel-Gaza border were barred from delivering the aid.

    Ra'ed Fatooh, in charge of the crossings, and Jamal Khudari, head of a committee against the Gaza blockade, said Israel must release all flotilla detainees and that it will be accepted in the territory only by the Free Gaza Movement people who organized the flotilla.

    Israel said it had 20 trucks of aid found on the ships, such as expired medications, clothing, blankets, some medical equipment and toys.

    Israel has released all foreign flotilla detainees by Wednesday, but four Israeli Arabs remain in custody.

    Who really cares about Gazans? -- Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt and even Syria are cooperating with Israel to distribute humanitarian aid to Gaza.

    Hamas' refusal of aid to the Gazans is to be expected. As Der Spiegel reports, "International donations are not always welcome in Gaza" (June 4, 2010):

    "People who are not in with Hamas don't see any of the relief goods or the gifts of money," Khadar says. On the sand dune where his house once perched, there is now an emergency shelter. The shelter is made of concrete blocks that Khadar dug from the rubble, and the roof is the canvas of a tent that provided the family with shelter for the first summer after the war. "Hamas supporters get prefabricated housing, furnishings and paid work. We get nothing," Khadar complains.

    The reason his family receives nothing: Like many of his neighbors, Khadar is a die-hard supporter of the Fatah party, the sworn political enemy of the more radical Islamists in Hamas. [...]

    "We knew Hamas would take the goods for themselves and distribute them at their own discretion. For us, and for many of our friends, it doesn't make any difference whether the world is trying to help us. Our situation will only improve if the blockade is lifted," Khadar explains.

    On Saturday (May 5, 2010), IDF forces piloted the Rachel Corrie to the port of Ashdod after boarding the ship. The Jerusalem Post reports:

    None were harmed in the military operation as the international activists on the ship cooperated with the boarding party. The activists went as far as lowering a ladder to the soldiers patrol boat to allow them to board, army sources have revealed.

    The military said its forces boarded the 1,200-ton cargo ship from the sea, not helicopters. Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich said Saturday's takeover took only a few minutes and that the vessel was being taken to Ashdod port.

    Prior to the takeover, three navy ships tailed the aid boat for several hours throughout the morning, a few dozen kilometers from the blockaded Strip. The army said it had contacted the boat four times and urged its passengers to divert to Ashdod, but the activists had repeatedly refused.

    Curiously, despite Gaza's need for assistance, The Free Gaza organization refused Israel's offers to facilitate the further distribution of aid from additional ships - Elder of Ziyon posts the radio exchanges btw/ ships and reports:

    The flotilla team repeatedly had said that the reason the refuse to go to Ashdod is because Israel would not allow some of their cargo to go to Gaza. Here. we hear that Israel not only offered to transfer the cement that would have been brought on the ship to Gaza, but also that it would allow a third party NGO to bring it into Gaza.

    Although their final response is not on this audio recording, Free Gaza evidently refused, although they were quite polite about it. They even helped the IDF soldiers get onto the ship.

    * * *

    I believe Israel has the right to protect its citizens from harm by way of a blockade of arms to Gaza (the controlling authority of which is Hamas, after all, an organization complicit in many terrorist acts against Israel's citizens and wholly committed to the eradication of Israel).

    However, this is not to say that Israel didn't act badly in this situation and make some grievous errors in judgement resulting in the needless deaths of Palestinians as well as its own troops. Let's admit it -- those who organized the Flotilla got what they wanted: to force the hand of Israel and achieve a major propaganda win for her enemies.

    Yaacov Lozowick (author of Right to Exist: A Moral Defense of Israel's Wars -- worth reading), has some pertinent thoughts on this matter. I agree with his conclusion: "It may have been justified, but it wasn't wise."
    Israel will not disappear, not now, not later. It is one of the most vital places on earth, bursting with creativity and hugely committed to success; this is also one of the better moments in 3000 years of Jewish history – a rather glum statement, that, but true. Yet Israel is not being wise, as the case of the flotilla shows.

    We all know that the threat from Hezbollah is greater than from Hamas, yet we don't blockade Lebanon. The price would be too high, so we grimly prepare for the next war in the hope that being prepared well enough will postpone it for a while, and in the meantime it's not an international detriment; on the contrary, perhaps we gain a measure of goodwill that we'll cash in on eventually. So why blockade Gaza? Is the blockade essential? Six months from now, or six years, we'll lift it, and Gaza will still be full of people who fervently wish for our destruction, just like in Lebanon: nu? At that point the defunct blockade will no longer be essential?

    Some military actions will always be unavoidable. Do we do our very best to ensure that when we apply force, we're doing so in the most brilliant way possible? Have we thought out every scenario, and formulated a response to every counter move our enemies will make? Couldn't we could have silently jammed the propellers of those ships, leaving them dead in the water and begging us to save them from the blistering heat? Instead of heroic victims they'd be the world's laughing stock. I'm a mere blogger, not a decision maker, so perhaps there were reasons not to go that way: but were all options considered? Was the fiasco we ended up with the sole alternative? We handed our enemies an epic propaganda victory on a silver platter: that can't have been the best option?

    See also:

  • Saturday, May 8, 2010

    Assessing the pontificate of Benedict XVI - Israeli-Vatican Relations

    Zenit News Agency, an assessment of the pontificate of Benedict XVI from the perspective of the Church's relations with the Jewish people:
    “[Benedict XVI] is a great Pope with a very strong personality but maybe people don’t understand the depth of his thought,” said the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni -- someone who has been highly critical of the Church during recent disputes. “We have a complicated relationship with him because relations between Catholics and Jews are complicated on their own, but now we have to deal with a theologian, so you cannot avoid these problems.”

    Israel’s ambassador to the Holy See, Mordechay Lewy, said Israel considers the Holy Father to be a strong friend and that “we are not deluded by the mishaps -- I won’t call them controversies -- which are due to the machinery, but not to him.” He said Benedict XVI is “well meaning” but that the “machine," meaning the Roman Curia, “has some obvious difficulties." Indeed there is a strong belief in Israel that the Curia has not been fully behind him, on this and other issues. “It’s a difficult tenure for him -- really,” Lewy said.

    Di Segni particularly admires the way the Pope is an honest broker -- “he is what he seems," he said. He hoped the Pius XII controversy will settle down but he’s not confident that it will. However, he was pleased with the Pope’s visit to Rome’s synagogue in January. It showed, he said, that this pontificate is not departing from an established path. “We needed this sign otherwise all the polemics, all the stories, would damage the atmosphere,” he said. “This showed us that the Church wants to go on.”

    Father Norbert Hofmann, the German secretary of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews, pointed out that this Pope has done just what John Paul II did, but over a period of five, not 27, years. “He’s been to Israel, he went to Auschwitz, and he’s visited three synagogues -- no pope has ever been to three, perhaps with the exception of Peter!” he joked. “I know him personally and I know it’s in his heart to improve relations with the Jewish people.”

    Father Hofmann also brushed off the well-publicized disputes. “Controversy is part of the package,” he said. “It’s part of the Jewish issue -- without controversy, you can’t have a dialogue with the Jewish people.” But he was particularly pleased with the Pope’s visit to the synagogue in Rome, and stressed that Benedict has just the right “personal qualities” for dialogue. “He’s very clear, sincere, and has a personal way of relating with people that’s very decent and humble,” he said.

    As for the future, the Holy Father and Father Hofmann are planning on reaching out to young Catholics and Jews, and Orthodox Christians, encouraging them to work closer together.

    The overall picture, therefore, is one of surprising optimism and warmth.

    “[Benedict XVI] is the Pope we have to deal with,” said Rabbi Di Segni. “But it’s an honor to deal with him, notwithstanding all the difficulties.”