Monday, January 19, 2009

The true test & Tragedy is no crime

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Tuesday -- The true test

By the time Barack Obama is sworn in today as America's 44th president, every Israeli soldier, save for Gilad Schalit, will be out of Gaza. And when President Obama starts his first full day at the White House tomorrow Hamas will already be setting the stage for the next conflagration.

The new American president will no doubt have noted Ismail Haniya's speech "thanksgiving" broadcast on Hamas TV in which Gaza's prime minister declared: "God has granted us a great victory, not for one faction, or party, or area, but for our entire people."

Briefing journalists, Hamas military officials claimed that they lost just 48 gunmen to the IDF (Islamic Jihad and other organizations suffered another 40 or so killed, they said). Hamas managed to launch 1,000 rockets and mortars at Israel, killed 80 soldiers, captured some and shot down a helicopter. With these achievements under its belt, the manufacture and smuggling of arms – described as "holy" work -- would now pick up where it left off.

Ordinary Gazans, much as they are wont to identify with Hamas's delusional sense of triumph, will find their gratification tempered by their coming face-to-face with the price paid for Hamas's "achievements" which according to Palestinian sources include 1,300 dead; over 5,000 wounded; 90,000 made homeless and over $1 billion in economic damages.

Hamas's claims notwithstanding, no IDF soldiers were captured; 10 soldiers were killed (though several in "friendly fire" incidents); some 50 troops remain hospitalized. Three civilians lost their lives. Hamas's bombardments (some 852 flying bombs packed with shrapnel) injured over 700 Israelis. Fourteen non-combatants remain hospitalized, including seven-year old Orel Yelizarov, who lies gravely injured with shrapnel in the brain.

WE WILL know soon enough whether Operation Cast Lead achieved its purpose. The test is not whether it is "quiet" in the south while the terrorist organizations take a hiatus. The true test is whether Hamas is allowed to realize its plans to rearm.

The IDF needs to intervene the moment Gaza's workshops resume producing Kassams; the instant its laboratories renew the production of explosives; and the minute tunnels under the Philadelphi Corridor are refurbished for the smuggling of weapons and supplies necessary for the arms industry. Failure to act, without delay, would instantly return Israel to the intolerable state of affairs which prevailed prior to the launching of IDF operations.

We were glad to hear Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni tell Israel Radio that she had reached an understanding with the outgoing Bush administration that Israel could act even in the absence of actual Hamas shooting. Israel also reserves the right, she said, to operate along the Philadelphi Corridor, if the pledges made by Egypt and other countries to halt weapons smuggling go unfilled. Should Hamas resume its attacks, Livni warned, it would get another dose of what the IDF dished out over the past three weeks.

Will Israelis and Palestinians have reason to recollect the flash visit, first to Sharm e-Sheikh and then to Jerusalem of six European leaders, including the voluble French President Nicolas Sarkozy? They Europeans came expressively to bolster the cease-fire, and Israel's leaders are convinced they now have part their solid support against Hamas. Each leader assured Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that Israel has every right to defend itself. Sadly, it's not self-evident that any of them meant what they said – literally.

Be that as it may, beyond doing the obvious and making certain that those who brought devastation upon Gaza aren't given the wherewithal to do so again by rearming, Europe and the international community needs to restrain itself for making Hamas the project manager and chief financial officer for the reconstruction of the Strip. EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner seems to have taken this point on board and hints that it will be difficult to rebuild Gaza while the Islamist remains opposed to peace.

So long as Hamas remains an unrepentant enemy of peace, so long as it is full-throttle committed to violence, so long as it refuses to recognize the right of the Jewish people to a homeland anywhere, and so long as it refuses to abide by the Palestinians' international commitments, Hamas can never, legitimately, be part of the solution in Gaza – not even under the fig leaf of a Palestinian unity government.


Monday -- Tragedy is no crime

You are a freshman university student on the first day of a philosophy course. Your professor poses this ethical dilemma: A devoutly religious man is shooting at you with an AK-47. He is determined to kill you and your family. Is it moral to shoot back? Before you answer; consider that he is shielded by his pregnant wife and three young children.

Ordinary Israelis know what any undergraduate not suffering from a death-wish intuitively appreciates - namely, that human beings should not intentionally injure other human beings but may sometimes need to resort to violence to keep themselves and others from harm.

We are sensitive to the heartrending loss of innocent life in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead. Arab and foreign press reports claim upwards of 1,300 Palestinians killed, including 300 children and 100 women. It will take Israeli experts time to accurately determine how many of the dead were truly non-combatants. For now, there are huge discrepancies.

Of the 900 enemy dead that Israeli intelligence had reportedly identified by last Thursday, about 250 were said to be non-combatants. The blame for their deaths rests solely with Hamas. Hamas provoked this war, and then fought it from behind Palestinian men, women and children.

Still, for some knee-jerk enemies of Israel like the 78-year-old British MP Gerald Kaufman, even the killing of "militants" is inexcusable. He's implied that Israel's shooting of a Hamas gunman is akin to the Nazis' murder of his grandmother during the Holocaust. We can have no common language with someone whose moral compass is so warped. Kaufman, like the mullahs in Iran, has convinced himself that Israel is exploiting the "continuing guilt from Gentiles" over the Holocaust "as justification for their murder of Palestinians."

That broken record won't play. Presumably, Kaufman means the "gentiles" who control the United Nations. But how sympathetic are they to Israel's right of self-defense? Or perhaps he means the "gentiles" in the international media? How convincing is it to suggest that they side with Israel in their Gaza coverage?

Even Kaufman's notoriety as a "Jewish critic" of Israel has lost its cachet - such critics are hardly a rare species.

And anyway, Kaufman has been siding with the Palestinians since 1988, when he endorsed the first intifada.

The Kaufmans of the world apart, Israel can also do no right in the eyes of those critics who believe that our existence here is an "original sin"; that since there were 600,000 Jews here in 1948 and, arguably, twice that number of Arabs, any partition of Palestine was inherently "theft." We have no claims on the hearts of those who embrace the Arab narrative so utterly.

BUT WE'VE also been let down by those who profess to believe that the Jewish people do have the right to a homeland. Why is it so hard for them to comprehend the nature of the enemy we're facing in Gaza? After all, the theology that motivates Hamas is analogous to the fanaticism that brought down the World Trade Center, exploded London's transport system, and continues to spill innocent blood from Bali to Mumbai.

Israelis are told that no matter the provocation, we are "too quick" to resort to force. As if negotiations with Hamas were an option; as if eight years was too quick.

And if we've acted so "disproportionately" in our brutal march to triumph, how come the enemy is still standing and declaring victory?

To the morally obscene charge that we've committed "genocide" in Gaza - does anyone seriously doubt that were genocide our goal, heaven forbid, there would be 500,000 dead Palestinians, and not 1,000?

What other army drops warning leaflets and makes automated warning calls prior to attacking? Why is it ethical for Hamas to fire from a mosque or over the walls of a UN facility, but unethical for our citizen-soldiers to save themselves by responding with heavy weapons?

The truth is that no Western country faced with a similar set of circumstances - fighting an enemy that principally targets non-combatants while hiding behind its own civilians - would comport itself with higher moral standards than the IDF.

Sophomoric ideals about wartime morality are barely tolerable in Philosophy 101. When mouthed by leaders and pundits who should know better, they reflect intellectual laziness and dishonesty.

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