On Oct. 5, 2012, fifteen Christian leaders sent a letter to Congress asking lawmakers to investigate Israel for violations of two U.S. laws (the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act and the U.S. Arms Control Act) which prohibit “assistance to any country which engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations” and “limit the use of U.S. weapons to ‘internal security’ or legitimate self-defense.’”
The letter has generated outrage in the Jewish community because it singles Israel out for scrutiny while giving other countries in the Middle East that receive foreign aid a pass – despite the fact that their human rights records are far worse than Israel’s. For example, the letter did not ask lawmakers to investigate foreign aid to Egypt, where soldiers equipped with U.S. funds have murdered Coptic Christians in the streets of Cairo as they protested against the failure of the Egyptian government to protect their lives and property.
By singling Israel out and ignoring the human rights misdeeds of other countries in the region, the letter promotes a troubling doubling standard. It holds Israel to one standard of conduct and its adversaries to no standard at all.
Another problem with the letter is the propagandistic and irresponsible manner in which its authors treat the issues it raises with lawmakers. In sum, the letter is an obvious attempt to blacken Israel’s reputation in the United States by mischaracterizing and de-contextualizing its actions.
Mischaracterizes International Law and U.S. Policy
For example, the letter reports “Israel continues to expand its settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, claming territory that under international law and U.S. policy should belong to a future Palestinian state.”
Interestingly enough, when the authors of the letter ask U.S. lawmakers to investigate alleged Israeli violations of U.S. law, they make specific references to the laws in question, but when accusing Israel of violating international law in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, they refer to no specific statutes or treaties. Why? What specific international law are they talking about?
There is no international law that rules that the territories in questionbelong to or “should belong” to Palestinians.In fact, thereare no legal borders to a future Palestinian state. Noris there territory recognized as specifically Palestinian.The West Bank was deliniated by the 1949 Armistice Agreements which were specifically drafted to be temporary lines subject to later settlement, and NOTpermanent borders: In fact, this was done at the insistence of the Arab parties. Here is the language: “The Armistice Demarcation Lines defined in articles V and VI of this Agreement are agreed upon by the Parties without prejudice to future territorial settlements or boundary lines or to claims of either Party relating thereto.” (See http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/arm03.asp)
An internationally recognized border wasdelineated between Egypt and Israellater as part of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty of 1979 following negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Territorial disputesbetween Jordan and Israel were resolvedand relations normalized with the Jordan-Israel Peace Treaty, following negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin and Jordanian King Hussein. The borders of a Palestinian state are similarly subject to negotiation between the two parties, Israel and the Palestinians.
And contrary to what Arab regimes claim, UN Resolutions 242 and 338 do not require Israel to withdraw from all the territories gained as a result of the 1967 war. These resolutions deliberately limit themselves tocalling for Israel’s withdrawal “from territories” while recognizing the right to live within secure and recognized boundaries.
Lord Caradon, the British representative to the United Nations during the 1967 Six-Day War, made this very point when discussing UN Security Council Resolution 242, which calls for a peace agreement based on territorial concessions and recognition of countries’ right to exist in peace and security. Explaining the meaning behind Resolution 242, which he drafted, he noted that
It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of 4 June 1967 because those positions were undesirable and artificial. After all, they were just the places the soldiers of each side happened to be the day the fighting stopped in 1948. They were just armistice lines. That’s why we didn’t demand that the Israelis return to them and I think we were right not to … (Daily Star (Beirut), June 12, 1974. Qtd. in Myths and Facts, Leonard J. Davis, pg. 48)
Eugene Rostow, a legal scholar and former dean of Yale Law School, was US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, 1966-1969, and helped draft Resolution 242. He described the drafting of that UN Resolution as follows:
Five-and-a-half months of vehement public diplomacy in 1967 made it perfectly clear what the missing definite article in Resolution 242 means. Ingeniously drafted resolutions calling for withdrawals from “all” the territories were defeated in the Security Council and the General Assembly. Speaker after speaker made it explicit that Israel was not to be forced back to the “fragile” and “vulnerable” Armistice Demarcation Lines, but should retire once peace was made to what Resolution 242 called “secure and recognized” boundaries, agreed to by the parties. In negotiating such agreements, the parties should take into account, among other factors, security considerations, access to the international waterways of the region, and, of course, their respective legal claims. (The New Republic, “Resolved: are the settlements legal? Israeli West Bank policies,” Oct. 21, 1991)
Letter Mischaracterizes U.S. Policy
It is patently false to state that under U.S. policy, the territory in the West Bank and East Jerusalem “should belong to a future Palestinian state.” On the contrary, the U.S. State Department’s steadfastposition has always been that “The United States believes that the final status of the West Bank can be determined only through negotiations among the concerned parties based on UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338.” (http://m.state.gov/md3464.htm)
Moreover, consecutive U.S. administrations have scrupulously avoided the decision of which party should have ultimate ownership right to the territories in dispute.
On Feb. 2, 1982, President Ronald Regandeclared that “… As to the West Bank, I believe the settlements t
here—I disagreed when, the previous Administration refereed to them as illegal, they’re not illegal. Not under the U.N. resolution that leaves the West Bank open to all people—Arab and Israeli alike, Christian alike.”
And no subsequent U.S. administrations reversed this position. In fact, President George W. Bush explicitly stated on April 14, 2004, that,“In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion.”
This is hardly an endorsement of territories that “should belong to a future Palestinian state.”
Regarding Jerusalem, as well, U.S. policy has been that the city’s final status should be determined by negotiations.
Statements of U.S. Policy
Here are statements clarifying U.S. Policy regarding territory in the West Bank and East Jerusalem from a number of different sources and actors in the U.S. government:
“As to Jerusalem, we strongly believe that Jerusalem should be undivided, with free access to the holy places for all faiths, and that its status should be determined in the negotiations for a comprehensive peace settlement. “(Statement by President Jimmy Carter, Statement on the U.S. Vote in the Security Council of the United Nations., March 3, 1980.)
“The status of Israeli settlements must be determined in the course of the final status negotiations. We will not support their continuation as extraterritorial outposts, but neither will we support efforts to deny Jews the opportunity to live in the West Bank and Gaza under the duly constituted governmental authority there, as Arabs live in Israel…” (Statement by Secretary of State George P. Shultz to the Foreign Affairs Committee (House of Representatives) , September 10, 1982.)
Bush I Administration:
“What we seek is real peace, codified by treaties, characterized by reconciliation and openness, including trade and tourism. It must be a comprehensive peace on all fronts, grounded in U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, born of direct negotiations. ..
…Let me just say that our policy on Jerusalem remains unchanged. It must never be divided again, and its final status must be resolved through negotiation..
(President George H.W. Bush, The President’s News Conference With Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel in Kennebunkport, August 11, 1992.)
“The key element in our approach to peace, including the negotiations and implementation of agreements between Israel and its Arab partners, has always been a recognition of Israel’s security requirements. Moreover, a hallmark of U.S. policy remains our commitment to work cooperatively to seek to meet the security needs that Israel identifies. Finally, I would like to reiterate our position that Israel is entitled to secure and defensible borders, which should be directly negotiated and agreed with its neighbors.” (Letter from Secretary of State Warren Christopher to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, January 16, 1997.)
Bush II Administration:
“As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion. It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities. ” (Letter from President Bush to Prime Minister Sharon, April 14, 2004.)
The authors of the letter deal with the issue of tear gas in a propagandistic and dishonest manner. In an appendix, the authors also accuse Israel of suppressing “legitimate political expression and protest,” stating “U.S. supplied tear gas has been used to systematically suppress political protests and dissent in the occupied Palestinian territories. This has led to the deaths of at least five Palestinians and the grave injury of many others, including two U.S. citizens.”
Yes, Israel has at times used tear gas on Palestinians, most notably at the regular protests in Bil’in where rock-throwing protestors have injured dozens of Israeli soldiers over the past several years. In 2009, The New York Times reported the following about these confrontations:
But the Israelis complain that, along with protests at the nearby village of Nilin, things are more violent here than the Palestinians and their supporters acknowledge.“Rioters hurl rocks, Molotov cocktails and burning tires at defense forces and the security fence,” the military said in a statement when asked why it had taken to arresting village leaders in the middle of the night. “Since the beginning of 2008, about 170 members of the defense forces have been injured in these villages,” it added, including three soldiers who were so badly hurt they could no longer serve in the army. It also said that at Bilin itself, some $60,000 worth of damage had been done to the barrier in the past year and a half.
Does this qualify as “legitimate political expression and protest”? Clearly, there is more to the story about Israel’s use of tear gas than the authors of this letter convey to U.S. lawmakers. To make matters worse, there are serious questions about the cause of death of one protestor that was originally attributed to the use of tear gas.
Why do the authors traffic in naked propaganda about a complex story?
The appendix to the letter stated that “At least 2,969 Palestinian civilians uninvolved in hostilities were killed by the Israeli military between December 29, 2000 and December 31, 2009. This includes 1,128 children under the age of 18. Many of these deaths are connected to weaponry the U.S. underwrites.”
The source for this information is B’Tselem, which as reported in a previous CAMERA analysis by Tamar Sternthal, “cannot be relied upon
as a trusted source for figures on Palestinian civilian casualties.” One reason why B’Tselem’s figures cannot be trusted is that the organization has “identified individuals as not being involved in hostilities at the time they were killed, even when there was information to the contrary.” Another reason why B’Tselem’s cannot be trusted is that many of the people listed as “not being involved in hostilities at the time they were killed” were in fact members of terrorist organizations and had engaged in previous acts of violence against Israel.
Why would the authors of the letter to Congress rely on such an untrustworthy source of information in its effort to educate lawmakers?
Citing Amnesty International, the authors also accused Israel of using “prohibited weaponry in densely populated civilian areas,” stating that it “has used both with phosphorous and flechette shells in Gaza and Lebanon in violation of international humanitarian law.” The letter’s appendix reports that during Operation Cast Lead, white phosphorous shells were “fired against civilian targets” and that Israel has used flechette shells repeatedly in Gaza.
Looking at the Amnesty International’s article and a blog entry on Israel’s use of flechette rounds – which are legal under international law – indicates that the case against Israel is not as strong as the letter would suggest. Yes, civilians have been tragically killed and injured by flechettes, but what evidence does Amnesty have that Israel has intentionally targeted civilians with these weapons – that it “fired against civilian targets” as the letter states?
The death of Palestinian journalist Fadel Shana, who was working as a cameraman for Reuters, deserves particular analysis. When Shana, whose death is regularly invoked as a symbol of Israeli wrongdoing, was killed in April 2008, the Jewish Telegraph Agency reported the following:
Fadel Shana died along with two other Palestinian civilians Wednesday as he tried to film fighting between Israeli forces and Hamas gunmen in central Gaza.Footage from Shana’s camera showed an Israeli tank firing a shell in his direction before the image went blank.Reuters reported Thursday that a Palestinian autopsy had determined Shana suffered injuries consistent with the deadly darts scattered by “flechette” tank shells.Israeli military officials voiced remorse for the journalist’s death but noted that he had been working in a war zone.(JTA, April 18, 2008).
Shana, who was setting up a camera tripod, was killed by a flechette dart that came from round fired from a tank whose crew had thought he was preparing to fire on them. In a letter to Reuters the IDF’s chief prosecutor stated the decision to fire “was sound, given the prevalent circumstances.”
The deaths of Shana and the two civilians who were with him are tragic, but the evidence indicates that the tank crew was not intentionally targeting civilians but in fact believed it was firing on an opponent seeking to kill them. There was a war going on and the regrettable undeniable reality is that civilians –and journalists – get killed during war.
White Phosphorous Accusations
The letter states that during Operation Cast Lead “white phosphorus shells were fired against civilian targets including a UN compound, two hospitals, and private residences causing civilian deaths and injuries.” The allegation – that Israel fired white phosphorous at civilian targets – is made with no supporting documentation. There is no link or footnote to buttress this accusation.
A previous CAMERA analysis by Steven Stotsky provides some background about the use of white phosphorous. White phosphorous is routinely used by Israel, the U.S. and other countries to conceal the movement of ground troops. Pro-Palestinian groups have accused Israel recklessly and with wanton disregard for innocent life. Israel has denied the charge and said it used white phosphorous according to accepted practices and took measure to minimize civilian casualties. Military necessity required its use in populated areas because this was where Hamas fighters were congregated.
The upshot is that there is no evidence that Israel targeted civilians with white phosphorus as the letter states. An article published in the Haaretz in January 2009 states that Israeli military responded to accusations by stating that white phosphorus “shells were fired only at places that had been positively identified as sources of enemy fire.”
According to a report issued by Israel in July 2009 lists a number of precautions the IDF took to avoid civilian casualties from white phosphorus shells. The report states that the IDF restricted the use of exploding white phosphorus munitions to unpopulated areas and “were only used for marking and signaling rather than in an anti-personnel capacity.”
The report also states that the IDF used obscurant shells (as opposed to exploding shells) to camouflage armored forces from Hamas’s anti-tank squads. It reads in part as follows:
The IDF took several precautions and other measures that were appropriate with respect to these particular munitions. First, the munitions were used only for the purpose for which they were designed, i.e. to create smoke screens, rather than to attack personnel or destroy buildings, purposes for which IDF has a variety of more effective munitions. Second, the use of felt wedges soaked in white phosphorous tends to further reduce dispersal of the substance and its incendiary side effects as compared to exploding munitions containing white phosphorous. Third, the smoke projectiles were employed using delay fuses which release the felt components of the projectile at a distance of at least 100 metres above the ground. This method (as opposed to the use of contact fuses), is consistent with the use of the projectiles for smoke-screening purposes only. Furthermore, a
ir-bursting the munitions at a considerable distance above ground meant that it was less likely that any person or building would be harmed by the explosions. Fourth, after reports of an incident on 15 January 2009 during combat in Tel al-Hawa in which white phosphorous smoke projectiles set fire to a UNRWA warehouse, an IDF directive was issued, effective through the end of the Gaza Operation, establishing a safety buffer of several hundred metres from sensitive sites when using smoke projectiles.All these precautions may not have eliminated the risk of civilian casualties, but the Law of Armed Conflict does not require such a result. It only requires parties to minimise the risk to civilians to the extent possible, subject to the legitimate military necessities. As explained above, the use of smoke obscurants by IDF fully complied with this rule. (Page 149.)
Abstaining from the use of smokescreens altogether would have cost Israeli soldiers their lives and endagnered civilians as well, the report indicates.
Abstaining from using smokescreens in densely populated areas of Gaza, i.e. precisely in those areas where Hamas deployed most of its forces, would undoubtedly have compromised the safety of Israeli troops and would increase the risk for civilians, as a result of cross-fire. Indeed, in one incident during the combat in Tel al-Hawa on 15 January, IDF forces came under fire from both anti-tank and small arms fire, and an IDF armoured bulldozer suffered a direct hit from an anti-tank weapon. The attack was possible because no white phosphorous smokescreen had been deployed. In cases where smoke obscurants were used, they proved to be a very effective means of protecting Israeli forces and in many cases prevented the need to use explosive munitions whose impact would have been considerably more dangerous. (Page 148.)
Fighting Against Hamas and Hezbollah
The egregious problem with the letter is the manner in which it scrutinizes Israel’s behavior without taking into account the anti-Semitic and genocidal hostility embraced by Hamas and Hezbollah. The two groups are part of an authoritarian, violent, mass-movement that seeks Israel’s destruction. The two groups routinely traffic in genocidal rhetoric against Jews. This is a hugely important issue because as Joseph Spoerl, a professor at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire, has written in a yet-to-be published manuscript:
A community or nation fighting a genocidal foe is fighting for very high stakes indeed and will resort to measures that it might not otherwise countenance. Third parties evaluating such measures or intervening in such conflicts must recognize the unique challenges posted by a genocidal foe or risk seriously misunderstanding the nature of the conflict and creating terrible risks for potential victims of genocide. (Joseph S. Spoerl in “Islamic Anti-Semitism and the Arab-Zionist Conflict from Hajj Amin al-Husseini to Hamas.”)
With their one-sided and propagandistic letter, prominent Christian leaders have worked to rhetorically constrain Israel’s defensive actions without constraining the violent attacks perpetrated by groups that seek its destruction.
Given the circumstances Israel faces, such behavior is irresponsible and malign.