With rare exceptions the New York Times just can’t seem to get it right on Israel, and the op-ed page is no exception. The latest example is a new column by Nicholas Kristof, Leading Through Great Loss (July 16, 2014).
While graciously allowing that under the latest massive Hamas rocket barrage Israel has a right to defend itself, Kristof immediately reverses field by charging that Israel is not responding with “proportionality”:
Look, when militants in Gaza fire rockets at Israel, then Israel has a right to respond, but with some proportionality. More than 200 Gazans have been killed, three-quarters of them civilians, according to United Nations officials; one Israeli has been killed. In any case, Israel’s long-term interest lies in de-escalating, not moving to the ground war it now threatens.
But it’s impossible to reach conclusions about right or wrong based on the number of people killed. Consider that the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor killed about 3,000 Americans. Does it follow that the US should have ended its counterattacks against Japanese forces once a similar number of Japanese had been killed? Since it didn’t do so, does that mean the US acted disproportionally, in violation of international law, or even immorally, and that the Japanese were the aggrieved party? Clearly the answer is no.
Taking this further, in the Pacific Theatre in World War 2, over 2.7 million Japanese were killed, including 580,000 civilians, as against only 106,000 Americans, the vast majority combatants. Does it then follow that Japan was in the right and America was in the wrong? Again, clearly the answer is no. Just having more dead on your side does not make you right.
Could Israel meet Kristof’s proportionality test by just lobbing missiles back at Palestinian communities? It doesn’t seem likely that he would offer his approval.
And his claim that Israel’s “long-term interest lies in de-escalating” is also quite curious, because it takes two to de-escalate. What if Hamas doesn’t want to de-escalate? What if they want to escalate instead, then what should Israel do? Kristof doesn’t say.
What’s clear is that Kristof’s use of the term “proportionality” is quite meaningless, and essentially negates his assurance that Israel has a right to defend itself.
Kristof also makes the silly claim that Hamas has been de-emphasizing rocket strikes against Israel, seemingly oblivious to the fact that Hamas rockets are getting more numerous and bigger, with longer range and larger payloads. Only by ignoring such facts can Kristof claim:
Remember that the trend had been away from Gaza rocket strikes. Last year, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry website, there were far fewer rocket strikes on Israel than in any year since Hamas took over Gaza in 2006. But then, since June, there were the kidnappings and killings, rockets and the kind of mutual escalation that arises when each side thinks that the other understands only violence.
But the charts Kristof cites show exactly the opposite: Hamas rocket attacks decline only in response to Israeli invasions of Gaza, such as Cast Lead in 2009 and Pillar of Defense in 2012. Indeed, as the charts show, thanks to Pillar of Defense only 36 rockets struck Israel in 2013.
And, again contrary to Kristof’s claims, already in March of this year, well before the “since June” period he cites, more than 50 rockets were fired at Israel.
Kristof also takes seriously UN claims that three-quarters of the Gazans killed at the time of his writing were civilians, despite the fact that in past conflicts with Hamas claims of civilian deaths were shown to be highly inflated.
And perhaps Kristof is unaware that in speaking to the West, Hamas always claims that its wounded or killed fighters were “innocent civilians.” In fact, just a day after Kristof’s column there is yet more evidence of this in a MEMRI exposé of the Hamas Interior Ministry, which is instructing residents to identify all Gaza casualties as “innocent civilians,” no matter the facts:
Anyone killed or martyred is to be called a civilian from Gaza or Palestine, before we talk about his status in jihad or his military rank. Don’t forget to always add ‘innocent civilian’ or ‘innocent citizen’ in your description of those killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza. (MEMRI translation, July 17, 2014)
If that wasn’t enough for one column, Kristof also repeats the silly discredited trope that Israel “nurtured” Hamas:
After all, it was Israel itself that helped nurture Hamas and its predecessors in the 1970s and ’80s. The late Eyad El-Sarraj, a prominent psychiatrist in Gaza, warned Israel’s governor that he was “playing with fire” by nurturing religious militants. According to the book “Hamas,” by Beverley Milton-Edwards and Stephen Farrell, the governor replied: “Don’t worry, we know how to handle things. Our enemy today is the P.L.O.”
In fact, Israel never encouraged Hamas or its Islamist rival Islamic Jihad. Israel supported the building of clinics, mosques and religious schools in the territories because this was their obligation under the Hague Regulations and the Geneva Conventions, which required that taxes collected in the territories be used for the benefit of the territories, and that existing laws, which included the funding of religious institutions, be maintained. Among the groups the government cooperated with in this regard was the so-called Muslim Brotherhood, a non-profit registered in Gaza. The Muslim Brotherhood, while rejecting the existence of Israel, was explicitly non-violent in those days, believing that Islamic society would have to be strengthened over the long term before any conflict could be initiated with Israel. (See, for example, Islamic Fundamentalism in the West Bank and Gaza, Ziad Abu-Amr.)
In contrast, the Islamic Jihad was explicitly violent from its founding in 1980, calling for immediate jihad against Israel, and showing little interest in building social institutions. Indeed, it was created out of frustration with the non-violent policy of the Muslim Brotherhood. Islamic Jihad’s cofounder, Fathi Shikaki, was arrested by Israel in 1983 and again in 1986, and was then deported to Lebanon in 1988 (Islamic Fundamentalism, p 93-94). Does sound like the Israeli “nurturing” foolishly repeated by Kristof?
When the intifada began, the Muslim Brotherhood feared a loss of influence and popularity to the terrorist Islamic Jihad, which had openly mocked the movement for its non-violent stand. In response, under the leadership of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the Muslim Brotherhood created on December 9, 1987 a subgroup eventually called Hamas, which was meant to compete with Islamic Jihad in murdering Israelis. That is, contrary to Kristof, Hamas essentially did not exist until 1988, and Israel never cooperated with it.
Indeed, in May 1989 Israel arrested Sheikh Yassin and sentenced him to 15 years in jail for his role in the abduction and murder of two Israeli soldiers (Islamic Fundamentalism, p 65).
Even these examples don’t exhaust Kristof’s wrongheadedness. He also thinks Israel should “learn a lesson” from Britain and Spain:
Israel could learn a lesson from Britain and Spain, both of which managed to defeat terrorist challenges that were once seen as insoluble. The analogy is imperfect, for rockets weren’t falling on London or Madrid. But Spain could have sent troops to quash Basque terrorists, and Britain could have bulldozed the offices of the I.R.A.’s political wing in Belfast.
The analogy is worse than imperfect – it’s imbecilic. Neither the IRA nor the Basques were genocidal, neither of them called for the destruction of Britain or Spain, and the murder of every last Englishman or Spaniard.
But that’s exactly what Hamas calls for in its charter (The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement), exterminating the Jews and liberating all of Palestine, which it identifies as a “holy Islamic Waqf:
The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him. Only the Gharkad tree, (evidently a certain kind of tree) would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.” (Article 7)The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up. Neither a single Arab country nor all Arab countries, neither any king or president, nor all the kings and presidents, neither any organization nor all of them, be they Palestinian or Arab, possess the right to do that. Palestine is an Islamic Waqf land consecrated for Moslem generations until Judgement Day. (Article 11)
Would facts change Kristof’s mind? Probably not, but they might at least make for less silly columns, which would be a good first step.