Israel’s Shifting Defense of Its Attack on the UN School (Updated Again)

by Kevin Jon Heller

Those who defend Israel’s use of armed force — in Gaza and elsewhere — often complain that critics reflexively assume the worst about Israel’s intentions. There is more than a grain of truth to that, but Israel doesn’t help itself with its inability to admit that faulty intelligence sometimes leads it to make mistakes.  Case in point: the attack on a UN school on Tuesday that killed 30 Palestinian civilians and wounded 55.  Israel’s first response was to claim — as it always does — that the school was being used as cover by Hamas militants:

The Israel Defense Forces said a mortar-firing operation and a pair of prominent Hamas operatives — Imad Abu Askhar and Hassan Abu Askhar — were at the occupied school hit Tuesday. The two were among the Hamas militants killed in the strike, an IDF statement said.

“This is not the first time that Hamas terrorists have used Palestinian civilians as human shields and has exploited their deaths for the benefit of the international media,” an Israeli statement read. “Israel will continue to treat as valuable the lives of all Palestinian civilians and refuses to devalue the lives of Gaza residents in the manner of Hamas.”

That claim was short-lived.  Israel has now been forced to admit that its attack on the school was not, in fact, a response to enemy fire originating from within the school:

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told Haaretz yesterday that the army had conceded wrongdoing.

“In briefings senior [Israel Defense Forces] officers conducted for foreign diplomats, they admitted the shelling to which IDF forces in Jabalya were responding did not originate from the school,” Gunness said. “The IDF admitted in that briefing that the attack on the UN site was unintentional.”

Notice Israel’s new claim (assuming that Gunness is recounting the briefings accurately, which seems to be the case since the IDF has not corrected him): the attack on the school was unintentional.  That is a convenient excuse, designed to mitigate Israel’s responsibility for the civilian deaths by implying that the attack was simply an unfortunate accident.  But this was not an unintentional attack.  It was an intentional attack that was either (1) designed to punish the UN for helping the residents of Gaza; or (2) based on faulty intelligence.  I think (2) is much more likely than (1) — but Israel’s steadfast refusal to admit that it makes mistakes (which are, of course, inevitable in any armed conflict) will make it far easier for Israel’s critics to argue the opposite position.  If so, Israel’s stubbornness will have led it once again to “win” the PR battle but lose the PR war.

UPDATE: In the comments section, Professor Bernstein says that “Israel’s claim is that Hamas was firing from AROUND the school.”  Professor Bernstein’s statement is directly contradicted by the IDF’s January 6 YouTube video statement, in which an IDF spokesman specifically claims that Hamas militants were firing from “within” the school.  You can watch the video for yourself here. (The statement is at :18.)

UPDATE 2: In the interests of full disclosure, I should acknowledge that the original version of this post mentioned an IDF video that shows Hamas militants launching a mortar attack from the school in 2007.  I incorrectly assumed that the IDF did not identify when the video was taken; in fact, they did.  When Humble Law Student pointed out my error, I amended the original post.

UPDATE 3: It now seems clear that the IDF did not, in fact, attack the school directly.  The confusion, however, is at least partially the IDF’s fault — as noted above, the IDF did not deny launching a direct attack after the attack took place.  Indeed, as the YouTube video linked to above demonstrates, the official IDF position was that it did attack the school directly, but only because Hamas militants were using it as a fire base.  The IDF then changed its story later, claiming, as the Jerusalem Post story notes, that the school was instead hit by an errant shell.

46 Responses

  1. Before you get too excited about alleged evidence of an improper Israeli response, I’d suggest some caution.

    First, the article discusses what some UN officials are saying the IDF said to foreign diplomats.  So, we are likely 2-3 steps away from the source who supposedly said the IDF attacked the school despite the lack of fire from the school. 

    Second, UNRWA has been making all sorts of accusations against the IDF with little evidence.

    Third, the AP is today reporting that both Palestinian and Israelis witnesses say that militants carried out an attack moments before the IDF hit the school.

    As this story develops, we may find out more accurate information.  But, try restraining your glee in the meantime.

  2. In addition, I’m not sure that the IDF tried to pass off their video as coming from 2008.  The video itself clearly states it was from 2007, and many blog posts and news stories from a week ago cite the video as being from 2007 (and none mention that Israel tried to say it came from 2008)

  3. HLS, You seem to be correct about the video, so I have edited the post accordingly.

    As for my “glee” — your comment says far more about your ideological blinders than mine.  Nothing in the post indicates even the slightest bit of glee on my part about Israel’s mistaken attack.  The fact that you see any criticism of Israel, even of the constructive variety, as taking glee in Israel’s mistakes is very revealing.

  4. Good job Humblelawstudent.  In addition, if you actually read the story carefully, there’s nothing to it in any event. You find out that UNRWA admits that the facility was taken over by “militants”. Here’s part of the story conveniently left out in thematerial excerpted above: “There are no up-to-date photos,” Gunness said. “In 2007, we abandoned the site and only then did the militants take it over.”  If the facility was abandoned, and indeed under the control of Hamas “militants,” then it was not a “UN School” at all, as has been reported, but a former UN school abandoned by the UN and controlled by Hamas.

  5. If you choose to believe UNRWA, hardly a neutral party, and yo put all the known facts together, we have an abandoned UN facility, used as a refuge by Palestinians, but also as a base for Hamas.  Hamas fired from the vicinity of this base, and then Israel fired back at the base.  Israel would be entitled to do so even if it knew there were civilians there, but I haven’t seen any proof that they did.

    Oh, and just to show UNRWA’s objectivity, it is calling for an investigation of Israel’s bombing of the facility as a possible violation of international law. And it violates international law to attack a facility that UNRWA itself says was in control of the “militants” you are fighting exactly how?

  6. Two updates: The Ha’aretz story suggests that UNRWA said that this school had been taken over by militants.  In previous news stories, Guness had said that the video footage from 2007 was from a different school.  I don’t know if the Ha’aretz story is mangled, or if Guness changed his story.

    Second, on further investigation, Israel never claimed that the mortar fire came from the school.  Here’s a summary, from Wednesday, of the result of the IDF investigation: “Hamas terrorists fired mortar bombs from the area of the school towards Israeli forces, who returned fire towards the source of the shooting. The Israeli return fire landed outside the school, yet a series of explosions followed, indicating the probable presence of munitions and explosives in the building. Intelligence indicates that among those killed were Immad Abu Iskar and Hassan Abu Iskar, two known Hamas mortar crewmen.

  7. Of course, UNRWA says no such thing.  As the spokesman said, “UNWRA is 99.9 percent certain there were no militants or military activity in its school.”

  8. Well, either you want to rely on the Ha’aretz story, or you don’t.  In the Ha’aretz story, it says that the school was taken over by militants.  Once again, “In 2007, we abandoned the site and only then did the militants take it over.” If you don’t believe that, then retract your reliance on the Ha’aretz story. 

    If you think that UNRWA is more neutral than Israel, you know very little if anything about UNRWA, and you shouldn’t be writing about it.

    Finally, you haven’t responded to the point that Israel’s claim is that Hamas was firing from AROUND the school, and this is backed up by eyewitnesses, from both sides. The further claim is that munitions stored in the school led to secondary explosions.  This does not contradict anything Guness said, even if you choose to believe him, i.e., Israel tried to fire weapons at the Hamas fighters around the school, and accidentally also set off munitions stored in the school.

    Finally, way to use the cheap insult of “credulity” to avoid responding to fact-based questions/criticisms! 

  9. Kevin,

    In this post, you accepted as fact information from a very questionable news story.  Purely coincidentally of course, the information you accepted and considered put Israel in a bad light.

    You also conveniently omitted a plethora of other evidence, much of which favors the Israeli argument.

    And then of course your blatantly false assertion regarding Israel’s use and description of the 2007 video.  An assertion which was a factually false attempt to place Israel in a bad light.  Seeing a pattern?

    Then you conclude with “It was an intentional attack that was either (1) designed to punish the UN for helping the residents of Gaza; or (2) based on faulty intelligence.”
    If that is constructive criticism, God help Israel. 

    Yes, Israel does and will make mistakes.   But is it too much to ask for an at least superficial attempt at fairness?  (or at least make it a bit harder to deconstruct)

  10. Professor Bernstein’s account of the attack conveniently omits a critical point — namely, that it is directly contradicted by the IDF’s own spokesman, who makes it very clear here (a video on the IDF’s YouTube channel) that the alleged attack was coming from within the school and that the IDF fired at the school.

  11. HLS,

    You conveniently omit to point out that I said very clearly that I believed (2) instead of (1).  And yes, what could possibly be constructive about suggesting that, in order to undermine those who would wrongly argue (1), Israel should own up to (2)?

  12. KJH,

    Yes, there obviously is an inconsistency. 

    I don’t know how it plays out.  What I do know is that almost every source agrees that Hamas fired from within or from very nearby the school.  That is the primary point, and it directly contradicts the assertion in your post.

  13. What bothers me (and perhaps Prof. Bernstein) is your apparent ability to find and accept facts, however questionable, that portray Israel in a bad light.  But you ignore, dismiss, or argue away facts that put Israel in a good light. 

    Now, there are plenty of people who do this everyday.  But it is quite irritating when a professor does so in the guise of scholary analysis.

  14. HLS,

    No, it doesn’t.  According to UNRWA, the IDF has now admitted that its claim that the mortars were coming from within the school — a claim made on video by the IDF — was incorrect.  If it turns out that the UNRWA spokesperson was incorrect or lying about the private briefings, I will happily amend the post.  (As I quickly amended it when you brought my error about the video to my attention.)

  15. I was relying on a secondary source.  Given that the IDF video is still up, I’ll assume that Israel’s official story is still that mortars were fired from within the school.  The problem is, that even if the UNRWA spokesman is right, which hasn’t been established, and Israel acknowledges that mortars weren’t fired from WITHIN the school, we still have Palestinian eyewitnesses who say that mortars were fired AROUND the school, and the school was likely either inadverantly hit while responding to nearby fire, or purposely hit because the “militants” were going in and out of it while engaging in mortar fire outside.  Thus, when your post says “Israel has now been forced to admit that its attack on the school was not, in fact, a response to enemy fire”, that’s just false.  Not only do we not have confirmation that Israel admitted ANYTHING, but was Israel is alleged to have admitted doesn’t remotely approach what you say.

  16. I agree that my original claim was not adequately specific.  I have amended the post to say that Israel has been forced to admit that its attack on the school was not in response to enemy fire originating within the school.

  17. Prof. Bernstein provides a good explanation, but let me add the following.

    Whether Hamas fired from inside or right nearby the school is immaterial.  Either way, it was illegal on the part of Hamas. 

    In addition, both an attack from inside or nearby the school provides adequate justification for the Israeli counterattack and contradicts your main conclusion that the attack was either an intentional punishment or based on bad intel.

  18. HLS,

    Israel fired at the school, believing that Hamas was firing from it, killing 30 civilians and wounding 55.  Later Israel admits — if UNRWA’s statement is correct — that the firing did not, in fact, come from the school and claims that its firing at the school was “unintentional.”  I point out that by Israel’s own admission they intentionally fired at the school.  So what, exactly, contradicts my main conclusion that the attack was based on faulty intelligence? 

    (And I note, again, you are obviously trying to imply that I believe the attack was intentional punishment, when the post makes clear that I do not.)

    You might also be honest enough to point out that I never claimed that the attack was illegal.  My only claim was that it was likely based on faulty intelligence — the basis for my argument (inconvenient for you and for Professor Bernstein, who simply want to tar me as anti-Israel) that Israel would be better off, from a PR standpoint, admitting that it made a mistake when it fired at the school in the belief that the Hamas militants were within it.

  19. HLS,

    I am tired of what I can only surmise is your intentional misreading and misstatement of what I write.  If someone else wants to engage you in the comments, they can do so.  But I am done with this post.

  20. “I’ll stop because this really is getting too easy.”

    Heh — ya, I imagine once you’ve sunk to being a cheerleader for racism, religious bigotry, and murder, it’s all downhill from there.

    And gee, it’s such easy work too — all you have to do is lie.

  21. !

  22. Not at all a convincing post Kevin. Stick to blogging about Radovan and leave the Gaza blogging to calmer minds.

  23. Calmer minds???

    What a contemptible remark that is.

  24. HLS,

    My apologies — I accidentally deleted your last comment.  I thought I was deleting the blank one that you left.  (Our comment system is tricky.)  Please re-post it.

  25. KJH,

    No problem. It wasn’t anything important and could be summed up by KJH = wrong.

  26. I try to be gracious, and look at the result.  How sad.

  27. You should update your post.  Israel now officially denies the UN spokesman’s claim, and states that rocket fire was in fact coming from the “school compound.”
    So, your post should say that “A UN spokesman claims, over Israel  denial, that Israel admitted that its attack on the school was not, in fact, a response to enemy fire originating from within the school.”
    Admittedly, there is some room for ambiguity here, where you can believe both the UN and Israel.  Israel states that the fire came from the school compound, but not from within the school itself, which is literally consistent with what the UN is saying.  But as a practical matter, what difference would it make if the fire came from inside the school, and Israel fired back hitting the school, or if the fire came from a few meters away from the school, and Israel fired back, and the school was hit (perhaps via secondary explosion)?

  28. KJH,

    Lol, what is your problem?  I didn’t feel like writing the post again.  I’m sure we both feel that arguing with each other is largely an exercise in futility.  As such, I made a light-hearted comment in an attempt at moving on. 

    But even with that, you try to twist it into a negative.  What a strange man you are.

  29. HLS,
    It stretches the bounds of plausibility, indeed, it would seem highly unlikely, for anyone to draw the inference that your comment was “light-hearted,” especially in light of everything that preceded it.

    Kevin’s response, on the other hand, strikes one as perfectly reasonable. And to assert that he “tr[ied] to twist it into a negative” reinforces the aforementioned judgment. Your last comment is unambiguously pathetic.

    If only some of the time spent on such matters was devoted to learning the history and daily experience of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza (and elsewhere) up to and during this latest war, as well as coming to an honest assessment of precisely how and why the Israelis have driven themselves into an historical and political dead end. On the former see, for instance, Saree Makdisi’s Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation (New York: W. W. Norton, 2008), and for the latter, see Sylvain Cypel’s Walled: Israeli Society at an Impasse (New York: Other Press, 2006).

    While I cannot do it now owing to other obligations, I will be posting something at Ratio Juris sometime before the end of the month on Hamas and Hezbollah which endeavors to explain how the demonization and de-humanization of their leaders and members (e.g., Professor Bernstein’s telling description of the former–and no doubt he would not hesitate to add the latter as well–as simply ‘a violent, fanatical, backwards, illiberal, anti-Semitic terrorist organization’) completely backfires on those who seek to end the desparate military (violent) measures these social movements have resorted to as a result of the long-standing denial of the international legal right to collective self-determination possessed by Palestinians. For not only are such characterizations self-defeating, they serve to hide and distort more than reveal and inform.

  30. The last sentence should have read: “For whatever truth they contain and feebly express, such characterizations are, in the end, self-defeating, as they serve to hide and distort more than reveal and inform.

  31. leaders and members (e.g., Professor Bernstein’s telling description of the former–and no doubt he would not hesitate to add the latter as well–as simply ‘a violent, fanatical, backwards, illiberal, anti-Semitic terrorist organization’)

    I did, indeed, describe Hamas as you describe, but I never said it was “simply” that, and certainly never described all of its members that way.  So, Patrick, is it correct or incorrect?  Is Hamas violent?  Fanatical? Backwards? Illiberal? Anti-Semitic?  Terrorist? Exactly which of these descriptions is incorrect?  Sure, there is more to Hamas than that.  The first four descriptors would apply to the Nazis and to the Communists under Stalin.  Does that mean that they were “simply” that?  That all of there followers were like that?  And does the fact that they were not “simply” that, nor were all their followers that way, mean that describing them that way is “dehumanizing,” instead of “honest?”  But let me not get distracted.  EXACTLY which of my descriptive terms, which in context I was pointing out relate to things that liberals are strongly opposed to, is incorrect?

  32. “For whatever truth they contain and feebly express, such characterizations are, in the end, self-defeating, as they serve to hide and distort more than reveal and inform.”

    Leftist nihilism at its best.  “Truth” hides and distorts, more than it reveals and informs, because there is some greater truth that only the wise elite who have read Patrick’s extensive and one-sided reading lists can discern.

    BTW, Patrick, here’s a question for you: how was the economic and social situation of the Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza in 1987, compared to 1967? Since you are quit the expert, I’m sure you know the answer, but won’t say it because it conflicts with the party line that Palestinian terrorism is a response to their impoverishment by Israel.

  33. Oh, but Prof. Bernstein — everything you say is so simple. Like “leftist nihilism” for example, oozing from the lying mouth of a neo-fascist like you.

    Violent?  Fanatical? Backwards? Illiberal? Terrorist?

    Those are all pretty good descriptions of YOU Prof. Bernstein, and you’re as much a BIGOT as anyone in Hamas. Peas in a pod.

  34. You did in fact characterize Hamas simply and solely as “a violent, fanatical, backwards, illiberal, anti-Semitic terrorist organization.” You did not qualify that statement in any way whatsoever, so one has to presume, and you give us no reason here to infer otherwise, that you think this is an accurate characterization of Hamas qua Hamas. As I said, I will explain myself better at a later date, so you’ll have to be patient. Meanwhile, and in the interest of placing a premium on truth, one should read the scholarly works on Hamas which make it painfully clear that the above characterization does not suffice (i.e., it can be as misleading as it is revealing) if we aim to understand the myriad and sometimes inconsistent if not contradictory religious and socio-economic motives, social movement logic, political and strategic reasoning of Hamas. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, two books go a long way in detailing the problem with relying on the characterization at issue: Azzam Tamimi’s Hamas: A History From Within (Northampton, MA: Olive Branch Press/Interlink, 2007), and Shaul Mishal and Avraham Sela’s The Palestinian Hamas: Vision, Violence, and Coexistence (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006 ed.). And while we’re at it, Augustus Richard Norton provides us with something comparable on a Shi’ite Islamist group in Hezbollah: A Short History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007).

    So as to not to let this thread further degenerate into an abusive or circumstantial ad hominem argument of the sort Professor Bernstein has proven all too adept at conducting, I’ll let Uri Avnery (an Israeli writer and peace activist who founded the Gush Shalom movement and served three terms as an MP at the Knesset) explain some of the reasons why we might hesitate if not refrain from calling Hamas “a violent, fanatical, backwards, illiberal, anti-Semitic terrorist organization” simpliciter:

    Nearly seventy years ago, in the course of World War II, a heinous crime was committed in the city of Leningrad. For more than a thousand days, a gang of extremists called “the Red Army” held the millions of the town’s inhabitants hostage and provoked retaliation from the German Wehrmacht from inside the population centers. The Germans had no alternative but to bomb and shell the population and to impose a total blockade, which caused the death of hundreds of thousands.
    This is the description that would now appear in the history books – if the Germans had won the war.
    Absurd? No more than the daily descriptions in our media, which are being repeated ad nauseam: the Hamas terrorists use the inhabitants of Gaza as “hostages” and exploit the women and children as “human shields”, they leave us no alternative but to carry out massive bombardments, in which, to our deep sorrow, thousands of women, children and unarmed men are killed and injured.
    In this war, as in any modern war, propaganda plays a major role. The disparity between the forces, between the Israeli army – with its airplanes, gunships, drones, warships, artillery and tanks – and the few thousand lightly armed Hamas fighters, is one to a thousand, perhaps one to a million. In the political arena the gap between them is even wider. But in the propaganda war, the gap is almost infinite.
    Almost all the Western media initially repeated the official Israeli propaganda line. They almost entirely ignored the Palestinian side of the story, not to mention the daily demonstrations of the Israeli peace camp. The rationale of the Israeli government (“The state must defend its citizens against the Qassam rockets”) has been accepted as the whole truth. The view from the other side, that the Qassams are a retaliation for the siege that starves the one and a half million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, was not mentioned at all.
    Only when the horrible scenes from Gaza started to appear on Western TV screens, did world public opinion gradually begin to change.
    True, Western and Israeli TV channels showed only a tiny fraction of the dreadful events that appear 24 hours every day on Aljazeera’s Arabic channel, but one picture of a dead baby in the arms of its terrified father is more powerful than a thousand elegantly constructed sentences from the Israeli army spokesman. And that is what is decisive, in the end.
    War – every war – is the realm of lies. Whether called propaganda or psychological warfare, everybody accepts that it is right to lie for one’s country. Anyone who speaks the truth runs the risk of being branded a traitor.
    The trouble is that propaganda is most convincing for the propagandist himself. And after you convince yourself that a lie is the truth and falsification reality, you can no longer make rational decisions.
    An example of this process surrounds the most shocking atrocity of this war so far: the shelling of the UN Fakhura school in Jabaliya refugee camp.
    Immediately after the incident became known throughout the world, the army “revealed” that Hamas fighters had been firing mortars from near the school entrance. As proof they released an aerial photo which indeed showed the school and the mortar. But within a short time the official army liar had to admit that the photo was more than a year old. In brief: a falsification.
    Later the official liar claimed that “our soldiers were shot at from inside the school”. Barely a day passed before the army had to admit to UN personnel that that was a lie, too. Nobody had shot from inside the school, no Hamas fighters were inside the school, which was full of terrified refugees.
    But the admission made hardly any difference anymore. By that time, the Israeli public was completely convinced that “they shot from inside the school”, and TV announcers stated this as a simple fact.
    So it went with the other atrocities. Every baby metamorphosed, in the act of dying, into a Hamas terrorist. Every bombed mosque instantly became a Hamas base, every apartment building an arms cache, every school a terror command post, every civilian government building a “symbol of Hamas rule”. Thus the Israeli army retained its purity as the “most moral army in the world”.
    The truth is that the atrocities are a direct result of the war plan. This reflects the personality of Ehud Barak – a man whose way of thinking and actions are clear evidence of what is called “moral insanity”, a sociopathic disorder.
    The real aim (apart from gaining seats in the coming elections) is to terminate the rule of Hamas in the Gaza Strip. In the imagination of the planners, Hamas is an invader which has gained control of a foreign country. The reality is, of course, entirely different.
    The Hamas movement won the majority of the votes in the eminently democratic elections that took place in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. It won because the Palestinians had come to the conclusion that Fatah’s peaceful approach had gained precisely nothing from Israel – neither a freeze of the settlements, nor release of the prisoners, nor any significant steps toward ending the occupation and creating the Palestinian state. Hamas is deeply rooted in the population – not only as a resistance movement fighting the foreign occupier, like the Irgun and the Stern Group in the past – but also as a political and religious body that provides social, educational and medical services.
    From the point of view of the population, the Hamas fighters are not a foreign body, but the sons of every family in the Strip and the other Palestinian regions. They do not “hide behind the population”, the population views them as their only defenders.
    Therefore, the whole operation is based on erroneous assumptions. Turning life into living hell does not cause the population to rise up against Hamas, but on the contrary, it unites behind Hamas and reinforces its determination not to surrender. The population of Leningrad did not rise up against Stalin, any more than the Londoners rose up against Churchill.
    He who gives the order for such a war with such methods in a densely populated area knows that it will cause dreadful slaughter of civilians. Apparently that did not touch him. Or he believed that “they will change their ways” and “it will sear their consciousness”, so that in future they will not dare to resist Israel.
    A top priority for the planners was the need to minimize casualties among the soldiers, knowing that the mood of a large part of the pro-war public would change if reports of such casualties came in. That is what happened in Lebanon Wars I and II.
    This consideration played an especially important role because the entire war is a part of the election campaign. Ehud Barak, who gained in the polls in the first days of the war, knew that his ratings would collapse if pictures of dead soldiers filled the TV screens.
    Therefore, a new doctrine was applied: to avoid losses among our soldiers by the total destruction of everything in their path. The planners were not only ready to kill 80 Palestinians to save one Israeli soldier, as has happened, but also 800. The avoidance of casualties on our side is the overriding commandment, which is causing record numbers of civilian casualties on the other side. [….]
    The planners thought that they could stop the world from seeing these images by forcibly preventing press coverage. The Israeli journalists, to their shame, agreed to be satisfied with the reports and photos provided by the Army Spokesman, as if they were authentic news, while they themselves remained miles away from the events. Foreign journalists were not allowed in either, until they protested and were taken for quick tours in selected and supervised groups. But in a modern war, such a sterile manufactured view cannot completely exclude all others – the cameras are inside the strip, in the middle of the hell, and cannot be controlled. Aljazeera broadcasts the pictures around the clock and reaches every home.
    The battle for the TV screen is one of the decisive battles of the war.
    Hundreds of millions of Arabs from Mauritania to Iraq, more than a billion Muslims from Nigeria to Indonesia see the pictures and are horrified. This has a strong impact on the war. Many of the viewers see the rulers of Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority as collaborators with Israel in carrying out these atrocities against their Palestinian brothers.
    The security services of the Arab regimes are registering a dangerous ferment among the peoples. Hosny Mubarak, the most exposed Arab leader because of his closing of the Rafah crossing in the face of terrified refugees, started to pressure the decision-makers in Washington, who until that time had blocked all calls for a cease-fire. These began to understand the menace to vital American interests in the Arab world and suddenly changed their attitude – causing consternation among the complacent Israeli diplomats.
    People with moral insanity cannot really understand the motives of normal people and must guess their reactions. “How many divisions has the Pope?” Stalin sneered. “How many divisions have people of conscience?” Ehud Barak may well be asking.
    As it turns out, they do have some. Not numerous. Not very quick to react. Not very strong and organized. But at a certain moment, when the atrocities overflow and masses of protesters come together, that can decide a war.
    The failure to grasp the nature of Hamas has caused a failure to grasp the predictable results. Not only is Israel unable to win the war, Hamas cannot lose it. [emphasis added]
    Even if the Israeli army were to succeed in killing every Hamas fighter to the last man, even then Hamas would win. The Hamas fighters would be seen as the paragons of the Arab nation, the heroes of the Palestinian people, models for emulation by every youngster in the Arab world. The West Bank would fall into the hands of Hamas like a ripe fruit, Fatah would drown in a sea of contempt, the Arab regimes would be threatened with collapse.
    If the war ends with Hamas still standing, bloodied but unvanquished, in face of the mighty Israeli military machine, it will look like a fantastic victory, a victory of mind over matter.
    What will be seared into the consciousness of the world will be the image of Israel as a blood-stained monster, ready at any moment to commit war crimes and not prepared to abide by any moral restraints. This will have severe consequences for our long-term future, our standing in the world, our chance of achieving peace and quiet.
    In the end, this war is a crime against ourselves too, a crime against the State of Israel.
    Courtesy of Middle East Online (first appeared in Gush Shalom)

    As to my alleged “one-sided” reading lists (I’m assuming Professor Bernstein is referring to my list here: which is constructed on principles similar to those relied on in assembling the bibliographies found here: They are composed of of both Israeli and non-Israeli academics and journalists (largely the former) all of whom are recognized by their peers in their respective professions. They are not all one-sided insofar as the authors do not all cleave to the same line, have the same argument or arrive at the same conclusion. No doubt some of the authors are in agreement on some historical facts, political descriptions and prescriptions, and the like, but there is no party line discernible from the list of recommended books nor is there any reason whatsoever to conclude that they are “one-sided.” Such a judgment could only come from someone who has not taken the time to read the books in question. That is to say, don’t just read the lists, but read the works that make up the lists.

  35. I’ve left an extended comment/post but it appears to have been eaten (this has happened before and it later appears so perhaps it will this time as well; if it does, it just means I didn’t take advantage of the edit time usually provided), so if I find the time later today I’ll try to leave another comment.

  36. Can someone please look for my extended comment that I just left but has not appeared? Thanks so much.


  37. “You did in fact characterize Hamas simply and solely as ‘a violent, fanatical, backwards, illiberal, anti-Semitic terrorist organization.’ You did not qualify that statement in any way whatsoever, so one has to presume, and you give us no reason here to infer otherwise, that you think this is an accurate characterization of Hamas qua Hamas'”

    I characterized it that way in the context of saying that people of good will should want Israel to defeat Hamas.  The fact that it is, as you fail to, because you can’t, dispute, is quite sufficient for me.  The rest of your arguments are along the lines of “Mussolini made the trains run on time” and “was genuinely popular among the Italian people, as was his fascist movement.”  True, but surely not reason for people of good will to want Mussolini to defeat Ethiopia, much less the Allies.

  38. As for your reading list, I don’t recognize every book, but the ones I do recognize range from the Israeli medium left to the Palestinian far left.  Surely someone trying to provide a “scholarly” reading list could come up with some worthwhile books written by someone who actually is not hostile to the Zionist project.  And it’s pretty amusing that, as a commentator points out, you would provide a reading list specifically to get people up to speed on the current fighting without including Hamas’s charter.  Or any book about Iranian influence in the Middle East.

  39. Had your read them, you would have discovered that not a few of the books discuss the geo-political role and influence of Iran in the Middle East, for instance Mearsheimer and Walt’s has an extended treatment. The list was not intended to be exhaustive (as I made clear when I posted it), but for more titles that discuss Iran you’re free to consult my Islamic Studies compilation (easily found with a ‘google’ search) which has a section devoted to “Geographic Regions and Nation States” and thus a fair number of titles about Iran, etc.

    And “it is pretty amusing” that you would simply but not surprisingly repeat the mistake of the commentator when in fact the Mishal and Sela volume contains the full Charter (Appendix Two) and the Tamimi book has important Hamas reports and documents appended as well, some of which are probably more important in discerning its current political logic and strategic reasoning.  

    Alas, your ability to fairly summarize and/or parse (i.e., analyze its rationality) an argument leaves much to be desired.

  40. Come on, Walt and Mearsheimer isn’t even a legitimate scholarly (as opposed to polemical, not that I have anything against polemics as such, I just don’t confuse them with”scholarship”) source on its actual topic, the Israel lobby, much less on the role of Iran in the Middle East.  And having a chapter about Iran doesn’t  make it about Iran, and the reason Iran is important in the specific context of Hamas is because Iran is the one provided Hamas will much of its weapons and funding.

    But what I really want to ask is (1) whether you disagree that Hamas is any one of these: “violent, fanatical, backwards, illiberal, anti-Semitic, terrorist.”  You don’t seem to want to answer that question, because in your view it’s also SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT. But I think for reasonable people, that’s quite enough to disqualify Hamas from sympathy or support.

    (2) How many books on your reading list reflect sympathy to the Zionist project, as oppose to how many of them are unsympathetic.  Even if you think that project is mistaken or wrongheaded, surely if your point is to increase UNDERSTANDING of the conflict, rather than simply get people to agree with your perspective, you would ensure that a reading list including some books representing the mainstream viewpoint in one of the key players was provided.

  41. Ya, well no mystery there Patrick: you either agree with Prof. Bernstein’s neo-fascist spiel or you’re a terrorist, nihilist, loon, etc. He’s just beating a drum.

    As if the last sixty years leave any doubt about the value or nature of the “Zionist project”. The sheer hypocrisy of it is appalling.

  42. Your tendentious and dismissive description of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (2007) is testament to your utter lack of all sense of proportion and capacity for rational assessment.

    As I explained, and you missed, many of the titles discuss the role of Iran, as they do the role of the U.S. in supplying the IDF with the latest in advanced weaponry and the provision of ideological and political support in the international arena. Iran did not create Hamas, nor even Hezbollah for that matter. Any Hamas-Iran alliance was fomented by the “Islamization” of the conflict which the Israelis directly contributed to in their endeavor to destroy the Palestinian National Authority and Arafat’s leadership, and indirectly nurtured with their infamous intransigence with regard to a negotiated settlement and a respect for international law.

    The titles were assembled as part of an endeavor to understand and explain the historical nature and political dynamics of the current conflict: that goal would be obscured were we to simply decide to ignore, rationalize, or apologize for the role of the colonial settler state that initiated it. A decent number of titles in the list do an excellent job of discussing and analyzing the nature of Zionist theories and politics. One can understand Zionism without literally identifying with it, just as I can teach about world religions without necessarily subscribing to any one of them. One can have sympathy for and empathic understanding of the reasons and motivations behind the various expressions of Zionism without thereby endorsing or excusing everything done in its name. If that troubles you, so be it. I don’t care so much if people agree with “my perspective” (in fact, very few people do!) as I do that they care for the pursuit of truth, justice and democracy, including the values, principles and practices that follow therefrom. Incidentally, your desgnation of what counts as “mainstream” is wholly self-serving and irrelevant. Personally, I find no value in christening a view as “mainstream,” marginal, what have you: I want to discover if it furthers our comprehension of the prinicipal variables at play in the conflict and thus leads to increased understanding: what is baptized as “mainstream” may turn out to be uninformative and mush, and what is thought of as “marginal” may in fact be insightful and deserving of wider attention, so I really have no use for such labels and have never relied on them in doing my research.

  43. I started to write a response, and it got lost, and I don”t feel like retyping it

    So i’ll be relatively brief:
    (a) you think that no scholarly who sympathizes with Israel is worth reading, even for the purpose of understanding the zionist perpsective.  quite remarkable, especially given that you recommend a book by Finkelstein, who, iirc, speaks and reads neither Hebrew nor Arabic.
    (b) your’e willing to vouch for the scholarly nature of a book written in under a year by two professors with no prior scholarly works on the subject, who relied on a selective culling of secondary sources, whose thesis contradicts everything they previously believed about IR, and who demonstrate egregrious misconceptions about important underlying matters (Google Bernstein volokh mearsheimer abrams for an example).  And not only that, but you’re willing to vouch for it as a scholarly source for Iran’s role in the Middle East, even though, iirc, neither author speaks hebrew, arabic or persian.
    (c) you still haven’t told us which of my descriptive adjectives about Hamas is incorrect, which by this point I’ll take as a concession that they are all correct.
    With regard to (a) and (b), when I first came across your posts on the Middle East, I was under the impression that you approached the subject from a scholarly, albeit wrongheaded, point of view.  Thanks for disabusing me of that misconception.

  44. Look, and read again, I never said what you attribute to me, namely,  “that no scholarly [sic] who sympathizes with Israel is worth reading, even for the purpose of understanding the zionist perpsective.” 

    It seems you’ve never read The Israel Lobby…. I would implore those who’ve yet to read it to do so and judge for themselves the merits (or lack thereof) of their argument.  I don’t think the inability to speak the languages mentioned was an impediment to making their case, which was primarily about the “Israel Lobby” (so to speak: they make clear that it is no monolith, etc.) in this country and its power to influence U.S. foreign policy.
    I addressed (c) above when I told you plainly and clearly I would elaborate upon the remark at Ratio Juris in a post on the subject. I asked you to be patient, but the request was, it seems, and at least in your case, unreasonable.

  45. That’s just an obvious fraud on your part Prof. Bernstein.

    I have no trouble taking Zionist scholars seriously, where I have trouble is thinking that there is any legitimate basis for a racist gangster-state in Israel / Palestine any more than there was in South Africa under apartheid.

  46. Ok, so what books written by someone who sympathizing with Zionism do you have on your reading lists/are you planning to add to your lists?  Or is the idea that such a book might be worth reading purely hypothetical?
    As for M&W, they have a lot of footnotes.  They are popularizers of a vast amount of secondary source material on the Israel Lobby.  They are surprisingly ignorant about Israel, the history of U.S.-Israel relations, Judaism, and a host of other relevant matters.  They have a such an ill-defined hypothesis, becaus they contradict themselves on what the Israel lobby consists of, that it can’t possibly be falsified.  Their working thesis in all of their other work is “realism,” but they abandon realism with regard to Israel-U.S. relations, even though there is a perfectly plausible realist argument to make, as many commentators on their book have pointed out.  It’s a fine politically motivated (they don’t like Israel or its influence on American policy) polemic, for that genre, but a work of real scholarship it ain’t.  There’s nothing wrong with that; I don’t claim my own blogging on Israel is “scholarship”, but I still think it’s right.  Their book is like a long blog post with many hyperlinks.
    As for the language point, it’s a minor one, but you cited their book as having useful scholarly info on Iran’s role in the conflict, which is inherently suspicious given their inability to speak any of the relevant languages, just as some of the neoconservative “experts” on Iran who don’t speak Persian are inherently suspect.

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