Some Israel-Gaza notes (note 1 updated: Kerry’s cease-fire plan “might as well have been penned by Khaled Meshal”)

July 26

I’ve posted less about this than about previous conflicts, because there are so many great blogs focused on Israel-related issues that I don’t have as much to add to the conversation. But I thought I’d pick out a few items that VC readers might not have noticed.

(1) Secretary of State Kerry recently presented a cease-fire proposal. The Israeli cabinet rejected it unanimously. The cabinet includes individuals from several parties ranging from moderate left to far right, who rarely agree on anything. How incompetent a diplomat can you be to publicly offer a cease-fire proposal to a friendly (and dependent) country when you have no support whatsoever for it, and apparently no leverage to overcome that lack of support? As I understand it, the terms were “Stop fighting now (including stop blowing up Hamas’s tunnels), start talking 48 hours from now.” It’s pretty obvious why this is a non-starter for a country that relies on its reserves. Having Israeli reservists who have been called sitting around for 48 hours, then waiting who-knows-how-long for talks to reach a positive or negative conclusion, would itself be a victory for Hamas, inflicting additional pain on the Israel economy and morale. Israel currently prefers Egyptian mediation to American mediation (and so does Egypt), which suggests the esteem they have for Kerry. (Hamas also rejected Kerry’s cease-fire proposal.) UPDATE: The Israeli government has leaked Kerry’s proposal to the media. It’s truly awful; it meets most of Hamas’s demands, and none of Israel’s. Even the left-wing Ha’aretz carries this commentary from its diplomatic correspondent: “The draft Kerry passed to Israel on Friday shocked the cabinet ministers not only because it was the opposite of what Kerry told them less than 24 hours earlier, but mostly because it might as well have been penned by Khaled Meshal (leader of Hamas). It was everything Hamas could have hoped for.”

(2) The media has engaged in journalistic malpractice by reporting casualty figures for civilians coming from Gaza as gospel. The figures come from the Gazan Ministry of Health, which is controlled by Hamas. The Ministry of Health counts everyone not in uniform as a civilian. Most Hamas fighters don’t wear uniforms. The UN is sometimes sourced for the figures, but the UN gets its figures from … the Gazan Ministry of Health. Contrary to early reports that 80% or so of the early casualties were civilians, Al-Jazeera published names and ages, and about 3/4 were men of fighting age (16-50), compared to a rough estimate of 20% of the Gazan population (40% to 50% of which is fourteen and under). Some of those men were undoubtedly civilians, but it strains credulity to believe that 80% of the casualties were civilian but just-so-happened to be overwhelmingly fighting-age men. (Here’s the most recent analysis from the IsraellyCool blog). For that matter, how do we know that the Minsitry of Health isn’t counting deaths from natural causes as deaths from Israeli actions? A simple “the Hamas-controlled Gaza Ministry of Health claims” before reciting casualty figures that the media has not itself verified would resolve the problem. Obviously, there have been civilian casualties, and I doubt that a more accurate count would change many minds about the conflict. Still, as co-blogger Ilya suggested to me, relying on Hamas for casualty figures is like relying on old East German economic reports showing it to be wealthier than West Germany. (I’ll leave for another time the perplexing question of why the only time the media indulges in day-by-day casualty counts is when Israel is involved. Quick… within a large margin of error, how many civilians did NATO kill in Serbia? Afghanistan? Libya?)

(3) The Israeli media reports that based on interrogations of captured Hamas fighters, Hamas was planning a major massacre for the Jewish New Year in September, with dozens of fighters simultaneously attacking border towns via Hamas’s tunnels. Most support for an early cease-fire dried up after this reporting, as it turned the tide of Israeli opinion from “we need a period of quiet from the missiles” to “we need to get rid of Hamas’s offensive military capacity.”

(4) I’ve heard several friends say, “what’s the big deal about the missiles, only three Israelis have been killed?” First, several dozen have been wounded, and several dozen more have been treated for shock. Kids are sleeping in “safe rooms” (in newer buildings) or bomb shelters (in older neighborhoods) and are afraid to go out during the day. Adults go to work, but have to disrupt their day to go to shelters all the time. With nine thousand missiles, Hamas could have kept this up for many months. Those of you who live in the DC area and remember how “the sniper” disrupted life for weeks” can imagine how much more disruptive constant rocket attacks could be.

(5) All that concrete that worldwide “human rights activists” insisted go to Gaza for construction? Largely diverted to Hamas’s military tunnel network. How many of the tunnels serve as civilian bomb shelters? As best as can be determined, zero. But the Hamas leadership has a tunnel infrastructure for itself to hide in. Those who have sought to undo the Israeli-Egypt blockade of Gaza to allow in items with military use like concrete are either rogues or fools; and Israel still sends in far more humanitarian aid (even now, during the war) than the people of Gaza would ever likely see from Hamas, while Hamas leaders have turned out to be as corrupt as their Fatah predecessors.

(6) I’ve much-admired the commentary of David Horovitz of The Times of Israel on the conflict. His latest is here.

(7) Does this post seem “one-sided?” As I’ve said before, Israel is far from perfect, but it’s blessed with almost cartoonishly evil enemies, including Hamas.

David Bernstein is the George Mason University Foundation Professor at the George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, VA.
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