Wednesday, April 03, 2024

Glass House Cleaning

Anecdotally, the Israeli attack on WCK humanitarian aid workers delivering food in Gaza appears to be a tipping point for some people. On some of the (ostensibly) liberal Zionist forums I frequent, I saw people who just last week were arguing that the entire concept of "proportionality" shouldn't constrain Israel's military response now are shocked and appalled, and they aren't buying Israeli excuses about "maybe we thought a Hamas operative was in the area." Query why this event triggered the shift, but change is change.

The JTA has a story on the reaction of various Jewish institutions to the strike. It breaks down pretty much exactly as you'd expect: the liberals being clear-eyed in condemning the killing, the leftists condemning the killing and situating as part of the broader allegation of Israeli genocide, the centrists expressing sadness for the deaths while obscuring responsibility. And then there's ZOA:

Morton Klein, the president of the right-wing Zionist Organization of America, said that he did not know about the incident before being informed of it by JTA on Tuesday in the early afternoon. He said, “Now that you’ve made me aware of it, obviously I’m devastated that totally innocent people trying to do humanitarian work have lost their lives, I’m sure unintentionally.”

He also said the ultimate responsibility for the aid workers’ death belongs to Hamas.

“I blame Hamas. Every single fatality is blamed on Hamas for launching this war,” Klein said. “In any war you’ll have deaths of civilians that are unintentional. In a war, mistakes are made, targets are missed. if one takes the position that one doesn’t go to war if any innocents will be killed, you won’t go to war and Hamas tyrants will win.”

I happened to read this right at the same time as I read Bret Stephens' latest column on "the appalling tactics of the 'free Palestine' movement." The thesis of his article is that "the mark of a morally serious movement lies in its determination to weed out its worst members and stamp out its worst ideas"; among his examples of the worst members/worst ideas was the infamous statement by a coalition of Harvard student groups, immediately after October 7, which held "the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence."

One notices, of course, that this is exactly -- exactly -- the formulation that Mort Klein adopted vis-a-vis Israel killing the WCK workers: "I blame Hamas. Every single fatality is blamed on Hamas for launching this war." So one might ask if this "member" of the pro-Israel will be weeded out, and if his ideas will be stamped out. As someone who has watched repeated endeavors try and fail to hold ZOA accountable, I can tell you the answer: they're not. Stephens isn't wrong, exactly, when highlighting some of the repellant extremism that sits largely unchallenged in the pro-Palestine movement. But if the mark of a morally serious movement is its determination to weed out one's worst members and worst ideas, the pro-Israel movement is sitting in a terribly fragile glass house.

The Israeli attack on humanitarian aid workers is about more than just the seven innocents Israel killed. It is another boulder on the scale of evidence which overwhelmingly suggests that -- "most moral army in the world" protests notwithstanding -- Israel's orientation towards innocent life in this conflict has been one of cavalier indifference at best, malicious destruction at worst. Protestations that "war is hell" and "don't second-guess the generals" are ringing increasingly hollow as against the near-uniform conclusion of media, eyewitness accounts, NGOs, international observers -- you name it. Some may be biased (but then, so are Israeli government figures and their apologists). But people are entitled to draw conclusions from the reality before their eyes.

(Oh, and you should read the op-ed Jose Andres published simultaneously in the New York Times and Yedioth Ahronoth).

Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Free Fire

An apparent Israeli air strike killed seven aid workers from the World Central Kitchen who were distributing food supplies in the Gaza Strip in what the IDF is calling a "tragic incident". The IDF is already promising an investigation at the "highest ranks", but the facts already don't look good. The car carrying the workers was clearly marked (as one can see in the picture above), and the World Food Kitchen claims it was coordinating its movements with IDF officials.

"Despite coordinating movements with the IDF, the convoy was hit as it was leaving the Deir al-Balah warehouse, where the team had unloaded more than 100 tons of humanitarian food aid brought to Gaza on the maritime route," the [WCK] statement said.

"This is not only an attack against WCK, this is an attack on humanitarian organizations showing up in the most dire of situations where food is being used as a weapon of war. This is unforgivable," said World Central Kitchen CEO Erin Gore.

According to the statement, "the seven killed are from Australia, Poland, United Kingdom, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Canada and Palestine."

One thing this demonstrates is that the current apologia regarding the food situation in Gaza -- that it's not a supply problem, it's a distribution problem -- fails even on its own terms. "Distribution problems" are not acts of God; in this case, they plausibly emerge in significant part from the fact that the people doing the distributing have an alarming propensity to become targets for IDF strikes. If distribution requires security, and security requires people with some measure of military hardware (whether that be guns or armor or flak jackets), and IDF commanders are deciding that everybody bearing military hardware is a Hamas terrorist and is fair game to take a missile to the throat, well, small wonder food isn't being distributed.

That, in turn, underscores a larger point: this attack is only the latest in an avalanche of evidence demonstrating, at the very least, that the IDF's rules of operation seem unacceptably lax. The killing of three Israeli hostages by Israeli fire was perhaps the most obvious exemplifier of the problem, but it doesn't stand alone -- among other incidents, Israel also has been accused of targeting a "clearly identifiable" Reuters journalist with tank fire in Lebanon, and a Doctors Without Borders shelter whose "precise location" was known to military authorities. Haaretz reported this weekend on "free fire" zones that Israel has set up throughout the Gaza Strip, where essentially anyone who crosses the vicinity is deemed a valid military target and shot (this was what reportedly led to the hostages being killed -- they inadvertently crossed into one of these unmarked zones while fleeing their captors). The article suggests that some portion of the reported terrorist casualties Israel is reporting are derived from the uncorroborated assumption that anyone (or at least any military-aged male) killed in one of these free fire zones is a terrorist. As much as we hear about how we can't trust the "Hamas-run Health Ministry statistics" regarding the total number of Palestinian deaths (notwithstanding the fact that these figures have been born out in the past and Israel is not to my knowledge contesting them), we also have to take seriously the notion that right now, in this context and with this government, there is ample reason not to blindly trust Israeli figures and conclusions regarding casualty counts too.

And the conclusion that Israel is acting with cavalier indifference to civilian life is, perhaps, the most generous of the plausible inferences from the evidence. The alternative, of course, is that these attacks are not matters of recklessness but rather are deliberate. This does not require the implausible belief that Bibi has enacted some secret policy to kill all aid workers. It rather relies on the sadly not-implausible notion that some portion of midlevel and field commanders who've imbibed the drumbeat of "the media is the enemy, the NGOs are the enemy, everyone is the enemy, they're all conspiring against us" that is omnipresent in the right-wing press actually take that narrative seriously and are deciding to act on it. It doesn't take the entire army apparatus for this to be a problem -- just a few well-placed people who decide to take lines like "Al-Jazeera is a Hamas mouthpiece" seriously and literally, who feel secure in the knowledge that they'll never face meaningful consequence or punishment for their endeavors.

Either way, this cannot be allowed to continue. The Israeli government has nobody to blame but itself for putting itself in a position where an obviously just struggle against Hamas has become converted in the world's eyes into an indiscriminate pulverizing of the Palestinian people, because over and over again the evidence bears out that this is exactly what Israel has elected to do. Those choices were not inevitabilities, they were choices; and Israel has no cause for protest that it is being held responsible for those choices. It could have chosen differently. It opted not to. People are entitled to draw reasonable conclusions from the facts before their eyes.